Living By The Bay

I went for a long walk this weekend and carried my Sony RX-1 camera. I took a lot of photos — most of them were terrible. Some of them turned out to be good. Here are my three favorites:

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Kindle Unlimited, Uninterested

So far, I have hesitated to try any of the new services — Oyster and Scribd — that offer you unlimited access to books for a flat monthly fee. Why? Rohit put it best on Twitter, “Feels a bit like gym membership – feels good to have it, not sure if it is fully utilized. Besides, buy+read seems to work.”

These services’ book selection is long of total numbers of books, but is short on the books I really wanted to read. Much like Netflix in the early days, you have a lot of indie-content and old catalog content with some new stuff. Sure they have deals with folks like Harper Collins and Simon & Schuster, I stuck to the true-and-tried buy+read formula. However, when I first heard that Amazon was ready to announce its Kindle Unlimited service — I was interested.

Given the breadth and depth of Kindle library — at $10-a-month, it seemed like a bargain. Especially, considering I normally end up buying three-to-four ebooks a month. So, when the service became available, I quickly signed up and very quickly realized that Kindle Unlimited was less than interesting.

Sure there is Harry Porter and some other well known books, but frankly going back and reading those books is not how l like to spend my time. Books are my time machine: taking me to places I have not travelled — both physical and metaphorical. That is why I read books — mostly to learn and imagine. 

And just as quickly, I signed up for Kindle Unlimited, I unsubscribed. $120-a-year is just too much money to experiment with the service. It is even less interesting from book selection perspective than its rivals, if you ask me. “I think this is a bit of a stumble for Amazon, a money grab,” is how one blogger puts it. I see it as a lost opportunity for Amazon and a reason for them to go back to the drawing board. 

What I am reading today

Bill Campbell on Tim Cook

“Tim is a calm, thoughtful guy “He studies things and thinks about them, makes a decision, and moves on.” — Bill Campbell, outgoing member of Apple’s board of directors on Apple CEO Tim Cook. Campbell was a close friend of Steve Jobs and is well known in Silicon Valley as “Coach.”

It is time to stop rewarding failure

Silicon Valley (the notion) has become very much like rest of corporate America — it has embraced the philosophy of failing upwards. I have seen many executives get bumped up the ranks, get fancier titles and bigger paychecks, even though they were disastrous at their job. Many have left destruction and dismay in their wake. And yet, there they are getting bumped up — again and again. I was reminded of this disease this morning when I read about Microsoft cutting 18,000 jobs of which 12,500 odd will be at the Nokia division. Microsoft’s board might have eased out Steve Ballmer, but man, why aren’t they thinking about Stephen Elop.

When I met him in his prior gig at Microsoft, Elop seemed to be a nice enough guy, not quite a visionary, but good enough for what was then essentially a monopoly.  The very fact that a middling executive could be brought on for a turnaround of Nokia, and compete with the iPhone/Android onslaught with absolutely zero turnaround experience was one of those decisions that has confounded me and I continue to blame the Nokia board for shooting itself in the head. On his watch, Nokia essentially eviscerated. Android might have been a better decision, but he went with Windows Mobile. The stock tanked, market share shrank and like proverbial Lord Mountbatten he was part of the last days of the Nokia Raj.

And Nokia, the once haloed and peerless brand when it came to phones was sold to Microsoft for relative pittance. Elop heads up Microsoft’s Devices Group. Think of it this way — since Elop took over as Nokia CEO, the company has  cut over 50,000 jobs (if you include today’s announcement.) That is just mind boggling. That bumbling strategy which was the hallmark of Elop’s Nokia tenure still continues — in other words, Microsoft doesn’t really have a Nokia strategy. From Elop’s memo today: “In the near term, we plan to drive Windows Phone volume by targeting the more affordable smartphone segments, which are the fastest growing segments of the market, with Lumia.” That is precisely what Nokia guys used to say — we have the low end and we can grow our share. How did that work out?

Even on that end, Microsoft is going to be embroiled involved in an expensive marketing ground war with Google’s Android One efforts in places like India. Does Microsoft want to go into battle with Google and  Amazon with Elop? I wouldn’t. But then I don’t run Microsoft either. That said, I don’t think Nokia rank-and-file should be the only ones who  get the pink slip.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to pick on Elop — though he is the latest  and most visible in a string of high-profile executives who defy gravity despite being duds. Silicon Valley needs to look at baseball or football and see how professional sports teams treat their executives and star players. If you fail — you are shown the door. Just like the players. Bobby Valentine was unceremoniously dropped by Boston Red Sox. San Diego Padres fired their general manager. The message is — big dollars means big results. What’s wrong with that — especially in this age of mega-paychecks for executives?

Update: Charles Fitzgerald who worked at Microsoft and doesn’t suffer fools has a brilliant ex-insider take on Elop:

His resume is that of a short-tenured opportunist who has left little mark on his employers except of course Nokia where he presided over the company’s collapse and ultimate exit from the mobile handset business.

Passage of Time

Faceless

Mark Twain once said, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” So why is that one is occasionally reminded that years, are mile-markers of life, that puts you in a reflective state of mind.

Past few days have been a reminder of the time spent on the journey of life. It all started with a coffee earlier this month with a wiser, more mellower Justin Kan, who was a constant presence at our NewTeeVee Pier Screenings, live streaming his less-than fabulous life as part of Justin.tv. The nine years have passed since we first met — these days he advises other startups and works for YCombinator — and since then, starring in the movie of us is an everyday thing.

Another young friend, Peter Rojas who co-founded Engadget & GDGT came to visit me in San Francisco. The shaggy haired, thin as whip kid who sat next to me at Red Herring, extolling gadgets and the rise of the remix culture at the turn of the new century, showed off photos and videos of his kids, and talked about writing a book. It was as if someone pressed the rewind button on life.

Already looking over the shoulder repeatedly, today, in particular I stopped and reminded of the summers gone by — as boys of summer took the field of dreams in Minneapolis today. And it was all because of one person, I have never met and perhaps never will — Derek Jeter.

Jeter, the New York Yankees’ captain has been a constant fixture of every summer for most of my American life. An immigrant’s struggle is often lonely and sometimes at night, I would watch Yankees and became a fan of Jeter, though I felt kinship for Bernie Williams. Derek’s right attitude is what has made him special and perhaps that is why I admired him, often wondering to myself if he was the right role model for a good entrepreneur. Nike has created a website to accompany its Re2pect ad-campaign that fetes Jeter and that captures his life so well. How many of us will have a career that is full of admiration from even those who disliked his tribe?

This is his last season of playing baseball. Today is the last time he played in an All Star Game. It feels a full stop in the middle of an unfinished sentence. And today, I feel that my youth is faded a little, hidden perhaps in the lengthening shadows that come with the fourth inning.

While the sense of time will linger, the feeling of wistfulness will past quickly. Why? because as Henry Ford once said: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

I was reminded of Ford’s good counsel today, when I clicked my way through the fabulous 40 over 40 in tech list put together by TechCrunch. It started out as a lark. Back in January, mostly as a response to the ever-increasing number of 30-under-30 in tech lists, I asked for nominations for the 40 over 40 list. The responses came pouring in. Somewhere, someone thought it was a good idea and put together a list of amazing people — many of them have become friends over the years.

“There is no shortage of over-forties taking big and small risks, changing the world and inspiring many,” writes Frank Barbieri, who co-created the list. And just look at the list of responses to my original tweet in January. For me, those folks and the those on the TC list are a reminder that, a lot more is left to be done, many more miles to travel. Or to paraphrase Whitney Hess, “my heart tells me I’m an old pro, my mind tells me I’m a little boy!”

Twain, it seems is always right!

Beats, iWatch & Apple’s fashion forward future

It has been weeks since Apple announced its decision to buy Beats for $3.2 billion. And while I have maintained that it is about the music discovery service, others believe that headphones are part of the reason why Apple ponied up so much money. That didn’t make sense to me, considering that Apple is a hardware company and could easily turn up the volume on its headphone business. However, when I recently read Khoi Vinh’s post about the “go to market strategies” of the two companies, it all started to come together.

Vinh points out that it is hard to create variability at scale — that is why even iPod and iPhone come in only a handful of colors. In comparison, Beats’ middle name is variability. It offers 60 different types of headphones. In Vinh’s mind, the Beats catalog is akin to the Nixon watches catalog. What does he mean by that? Like Nixon, Beats’ “primary selection criteria are looks and style” whereas in Apple’s case, you pick your model before picking your style, he argues.

Apple is a company that makes tech which becomes fashionable. Beats makes fashion that is powered by technology. Today’s smart watches are essentially technology that hopes to become fashionable, but the current generation are aesthetically challenged to say the least. Arguably, Apple is highly aware of this, and is therefore thinking how it becomes the company that makes watches aka fashion powered by technology. And it is not just watches — but other consumables. 

Robert Brunner, chief design officer of Beats (and formerly of Apple) recently suggested that fashion is a tribe you belong to or you aspire to belong to. Beats he argued was a tribe people want to associate with. Apple is doing its best to make sure that, as it starts to make more products outside of the traditional computing sphere — iWatches, for example — it successfully crosses over to becoming a fashion company too.

This certainly explains why Apple has been hiring fashion people from the fashion and watch business. Maybe, in the near future people will give Apple CEO Tim Cook some credit for thinking different. I have my reservations about the company and the lack of its Internet DNA — but have every confidence in Cook.

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