Business

NOKIA BRICKS

Microsoft Buys Nokia: That’s Great, For One of Them.

If you’re old enough to remember a time when mobile phones weren’t common place you also likely remember the time when Nokia was the brand to have, much like Apple is today. I myself owned quite a few of them with my very first phone ever being the (then) ridiculously small Nokia 8210. I soon gravitated towards other, more shiny devices as my disposable income allowed but I did find myself in possession of an N95 because, at the time, it was probably one of the best handsets around for techno-enthusiasts like myself.  However it’s hard to deny that they’ve struggled to compete in today’s smartphone market and, unfortunately, their previous domination in the feature phone market has also slipped away from them.

NOKIA BRICKSTheir saving grace was meant to come from partnering with Microsoft and indeed I attested to as much at the time. Casting my mind back to when I wrote that post I was actually of the mind that Nokia was going to be the driving force for Microsoft however in retrospect it seems the partnership was done in the hopes that both of their flagging attempts in the smartphone market could be combined into one, potentially viable, product. Whilst I’ve praised the design and quality of Windows Phone based Nokias in the past it’s clear that the amalgamation of 2 small players hasn’t resulted in a viable strategy to accumulate a decent amount of market share.

You can then imagine my surprise when Microsoft up and bought Nokia’s Devices and Services business as it doesn’t appear to be a great move for them.

So Nokia as a company isn’t going anywhere as they still retain control of a couple key businesses (Solutions and Networks, HERE/Navteq and Advanced Technologies which I’ll talk about in a bit) however they’re not going to be making phones anymore as that entire capability has been transferred to Microsoft. That’s got a decent amount of value in itself, mostly in the manufacturing and supply chains, and Microsoft’s numbers will swell by 32,000 when the deal is finished. However whether that’s going to result in any large benefits for Microsoft is debateable as they arguably got most of this in their 2011 strategic partnership just that they can now do all the same without the Nokia branding on the final product.

If this type of deal is sounding familiar then you’re probably remembering the nearly identical acquisition that Google made in Motorola back in 2011. Google’s reasons and subsequent use of the company were quite different however and, strangely enough, they have yet to use them to make one of Nexus phones. Probably the biggest difference, and this is key to why this deal is great for Nokia and terrible for Microsoft, is the fact that Google got all of Motorola’s patents, Microsoft hasn’t got squat.

As part of the merger a new section is being created in Nokia called Advanced Technologies which, as far as I can tell, is going to be the repository for all of Nokia’s technology patents. Microsoft has been granted a 10 year license to all of these, and when that’s expired they’ll get a perpetual one, however Nokia gets to keep ownership of all of them and the license they gave Microsoft is non-exclusive. So since Nokia is really no longer a phone company they’re now free to start litigating against anyone they choose without much fear of counter-suits harming any of their products. Indeed they’ve stated that the patent suits will likely continue post acquisition signalling that Nokia is likely going to look a lot more like a patent troll than a technology company in the near future.

Meanwhile Microsoft has been left with a flagging handset business, one that’s failed to reach the kind of growth that would be required to make it sustainable long term. Now there’s something to be said about Microsoft being able to release Lumia branded handsets (they get the branding in this deal) but honestly their other forays into the consumer electronics space haven’t gone so well so I’m not sure what they’re going to accomplish here. They’ve already got the capability and distribution channels to get products out there (go into any PC store and you’ll find Microsoft branded peripherals there, guaranteed) so whilst it might be nice to get Nokia’s version of that all built and ready I’m sure they could have built one themselves for a similar amount of cash. Of course the Lumia tablet might be able to change consumer’s minds on that one but most of the user complaints around Windows RT weren’t about the hardware (as evidenced in my review).

In all honesty I have no idea why Microsoft would think this would be a good move, let alone a move that would let them do anything more than they’re currently doing. If they had acquired Nokia’s vast portfolio of patents in the process I’d be singing a different tune as Microsoft has shown how good they are in wringing license fees out of people (so much so that the revenue they get from Android licensing exceeds that of their Windows Phone division) . However that hasn’t happened and instead we’ve got Nokia lining up to become a patent troll of epic proportions and Microsoft left $7 billion patent licensing deal that comes with its own failing handset business. I’m not alone in this sentiment either as Microsoft’s shares dropped 5% on this announcement which isn’t great news for this deal.

I really want to know where they’re going with this because I can’t for the life of me figure it out.

 

Model S

Tesla Plays With The Big Boys and Wins.

Elon Musk is quite the business magnate. Long time readers will know that he’s the CEO of SpaceX the current darling of the private space industry which has done as much innovation in a decade as others have done in half a century. However that’s not Musk’s only endeavor having started out by working in the payments industry, famously being PayPal’s largest stock holder when it was eventually acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion. That allowed him to create 2 companies of his own: SpaceX and Tesla Motors whilst being heavily involved in a third, SolarCity. The success of all these companies can’t be denied but it wasn’t always all roses for all these companies, especially Tesla, and indeed Musk himself.

Model S

Building a car manufacturer, especially one that eschews the traditional internal combustion engine for full electric, is fraught with risk and requires massive amounts of capital to pull off. Whilst Tesla’s end goal has been affordable electric cars for everyone it didn’t start off trying to service this market, instead focusing on building a high performance electric roadster that had a very limited production run. Of course this also drew skepticism from potential investors as they couldn’t be sure that Tesla would be anything more than a niche sports car producer and so many steered clear. However Musk was undeterred and in 2008 announced the Model S and hinted towards further models that would use the same power train, effectively creating a platform for the rest of Tesla’s fleet.

To say that the rest of the world was skeptical that they could pull this off would be putting it lightly. Indeed even though they managed to secure a $451.8 million dollar loan from the Department of Energy to help set them up investors still continued to short their stock heavily, to the point where it was one of the most shorted stocks on the NASDAQ. Some went as far as to say that Tesla was only profitable due to the American tax payers, words which would soon be served right back to them with a serve of humble pie when Tesla paid the loan back in full at the start of this year, 9 years before it was due. Since then Tesla’s stocks have continued to climb and it’s not just because people are looking for a pump ‘n’ dump.

The Tesla Model S won car of the year from Motor Trends and Automobile Magazine last year rocketing it from being a toy for the technical/green crowd to being a well known brand. Whilst it’s still not in the realm of the everyman with the base model still being some $65,000 it has still proved to be quite a popular car snagging 8% of the luxury car market in the USA. To put that into perspective that means the Model S has beaten the sales of both the BMW 7 series and the Audi A8, cars which have a pretty loyal following and have been around for decades. They’re only just beginning to ramp up production as well with the current 400 or so produced per week expected to double by years end making them one of the largest producers of purely electric vehicles.

Tesla has not only shown that fully electrical vehicles are possible today they’re also, in fact, great business too. Whilst the investors might be skeptical other car companies aren’t with the number of EVs available exploding as each manufacturer tries to carve out their own section of this market. Most of them are focusing on the low end now however and it’s highly likely that Tesla will eat their lunch when the eventual $30,000 model debuts sometime in the future. Still the more competition in this space the better as it means the products we get as consumers get that much better and, of course, cheaper.

Now all we have to do is hope that the Australia Tax doesn’t hit the Model S as that’d put the kibosh on my enthusiasm a little bit.

Daft Punk Random Access Memories

Legitimate Piracy.

If you were to plot my rate of piracy related activities over time it’d show a direct negative correlation to my salary. My appetite for software, games and music hasn’t really changed over the years but as my income has grown I found myself preferring to pay for something if I can, especially now that many services out compete the pirated product in terms of features and convenience. I’d be lying if I said guilt wasn’t part of it too as whilst I didn’t have the money to give back at the height of my piracy days I feel like I’m beginning to make up for it. Still I constantly find situations where I need to turn to less than legal avenues to get a product I want, usually one I’ve purchased anyway.

Daft Punk Random Access Memories

Indeed this happened quite recently with my purchase of the new Daft Punk album. My long time Twitter followers will tell you that I went rather…hyperbolic when I heard their new album was due out this year and I make no secret of the fact that they’re my favourite band, bar none. Of course that translates to me wanting to give them as much of my money as I can and so I plonked down the requisite $50 preorder for the vinyl version of their album (mostly as a talking piece) which also included a digital download of their album. Now considering that it was going to be available everywhere digitally on day 1 I figured I’d get an email with the code in it and the album would take its merry time getting here.

I received no such email.

My copy of Random Access Memories showed up yesterday, almost a week after the official launch date and nearly two weeks after Daft Punk made it available for streaming through iTunes. I had a couple options available to me at this point: I could simply wait until mine arrived, listen to a stream (requiring an iTunes install, something I don’t want to do) or find another way. My other way was to find an upload on Grooveshark, which was obviously not authorized and was taken down a day later. I got to hear the album at roughly the same time as everyone else though which was basically all I wanted but I couldn’t help but feel like I had been cheated somewhat just because I tried to support the artists as much as I could.

I felt no guilt going to slightly nefarious sources to get my Daft Punk fix but honestly I shouldn’t have had to. There’s nothing special about the code they sent me that requires it to be physical and it’s not like emailing people who preordered a code to plug into a website is an unsolved problem either. The pirates in this instance were making up for the failings of others, providing a service to everyone regardless of whether they’d made the purchase or not. Now that I’ve got my real copy I have no need for it but it still gets to me that they’re providing a valuable service, one that I didn’t have to pay them for.

Sure in the larger scheme of things its a small gripe but it’s things like this that highlight the reason that piracy exists and will continue to exist for a long time to come. The effort required to fix them is quite trivial since the pirates don’t do this as their full time job and the companies providing the service just need to hurry up and out compete them. If Valve can get digital distribution right then I see no reason why others can’t, but until then I’ll still have to rely on my slightly nefarious friends to make up for their failings.

Kogan Icon

A Year On And Kogan Has Upped Their Game.

I have to be honest after my experience with buying from Kogan last year I was pretty soured on buying from them as the hodge podge shipping and strange purchasing requirements didn’t endear them to me. It wasn’t bad enough that I actively told people to not buy from them, indeed I said as much in my post about it, but for some strange reason that post seem to strike a chord with a lot of people who had similar issues. Whilst I’ve always been a terrible judge as to whether or not a particular post will resonate with a larger audience having that one be so popular didn’t help Kogan’s reputation in my mind.

Kogan Icon

Then they went and started stocking GoPros.

So I’ve been a GoPro user for about 2 years or so, getting my first one (a HD Hero2) as a birthday present in the lead up to my first Tough Mudder event. They’re a great little unit being able to take a massive battering and keep on trucking without issue. I used mine for all sorts of things from snorkeling in Bali to taking time lapses of my backyard and I was quite impressed with the results every time I used it. Of course when the new version came out I was instantly captivated by its specifications, not least of which was the addition of WiFi which would open up quite a few new use cases for an intrepid user like myself. However the price of getting one in Australia, either by paying the outrageous shipping cost from GoPro themselves or the markup in retail stores, meant that it was put in the “nice to have” basket along with a multitude of other things I always have my eye on.

Kogan however were selling them for an incredibly reasonable price, some $150 below the RRP when I saw it, enough so that that with the few additional accessories I wanted the total price was actually cheaper than just the unit itself with shipping included. Now I’m not usually one to be suckered into a deal, especially from a place that had burned me in the past, but I figured that it was worth it given how much use I had gotten out of the previous unit and how long this one would remain current. So out came the credit card and I sent Kogan a chunk of change in exchange for the promise of a new GoPro and I anxiously awaited the multiple packaging spree that was about to occur.

Except, strangely, they sent me a single tracking notice with all the items on it. Score one point for Kogan.

Indeed not only did they actually ship everything as one unit despite their site stating that it would probably take 2~3 weeks for my order to arrive I received it bang on a week after I placed my order. This is in stark contrast to my previous transaction with them that required me to verify my identity through a landline phone and arrived piecemeal over the course of a 2 week span. The GoPro also came with all English manuals that weren’t reprints like my Canon manuals were, a small thing that has gone a long way to improving Kogan’s image in my books.

So there you have it, a year on since my last purchase from Kogan and I’m glad to say they’ve drastically improved their whole experience. Whilst I have no idea if anyone from Kogan ended up reading my previous piece it does seem like they’ve taken the feedback to heart and fixed up the issues that their customers were complaining about. If my last post on this had you wondering whether or not you should buy from them then hopefully this one shows you that you can, at least if you’re ordering a GoPro.

Game of Thrones

Piracy Doesn’t Harm Sales? Fancy That…

We Australians do love to pirate things. Those of us who live here can tell you why: we’re either gouged extensively on the same products sold overseas or we’re subject to incredible delays. The Internet has helped to remedy both these things however with the former being solved by having access to the same shops that everyone else does and the latter eliminating most long delays. Still, even though we’ve come this far, we’re still subject to the same scarcity that just doesn’t need to exist with certain goods, especially ones that can be purely digital.

Our tendency towards piracy hasn’t gone unnoticed by the rights holders overseas but all they’ve done in response is send scorn over our way. There’s been a couple shining examples of what they should do, like the ABC offering episodes of Dr. Who on iView before it shows on TV (that’s no more for this season, unfortunately), but few seem to be following their lead. It seems that, at least for the near future, Australia will be viewed as nothing more than a pirate haven, a drain on the creative world that does nothing but take.

Or will it?

Game of Thrones

Any avid TV watcher will be aware of the blockbuster series Game of Thrones which just aired episode one of season 3. Whilst the numbers aren’t in yet it’s shaping up to be the most pirated show ever yet again with Australia making up a decent portion of that. You would think then that its publishers would be aghast at these numbers as the current executive thinking is that every download is somehow a missed sale, robbing them of untold millions that should be in their pockets. However an interview with HBO’s President of Programming Michael Lombardo reveals that they’re doing just fine in spite of it and in fact are kind of flattered by it:

“I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but it is a compliment of sorts,” HBO programming president Michael Lombardo told EW. “[Piracy is] something that comes along with having a wildly successful show on a subscription network.”

Last month Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, the actor who plays Jaime Lannister in the show, said that although people watch the show online, he hoped they would still go out and buy the DVD or Blu-ray. And guess what? According to HBO, they do.

“The demand is there,” Lombardo said. “And it certainly didn’t negatively impact the DVD sales.”

I think you could knock me over with a feather after I read that.

There’s been a lot of research done into whether or not piracy, with respect to the online kind, is an overall negative influence on creative industries like TV, music and video games. Preliminary studies have shown that music pirates tend to spend much more than their non-pirating counter parts and that appears to extend to other industries. Lombardo’s revelation that the rampant piracy experienced by their flagship series didn’t hurt their DVD sales fits in with this idea as well and it’s incredibly gratifying to see people at the executive finally admitting that piracy isn’t as big of an issue as they’ve made it out to be. Of course he’s well aware that such a position isn’t popular, even within his own company, but at least the seeds of dissent are starting to take root and hopefully it will continue on from there.

History has shown that attempting to eliminate piracy is a fool’s errand and the only reliable way to combat it is to provide a product that is competitive to what they offer. Valve, Netflix et. al. saw this for their respective industries and their success is a testament to the fact that people will pay good money once the price is set at the right point. Companies who attempt to fight this are going to find themselves routinely outclassed by these upstarts and it’ll only be a matter of time before they find themselves on the wrong side of a bankruptcy hearing. So other executives should take note of Lombardo’s stance and consider taking the same view of their own right’s portfolios.

 

Ponies as a service

Introducing a Next Generation PaaS.

Gone are the days when large capital outlays are required in order to use enterprise class services. Today any business can get reliable services at a fraction of the cost thanks to the rampant cloudification of anything that dares to touch the Internet. Indeed should you have a need to rent something by the hour you’re usually only a couple clicks and a Craigslist ad away from having it at your doorstep. Curiously though one market has been drastically under serviced, ostensibly because no one thought it was appropriate to combine the cloud computing ideas with the livestock industry.

But they were wrong.

Ponies as a service

Today I want to introduce you to the idea of Ponies as a Service (PaaS for short). Essentially it’s the commoditization of the already lucrative pony industry which has suffered from a severe lack of definitive platform with which to peddle their wares. Instead of being a traditional pony cloud, whereby there’s a large capital expenditure required to reach critical pony mass, PaaS will instead leverage off already established pony providers (called Pony Partners) which will allow them to monetize otherwise idle pony resources. This, combined with all the features you’ve come to expect from various cloud solutions, will allow consumers to have a highly reliable, robust and scalable pony experience that can be used across any platform.

Using a slick HTML5/JavaScript/PonyCode interface users will be able to select from a wide range of ponies. They can specify small, medium and large (extra large, designed specifically for our American customers, is currently in the works), which availability region they require them and even esoteric things like coat colour and overall temperament. All billing is done on hourly cycles which allows businesses to utilize pony resources for the exact amount of time that they require them for rather than having to invest untold thousands of dollars in securing, deploying and maintaining their own pony infrastructure.

“Ah” I hear you ask “but how can you deliver the pony resources in a timely manner?”. That’s a great question and whilst I can’t reveal the exact specifics since it’s a patent pending technology rest assured that our Orbital Pony Cannon is highly reliable, incredibly safe and ensures that 99.9% of your pony is deployed within seconds of you clicking the deploy button. Of course in the unlikely event of a disaster we will employ our Multiple Launch System which ensures that any availability zone that’s experiencing issues will soon be shortly rectified with an Orbital Pony Bombardment.

We’re still in stealth mode for most of this so hopefully our fellow pony lovers will be able to wait until we launch into a private beta. If you’re interested in becoming a beta tester, Pony Partner or Pony Cannon Technician please feel free to email me at therefinedgeek@gmail.com. I’m really excited to be bringing this service to you guys and I really think this has a chance of becoming something big. I’ll be sure to bring you all the inside updates too so make sure to subscribe to my pony Tumblr, MySpace and Vimeo accounts for more info.

 

Generic Credit Card

Finally, an End to The Insecurity of the Signature.

How many times have you had your signature checked by someone at the store? If you visited my store back when I was working at Dick Smith I can guarantee that I’d check it every single time, regardless of how big or small your purchase was. However, as a customer, I can count the number of times that someone has checked my signature on my right hand. This is probably a good thing for me as the years of keyboard warrior-ing has turned my hand writing into something that’s barely indistinguishable from random chicken scratchings, but that doesn’t make me any more comfortable in the supposed security system that is my signature.

Generic Credit Card

 

Not that I’ve had to use it much in recent times as nearly everywhere now supports the use of a PIN with credit card transactions. Still there are a few places where I’ll have to sign, especially if I’m using my AMEX, and with only a few exceptions do they ever actually check to see if my signature matches the one on the back of the card. It’s even better when places have the NFC readers as they cut the already short amount of time required to complete the transaction down to almost nothing. This hasn’t yet made its way onto all cards or places of purchase however which is a shame as it would also mean that the second I get a NFC enabled phone I could theoretically do away with my cards completely.

I had figured that the signature was going to stick around for a fair while longer though since it’s still the defacto standard for authorizing or approving something. However I saw today that the big names in the credit card industry, namely Visa and MasterCard, have had their eye on phasing out the inherently insecure authorization method for some time now with it originally scheduled to be gone within the next couple months. That’s been pushed back until the chipped cards make up a greater percentage of the total cards in Australia but it does signal that the writing is on the wall for putting pen to paper when it comes to making your purchases.

It’s a good move for both sides of the credit card equation as anything that reduces the barrier to purchasing something, however small, will result in an increased usage of said payment services. Even though I may only save a handful of seconds using contactless payment I still find it a whole bunch more enjoyable than having to swipe, pin and/or sign (yeah sometimes I’ve put my PIN in only have it require a signature as well) in order to complete a transaction. Additionally the use of PINs and contactless payment devices is far more secure than a signature which is rarely checked for authenticity.

Now all we need in Australia is something like Google Wallet so I can do away with my wallet almost completely. Now that’d be something!

 

Windows 8 Shadows

The Windows 8 Hate Is Starting To Get Old, Guys.

I’ve been using Windows 8 for a good 6 months now and as someone who’s use all previous Windows versions going back to 3.1 it’s easy for me to say that it’s the best of the lot so far. Sure I don’t use the Metro interface a lot but that’s mostly because it’s not designed for the current platform I’m using it on (a PC that doesn’t have a touch interface). Still it seems I can’t go a day where someone, usually an executive from a large OEM, is bashing Windows 8 in one way or another. Considering that nearly everyone I talk to, including people who aren’t that technically inclined, seems to say the direct opposite of what they say I figured it was something worth looking into.

Windows 8 Shadows

A lot of the criticisms seem to stem from the awkward launch that Windows 8 had. Now I’m not going to try and be an apologist for this as it’s well known that even Microsoft was disappointed with the initial release. For those of us who endured the Vista launch however it’s pretty obvious why this occurred as whenever a new Windows release deviates heavily from the previous one (whether in terms of interface or underlying architecture) the sales are always lackluster as their biggest customers, the enterprise buyers, don’t want to take the risk until all the teething issues have been sorted out. More crucially though is that whilst the launch might have been an all round disappointment it didn’t take long for Windows 8 to gain some significant steam, getting on par with Windows 7 after 90 days.

Several other high profile people have gone on record saying that the Surface is also seeing lackluster sales. This coming not long after many people have called the ultrabook market a failure (which is not unjustified) makes it look like Windows 8 ‘s introduction can’t have any impact on what looks like a declining PC market. Now I’m not going to argue against those numbers however if you look at past Windows releases, take 7 for instance which was released in Q4 of 2009, you’ll see that whilst there was a small boost (which wasn’t out of line with current trend growths) the previous quarter it was back to where it was before. What this means is that while you’d expect people to be buying a new computer in order to get the latest version of Windows many in fact don’t. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise as the system requirements between Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 aren’t that great and indeed any PC bought during the time that these operating systems has been available would be more than capable of running them. Indeed many computers have reached the level of good enough half a decade ago for the vast majority of the population so the lackluster growth isn’t surprising, nor is it anything to worry about in my point of view.

I think the reason for the backlash is due to two reasons, both of which the blame does actually lie with Microsoft. The first is a bit of speculation on my part as I think Microsoft promised a boost in PC sales to the various OEMs in order to get them on board early with Windows 8. This is pretty much par for course when you’re working with OEMs on a new and risky product as otherwise they’ll be waiting until the product catches on before they throw their hat in the ring. Now whilst Microsoft could probably handle Windows 8 not getting a lot of OEM support for a while it would have been likely that Windows 8 wouldn’t have caught up to 7′s sales in the first 90 day period, severely stunting its future growth. Whilst they wouldn’t have a Vista level disaster on their hands it would’ve been much worse than what they’re dealing with now.

Secondly I get the feeling that many of the OEMs aren’t too enthused about the Surface and I don’t blame them. I said a while back that Microsoft needed to keep their product in the premium range in order to not piss off their partners and they’ve done that to some extent however with the exorbitant license cost for OEMs it’s incredibly hard for them to make a comparable tablet for the same cost as the low end Surface RT. This has no doubt generated a bit of animosity towards Microsoft with many OEM executives bashing Surface at every chance they get despite it selling out almost immediately upon release. Whether Microsoft can repair this relationship remains to be seen however as the platform’s long term survivability will be made or broken by their OEMs, just like it has been in the past.

Microsoft took a risk with Windows 8 and by most accounts it appears to be paying off for them, unlike their previous experience with Vista. It might not be the saving grace of the PC industry nor might it be a runaway success in the tablet market however Microsoft is not a company that plays the short term game. Windows 8 is the beginning of a new direction for them and by all accounts it’s creating a solid foundation with which Microsoft can further build on. Future Microsoft releases will then be able to deliver even more capabilities on more platforms than any other ecosystem. This isn’t the first time they’ve been on the back foot and then managed to managed to dominate a market long after it has established itself (Xbox anyone?) and I’d be really surprised if they failed this time around.

 

Alpha Nerd

I Ain’t Got Time For You, Alpha Nerd.

I often find myself trusted with doing things I’ve never done before thanks to my history of delivering on these things but I always make people well aware of my inexperience in such areas before I pursue such things. I do this because I know I’m not the greatest engineer/system administrator/coder around but I do know that, given enough time, I can deliver something that’s exactly what they required. It’s actually an unfortunate manifestation of the imposter syndrome whereby I’m constantly self assessing my own skills, wondering if anything I’ve done was really that good or simply the product of all the people I worked with. Of course I’ve worked with people who know they are the best at what they do, even if the reality doesn’t quite match up to their own self-image.

Alpha Nerd

Typically these kinds of people take one of 2 forms, the first one of which I’ll call The Guns. Guns are awesome people, they know everything there is to know about their job and they’re incredibly helpful, a real treasure for the organisation. I’m happy to say that I’ve encountered more of these than the second type and they’re in no small part responsible for a lot of the things that I know today. They are usually vastly under-appreciated for their talents however as since they usually enjoy what they do to such a great extent they don’t attempt to upset the status quo and toil away in relative obscurity. These are the kinds of people I have infinite amounts of time for and are usually the ones I look to when I’m looking for help.

Then there’s the flip side: the Alpha Nerds.

These guys are typically responsible for some part of a larger system and to their credit they know it inside and out. I’d say on average about half of them got to that level of knowledge by simply being there for an inordinate amount of time and through that end up being highly valuable because of their vast amount of corporate knowledge. However the problem with these guys, as opposed to The Guns, is that they know this and use it to their advantage in almost every opportunity they get. Simple change to their system? Be prepared to do a whole bunch of additional work for them before it’ll happen. A problem that you’re responsible for but is out of your control due to other arrangements? They’ll drill you on it in order to reinforce their status with everyone else. I can’t tell you how detrimental these people are to the organisation even if their system knowledge and expertise appears invaluable.

Of course this delineation of Guns and Alpha Nerds isn’t a hard and fast line, there’s a wide spectrum between the two extremes, but there is an inflexion point where a Gun starts to turn Alpha and the benefits to the organisation start to tank. Indeed I had such a thing happen to me during my failed university project where I failed to notice that a Gun was turning Alpha on me, burning them out and leaving the project in a state where no one else could work on it even if they wanted to. Whilst the blame still rests solely on my shoulders for failing to recognise that it still highlights how detrimental such behaviour can be when technical expertise isn’t coupled with a little bit of humility.

Indeed if your business is building products that are based on the talents of said people then it’s usually to your benefit to remove Alpha Nerds from your team, even if they are among the most talented people in your team. This is especially true if you’re trying to invest in developing people professionally as typically Alphas will end up being the de-facto contacts for the biggest challenges, stifling the skill growth of members of the team. Whilst they might be worth 2.5 times of your average performers you’re likely limiting the chances of the team being more productive than they currently are, quite possibly to the tune of much more than what the Alpha is capable of delivering.

Like I said before though I’m glad these kinds of people tend towards being less common than their Gun counterparts. I believe this is because during the nascent stages of someone’s career you’re likely to run up against an Alpha and see the detrimental impacts they have. Knowing that you’re then much more likely to work against becoming like them and should you become an expert in your chosen area you’ll make a point of being approachable. Some people fail to do that however and proceed to make our lives a lot more difficult than they should be but I’m sure this isn’t unique to IT and is innate to organisations both big and small.

 

Intel Smart TV

Intel Could Be Your Next Pay TV Provider.

One thing that not many people knew was that I was pretty keen on the whole Google TV idea when it was announced 2 years ago. I think that was partly due to the fact that it was a collaboration between several companies that I admire (Sony, Logitech and, one I didn’t know about at the time, Intel) and also because of what it promised to deliver to the end users. I was a fairly staunch supporter of it, to the point where I remember getting into an argument with my friends that consumers were simply not ready for something like it rather than it being a failed product. In all honesty I can’t really support that position any more and the idea of Google TV seems to be dead in the water for the foreseeable future.

Intel Smart TV

What I didn’t know was that whilst Google, Sony and Logitech might have put the idea to one side Intel has been working on developing their own product along similar lines, albeit from a different angle than you’d expect. Whilst I can’t imagine that they had invested that much in developing the hardware for the TVs (a quick Google search reveals that they were Intel Atoms, something they had been developing for 2 years prior to Google TV’s release) it appears that they’re still seeking some returns on that initial investment. At the same time however reports are coming in that Intel is dropping anywhere from $100 million to $1 billion on developing this new product, a serious amount of coin that industry analysts believe is an order of magnitude above anyone who’s playing around in this space currently.

The difference between this and other Internet set top boxes appears to be the content deals that Intel is looking to strike with current cable TV providers. Now anyone who’s ever looked into getting any kind of pay TV package knows that whatever you sign up for you’re going to get a whole bunch of channels you don’t want bundled in alongside the ones you do, effectively diluting the value you derive from the service significantly. Pay TV providers have long fought against the idea of allowing people to pick and choose (and indeed anyone who attempted to provide such a service didn’t appear to last long, ala SelecTV Australia) but with the success of on demand services like NetFlix and Hulu it’s quite possible that they might be coming around to the idea and see Intel as the vector of choice.

The feature list that’s been thrown around press prior to an anticipated announcement at CES next week (which may or may not happen, according to who you believe) does sound rather impressive, essentially giving you the on demand access that everyone wants right alongside the traditional programming that we’ve come to expect from pay TV services. The “Cloud DVR” idea, being able to replay/rewind/fast-forward shows without having to record them yourself, is evident of this and it would seem that the idea of providing the traditional channels as well would just seem to be a clever ploy to get the content onto their network. Of course traditional programming is required for certain things like sports and other live events, something which the on demand services have yet to fully incorporate into their offerings.

Whilst I’m not entirely enthused with the idea of yet another set top box (I’m already running low on HDMI ports as it is) the information I’ve been able to dig up on Intel’s offering does sound pretty compelling. Of course many of the features aren’t exactly new, you can do many of the things now with the right piece of hardware and pay TV subscriptions, but the ability to pick and choose channels would be and then getting that Hulu-esque interface to watch previous episodes would be something that would interest me. If the price point is right, and its available globally rather than just the USA, I could see myself trying it out for the select few channels that I’d like to see (along with their giant back catalogues, of course).

In any case it will be very interesting to see if Intel does say anything about their upcoming offering next week as if they do we’ll have information direct from the source and if they don’t we’ll have a good indication of which analysts really are talking to people who are involved in the project.