Category Archives: Technology

Doh! Apple

Public service announcement: if you have an iPad or iPhone, please update it now while on a safe wifi network (i.e. yours). If you have Mac running 10.9, use Chrome or Firefox until Apple releases a patch and always be careful on public wifi. If you are running Windows or Linux, it is your turn to gloat. There is a pretty nasty security flaw in OS X 10.9 that is still not fixed and affects Safari, Mail and other Apple apps. If you’re a software developer, read about the absolute ridiculously stupid coding mistake that is causing the problems:

The Downsides of Embedded Software

As a software engineer, I should welcome the increasing penetration of software into more and more everyday devices.  But as a consumer, it’s easy to spot the obvious downsides.

Physical and mechanical connections don’t crash or have bugs.  They usually work well and when they do fail, you can sometimes open up the device to figure out what’s going on (wire came unsoldered, gear broke, etc.).

Embedded software, when written well, is great.  There are a lot of software focused companies that write good software.  The problem is that most hardware companies now have embedded software.  And these companies are not software companies, and they tend to write buggy software, or software with poor user experiences.

These are just a couple examples from our daily life:

  • Our clock radio made by iLuv sometimes crashes when you drop an iPhone into the dock.  This requires “rebooting” the clock radio by unplugging and plugging it back in.  In it’s crashed state, it still shows the time, just frozen at the time of crash.  It also inexplicably continues to play while crashed – the UI is just frozen.  Solution: debug your software.
  • Our Toyota Prius radio system has a physical volume knob – but it’s fly-by-wire.  When you start the car, the radio plays at the volume it was last set at (just like an old school radio).  The problem is, this might have been pretty loud, and twirling the knob down has no effect until the audio system has ‘booted up’, which takes several seconds.  This means you get to listen to a very loud radio while looking at the Toyota logo on your audio screen.  Two solutions: (a) don’t start the actual audio until the user has control over the volume, and (b) allow the user to set a maximum volume at startup, so they won’t get blasted when starting the car.
  • The Prius also has a fly-by-wire shift knob.  More than once, I’ve put it in reverse before the electronics are fully booted.  But unlike a normal car, the Prius does not actually get engaged into any gear unless you are fully booted up.  I do like the Prius, but I still don’t like that behavior.  Our other car is a manual transmission, and there is something deeply satisfying about feeling the mechanical connection between the gears and knowing the whole thing can be done without any electronics.  I have no idea how you’d push a Prius off the road if the electronics system was down. Can you even put it in neutral without booting up?

Let’s just hope that hardware companies bet better at writing software.  A crashed clock radio is one problem, but once software controls items that our lives depend on, you don’t want a crash to lead to a crash.


Why Facebook’s Poor Stock Performance Is A Good Thing For Tech

Facebook’s IPO debuted at $38 only a few months ago, and as of today (August 3), it’s now around $21.  Other well known companies like Groupon, Zynga and Pandora are well down from their IPO prices as well.

This is a good thing, because none of those companies has a proven and sustainable business model to support their IPO valuations.  Facebook has lots of active users, but has to yet to demonstrate how to make enough money to justify a market cap higher than GE or a price to earnings ratio of five times Apple.  For Facebook to justify even its current stock price (almost half of IPO) it would have to grow its revenue at 20-30% per year for years into the future.  Given how saturated the user base has become, this means Facebook has to figure out how to monetize its current user base, do it quickly, and keep doing it for years to come. It’s possible, but I wouldn’t bet much money on it.

The fact that investors recognize this fact and are not buying up Facebook stock just because it’s sexy, shiny, and has lots of users is a very good thing for entrepreneurs.  The late 90s were different – a time when investors routinely ignored the basic premise of a business (make money!) and instead focused on a hopeful future where lots of users automatically equal lots of money.  Investors threw money at anyone with a .com in their name.  Having lots of users can lead to lots of money (see Google, a very fairly priced stock) but not without great technology, good use cases, a solid business plan, and solid execution.  Facebook has good technology, but the business and use cases are still a work in progress, and their execution (particularly in the PR department) has been weak at best.

I don’t dislike Facebook and hope they succeed and do well, but their stock price should sink to a level that makes more sense.  I just feel bad for the non-institutional investors who didn’t do their homework.

When the stock market crashed in 2000, lots of good companies imploded along with all of the bad ones.  We’re far less likely to experience that again if investors pay more attention to fundamentals.  And that means more good small companies will get the money and support they need to become great big companies.