After Five years in the Android Camp, a switch to the iPhone

After wearing 5 different Android phones over as many years, I’ve moved on to the iPhone. It’s been a good run. There have been some hit phones, some misses, and a couple I wish I’d rather forget. I will miss the smug satisfaction of having developer access to a phone. I grew fond of that anti-establishment, hacker mentality not beholden to the cult of the big apple, not being evil and all that. Like I said, before it ended, it was a good run with Android.

I well remember the excitement of the first Google Developer Conferences. Lots of smart geeks who weren’t making much money but who were passionate about their mobile phone hobby. People lugging around G1’s with the slideout keyboard, a breakthrough device but bearing all the charm of a tabletop calculator. Then the first Nexus, my favorite Android device and also the only phone I’ve ever owned that fit ergonomically in the hand.

To be honest, the buzz died for me two years ago when I bought the errant creation of a misbegotten marriage between HTC and Verizon. It was the first LTE phone on the best cellular network in the US and the Internet was as fast as blazes and unlimited. I remember walking around streaming high quality video just because I could. It looked fantastic until three hours passed and the battery died. And so I bought an extended battery which felt like some kind of power tool in the pocket and the battery still didn’t last an entire day.

My last Android phone was actually a perfectly decent phone, which just two years ago would have blown away any other phone on the market. It bears the elegantly masculine name of the Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx HD, has wallpaper that looks like an exploding spaceship, and enthusiastically chants ‘Droid’ every time it powers up. The battery even lasts all day.

Then I traded it in for an iPhone 5.

Why the loss of faith? It’s not a simple answer but there are some things about the Android ecosystem that just don’t work well.

First of all, there’s fragmentation. Each Android phone has a uniquely inconsistent user interface, different software, and requires a different integration into your life. The apps are lower quality, because from an application developer’s standpoint, there are literally thousands of hardware and software combinations out there which are very hard to design for.

Bad carrier and OEM decisions. Most Android phones come with preloaded apps which can never be uninstalled. This latest phone, when I first plugged it into my Mac, prompted me to install some proprietary backup software on my laptop which was useless if not harmful, and of course it had an extremely well hidden installer. My last phone repeatedly prompted me to enter my Facebook and Twitter accounts only to produce an unusable list of ‘contacts’. This is the result of decisions by large carriers and handset manufacturers, or actually, their tiers of mid-level product people with little experience of what mobile users need and executives who understand even less. Apple has made some tone-deaf moves (for example, a Maps app with faulty directions) but overall keeps users at the center of the experience.

The market statistics correctly show the ascent of Android to market leadership and that’s because there are millions of inexpensive Android smartphones being churned out. Carriers like it because they can be customized to their needs and they aren’t forced into a business relationship with Apple. Many consumers who can afford the iPhone still prefer an Android phone for specialized purposes such as gaming, video viewing, and enterprise app integration.

The future mobile market is still wide open. Microsoft has a war chest in the billions to fund their next generation of phones. Personally I hope PalmOS gets revived under a better caretaker and gives Apple some beautifully designed competition. Or maybe there’s a new startup out there that will create a better phone or networked watch or digital glasses. I sure hope so.

Life report (change is good)

Via David Brooks:

The closest things I’ve been able to find to Life Reports of this sort are the essays some colleges ask their alumni to write for their 25th and 50th reunions. For example, I just stumbled across a collection of short autobiographies that the Yale class of 1942 wrote for their 50th reunion. Some of the lives are inspiring, and some are ones you’d want to avoid.

The most common lament in this collection is from people who worked at the same company all their lives and now realize how boring they must seem. These people passively let their lives happen to them. One man described his long, uneventful career at an insurance company and concluded, “Wish my self-profile was more exciting, but it’s a little late now.”…

The most exciting essays were written by the energetic, restless people, who took their lives off in new directions midcourse. One man, who was white, trained an all-black unit during World War II, was a director of the pharmaceutical company that developed The Pill, and then served as a judge at an international court at The Hague. “Career-wise, it was a rocky road,” another wrote, “but if diversity is the spice of life, then mine resembled hot Indian curry.” Nobody regretted the life changes they made, even when they failed.


Amazon and the Kindle Fire

I had the opportunity to meet Jeff Bezos a few years back at the first Web 2.0 Conference. Even at that early stage he came across as an amazing visionary. But I’ve only grown more impressed at his ability to innovate beyond online e-commerce, whether it’s launching a hardware device like the Kindle or getting into the cloud computing business with EC2 and AWS. At the rate they are going, I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon becomes the world’s next dominant (or even monopolist) technology company.

More on this over at GoodScreensMedia.

Why has pay risen so high in the financial sector?

Today  one of the staff at the Clover lunch truck was telling me about the upcoming protest at Dewey Square in front of the Boston Federal Reserve.

I think the financial protests can do a lot of good, but I really hope everyone can focus the message.  There are some very easy pickings that could get mainstream support.

Such as the fact that economic growth has flattened while financial compensation has risen.  I don’t see how anyone can look at this chart and not be troubled, not only morally but because it shows that something is historically wrong with our economy.

The chart is from David Frum who says “From 1945 until 1980, people in finance did not significantly outearn on average people in other sectors. After 1980, nonfinancial pay flattened, while financial pay accelerated. By 2008, the average employee in finance was earning double the average employee in non-finance.”

There’s a great quote from Naseem Taleeb about why the industry doesn’t self-regulate:

“But the puzzle represents an even bigger elephant. Why does any investment manager buy the stocks of banks that pay out very large portions of their earnings to their employees?

The promise of replicating past returns cannot be the reason, given the inadequacy of those returns. In fact, filtering out stocks in accordance with payouts would have lowered the draw-downs on investment in the financial sector by well over half over the past 20 years, with no loss in returns.

Why do portfolio and pension-fund managers hope to receive impunity from their investors?”

But obviously the self-regulation isn’t occurring, which indicates that both government and popular protest have a role to play in fixing this.

Singapore’s rise to wealthy nation

Ever since reading The Great Stagnation, I’ve been wondering where to invest.  If the US, Europe, and Japan are possibly headed toward decades of zero to low growth, the emerging markets would seem a better bet.

That inspired me to pick up the memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of the modern state of Singapore who ruled through its transition from poor nation to one of the world’s wealthiest.

This was no accident, it was the result of a closely planned economy and very long planning horizons.  Even now that they’ve become a rich nation, they are planning for the future in a way that would be unimaginable in the US.

“Sustained growth ensures stability, which encourages investments that create wealth. Because we made the difficult decisions early, we have aestablished a virtuous cycle – low expenditure, high savings; low welfeare, high investments. We have accumulated assets during the last 30 years of strong growth with a relatively youthful workforce.

In the next 20 years, our economic growth will slow down as our population ages. Private savings rates will decline, and health care costs will rise sharply with more old people, just when taxpayers as a percentage of the population will decrease. We can partly meet this problem by taking steps early to ensure the old will have larger Medisave savings; the better answer is to attract educated and skilled immigrants to enlarge our talent pool and increase both GDP and revenue. The government must give increased financial and administrative support to more community welfare projects, as many as there are social volunteers to drive and supervise them.”

From Third World to First by Lee Kuan Yew (p. 107)

The high status of teachers in Finland, Japan, and Korea

While standardized testing, merit pay for teachers, and removing union power all play a role in education reform, these factors pale in comparison to the status of teachers.  If teaching is a high status profession, young graduates will flock to it.

In the US, it is not a high status position and our elite college graduates rarely enter the field.  Contrast this with Japan, where teachers are considered high ranking members of their community and are even called by the title sensei (also used for doctors).

Here’s the story in Finland (it started with legislation):

The second critical decision came in 1979, when reformers required that every teacher earn a fifth-year master’s degree in theory and practice at one of eight state universities—at state expense. From then on, teachers were effectively granted equal status with doctors and lawyers. Applicants began flooding teaching programs, not because the salaries were so high but because autonomy and respect made the job attractive. In 2010, some 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots, according to Sahlberg.

From Smithsonian Magazine

I don’t understand why this story is so rarely covered in the press.  It seems to be the most solidly proven factor behind the success of the world’s best education systems.

Fears of radiation in Japan

Having recently traveled near the nuclear-impacted Fukushima region, we watched the Japanese media hyping up the story of the day.  Apparently, grain from Fukishima farmers had been harvested and mixed into the feed supply for cattle, resulting in the discovery of beef samples with higher than usual levels of radiation.

On the surface, this sounds like legitimate news.  But when you dig into the numbers, it starts to look like paranoia.  Most frustrating of all is the media’s inability to deal with numbers.  Do journalists skip math classes?  I can’t understand why even the best news sources (the New York Times, for example) gloss over numerical facts in favor of quotes and human interest angles.  For news coverage of this type of story, there’s only one thing that matters:  scientific evidence accumulated by generations of nuclear scientists.

So I dug up some sources which do a better job.

The contaminated beef has very low levels of radiation.  Eating the worst sample tested would result in less radiation than a person would receive during a flight from NYC to Tokyo (and that’s only if you can eat a 2 pound steak).

As of Thursday, the most highly contaminated beef found contained radioactive cesium of 4,350 becquerels per kilogram, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. The meat did not reach the market.

Eating 1 kg of the meat is roughly equal to a radiation dose of 82.65 microsieverts for a period during which radioactive cesium remains in one’s body. If a person eats food with radioactive cesium, half the amount remains in the body for nine days for a baby younger than 1. But the duration gets longer as people age, and it takes 90 days for those aged 50.

The 82.65 microsieverts compares with the 100 microsieverts of radiation a person would be exposed to during a one-way flight from Tokyo to New York.

From JapanTimes 

Now that being said, radiation is extremely dangerous in large doses.  People should not be near the nuclear plant without protective gear.

The most heavily contaminated spot was in the town of Okuma about two miles southwest of the plant, where someone living for a year would be exposed to 508.1 millisieverts of radiation — far above the level of 20 millesieverts per year that the government considers safe.

From NYT

Another useful comparison is the radiation received during chest Xrays.  For example, nuclear workers are not supposed to receive more than 2 chest Xrays worth of radiation per year.

100 millisieverts (mSv)-a millisievert is a unit of radiation dose equivalent to about 10 general chest X-rays. This dose is about five times the maximum annual dose limit currently permitted for workers in nuclear facilities (20 mSv per year). Average worldwide natural “background” radiation is about 2.4 mSv annually.

Fewer than 10 percent of the 116,000 people evacuated from the “exclusion zone” received doses greater than 50 mSv; fewer than 5 percent received more than 100 mSv.

from IAEA 

And of course smoking is far worse than any light exposure to nuclear radiation.

Some consumer products are also sources of radiation. A person who smokes two packs of cigarettes per day receives 8,000 mrem per year. Smoke detectors produce about 1/100 mrem per year. Certain household appliances such as color television sets and microwave ovens also produce very small amounts of radiation. On the average, consumer products account for about 3 percent of our annual exposure.  [note:  1 rem = 0.01 Sv]

From US Army 

And for those paranoid countries that are turning off their nuclear reactors out of fear of another Fukushima, note the comparison with living near a coal plant coal:

Average annual radiation dose is 360 millirems per person. 300 from natural sources.

Coal plant, living within 50 miles: .03 mrem
There is much thorium and uranium in coal. Living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant adds .009 mrem of exposure. Both figures are considered extremely low levels.

Smoking: up to 16,000 mrems

Living on the Earth: 200 mrems

From PBS

Did Google Navigation hurt GDP?

From Timothy Blee, a thought experiment that builds on Tyler Cowen's concept of how the Internet improves our lives without impacting the conventionally measured economy.

Suppose we lived in the world of Harry Potter, and one day in the late 1950s RCA hired a wizard to wave his magic wand and transform all of the world’s black and white sets into color sets. This would clearly represent a large increase in the standard of living—a larger increase, in fact, than the non-magical process whereby people have to buy new, more expensive, televisions. Yet the government in the alternate universe would almost certainly have recorded a smaller increase in GDP. Our own BLS would see consumers buying more expensive televisions while in the Harry Potter universe consumers would be happy with the old, cheap ones. Hence, consumers circa 1970 would be wealthier in that universe than in ours, but official GDP statistics would show just the opposite.

Today these magic wands exist. For example, a couple of years ago, Google waved a magic wand that transformed millions of Android phones into sophisticated navigation devices with turn-by-turn directions. This was functionality that people had previously paid hundreds of dollars for in stand-alone devices. Now it’s just another feature that comes with every Android phone, and the cost of Android phones hasn’t gone up. I haven’t checked, but I bet that this wealth creation was not reflected in GDP statistics. And it’s actually worse than that: as people stop buying stand-alone GPS devices, Google’s innovation will actually show up in the statistics as a reduction in GDP.

Online News Disruption

Fascinating analysis of disruption in the news industry.  NYT is like USsteel fighting minimills (HuffPo, etc).  Online news orgs are competitive only on lower end of linkbait but are finding ways to move upscale.  Battle will be lost when HuffPo opens its first foreign bureaus at a fraction of the usual cost.

(In other news, the WHERE news seems to have unleashed my desire to blog again.  Good.)