NEEO: The Thinking Remote for Your Smart Home

A really neat universal remote idea currently doing an incredible job on Kickstarter. At the time of this writing they have nearly 3,000 backers pledging more than 14 times their goal of $50,000.

I’ve been using Logitech Harmony remotes for years, but this is the kind of remote that would get me to switch. It’s a beautiful piece of industrial design paired with, what appears to be, some really nice software.

How Glenn Fleishman Stopped Using RSS and Didn’t Even Notice

I’ve been using an RSS reader for about a decade now and still check it several times a day. I can see the appeal of getting rid of my RSS reader and keeping up with the news on Twitter — having one less inbox to keep track of sounds great. But, I feel like I’d need to follow too many people on Twitter in order to make sure I didn’t miss anything interesting.

You see, I’m one of those completists that Glenn mentions. For whatever reason I can’t bring myself to ever hit the mark all as read button — I have to read every single headline and every single tweet. And from this perspective, the only way to keep myself from going crazy while still keeping up with everything is to curate a tight list of RSS feeds to subscribe to and Twitter users to follow.

Maybe I’ll change my tune at some point in the future. But, until then I’m happy continuing to read news in my RSS reader.

How to Watch NBC’s Super Bowl Live Stream

I’m not much of a sports guy. But if I end up watching some of the Super Bowl this year, this is how I’m going to do it.

Targets for Apple Watch Battery Life Revealed

Another scoop by Mark Gurman:

Our sources say that Apple is targeting 2.5 hours of “heavy” application use, such as processor-intensive gameplay, or 3.5 hours of standard app use. Interestingly, Apple expects to see better battery life when using the Watch’s fitness tracking software, which is targeted for nearly 4 hours of straight exercise tracking on a single charge.

I’d say this is on the lean side of the acceptability spectrum. It should be enough for many owners, but I can imagine the battery dying out before bedtime for more heavy users.

Microsoft HoloLens

Announced at Microsoft’s Windows 10 event yesterday, HoloLens is a virtual reality-like headset that projects 3D rendered images into the world around you. There was no pricing or hard release date announced, as anyone who follows Microsoft would have predicted.

Here’s some of the notes I jotted down while watching the HoloLens presentation (starts at about 01:37:00):

  • The promotional video looked a lot more impressive than the real life demo, which appeared more clumsy and irritating to interact with.
  • Being able to move your mouse cursor off of your computer screen and onto the world around you actually sounds neat. And, this would alleviate some of the awkwardness of having to wave your arm around to interact with the objects in HoloLens.
  • Microsoft’s Alex Kipman was listing off various applications for HoloLens while slides of those potential users were being displayed on the screen behind him. But, none of those people “using HoloLens” were actually wearing the HoloLens goggles on their head.
  • Available “in the Windows 10 timeframe” is a pretty vague release time frame.
  • The HoloLens user interface has to be intuitive on a level never seen before in computing. Otherwise, new users will either be completely lost trying to interact with the software or they’ll have to be constantly inundated with tutorial-like information in order to inform them about what voice commands and physical gestures they can use to interact with the application they’re using.
  • It doesn’t seem like you can get the same level of precision using your hands with HoloLens as you could using a mouse on a computer.

I’m skeptical about whether or not this technology will ever take hold. It doesn’t seem much more useful than a large touchscreen computer in regards to physically interacting with objects (since you can’t actually touch anything using HoloLens). And, it’s a lot easier to look like a doofus wearing a pair of goggles than it is using a touchscreen or a traditional mouse and keyboard.

But, I’d be foolish to completely write off this technology. Eventually we’re going to be interacting with computers in different ways than we are today. I’m not certain it will be this, but if the software and hardware are dramatically improved at a rapid rate over the next decade or two this could be the next big thing.

HealthCare.gov Sends Personal Data to Dozens of Tracking Websites

Cooper Quintin, writing for the EFF:

EFF researchers have independently confirmed that healthcare.gov is sending personal health information to at least 14 third party domains, even if the user has enabled Do Not Track. […] Sending such personal information raises significant privacy concerns. A company like Doubleclick, for example, could match up the personal data provided by healthcare.gov with an already extensive trove of information about what you read online and what your buying preferences are to create an extremely detailed profile of exactly who you are and what your interests are.

I find it appalling that healthcare.gov sends any information to tracking websites at all. Why would an insurance marketplace send data to Optimizely, Doubleclick, and Google? You’d think $2 billion would have bought something a little better than this.

Live From Microsoft’s Windows 10 Event

Microsoft is also live streaming the event on their own website. I’ve been following along on the aforelinked The Verge liveblog while watching the live stream airplayed from my iPhone to my Apple TV.

A Promotional Video for Google’s Project Ara

Have you ever watched someone drop their phone and the battery and battery cover fly off on impact? Imagine if every component on your phone could fall off in the same fashion when it hit the ground. That’s the only thing I can think of while I’m watching this video.

John Moltz Buys a PC

John Moltz recently purchased a gaming laptop for his son and documented the experience. I’ve never actually purchased a PC myself — when I was using PCs they were either purchased by my parents, provided by my school, or I built them myself. But, that was nearly a decade ago and based on John’s experience it looks like things have only gotten worse.

What I don’t understand is why there’s no PC OEM that takes the user experience as seriously as Apple does. Why isn’t there one with a rationalized product lineup, aimed at a broad swath of customers (Razer’s is rationalized, but only focuses on high-end gaming), that all come with a clean Windows install?

Every few years I’ll get questions from a friend or family member about what computer I think they should buy. And after doing a little research on my own I always end up giving them the same advice: I have no idea what PC you should buy, but if you think you want to switch to OS X, I recommend a MacBook Air or an iMac.

I don’t give them this advice because I don’t think they should buy a PC, in fact I’d rather they buy a PC because it’s what they’re most comfortable with and it’ll prevent me from become their lifeline when something goes wrong (as I expect I’d be if they bought a mac, since I’m the “mac guy”). The reason I don’t know what PC to recommend is because the whole market looks like a sea of poorly built hardware filled with bloatware and bad user experiences.

Like John, I’ll never understand why there isn’t one PC OEM that actually seems to care about the customer. Not one with a simple product line, with limited options in order to prevent their customers from being overwhelmed. Whenever I take a look at the PC market it feels like every OEM is trying to dump all the components that Intel and AMD couldn’t convince Apple to put in their latest MacBook Air. It’s not good at all.

JCPenney Resurrects Its Catalog

With this, JCPenney has veered as far away from Ron Johnson’s vision for the company as they possibly could. I still believe Johnson would have turned the company around given enough time, but I suppose the shareholders were more interested in quick gains than long term value — they’d rather have a catalog business and half renovated stores now, than the coolest store in the mall later.

The new catalogs will begin shipping to select customers in March focusing on former home department shoppers.

iTunes Features That Have Been Retired

Kirk McElhearn reminds us of some of the features Apple has retired from iTunes. Most of them I never used and don’t miss. But, I do wish Apple would realize the error of their ways and bring back the iTunes sidebar. Navigating iTunes became a real pain when it was removed with the release of version 12.

(Via The Loop.)

Amazon Debuts 13 New TV Show Pilots

Jacob Kastrenakes, reporting for The Verge:

Amazon is debuting its next set of TV pilots for viewers to watch and vote on. As usual, there are a lot of options here and a lot of big names. […] Amazon is also debuting six pilots for children’s series. This is an area that Netflix has been moving into in a strong way, too, as it’s an obvious genre to jump into to make these services more appealing to parents of young kids.

Marco Opens Up the Books on Overcast

I’m happy to see that the app is a success. And, the uptick in sales at the end of the year indicates that it’s going to be a sustainable business going forward with its existing business model. Overcast is a very well made app that deserves every penny it earns and then some.

The Peter Principle

There’s a fundamental problem that every business seems to struggle with. Its something that seems to crop up in nearly every company I interact with and I’ve wondered why it seems so prevalent. What I’m talking about is incompetence. Not necessarily with the business itself (although there’s plenty of examples of that as well), but incompetence in the individual employees working within the company.

In discussing this with coworkers at my day job, I would always harp on the numerous ways that my employer would create an environment that encourages our all-star employees to leave. Enacting stricter dress codes, turning music off in all of their locations, and forcing you into using a cookie-cutter organizational strategy, just to name a few. My theory being that the all-star employees are the ones that are most likely to leave after a negative policy change — simply because they could easily get a better job over their less-than-stellar coworkers. This sort-of natural selection causes the average quality of the company’s employees to decrease over time.

My fear with this is that we would always be hiring fewer all-stars than we would be losing through this process. This leaves two simple ways to combat the problem, either hire more all-stars (which is incredibly difficult since you are beholden to the quality of your applicants, which fluctuate over time) or stop enacting bone-headed policies that upset the rank and file (which I have no faith will ever happen).

But, there has to be a reason why these obviously foolish decisions are made. As mentioned earlier, its all about the incompetence.

During one of these discussions about the foolish things middle-management tends to do, I realized something about how these people (who make far more money than I, but don’t seem to have any idea what they’re doing) managed to get where they are today. There is a flaw in the mechanism used for promotions. You see, an employee who over-performs at his position will likely get promoted at some point. And, if he over-performs at the new position he will get another promotion. This continues until he is no longer over-performing and instead settles into a position he’s mediocre at. He can’t be an all-star employee, because if he was then he’d receive another promotion.

The promotion mechanism is broken. Employees will naturally continue to be promoted within their business until they’re no longer good enough at their current position to be considered for another promotion. This is a serious problem. And, one I don’t exactly have an answer to. How do you determine at what position an employee will be at their highest potential? It’s too easy to give them that last promotion that they aren’t truly suited for. And one incompetent employee seems to breed more incompetent employees, because they often make decisions about promotions for many of the employees below them.

I’ve brought this concept up to a number of people in my life and felt as though I wasn’t getting the reaction I expected from them. I find this idea to be fascinating because it shows that all businesses have a natural tendency to operate this way and that you actually have to try (probably pretty hard) to prevent this from happening. But, most of the people I would discuss this with would listen to me politely, agree with a nod, and not have anything to say in response.

Until I realized that this was happening, I hadn’t heard anyone mention anything like it before (hence the frustration from the reactions I would get about it). But it turns out, this theory is called The Peter Principle, first discussed in the 1969 book The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull.

The Peter Principle is described on Wikipedia as:

The Peter Principle is a concept in management theory in which the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in their current role rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and “managers rise to the level of their incompetence.”

I thought I had discovered something brilliant, only to find out that someone has beat me to the punch. But, I can’t feel too bad if I’m still independently discovering things like this.

I’ve heard Google has two promotional tracks — one for technical staff and one for management — to help mitigate this problem (although I can’t find any references to it anywhere online). And, this seems like the smartest way to keep The Peter Principle from becoming a problem because promotions in many companies often means you’ll spend less time in the trenches doing the work and more time in meetings talking about how to get the work done.

I think every company in the world should be thinking about this when they build their corporate structure. One strategy that can keep these problems at bay naturally is to mimic what Apple seems to have adopted — limit the number of managers in between the lowliest employee and the CEO of the company. There can’t be many promotions when there’s only a few people above each employee — those positions just don’t become available very often. Instead, you offer incentives in the form of doing similar tasks but on higher profile projects.

Since discovering this just a couple of weeks ago, it’s changed a lot about how I think about the businesses around me. I’m blaming the person with the bone-headed idea a lot less than I normally would because they probably shouldn’t have been put in a position to make that decision in the first place. But, that certainly doesn’t make the bone-headed idea any less bone-headed.

Portrait of a Letterpress Printer

A short documentary about William Amer, a letterpress printer and teacher. There are few things I find more interesting than letterpress printing.

(Via Laughing Squid.)

Apple’s Constant

Jason Snell, writing on Six Colors:

Over the years I’ve said numerous times that when it comes to battery life on iOS devices, Apple appears to have a target battery life in mind and builds its hardware—a balance of power-saving software, hardware efficiency, and battery capacity—to hit that number.

The iPhone and iPad’s battery life hasn’t changed too much over the years. It seems to be one of the constants that Apple still believes they got right with the first model. If they can get additional battery life in a new model they will, but not at the expense of an improved design or more powerful features.

AMD’s Graphics, Marketing, and Strategy Executives Leave Company

It’s never a good sign when three high-level executives leave the company at the same time. I remember when I thought of AMD as the most interesting company in technology. Today, I don’t even know the names of their flagship products.

The Real Story Behind Jeff Bezos’ Fire Phone Debacle

Great piece by Austin Carr on the behind-the-scenes creation of the Fire Phone. The article makes it abundantly clear that Jeff Bezos is completely at fault for the device’s failure, but still leaves you with the feeling of excitement for the future of Amazon. It’s well written and full of interesting information about how Amazon’s Lab126 operates.

Apple Watch Launch Expected in March

Mark Gurman, writing for 9 to 5 Mac:

Apple is finishing up work on the Apple Watch’s software, and sources familiar with the product’s development say that the device is currently on track to ship in the United States by the end of March.

First the 12-inch MacBook Air details and now this. If you don’t already follow Mark Gurman’s writing, you really should be.

AT&T Announces Rollover Data

Russell Brandom, writing for The Verge:

Today, the company announced that starting January 25th, any AT&T customers in the Mobile Share Value system will be able to carry over unusued data to the next month.

I’m still holding onto my unlimited data plan from years ago, but this is the kind of announcement that might convince me to rethink that decision. Having the ability to bank unused data will help keep you from incurring overage fees during months with more heavy usage. This is a step in the right direction.

Death by a Thousand Cuts

Sparked by Marco Arment’s recent piece, Craig Hockenberry has published his thoughts on the quality of Apple’s software. Craig chose to express his thoughts in the form of a letter to Tim Cook. It’s well written and gets to the heart of why this whole thing caught on in the first place. And, he does a great job explaining why all of this matters in the first place.

Details on Microsoft’s Next Web Browser

Tom Warren, reporting for The Verge:

Sources familiar with the company’s Windows plans tell The Verge that the new browser, codenamed Spartan, will include a host of new features not found in rival browsers. Chief among the plans for Spartan is new inking support that allows Windows 10 users to annotate a web page with a stylus and send the notes and annotations to a friend or colleague.

Mark Gurman Details Apple’s Upcoming 12-inch MacBook Air

Another great Apple hardware scoop by Mark Gurman — Slimmer design, a USB Type-C port, refined keyboard and trackpad, and several rendered images to illustrate the changes. I think it’s worth mentioning (as John Gruber pointed out), Mark never uses the word “retina” to describe the screen on the new Air.

I hope that the bit about the USB Type-C and headphone jack being the only two ports on the computer is simply a miscommunication. I can understand Apple getting rid of the extra USB port and even the Thunderbolt port — I’ve only ever had one USB device connected to my MacBook at a time and I’ve never used the Tunderbolt port. But, MagSafe would be something I’d miss. I can’t count the number of times my laptop has been saved by that little connector when someone tripped over the power cord.

Chris Morran Gets Hands-On Time With Sling TV

Talk of Dish’s new streaming video service, Sling TV, seemed to be everywhere after it was announced early this week. Headlined by ESPN and ESPN 2, it was positioned as a way for cord cutters to get access to sports content that had previously been impossible to access without a cable subscription.

But frankly, the service doesn’t look like a very good deal. It costs $20 a month and doesn’t seem to offer very much for the price. There’s only nine networks listed on the bottom of Sling’s homepage. Which brings me to the biggest problem I have with the service — it focuses on live content.

I’m not the least bit interested in watching anything live. My work schedule doesn’t typically allow for me to watch anything I’d be interested in while it’s airing and, most importantly, I can’t imagine having to sit through long commercial breaks again.

There is some amount of “on-demand” content, as Chris Morran mentions in his aforelinked piece on Consumerist:

While Sling TV will allow you to pause and rewind live feeds, there is no recording or DVR-like storage. Instead, each of the channels determines which previously aired programs from the past few days can be available on demand.

That doesn’t sound very promising.

I guess if you’re really interested in cutting the cord, but can’t live without ESPN and ESPN 2, this could be the perfect service for you. Although, you’re going to be paying a lot of money for what appears to be a fairly shallow service. But, at least you’ll be able to watch the GoDaddy Bowl at 2AM like cable subscribers can.

Continuity Activation Tool

A nifty tool that enables continuity features on macs that aren’t officially support by Apple. When I eventually upgrade to Yosemite, I may revisit this tool as my MacBook Air is one of the models that isn’t officially supported but meets all of the hardware requirements.

I would caution anyone interested in using this to only do so if you really know what you’re doing. This piece of software has to fiddle with low-level system files in order to enable these features. Make sure you have a known working backup before using the software on your mac.