FM receivers in smartphones

The makers of the NextRadio app recently announced that Samsung will be enabling the FM receiver chip on future smartphones. The phones already have the receiver, but they are generally not enabled. Enabling FM receivers on phones is great news.

As someone who has used a smartphone’s FM receiver, I want to be clear that it’s not a great experience. Headphone wires work as antennas, but not very well.

The main benefit is in emergency situations. In a widespread disaster, cellular service may be down or overwhelmed. Receiving FM broadcasts is a low-power way of receiving important information from officials. Indeed, I’d like to see the manufacturers go one step further and include receivers that receive All-Hazards Radio in addition to the commercial FM band.

Now, it’s possible that I’d use an FM receiver outside of emergency situations. I sometimes listen to Purdue sports on the radio if I’m doing yard work or otherwise unable to sit down and watch TV. The Purdue Sports Radio Network streams over TuneIn, which works pretty well. But there’s a delay, and if I’m moving in and out of Wi-Fi range, it becomes unreliable.

I guess I’ll see which models Samsung starts with before I figure out my phone upgrade plans. I don’t expect Apple to follow suit any time soon. Their embrace of wireless headphones means iPhones will have no antenna.

Using Kickstarter to raise money for businesses

Earlier this week, my local newspaper ran an article about a beloved coffee shop launching a Kickstarter campaign to help fund its renovation. My immediate reaction was one of minor disgust. It seems wrong for an established business to crowdfund an investment in the business. And let’s be clear, that’s what this renovation is.

The Kickstarter rules don’t expressly prohibit this. In fact, they seem to invite it. And a neighborhood coffee shop is not the same as a national chain. Nonetheless, it’s counter to what I view as the intent of Kickstarter.

In my mind, Kickstarter and similar sites are for funding creative, independent works that the creator can’t get traditional funding for. An established business should be able to secure a loan if what they’re doing makes sense, no?

I am perhaps being a little hypocritical, though. The first Kickstarter project I backed was LeVar Burton’s revival of “Reading Rainbow”. That was certainly a business endeavor that he could have probably obtained money for (or perhaps he could have self-funded it). The nostalgia certainly helped open my wallet.

Kickstarter is a unique, though. A fully-funded project is not guaranteed to be successful. Many games and hardware projects have fizzled, leaving backers with little to show for their money. In that sense, it’s like an investment, except for the part where there’s no equity. Maybe it’s more like a donation. But why donate to a for-profit project?

Edited on January 12, 2018 at 12am EST: As Dave points out below, Greyhouse is a not-for-profit. This makes it more confusing, since donations would have tax benefits to the donor and enable Greyhouse to take advantage of employer matching. Using Kickstarter seems like a less-beneficial route for them. It’s also possible that Greyhouse is just saying they’re a not-for-profit without obtaining any IRS status. The Campus House organization that founded Greyhouse is a 501(c)(3), but it’s not immediately clear to me if Greyhouse is a legally-distinct entity or not.

Book review: Inside the Tornado

Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm is perhaps the single most influential technology marketing book. When I first read it a few years ago, everything in it made sense and it gave me a better feel for where my company was (spoiler alert: it’s not necessarily where we thought we were). So when several people recommended Inside the Tornadoa sequel of sorts – I was ready to dig in and love it.

But I didn’t love it. It’s not because Moore is wrong. I don’t claim to know enough to assert that, and in fact I think he’s probably right on the whole. My dislike for the book instead is a matter of literary and ethical concerns.

The literary concern is what struck me first, so I’ll start there. Whereas the metaphor in Chasm is very straightforward, Tornado is a mess. You start in the bowling alley and then a tornado develops and eventually you end up on Main Street. Also, you want to be a gorilla or maybe a chimpanzee, but probably not a monkey. In fairness to Mr. Moore, some of this is because the concepts he tried to communicate became more complex in Tornado. Instead of the broad concepts of the Technology Adoption Life Cycle, he focuses on the more intricate motions that happen on a smaller scale. As a meteorologist, I can appreciate this. Nonetheless, the roughness of the metaphor distracted me from the message of the book.

I’m also not particularly keen on what Moore tells us we must do to achieve dominance in the market. “To hell with quality or what your customer wants” may be the best way to achieve the market position you want when conditions are favorable to you. That doesn’t mean it’s what I want to do. Reading this book made me think of Don McLean’s third-most popular song: “if winning is what matters I respect the ones who fail.”

I suppose it may be a disconnect between my goals and what Moore assumes my goals are. Although I am a very competitive person, I am not interested in winning for winning’s sake. I want to do work that makes the world better, and if we’re in second or third place, that just means that others are also making the world a better place. That doesn’t seem like losing to me.

Inside the Tornado is one of those books that every technology marketer should read. But that doesn’t mean I recommend it.

Other writing in December 2017

What am I writing when I’m not writing here?

What I wrote

Opensource.com

What I curated

SysAdvent

  • Inspect gives insight – My annual SysAdvent article edit covers a tool for testing system configuration.

Opensource.com

My 2017 in review

What a year, huh? We made it, though. 2018 began this morning and so far it’s off to a cold start here in Indiana. I liked the 2016 year in review that I wrote, so I thought I’d make it a annual tradition. Let’s look back and see how things went.

I made a public resolution for 2017, which is not something I normally do. I resolved to read articles before sharing them. That seems like a pretty low bar to clear, but let’s be honest with ourselves: it’s really easy to share things that sound good without reading them. I can’t swear that I fully kept this resolution, but I think I did pretty well with it. If nothing else, there were a few articles that seemed good but didn’t stand up to a skeptical reading. I’ll keep doing this in 2018 and hope that it catches on. We’d all be better off.

I also set a goal of writing 150 articles in 2017 (not counting anything I wrote for work). I fell short of that mark, but I still wrote more than I did in 2016. I finished the year with 122 articles compared to the 101 I wrote last year. The quality and length of the content varied. Some of them were basically “here’s a list of links from stuff I wrote last month.” Others were thousand-plus word articles on topics related to high performance computing. I’m going to aim for 120 articles in 2018, with the hope of keeping a steadier pace.

Chart of article publication pace for 2016 and 2017

My article publication pace for 2016 and 2017. Note the flurry of activity early in 2017 when the pace flirted with 200 articles, followed by the long slide to 122 in the second half of the year.

I started a newsletter this year. I blather on for a paragraph or two and then I share links to things I liked on the Internet that week. People who scroll to the bottom also see links to articles I curated and wrote. I consider it a success because 1. I’ve consistently published every week for several months and 2. more than zero people read it every month. The road to being a Thought Leader™ is long.

Blog Fiasco

This blog had what I would call a mixed year. I published 87 posts compared to 2016’s 78, but views were down about 30%. The number of visitors only fell about 20%. It’s a good thing I’m not writing this to become famous or make money. Nonetheless, I got about 3% of my views from Reddit and Hacker News, so I’m not entirely ignored. I still don’t do anything to promote my blog beyond my social media accounts and my newsletter. Any uptick in traffic is because people felt something I wrote was worth sharing, not because I’m a marketing genius.

Top 10 articles in 2017

These are the top Blog Fiasco articles in 2017, along with their 2016 rank.

  1. Solving the CUPS “hpcups failed” error (1)
  2. New to Fedora: WordGrinder (published in 2017)
  3. elementary misses the point (7)
  4. Hints for using HTCondor’s credd and condor_store_cred (8)
  5. When your HP PSC 1200 All-in-One won’t print (3)
  6. I have a new employer (published in 2017)
  7. Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life (2)
  8. HP laptop keyboard won’t type on Linux (published in 2017)
  9. Disappearing WiFi with rt2800pci (unranked)
  10. Accessing Taleo from Mac or Linux (5)

I published that CUPS post in 2010 and it has consistently been my most-visited article. It is trending downward, though. It averaged 5 views a day in 2015, 4 in 2016, and 2 this year. This may be because Google’s algorithm de-weights posts as they age (it probably does), but I’d also like to think it has something to do with CUPS being more reliable than ever before.​

Top 10 articles published in 2017

Here are the top 10 Blog Fiasco articles that I published in 2017.

  1. New to Fedora: WordGrinder
  2. I have a new employer
  3. HP laptop keyboard won’t type on Linux
  4. Conference talks: “how” versus “why”
  5. Maybe your tech conference needs less tech
  6. Drowning from the firehose
  7. Your crappy UI could be lethal
  8. Please don’t argue with the warning system
  9. Why HTCondor is a pretty awesome scheduler
  10. Taking action on commit messages

On a personal note

Last year, I made vague allusions to some personal ups and downs but said I thought things were trending upward. I’d say that forecast verified. Despite what’s gone on in the outside world, things here have improved. And you should see the new deck we had built! As you may have noticed in the top 10 lists above, I got a new employer this year. It got off to a pretty rough start, but things have improved.

I’m looking forward to 2018. I have a few projects that I hope to make happen. As much as things have changed in the last year, it feels like I’m still on the cusp of something big. Or not!

If nothing else, I’m proud of myself for continuing to do this after so many years. I don’t think what I’ve written here is particularly wonderful, but I’ve published over 650 posts on this blog in the last decade. That’s something.

Apple knows better than you: iPhone battery edition

Last week, Apple confirmed what some users had long suspected: iPhone performance is deliberately throttled. The reasoning is sound: as iPhone battery performance decreases, the CPU performance scales back to extend battery life. It’s a sensible action to take, assuming you prefer battery life to performance. The assumption is the issue, though. Apple didn’t let the user make the decision. Apple decided that battery life is more important than performance and didn’t bother communicating this to the user.

Apple’s problem is not the decision, but the implementation. I suspect that the majority of iPhone users (or any smartphone for that matter) prize battery life over CPU speed. Most of them probably aren’t pushing their CPU on the regular. Preferring battery life is a sane default. Giving the user a choice is better. Making it clear that it’s happening is the bare minimum.

This is one of those credibility-risking moves that Apple likes to make. And in fairness, they generally come out ahead. Apple has long recognized the value in simplicity. Fewer options means less complexity. This makes users happier, even if they think they want a knob for everything.

But this particular case may be a little bit different. Users noticed an apparent slowdown. Cynics said it was to encourage people to buy the latest model. It wasn’t until an iPhone owner benchmarked his phone and had proof that Apple admitted the slow down. Even though their reasoning makes sense, it’s hard to shake the narrative that they’re pushing their customers into making new purchases. If it were really about battery life, why did they need to be forced into admitting it?

I’m inclined to give Apple the benefit of the doubt. After all, the company has a history of smug superiority. And much of the time, they do know better than their customers. That doesn’t mean they can’t screw it up sometimes. And this time, I think they did. We’ll see what comes from the lawsuits.

How *are* you?

Ed Sheeran got rid of his phone two years ago. He says life is better — more balanced — now. I don’t know how well Mr. Sheeran’s experience can be applied to the general public. He’s an internationally famous musician and probably has People™ to help him manage his affairs. His status as a celebrity almost certainly affects the key line in the article:

…he got rid of his phone in part because even though people were contacting him constantly, no one was asking him how he actually was.

(Credit to Heidi Moore for bringing this to my attention.)

Certainly part of celebrity is that people are often more interested in what they can get from you than what they can do for you. That’s true for us normal folk as well, of course, but the ratio is a little more balanced. But still, we’re not as engaged in how people are doing as perhaps we should be.

I don’t blame social media or smart phones for this phenomenon. They’re merely tools that amplify our behavior. It’s much easier for us to broadcast how we’re doing (even if we’re not honest about it) and to have others passively consume it. There’s less of a need to actively ask how our friends are doing because they’ve already told us.

But there’s something to be said for the act of actively asking. The very fact that it scales poorly makes it more intimate. Even if you spend your day broadcasting how you are, it can feel good when someone takes the time to check in on you.

The passive trap is easy to fall into. I tend to think of even the most casual of acquaintances as dear friends (whether they reciprocate or not). As a result, I try to be a good friend to many, many people. This is an impossible task, so I end up being a poor friend to most of them. Maybe I should focus more intently on fewer people. Or at least pick one person each day and be more active in how I engage with them.

Reading at work

Seth Godin had a post on his blog a few weeks ago with the same title. Reading at work is a hard thing for me to accept sometimes. I’ll read industry articles in Feedly or relevant posts shared by coworkers. But when it comes to sitting down and reading a book? Nope.

This is dumb. I’m not saying I should sit around reading a novel during work (although a short diversion to refresh my mind seems worth it). I have a stack of books recommended to me that are directly relevant to being better at my job.

If getting better at my job isn’t a good use of the time I give to my employer, what is? It’s certainly a better investment than some of the meetings I’ve attended. Professional growth too often gets overlooked. When I first started working from home, I noticed that I was way more productive. I think it’s because I try too hard to be busy that I sometimes forget to be productive.

Seth’s post also reminded me of a fun game I used to play when I worked at a previous employer. As a public university, everyone’s salary was a matter of public record. So in a particularly pointless meeting, I’d look up everyone’s salary and figure out what that hour (or more) cost the University. Salaries are a sunk cost, so it’s easy to waste time in meetings.

But Godin reminds me that I need to focus on devoting time to getting better at my job, not just doing it day-to-day. Now is the ideal time to do that, with many coworkers out of the office for the holidays. And with the tech industry discovering job training, who can complain?

T-Mobile, Layer3, and the uncarriering of TV

Last week, T-Mobile announced it will acquire Layer3. In his usual John Legere manner, T-Mobile CEO John Legere promised to end the “complete bullshit” of traditional TV by ushering in the uncarriering of TV. But Layer3 is a cable TV provider, except over the Internet. It’s not entirely clear how T-Mobile plans to improve things.

Unlike services like Sling, which offer smaller packages, Layer3’s offering is sized like traditional cable bundles. Reporting from Ars Technica suggests the pricing is sized like traditional cable bundles, too. Layer3 does not have an app, which means customers have to use individual channels’ apps to watch when on the go.

The Layer3 website is a little short on information, so it’s hard to tell what the value proposition is. It could be that it’s cheaper for large bundles or that it has a broader offering. It seems to be a good fit for T-Mobile in this sense: it’s geographically limited and possibly cheaper. And I say this as a T-Mobile customer (and minor shareholder). What could T-Mobile do to improve it?

My idea for the uncarriering of TV

This is hardly a novel concept, but I’d like to see a true à la carte offering. Let me choose the exact channels I want to subscribe to and pay whatever that amounts to. I have Sling TV now, and it mostly gives me all of the channels I want, but it still includes some I don’t. I would have to get the most expensive option in order to get all the channels. At that point, I’d do just as well getting TV from my fiber provider. I have no problem paying for the content I want, I just want to be able to get it from a single source.

What will probably happen

A more likely outcome is that T-Mobile fixes the price. Instead of the “introductory offer” dance that TV providers often do, they say “this is the price.” It almost certainly would be zero-rated for T-Mobile customers. Watch as much TV as you want on your T-Mobile phone, it won’t count.

I would be surprised to see unbundling of channels into an à la carte offering. With its “ONE” plan, T-Mobile has shown a clear preference for simple billing. Even if customers might prefer more flexibility, a simple plan with few options is easier to manage for both customer and provider. I don’t think John Legere particularly wants to get into the TV business, so there’s little benefit to T-Mobile for going the more complicated route.​

We’ll have to see what happens when the new service rolls out.

What acquisition means for Shazam

I was surprised to see the news that Apple is acquiring Shazam. After all, they’re a devices company, right? Maybe not, as the “services” division is the second-strongest line and growing. So what does Shazam do to help Apple? Two things that I see.

The first is that it gives them an avenue for selling music. Hear a song and wonder what it is? Fire up Shazam to identify it and here’s a handy link to buy it in the iTunes store. Right now (at least on Android), users have a choice between Google and Amazon for track purchases. You have to think Apple would want to get in on that. It’s a prime opportunity for impulse buys.

The second benefit is that it gives Apple more data about the songs people are interested in. The utility of this data is not immediately obvious to me, but I’m sure someone in Apple’s spaceship can figure out how to put it to use. Can they execute on that idea, though? I admittedly don’t pay a lot of attention to Apple, but they don’t seem to have the data chops of Google or Amazon.

But the title of this post is what the acquisition means for Shazam, not what it means for Apple. My first thought was “well I guess I won’t be able to use Shazam anymore.” Most of Apple’s software acquisitions have been focused on Siri or Apple Maps. Neither of those are available outside of the Apple ecosystem. CUPS (yes, the Unix print system) is the only acquisition that remains available outside of Apple, as far as I can tell.

Apple has no real desire to make it’s software available to non-iOS/macOS users. iTunes is a notable exception, but for the most part, you can’t expect Apple software outside of Apple hardware. Apple makes its money on services and hardware sales, not on software. And I can’t fault them for sticking to what works.

The question remains: will Shazam continue to be available across platforms? If Apple’s motivation is primarily to use it as an iTunes sales engine, I think it will. If they want to use it as a differentiator in a competitive smartphone market, they won’t. I’m inclined to favor the sales engine scenario, but time will tell.