Author Archives: Steve

Google Has The Best Business Model

So, why is Google’s business model superior to all the rest?  Here’s just a few reasons:

1) They don’t rely on selling a physical product.
2) They can give their Android OS away for free and make a fortune from it.
3) They sit back and make mega billions from thin air (ad clicks)
4) Businesses pay huge bucks for top placements.
5) They’ve been paid as high as $142 for a single click using a popular keyword.
6) Its common for firms to bid $40 – $50 for a single click and rack up huge monthly bills.
7) I could go on and on.

What more could you ask for?

Copyrighted Images – Use Caution

pic18_copyrightI’m not going to go into what you should or shouldn’t do with using images from the web on products although will offer a short story. Years back I owned a somewhat successful info-based website (not related to t-shirts) that received about 40,000 page views daily. I have long since sold the property to a media company that runs about 100+ sites.

The web property I speak of was launched in the mid 90’s and it was quite easy to get noticed and build traffic quickly then.  Today, if building a similar site, it would be lost within an ocean of websites all bidding for the same eyeballs.  Things have changed since the early days, mostly for the worse for those looking to easily capitalize on cyberspace fortunes.

I was always careful with images and only used those that we generated, received permission for, taken from a royalty free source and some that we actually paid for. I had many freelance contributors to the site, all working either for free or for a percentage of ad revenue and being a small operation I obviously couldn’t check everything out although did my best.

Well, one day a certified letter shows up from Getty Images (they seem to own just about everything btw) looking for $20,000 for the unauthorized use of “four” of their images on our site.

These were simply generic pictures, nothing specific that would leave any doubt in my mind regarding their fair use.  Additionally, we weren’t using them on products for resale although that is how Getty always sees the situation. Eventually I settled for $2,000 along with $900 in legal fees.  Honestly, if I wasn’t looking to sell the property, I probably would have told Getty to pound salt!  LOL!

Moral to the story….if there’s any doubt, don’t use it.  Especially on a tangible item for resale such as a t-shirt.

Google Play – Gunning For iTunes?

Google Play Gunning For iTunesHave been planning to test Google Play and this weekend finally uploaded my iTunes library to it, a total of about 4,500 songs.  It took several hours to complete although now keeps track of any new songs added to iTunes and adds those transparently.  The service also clones your iTunes Playlists, play count and other data and permits the upload of 20,000 songs at no charge.  Your music is now available on “any” computer and up to ten other devices.

Google Play is not as polished as iTunes (yet), but what I like about it is the ability to download my entire library of songs and not be restricted to cloud only storage of my MP3 files.  I don’t know about you, but I feel better actually having all my MP3 files on a disk, right here and not jailed on a server farm permitting me “access” to it.

For me, this was a major plus as my iTunes library source files were scatted throughout many folders in addition to a few external network drives and probably yet another drive on my network server, therefore I’d probably have a difficult time locating everything to centralize a final absolute location for my music.  For some reason my music collection was never that organized?

Now that all files have been uploaded, I can download everything to one system and make a handy backup to a few DVD’s for safe keeping and for this reason alone, the effort was worthwhile.

Another benefit to Google Plus, aside from the fact your entire library is now accessible to play from any computer, tablet, Android phone, etc., is that regardless of the quality of your original source file, playback can be set to high quality 320Kbps.  When playing your music from the cloud, Google Play can detect the speed of your internet connection and adjust the bit rate based on available bandwidth although music will be played at a higher bit rate (up to 320Kbps) when using a fast internet connection.

Most will find the web interface quite “Google-ish” as in very basic and utilitarian but hey, this is Google so what else is to be expected?  Apple diehards will certainly fluff off Google Play and yes, it needs a bit of polish although it certainly is another shot at Apple and a force to be reckoned with.


Apple Needs A Samsung Lesson

apple iphoneQuite frankly, I could care less about Apple and how well or poorly the company is doing.  This probably has more to do with the sheer number of sickening Apple “Fan Boys” in cyberspace who live their lives to defend and pump Apple and will continue doing so with their last gasp of life.  This widespread infatuation with Apple actually leaves a bad taste in my mouth despite the fact they do make excellent products and I continue to use a Mac, although my phone of choice is Android.

Okay, now that I’ve expressed my thoughts on relentless Apple worship, I was thinking what life would be like for Apple if it was more like Samsung.  Last year for example Samsung released 37 new phones while Apple released just 1.  Samsung also sold 215 million phones compared to Apple’s 135 million and this disparity will most likely increase substantially.  Granted, many of the 37 Samsung models are substandard cheap models although variety is the spice of life and people do in fact like choices.

Therefore, if I were Apple, a change of strategy is in order with at least 5 models of the iPhone to include:

1)      The basic iPhone (free with contract – low replacement cost)

2)      The iPhone Standard (a.k.a. the iPhone 5)

3)      The iPhone Plus (large screen iPhone similar to Samsung Galaxy)

4)      The iPhone Slate (yet larger screen with stylus)

5)      The iPhone Sport (100% waterproof and shock resistant model)

What do you think?

Is Chromebook Just The First Shot Fired?

Google's Chromebook TeeTwits Micro BlogGoogle’s Chromebook is basically a cell phone merging with a netbook, although I do believe this is Google’s plan to ultimately replacing the personal computer. Question is, will it really do that?  Can it do that?   Only time will tell, however, with Chromebook Google has fired a nasty shot across the bow of such industry giants as Hewlett-Packard and Dell along with their primary targets of Microsoft and Apple.

It could be that one day, in the not so distant future Fortune 500 companies will be launching a Chrome OS and no longer Microsoft’s Windows.  And to date, when factoring in the poor reception to Windows 8, this possibility inches closer to fruition with each tick of the clock.

Microsoft – From Innovator To Copy Cat

microsoft-ces-boothThroughout the 90s, Microsoft was the king of computing, with its cash cows of Windows operating systems and industry-standard Microsoft Office software providing it with a seemingly endless stream of revenue. Personal computer manufacturers Hewlett-Packard and Dell were riding high on Microsoft’s success, processor manufacturers Intel and AMD were selling CPUs like crazy, and Apple held nothing but a niche market after the departure of its founder, Steve Jobs.

That golden decade was Wintel’s heyday, and investors were richly rewarded. Between 1990 and 2000, Microsoft stock rose 711,000% under the guidance of founder Bill Gates. However, those happy days could not last forever, and the dot-com crash of 2000 put a ceiling over Microsoft’s explosive growth.

Microsoft, which had already established itself as the world’s strongest tech company, survived the tech crash while other companies went bankrupt, but investor confidence in the tech sector was irreparably shaken. Bill Gates stepped down as CEO in January 2000, handing over the reins to his longtime associate Steve Ballmer.

Between 2000 and 2010, Microsoft stock went nowhere, dropping 3% by the end of the decade. Microsoft investors, frustrated by the lack of progress under Ballmer’s reign, lamented the company’s lost decade. During those ten years, Apple and Google, which Ballmer never considered serious contenders, introduced new disruptive technologies that cast doubt on the future growth potential of Microsoft’s core competencies.

So here we are, two years later, and Microsoft has slid another 13%. Forbes magazine named Steve Ballmer the worst CEO of 2012, investors are up in arms regarding the lack of progress in mobile devices and cloud computing, and a plethora of Wintel companies – Dell, HP and Intel – are all withering as demand for Microsoft products wanes.

Can this decline be resolved by hiring a new CEO, or does the wound run far deeper? How did Microsoft, once considered the market-leading innovator, devolve into a market-following imitator? Let’s take a look at three key factors.

#1: Underestimating the Competition

Here are several quotes that sum up Ballmer’s habit of misunderstanding and underestimating his competitors.

On Apple’s more expensive computers:

“Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment – same piece of hardware – paying $500 more to get a logo on it?” 

On Google:

“Google’s not a real company. It’s a house of cards.”

On Windows Phone vs. Android:

“You don’t need to be a computer scientist to use a Windows Phone, but I think you do to use an Android phone.”

On Linux and other open-source alternative operating systems:

“Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches.”

These statements are only the tip of the iceberg that is Ballmer’s ego, and symptomatic of the erroneous ways he sizes up competitors, recognizes threats and responds to rapidly shifting market trends.

#2: Always Being Late to the Party

After Bill Gates stepped down, every step Microsoft took indicated that it had devolved from a market innovator into a market follower. As we can see in this chart featuring Microsoft’s major product releases over the past decade, Ballmer has been reactive, rather than proactive, in his major product releases.

Product Category Microsoft’s Product & Release Date (Worldwide) Seminal Product & Release Date (Worldwide)
Music Player Zune (June 2006-October 2011) Apple iPod (October 2001)
Sixth-Generation Video Game Console XBOX (November 2001) Sony Playstation 2 (March 2000)
Motion Control Video Games Kinect (November 2010) Nintendo Wii (November 2006)
Smartphone Windows Phone OS (November 2010) Apple iOS (June 2007)Google Android (September 2008)
Tablet Courier (canceled April 2010)Surface (October 2012) Apple iPad (April 2010)
Cloud-Based Office Software Office 365 (June 2011) Google Docs (February 2007)

That’s not to say that imitators never succeed. Samsung imitated Apple’s designs and took advantage of Android’s flexibility, emerging as the top smartphone manufacturer in the world.Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) imitated the iPad and applied a forked Android operating system to create the Kindle Fire, the second best-selling tablet in the United States.

Microsoft’s releases, however, often arrive more than two years after an industry-changing product emerges, usually trailing a mass of swarming imitators. After such long waits, consumers expect Microsoft’s product to be superior, but the quality of its products have been inconsistent at best.

#3: Relying on Windows 8, Surface or Nokia to Turn the Tide

Microsoft is now relying on an all-in bet that Windows 8 will succeed and revive the ailing PC market in 2013. Unfortunately, throughout 2012, PC sales plunged an average of 21%. Laptop sales dropped 24% while desktop sales slid 9%.

The release of Windows 8 in late October 2012 did nothing to reverse the trend, as Microsoft had hoped, due to mixed reviews of its radically different functions and design aesthetics. A steeper learning curve, designed to adapt to Windows 8’s touch screen-optimized tiles, kept traditional laptop and desktop users from upgrading their operating systems.

Meanwhile, the rising price of PC systems, from an average of $433 to $477 this year, discouraged shoppers from purchasing new Wintel machines over the holiday season.

Microsoft is also counting on its new hybrid tablet device, Surface, to make an impression on consumers. Analysts believe Microsoft created the Surface to not only challenge Apple and Google, but also to fully showcase the abilities of Windows 8 and spur other members of its Wintel ecosystem – HP, Dell, Lenovo and others – to produce more innovative hybrid products.

Initial reports claim that the Surface was at the bottom of the barrel during the holiday shopping season, trailing Apple’s iPad, Amazon’s Kindle series and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab series by a wide margin.

Lastly, Microsoft must garner more support for its Windows Phone devices, which are mainly sold by Nokia, HTC and Samsung, which has been lagging both Apple and Google in terms of developer and consumer support.

In the third quarter of fiscal 2012, Windows Phones, including the newly released Windows 8 Phones, claimed a miniscule 3.5% of the smartphone market, compared to Apple’s 14.9% and Google Android’s dominant 75% market share.

Today, the company has become more a liability and less of an asset.  Considering all the aforementioned problems that have plagued Microsoft over the past decade, can Microsoft really turn it all around in 2013 with solid initiatives in mobile technology? Or is it doomed to remain a market imitator, a mere shadow of its former self?

Is This Cool Or What – My New Photoshop Filter

Slowly, deliberately, but surely I’m working on a set of Photoshop Filters and Actions that’ll be marketed primarily to the photography market.  I mean, everyone is running around these days with a camera thinking they’re a photographer.  And for good reason, even low priced point and shoot cameras can take incredible shots.

Below is one of the effects I’ve recently developed.  It’s primarily for faces (so far) and generates a surreal effect. Not quite cartoon and not quite photographic.  The transformation of the Steve Jobs image below is quite unique and I don’t recall ever seeing anything like it.  It took many hours to get it right although further work is needed to refine it for all images from low resolution jpegs to high resolution magazine quality images.

The most pleasing effect is the rendering of the hair and the manner in which the filter smooths the image yet retains sufficient detail and sharpness.  Expect more to come shortly.

Clicking the image will open a full size jpeg.steve jobs photoshop filter effect

Samsung To Free Itself From Apple & Google?

Samsung is expected to release a smartphone on a new operating system called Tizen in 2013.It’s a bold move that could let Samsung lessen its dependence on Apple, a major customer for parts that has nonetheless sued it for patent infringement, and Google, which makes the Android software has been a big part of Samsung’s smartphone success but now competes with Samsung through its Motorola acquisition.

Tizen is similar to Android in that it’s an open-source smartphone OS built from Linux. But with one big exception, it’s not controlled by Google.

Instead it’s backed by Intel, Samsung, and NTT DoCoMo, Japan’s largest mobile communication company. It arose from the ashes of another effort to come up with an Android alternative, known as MeeGo. MeeGo was championed by Intel and Nokia before Nokia cast it aside in favor of its Windows Phone partnership with Microsoft.

So Intel tried again and found a partner with Samsung. Samsung is in a similar bind to Nokia, which was looking to replacing its aging phone software, Symbian. Samsung wants to phase out its homegrown smartphone platform, Bada, and replace it with Tizen.

There was some talk that the first Tizen phone would arrive in 2012, but last summer, Samsung pushed back its plans to focus on Android and Windows, It looked like Tizen would die a similar death to MeeGo.

Not so, reports Japan’s major daily newspaper. Samsung will move ahead with Tizen smartphones next year with DoCoMo for release in Japan. Details were scant as to whether Samsung will have Tizen phones available in other countries, but that seems likely.

Obviously, even if Tizen phones are sold in the U.S., they won’t be a popular alternative to Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android, or Windows Phone until there are lots of Tizen apps in an app store.

But Tizen is a project that is officially sponsored by the Linux Foundation, an organization that has 800 companies and 8,000 dedicated developers on tap. And Samsung seems serious enough about Tizen to get it off the ground.

Last summer, the Korean company plunked out $500,000 to up its membership in the Linux Foundation to the highest level, Platinum, which gives Samsung a seat on the Linux Foundation’s board.

Booze, Not Weed Is Bad For Your Brain

Alcohol can damage your brain.Some new science demonstrates that marijuana may not have the harmful effects critics claim. In fact, while pot had no measured impact in a new study, the very legal and very lucratively-marketed substance alcohol actually has a worse health impact on young users.

Specifically, a new study of substance-using teenagers’ brains shows that the regular use of alcohol had a harmful effect on the boozing group, while the toking-up group’s brains suffered little alteration.

The researchers, from the University of California, San Diego and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, performed the study on 92 16- to 20-year-olds. The scientists scanned their brains both before and after an 18-month period. Over the course of the 18 months, half of the teens, who already had an extensive track record with alcohol and marijuana, continued their vices as they had before. The other half continued to abstain or drink a minimal amount, like they too had done before the study.

In addition to the brain scans, the study also required a detailed toxicology report and substance use assessment. The teens also were interviewed every six months. Researchers did not check the teens’ cognitive ability, but simply took brain scans.

The researchers found that, after the year and a half was over, kids who had drank five or more alcoholic beverages twice a week had lost white brain matter. That means that they could have impaired memory, attention, and decision-making into adulthood. The teens that smoked marijuana on a regular basis had no such reduction.

While other studies have had less clear results, this study is important for a few reasons.

First, it shows that early alcohol abuse can be dangerous because it damages the tissues that influence judgement and self-control. ”If teens decrease their tissue health and cognitive ability to inhibit themselves, they might become more likely to engage in risky behavior like excessive substance use, according to study co-author Joanna Jacobus, postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Diego.

The study authors also said that marijuana strains vary widely, so it’s harder to determine which if any ingredients in a typical joint have positive or negative effects.

The study will be published in the journal  Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Weak Holiday Retail Sales, Lowest Since 2008

U.S. holiday retail sales this year grew at the weakest pace since 2008, when the nation was in a deep recession. In 2012, the shopping season was disrupted by bad weather and consumers’ rising uncertainty about the economy.

A report that tracks spending on popular holiday goods, the MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse, said Tuesday that sales in the two months before Christmas increased 0.7 percent, compared with last year. Many analysts had expected holiday sales to grow 3 to 4 percent.

In 2008, sales declined by between 2 percent and 4 percent as the financial crisis that crested that fall dragged the economy into recession. Last year, by contrast, retail sales in November and December rose between 4 percent and 5 percent, according to ShopperTrak, a separate market research firm. A 4 percent increase is considered a healthy season.

Shoppers were buffeted this year by a string of events that made them less likely to spend: Superstorm Sandy and other bad weather, the distraction of the presidential election and grief about the massacre of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn. The numbers also show how Washington’s current budget impasse is trickling down to Main Street and unsettling consumers. If Americans remain reluctant to spend, analysts say, economic growth could falter next year.

In the end, even steep last-minute discounts weren’t enough to get people into stores, said Marshal Cohen, chief research analyst at the market research firm NPD Inc.

“A lot of the Christmas spirit was left behind way back in Black Friday weekend,” Cohen said, referring to the traditional retail rush the day after Thanksgiving. “We had one reason after another for consumers to say, ‘I’m going to stick to my list and not go beyond it.'”

Holiday sales are a crucial indicator of the economy’s strength. November and December account for up to 40 percent of annual sales for many retailers. If those sales don’t materialize, stores are forced to offer steeper discounts. That’s a boon for shoppers, but it cuts into stores’ profits.

Last-minute shoppers like Kris Betzold, of Carmel, Ind., embraced discounts that were available before Christmas.

“We went out yesterday, and I noticed that the sales were even better now than they were at Thanksgiving,” said Betzold Monday while shopping at an upscale mall in Indianapolis. Betzold, who said the sluggish economy prompted her and her husband to be more frugal this year, noted that she saved about $25 on a Kindle Fire she found at Best Buy.

Spending by consumers accounts for 70 percent of overall economic activity, so the eight-week period encompassed by the SpendingPulse data is seen as a critical time not just for retailers but for manufacturers, wholesalers and companies at every other point along the supply chain.

The SpendingPulse data include sales by retailers in key holiday spending categories such as electronics, clothing, jewelry, luxury goods, furniture and other home goods between Oct. 28 and Dec. 24. They include sales across all payment methods, including cards, cash and checks.

It’s the first major snapshot of retail sales during the holiday season through Christmas Eve. A clearer picture will emerge next week as retailers like Macy’s and Target report revenue from stores open for at least a year. That sales measure is widely watched in the retail industry because it excludes revenue from stores that recently opened or closed, which can be volatile.

Despite the weak numbers out Tuesday, retailers still have some time to make up lost ground. The final week of December accounts for about 15 percent of the month’s sales, said Michael McNamara, vice president for research and analysis at MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse. As stores offer steeper discounts to clear some of their unsold inventory, they may be able to soften some of the grim results reflected in Tuesday’s data.

Still, this season’s weak sales could have repercussions for 2013, he said. Retailers will make fewer orders to restock their shelves, and discounts will hurt their profitability. Wholesalers, in turn, will buy fewer goods, and orders to factories for consumer goods will likely drop in the coming months.

In the run-up to Christmas, analysts blamed the weather and worries about the “fiscal cliff” for putting a damper on shopping. Superstorm Sandy battered the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states in late October. Many in the New York region were left without power, and people farther inland were buried under feet of snow. According to McNamara, the Northeast and mid-Atlantic account for 24 percent of U.S. retail sales.

Buying picked up in the second half of November as retailers offered more discounts and shoppers waylaid by the storm finally made it into malls, he said.

But as the weather calmed, the threat of the “fiscal cliff” picked up. In December, lawmakers remained unable to reach a deal that would prevent tax increases and government spending cuts set to take effect at the beginning of 2013. If the cuts and tax hikes kick in and stay in place for months, many economists expect the nation could fall back into recession.

The news media discussed this possibility more intensely as December wore on, making Americans increasingly aware of the economic troubles they might face if Washington is unable to resolve the impasse. Sales never fully recovered, Cohen said.

The results were weakest in areas affected by Sandy and a more recent winter storm in the Midwest. Sales declined by 3.9 percent in the mid-Atlantic and 1.4 percent in the Northeast compared with last year. They rose 0.9 percent in the north central part of the country.

The West and South posted gains of between 2 percent and 3 percent, still weaker than the 3 percent to 4 percent increases expected by many retail analysts.

Online sales, typically a bright spot, grew only 8.4 percent from Oct. 28 through Saturday, according to SpendingPulse. That’s a dramatic slowdown from the online sales growth of 15 to 17 percent seen in the prior 18-month period, according to the data service.

Online sales did enjoy a modest boost after the recent snowstorm that hit the Midwest, McNamara said. Online sales make up about 10 percent of total holiday business.

Source AP