Tag Archives: technology

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Launching No Other Gods in the next 10 days

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I’m super-happy to be able to say that I’m launching my science fiction book, No Other Gods, within the next 10 days.

I think you’re going to love it.

No-other-Gods-coverIf you want to be notified when it launches, please just add your name on this page — I’ll send an email to you when it is live and available. I have learned so much from people who have given me early feedback, and the book is way better for people who have already signed up there and read early “beta” versions.

Here’s a quick synopsis of the book:

Geno exists only to fight and to die. But he doesn’t die, and as he fights, he remembers. And as he remembers, Geno becomes more and more who he really is.

From ancient Sumer to earth’s distant future, Geno battles with sword and laser, arrow and particle beam, seeking only to obey the will of the gods. At least at first.

“Thou shalt have no other God than me,” the ancient commandment says. But slowly Geno learns that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic … and that those who claim to be gods, who require his obedience and worship, may be all too human themselves.

Human enough to desire the only woman in his life, Livia. Human enough to envy, and to kill what they no longer require.

And here’s a few words from people who have already read it:

“John is an amazing new talent to watch out for!”

– Matthew Mather, author of Atopia Chronicles and CyberStorm, just picked up by 20th Century Fox

“Very impressive writing! It pulled me into the story right away. I really like the style of writing; articulate, engaging and constantly makes you want to read more. It was actually hard for me to stop but I have a very early start tomorrow.”

– Andi Gutmans, creator of the PHP programming language

“An Asimov tone with a bit of a Battle Royale feel and a Game of Thrones twist!”

– Simon Dawlat, CEO of AppGratis

“John Koetsier delights with his prose — few writers are as much a joy to read. In all of his octaves, Koetsier haunts you: In his whimsical or light moments, his words levitate off the page. In his dramatic turns, his pace and punctuation push you over. You won’t stop!”

– Matt Marshall, editor of VentureBeat

“Blends myth and technology in the story of a futuristic warrior serving the gods. John Koetsier has created a scifi page-turner with enough historical detail to ground it.”

– Meg Simpson, game designer

“Prepare to be swept away into a fascinating world where all is not what it seems – this is one amazing journey you’ll never forget.”

– Eunice Schaap, editor

“Battle descriptions are awesome and the action was pure adrenaline injected into my brain!”

Alexandre Rocha Lima e Marcondes, Geeks with Blogs


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Wonderful Colorful House iPad app: launched!

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It’s with a great deal of pride and satisfaction that I’m able to announce that my iPad app, The Wonderful Colorful House, is now live on the Apple app store.

It’s been a long and winding journey.

The trip started about 15 years ago when I made up a bed-time story for my daughter, Gabrielle. It was about a kid in the great white North, Tullik, who hated cold and hated white, and who was looking for a better — more wonderful — home.  She loved the story, and asked me for it repeatedly, and suggested that I write it down.

Which I did.

And then, more than a decade later, I met Bas Waijers, an amazing New York artist who was the creative director for the project and painstakingly illustrated the entire app. And Nick Dalton, an accomplished technologist who has built many apps, and built the actual app. And we brought on Mark Greenberg, a Chicago-based musician and sound engineer, who created an amazing soundscape, along with many special effect sounds.

Together, we created an app more than 15 years in the making. And we offer it up to you, today.


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Apple CEO Tim Cook photobombed me yesterday

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Yesterday Apple CEO Tim Cook photobombed me while I was doing a Vanna White with the new retina Macbook Pro.

Dean Takahashi, also from VentureBeat, was videoing me showing the new laptop. We were at the Apple event in San Jose for the iPad Mini unveiling (and a lot else). Unbeknownst to me, while I’m showing the 13″ MacBook Pro’s new HDMI port, supermodel thinnosity, and super-sharp 4-million-pixel screen, Tim Cook showed up.

Of course, Dean never said a word.

If I had known, of course, I would have stopped interviewing me and started interviewing Cook. Ah well, I’m probably sucking – Tim doesn’t look super-happy.

Thanks for the photo, Dean!

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And SwitchCube's IndieGoGo campaign is now live!

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As you may know, I and two partners are starting a coworking space in BC’s Fraser Valley, SwitchCube.

We’ve identified a space and we’ve put some furniture in it, but we need more. And technology for the boardroom, and paint, and, and, and. So we’ve decided to run a crowdfunding campaign, which will also serve a bit of marketing intelligence: is Abbotsford ready for coworking?

We’re looking to raise $6K, and we’re already at $850:

Join us! If you’re looking for a coworking space in the Fraser Valley, there are great options to lock in months at SwitchCube for a great price. And even if you’re not, we’d appreciate any support you’ve love to throw our way.

We have great perks (check them out) and we’re looking forward to kicking off the space when our campaign is successful.


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Testing the new WordPress Liveblog plugin

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This is a test of the emergency broadcast system … yet again.

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How not to pitch a journalist, method #37

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I get 50 million pitches. One that starts like this is DOA:

Huawei, a leading global information and communications technology (ICT) solutions provider, today unveiled the Huawei MU736, the world’s first WWAN module that is fully compliant with the Next Generation Form Factor (NGFF) standard.

Fortunately I know what WAN is, but the second paragraph gets even worse:

The NGFF standard enables a transition from Mini-PCIe Cards to a smaller form factor module in size, volume, and system design flexibility. The MU736 NGFF module is based on Intel’s industry leading XMM™ 6260 HSPA+ modem solution, supporting penta-band operation (B1/B2/B4/B5/B8) for worldwide network coverage, low power consumption, Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), and major carrier certifications, enabling easier and more flexible design and integration into end devices. In addition, the MU736 supports all NGFF features to optimize performance, power consumption, and usability.


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Less free, more lance

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Today is a really, really good day. I just signed a contract with VentureBeat to come on board full-time as a writer.

I’ve been writing for VentureBeat on a freelance basis since April 30th of this year, taking a contrarian opinion on why you should be using Klout when making (some) hiring decisions. Since then, I’ve written about a hundred posts.

My favourite, so far, is this one: How a 1-man cat-drawing startup won a Mark Cuban investment, the story of how a cat-drawing web geek from Chicago got on Shark’s Tank and charmed Cuban into a $25,000 investment. That was a fun interview, it was fun to write, and … I got Mark Cuban to comment, which was a highlight for me.

My most successful post so far has been Microsoft. Kicks. Ass. which I wrote at about 5:30 in the morning after Microsoft’s Surface announcements. I think the company got its mojo back there, even though I’m a Mac guy, and I applauded them for it. At this point, it’s gotten over 6300 likes and about 1600 tweets:

I’ve learned a ton so far, and I know I have a LOT more to learn yet. But I’ll be doing it with a great team of writers and editors, and I’m looking forward to it.

Thanks, Dylan!

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Sony Wonderbook: I'm predicting a flop, based purely on the advertising

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If truth in advertising is too much to ask, how about just advertising the product?

I saw on VentureBeat this morning that Sony has signed J.K. Rowling to write the first game/book for PlayStation’s augmented reality peripheral, Wonderbook.

Intrigued (although I am, alas, no Harry Potter fan) I checked out the story, and watched the promotion videos that Sony created to promote the new product launch, eager to see how the Wonderbook works and what it does. Only to be vastly unimpressed … not with the videos themselves, but with the fact that they show virtually nothing of the actual product.

Here’s one:

What does this product actually look like? What does it really do? I mean, there’s wonderful soft mystical music, magical flourishes, and impressive CG effects. But no actual footage of the real product. The funniest part in the narration? About 50 seconds in:

Melodramatic english narrator: ” … must be seen to be believed.”

Caveat immediately follows: “Images simulated. Actual game images appear on your television …”

If they must be seen to be believed, I don’t currently believe … mostly because I haven’t seen. So show me, Sony! Show the actual product in actual use with actual images.

The second promo vid is just as bad, if not worse. There are not going to be cool little cartoon characters popping out of the product, hovering in mid-air, talking to kids.

This is a set-up for disappointment. Sony has learned nothing from Apple, which focuses on making incredible products, and then simply demonstrates them in its ads in a low-key, nonchalant manner. (Which, by the way, makes them much more credible, much more believable.) Sony’s ads are nothing but hype.

Based solely on the ads, I think Wonderbook is going to be a major flop.

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iCal + iCloud + Google Calendar = iBroken

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I’ve been getting strange messages from iCal for the past several months. Friends, colleagues, or partners have been sending me meeting invites from Google Calendar, and iCal has been completely barfing on them.

“The server responded with an error” … followed by an iCloud location, and the happy note that said location “is not a location that supports this request.” And then I have the happy choice of either Going Offline (which means my calendars won’t sync) or Reverting to Server (which means my new calendar event will disappear).

Some choice.

This has been a problem since Lion, and it’s time for Apple to fix it. For now, there seems to be one “solution.” Ignore the email with the calendar invite on your Mac, and accept the invite on your iPhone. It’s cheesy at best, and hardly indicative of the elegance that is supposed to accompany a truly Mac experience … but it does have the virtue of working.

I just wish it wasn’t necessary.

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And now for something completely different …

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I love Prezi … the best new way of making presentations since PowerPoint began its relentless quest to make us all stupid in 1990.

Here’s a great example. Just enjoy:

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Doxo makes bill-paying fast, mobile, and (almost) painless

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(Initially this was going to be posted at VentureBeat, but another writer beat me to it.)

In some magical fairy-tale world, beautiful women and handsome men laughingly pay gas company bills while watching fluffy pink unicorns dance through purple Alpine valleys. In the real world, giving your hard-earned money to the man sucks, especially when the process of paying bills is mind-numbingly complicated.

That’s the world Doxo is trying to fix, using your smartphone or tablet.

Launching today, the Doxo Mobile app for Android and iOS will include doxoPay, integrated bill-paying functionality that will allow users to see, manage, and pay bills, all while riding the bus back home from work.

Currently, it’s not so simple. As Jim Bruene, author of the NetBanker blog says: “Whether the bill is received digitally or in paper form, payment is often a three step process – read the bill when you receive it, open it again to pay it, and then file it somewhere else.” Doxo integrates the steps, simplifying users’ lives.

One challenge: the company you want to pay has to be set up in Doxo’s system. Today that list includes AT&T, Sprint, Kansas City Power and Light, 12 state and county governments, and many more, but it’s not clear exactly how many service providers have joined. To tempt more businesses into signing up, Doxo touts savings of 80% for sending paperless bills, and notes that consumers pay their bills an average of 10 days earlier when using the Doxo mobile app.

But it’s clear that for consumers, having all their bills in one system is going to be a much better value proposition than just having a few, or even most. This is the single greatest problem for Doxo if they want to scale this app to millions or hundreds of millions of users.

However, Doxo is taking the right tack with regard to a single, unified payment app. Other mobile payment solutions exist, but no consumer in their right mind is going to download multiple apps, one to pay each service provider.

One other benefit of the Jeff Bezos-backed payment company: a digital file cabinet integrated with Dropbox or Box in which users can store key documents such as insurance policies, important bills, and statements. Storing all the details of your financial life in one place has the potential to vastly increase manageability. As an aside, it also increases the need for extreme security.

In a statement, Doxo CEO Steve Shivers said: “The Doxo mission is to massively simplify the experience of interacting with providers and paying bills. The new capabilities of our mobile app make bill paying simpler than ever.”

One unanswered question: when will Doxo become an e-wallet that will not only allow users to manage and pay bills, but also make immediate, point-of-sale payments? Given the trajectory of the Doxo app, one has to assume it’s coming.

Now that almost might be worth dancing through purple Alpine meadows over.

Piggy bank and bill images via Shutterstock

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PayPal story hitting Techmeme

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OK, very silly of me, I know. But I’m kinda pumped.

I’ve been writing for VentureBeat for closing in on a month now, writing 14 stories so far. Some may have made it to Techmeme, the barometer of who is doing well in technology news, but if so I haven’t seen it.

So I was a little chuffed today when I saw that my latest story, Paypal handles 60% of web transactions, leaves Google in the dust on Techmeme in the “Newest” section when I dropped by for my morning cup of tech coffee, so to speak:

And a little below on the page itself:

I’ve been on Techmeme before for stories posted here on Sparkplug9. But this is the first that I’ve noticed for my work on VentureBeat. That put a bit of a smile on my face this morning.

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Would you buy an Apple HDTV? Perhaps this will help you make up your mind …

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We keep hearing rumours about an Apple HDTV that is not just yet another set-top box. That is more than the “hobby” that is AppleTV. And that embodies the awesomeness that a dying Steve Jobs promised biographer Walter Isaacson when saying “I’ve finally cracked it!”

In other words, a full-on flatscreen TV with Apple technology built-in. Theoretically, an Apple HDTV will be available later this year in time for the Christmas shopping season, or early next. This will be the biggest new hardware product for Apple since the iPad – and probably the most expensive.

Where there’s smoke, there’s probably fire. And there’s been a LOT of smoke about an Apple-branded HDTV. The 64-bit question is: would you buy it?

If this future product follows the pattern of the past, an Apple TV will be an interesting animal, with innovations others have introduced but Apple will have refined. And … a few features that other TV manufacturers don’t – and maybe can’t – have.

In the spirit of informed guessing, here’s what I think an Apple TV would include …


The hardware will be spectacular in appearance but not in specifications. Apple will have what is widely recognized as close to best-in class performance and hardware, but you will be able to find HDTVs with better specs.

In other words, don’t expect a retina display for your new 50″ Apple flatscreen.

That said, it will be simple, beautiful, and functional. Think glass and aluminum, not tacky black plastic. Yes, there will be a iSight-style camera, a very simple remote (maybe your iPhone, iPod Touch, or similar), and not too many ports (more on that later).


Here’s where it will get interesting. This is what will separate Apple TV from the pack, for good or bad.

  1. Visual interface
    Stunning, elegant, simple. Like the current AppleTV set-top box user interface, but further refined.
  2. Siri, Siri, Siri
    Say it, and Apple TV will find it, schedule it, record it, play it, buy it, tweet it, share it, send it. And that’s just the shows. Siri will also help you connect and configure and use all the other features and functionality. And manage your life, while taking dictation. Siri probably won’t make dinner, but it will order your pizza.
  3. PVR/DVR
    This is almost too simple and obvious to mention – nowhere near the level of Siri – but yes, Apple TV will be able to record, pause, rewind, and replay visual content. However, the PVR/DVR functionality will be not simply be based on the local recording of shows … it will integrate seamlessly and invisibly with iCloud (see below) so you never again run out of space on your TiVo.
  4. iOS … and apps
    The new Apple TV will almost certainly run iOS … ensuring that the 600,000 apps in the app store (one of Apple’s huge competitive advantages) can also run here. Think digital kids books on the big screen, Twitter running side-by-side with Jersey Shore, Facebook open while you co-watch the big game with your buddy deployed in Iran (oops, loose lips sink ships). And 550,000 other things that smart app designers dream up.


The content will be near enough complete to not make choosing Apple TV a hardship.

Won't need this ...

  1. TV
    The major networks will be players, plus many of the movie studios. Giving away ad-supported TV will be like the loss leader for networks: people who like a show can immediately purchase complete and anytime access, including perhaps priority availability of new episodes.
  2. Movies
    Eventually this will enable new models. Imagine watching a movie for free … for the first 30 minutes. Access to the final 60 is available for a small fee of $4.99.
  3. Netflix, etc.
    Via the apps mentioned above you’ll also have access to content networks such as Netflix, but they’ll be less easy to access and less integrated than Apple’s own TV and movie service.
TV content in the Apple TV world starts to undergo a revolutionary shift: it becomes more internet-like. While there still is a place for live shows, most content is stored and accessible on-demand. We see this happening already in places, but Apple TV will accelerate the trend and force the major entertainment companies to buy in or become irrelevant.


Apple TV will connect some dots. But it won’t connect everything, especially not dozens of legacy devices.

  1. Hardware
    Apple has never shied away from bold hardware decisions. No floppy in the first iMac, no Ethernet in the MacBook Air, no million options for component connectivity in the Apple TV. Forget component, forget 5 HDMI ports, forget a USB stick or card reader. Think a couple of HDMI ports to connect your home theatre system, if you insist on being so gauche as to connect such an unwieldy mass of componentry. But expect a preference to wireless connections and fewer ports.
  2. Your devices
    Speaking of wireless connections, AirPlay and other innovations to tie your small screens and your big screens together will be extended. You’ll send your videos to the big screen from your phone without having to make sure your set-top box is on, configured, the active source in your TV setup.
  3. Your content
    Your content on your Mac will be accessible here, but not so much because you’re connection your Mac to your TV as both are connected to the cloud (yeah, see below). That doesn’t just mean your photos and videos, as the current AppleTV set-top box does somewhat clunkily today … that means all your content. Your documents, your mail, your web bookmarks, if you still use those. In short: everything.
  4. Your communications
    Want to phone? Why not use FaceTime on your Apple TV? Want to email? Why not shoot a quick email while you’re watching Seinfeld reruns? Want to chat on Facebook? Pull up the app next to your content.


And finally, the biggest innovation, perhaps, besides Siri … which of course is empowered to do all it does via the capabilities of the cloud. Your Apple TV will be connected to iCloud. The cloud is the centre, and the attendant devices are simply peripherals, including your TV

And that, of course, is what will enable and undergird all the software and content and connectivity mentioned above.

So … the question remains … would you?

Image credits: Paz.ca, Biscuit SMLP

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Epic Google fail: clicking through to a nonexistent On24 session

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Whoa. Saw this today while talking to a colleague about some training I’ll be providing via On24, the online webinar/training/meeting software.

Google links to a nonexistent session on On24 … rendering an error when you click through to the site.

Here’s what happens:

Imagine this happening to your site. Extremely double-plus uncool.

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Getting MobileMe errors on your Mac? Complete your move to iCloud – here's how

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I’ve been getting odd errors in iPhoto lately – MobileMe alerts saying they didn’t recognize my password. Something like: “MobileMe didn’t recognize the stored password for …”

That’s fairly odd, since I’ve been using Apple’s new iCloud service for months, and haven’t knowingly used any part of the old MobileMe service for months, if not years. Finally I got annoyed enough to check it out (it usually takes more than a few alerts to stir me up enough to do something about it) and fix the situation. If you’re getting similar warnings, here’s what to do …

Complete your move to iCloud
You probably are already using iCloud, but you may not have completed the move. That’s because there’s still a MobileMe preference pan in your System Preferences (who knew) that may still be active. Or, at least be trying to be active:

MobileMe is deprecated (fancy for cancelled) so that’s the cause of your errors. But that handy little Move to iCloud button at the bottom of the screen is your savior. Click that, and you’re solving your problem.

Now you’re cooking with gas
When you click that button, you’re going to be taken to an online interface to move all your MobileMe data over to iCloud. If you’re like me and barely used MobileMe for anything at all, it’s a fast and simple process.

When finished, you’ll see something like this:

Sign in (and check “keep me signed in” if you wish) and you’re all set. Cloudy goodishness is yours for free (well at least 5 gigabytes of it).

Simple, easy, and no more Mobile Me error messages!

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Of Klout and Klouchebags

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My second post on VentureBeat is live: Why you should be using Klout when making hiring decisions.

Klout is a social measuring and monitoring tool that gauges online influence, mostly by analyzing data from Twitter, Facebook, and a few other social networks. There was a pretty major reaction last week to the Wired story about the marketing exec who lost out on a new job opportunity due to his low Klout score. A lot of people were pretty negative on Klout.

That’s understandable, to a degree. Who likes being measured and analyzed … especially when the results may not always line up with how we think of ourselves. Or, when there are concerns about the methodology and accuracy of the measurement.

In any case, I still find value in Klout … and here are a few reasons why.

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Apple and security: make up your mind

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As Apple grows, there are going to be more security problems. The recent Flashback trojan is evidence of that.

But how bad will it be?

I had to laugh when seeing Eugene Kaspersky, CEO of the computer security products company named after him, say this today:

I think they are ten years behind Microsoft in terms of security

And then, not two lines later …

For many years I’ve been saying that from a security point of view there is no big difference between Mac and Windows

Umm … which is it? It can hardly be both.

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Meetup: this is how NOT to treat paying clients

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Earlier this week I set up a Meetup group for coworkers in BC’s Fraser Valley. It contained some information about coworking, some hints on the kinds of people who might enjoy coworking, and a link to our current landing page for coworking in Abbotsford.

Today I was informed that the meetup group had been terminated:

Needless to say, I was totally flabbergasted. Our meetup group was for people who wanted to help start a coworking community in the valley. It wasn’t about porn, and we weren’t selling anything. So why were we being closed? How were we not in compliance?

Well, the answer was simple.

For more information you can review the Terms of Service

This is one of those cases where something that is simple is not easy. Here are the Meetup’s terms of service – to the right. As you can tell … there are a lot of terms. And a lot of words. And a long, long, long web page full of reasons why we were not in compliance.

But which one was applicable?

After a lot of reading, I think it was this one: 5.3(b)(vii). Yeah, that’s number 5, section 3, subsection (b), sub-subsection (vii). Which reads under a heading titled “Grounds for removal, sanction, and/or suspension:”

[Posting any material] that uses the Platform primarily as a lead generator or listing service for another website;

Well. Perhaps the link to our coworking signup page violates that stipulation.

Here’s how you should treat that scenario, Meetup
Here’s a wild, crazy idea. I know it’s out of left field, so brace yourself. Be seated. Hold on to your hat.

How about: you send me an email, explain that stipulation, and ask me to remove it?

I know it’s ground-breaking and earth-shattering … but do you think that might be better than arbitrarily booting a paying customer with no reasonable explanation?

No, I didn’t read your terms of service
I’m sorry, but there are 14 pages of TOS, totalling 8319 words. And I have a life.

So no, I didn’t read your TOS. And I don’t think your TOS is reasonable or customer-friendly.

So please …
So I’m asking … please reinstate the group. I’ll remove the offending link (if indeed that is the problem).

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A Pulitzer prize for blogs: a huge step, but did it have to be HuffPo?

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We need to just pause for a moment and reflect: a blog has won the Pulitzer prize. Somewhere Bob Woodward (of Watergate fame, who just cast aspersions on journalism and the web) is squirming in his boots.

The prize is for David Wood’s 10-part series on wounded veterans and their families: Beyond the Battlefield, and it’s a validation that serious, old-fashioned, long-form, deeply researched journalism can happen via the web. Massive kudos to Wood, and equally massive kudos to the Pulitzer organization, which is putting a nail in the coffin (I hope) of those who say that bloggers are not journalists.

The only negative: it was the Huffington Post that won.

This series was excellent, but in the blogosphere, HuffPo is known more for semi-creative rewrites of other people’s posts (with grudging and tiny attribution links), and sensationalized linkbait. In other words, not exactly the poster child for sober online journalism. Ahh well, you can’t have it all.

This is the first, but it won’t be the last. Serious journalism is moving to electronic-only media. It’s just a matter of time until it will be unusual in the extreme to award a Pulitzer to a paper production.

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First post @ VentureBeat

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I’m a little pumped. I managed to connect with VentureBeat over the past couple of weeks and just wrote my first post: 5 Reasons Mobile Fragmentation is Actually Good for App Developers.

In it, I argue that a very competitive mobile landscape with Windows Phone and BlackBerry in addition to (of course) Android and iOS is a good thing for mobile app developers … even if it makes life more complicated in some ways.

As I check it now, a few hours after posting, it’s not doing too badly:

  • 73 tweets
  • 46 shares on LinkedIN
  • 2 +1s (this is not good for Google+ marketing!)

Writing the post was fun, as was finding and interviewing 3-4 experts in mobile computing. I’m hoping to do more 🙂

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How to cancel recurring Paypal payments and subscriptions

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Noticed a drain on your Paypal account lately? Wondering why there’s always money missing?

I recently checked my Paypal account and noticed a subscription and recurring payment for a service that I no longer needed. But cancelling is not terribly simple in the Paypal interface. In fact, you’d almost assume they’ve built the user interface to discourage discovery and awareness of all your recurring payments. Or, at least, made it hard to find and stop subscriptions.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to finding and cancelling Paypal subscriptions:

  1. Log into Paypal
    Then click on the History link in your account overview:
    Find all your recent transactions
    Select the first radio button and pick Last Three Months, which will show you enough history to know for sure which payments are recurring.

  2. Select Subscriptions
    Select the Subscriptions link above the activity listings. Now you should see all your subscriptions and recurring charges in Paypal.

  3. Click the Active button
    While you might reasonably be expecting and looking for a cancel button (!!!) click the Active button:

  4. Scroll down and click Cancel Subscription
    Yes, it’s right at the very bottom of the page …

  5. One more step … confirm the click
    No, you’re not quite finished, now confirm that you want to cancel the Paypal subscription and stop all recurring charges by clicking the Cancel Subscription button on the confirmation page …

Now you’re finished – cancelling your Paypal recurring charges in six easy steps 🙂

Theoretically this should be a lot simpler: Paypal should simply provide a link right on your account for all recurring charges so you don’t have to search for them. And … providing a clear “Cancel” link instead of a somewhat cryptic “Active” button.

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Lessons in life and adventure

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I follow Chris Guillebeau, an author whose mission is to visit every country in the world. Every. Single. One.

He posted 34 things I’ve learned about life and adventure today – on his 34th birthday. Here’s the ones that resonate most with me … any my own thoughts on each of them.

Deadlines & quotas are your friends
There is nothing that focuses your brain like a deadline. Set ’em if you don’t have them, and use their peculiar psychological power to prod you to greater achievement.

My quota for writing is at least 33 minutes a day, usually first thing in the day. I can do more, but that’s minimum. And that gives me the discipline to be 124 pages into my first novel, No Other Gods.

Helping others makes your own life better
It’s why I coach two baseball teams. It’s how any bad day can be made at least somewhat better. You can’t stay miserable when you’re helping other people – it’s almost impossible.

Love the process
The product – the end goal of any project – is a tiny fraction of the totality of your life. Enjoy the road, the means, the path, if you want to enjoy your life.

Be a believer, not a cynic
This is huge. Just huge. Being a believer might sometimes result in disappointment or misadventure. But the reward is the kind of person you become: warmer, nicer, more positive. The world is full of negativity. Focusing on the positive is your best defence.

I’ll take some disappointments for the privilege. It’s the cost of doing business – living life – happily.

Choose active over passive whenever possible
Also super-important. Doing something – almost anything – is usually better than doing nothing. It feels better, it accomplishes something, it goes somewhere, and, even if only psychologically, puts you in a better position for the future.

Ask a lot of questions
This is the most interesting part about other people: they know stuff you don’t. Learning from others is fun and easy … especially when they’re passionate. Someone who is passionate about what they do has a hard time being boring when talking about it.

Say yes more often than no
I know that design requires choices, and business needs focus. And that Steve Jobs is famous for praising the power of no. But personally, saying yes to experiences, options, opportunities opens you up to so much more. No is the word of stasis, seclusion, retreat. Yes is wanting more of life.

That’s only 7 of the 34. I strongly suggest you follow that link and read all of them.

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Google and the future of local search

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I just spent the last 18 months of my life wrestling with better ways to do local search.

How to find the local events that matter to you, the local businesses that you need services or products from, the local experiences and places that are the most awesome, the local experts and professionals that can help you … in short: everything local that matters to you, served on a platter.

In most cases, you would think, Google would rock at that. It’s always somewhat surprising to find that sometimes, Google’s results totally suck. Like for instance when you want to find a local movie, on your iPad. Since I’m in the Fraser valley in BC, Canada, how can it think that “mission” refers to a city in Texas? That’s just one example, but there are others.

It turns that knowing search intent is tremendously important. For example, the famous beach query: it is about a local beach, some vacation beach, a name of a business, the essence of beachy-ness, people named beach, or what? Google uses a lot of hints and clues based on what it knows about you and your location and your interests in trying to answer, but it’s a thorny problem.

The huge advantage of an intentionally local search engine or app is that it knows you are looking for something local … because you chose to use a local search service. That’s a major simplifier, and the key reason why purpose-built search is often better today than Google.

The question, of course, is how good Google will get, over time, at using and marrying location data and inferred search intent to provide prescient-seeming results. Sometimes they hit it bang on already.

A better question is how good, given all the location and personal data it has built-in native access to, a technology like Apple’s Siri can get over time.

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The 3 happiest words in the English language

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What are the three happiest words in the English language?

  • I love you?
  • Please marry me?
  • Won the lottery?
  • Big pay hike?
  • You’ve been dieting?

I had to think of this recently as I as finding all kinds of bugs in Google Maps.

It was about 6 or 7 years ago. I ran up to my boss’ office in Bellingham WA. He was the VP of Operations & Finance, I was Technology Solutions Manager. I had been fiddling with browser dependencies for our new product ordering and configuration engine, and our devs had been stumped. Internet Explorer was the problem: impossible to please.

We finally got it running right, and before I told my boss I asked him a question: “What are the three happiest words in the English language?”

Since we had been working so long and so hard on this one issues, the three I was thinking of were: “works in IE.”

He looked up from the work on his desk – he always had stacks and stacks piled in various places around his office – and said “Not my problem.”

We shared a laugh, and then I told him what were at that very particular moment in time and space my three favorites.

Ever since then, “not my problem” has ranked up there as a wonderful phrase in my lexicon.

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Want a job in tech? Here's what you must, must, must have

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Whether you’re looking for a job in technology or trying to upgrade your current role, there’s one thing that you must absolutely positively unequivocally have.

It’s something I’ve seen a lot of resumes come in without. It’s something promising but unsuccessful candidates often miss. And it easily and obviously distinguishes winners from losers.

That thing is simple: side projects.


The hardest thing to do when hiring is to differentiate between candidates who seem good and those who are good. It’s easy to distinguish between complete zeroes and heroes. But what about the knights in shining tin? They’re hard to tell from true paladins.

Side projects will show the difference.

Side projects can be anything:

  • For a marketing person: a blog
  • For a developer: code snippets, an open source project
  • For a writer: an ebook
  • For an organizer/manager: a nonprofit club or organization

What it is doesn’t really matter, but it’s critical that somehow, in at least one key way, it’s related to your field – related to the job you want.

What a side project does is demonstrate initiative. It demonstrates passion. It demonstrates that you care beyond the paycheck. It shows rather than tells. A side project provides independently verifiable history. It gives backstory to your story, adding depth and color and dimension … all of which contribute to believability and persuasiveness.

Critical factors of a great side-project:

  1. Longevity
    15 side projects all started and none finished is a horrible backstory. Have one or two side projects (at least until they are complete) and ensure they are in a good stage of completeness or presentability.

  2. Originality
    The already-existing 40,000 code snippets on lightbox effects are enough. Unless yours is unbelievably incredibly better, make the forty-thousand-and-first is not cool.

  3. Quality
    More than anything else in your professional life, you can control the quality of your side project. So this is a direct reflection of your values and … prospective employment value. Make it rock.

  4. Interestingness
    A side project to count the number of stones in the walkway to your current domicile may turn your crank, but it won’t jumpstart anyone else’s engine. Pick something cool. You need to be passionate about it, but others need to be able to appreciate that passion.

My current side-projects are this blog and my iPad app – the Wonderful Colorful House.

What’s yours?

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Know Kno No

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I can’t figure out what to make of the Kno.

If you haven’t heard of it yet, it’s an e-reader. But not like the iPad, not like the Kindle, and not like the myriad of competing Android-based tablets in the marketplace today.

The Kno is aimed straight at education, and is designed to replicate the physical experience of a book … while adding enhanced digital features. So is every other e-reading tablet, you might think. But not quite. When I say replicate, I mean replicate. As in size … lots of it.

The Kno is not one tablet but two. And it’s not 7″ or 10″ … it’s 14″. Times two.

That’s right … two 14″ tablets joined together that open like a book and aim to faithfully replicate the experience of cracking open a full-size textbook and reading it. Pixel-for-pixel.


Here’s the part that I seem to be terminally confused on: is this a good idea, or is this just slavishly adhering to an old paradigm? In other words … is this the best thing ever, a new revolution in digital technology, or is it just a better buggy whip in the day of the horseless carriage?

I’m not quite sure.

More screen space is always better. But the price … probably $1000, and the size, and the weight, and the probably battery life, and the probable slow user interface (small processor driving a huge screen) … make me think this is not a winner.

But it certainly is intriguing. As long as you don’t try to fit it in your pocket.

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Microsoft and the future: doesn't look too good?

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Everyone’s favorite kicking-boy lately is Microsoft, and it’s easy to see why.

Mobile is a disaster, Bing is having issues catching Google, the slate/tablet revolution started by Bill Gates has bypassed Windows … in so many ways Microsoft just feels so yesterday.

Last week Microsoft execs clarified how they view their business, and how they’ve structured around future growth and relevance. They’re focusing on 8 core businesses, they said:

  • Xbox and TV
  • Bing
  • Office
  • Windows Server
  • Windows Phone
  • Windows
  • Business users
  • SQL Server

Let’s leave alone for now the question of whether a company can focus on 8 things simultaneously. It’s pretty clear Apple doesn’t … but Microsoft is a big company with a lot of people. Perhaps they can make it work.

Which of the 8 look like good opportunities and growth areas?

Xbox and TV
Xbox is a runaway success for Microsoft. It hasn’t totally crushed Sony, but it has done very well. And the online revenues seem incredibly strong … a billion-dollar yearly take in online revenue alone. TV? Hmmm … not so much. I imagine there will be some convergence here, however, and with expanding online connectivity, Xbox is a growing franchise.

I think the whole tech world is a little surprised by Bing. No, it’s not grabbing huge share with both hands … but it does seem to be growing share slowly. The key question to me is: will Bing ever shake off the dust and start growing 2-3% of market share per month? That is what would seriously threaten Google … but it doesn’t seem likely. That said … Bing is a qualified success so far with decent prospects.

Office is the office today … almost every professional in North America and Europe, and plenty beyond those places, uses it. In my mind this is one of the most threatened Microsoft business pillars: OpenOffice, Google Docs, and numerous other wannabes threaten the huge Office revenues. This is a decreasing business, even with Office live, IMHO.

Windows Server
Somehow, Windows Server has been taking share from Linux over some of the past few quarters. That said, I’d put Server in the same category as Office: not going to be a significant growth engine of the future for Windows.

In an increasingly heterogenous desktop and mobile environment, and with much cheaper alternatives … good luck.

Windows Phone
You cannot count out a contender with the resources and partners that Microsoft still has … but seriously. iPhone on the high end, Android on the middle and high ends, BlackBerry, Symbian, WebOS … this is an increasingly crowded marketplace. And Windows Phone is WAY behind. Ditto the previous comment … good luck!

Windows is still a massive enterprise, but most of the installed base is XP. That’s in one sense an opportunity for Win7, but in another sense a testament to the growing irrelevance of desktop applications. The browser-based operating system is a growing reality.

Google will merge Android and Chrome. Apple will continue its hold on the high-end and aesthetically-conscious consumer. Linux is fighting at the low-end and the ideological fringe.

And meanwhile … the web keeps absorbing more and more of what used to be desktop functionality. Windows is a great cash cow, and will remain as such for a long time, but it’s not the growth engine of the future.

Business users
Selling to business is hard, but Microsoft has it down pat. And, with business intelligence tools and other enterprise pick-ups acquired over the past 5 years, Microsoft has the potential to really grow this space.

There are still many competitors, but not everyone is going to outsource their business apps to Marc Benioff, or run everything on SAP or Oracle … and even if cloud computing starts to dominate, Windows has a pretty capable answer in Azure. I’d put this as a growth engine for Microsoft. The downside is that I think it will be harder to achieve lock-in here than on the desktop, so this may not be as secure a business as Office and Windows have been for the past 20 years.

SQL Server
I’m a little biased here, being most web-based, but I don’t know anyone who’s doing anything cool who is using SQL Server. There are just so many cheap/good options available right now, and expensive/good as well.

I’d have a hard time rating this as a growth opportunity for Microsoft … especially as they are losing the developer-lockin that they once had, since the mobile revolution is sucking them all into Apple’s and Google’s universes. Good luck here too.

. . .
. . .

Tallying it up …
5 of the 8 are not obviously going to be growth engines for the future … at least not at the scale that Office and Windows have been for Microsoft … and significant threats face their other 3.

In other words, don’t expect Microsoft to stop being the favored kicking-boy of technology pundits anytime soon.

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Charles Leadbeater on innovation in education

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This is smart, timely, and wonderfully well-said:

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Making math fun … and real

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This is a great teacher. By using less information than most he encourages kids to actually learn – and not be content with being trained.


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