Marketing problem

    Science doesn’t have an execution problem. Science has a marketing problem.

    Conspiracies and fake news don’t have a marketing problem. Conspiracies and fake news have an execution problem.

    15 April 2021 — French West Indies

    Internet fanboy

    I’ve been an internet fanboy for as long as I can remember —at least, as long as I learnt there was a big network of computers that we could all use, connecting us closer together.

    It was fun in the 90s. I had to connect from the university network, JANET, to NIST (National Institue of Standards and Technology), then out to the big bad world of what was still essentially ARPANET.

    The World Wide Web was still in an experimental state in CERN. I hadn’t even heard of it at that point. We used the Internet like animals; terminal commands, long waits, FTP, Gopher, WAIS, and Usenet, none of the graphically oriented interfaces that we see today.

    As I fell in love with the Internet and I stumbled upon an early copy of Wired Magazine in 1993, imported into my native UK. I fully bought into the idea that the Internet was nothing but good for the world.

    It would connect us, it would open our eyes to other things, would educate us, and it would even feed us. It would completely revolutionise the way the world works, for the better.

    I had no idea at the time that the very fact that the world became more and more connected, it actually drives us more and more apart.

    We, as humans, can comfortably ingest, process, and analyse only a few cognitively demanding elements simultaneously. At school, you would have only a handful of friends, and only one or two you could call best friend. If, like me, you were in a large secondary school of around a thousand pupils, it was overwhelming to be in general assembly (with the whole school in one room). The morning going to school, with its never-ending procession of pupils arriving, break time with the crowd pilling out of the building to run around on the playground. All these people surrounding us are too much for one human to get to know, either intimately or on a cursory level.

    The Internet completely explodes that model, and we are confronted with tens of thousands, if not millions on possible interactions constantly whilst connected. Twitter, Facebook, Clubhouse, and their indifference to their capacity to overwhelm us is creating a different type of human culture that is, in my view, detrimental to the world. Polarisation, populism, immediacy of need. These are all consequences that are not propice for the sain development of the world.

    I wish I had understood this when I was first becoming charmed with the Internet. Perhaps I could have contributed to doing something to protect us from its inevitable negative consequences.

    Funnily enough, it was all there then for us to see. Re-read Neuromancer, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

    15 April 2021 — French West Indies

    M1 Happy

    Oh, my! I’m so happy with the new MacBook Air M1. It is everything that everyone said it was. The processor, the speed, the weight. The quality is outstanding.

    But the one thing I appreciate the most? The inverted ’T’ arrows keys.

    I fucking hated, hated that piece of crap design on those butterfly keyboards, and I am so glad to see the back of it.

    I have no beef with the keyboard itself. Sure it was a little clunky and mistyped now and again. But I forgave it. I could never forgive the abomination of the rectangle arrow keys.

    Good. Fucking. Riddance.

    13 April 2021 — French West Indies

    It’s always them

    There’s and old saying in the Information Technology industry to describe the situation when the network is not working properly.

    It’s the DNS. It’s always DNS.

    I think we now have an Internet equivalent.

    It’s Facebook. It’s always Facebook.

    8 April 2021 — French West Indies

    On talking about Apple Music

    The app is an absolute unadulterated piece of shit. It’s buggy. It’s slow. Furthermore, it has a mind its own. Likewise, it manages virtually nothing in your library apart from managing to screw up your files, organisation and cover art.

    It really needs a big overhaul to get even the basics right.

    5 April 2021 — French West Indies

    Less is most likely more

    The answer to the problems created by technology is almost certainly not more technology. The likes of Facebook would have you believe that more Facebook is the answer to Facebook’s problems. But it is looking increasingly likely to those who research and read about the platform, that the real solution is most likely less Facebook.

    4 April 2021 — French West Indies

    A missed opportunity for Apple and Apple Music 🤷‍♂️

    Despite being criticised, and rightly so for some products, much hi-fi equipment is far from being snake oil. It tends to follow the laws of diminishing returns, for sure, but looking at that from the starting end of the graph, it means that spending just a little more will yield large returns on investment in sound quality. It generally follows that build quality and robustness also follow when you increase the budget of your hi-fi equipment.

    Sadly, that world is full of promises and downright fraudulent claims, particularly in the cable market. But on the whole, a decent small-batch hi-fi manufacturer providing reasonably priced components will prove a wise strategy to get the best out of recorded music for you.

    And that world is becoming more affordable as sources, components, and reproduction are all moving to digital. Looking at the middle-to-high end —brands like Naim Audio and Linn— are providing digital systems of the all-in-one design. Some model lack speakers, which is likely to capture a large chunk of the budget, but other models are true all-in-one systems conceived for the digital age. These systems are capable of producing remarkable sound for their size and budget. But the music industry has had a harder time convincing users of the benefits of higher definition audio.

    Some of that has to do with the fact that some people just cannot hear the difference, others pretend they can and scientific experiments have all but proven that the benefits of high definition audio sources are only marginal. The human’s average hearing range is well inside the bandwidth of high definition audio, so it is difficult to prove the benefit to listeners.

    That hasn’t stopped online streaming services like Tidal and Spotify from offering those products to their users. In fact, Tidal’s business model was predicated on the promise that it had the best sounding streams on the planet.

    To play these sources as well as locally ripped or produced high definition sources, there are more products on the market adapted to this trend. One such product is the Buchardt Audio A500. It is a 4000€ speaker + hub package (delivered worldwide incl.) that negates the need for any other component in your system. You plug the speakers in, link them to the hub, and you can start streaming in less than ten minutes. The product goes much further, but that’s not the remit of this blog. Take a look at someone like DarkAudio for a better review.

    But yes, this 4000€ product is out of the range of most listeners, either by wealth or by value perceived. And this is where I think Apple has a fantastic opportunity on two fronts to make the ultimate “everyday man’s” dream hi-fi system.

    We’ve seen and heard what two HomePods in paired mode can produce in sound quality, and it is mightily impressive. Even two HomePod minis sound superb for $200 when paired! But the original HomePod was a floored design initially. It was Apple-only (through Apple Music) and could stream through AirPlay (an Apple proprietary streaming protocol). They worked very well but only suited those heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem.

    Apple subsequently added the possibility for its AppleTV set-top box to use them as the default output device, but this only worked sporadically and relied on good wi-fi and internet. Most people use a variety of TV boxes and TV sets, and in those circumstances the go-to solution was to buy an AV amplifier and speakers —sometimes 8 (7+1)!

    Where I think Apple could meaningfully contribute to the market, a market that is self-proclaimed to be significant to Apple, is on one hand provide a high definition streaming plan to the Apple Music subscription. An extra $5 or so a month would be picked up by a sizeable market, I believe (whether they hear the difference or not!). Let’s call it Apple Music+.

    The second prong of the strategy would be to produce a device in the vein of the Buchardt Hub. A small set-top box that has AppleTV built in, inputs for line (both RCA and Minijack), USB and HDMI. The device would take the input, either wired or wireless through AirPlay, and output quality stereo sound to the two linked speakers using the same communications as the existing HomePods. With a little more work, it may be possible to even add additional speakers to the mix, providing the immersive all-round sound film buffs tend to favour.

    The price of the package could be $500-$700 and would sell like hot cakes I would guess.

    Think about a small, easy to set up, great-sounding all-in-one package that could replace the hi-fi, the AV amp and god-awful ugly speakers.

    I’d go for that.

    31 March 2021 — French West Indies

    It’s the little things

    No, scrap that. It’s the major things that make a difference.

    It is an absolute pleasure to no longer think about the battery drain of a powerful laptop. I’m the owner of a new MacBook Air M1, and I couldn’t be happier with its value proposition.

    Small, light, great screen, excellent trackpad, good keyboard and attractive industrial design. But, my word, the battery life is an absolute game-changer.

    Can’t wait for the next generation and beyond.

    31 March 2021 — French West Indies

    Thoughts on Clubhouse

    I got on to Clubhouse, so you don’t have to. It is actually a fascinating idea but one I can’t quite adhere to fully for numerous reasons, some of which I’ll dive into here.

    But first, whenever I jump into a room on Clubhouse, there is literally nothing that couldn’t be better served in podcast format. The ability to stop/start when you like, the offline capability and the accompanying show notes that often point you to supporting materials, are all clearly missing from Clubhouse. This has been confirmed by the fact that many presenters are actually recording and publishing their “talks” through podcasts and YouTube post-room.

    In fact, that’s the primary reason I got on the platform, to try to understand its relation to podcasts and to see if it would disrupt them as so many have been predicting. I’m happy to say that no, Clubhouse will not put a nail in the coffin of podcasts any time soon. If anything it is more like to become the model on which conference panel discussions get digitalised (and subsequently marginalised in value). There’s scope for the democratisation and digitalisation of many of the panels that are hosted around the world. COVID-19 has accelerated the acceptance of that reality. As a panel host/guest speaker invested in that market, i.e., if it’s your main job, I’d be worried about where well-paid work will come from in the next couple of years.

    In fact, I’d go as far to say that if the platform becomes very popular, it could decouple live panel discussions from conferences and even kill off local discussion in-person forums. And like any platform on the internet at internet scale, the problem quickly becomes discovery. How do you find out about those interesting and informative conversations? How do you stop from getting placed in a social bubble (remember you’re linked to your contacts)? What part does moderation play in this?

    But what is Clubhouse? I think a good way think about it is a cross between a phone-in radio show from a small town, populated by procrastinators, narcissists, and grifters. Its sudden popularity has meant that it is the latest target for dollar store wisdom mongers, snake oil merchants and outright fraudsters. That is not to say that there aren’t any interesting and enlightening discussions taking place on the platform, of course there are, just like we’ve seen on TED. But boy, there’s a lot of absolute crap out there too! If you do join, just beware of the VCBS and the pathetic rich-splaining like ‘Ooh look at me, I’m a millionaire’ or “Get More Clients in 2021”. I think I’ve said enough.


    From an analytical point of view, I can see it as an ancillary service in digital conferencing —something that despite trying, we still haven’t cracked meaningfully, particularly the conference-goer interaction space. You’ve all been there, when the filthy mic gets passed around the hall in the Q&A session. You’ve probably all spent time in a Zoom-like conference wanting to get to talk to the panel/presenter and couldn’t because the tools don’t allow for that yet. Using Clubhouse as a digital alternative might possibly be very compelling.

    The big question, of course, is how is Clubhouse going to monetise. I’ll put that to bed immediately because there is only one proven solution to qualitative tools on the Internet. Ads. Only businesses pay for quality (ahem) software. Consumers wilfully (or ignorantly) allow spying to be performed on their footsteps in cyberspace for that to be monetised later using some flaky and downright fraudulent claims on accuracy and ROI. And so it will pass. Clubhouse will become Clubhouse + ads. The funding round mostly from A16z practically guarantees this. They have bet big and will want big returns or nothing.

    There is also a technical and practical dilemma for Clubhouse too. How it can interject adverts without the speakers announcing “This room is sponsored by …” —something I’m not even sure is possible in the T&Cs. (Note to self: Check the terms for advertising clauses). If it is audio, i.e., the primary reason you get on the platform, then having your favourite show interrupted by an advert about a website builder or better yet, the next “hot” Clubhouse room is so user hostile that I can only imagine adverts inserted as you enter or leave a room. Interstitial adds are super agressive and frictional to the point that many of us might reduce the use of the app. The other option is visual ads either static of video-based. Again, this is a tricky prospect as many people open the app, join a room and turn the screen off listening on headphones, the phone’s speaker or AirPlay-ing it to the voice in the box. I mean, where’s the moat? How is this different from live-feed podcast?

    As it stands today, Clubhouse is just a feature waiting to be copied by the big boys in the classroom. Twitter and Facebook have started doing just that. They’re unlikely to stop until they can kill off the disruptor before it gets a foothold or be told to stop by legislation. It’ll most likely be achieved through two strategies; using their already hard-won networks and graphs, and out-featuring the features of the product for nothing more than is little more personal data.

    I wrote this passage a few weeks ago as I was taking notes using Clubhouse:

    Just as an aside, a note about building the network. Clubhouse requires, yes requires, you to upload your entire contacts list if you want to invite someone to the party. You get two invites when you’re successfully integrated. If you store contact details on any European citizen (regardless of where you like), you are defect breaking GDPR laws unless you’ve got permission from the person being invited. I make no judgement, I inform. Think about that for a minute. I currently have 1346 contact cards on my Mac (some are old or defunct), but Clubhouse wants 1300+ just to send two invites. I suspect around 800 or more of those contacts are EU citizens; therefore I’d be breaking the law over 800 times.

    That paragraph is meaningless today, as the app has been updated to allow an invitation to be sent to individual phone numbers thus avoiding the wrath of the EU for now. Who knows if they’ll go after those who have already broken the law. 🤷‍♂️ For them, Clubhouse has provided means by which you can delete the contacts you uploaded. Looks a bit like shredding the papers before the inspectors to me. As far as I’m aware, French authorities have opened an investigation to determine if there was indeed a breach of law by Clubhouse.

    I doubt much will come of it, though. But it is a sign of the very different times in which startups in the tech industry are trying to get off the ground, of which they will be no doubt acutely aware.

    30 March 2021 — French West Indies