Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Space Travel Goes Private

SpaceX - Space Exploration Technologies Corp

I grew up reading about NASA's Mercury and Gemini programs, and watching Apollo missions as covered on television. I literally sat at my father's knee and watched NASA land men on the moon in 1969 with the Apollo 11 mission. Later, the NASA Space Shuttle program took astronauts into space and brought them back without a capsule splashdown - they landed on a runway like a commercial jet. For decades, NASA was the world leader in space travel.

Times are changing. NASA's budgets are shrinking, and the Space Shuttle program has now come to an end. Private enterprise is taking up at least some of the slack. An incredible private company called SpaceX (short for Space Exploration Technologies Corp) sent their Dragon capsule to dock with the International Space Station this past weekend in a show of technological prowess that only government programs (the USA, Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency) had achieved before.

In 2008, SpaceX won the NASA contract to replace the cargo transport function of the Space Shuttle with their Falcon 9 and Dragon vehicles. With a practical success now under their belt, astronaut transport is next. SpaceX seems well positioned to fill that role.

SpaceX also just won a contract to launch a communication satellite for Intelsat, a Washington DC based provider of communications services for media companies, ISPs, government agencies and corporations.

Elon Musk is the CEO of SpaceX and also CEO of Tesla Motors, makers of the all electric Tesla Roadster. He's also chairman of SolarCity, a provider of solar power systems in California. Prior to SpaceX, Musk co-founded PayPal.

Will space travel increasingly be the domain of private enterprise? What's the future of government operated programs like NASA? Please leave a comment and let us know what you think.


Thanks for reading! Blogs work best with active participation. If you enjoy this blog, please give it a +1 and leave a comment. Share it on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook. More readers will drive more discussion.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Second Screen Entertainment

52 inch TV, 10 inch tablet

Do you have a "second screen" with you when you watch television? A laptop or perhaps an iPad? Maybe a smartphone?

Lots of people do. For some, it may be that they hate to be away from Twitter for more than a few minutes, but for some it's about enhancing the TV experience. Perhaps you want to check IMDB to see who that actress is and what else she's acted in lately. Maybe you check scores and stats on while you watch the game. And that's just the beginning.

For the consumer, specialized apps on a tablet or a smartphone can expand the viewing experience, providing interactive features. Watch your favorite series while using the companion app on your iPad to learn more about a character or see extra scenes. Hear director commentary. Vote for the best dancer on Dancing with the Stars or your favorite singer on American Idol. Guess how much grandma's furniture is worth on Antique Road Show before the expert weighs in. For the television network, it's a chance to get instant feedback and a closer relationship with the viewing audience. Ultimately, that translates to more viewer engagement and loyalty, and better sales and marketing opportunities. More revenue.

While it may be possible to do some of these things by using the TV interface directly (with an Internet-ready TV or a set top box involved), that approach hasn't gained much traction. The approach that has is the simpler "second screen" approach.

Many are wondering whether Apple might change all that with a set of fresh ideas to make the television experience interactive in an elegant, integrated way. But users have already found an approach that works. Watch television along with a device that's already in their hand.

Are you a second screen viewer? Why or why not? Leave a comment and let us know.


Thanks for reading! Blogs work best with active participation. If you enjoy this blog, please give it a +1 and leave a comment. Share it on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook. More readers will drive more discussion.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

RapidGroove Rerun: Down To The Sea In Ships

Another Season At Sea

This past weekend I launched my fishing boat for the season. When I looked back to read the blog post I wrote after launching my boat a year ago in May 2011, I laughed out loud. The situation was exactly the same. Even the conversations I had with friends were more or less the same. Maybe this just means that we are creatures of habit. But I like to think that we love our boats and the routines we have with them, and that we appreciate our time on the water.

Please click the link below to read my 2011 blog post...
Down To The Sea In Ships

Friday, May 18, 2012

Web Search and Privacy

Personalized Search at a Cost

Web search companies collect and correlate lots of information that you voluntarily hand to them in order to deliver search results that are most relevant to you. I first wrote about this over a year ago in a post called Saving Private Browsing. By knowing a little more about you, they can give you merchant and restaurant results that are local, and search results that are in the context you probably intended. This is clearly a mixed blessing, though. First of all, it robs you of the serendipity of the unexpected (see my blog post Web As Echo Chamber) that can come when you search from outside your customized bubble. More than that, though, the collection, storage and correlation of lots of data about you can feel creepy as was found in a recent Pew Internet study. In that study, 73% of respondents said that they would "NOT BE OKAY with a search engine keeping track of searches and using that information to personalize future search results, because it is an invasion of privacy."

To expand on this thinking, consider the implications of a search engine company such as Google that also may handle your email (Gmail), your work and personal documents (Docs and Drive), and your casual video entertainment (YouTube). Correlating all that information could result in a dossier about you that might be eerily thick.

An ARS Technica article this week discussed this in more detail and talks about the approaches that alternative search engines such as DuckDuckGo are taking. In a nutshell, they are going out of their way to protect the privacy of those who use them for search. If that sounds interesting to you, why not give them a try?

A rapid change in our digital life from information we maintain on our own hard drive to information in the cloud, and from separate bite-sized information elements with minimal correlation to collected information that is mined and analyzed seems to me to be an enormous shift. That shift may be an insidious one because it's mostly invisible today.

How do you feel about collection, correlation and storage of information about you? Leave a comment and let us know.


Thanks for reading! Blogs work best with active participation. If you enjoy this blog, please give it a +1 and leave a comment. Share it on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook. More readers will drive more discussion.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Facebook IPO: 3 Things To Remember

Facebook Going Public

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's young CEO, turns 28 this week. His social network company is about to go public with a total value expected to be in the $100B range. Facebook is bound to experience change as a result. There are rumors about Facebook "app stores" and "paid posts" that are treated with priority.

We can talk about whether Facebook has real assets, or whether their ad revenue per user warrants an evaluation that approaches $100B. We can argue about Facebook and privacy, or whether some other social network will do to Facebook what Facebook did to MySpace. But there are a few things that are not up for any real debate. Facebook is a big deal in today's world, and no other single web service can boast 500+ million users. Few, if any, have the engagement of Facebook, with typical users spending many hours every week on Facebook.

Here are 3 things to keep in mind as the IPO approaches:

  1. Facebook will make profits priority one. When a company is publicly traded, it has a responsibility to shareholders. Facebook will now have to satisfy Wall Street and make money for investors, so it can't continue to operate based only on what Mark Zuckerberg thinks is cool. Recognizing that, we can expect to see Facebook change as a company, even with Zuckerberg still holding a majority stake and maintaining control.
  2. Facebook will get more mobile. A frequent knock on Facebook is that they haven't fully figured out how to monetize the mobile Facebook experience. In a world in which mobile access to Internet services is rapidly overtaking desktop access, Facebook knows they have to get mobile. How will they do it? Better ad deals? A Facebook phone? Facebook mobile payment plans? Keep an eye out. Facebook is sure to make a move to get more mobile.
  3. Facebook won't make you rich. You'll make Facebook rich. Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker get rich. You and I probably don't get to buy stock, and if we do, we won't get rich doing it. Mark and Sean will get rich, of course. To quote Sean Parker (or at least his character in the movies), "A million dollars isn't cool. You know what's cool? A billion dollars.
Are you going to try to buy some Facebook stock? Do you have a prediction on the future of Facebook as a company? Leave a comment and let us know.


Thanks for reading! A blog works best with active participation. If you enjoy this blog, please give it a +1 and leave a comment. Share it on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook. More readers will drive more discussion.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Apple WWDC 2012 Predictions

The Apple World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) for 2012 is now a month away. Time to start making predictions.

WWDC takes place every year during June in San Francisco and is the venue for Apple to speak with their faithful developer community, so it tends to be focused on operating systems and software rather than product announcements. That said, some fairly large hardware products have been announced some years. Among them, the switch to Intel processors in 2005, the Mac Pro in 2006, MacBook Pro in 2009 and new versions of iPhones in three of the last five years.

Just about every year includes a big MacOS announcement, or at least a great many details of an upcoming version. This year, for example, we can expect to hear a lot about MacOS 10.8 Mountain Lion. In recent years, WWDC has also been a stage for details on upcoming versions of iOS, the operating system that powers iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touch devices. It's reasonable to guess that we'll hear about iOS 6.

Here are some possible things we might hear, and my estimation of the probability of each:

  • Details of MacOS 10.8  – (Probability 1.0) : This is the one and only sure thing. Apple will speak to their developers about upcoming features of MacOS.
  • Announcement and details of iOS 6 – (Probability 0.9) : This is about as close to a sure thing as we can get. iOS is the operating system on more of the devices that Apple sells than any other and iOS will figure heavily in their message.
  • Announcement of the iPhone 5  – (Probability 0.2) : Probably not gonna happen. Expect to see the next iPhone in October.
  • A new Mac computer model  – (Probability 0.4) : Always a possibility.
  • Minor updates to existing Mac models  – (Probability 0.7) : This is quite likely. I'll go out on a limb and make a specific prediction: I think we'll see the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air lines converge.
  • AppleTV software updates  – (Probability 0.8) : Software updates come from time to time to Apple's "hobby". If we don't hear about updates here, it'll only be because some recent updates already have been released. 
  • Standalone Apple Television device  – (Probability 0.2) : This one will remain a rumor.
  • New iLife versions or modules  – (Probability 0.8) : New version of the iLife software

    Those are my predictions at this early date. Maybe I'll refine them as the date gets closer. What do you think we'll hear about? Leave a comment and let us know!

    Thanks for reading! A blog works best with active participation. If you enjoy this blog, please give it a +1 and leave a comment. Share it on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook. More readers will drive more discussion.

    Monday, May 7, 2012

    RapidGroove Rerun: Cord Cutting

    (I'm traveling for business, so I'm posting a previous blog post on Cord Cutting [orig pub date Sep 27 2011]  today. I hope you enjoy this RapidGroove Rerun!)

    Saying goodbye to cable TV and landline phone service

    Triple Play

    Ever hear Verizon, Comcast or Cablevision talk about “the triple play?” They want to sell you Phone, Cable TV and Internet services for your home as a package. They get more business, you get a combined bill. Everybody wins. In reality, of course, this is an approach that telephone companies and cable television companies, previously in separate businesses, use to fight each other for the same services to the same customers.

    Some consumers prefer not to keep all three services, though. Those people are cord cutters.

    Voice on the Internet

    Many have figured out that the traditional landline telephone service may not be the necessity it once was. Some will gladly use their mobile phones when at home if they have strong signal and a carrier plan with plenty of minutes to use. Others replace home landline service with Internet based services like Skype (now owned by Microsoft). Skype allows users to communicate over the Internet to other computers for free, and to telephones for very competitive rates. For those who still want a standard telephone handset, there are services like Vonage and Magic Jack, both of which leverage the broadband Internet connection in a home but preserve the standard telephone handset experience.

    Internet Television

    Replacing your Cable TV service by leveraging your Internet connection is a little less straightforward but not because the technology is unavailable. Ask anyone who watches Netflix, or Hulu Plus. Great content can be sent over the Internet to your computer or your television. These services are simple and effective. But unlike voice communications, where the "content" is the voices of the two communicating parties, the content for television is tightly controlled. Controlled by movie studios, television program production and distribution companies, and cable television companies like Comcast and Cablevision. These companies have a complex ecosystem of content creation and distribution, and a well understood income model. To avoid breaking that ecosystem and risking their income, pressures are being applied at various points to prevent Netflix, Hulu and the like from having access to the broadest range of quality content. Not out of a fear that content will be stolen (although that's probably a concern as well), but out of a fear that all the business arrangements would need to be renegotiated, that there would be unexpected winners and losers, and that overall revenue would go way down.

    The Future

    I believe that the days of dedicated telephone networks and traditional landline telephone service are numbered. Good Internet access is finally reaching even the most rural areas. Internet access in every home – and in every mobile phone and tablet – is the death blow to traditional landline phone service. I predict that within a decade or less, traditional home telephone service will drop below 30% of US households.

    Cable and satellite TV services are another matter. They could just as easily disappear and be subsumed by video entertainment services over the Internet. All the same content could be sent over the Internet, and monitization models exist already. Hulu Plus, Netflix, and iTunes are examples. But entrenched business models that work well for everyone in the supply chain (though not for the consumer) won't give way so easily. 

    The lesson of the music industry, though, is that it really might not be possible to hold onto traditional business models when the public wants a change. If people want to access television and movie content over the Internet to watch on their computers, smartphones and tablets, if they want unbundling of television channels and the ability to buy shows or series or channels in an a la carte way – and they are willing to pay – the industry is better served by figuring out how to change than by how to hang on to the past.

    How long until a fast and reliable Internet connection allows for consumers to make arrangements for voice and video services in the combinations and forms they wish? 

    Do you have an opinion on this? Please leave a comment and let us know your thoughts.


    If you enjoy this blog, please +1 it below, share it on Facebook, Google+ or Twitter, or suggest it to your friends.  More readers will drive more discussion. Thanks!

    Thursday, May 3, 2012

    Google Glass "In" - Mail Goggles "Out"

    Googles' Glasses and Goggles

    Are you familiar with the Gmail Labs  experiment Google Mail Goggles? It allowed you to try to save yourself from yourself using math to filter your good judgment from your bad. Let me explain.

    Picture a Friday night. You are about to go out drinking. You know yourself all too well, and realize that after a few pitchers of beer you might stumble home and send angry email to your boss or your ex-spouse or send romantic email to a casual acquaintance or come clean to the IRS about past income tax "decisions." So, using Google Mail Goggles, you set a trap for yourself. "If I can't solve a few simple math problems, I'm too impaired to send responsible email."

    Good idea, right? Not good enough apparently. Google's Gmail Labs introduces new ideas all the time, and retires those that don't have a future. Recently, they've brought Google Translate to Gmail to make email translation a little smoother, while at about the same time they decided to retire Google Mail Goggles.

    I have to wonder whether Goggles and Project Glass were named a little too close for comfort. If so, one of them had to go and the choice was a no brainer.

    Had you been using Google Mail Goggles? Would you have used it if you knew it existed? Leave a comment and let us know.


    Thanks for reading! A blog works best with active participation. If you enjoy this blog, please give it a +1 and leave a comment. Share it on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook. More readers will drive more discussion.

    Wednesday, May 2, 2012

    British Government Blocks Pirate Bay

    Earlier this week, the five largest british ISPs were ordered by british courts to block access to Pirate Bay. This follows a move earlier this year in which Dutch courts ordered ISPs to block Pirate Bay at the urging of BREIN, a Dutch entertainment industry organization similar to the RIAA in the USA.

    As a reminder, Pirate Bay is a service which lets users browse and search for links that a BitTorrent client can use to download content. There's no denying that a huge percentage of the content linked to by Pirate Bay is content for which rights-holders would not want free distribution to take place. Pirate Bay doesn't host the content, but it does host the links to the content. They are playing a part in theft of intellectual property.

    How the ISPs will actually go about blocking remains to be seen. Filtering by IP address or DNS name is likely to be only a partial and perhaps temporary solution. Doing a thorough job could gum-up the works at the ISPs, spending engineering time on enforcement rather than keeping the network running well.

    Illegal file sharing is a serious problem that deserves serious attention. No reasonable person wants artists to have their hard work stolen, as that hurts us all. But large scale tampering with the international communications infrastructure on which so much depends has until recently been the domain of repressive governments, not progressive western governments who value freedom (and stable communications) above tight control. Breaking the Internet to provide protection is not a real answer to piracy. These recent court orders are setting a dangerous precedent for a future in which the Internet varies greatly based on what country you are in and which ISPs are involved in passing your packets. More than that, these court orders force complexity into a system that works best when complexity is minimized.

    Will a similar order come to the US? Should it? Please leave a comment and let us know what you think.


    Thanks for reading! A blog works best with active participation. If you enjoy this blog, please give it a +1 and leave a comment. Share it on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook. More readers will drive more discussion.