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April 2012

Modern Relevancy In Aging Tragedy

562471854How should we, the third generation, commemorate The Holocaust?  Nobody wants to remember or contemplate massive death, atrocity and desperation.  There are few alive who can still personally recall and mourn for the millions of individuals lost to this tragedy.  So how are we to carry the torch?

A few short hours ago my newfound homeland began 24 hours of national mourning over the 6 million Jewish souls lost in the Holocaust.  Radio stations stopped blasting their normal music, TV stations halted their regularly scheduled programming, restaurants and health clubs closed up early and even in-flight entertainment on the national airline was changed to only holocaust themed movies.  For a few moments, sirens across the country will sound as cars pull over to the side of the road, and everyone stops their daily grind to take a moment to stand in silence and contemplation.

To be honest, my first response to all of this apparent negativity is one of withdrawal.  Like many other North American Jews, I grew up with The Holocaust as a theme in my education, culture and society.  I visited the concentration camps in Poland, read the books, took the highs school and college courses, heard the stories, saw numbers on old men's arms and led a few education and social action initiatives.  After 28 years of education and occasional tears, there is a natural desire to try to emotionally distance oneself from this yearly day of tears and the seemingly oppressively negative topic in general.  Whereas in years past I was able to at the very least read the stories of survivors, as a parent I find that I cannot even open these books.  I cannot emotionally process what my life would be like, what my children would have to experience, had I been born 70 years earlier.

So here's what I'm going to try to do this year.  I'm going to try to find the meaning and inspiration in the ashes and the tears, not just for myself but for my children.  I'm not going to put my head in the sand, nor am I going to subject myself to the complete state of mourning of Tisha B'av (the religious day of morning that includes all Jewish tragedy including the Holocaust).  And finally, I'm not going to focus on the unbelievable numbers that I cannot contemplate. 

I'm going to focus on the actions and stories that show the light of the human spirit and the holliness of the human soul in the depths of darkness.  For the next 24 hours I'm going to try to find inspiration in a period of desperation, and to pass on this message to my children.  

I'm going to try to take inspiration from the life of Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman zt'l, a true spiritual leader who left the safety of the USA to return to Europe to lead his hundreds of students through the depths of hell.  Shortly after returning to Europe, he led his students with their heads held high and souls full with faith to their ultimate sacrifice.  

I'm going to sit with my son and tell him the stories I have heard about his maternal great-grandparents who not only lost friends and most of their families, but found the strength to marry in the DP camps and raise a family, many of whom are living their great-great-grandparent's dreams by living in Israel.

While Yom Hashoah, the secular-calendar based Day of Holocaust Remembrance was setup on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the lesson of the Holocaust to me is not one of "We Must Stand Up And Fight" but rather one of the power of the human spirit when faced with utter destruction.  

The human soul and spirit are not driven by the base urge to survive, but by the knowledge that even in the greatest darkness there is light.  The greatest way to honor the millions of innocents lost is to rebuild all the light that was lost from the world.

Here's to the spirit and the soul.  Here's to hope.  Here's to a brighter tomorrow.  Let us never forget.

Outstanding Kickstarter Success Is A Liability

Pebble watch  Kickstarter is a brilliant concept.  But a runaway success may be their all-to-soon undoing.

What Is Kickstarter?

Visionaries post their ideas and the general public gets to contribute towards funding these ideas.  In addition to donating towards what the micro-investor considers to be smart innovation, investors will often receive a nominal return such as early access to the theoretical finished product, recognition as a contributor in the finished video project and occasionally even an actual physical product once it's produced.  Kickstarter is to investing as Kiva is to banking - making real funding available via micro-investments and bypassing the big players.

Kickstarter could well be everything right about our new macro-connected world.  Then again, they are also on the verge of becoming the of our era.

Enter The Pebble Watch Runaway Success Story

Last week a product kicked off on Kickstarter call the Pebble Watch.  The Pebble Watch is an incredibly interesting concept watch.  This watch features bluetooth connectivity and integrated sensors that enable reportedly robust synchronization with mobile phones, a rich purported set of capabilities, a yet-to-be-released SDK for developer innovation, and a very nice design complete with a geek-cred-tastic e-ink display. 

After a rocky start looking for VC investment, the Pebble Watch team registered on Kickstarer with an initial stated goal of raising $100,000.  They did everything right, offering rich product concept imagery, videos and details, as well as unique packaging opportunities including early SDK developer access and bundles of actual watches.  From the looks of the early blog coverage, they even did a great job in their (or Kickstarter's) PR and social media outreach.

And here is the problem.  They got a bit too successful too fast and I'm afraid they may have bit off more than they could chew.  

In just 7 days Pebble has:

  • Raised over $4.2 million dollars.  And they appear to be open to funding for another 30 days.  
  • Accumulated almost 30,000 investors.
    • 7 investors in for over $10K in exchange for 100 watches and no equity.
    • 18 backers at the $1,250 level, in exchange for 5 watches and a custom watch face.  And no equity.
    • 118 backers at the $1,000 level in exchange for ten watches and no equity.
    • 272 backers at the $550 level in exchange for five watches and no equity.
    • 1847 backers at the $240 level in exchange for two watches and no equity.
    • 100 backers at the $235 "hacker" level in exchange for an early prototype in August (4 months away) and early access to an SDK.  And no equity.  This category is already sold out.
    • 1343 backers at the $220 level in exchange for two black watches.  And no equity.
    • 6341 backers at the $125 level in exchange for one watch in any color.  And no equity.
    • 18,757 backers at the $115 level in exchange for one black watch and no equity.
    • 200 backers at the $99 level in exchange for one black watch and no equity.  Limited to 200 backers, this option sold out early.

And the watches won't ship until an estimated September 2012.  As of this writing, that is five months away.  And nobody has yet seen or tested one of these watches in the wild. To be clear, despite all the media hype I have not yet found a single blogger or member of the media who has seen or played with this device in person.

This is an inflated market.

The community clearly shows high demand for the concept and high expectations for the finished product.  And Kickstarter, whether they like it or not, is now in the public spotlight with much of their reputation staked on a single prototype product and about 30,000 promises to deliver.  And those promises are growing by the hour.

Kickstarter needs to take action.  Kickstarter needs to put a cap on pre-sales and over-exuberant investment.  When a product raises 40x their stated goal in a week, they need to shut the door on that round of funding.  Sure, they could create a second tier of investment opportunity but this over-enthusiasm is as much an asset as it as liability.

If this watch fails to ship on time or otherwise fails to meet this massive user base's expectations, Kickstarter is going to have one hell of a black eye.  

Ebay struggled with seller and buyer fraud in the 90s.  Ultimately Ebay implemented a series of checks and balances, including investment in better education, policy and service.  Kickstarter is going to have to put better checks and balances on their investment community.  Or this week will forever be remembered as the week the vision over-promised, setting themselves up for an avoidable nightmare.

Then again, I'm awfully tempted to buy one of these watches... they do look really, really good.


Video Below


Windows Phone "Gets It" With Offline Data

Windows Phone Translator Data connectivity is more of a pain than the industry would have you believe.  Mobile data is expensive, connectivity is often spotty, data speeds vary wildly and most robust mobile data connections will drain your battery.  And if you're a frequently connected business traveler, you can generally expect astronomical mobile data bills.  While virtually all popular mobile applications rely on web connectivity, we in turn have gradually opened our wallets while draining our batteries and increasing our frustrations, one byte at a time.

Windows Phone looks to be heading in the right direction in this regard.  And it's a VERY welcome direction.

The latest Bing app for Windows Phone offers what appears to be a fairly robust translation engine, and unlike their predecessors, Windows looks to be addressing our data-limited reality.  While their "on-the-fly" augmented reality translator looks remarkably similar to other we have seen in the past, Windows is offering mobile travelers the ability to download a language pack.  

Windows looks to finally be recognizing our real mobile realities - we have massive amounts of storage and incredible computing power on hand.  It is a shame that so many of our mobile experiences rely so heavily on expensive, jittery and occasionally unreliable data connections.  

To hell with the carriers, here's to a better, only occasionally connected mobile experience.





Why Facebook Needs To Create Facebook Labs

Facebook could have knocked Pinterest or Flickr off the map with a redesign of their photo platform.  Facebook could very well become a viable competitor to YouTube if they get serious about public indexing of user uploaded video (within user permissions).  Facebook could be and do so many things that would increase the strength of their offering, but they do not want to compromise on their core platform design and one-size-fits-all user experience.  Facebook publically says that they do not want to compete with the likes Flickr but rather want all other developers to integrate Facebook into their platforms.  Which is a fair enough perspective.  

But Facebook is also facing tremendous opportunity.

Consider Facebook Labs.

Facebook Labs could be a holding ground for wildly innovative new designs, new features and new products that need not look or work much like, or even live on the is for 80% of the normal users.  Labs could offer products for the hardcore or extremely light users, specialized audiences, content, search and more.  Below are a few examples:

  • Better User-Oriented Design Options - If I'm a photo junky, Facebook Labs could provide me with a suite of interactive designs and activities that make for a better user experience all around photography.  This could easily become an overnight Pinterest-like success, and need not even live on the domain.
  • Product Testing and Development - Facebook could easily use the Labs moniker to soft launch products to platform enthusiasts (all of us who created developer accounts to get early access to Timelines).  Whether it's a more content, search and discovery oriented Facebook video platform, or a Facebook search engine, Labs could provide the army of enthusiasts who are ready to kick the tires before a massive scaled launch.
  • Live And Let Live Acquisitions - Facebook Labs could provide a fertile ground for Facebook-acquired companies to continue to live and prosper as stand alone businesses while contributing talent and IP to the greater organization.  Instagram need not be neglected (FriendFeed) just because they are now part of a far bigger picture.
  • Better Internal Free Thinking - Facebook has always been fairly reality-driven.  We never hear about Facebook Googles or space elevators.  And I don't know that we should.  But there is a lot of merit in funding a sandbox for incubating great, parallel ideas that feed into the Facebook vision.  These ideas need not even live on or be heavily Facebook branded.  Less focussed innovation in a funded sandbox can open up unknown worlds of opportunity.

For all I know, Facebook may already have their own beta-lab in the works or may even have secretly launched such an initiative.  Given everything I've every learned about the company and many others in similar predicaments before them, it's time to launch a not-yet-Timeline ready option for those of us who are ready to go beta.  I bet the entire team at Xerox from the 1980s would agree.

How To Get Your AT&T iPhone Unlocked Without Jailbreaking

You paid $200 for your AT&T locked iPhone.  You finished or paid off the remainder of your contract.  Isn't unlocking your phone now your right?

I was in your shoes.  I emailed Tim Cook and politely asked for my off-contract, fully paid for AT&T-locked iPhone 4 to be unlocked.  A week or two later AT&T's team contacted me.  12 hours later my iPhone 4 was unlocked.  If you search around in Google, you will likely find a few others who shared my experience.  Try it for yourself and let me know how it goes.

And while I would hate to sound ungrateful, it does alarm me that AT&T and Apple continue to stand behind their clearly broken policy.  I wonder how many exceptions to this policy they are making.  If I was a betting man, I would guess that this policy will soon be updated to allow for a more systematic solution to this ridiculous problem.  The fact that Apple's official support page dates back to February 2010 also suggests that AT&T wasn't entirely truthful when they told me they Apple would not unlock my device.  

I have included both emails I received from AT&T below.


Email 1

I work with AT&T in the Partnership Operations department and we have received your email requesting to unlock your iPhone device. We would like to review your account and need to ask if you can please provide the mobile number and IMEI for the devices that you are requesting to be unlocked.

Thank you!

The Partnership Ops team

Email 2

We have received a request to unlock your iPhone. We have reviewed the request and made an exception to unlock your iPhone. 

To complete the unlock process, please tether your iPhone to iTunes. Once that is complete, your device has successfully been unlocked.

Below is a link to an Apple article to assist if you should have any questions.

Thank you!

The Partnership Ops team


Tim Cook Just Rocked My World

I had a problem.  I emailed Tim Cook.  He looks to be making it all better.  And I'm astounded.

Here's some background.

I am a big fan of Apple.  When I moved to Israel last summer I was faced with having to part with my iPhone 4 as it was restricted to AT&T.  I had paid off my early cancellation fee with AT&T and asked for an unlock but they told me I could only do this through Apple.  Apple in turn sent me back to AT&T.  I spent a collective few hours on hold with AT&T, only to learn that neither party had a viable option.  

After hours of research online I discovered the Gevey Sim solution.  It was kludgy, requiring me to physically trim my SIM card, use an alternative SIM tray and interloper chip, and requiring that I unlock my iPhone.  There was also talk of having to dial an emergency access number, but I found an app that worked around that requirement.  I've played with these unlocking tools in the past but never found them as good as the original iOS experience.  So I never stuck with any unlocks.

Left with no other option, I went for the Gevey.  I crossed my fingers, trimmed my local Israeli micro-sim, unlocked my device and a few hours of trouble shooting later everything seemed to be working properly.  At first I was reasonably satisfied.  

However, over time my phone has become increasingly dated as I could not update the firmware without fear of locking my device.  Eventually the springboard started crashing, and over time this became more frequent, resulting in a very poor user experience.  I read online about updates to a newer, more stable hacked firmware, but saving SSH blobs is above my technical skill level.  And I was sick and tired of this entire chapter.  I was so annoyed that I even began speaking with friends about switching to Android.

I also started contacting friends and friends-of-friends at AT&T and their partners to try to find a workable unlock solution.  They all seemed to hit the same dead ends I had hit.  I even spoke with a lawyer who was considering a class action to demand Apple and AT&T develop an unlock solution for off-contract phones.

But to be honest, I had thrown in the towel.  I was tired of constantly restarting my phone, and heading out on the road not knowing if my phone would remain reliable for the remainder of my trip.

Enter Tim Cook

A few weeks ago, inspired by a similar story on Techeme, I emailed Tim Cook.  I explained my predicament (omitting the unlocking) and asked for his help in finding a solution to my locked phone challenges.  

A few minutes ago I received an email from an AT&T Partnerships team asking for my account info and IMEI number.  It looks like they are unlocking my phone!  More updates to come as this story progresses.

I'm very impressed.  I have emailed a number of CEOs and Presidents in my time.  But I've never seen or heard a direct response.  Until now.

If this is the new direction Tim Cook is taking Apple in, I'm all in.