06 May

Senate passes Internet sales tax in final vote, 69-27

The US Senate passed an online sales tax in a vote this afternoon after a heated final round of debate. A small group of anti-tax Republicans, as well as Democratic Senators from states without sales tax like Montana and Oregon, argued vociferously against the bill—but to no avail.

The final vote was 69-27, not much different than the 74-20 procedural vote that took place two weeks ago. The proposal has hardly changed at all in two weeks. The Marketplace Fairness Act, S.743, would allow states and localities to make Internet retailers collect sales tax from their customers if they do more than $1 million per year in out-of-state online sales.

The bill would allow states to write laws that would force e-commerce businesses to collect sales taxes. Right now consumers are supposed to keep track of any online sales and then report them to their state government and pay sales tax on the purchase. It still has to go through the House where passage is a little more rough but don’t be too shocked if in a few months you have to start investigating adding sales tax to any e-commerce software.

24 Jul

App Cubby Blog – The Sparrow Problem

Given the incredible progress and innovation we’ve seen in mobile apps over the past few years, I’m not sure we’re any worse off at a macro-economic level, but things have definitely changed and Sparrow is the proverbial canary in the coal mine. The age of selling software to users at a fixed, one-time price is coming to an end. It’s just not sustainable at the absurdly low price points users have come to expect. Sure, independent developers may scrap it out one app at a time, and some may even do quite well and be the exception to the rule, but I don’t think Sparrow would have sold-out if the team — and their investors — believed they could build a substantially profitable company on their own. The gold rush is well and truly over.

via App Cubby Blog – The Sparrow Problem. There is a real problem going to occur with regards to the App Store and desktop/mobile software in general if pure software businesses aren’t able to sustain themselves in the long-term. Apple can get away selling software for cheap thanks to hardware profits, what is the option for software only firms?

22 Jul

The Word of Notch – On Patents

But there is no way in hell you can convince me that it’s beneficial for society to not share ideas. Ideas are free. They improve on old things, make them better, and this results in all of society being better. Sharing ideas is how we improve.

via The Word of Notch – On Patents. Notch (the guy who started Minecraft) has a really good piece on why patents are a bad idea. My opinion on patents has slowly changed from thinking that just software and business process patents to getting more convinced that patents in general are a bad idea.

26 Jan

Apple Outsider – Hollywood Still Hates You

Hollywood continues to completely ignore that lesson. It continues to punish the people who play by the rules with an insufferable customer experience. This is the sole reason piracy is up and profits are down: because doing it right totally sucks. And that’s apparently how the studios want it.

via Apple Outsider – Hollywood Still Hates You. It bears repeating, the vast majority of piracy is people just trying to get content the easiest way.

16 Jan

O’Reilly Radar – The President’s challenge

All I can think is: we gave you the Internet. We gave you the Web. We gave you MP3 and MP4. We gave you e-commerce, micropayments, PayPal, Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, the iPad, the iPhone, the laptop, 3G, wifi–hell, you can even get online while you’re on an AIRPLANE. What the hell more do you want from us?

Take the truck, the boat, the helicopter, that we’ve sent you. Don’t wait for the time machine, because we’re never going to invent something that returns you to 1965 when copying was hard and you could treat the customer’s convenience with contempt.

via O’Reilly Radar – The President’s challenge. Cory Doctorow has a wonderful saying “Copying is never going to get harder than it is now.” The idea that we’ll be able to go back in time and make it harder for people to get digital information/media/anything is just wrong. Businesses (hello entertainment industry) seems to ignore that fact time and time again. Businesses can either accept that getting media via the internet is getting easier and easier and try to make it simpler for consumers to get it legally or they will fail.

11 Dec

O’Reilly Radar – The end of social

Taking this a couple of steps further, the article points out that, to many people, Facebook’s "frictionless" sharing doesn’t enhance sharing; it makes sharing meaningless. Let’s go back to music: It is meaningful if I tell you that I really like the avant-garde music by Olivier Messiaen. It’s also meaningful to confess that I sometimes relax by listening to Pink Floyd. But if this kind of communication is replaced by a constant pipeline of what’s queued up in Spotify, it all becomes meaningless. There’s no "sharing" at all. Frictionless sharing isn’t better sharing; it’s the absence of sharing. There’s something about the friction, the need to work, the one-on-one contact, that makes the sharing real, not just some cyber phenomenon. If you want to tell me what you listen to, I care. But if it’s just a feed in some social application that’s constantly updated without your volition, why do I care? It’s just another form of spam, particularly if I’m also receiving thousands of updates every day from hundreds of other friends.

So, what we’re seeing isn’t the expansion of our social network; it’s the shrinking of what and who we care about. My Facebook feed is full of what friends are listening to, what friends are reading, etc. And frankly, I don’t give a damn. I would care if they told me personally; I’d even care if they used a medium as semi-personal as Twitter. The effort required to tweet tells me that someone thought it was important. And I do care about that. I will care much less if Spotify and Rdio integrate with Twitter. I already don’t care about the blizzard of automated tweets from FourSquare.

Automated sharing is giving Facebook a treasure-trove of data, regardless of whether anyone cares. And Facebook will certainly find ways to monetize that data. But the bigger question is whether, by making sharing the default, we are looking at the end of social networks altogether. If a song is shared on Facebook and nobody listens to it, does it make a sound?

via O’Reilly Radar – The end of social. Interesting point, and hard to argue against. The more we share the less value each piece of information has to the people (but not the systems) that we share to.

03 Oct

NYTimes.com – Corporations Getting New Tools for Calculating Emissions

The creators of influential measures of greenhouse gas emissions plan to announce two new tools for corporations on Tuesday.

One is a way to calculate the amount of climate-warming gases released through a company’s supply chain, as well as in the use and disposal of its products. A standardized way of calculating such emissions had eluded energy experts and statisticians for several years. The tool is known as Scope 3.

The second tool is for calculating the emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and four other gases linked to climate change across a consumer product’s entire life cycle. With a toaster, for example, a company would seek to count greenhouse gases released in the mining of elements for its metal shell and the coal burned to make the electricity to power it — and even the fuel burned when the toaster is carted away.

Now that there is a method for tallying those emissions, experts hope to refine it in years to come, perhaps eventually enabling consumers to compare the greenhouse gas footprints of, say, two frozen dinners or two sofas.

via NYTimes.com – Corporations Getting New Tools for Calculating Emissions. I would be skeptical of any tool able to reasonably estimate this in a meaningful way, just too many differences across the whole ecosystem of every product from the original ore being mined to manufacturing to shipping to use by the end user. Plus the difficulties in presenting this information in a way that actually means something to the business. That being said more tools to enable customers to estimate what effect that new laptop has, is a good idea.

11 Sep

Fraser Speirs – A Supercomputer in Every Backpack

My youngest daughter, Beth, started school last week. She’s four and a half and has never known a world in which the iPhone did not exist. She has never known a world in which 24×7 connectivity to the Internet was an impossible sci-fi dream. I suppose her starting school led me to reflect on what her school life will be like.

Consider the basic timeline: Beth won’t leave school until the summer of 2025. Assuming we still have universities by then, she’ll be be launched into the world waving her degree from the University of Hyderabad in the summer of 2029.

The question is simple: is there any plausible non-apocalyptic scenario in which technology is less prevalent, less widely distributed and less embedded in our culture in 2029 than it is in 2011? I simply can’t imagine one.

The GSMA predict that there will be 50,000,000,000 connected devices on the planet by the year 2025. Think about that: by the time Beth leaves school, there will be something like seven Internet-connected devices on the planet for every person.

To paraphrase William Gibson, ubiquitous computing is here – it’s just not built into the furniture. We don’t have smart floors or LCD walls, sensor grids in the ceilings or the Internet on our fridge. We are almost all, however, carrying a pocket device that connects at some level to the network. The flood of smartphones only increases their capabilities.

We are already at a point where the ratio of professionals to computers is 1:2. A laptop and a smartphone are standard equipment in our society. With the advent of the tablet, we may be moving towards or beyond three computers per person.

The fact of the matter, though, is that this ubiquity of computing devices is not reflected in most schools.

via Fraser Speirs – A Supercomputer in Every Backpack. Same problem I’ve been thinking about for a long time, our education system is built for the jobs of the past not the jobs of the future.

02 Aug

This American Life – When Patents Attack!

Why would a company rent an office in a tiny town in East Texas, put a nameplate on the door, and leave it completely empty for a year? The answer involves a controversial billionaire physicist in Seattle, a 40 pound cookbook, and a war waging right now, all across the software and tech industries.

via This American Life – When Patents Attack!. Not upset enough about patents, spend an hour and you’ll get even more upset.

01 Aug

The Economist – Intellectual property: Patents against prosperity

At a time when our future affluence depends so heavily on innovation, we have drifted toward a patent regime that not only fails to fulfil its justifying function, to incentivise innovation, but actively impedes innovation. We rarely directly confront the effects of this immense waste of resources and brainpower and the attendant retardation of the pace of discovery, but it affect us all the same. It makes us all poorer and helps keep us stuck in the great stagnation.

via The Economist – Intellectual property: Patents against prosperity. Yet another in a long line of articles decrying the patent system.