Selling SortGadget

SortGadget home page

I built sortgadget a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The site is pretty simple – it lets you browse Amazon cameras for sale. It has a couple of sliders to narrow down your purchase criteria and then in theory makes affiliate sales commission. In theory.

Only I never did anything with it, so now it’s for sale on flippa with a reserve of $1 for anyone who does actually want to spend the time iterating it to something useful can do so.

Article about OSM and SotM

I’ve been meaning to post a link over to this article by Carl Franzen for a little while. It neatly summarizes the US State of the Map conference and where OpenStreetMap is today.

The nice thing is that I can’t find any mistakes in Carl’s article. It’s literally the first piece of fact-checked deep journalism on OSM I’ve ever seen. Because of that, it’s worth a read.

Square Wallet

Square Wallet

I’ve been curious to try Square Wallet for a while. You run an iPhone app which magically knows where you are and transmits this to Square Central, which I imagine to be sort of like the Wonka Factory. Square needs to know your credit card details and then will let you make payments without having to swipe or sign.

I found a cafe and thought the story would be something like stand in line, open the app, click on what I wanted, magically get served and pay.

In reality you can browse the menu but it’s dog slow to do so and there is no ordering. Instead you order with the server as normal and you pop up magically on their terminal, which happens to be an iPad.

iPad Point of Sale with Square reader poking out

Then when you come to pay you say your name and they have a photo of you (taken when you set up wallet) to verify the transaction. After you pay the receipt almost instantly appears on your iPhone.

Square Wallet showing my receipt

This particular cafe also had 20% off the first purchase which rings all sorts of Groupon-esque alarm bells. And that’s an interesting train of thought; given the data they have on sellers, purchasers and transactions there are all kinds of fun analytics to be had. Hey, we know you buy coffee over there, switch to here for a week and get 10% off. It’s a more compelling idea than Groupon since they can do deeper tracking to see if you actually become a regular customer or whatever. The level of detail will be stunning if they can get the adoption; hey we know you like Beer x on a Friday, try this other place…

The problem I had is that I don’t have phone service. Normally I could have opened the app, or had it running in the background and it would do all this stuff over AT&T but instead I had to join the free wifi at the cafe first. That made it feel a bit clunky but I’m a tiny minority.

I figure the real transformational experience will be next summers batch of farmers markets. All those guys use square now and it will be possible to go from stand to stand making purchases without using cash or card. The time saving now I think about it would be substantial.

Square map

One last note on the nice design tweaks to the maps they show in the app. It looks like the Apple maps API in the background with some shadows around the map and a striped layer of darkness on top to give it the feel of being a semi-folded paper map. Very nice.



Great contra-article on VC

A nice article by Melanie;

A little anecdote: I have a friend of mine who runs a relatively well-known startup in NYC. He literally LIVES at the office. I’m serious, he moved in. And before that, he slept on the couch most nights. And, after working this hard for almost 2 years, guess how much revenue this startup is generating? Zero. Not a fucking penny. After 2 years of work! Now, I understand that they are trying to build a massive user base with network effects, blah blah blah, but, I’m sorry, that is absolutely fucking insane. I could never see myself living my life that way. I am just not built for it. To put in that many years of your life, and thousands of hours of work, for what will most likely turn out to be an unsuccessful startup, is just crazy to me. But, from reading the tech press, you would think this is one of the hottest startups in New York!

Surface Launch

Microsoft Store in Colorado

I drove through the cold sun of a Colorado morning to the MS store at Lone Tree in Colorado to catch the tail end of the Surface launch. Getting there a couple of hours after opening, there were still over 100 people queuing to enter. It was a bit confusing since the store was relatively accessible and then I found out the queue was just for the people waiting to buy one, everyone else was already buying one. The store made people wait so they saw someone to unbox the device and ask any questions which makes sense.

The energy wandering around was quite something, loud beat music and smiles everywhere. The wrap around video wall was used to great effect with various Win8 promotional material flying around.

Surface on display

The device itself was impressive. Felt like an iPad with a bunch of differentiators.  The windows button was touch sensitive unlike my x86 tablet with its normal solid button. The Touch Cover was deeply awesome and the thing I was worried wouldn’t work; the difference between resting your fingers on it and pressing was noticeable. Basically it felt like the apprehension of using an on-screen keyboard for the first few times: would it work? Yes it does, very well.

The engineering behind the cover, the device, the power cable, the stand is all way above par. This isn’t a piece of plastic. The stand is actually really nice but I’m not sure how it’ll work out on the tray table of a aircraft seat. Multi-touch was great, including things like rotating birdseye aerial maps in the Bing Maps app.

Asus Windows 8 RT tablet

But wait! There’s more! There were tons of other Win8 devices around the store. The one above was an ASUS tablet with Microsoft keyboard and mouse. The keyboard was sweet but the mouse didn’t fit me well. The tablet itself is great, it’s more expensive than a surface for some reason that I didn’t bother to find out, probably more memory or something. The construction was great compared to other more plastic-derived devices. Actually, the keyboard was fantastic. Even compared to Apple mini keyboards with Bluetooth.

There were a bunch of desktop flatscreen all-on-one-computers also running Win8 and I can’t say there was a fault with any of them other than how it feels slightly strange touching the screen. After all, every computer I’ve used in the last 20 years or so hasn’t had one.

Overall? I know I work at Microsoft but even so, this is great execution. The store was approachable, the hardware was clearly very well thought out and the end product fit between the place, the people and the sale was put together excellently. It’s not far off from when I first went to an Apple Store, just evolved.

eBay Intellectual Property Enforcement

I’m selling a lot of junk on eBay right now, something I do every year or so. This time around I’ve been caught by surprise at all the rejected listings.

I have a piece of software shipped with computers (so-called OEM or Original Equipment Manufacturer) about 20 years ago. eBay blocked it after a couple of days saying I have to ship the original computer with it. Fair enough, that was the license I guess but I have no idea where the original computer is.

I have a number of stickers for household security which was blocked for trademark infringement. Given that they are genuine stickers and I’m not misrepresenting them as real when they’re fake, this is apparently complete bullshit. eBay is being used as a tool by the manufacturer to make these spurious claims and kill the market. eBay advises you that you basically can’t do anything about it apart from contact the company making the complaint, who of course have no interest in talking to you.

I have two language learning sets with, I don’t know, 25 DVDs each or something. Both have just been blocked for copyright infringement after a complaint from the manufacturer. I’m squinting to see that one. I would guess it might be a license infringement but copyright sounds like a stretch. But what do I know.

So, four items for sale blocked for apparent license, trademark and copyright violations that I was essentially unaware of and surprised to see.

The key points are that eBay isn’t really on the customers side here, they won’t even talk to you. IP enforcement is much bigger than it used to be on eBay and whatever the rights and wrongs is holding back the secondary market. And, all these items are now destined for landfill instead of being reused by people who either can’t buy them new (literally they’re not for sale any more) or can’t afford the first sale price. Which is a shame.

WiFi is everywhere so drop your cell phone plan

It’s been about a week since I dumped my cell phone service and it hasn’t really changed anything.

The turning point was dropping a phone and cracking the screen. I discovered that the $5/month AT&T insurance plan doesn’t actually insure you for anything I can find. Fast forward through painful phone calls with AT&T, visits to stores which aren’t allowed to repair the phone… and wondering why am I paying these guys?

Free WiFi is now everywhere.

So the fact is that I spend only a tiny part of each day not around wifi. Think about everywhere you go and it’s likely the majority have free wifi. Every pub I went to in London recently had free wifi.

How do I get calls? Skype and Google Voice. Google let me send and receive text messages for free. Skype lets me make and receive calls. Both offer me voicemail. To the outside world it all looks like the same phone number. Both run nicely in the background on an old iPhone 4 I have.

Data rate has not been an issue so far. In fact at Vancouver airport with 50 people at a gate waiting for a flight it was good enough for video calls over Skype. The main downside are those access points which require you to click accept, but they’re actually fairly rare when you spend most of your time at home or at work.

Offline maps are solved with offmaps 2.

I’ve yet to run in to a situation where I needed cell phone coverage. Emergency calls will still work from the phone even without a sim card and it so happens that everyone around you has a phone on them too if you’re really that desperate.

A nice side bonus is saving a ton of cash and disconnecting a little bit, it’s good to be unreachable occasionally even if that means just when I’m driving.


How will you measure your life?

Clayton Christensen is a hero of mine since reading The Innovator’s Dilemma some number of years ago.

This short book offers a 20:20 hindsight tour of how to allocate your time to maximize some function of happiness. There’s a particularly interesting section offering a model for why youth unemployment is so high. He characterizes success as having a combination of resources, priorities and processes. He posits that kids have a lot of resources (money, education, moms shuttling kids to piano lessons and soccer) but no clue how to take those resources and process them in to building something for themselves. Priorities help guide which process to use with which resource when.

I’ve seen that enough to believe it.

The unfortunate forays in to God and Faith subtract from an overall excellent, and concise, book.

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