Big != Monopoly

Big != Monopoly

One word that gets thrown around a lot any time a company gets big is "monopoly".  "Google is a search monopoly!"  "Amazon has a monopoly on eBooks!"  And if you even remember this being an issue "The merger of Sirius and XM Radio will result in a satellite radio monopoly".  From a layman's perspective, though, these are also all false.

One key part of being a monopoly is restricting new entrants.  We have great examples of monopolies all over the country.  We call them cable and telephone companies.  You have less choices for cable tv and broadband because locally government mandated monopolies prevent new companies. 

Does Google have a monopoly on search?  Well, it definitely has the largest market share for search engine websites.  However that is an awfully limited view.  Can people get information from other sources?  Of course: Bing, Facebook, Wikipedia, Twitter, etc.  What stops people from using those other sources?  Nothing.  In fact, Bing is the default search engine on the default browser on the largest desktop OS there is.  

In the mobile world, Google does dominate total searches, but Apple is probably one or two OS revisions away from replacing Google with Bing.  Microsoft has the ability to get that deal done.  On Android devices, you don't have to use Google.  Google does come pre-installed on Google certified devices, but you can change the default search provider, or use Bing apps.  There is no restriction.

What really happened is that Google put out a search engine product that was so much better than everyone else, that people started using Google in droves.  Yahoo was asleep at the wheel, and Microsoft was a pretty late entry.  If the user is not locked in, if new companies are not prevented from entering the market by Google, if there is nothing restricting competition, how is there a monopoly?  How do you legislate people's choices?  

Does Amazon have a monopoly with eBooks?  This question was asked by a lot of Apple fanatics after Apple was caught for collusion.  There is no doubt that Amazon is killing it with eBooks compared to the competition.  However, Apple is not a small startup trying to make their way through the market.  iBooks is installed on hundreds of millions of devices.  Why is Kindle winning?  Because it's better. People could choose to use iBooks (ability to move books between systems like iBooks and Kindle is not Amazon's doing) on their iDevices, but they don't.  On the Android side, Play Books is pretty good, but it's not popular.  Amazon is also the only company willing to spend the time and money to develop an e-ink reader that works better for reading than a glass screen.  Again, no restriction for competition, etc, so I don't see how this is a monopoly.

The last example I'm going to bring up is the Sirius/XM Radio merger.  At the time, this seemed like a big deal.  For a while, there was competition between the two services.  What would happen if there was only one?  Well, as we know, while satellite radio is a success, it has plenty of competition from non-satellite companies.  It still competes with terrestrial radio, and mobile music services proliferating on top of widely available high speed wireless.  It seems ridiculous in hindsight to have been concerned about a monopoly.

Again, big != monopoly.  Success != monopoly.  We have real monopolies in this country, so let's deal with them.  The Google's, the Amazon's and even the Apple's are all large successful companies who do not have the power to restrict new players or prevent changing landscapes.  I worry a lot more about the cable company doing a crappy job of providing me internet to the point where I can't even get online to make a search engine choice, than I do about the search engine itself.

Again, all from the perspective, a layman, who feels he has choice between all these companies.

#spb  

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This project got a lot of attention, but it’s probably dead on arrival.  As this article points out,…

This project got a lot of attention, but it's probably dead on arrival.  As this article points out, there is so much more available space that is not being used for solar power that is also easier to maintain and use.  Roads take immense abuse, and textured glass may work great in parking lots, but it would be terrible for a lot of roads.  What about in places where it snows a lot?  What happens overnight ?  Since there is no power from the sun, how would the roads melt the ice?  Are we going to draw power from the rest of the grid to heat roads?  You can't plow on these roads, and salt would be awful.

Take your Solar Roadway investment and put it on to some panels for your roof.  Makes a lot more sense.

#solar #spb  

Why the Solar Roadways Project on Indiegogo is Actually Really Silly – Equities.com Global Financial Community
The project for solar roadways currently on Indiegogo is garnering a lot of attention. Which is strange, because it’s a totally impractical idea.

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My Incident With the Google Play Developer Program

Back in February, I decided to purchase the rights to an Android app, from the website Apptopia. Apptopia is an app broker to ensure that as a buyer or seller you don’t get screwed. I found an interesting app, a screen lock app that is a lock pick routine reminiscent of Skyrim, that was perfect for what I was looking for. The price was in my price range, so I put in a bid, and the next day was able to make the purchase.

I hadn’t done too much with the app the first month. I set the developer account up with my shanebrady.com domain and email, separate from the main Google id that I use. I fixed a few bugs, studied the code to see how I could make the animations better. The admob ads were running on someone else’s id so I fixed that as well. The whole thing was starting to feel like a good idea. I was learning the app store, I was learning some basic Android development, and I was enjoying it all.

Then came an email a month later:

This is a notification that your Google Play Publisher account has been terminated.

REASON FOR TERMINATION: Prior violations of the Content Policy and Developer Distribution Agreement by this or associated accounts as outlined in previous emails sent to the registered email address(es) of the Publisher account(s).

Ugh. At this point I assumed that I had bought an app that had previously violated content standards, that I had a bought a bum app. I replied to Google (an appeal) that I had only just personally purchased the app, that I had not received any previous emails, and that I was willing to fix any violation, I just needed to know what was wrong. I figured a human would read my reply and give me some guidance. I was wrong. A few hours earlier I received an email saying my appeal was denied, and my account was still terminated. They also warned me to never try to have a developer account again.

This was like a punch in the stomach. There are few people who are bigger boosters of Android than I am. I’m now also working at a startup that will soon begin working on an Android version. If they connect my suspended account to my day job’s account, what would have happened? This was a really, really bad situation.

I contacted the guy I bought the app from to see if he’d ignored previous warnings or screwed me over in other ways. This is how I found out the source of all the problems. First, the seller’s account was also terminated. His entire day job was based on app writing so this was bad for him. Secondly, we were suspended through a weird chain of associations. The seller had sold another app to another guy. That subsequent buyer bought an app that had actual violations of copyright. That buyer was then connected to me and the seller as one unit, and we were all suspended. Ugh. Terrible.

I tried contacting people in unconventional ways. I posted to people in the Google Developer Relations group’s Google+ accounts. I posted in the Google Developer community. I looked around for phone numbers, some other way to contact Google to please my case. I even tried the appeals process again. Nothing doing.

Then one day, I found something. When I went to the Google Developer appeal page, this time I “lied” and said my account wasn’t yet terminated. I said it was suspended in error. This gave me a chance again to submit a much fuller explanation. For some reason, this actually went to a human. If I said I was already terminated, I bet it went nowhere.

So I gave my full explanation, explaining the chain of associations, where I purchased the app, copies of the email receipt from Apptopia. Everything I could think of. And this time it worked! I received an email the next morning stating that my account was reinstated! My apps, my stats, everything was still there. This was about ten days later. I waited a bit to tell the seller my success, because I didn’t want to jinx it. It turns out that soon after I was reinstated, so was the seller. I don’t care about the other guy so I never found out, but the seller and I were ready to go!

This puts a blackmark on Google. They need to do a much better job than this. In fact, I have been unable to find through searching anyone else who has ever had their account reinstated after a termination. I know I’m not the only one who has ever been terminated incorrectly. The most frustrating part of all this was that there is no communication conduit you can easily use when you’re in the middle of a dispute. There is no phone number you can call to walk someone through the issues. I’m also disappointed that none of the people who work in Google Play Developer Relations responded to any of my messages. I’m a developer and that is what they’re paid to do.

In any case, this does not turn me against developing for Google. This was a somewhat unique situation because I bought an app. I think Android is still the best platform out there to really create something innovative. I just want Google to do better. This was about more than just my app, it could have touched on my day job, and the other people who work with me. This cannot be how it goes. I hope by chance someone from Google reads this and makes some improvement. Let’s truly make this the best platform out there.

Mountain Monsters : Brilliant Satire or Something Else?

For some reason I can’t stop watching this show. Mountain Monsters purports to be a show about a group of West Virginians dedicated to hunting down the monsters of Appalachia. Some of these monsters I’ve heard of (The Grassman), others seem hyperlocal (Webster Werewolf) and were new to me.

The show follows a very A-Team like formula. Each show starts with a ride to a new hunt, where leader Trapper Tice tells everyone what monster they will be hunting. Then researcher Jeff fills in the rest of the details about the creature. Trapper and Jeff are usually backed by Buck, the “rookie”, and Huckleberry, a rather large man who is there for “security”. They always interview three people who have had sightings and video.

As par for the course for these types of shows, then do a “night investigation” the first night. These “investigations” result in close encounters with the creature they are hunting. These close calls then give everyone insights to what kind of trap they must build to capture the creature. Enter Willy and Wild Bill. Willy is the expert trap designer while Wild Bill is the real world incarnation of Boomhauer. Google it.

After the trap is built, they settle in for the final night investigation. Without fail, they fail to capture the creature. They always come close, though. That night investigation marks the end of the show, as they have to move on after a few days.

So why do I find this so compelling? It could be brilliant satire. The videos I mentioned earlier? They always look the creatures are CG. The videos contain not blobsquatches, but pixel smudge squatches. During the first night investigation they always have the amazing luck of an encounter with the creature right away. The creature is always “right there” but the camera never seems to capture anything.

The traps that they build are comical. Log traps that will ping a werewolf’s arm? Large metal pipes kind of submerged in water to catch a lizard? As far as I can tell, they have only ever caught some wild dogs. For all I know they were tame dogs.The last night investigation the whole team is out there trying to find the creature. They will come across footprints (either fake looking or not much of anything), bones from animals, or a bloody carcass.

Season two seems to have added more blood, more bones, and more audio. The werewolf howls seem canned, the Yahoo of Nicholas County sounds like a human being, and every other sound freaks them out It looks to me they wanted more ratings so they juiced up the episodes.

This has to be fake, right? Monsters no one else as ever heard of. Eyewitness video that always has CG. Close encounters ALL THE TIME but that never show up on camera. Despite coming so close to getting the dangerous creature, the last night ends, and everyone is “well, we did our best, time to go home”. Everything about the show screams fake, fake, fakety, fake.

However, I can’t find conclusive evidence that the show is trying to be real, or trying to be an obvious fake. Clearly, the content on the show doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, but I wish I knew their intent.

Maybe the best clue I have is this screencap I took:

IMG_20140519_170818

“No Wildlife was hunted”.

Hmm.

My system of taking notes on the iPad got so complicated it broke. I stopped at an Office Depot and got these. | Like I Was Saying

I personally don’t take much in the way of notes. Typing for years has left me close to unable to write for long periods of time without my hand cramping up. However, there isn’t a good digital solution yet to taking notes really.

My system of taking notes on the iPad got so complicated it broke. I stopped at an Office Depot and got these. | Like I Was Saying.

NatureBox – Cashing In On the Naturalistic Fallacy?

Over the last few weeks I have heard more and more adverts during podcasts about NatureBox. NatureBox is a snack service that delivers “wholesome, delicious, snacks” to your home or business. Their commercials often mention how their snacks are better than vending machine snacks. While not all their products are non-GMO or organic, they do mention on their site, they want to move in a more non-gmo, organic direction.

I decided to look deeper at their snacks, because they actually cater to vegans with a number of vegan options. However, for the purposes of this article I will also look at non-vegan snacks. I also will look at the calories for the entire package, because I believe that is how most people eat them. No allowing companies to call .5 oz’s a “serving”.

First, some calorie counts for some common snack items:

2.5 oz bag of Funyuns – 325 calories
2.87 oz bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos – 430 calories
6 ct of Oreos snack bag – 840 calories
1.75 oz salted peanuts – 297 calories
Big Mac – 550 calories

Ok, so you’re not likely to get a Big Mac in a vending machine, but I thought I’d throw that in there in a whim.

Now let’s look at some of the calorie counts of NatureBox snacks.

1.5 cups PB&J Granola – 600 calories
1.125 cups Poppy Seed Sticks – 720 calories
5 oz South Pacific Plantains – 750 calories
1.5 cups – Roasted Sea Salt chips – 585 calories

So two things jump out. First, the portion sizes of Naturebox are much larger, leading to higher caloric counts. I’m making judgement call here, though, that people in general aren’t good at calling 1 oz of anything a serving. Let’s look at calories per oz.

Funyuns -130 cal/oz
Nacho Cheese Doritos – 150 cal/oz
1.75 oz salted peanuts – 170 cal/oz
Big Mac – 72 cal/oz

PB&J Granola 50 cal/oz
Poppy Seed Sticks – 80 cal/oz
South Pacific Plantains – 150 cal/oz
Roasted Sea Salt Chick Peas – 50 cal/oz

In this view, the NatureBox look better, while Big Macs are surprisingly competitive. So, NatureBox can claim to have less calorically dense foods that typical vending machines, but then they package it in such a way that might lead people to eat a lot more calories than expected.

Are NatureBox products “healthy”? I’d have to say not really. They’re not unhealthy either, they’re just kind of meh, but poorly packaged. I know I’m not particularly interested in their products now. I don’t think I can say they are using the naturalistic fallacy, but they’re definitely walking a fine line.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

(I didn’t link to NatureBox because I don’t want to improve their ranking but all their numbers are on their website)

First Mover Advantage or Why I’m No Longer Using Google+

googleminus

So if I weren’t a vegan, I might consider eating some crow after writing this post. The fact is, I’m no longer going to be putting in any time on the Google+ stream. There are a few reasons and I will outline them here. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for quite a while, but especially since the kerfuffle with Vic Gundotra leaving Google+.  On top of that, App.net is probably shutting down, and that is what pushed me over the edge.  Here is why:

 

1. Being Late Is Too Big a Hindrance for Google+

Facebook and Twitter both have a big first mover advantage when it comes to mind share for social networking.  Because of that, all my friends are already on Facebook and Twitter, and new friends I make are also on Facebook and Twitter already.  That’s not the case with Google+, where only some of my friends are.  In fact, over time, less of my friends are on Google+, so I’ve been following strangers, trying to convert it more of a news source.  That has worked out well, but it’s not social.  I could just as easily use Feedly.  Google+ the stream was simply too late for me.

2. Google+ Personal Brands From First Movers

A lot of people became popular early on with Google+ and launched themselves as personal brands.  That has great value.  In fact, for brands, Google+ is a must and for my start up I will still be using Google+ to promote our product.  For me the individual, I’m never going to be a personal brand.  I don’t even like the idea of becoming a personal brand, and I certainly don’t have the personality for it.  If you moved early on and built up a nice brand, Google+ is great.  Big fish in smaller ponds.

3. Managing Three Social Networks Is Too Much

While I don’t have to manage any social network, I do want to maintain some social presence.   Twitter is a must, as is Facebook if I want to keep up to date with my friends in skepticism and TAM.  Twitter by itself is awesome for baseball coverage.  Keith Law is one of the best baseball writers, tweets a lot, and occasionally Google+’s.  His posts on Google+ rarely get comments or +1’s, because the baseball community is so big on Twitter.  So if I “have” to be on Facebook and Twitter anyway, it’s hard to find the time to maintain a whole other network.

4. I Don’t Really Like Social Media Anyway

I like to keep in touch with my friends, I like the smart links they post, but that’s about it.  Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook seem to be striving to be more.  For those people that also embrace that, that’s great for them.  For me, it’s too much.  Bring back the blogs, bring back the RSS feeds, bring back the IRC channels!

 

These are the four primary reasons you’ll no longer see me on the Google+ stream.  It’s not because Google+ is a ghost town, because G+ is not a ghost town.  It’s a vibrant community with a different take on social media.  Google+ is a really good social networking site too.  It’s a way better than Facebook or Twitter.  You can’t knock Google for the quality of the product.  Hangouts and the Google+ Photos are amazing, and are the bits of Google+ that I will remain using.

I don’t want to be grouped together with lazy tech writers who never liked Google+ and who would love to dance on its grave.  I’m not one of these lazy commentators who think Google+ is a failure that’s being “shoved down everyone’s throat.”  It’s none of those.  It’s a really great product that works really well.  If you’re on Google+ and love it, that’s awesome.

Except, I wasn’t having as much fun with it and it wasn’t awesome.  That’s just me.  I couldn’t make it work for me, and I don’t want to put in anymore time to try and make it work.  I just want to share some links with people I know, and maybe leave a comment or two.  That’s all.  Twitter will do just fine for that.  Facebook is a necessary evil, but even on there I stick mainly to a highly curated list of people.

So that’s it.  This will be the last link I expect to share on Google+ manually.  I will still use Hangouts and Photos, but share those to other networks.  I reserve the right to use things like IFTTT and Google+ to distribute content to other places, but it won’t be me on the stream.  I might get into Instagram, I might look at building out a tumblr for myself.  Feedly will replace Google+ in my browser tags.  It’s been a good two and a half years, but times change.

Goodbye Google+.

 

Social Media Reduces My Blogging Output

I’m constantly looking for the perfect balance of using social media, where I give my content away, and keeping content on my own blog here at shanebrady.com. I’ve been failing at that lately, so I’ll be trying something new. I’m not going to reveal what that is for thirty days, and then we’ll see what the results look like.

Remembering the #Skeptic Movement of 11 Years Ago

(Disclaimer: Nothing I say about what I remember should be regarded as canon. My memories are far from reliable on this.)

tam_2003

Eleven years might be a curious number of years to remember back to, but this year will mark my 10th TAM (The Amazing Meeting) which is an nice round number.

Eleven years ago the internet was still recovering somewhat from the remnants of the tech bubble. While long gone at that point, “Punch The Monkey” was still something people remembered as an annoying banner. Skepticism 2.0 as it was to be known, was just beginning.

I wish I could remember exactly how I learned about TAM. Truth is I don’t. Back then, we didn’t have social networking, everything was blog based. The skeptic “brands” you know about today like SGU weren’t brands at all back then, and may not have even existed. The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) was only seven years old and seemed to be nothing more than a room in James Randi’s Florida home. I don’t mean that in a bad way at all, things have to start somewhere. Also, things like the JREF were still somewhat small and unknown. Few people were blogging about it.

In 2002, I didn’t know a single other person who identified as a “skeptic”. That changed in 2002 when James Randi came to speak in Rochester, NY. I was in the audience with no more than fifty people. Being shy, though, I didn’t bother to stick and and try to meet James Randi. Others who hung around on the local Road Runner newsgroups remarked how they went out for key lime pie with Randi afterwards.

Later in 2002, I moved to Kansas City, and a couple months later on a January night, I flew to Fort Lauderdale to attend the first Amazing Meeting. That night, I got to talk to Randi for a little bit, on an elevator ride and in the lobby. He was most gracious. There were roughly 150 people in attendance. A lot of people knew each other from various forums, but some people like myself, didn’t know anyone else. I didn’t really speak to anyone, though I did get to ask Phil Plait a question about Nancy Leider (remember when Phil was part of the skeptic movement?). I even talked to Jack Horkheimer about the comet that Constantine may have seen that lead him to convert to Christianity. It was a great weekend.

So looking back, there are a few things that stand out. There were no skeptic movement created “celebrities”. The celebrities or “big names” were big names in other fields first, like Sagan with astronomy and Randi with magic. There were a number of skeptical blogs who wrote not for fame or prestige, but because they loved skepticism and wanted to write about it. There were no major skeptic blog networks.

Skeptic newsgroups and forums seemed to be the most vibrant form of the online skeptic community. This was a time when it was still far more common to have a “handle” than use your real name. Discussions could get nasty, but because of the small, insular nature of the communities, it was nasty with respect. Trolls, of course, existed (as it was, as it will be again) and, of course, people still fed the trolls. There didn’t seem to be many real time interactions, like IRC or instant messaging. When I would join skeptic channels I would rarely find anyone else.

I won’t say it was “better” back then, a less connected, less organized time. It’s definitely better now, but not perfect. There were no “skeptebrities” back then. People weren’t concerned with brands, blogging networks, or high school like popularity. In the early days of Skepticism 2.0, certain people were able to establish brands through successful personal branding campaigns. Unfortunately, this has created a situation where new people entering the movement may confuse a brand with leadership. There are too many brands who know little about skepticism and have too big an audience. As annoying as that is, overall I still think things are better. Now, measuring results…that is a whole other question that I’m not qualified to answer.