Archive for June, 2003

TiVO Love

June 30, 2003

This article in Business Week suggests that advertising agencies aren’t feeling the love for TiVO right now.

TiVo can also pinpoint where and when ads are watched the most. For example, a commercial for breakfast cereal might be skipped through less often in the morning on the West Coast than during pricey prime-time slots in the East. “This is the beginning of the end of that drunken orgy of dollars spent on broadcast TV as the ultimate ‘reach’ vehicle,” says Tim Hanlon, vice-president for emerging contacts at Starcom MediaVest, an ad agency that helped TiVo design its new service.

The article also indicates that TiVO has discovered that ratings are an inverse indicator of ad viewing. In other words, the more popular the show, the more likely a TiVO viewer is to fast-forward through the commercials. This sort of information is absolutely great for those buying advertising, but horrifying to the networks and agencies.

I, however, am completely unshaken in my TiVO love.

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Q&A with Dan Gillmor

June 30, 2003

ComputerWorld, a magazine I read regularly, has a Q&A session with Dan Gillmor of the San Jose Mercury News regarding the new announcements from Apple. I’m not particularly sure why Dan was singled out by the magazine on this particular topic, on which he isn’t an expert as far as I know, but it does make for good reading and it promotes Apple, which is good in itself.

In Memoriam: Painting in the Park Pottery Studio

June 30, 2003

I didn’t post on Sunday because I was busy closing down the pottery studio that my wife, her parents, and I owned for the last two and a half years. As we were combing through the accumulated detritus of years of pottery painting and firing, I reflected on how far we had come from idea to failure and I figured that I should write up the shop’s story as a tribute. Yesterday closed a chapter on a period of our life filled with hopes and dreams that suddenly don’t seem all that important.

Painting in the Park Pottery Studio was the most recent iteration of the Gatti family’s ceramics empire. Okay, it wasn’t and probably won’t ever be an empire. Painting in the Park was originally Gwen and Joe’s ceramic painting operation at a weekly farmer’s market at Roadrunner Park in north Phoenix. They then decided to open a retail store at Cave Creek Road and Sweetwater in a small strip mall between an upholstery shop and a mortuary. To put it lightly, this was not a great retail location.

Sandi had an idea in January 2000 that we could invest some money in the shop, go all partner-y with her parents, and move the shop to a better location. We quickly incorporated as Painting in the Park, Inc. and sought a new location. We settled on Arrowhead Towne Center and found a great space right next to Robinson’s May—the space is still available incidentally. We were in the process of negotiations and getting ready to sign a lease when our contractor dropped the bombshell that he wasn’t going to reduce his prices as promised. That pretty much ended Arrowhead as a viable location. In retrospect, we probably should have left it at that but we were positively inspired with the idea.

We spent the next few months scouting for a better spot. In the end, we came upon the shopping plaza at 32nd Street and Greenway Road in north Phoenix around June 2000. We decided to sign a lease, but there were complications because the property was being sold and the old owner didn’t want us as a tenant. We had to wait until October for the escrow to finalize so we could move in and start retailing. The management company lied to us a few times in the interim to keep us from trying to find anything else. In the time it took to finally get a suite—June to October—we certainly could have found something better. Oh well, water under the bridge.

We signed the lease on October 17, 2000 with the opening slated for December 1, 2000. The delay was prodigious since the Christmas season is the gravy part of the year for pottery studios. We worked feverishly throughout November to get things in order. We had limited startup funds: Sandi and I contributed $15,000 and her parents provided all of the capital equipment and inventory. The majority of the money was spent building out the suite and ponying up the necessary deposits. When all was said and done, we had practically nothing for marketing and had to resort to unconventional means to get the word out that we existed. December, to say the least, was a slow month.

The first year flew by and we gradually built up a steady clientele. We created door hangers and walked many neighborhoods putting them up. We created the Web site you see today and submitted it to every local calendar, Web site, and search engine you could imagine. We eventually made it onto Channel 3’s mid-morning “news” show to demonstrate our bridal shower party package, of which we only ever booked one. We walked through parking lots nearby and stuck little fliers on windshields. I wanted to attack our competitors by papering their parking lots with targeted messages, but was prevented from doing so by the wholesale business of her parents.

The real turning point was September 11, 2001. We were gaining business each month and the rate was promising, though it wasn’t paying anything above expenses. The bombings of the World Trade Center and Pentagon affected our business in unexpected ways and we had several weeks of trickling sales. The Christmas season was disappointing and it created a downward spiral that kept us always playing catch-up.

As we accumulated more business and spread the word of value-priced ceramics and friendly service, we began to lose interest in the huge time drain our studio had become. The shop was paying for itself, but it wasn’t paying us anything. It’s really hard to volunteer week in and week out for something that doesn’t seem to be working. It was even worse when we would visit our competition and see them packed to capacity despite much higher prices, more limited selection, and inexperienced employees. We would ask ourselves, “What are we missing here?”

In the end, the part of the equation we were missing was exactly what we knew all along: location. Being in a high-traffic area confers certain benefits on a retail store that shouldn’t be overlooked or underestimated. The rents are higher, but awareness of your brand is heightened. Our location was between a pretty high-traffic deli and a pizza restaurant—later a shrimp restaurant. These generated more foot traffic than the mortuary, but nothing like a movie theater or department store. Also, the customers of the deli were primarily Eastern Europeans, most of whom spoke broken English at best. There were some high-traffic parts of the plaza, like McDonald’s and Blockbuster, but they are what’s called destination locations. People go there and go home; they don’t usually linger around. We were further crippled by an architectural element that blocked our sign unless you came directly upon it.

I vow here and now never to open another retail store. They impose schedules that other self-employment options don’t. You are the slave to those hours. You can get employees, but if something happens to them, you’ve got to come in. Schedule management occupies your life. You can’t take a vacation unless you can assure adequate coverage. There’s still a lot of tasks to do to end the corporation, of course, but I can do them at my convenience and that’s something that has been a luxury for the last couple of years. I will never take free time for granted again, that’s for sure.

Apple and Developers

June 30, 2003

Interesting. Tim O’Reilly has a new blog entry regarding Apple and its developer community along the lines of my previous worry. The discussion taking place over there is especially insightful.

They’re back…

June 28, 2003

After a nice weeklong respite, the asshat neighbors are back full throttle. The patio cover looks nice, has been stucco’d, and is completely painted. All nice and done.

Except that something now requires a circular saw and other power tools at 6:30 a.m. I’m trying to be a good neighbor and let it go, but could that level of inconsiderateness be any greater? I guess I’ll just have to be the bigger man and avoid a feud that would certainly span generations.

Acme

June 27, 2003

From Biz Stone, I present to you the Illustrated Catalog of ACME Products. I don’t know if there were earlier ones, but ACME has to be one of the first mega-conglomerates with subsidiaries making every product imaginable.

Schadenfreude

June 27, 2003

Boing Boing hit it right on the head about WreckedExotics.com: pure schadenfreude.

The site is dedicated to showing off wrecked, expensive cars. I don’t condone the site, but there is something strangely fascinating in seeing the ways in which complex machinery can be contorted to unusability.

Java Learning

June 26, 2003

I have repeatedly voiced my frustration with learning Java. I’ve bought more Java books and read more online tutorials than you would probably think necessary: Beginning Java Objects, Java: How to Program, Thinking in Java, Thinking in Java, Effective Java, Java for ColdFusion Developers, Introduction to Programming using Java, and The Java Language Tutorial off the top of my head.

Am I a complete idiot? No. Each of these books helped me along a bit—Beginning Java Objects is the only one that had a helpful pedagogy and I’m actually almost done with it, after reading every page—but none of them really taught me the language. Some were well adapted to applet production, which I’m not interested in, and some were well-suited to understanding object orientation, which is but a small facet of the language. None of them really got me from start to finish with an understanding that readied me to tackle actual Java programs. As I said, I think Beginning Java Objects is the best I’ve read. It also helps that I don’t have any practical need to learn Java, either professionally or personally.

Reading this interview with the authors, I think Head First Java might be worth a look. It’s got an Alton Brown-ish feel to it and that’s a learning style to which I relate well. Reading through the interview, I think I agree with most of the pedagogical points Sierra and Bates make. For example, most of the computer books I’ve read and all of the computer classes I’ve taken generally were teacher-centered instead of student-centered. The teacher had a syllabus to get through by gum, student comprehension be damned. Suffice it to say that those were not the most effective classes.

If you go to O’Reilly’s site for the book, you can read samples and get a feel for the conversational writing style. I would recommend, though, going to a local bookstore, checking it over, and ordering it at Amazon.

PowerMac G5

June 26, 2003

In a AppleLinks article, John Farr argues that the new PowerMac G5 is so powerful that many users won’t be upgrading for the foreseeable future. In other words, a vital Apple revenue stream might conceivably dry up at some point in the distant future because the new Mac is so future-proof.

Future-proof? What the hell is Bill talking about? Next he’ll say that 8GB is more RAM than anyone will ever need. And that we’ll never get off our dependency on oil. That is, famous last words. When I say future-proof, I mean that this new Mac will not age like previous generations. I know that sounds crazy, but I don’t foresee technology advancing like it has in the past. Wait, technology will keep up its inexorable advance, but the demand for the higher technology will lose steam and plateau. There will always be those will incredible computing needs and those who think they have incredible computing needs. But the average Joe (assuming the average Joe has, at this point, bought a Mac) is going to find all of the computing power he needs.

What will Apple do at that point? If it were Microsoft or Intel, it would make the hardware obsolete through operating system requirements upticks or make the hardware obsolete through new secure motherboards required by a new secure Windows operating system (their words, definitely not mine). Apple has shown a slight affinity for this method in the past with the older G3s not being supported by Mac OS X and the new iPod firmware not being offered for the old iPods.

Farr’s prediction (and one shared by the reader he quotes) is that Apple will move away from depending on computer sales for revenue and diversify its revenue streams to hedge its future risks. Wait, didn’t they recently unveil some sort of online music store that’s been wildly successful? Isn’t Apple increasingly focusing on software and the hardware to support it?

I think this is an eminently sensible move, especially since Macintosh is on the firmest footing it’s been on since its unveiling. For Apple to pull a pseudo-Microsoft in shifting focus to software and viewing hardware in a less important light is a good thing—providing they focus on usability and power in the software department.

[NOTE: If this sounds 180° at odds with my previous posting on Apple’s future directions, it may very well be since a focus on software would necessarily put Apple in direct competition with its developer base. I guess that’s a contradiction I’ll have to ponder.]

Why Blog?

June 26, 2003

Yesterday, I didn’t feel like blogging so I didn’t. But it got me to thinking about why I am blogging at all. I mean, what is the point of composing entries at all? It’s not like I’m getting paid to do this. I’m not getting any job offers or writing contracts out of it. As a person who is predominantly guided by self-interest, these sorts of considerations carry a lot of weight.

I think I can categorically answer that its not because of any clamor for audience or recognition. If it was, then I certainly wouldn’t have continued on for the years that I have. As you can see from the recently added comments feature, there’s very little discussion and I think that’s because there’s not much of an audience here. I see from my logfiles that there is a fair amount of traffic to both my blog pages and their respective RSS feeds. But I’ve only received one email from someone who read my blog and it wasn’t exactly heart-rending since it was a pitch for a business. I’ve never been linked from a major blogger (sorry, Steve, but you’re B-list at best) or really had any evidence that my ramblings here have been ingested by anyone save those I specifically direct to check something out. I used to think that family and friends read this, but I’ve come to find out that they mainly frequent our pregnancy diary, which is perfectly fine and understandable. My friend Larry checks in occasionally, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I don’t write for him.

What would be the other motivation? It would have to be self-derived. Something inside of me makes me want to write what I write. Perhaps I’m a frustrated writer trapped inside of a Web developer’s body. Perhaps I’m Harry Hard-on and this is my version of a pirate radio station. That could actually be true. As a child, I explored pirate radio from every angle except for actually setting one up. When Pump Up the Volume came out, it was a liberating experience. I could picture myself as the quiet guy with a secret life as a disc jockey.

But maybe the media involved isn’t important. Maybe the thing that intrigued me then and keeps me going now is self-expression. I’ve spent my entire life accumulating information, synthesizing observations, and analyzing arguments. But I’ve never really had a forum to let that experience come out. Sure, there were the bulletin boards of the mid-80s and the newsgroups of the early 90s but that was mostly flaming and you quickly learnt that you couldn’t talk about everything you wanted to.

The Web, and blogs in particular, is very good at providing an outlet for me to write whatever I want in whatever format I want to whatever length I want. As I surf the Web, I come across things that make me think and about which I form conclusions and evaluations. Now I have a place where I can access them anywhere and refer people to them easily. I’m discussing an issue with someone and immediately my mind qua search engine brings up a result set of previous blog entries, essays, and reviews that I’ve written on the subject. If I want to impart those thoughts on the person I’m talking to, I need only point them to my site and I don’t have to rehash. What’s more, I’ve got essays here that stretch back my entire adult life. I’ve internalized their conclusions, but I frequently forget all of the research and detail that went into their crafting. It’s now readily accessible to me and others.

On the other hand, though, I’ve got plenty of tools on my computer that could serve the exact same purpose and probably do it as efficiently (or even more so) than my Web site. I carry my laptop around to most of the places where I spend more than an hour, so why would I go through the trouble to make a dynamic, broad Web site when tools reside on my laptop that would make things easier.

I think it’s because my Web site—and by extension, my blog—has become a part of my identity. There’s a reason why I call the site The Bill Brown Information Center and there’s a reason why my blog is called bblog. They’re a part of me: the expressive part that previously lay dormant. When you establish such things as aspects of yourself, letting them be or holding back feels wrong and out of character. I blog because I am, in other words.