Monthly Recap: Wired for Sound – The Times They Are a-Changin’

What a month! It started with the vocal backlash of the tech community against the new MacBook Pro which prompted my post, “The Rise of the Incompetent Experts,” continued with the elections, and culminated with our fascinating trip to Cuba which I photographed with the new iPhone 7+. Along the way, the post, “Acoustics – Apple’s Future is ‘Ear’” explored the interesting acoustics related idea that Apple may be paving the way for an audio user interface accessed through the soon to be released Apple AirPods.

nokiaaudioDespite what might seem like missteps, Apple definitely has a well thought out plan and acoustics will continue to play a major role. How could it be otherwise? They made the first commercially viable MP3 player with the iPod and pioneered the first digital music ecosystem with iTunes. Also, many people don’t remember that cellphones used to have proprietary audio connectors. Apple was the first manufacturer to standardize on the 1/8″ headphone jack. The BBC News post, “The 19th Century plug that’s still being used” is wonderful if you want the full story.

As for the title of this post, it comes from another major change in the world of audio recording that’s all but forgotten: the wire recorder. This is strange because it is still the recording format with the longest history, over 70 years! ArsTechnica wrote an excellent, in-depth article about it recently, “Forgotten audio formats: Wire recording.” Along the way, the article revisits Woody Guthrie’s recordings, the first audio bootlegging, and its impact on the language in phrases such as “wire tap,” “on the wire,” and “wired for sound.”

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Monthly Recap: Apple’s Future, Costa Rica, and The Whingers

We just returned from a two week Spanish Immersion school in Costa Rica. Speaking Spanish for 8+ hours a day was an intense experience to say the least, not to mention the culture shock involved in living with a Costa Rican family. To summarize, the school was outstanding, but the capital of Costa Rica is nothing like the beach areas tourists typically visit, but this post is not meant to be a travelogue. Maybe the biggest cultural difference we found is that nobody complains in Costa Rica. They don’t complain about the horrendous traffic, dirty streets with huge holes and no sidewalks, the poor quality of food, the rain that falls everyday in October (and doesn’t fall at all in the summer), or the steel bars protecting every home and business. They just don’t complain. In fact, they are proud of their country and often boast about the biodiversity, the temperate climate, universal healthcare and education, and political stability. There is certainly a bit of denial going on, but the message is so consistent, it’s impossible not to be charmed by their “Pura Vida” attitude.

In contrast, Apple released a new MacBook Pro last week and the whingers came out in force. The “Keynote Megathread” on Reddit has over 4,000 comments, most of which say the same things: it’s too thin, it’s too expensive, it doesn’t have USB ports, it can’t support more than 16 GB of RAM, whine, whine, whine. Of course, Reddit is a bubble universe of its own where outspoken minority opinions can get blown out of proportion, but it is a good way to find out first hand what the tech community is feeling. A contrasting post, “I work in Hollywood and everyone is really excited about the new MBPs” was a nice reality check. The author made an outstanding observation:

I had gotten sucked into the Reddit hive mind and convinced myself I was dealing with a large representation of the population. I am not. A certain handful of people are attracted to reddit, and a smaller handful actually take the time to post, and post negatively at that.

Finally, after watching the Apple Keynote and reading dozens of articles, the post, “Apple’s Future is Ear” from Tech.pinions seemed to say it best. In four parts, John Kirk analyzes the history of the current structure of Apple product line (including the controversial risks they’ve taken along the way), the current state of technology, and tries to predict the future Apple is heading toward with or without the approval of self-proclaimed “experts in the field.” It’s a very long read, but well worth it for the wonderful quotes alone. My next post will explore how that future is intimately entwined with acoustics, so stay tuned.

Apple is taking a risk by ignoring the whingers, but as Geena Davis (and many others) famously said, “If you risk nothing, then you risk everything.”

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Resumen Mensual: Bienvenidos a Apple Vía Santa Fe

En Septiembre cerca de 200 empleados celebraron la apertura de Apple Vía Santa Fe en México. Fotos como esta demuestran la forma en la tecnología puede salvar las diferencias culturales. Esto es especialmente importante hoy cuando parece que el mundo se ha vuelto más dividido.

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Translation: In September about 200 employees celebrated the opening of Apple Via Santa Fe in Mexico. Photos like this show how technology can bridge cultural differences. This is especially important today when it seems the world has become more divided.

Even the website for the new store has that familiar Apple look and feel with the same kinds of support services and workshops. Several years ago, the region I managed included Mexico and I found professionals in that country to be very similar to the US. The biggest difference was the way they treated their equipment. With fewer resources and higher prices, equipment that was decades old looked brand new despite constant use.

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However, the new Apple store in Mexico and the two year old store in Brazil are the only two stores in Central / South America (versus 286 stores in the US). While the reasons for this are based on complex economic, cultural, and political issues, it still highlights how technology can create a common ground that transcends perceived differences. Obviously Apple is only a small part of this, especially when Google’s estimated 80% worldwide mobile operating system market share and Microsoft’s desktop dominance is factored in. Also, Google’s amazing “Translate” capability is rapidly breaking down barriers to global communication. I’ve added the Google Translate plugin to the right hand column of this website if you’d like to try it.

What is needed next is awareness of global issues. It’s an especially critical issue in the United States where xenophobia is widespread. Less than 50% of US citizens have a passport! Earlier this month, the post “Apple Watch: Don’t Forget to Breathe” explored the contribution that the new “Breathe” app for the Apple Watch is making. It reminds people to take a minute for “mindful breathing” a couple times a day. Now imagine if global mindfulness were added to the equation. It’s certainly something we all share as humans. As the immortal John Lennon wrote in his eponymous song, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will live as one.”

Monthly Recap: Insanely Great Products

The title of this post comes from a 1985 Steve Jobs quote in Playboy magazine, “Making an insanely great product has a lot to do with the process of making the product, how you learn things and adopt new ideas and throw out old ideas.” He said this only a year after the release of the first Macintosh. Fast forward 21 years and you can find a similar quote in the recent Washington Post interview of Tim Cook, “Tim Cook, the interview: Running Apple ‘is sort of a lonely job’.” Cook commented, “The North Star has always been the same, which for us, is about making insanely great products that really change the world in some way – enrich people’s lives.” The similarity is exciting because it highlights a concept that has withstood the test of time and has resulted in products that have truly changed the world.

August’s posts explored the idea of insanely great products from a variety of perspectives.

  • Exploring the Digital Ocean of Cloud Computing” featured a company called Digital Ocean that provides virtual servers for software developers which run in the cloud. While their core value, “Love is what makes us great” is my favorite, “striving for simple and elegant solutions” has certainly resulted in amazing products.
  • What Cameron Learned From 10 Years of Doing PR for Apple” was a reminder that despite recent criticism, Apple still adds value to a massive number of customers and, just as importantly, consistently communicates that value effectively.
  • Finally, “Is Google Heading Down the Same Path as Yahoo?” explored the challenges that Google is facing in light of Yahoo’s recent demise. There are definitely some “insanely great products” at Google (Search, AdWords, Gmail, Maps, etc.), but the concept is far from a corporate philosophy.

Obviously not every company needs to be an Apple to change the world. Even imitators fulfill an important role in technological advancement. For example, many people prefer Android over IOS for good reasons. It is often considered more customizable with many hardware options available at a much lower cost. However, there would be no Android without the breakthroughs that the iPhone pioneered such as the multi-touch touchscreen, IOS, and the App Store. Today Apple continues to be a pioneer in new areas that have expanded beyond pure technology such as the environment, social responsibility, shifting investor focus to longer term thinking, and protecting individual privacy.

What is critical is the positive intent and focus on improvement and advancement. It sounds cliche, but it is the one thing that separates humans from the other species where survival is the primary focus. If you have one more minute, watch this moving Apple ad called, “The Human Family.” The final line is beautiful and appropriate: “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” (From a poem by Maya Angelou.)

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The Original Apple Newton and the iPhone 1
Photo courtesy of Blake Patterson from Alexandria, VA, USA (CC BY 2.0)

Monthly Recap: The Hard Work (and Love) Behind An Instant Success

This month’s posts covered a wide range of topics.

Do You Know Where Your Customers Are?” used Google’s concept of micromoments to demonstrate the importance of the fact that a company needs to be present when and where a customer needs to find them. Today many high tech companies in niche markets still do not utilize the most basic online tools such as Google, LinkedIn, and Email marketing.

Just for Fun… Computer Hardware Then and Now” was a brief tribute to the massive computing hardware of yesteryear. It ended with the observation that in a way, computing has come full circle from large centralized mainframes to personal computers with local storage and back to cloud computing running on large centralized datacenters.

Finally, “Pokémon Go: The Hard Work Behind An Instant Success” provided an overview of the decades of technical and creative genius that have gone into making Pokémon Go the massive success it has become. It focused especially on the conscious design philosophy developed by it’s chief designer Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of classic games like Mario, Donkey Kong and Zelda.

DOInvoiceSoon after writing these posts, I came across Digital Ocean, a company that demonstrates several of these concepts. They provide cloud based virtual servers for software developers. I have dabbled with Linux for decades, starting in the 1990s when I installed an early version of Slackware Linux that was distributed on 24 floppy disks in order to run open source scientific software written in Fortran. Today, Digital Ocean can deploy a cloud based Linux server in under a minute that can be used for less than a penny an hour.

The next post will explain the technical details, but my ah-ha moment came when I was reading their documentation. I came across a post “Digital Ocean’s Writing Guidelines” that explains how to write a technical article describing their services. Digging deeper, I realized that they have completely crowdsourced their documentation and even pay up to $200 for accepted articles. As a result they now have almost 1,500 tutorials. There is some controversy about this practice, but overall it seems like it has been good for both Digital Ocean and their writers.

DOCoreValuesIn the digital world, this company is considered an instant success. They are highly funded and the second largest web hosting provider in their technical niche. However, the founders have traveled a difficult road to arrive at this point. This is another topic for the next post, but one reason for their success might be buried at the end of a very long, “About Us” page. This is where Digital Ocean has published their Core Values. The last of these is “Love is what makes us great” and that might be one of the most transformative values of all.