Saturday, 31 March 2012

Twitter at Gettysburg

With our obsession for newness, those of us who work in the tech industry often fail to understand the historical roots of our technologies. Case in point: telegraph operators more than 150 years ago were sending short messages called "graphs" that were surprisingly similar in form and content to Twitter tweets.

One remarkable example was recently discovered in the Museum of Telegraphy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  It is the transcript of a telegraph operator's comments during Abraham Lincoln's famed Gettysburg Address in 1863.  The transcript was shared with me by a friend on the museum staff, and I'm pleased to reproduce it here:


Still waiting for the Pres. to commence his speech.  #gettysburg

Good heavens, I should have foresworn that fifth corn dodger for lunch.  #gas  #dontask  #gettysburg

Starting now.  Pres. waves to crowd. #gettysburg

Four score and... WTF is a score?  25?  #pleasespeakenglish  #gettysburg

Okay, it's twenty.  So "87 years ago the country was founded."  Why not just say that?  Duh.  #gettysburg

Heh-heh-heh.  He said "conceived."  Heh-heh.  #gettysburg

"Now we are in a great civil war."  More duh.  #gettysburg

@zebekiah1134  I know, it's my own fault for buying lunch from a wagon.  #gas  #gettysburg

Hoping to get in two miles this afternoon.  Depends on how long this speech goes.  #gettysburg

"It is altogether fitting and proper that we should dedicate this cemetery."  Ooookay.  #gettysburg

Saw @matthewbrady this morning, taking pictures of guys with big beards.  #muttonchopsrule  #gettysburg

"The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here."  #nokidding  #gettysburg

Hey you in the hat.  Yes, you.  Take it off, you're blocking my view.  #gettysburg

"This nation shall have a new birth of freedom."  Great, finally we'll get some details.  #gettysburg

"Government shall not perish from the earth."  Good to know.  #gettysburg

Where's he going?  #gettysburg

What, that's IT?  I waited five hours in the sun for THAT??  #ripoff  #votedemocrat  #gettysburg

Maybe I'll make it four miles. #outahere  #gettysburg


Posted April 1, 2012

2011:  The microwave hairdryer, and four other colossal tech failures you've never heard of
2010:  The Yahoo-New York Times merger
2009:  The US government's tech industry bailout
2008:  Survey: 27% of early iPhone adopters wear it attached to a body piercing
2007:  Twitter + telepathy = Spitr, the ultimate social network
2006:  Google buys Sprint

Friday, 30 March 2012


I BUILT IT WITH LOVING CARE---POURED MY CREATIVITY INTO IT---lived in it for 5 years and sold it to someone who said they would use it.  But they didn't---it just sat beside his house.
THE GOOD NEWS is that he didn't tamper with it very much--and he is willing to sell it back to me.  I went to see it today.

Hello old friend---I still think you are beautiful---pristine white---light as the feather you are named for.  Do you chat at night with the rig on your right? Tell him where You've been? That you yearn to do it again?  We shall see! We shall see!
I believe in my soul that this elegant, sleek, swift rolling,winged box is more than enough for anyone to live happily in.  Parked on almost any street in America, one can sleep undetected, unnoticed---no external clue betrays it as a mobile home. 

Inside, it is dusty but largely undisturbed. light,  Bed, fridge, table, sink, stove, toilet, holding tanks and mascerator are intact.  Vinyl floor in good condition.  Can you believe I spent 1,825 nights in here? You are looking at a width of 6 ft, a height of 6 ft and a length of 14 feet. The couch, of course makes instantly into a bed 3 ft wide.  The large vents give great natural light. If you look closely, you can see 3 of the 6 windows--now in cloaked mode as vents. Believe it or not, I carried 60 shirts with me in this rig. (I like lots of shirts)

Can you see the forest mural that covered the rear doors? 

I'm not a great cabinet maker---but I cobbled this together---and it served admirably.

The toilet still works--but the seat needs paint.

RANDY RUMINATES:  I called 3 friends (Bush, Glen, Anne) to help stabilize my thinking: Whether to complicate my life by taking it back---or to let this old friend go.  After much thought, I decided to do this: Let my readers see it in hopes that someone out there---wishing to get comfortably and cheaply, and stealthily on the road---might give this super trailer a new adventurous life.  I think the guy will sell it for $3,000 and I estimate an additional thousand will buy the solar panels,  batteries, etc to wake it up electrically.  Someone with a bit of skill and artistic imagination could take it further than I did.  If you are interested write me personally at

To see it during it's 15 minutes of fame: click here:

Monday, 19 March 2012



Right there---our rigs lined up along this beautiful lake---something wonderful is being conceived.

From my doorway

A flying maching purrs past

Here in this lovely--cost free spot---somewhere near Yuma, AZ---some friends and I are setting in motion the Quest-for-Community caravan.  We posted our separate visions on the previous  blog with an invitation to like-minded individuals to contact us and possibly join us in creating a brand-new type of mobile community for a summer long adventure in the state of New Mexico.

We have been surprised and delighted at the response.----- From around the nation we have received inquiries and applications---from lots of terrific people.  We will select  7 or 8 to join us in creating our new community.  I will post updates on our whereabouts and All others are welcome to visit us wherever we are to see how the community building is going--and put themselves on a stand-by list for unforseen vacancies.
  Here are our agreements thus far:
1. We have no set travel schedule---we will move when serendippity beckons.  Good sense of course suggest that we start low in the state and move higher following pleasant temperatures.
2. Our purpose is to champion one another to live our most inspired lives as we create this intentional community on wheels.
3. We have no Guru or Swami--We are all leaders--- from time to time when our expertise calls us to step forward.    
RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:  I believe everyone hungers to connect--to be known--and to contribute.
That is what I personally am aiming at.  I think it would be a terrific contribution if this tiny group could demonstrate that the good life people hunger for---is  at hand--almost literally within walking distance.  We just need to live simply enough to clear the space and time to discover ourselves and what we would enjoy contributing.  I wish we could encourage a  million people---who already have enough money to retire---to do so---and open up a million jobs for people beginning their careers. 

Thursday, 15 March 2012



1 Mobile
2 Self creating
3 Evolving
4 Inexpensive/Frugal Lifestyle
5 Purposeful
Do you want to be mobile? Are you already mobile but want to put more meaning into your travels.....“contribute” more perhaps, or work on self development or just have more fun because it is shared with others? Want to think about and help create a new order/way of lightweight living based not on greed, and consumption, but rather on community and mobility, and, perhaps, even oneness with the world? Do you feel that this can be accomplished more readily in community rather than alone?

“If you want the good life---a creative community is the place to be.” (Brad Blanton)

Laurie T. shares her personal vision:
I consider "The Quest for Community Caravan to be an expedition in mobile living to create a community of kindred spirits as we navigate the frontier of life on wheels.
It is a call to the free spirited, solo traveler who also enjoys the inspiration, insight and camaraderie experienced when sharing travel with other free spirits.
It is an invitation to wanderers and wayfarers who would feel their life would be enhanced by boldly participating in this ground breaking, transformational experiment in living.
This is an evocative opportunity for a diverse group of wanderers who celebrate and embrace our individual differences to come together to weave a tapestry of experience with the intention of championing one another to live our most inspired lives while sharing a playful, adventurous and meaningful life as we travel engaging with 'The Quest for Community Caravan' as a laboratory for living, loving and learning.
With much appreciation for all who will choose to participate in this compelling quest.
“G”'s thoughts:
Few phrases are as hackneyed, trite, and dishonest as the RV "Dream" or "Adventure." In reality the vast majority of RV'ers are too middle class and conventional for any of that. By and large, mainstream RV'ers are simply portable suburbanites: their lives are centered around comfort, cleanliness, conventionality, status-seeking, and consumption.

What if you are an outlier, relative to the norm? Must you travel as a solitary individual?
The purpose of this project is to build and share a unique mobile culture -- one that isn't found in existing mainstream RV groups. Like Thoreau on his way to Walden Pond, we seek to live "deliberately."

We want to emphasize ideas rather than possessions; experiences rather than purchases; experimental openness rather than old fogey conventionality. We will not emphasize routine sightseeing, buying tickets for this or that, going to expensive restaurants and tourist attractions, etc., because we are not on vacation.

I believe that even when people have captured “THE GOOD LIFE”---security, health, a mate---they are still incomplete without intentional community. The key word is intentional. Community---without intention---is merely a gang—a distraction that (just barely) keeps nothingness (life's real enemy) at bay. A community with intent, however, ( a “mutual admiration society”) can do much better---it can facilitate us becoming who we REALLY are (blossoming).

I believe, with Teilard de Chardin, that “isolation is a dead end”---that---”the self is fulfilled in community”. Most of the good things about me---I absorbed from others---in the assorted communities I lived in for 17 years. Yes, there are up and downsides of association----but a mobile community, with separate rigs, eliminates most of the downsides since we live, essentially, in separate worlds---with warm friendships, hiking companions, discussion partners--- a short walk away----Everyone feeling connected---yet wonderfully free to come and go or leap ahead to the next stop.  

I believe there is something incredibly important yet to be discovered/invented/learned about human association. Some forms elevate and others degrade its participants. I hope to be a keen-enough observer to ferret out some of these truths---as well as a joyful collaborator in the self-creating community. I'm pleased to have already interested some large minds, hearts and personalities in this project.

The adventure begins here and now—Yuma, AZ. -- from here, we will slowly drift— East to the Casa Grande area for awhile—then Tucson –then east to New Mexico (you can rendezvous with us at any point along the route) where we will each purchase an annual pass ($225—or less) allowing use of all their 35 parks for no additional charge. Then we begin a slow---summer- long--- temperature-conscious meander among the parks. What happens next is up to us. Inspired minds, hopefully, will shape a community of our dreams.

If you might be interested in joining this expedition --feel free to e-mail me personally at for further details. 

Friday, 9 March 2012


"If a man does not keep pace with his companions---perhaps it's because he hears a different drummer!  Let everyone march to the music he hears---however measured or far away" (Thoreau)

Saw this sight near Quartzsite, Az  while I was going in the opposite direction.

By the time I turned around and caught up ---I see that the traveler has had to deal with a formidable problem:  How to get the donkey across this cattle guard.  He's done it but I don't see how.
I wondered if the donkey walked that plank over.  I'm letting the story unfold naturally because the driver is busy.......

Hooking the donkey back up.
I checked out this nearby fence to see if he cut the wire and walked his animal around the cattleguard.  If he did--he then wired it back together.
I didn't ask----it seemed too sensitive a question---after noting his big issue--locked gates. He seemed stressed so I bided my time .
Finally I engaged him---"Need a place to camp"  I asked.  "Yes, he said and I need it soon". I told him of a nice place only a quarter mile away.  He asked about the book signing place in town and I told him it was only five miles away.  He gave me one of the flyers in his pocket telling his story then hurried on to make  camp for the next two days at the place I indicated---waiting out a windstorm. I did not engage him again but googled him and got the essential story. You can too:  Howard West author of Locked Gates or go to for his daily blog. He says he needs to sell books to save his ranch called Pilgrim--located 50 miles out from Tonopah, Nv.  Says he has a $4000 balloon note due March 2012. One line in his flyer led me to mentally categorize him: "Help me save the ranch AND A FEW MILLION LIVES AS HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF."

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:  While it's unlikely he knows something we all ought to know---I admire his bold advance in the direction of his dreams.  Yes, I'm inspired---here's a living example of someone actually acting---instead of merely fantasizing.  I once met a sincere soul dragging a full-size crucification cross along the interstate to remind us of Christ's suffering---(I thought it funny that he had a wheel on the long beam for easier dragging) and I've met a host of people walking across the nation for a host of worthy causes.
Many are afflicted with GRANDIOSITY---ego on steroids---but nevermind that --they are up and doing---unwilling to lie down and die without having their say.  Now that I think about it--this blog is not a far cry from what this guy is doing. ----And by the way---very soon I will invite some of you to come do a daring thing with me---then neither of us will lie down and die without having our say to the world. 

The Real Significance of the New iPad

The reactions to the New iPad announcement this week were all over the map. 

Some places said it was basically a yawner (link), while others bought into the "end of the PC" rhetoric (link) .  Some people even warned all developers to stop programming for the keyboard and mouse, even for complex applications like computer-assisted design (link).

My take: I think the announcement was both more and less important than people are saying.  Here's why:

This is not the end of the PC era

I'm sure I'll get some push-back from people who disagree, but I think the whole "PC era" meme from Apple is self-serving hype.  Of course they want to convince you that the world is shifting away from a market where Apple has less than 10% worldwide share to a market where Apple has well over 50% share.  I'd say the same thing if I still worked at Apple.  And the iPad is shiny and sexy, while Windows PCs are old and boring, so I want to believe that the PC is dead.  It makes me feel all Jetson-y. But think about it rationally for a minute.

First of all, what exactly was the PC era that is now supposedly ending?  Was it the years when Windows was the dominant API for software innovation?  That ended in the late 1990s with the rise of web apps.  Was it the era when PCs outsold smartphones?  That ended last year. 

To many people, the end of the PC era seems to mean that tablets are starting to replace PCs as thoroughly as PCs replaced minicomputers.  Or that the keyboard and mouse are going away.  I don't buy it.  We've been declaring the PC dead for at least 15 years, but we're still using them today because for certain tasks, PCs are the best way to get work done.  It may be unsexy and it may seem old-fashioned, but if you're working on a big spreadsheet a mouse and numeric keypad are incredibly productive.  And if you're writing a report, a keyboard is still the easiest way to input text (for now) and edit (for the foreseeable future).

Kind of like a steering wheel and pedals are still the best way to drive a car.  I could do that with a multitouch tablet as well (three-finger swipe to the right means turn at the next corner, four fingers down means apply brakes), but sometimes direct control is the best approach.

And yes (comma) I have tried Dragon (pause) Naturally (pause) Speaking (pause) many times (period) (space) And I found that by the tame I went back and fixed all the types it created (comma) I had not saved any time (comma) plus it was difficult to speak in the sort of sentences I wanted to write because you know I kind of speak more casually than I write (period)

My point is not that touch and speech input and tablets are useless.  I think they're great, and I've been playing with them for more than a decade.  But I'm going to have the most productivity if I can choose the best tools for a particular job, and that means I still need a pointing device and keyboard for some sorts of work.

Now, if Apple were saying that the PC will be less dominant than it was in the past, I'd have no trouble with that.  Although we're not seeing the overall death of the PC, we're definitely seeing a narrowing down of it.  For tasks like reading or interacting with content, a tablet is far superior to a traditional PC, and if that's all you do with your PC, by all means get rid of it.  But PC-like devices (or maybe mice and keyboards that connect to tablets) are going to linger for the sorts of work that they do best.

So if you have a touch-sensitive screen connected to a keyboard and mouse, do you call that hybrid device a PC or a tablet?  I don't really care; it's a game of semantics at that point, and semantics are the playground of companies that want to score marketing points.  Which brings us right back to Apple and its enormous tablet market share.

(Oh and by the way, the tablet needs a stylus for certain types of work.  One of Steve Jobs' strengths was his willingness to revisit his assumptions when he was wrong, and this is one of those cases.  I worry that since Jobs died, Apple may now get locked into his religious opposition to the stylus.  That would leave Apple vulnerable to a competitor who does the stylus right by tuning the hardware and software to work together.)

What does matter about the new iPad

Two things stand out to me.  The first is the screen.  Yes it's very pretty, but that's not the point.  The Retina display is a very nice feature in a smartphone, but in a tablet it's far more important because tablets get used more for reading long-form text like novels, textbooks, and magazines. 

For displaying photos and videos, enormous screen resolution isn't actually all that important; what matters most is color depth.  If you have millions of colors, the pixels blend together and most images look real even at 150 dots per inch.  But for reading, where you have sharp contrasts between black text and white background, much higher resolution is needed.  At 264 pixels per inch, the new iPad's screen is close to the 300 dpi resolution of the original LaserWriters, which most people found an acceptable substitute for printed text, and which drove a revolutionary change in publishing.  I doubt Apple's display has the same contrast ratio as printed paper, which is also important for readability, but I still think it's likely to give a much nicer reading experience to all those students who are supposed to use iPads as their new textbooks.

Apple posted a clever widget that shows a magnified image of text on the old and new iPads.  I pasted an image from it below.  Yes, in real life the dots are tiny and it will be hard for some people to see the difference.  But eyestrain hinges on little details like this, and as a longtime publishing guy, I can tell you that resolution matters.

On most other hardware specs, the iPad is very good but not overwhelming.  Gizmodo has a good comparison here.  It shows that the upcoming Asus Transformer matches up pretty well on a lot of the specs, although it's a bit pricier and has less powerful batteries.  You could be forgiven for thinking that Android's within striking distance of iPad.

But then there's the software, and this is the second place where I think the new iPad stands out.  As a systems vendor, Apple innovates in both hardware and software, so you have to look at both areas to understand the full iPad offering.  Apple is innovating very aggressively on the software side.  Speech recognition is now being bundled with iPad, and although as I just said I don't think it's ready for writing a long report, Apple has a history of tuning and improving its technologies over time, and I bet we'll see that happen with speech.  The keyboard isn't dead, but if Apple makes speech work well, the tablet can more thoroughly displace the PC in a few more use cases (like creating short messages).

Then there are the new iLife tablet apps, which were probably the most compelling part of the whole announcement.  I'm very impressed by the way Apple refactored photo editing for touch, and I can't wait to play with it.

Add together the high-res screen, the long-term path for speech, and the new apps, and the new iPad looks like a formidable product. 

Hey Google, copy this

Think of it from the perspective of an Android tablet product manager.  You don't just have to beat Apple on hardware, but you also have to figure out how to duplicate a rapidly-growing list of Apple-branded software features that are either bundled or sold at ridiculously low prices. 

Yes, Google is working to copy any features that Apple adds, but how good is it at integrating UI functionality and crafting exquisite applications?  Would you want to bet your product on Google's ability to craft end-user software?

And thanks to Apple's volumes and wickedly controlled supply chain, its prices are low enough that no products other than Amazon's subsidized tablets can get down under them.  So as an Android cloner, you're stuck at rough parity on price, and you are increasingly falling behind on integrated software features.  It's an ugly life.

And then there's Microsoft

It'll be interesting to see how Microsoft deals with all of this.  Windows 8 is an effort to recast Windows for tablets, but will Microsoft be willing to go toe to toe with Apple on app pricing?  Undoubtedly not; that would involve giving up most of the Microsoft Office revenue stream.  So Microsoft has to walk a difficult line in which it embraces touch tablet functionality, but attempts to convince people that they still need to pay big bucks for good old Office.  The first try in that direction, Tablet PC, demonstrated that you can't just cut the keyboard off a PC and call it a tablet.  Windows 8 is much more tablet-centric, but if it makes people feel like they're buying a tablet, they may start looking for tablet-like pricing in their apps, and Office sales could collapse like a house of cards.

If that happens, we'll all stop talking about the end of the PC era and talk instead about the end of the Microsoft era.