Mar 15

My Umbrella Just Crashed: Why Consumer IoT is Going to Suck

Marc Andreessen was right that “software is eating the world” but he forgot to mention that most software sucks. So what happens when you have a crappy app tied to an object that used to “just work”? You get an umbrella that keeps sending you push notifications about how you’ve “found” it.

kisha-smart-umbrella-16539Like everyone on the planet, I lose umbrellas. So I recently bought a Kisha smart umbrella; it uses bluetooth to pair to my phone and lets me know when I left it behind. This sounds like an awesome idea, unfortunately the app is a bit buggy. While I gave it access to my location, it still doesn’t know what city I’m in, so it can’t tell me the weather. Also, the pairing seems a bit flakey, so every once in while it believes I’ve left it behind even while I’m in the same room.

While I expect that Kisha will iron out these bugs, this brings to the forefront the problem with consumer IoT (Internet of Things) devices. It is going to be quite some time before an IoT operating system and notification system get built that find the right balance of features and noise. I really don’t want to have a personal relationship with my umbrella. Four push notifications in a single day seems a bit much, and this is only one device. How will we deal when we are carrying 10-20 connected devices that each want to alert us every time they might be useful.

Perhaps the answers is an IoT ecosystem that lets us control how our devices interact; a digital device concierge if you like. The problems is that thus far we have seen very few systems that really do a good job mediating information for us. Just look at the state of email software to get an idea of how tough a problem this really is.

I fear that things are going to get very bad before they get better. I see a world in which we complain about the frequency at which we must interact with our belongings: “Man, my garbage can just won’t stop asking me to take out the trash and my toaster is in a fight with my scale over my carb levels.”

If you’re working on an IoT dashboard let me know, I want to get ahead of this thing before IoT spam becomes a problem in my life.

Mar 15

Totally Crazy – My GF Got Her Dog to Let Her Into the Apartment

This just blew my mind today, I expect it will blow yours too.

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 2.37.20 PM

I fully expected to be going back home with my keys to let Jeannie in.


Nov 14

Data as a Barrier to Entry

telecom-largeI originally wrote this down as an idea for a blog post back in 2008, but I never got to it. Last week I heard someone talking about how computing would move closer to data since computing power is cheap and moving data around is still expensive.

Storing large amounts of data locks customers in since moving data around is still slow. Part of the reason is that Moore’s Law tells us computing power will double in 18 months, but it takes longer to upgrade the infrastructure needed to move data around. If a company, like Amazon for instance, houses a customers data they can easily deploy more processors near that data. This makes operating on the data at Amazon more attractive, while the cost to move that data to a new data center drops at a slower rate.

For SaaS and cloud companies, having large amounts of their customer’s data stored there is a natural barrier to entry to competitors.

Oct 14

Are Newspaper Ads Really 25x More Effective Than Online?

I was working at DoubleClick back in 2000 during the dotcom bomb so I got to witness first hand as CPM prices crashed from $50 to $5.

In looking at CPMs today I found something that surprised me: newspaper CPMs are approximately 25 times more expensive than online ads.











That means businesses are paying a premium for static ads that are difficult to track. The only way that makes sense to me is if companies aren’t comfortable with the newer technology.

That might also explain why radio and TV are cheaper than their paper counterparts, it requires more technology and work to create a radio spot or TV commercial than a simple static Ad.

But, I’m a bit surprised by the fact that newspaper CPMs are so much more expensive than Magazines. Maybe it’s due to the fact that smaller papers have a tighter geographic focus and are therefore more attractive to local businesses?

But this 25x differential in pricing really can’t last. I expect that means that CPMs for traditional media are going to fall rather than online CPMs rising a great deal. This will be good for companies that buy advertising, but is only going to further injure traditional media.




Oct 14

POP – A Great Prototyping App

Last year I started teaching an entrepreneurship class at NYU Poly; while it has an official name we affectionally call it “Entrepreneurship for Hackers.” My co-teacher and I essentially teach tools similar to Steve Blank or the Lean Startup to engineering students over 13 weeks.

In our class on prototyping we cover a bunch of tools from crude sketches on paper to high fidelity mockups done in CSS. This is how POP, Prototyping on Paper, came to my attention. It is a brilliant way to do mobile mockups using only an iPhone; simply draw the app, take a picture, and then add links to sew your screens together and make a sample workflow.

One of our teams used this and I was really impressed with how simple yet powerful their prototype was. If you’ve got a great idea for an app this is a simple way to show it to your friends with only an hours work.

Oct 14

The Next Twitch.tv

Let’s start with a confession; I like to watch video games. Even when I was a kid, I preferred watching my friends to playing myself. In a fighter plane I’d be the the navigator.

It is rare for me to be on the front edge of a consumer trend since my hobbies tend to be pretty geeky. But when Twitch TV came along, I was an early adopter; I had already watched hours of gameplay videos on YouTube.

A while back someone wrote a piece about unbundling YouTube in which they stated that Twitch.tv was the first step. (Sadly, I can’t remember who wrote it, and my Google Fu was not up to the challenge of finding it.) My thought is that an obvious next step is “haul videos”.

Shopping haul

Haul videos are when people unpack their shopping and show their followers what they purchased. A subset of the haul video is unboxing, where the host unboxes anything from high-end tech gadgets to cheap toys. The New York Times Magazine has an article about a woman who is making millions unboxing Disney toys.

Clearly people love this content, and YouTube isn’t designed with this in mind. There are such obvious ways to monetize and brands should be all over this. I’d love to see someone create a site for this niche since I think it will be huge once it goes mainstream

Oct 14

A New Tool In The War On My Inbox

I’ve written before about my struggles with my inbox. Thanks to Product Hunt I recently found The Inbox Checkup, an app that let’s me compare my email issues with others.

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 5.24.35 PM

This was from my first run in August. As you can see, I receive a lot more emails than the average person, and I send even more. But this volume has hurt my response time. I re-ran this again today so I could compare results.

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 8.39.09 AM

As you can see, over the past couple months my response time actually increased by an hour. I’m a firm believer in the idea that we optimize what we measure. I’m going to keep tracking response times with an eye towards bringing my time down. Expect an update in a couple more months.

Sep 14

Biggest Losers – My Top 5 Over Hyped Tech Failures

A friend and I were talking about making an anti time capsule; essentially listing technologies that were super hyped at the time but quickly sank into oblivion. So here is my top 5 list with a bonus phoenix at the end.



This may be the king of the hype cycle with no less than Steve Jobs claiming that it was going to change the way cities were built.

“If enough people see the machine you won’t have to convince them to architect cities around it. It’ll just happen.” — Steve Jobs, quoted in a book proposal

Google Wave

google_wave_logoWhen Google first announced Wave people clamored for invites. After they released the first 100,000 there were blog posts about how one could get invited. Having a Wave account showed you were on the cutting edge and in the know.

Google Wave was only around for a year, but we will all remember it as a hugely hyped failure from Australia.



Webvan, the grocery delivery service started by the founder of Borders books stores, took $1.2 billion in funding during the dotcom bubble. To be fair, today Fresh Direct seems to be doing just fine, so this is a failure in execution over vision. But it is still a pretty spectacular failure.



Discontinued in 2011, Zune was Microsofts ill fated attempt to compete with the iPod.

This product was probably DOA due to the DRM imposed my Microsoft. You could either buy an iPod that would play any mp3 you had, or a Zune player that would only play WMA files. Apparently you could convert an mp3 to a WMA file, but at the time I remember thinking it was a brain dead decision to require DRM on all files.

A Small World


For a time the early social networking site that billed itself as Myspace for Millionaires garnered attention and investment. The exclusivity and high society angle made it good fodder for newspaper and magazine articles:  W Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and their long list of press articles.

But then Facebook came along.

While the company has pivoted several times it now has a bit of a sordid history of lawsuits.

YouTube ???


As an special bonus, while researching the Zune failure, I found this 2009 Time Magazine article declaring the 10 worst failures in tech including YouTube.

Failure to Launch – YouTube

In November 2006, Google (GOOG) bought YouTube for $1.65 billion. There is a fairly good chance that the search company will never get a return on that investment. 

Oops. I guess it isn’t a good idea to call the fight before it’s over.

There are others that should probably have made my list, but these are the ones that were most personal to me. Which tech disasters do you remember most vividly?

Sep 14

The Inner Game of the Boardroom


I’ve recently been reading the excellent book The Inner Game of Tennis; it is ostensibly about how to play tennis, but it is really about how to perform under pressure.

[T]he inner game. This is the game that takes place in the mind of the player, and it is played against such obstacles as lapses in concentration, nervousness, self-doubt and self-condemnation. In short, it is played to overcome all habits of mind which inhibit excellence in performance.

The book talks about how we each have two selves, conveniently titled Self 1 and Self 2 in the book. Self 1 is our conscious self, the ego; Self 2 is our unconscious mind that does most of the work in sports.

Trust the body to learn and to play, as you would trust another person to do a job, and in a short time it will perform beyond your expectations.

The book devotes a lot of time discussing how Self 1 talks to Self 2. If you’ve played a sport like Tennis or Golf then you’ve probably caught yourself saying things like “Play better.” At least I know that I often say things like “Come on Lucas, get it together.” That is Self 1 berating Self 2. What interests me most about this form of talking to myself is that I’d never speak to another person that way. If one of my teammates  in soccer made a bad pass I’d never say that to them, instead I’d offer positive encouragement. So why do I treat myself worse than I’d treat teammates or strangers?

I believe this isn’t just applicable to sports or physical activities, I think this same sort of internal dialogue happens in many pressure situations: giving a speech, pitching an investor, or running a difficult board meeting. Getting down on oneself and thinking: “Well that was a stupid thing to say.” isn’t going to help the situation.

Letting go of the judging process is a basic key to the Inner Game;

Instead, calmly acknowledge to yourself that whatever action didn’t have the desired outcome and then let go of the recrimination. This action will allow your natural coarse correction to take over which should get you back on track. Being calm and composed, either in sports or in the boardroom, gives you mind the ability to perform at it peak which will repair situations that have begun to go off the rails.

Aug 14

DEFCON Memories: That Time I Ran Away to Go to a Hacker Con

Mom: Wasn’t DEFCON the hacker event you went to when you were 15?

Me: Yes.

Mom: How did we allow that?

Me: You didn’t know because I didn’t tell you.

I went home to VT this past weekend to visit my parents and pick up this insanely cute kitten.

The kitten has nothing to do with this story, I just wanted to show her off.

Over dinner my father mentioned that he had heard an NPR story about DEFCON earlier that day. I was a part of the crew that put on DEFCON for 10 years, and I’ve been just an attendee more than a few times.

Comer TCPIPI had been at Purdue studying CS the summer before my senior year of High School. Ostensibly, it was to see how I liked the program, but I had hacker friends there and I mostly wanted to hang with them and read about the intricacies of the TCP/IP protocol.

I read this cover to cover that summer.

So that explained how they didn’t know that I went to Vegas. But then the question: how had I paid for the plane ticket. It took me a few minutes to remember; I sold t-shirts.

To finance my trip I created a t-shirt with two quotes.

Front: In this age of digital darwinism some of us are ones, you’re a zero.

On the back across the shoulders like a players name on a jersey, it said: 31337 

Which is Leetspeak for elite.

It also had a quote from the “famous” hacker Erik BloodAxe: I only hack for money

I borrowed enough money  from a friend to print a run, and then sold them at DEFCON. The proceeds were enough to cover my trip, and it was how I met the organizer, Jeff Moss, and became a Goon for the next 10 years.

I hadn’t thought about this in so long I had almost completely forgotten.