Should I take the money?

MrburnsWhat’s an ethical businessperson to do?

Following the announcement that the 8 Gig iPhone price would drop by $200, Apple announced in an open letter that they would give a $100 rebate per phone to early adopters. They bowed to pressure by a bunch of whiners (read the comments) who seem to think that, as loyal fans, we should have some kind of magic insulation from the economic realities rapidly-changing technology. I can certain understand someone buying an iPhone very recently and being miffed about the drop, but such is life. Would any of you very early buyers have passed on an iPhone if you knew for sure that if you waited 2 1/2 months, you could get it for $200 less? I doubt it.

The exact same DLP projector I bought a few years ago for $10K now retails for $2,500. I’m not expecting a refund. I bought bleeding edge technology. I paid a premium *knowing* if I were a little patient I’d save a bunch of money.

Why did Apple cave? I own Apple stock. I think this was a stupid, unnecessary move on their part. This online reaction is not comparable to a campaign by a bunch of rabid fans so save a quality TV show from the death grip of network execs. This was a bunch of rabid fans who mistook their voluntary participation in a media frenzy for some kind of entitlement to immunity from reality. And Apple bit. It’s not a good precedent to set.

That said, I bought 2 iPhones on June 29. Do I have an ethical obligation not to take the rebate? It’s not like forgoing the cash would have one iota of effect on the program, the stock, or anything else. I  think it’s stupid, not wrong. Still, there’s all that ranting I do about hypocrites and personal accountability… Randy Cohen, are you listening?

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Everything is Miscellaneous

EverythingismiscI’m not a particulary organized person. I can hear some guffaws in response to that understatement already. My kitchen table, more often than not, is covered with piles of books and unsorted mail, it’s true. But check out my book and CD shelves. They’re alphabetized. I may be behind in cataloging, but there is organization to be found. I do like knowing how to find things, I just can’t stick with a single methodology. As for papers, files, mail… I need things in more than one place, but the geographical limitations of my home, and the fact that I simply don’t have, or want to have, more than one copy of my stuff, rule that out as an option. Turns out what I need is the new digital disorder for things to make sense to me.

Dave Weinberger’s new book, Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder, examines my dilemma. It’s another in a growing list of fascinating, readable business books focusing on the way business is changing as result of the disruptive technologies of the internet. Weinberger is the co-author of the classic The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual, which came to represent a shift in thinking of the net as just another medium to recognizing that we now have the opportunity for conversations and relationships as never before. This new offering fits nicely as a sequel to Chris Anderson’s excellent The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More. The Long Tail showed us that the infinite inventory of web vendors allows for aggregate sales of minor titles can add up to profits even greater than the hits, and that in fact the days of blockbuster hits as we once defined them are gone. And for us consumers – there’s so much available, we can now find niches that cater to our specific interests. Everything is Miscellaneous explores how we’ll find those things.

Weinberger is clearly a pretty organized guy. He writes that “There isn’t a part of our homes that is truly unordered, except perhaps under our beds…” That’s kind of a reach. But his point is that we all employ various schemes to organize our physical space: spices go together, plates of a certain size go together, yet some things are ordered based on frequency of use.

Libraries have enormous problems to solve in deciding how to store things, for obvious reasons relating to physical space.

This is not a new issue, by a long shot. Over 2,000 years ago, scholars in Rome or Greece (depending on who you read) introduced the idea of alphabetization as a way to organize information. It took hundreds of years and many reinventions to stick. Alphabetization was considered an affront to god. It was argued that there is a natural organization for all knowledge, that alphabetization is unnatural. The Dewey Decimal System was the first widely-accepted method of organizing knowledge, employing a numeric categorization with alphabetization as the secondary sort. The high level sort was subject-based and reflects the sensibilities of a Christian man living in a small town in 1875. Thus, Philosophy was considered the foundation of everything, so it earned the the 100s. The system is heavily biased toward Christianity, of course, and (understandably) doesn’t even include computer science. Buddhism doesn’t get it’s own number, but phrenology does. A wholesale change of this system is unrealistic, again for physical reasons. And though it’s still in use in many places, it’s not at all helpful in the online world.

Online, we simply don’t need these rigid categorizations. We have tags now, and collaborative filtering. When I go to Amazon and look up a book, I get not only other related books in multiple categories spanning genres, I get a list of books bought by others who bought this particular book. I get my own customized organization system every time I visit.

Weinberger contends that as we move from physical to digital storage, we need to get rid of the idea that there is a right way to organize things. Rather, we need to embrace the inherent disorganization and allow people to access information in whatever way makes sense to them.

It’s an engaging read. If you liked The Long Tail, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, and Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, you’ll like this too.

Note to self: don’t bother searching Google Images for better images for a book title with keywords like “everything” and “miscellaneous” :)

Update: Bad netiquette alert! I didn’t even provide a link to the Everything Is Miscellaneous web site! My apologies. And they were still nice enough to mention and link to this review :)

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Triumph the Insult Comic Dog at the opening of a Star Wars movie

Triumph Insult Comic Dog – Star Wars Nerds Movie Premiere

It’s about 10.5 minutes long, which is frankly a little longer than my normal attention span for You Tube fluff, but I’ve watched this 3 times now, and it continues to crack me up. I’ve haven’t seen much Triumph — I imagined that he was rather mean. And I suppose some of these questions could have been construed as mean, but these nerds were seriously good sports — there’s mostly laughing, with just the right amount of obliviousness sprinkled in.

As someone who has stood in similar lines, I feel qualified to say this is hilarious :)

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Family @ Indexed

Indexedfamily

I’m always happy to see a new entry over at Indexed. I recommend you just go ahead and subscribe to this blog – you’re gonna fall in love with it. Jessica Hagy says:

This site is a little project that lets me make fun of some things and sense of others.

I use it to think a little more relationally without resorting to doing actual math.

This card is particularly sweet :)

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Days of Future Past

Roofedcity_3I thoroughly enjoyed Yesterday’s Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future. I just love seeing what people imagined our todays would look like. So I was thrilled to stumble upon Paleo-Future: a look into the future that never was. Is that a great name for a blog or what? My introduction to the blog was this post, which highlights a lovely collection of 100-year-old postcards depicting the year 2000. There is, of course, the obligatory personal flying machine. The “Summer at the North Pole” and “Police X-Ray Surveillance Machine” cards are almost disturbing in their innocence. Shown: The Roofed City. I wonder what’s providing all that light… Be sure to read some of the comments to this post – some quite clever.

I can’t wait to waste some serious time on this site. And I see there’s a Paleo-Future Google Group, too. Great! I need more distractions!

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When technology bites back

PanicSo there I sat Friday morning, an hour away from an online meeting, surrounded by 5 robust computers, unable to do anything I needed, ready to tear my hair out. Some of the problems I brought on myself, some were beyond my control.

My first mistake was trying to do a shortcut installation of a CD full of fonts the night before. On my MacBook Pro, I was gradually, painstakingly installing them in Fontbook one at a time. But on my desktop Mac I tried to take a shortcut and copy a ton of folders directly into the Font folder. The fonts seemed to work fine in Fireworks and Dreamweaver, but when I tried to open Word, I got a popup window telling me about a corrupt font. I clicked “Ok” (the only option) and up popped another one. When I realized this was going to happen for each of the thousands of fonts I had copied, I forced Word to quit. “Crap, gotta deal with that soon,” I thought, and used a different word processor.

The next morning, an hour before my meeting, I went to open the Powerpoint presentation I’d need to reference in the meeting. The same thing happened — I wasn’t going to be opening the presentation on my iMac. Unfortunately, I don’t have Office on my laptop Mac, so I was going to have to turn to one of the PCs. I booted up the nearest one, and turned back to my iMac to see if I could solve the font problem. After several minutes I realized the PC wasn’t booting. It was trying — over, and over, and over. The reset button was stuck, and it was booting over and over, never quite making it. No time to mess with that — I moved onto the next PC. It booted fine, but the wireless keyboard batteries were apparently dead. I ran downstairs to scrounge for batteries. Couldn’t find any. Did I think to grab a wired keyboard from a different PC and plug it in? No I did not. OK, one computer left, and it’s the old PC laptop.

When I said earlier I was surrounded by 5 robust computers, I lied. I was surrounded by 4 robust computers and one rather slow machine. It’s a decent PC —  a newish X41 Tablet — but it’s only got 256k RAM, so it’s dead slow. I knew it would be 15 minutes or so before the thing booted, updated, and finally downloaded the 11MB file, so I decided to tackle the font problem. I decided to simply delete all the fonts in folders. Bad idea. Suddenly the IM conversation I was having with Susan turned to gibberish. My keyboard was responding to my typing, but not with the correct letters. My email and stickies no longer displayed correctly. I had broken my Mac.

I watched my PC laptop struggle to get the file open. I tried to launch YM on it, but it was too busy struggling with Powerpoint to respond.

So there I sat, with all this technology around me, unable to do a damn thing.

Just my luck: the meeting got moved out an hour.

I was able to fix the font thing. To do so I accessed the Library via the Macintosh HD (as opposed to from my home). The font folder there contains the default set (or the right set, at any rate). I copied them, and pasted them into Home > Library and I was good to go. It was that simple. I loved my Mac again.

The meeting went fine, although there was no speakerphone on the other end, so my “call in” was a cell phone sitting on the table — I had to ping them via IM if I wanted to talk.

We had a good laugh about having bad technology karma for the morning, but man was it frustrating. I’m still not back 100%. My Windows installation on my main Mac is hosed, and I don’t know yet if it’s a Parallels issue, a Windows CD issue, or a CD Drive issue. But I’m up and running again anyway. But I’m really ready for technology to get another order of magnitude simpler and more reliable.

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Be nice.