Big Ol’ Update

A lot of the things I’m doing online have changed. Podcasting has taken a bit of a backseat as I started a career in IT. I want to get back to it sooner than later, but I need a little more time to figure out where it fits in my life, etc. So in the meantime I’m refocusing the site on what I’m actually working on.

That’s been fiction over the last few months, specifically of the speculative/science/fantasy fiction variety. Most of the stuff that was on the site was centered around podcasting and promoting that. Those pages are still on the site, they’ve just been moved into an archive folder out of the way.

Check out the writing page, I have my first short story linked there. I originally envisioned this short story as the first in a pulp-style set of serials. Look for more to come in that series. I’ll take a few breaks to write more of these as I work on my bigger project. Speaking of which:

I’m about 25,000 words into a science-fantasy novel right now, yes, it sounds a little weird but bear with me. I’m happier with it so far than I’ve been with anything else I’ve written (including the short story that I’ve published for purchase on Amazon). There’s a lot to be written still, but keep an eye out here. I plan on dropping bits and pieces of story and world-building here, I look forward to sharing that with everyone.

Finally, I’m going to set something up in the sidebar to keep everyone updated on my various projects. You’ll be able to see my progress and what I’m working on, help hold me accountable on my writing, and get excited as projects get added, worked on, and completed.

Apple Music v. Swift

The Service

Apple announced Apple Music at the WWDC ’15 keynote address. I didn’t think too much of it at the time. It seems like a good streaming service that will gain traction: it’s going to be on every Apple device you can imagine.

It will launch with a three month trial period, which I thought was generous. That’s enough time for the service to stop being a novelty and start being a part of daily behavior. But buried in the details was the fact that Apple would not be paying any royalties to rights-holders during the 3 month trial. I thought that was an interesting at the time, maybe worth a blog post or two. Then Taylor Swift wrote a letter.

There’d been some minor objections to the trial period already. But Taylor’s letter was the real spark. Apple changed its mind over the course of the weekend. They will now pay rights-holders during the three month trial.

The Real Issue

It’s important to note that the whole to-do was a negotiation. Taylor Swift wasn’t fighting for the little guy; she wanted Apple to pay her for the right to play her most popular album to date. There’s nothing wrong with that. Artists should get paid. If they can find a way to get paid more they should do so. Just don’t make Swift Taylor out to be a crusader for the indie artist.

A second note: Rights-holders, not artists will be the ones benefitting from this. Again, this isn’t right or wrong, it’s just the way business works. Taylor may own digital and streaming rights to her music. She’s shown a lot of business savvy in the past. She may have worked hard to secure those rights during her contract negotiations. A lot of smaller artists don’t own those rights, their music labels do.

I haven’t researched this in the music industry, because that’s not where I work. In the book industry, publishers pay authors an advance on signing a book deal. An author doesn’t make any royalties until the publisher has earned back the advance. Getting paid for the 3 month trial will help those artists start earning royalty checks sooner, but that money isn’t going to the artist until they earn the advance.

The point is, most artists on a record deal have already been paid.

Contracts are always negotiable and anything could happen. Music labels aren’t in the business of giving up any more than they have to, though. I doubt most artists will ever see significant revenue from streaming services.

Free?

There are a lot of free things on the internet. All over the internet. I produce a couple of podcasts you can go download for free. You could contribute to my Patreon or buy one of my books if you wanted to, but the podcasts are there for you to listen to at will.

A lot of authors offer the first book in their series for free. That’s not to say the book has no value or that it didn’t take any effort to create. It means the author is confident that if you read the first one you’ll want to buy the second one and the third one. It’s a way to build a fan base, and more importantly, a customer base.

Take a look at any number of (what we used to call) bloggers(these people do a whole lot more than blog now, I’m not sure what we should call them). Almost every one of them will offer a free ebook or course or video. They offer some type of product for free (or for the cost of your email address) because they want to show that their products work (and get into your inbox). They want to provide the user with value so that the user feels compelled to provide value in return.

So why hasn’t the music industry latched on to this idea? The streaming services themselves appear to be an exception, but I see no other industry that’s as obsessed with extracting every last penny from every piece of content they own. I’m not saying other entertainment industries are giving all their content away, but I frequently see the first episode of a TV show available on Amazon Prime. When was the last time you saw the first track of an album available for free?

My point is, I think the piracy craze last decade combined with the transition from physical to digital music sales freaked the music industry out to no end. Their actions are governed by a compulsive need to ensure that someone pays for every byte, that every strum of a guitar earns them revenue directly. There are a few exceptions, 9 Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor(himself a part of the Apple Music announcement) has been progressive in this field. But for every Reznor there’s a Metallica and a Beatles. At least.

Wrappin’

This 3 month trial isn’t a big deal. Apple has the money, they obviously want to provide a lengthy trial period more than they want to keep that money. They’ll shell out for 3 months and I have no doubt they’ll make that money back with a successful product. Don’t believe the pundits that will call Apple Music a failure. Apple’s playing with house money here. It’s going to be hard for them to lose the music game at this point.

Smartphone Adoption in Mexico

I recently traveled to Mexico and encountered an interesting phenomenon. Everyone had smartphones[1]. I looked up the numbers when I got back: the smartphone penetration rate in Mexico is 37%. That’s roughly half the rate of smartphone penetration in the US. That’s a surprising number in a country with a per capita GDP that’s 20% of the per capita GDP in the United States[2].

I’d read several places that smartphone adoption had grown outside the US. I knew that a significant part of the developing world was purchasing smartphones. These smartphones are often the first computer and internet connection people have ever had. It was different to see it in practice.

Granted, the people I encountered had owned cell phones for a decade or two. The mobile industry isn’t as onerous in Mexico as it is here. Cell phone plans in Mexico are almost always pay-as-you-go plans. Calls and texts get deducted from the caller or sender’s plan, not both, halving the cost of a call or text.

Mobile customers buy phones up front and low cost options are available. They’re affordable enough that on previous trips it made sense for me to buy a cheap phone and plan to use while I was in the country. I didn’t have time to research how that system may have changed since the arrival of smartphones on the market. A growing trend of purchasing items on credit may also be affecting smartphone adoption.

This is all fine and good from a consumer perspective, but what excites me is the economic impact of smartphone adoption. I’m look forward to discovering what effect the rapid propogation of information will have.

There’s always been an entrepeneurial attitude in Mexico. Many people own their own business or operate a side-business from their home. Small factories are common throughout Mexico City. Small convenience stores are often operated out of the front of homes.

A glance at a GDP graph shows steady growth starting sometime in the 80s. That growth has stayed pretty constant through today. But a more recent spike in GDP growth correlates[3] nicely with an increase in smartphone adoption. Obviously, a simple correlation between two charts on the internet doesn’t indicate causation. But, the fact that the growth of smartphones and the economy mirror each other indicates two possibilities. Either the two statistics are directly correlated and some causation exists (with one number driving the other), or both statistics share some inditerminate causation.

In other words, smartphones are either the canary or the minecart[4]. Either way, things are looking up for the Mexican economy


  1. Obviously, I don’t mean literally “everyone”. But the majority of people that I knew from when I lived in Mexico, as well as a significant number of people that I encountered throughout my trip were using a smartphone of some kind.  ↩

  2. GDP is Gross Domestic Product: “The monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country’s borders in a specific time period, though GDP is usually calculated on an annual basis.” Investopedia  ↩

  3. Correlation indicates a relationship between two numbers. For example, ice cream sales and drowning deaths are correlated. Causation indicates that one number is the result of the other. Ice cream and drowning do not share a causal relationship, but they both share a causal relationship to average temperatures, thus the correlation.  ↩

  4. If smartphones are the canary they’re the indicator of economic growth. If they’re the minecart they’re one of several drivers of economic growth. This report from GSMA seems to indicate the latter, if only as a significant growth industry in Latin America. Check out footnote 4 in the report. It indicates that of the 4.1% GDP contribution from the smartphone industry, 2.5% is due to “productivity improvments”. That’s exactly the sort of thing I was thinking about in this piece. The GSMA is an industry organization, but they’re trying to predict future growth and give a measurement of smartphone growth in Latin America, so the numbers reported should be decent.  ↩

The Battery Revolution (or How My Life Has Changed)

I’ve owned and used notebook computers for a long time now[1], but I’m doing something today that I’ve never done before. I’ve ventured out into the wild world without my safety cable. You know the one. It attaches to your computer at one end and a three-prong connecter attaches to the wall at the other. (Electric) Life-giving juice flows from the wall to your machine enabling work and play.

And for the first time in my computer-using life, I don’t have mine with me. It’s an odd feeling, and one that you may have already experienced[2]. My trusty old black MacBook had great battery life when I bought it back in 2007. I could get close to four hours of writing time if I was careful.

Yet, I was never confident enought to leave that white tether at home. If I was working at a coffee shop or library, and I wasn’t using my power cable, it was in it’s dedicated pocket in the bag at my side. It certainly wasn’t at home in the living room[3].

And I know, Macs in particular have been getting workday-length battery life for several years now. I just hadn’t exactly put the whole thing together in my mind. It doesn’t just mean a couple of pounds less equipment in my bag for a day trip. It means I can work wherever I need or want to. It means I don’t have to ask fellow patrons if they’d allow me to connect my surge protector to a crowded outlet at the coffee shop.

My new machine works where I want it to. I can now think of powering my computer the way I think of powering my phone: at night, when I get home. It’s a mobile device, not just a portable one.

Maybe I’m being a little over-the-top. Maybe I’m just super amped about my new computer. Maybe I should have bought one of these machines years ago and experienced the revelation with everyone else.

Those are all at least a little bit true. But honestly, going from two to three hours of battery life[4] to seven to ten hours of battery life is the biggest revolution in my computing life since my parents brought home our first Packard-Bell Pentium 386.


  1. Nigh on twenty years, in fact. Criminy.  ↩

  2. I’m late to the party here, I admit.  ↩

  3. Where my fancy new Magsafe 2 cord sits at this instant.  ↩

  4. If I’m being honest, it was closer to forty-five minutes towards the end.  ↩

The Rumored 12 Inch MacBook Air

I don’t usually cover rumors on Machine Compatible, but I’m excited about one about Apple. 9to5 Mac is reporting that Apple is working on a new 12" MacBook Air.

The new computer would be smaller than the current 11“ with a smaller bezel to accomodate the larger screen. One of my least favorite things about the 11” Air is the bezel. It’s such a huge wasted space and just makes the screen feel even smaller. It’s not as big an issue on the 13" because of the larger screen.

The new 12" will also only have a USB-C[1] port and a headphones jack. That’s an astounding number of ports in a device, but it makes sense. The MacBook Air was always supposed to be ultra-light and ultra-portable. It was built to contain the very barest of computing bones. Apple later found ways to give them great battery life and adequate power but that wasn’t in the original design.

The new Air will be compelling if Apple can combine the battery life and power of the current Air with a Retina display. The new Air will also differentiate the product lines by separating the MacBook Air line frm the Macbook Pro line.

Color me intrigued


  1. USB C is the new standard to replace the current USB plug format. It is smaller and reversible so you don’t have to worry about which way you’re plugging it in.  ↩

Thinking Through Email: Automate and Sort

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this series on email. If you take some of these suggestions under consideration you’ll be able to start getting your inbox under control. Remember, it’s not about “inbox zero”. There will always be another email coming in to mar that clean slate. Managing email is about keeping your communications under control rather than scrambling to keep up.

Bearing that in mind, let’s go over a final suggestion before we wrap the series: automation. I mentioned it briefly in the post on limiting what arrives in your inbox. Most email clients and services offer some form of automation. If the one you use doesn’t, find a different service and forward your address to the new one.

If you’re processing lots of email and sorting it manually, you’re missing out on one of the greatest advantages of the medium. Let’s look at some of the ways different services handle sorting.

Tags

Several services offer tags as a way of sorting and organizing. Gmail[1] and Apple Mail are the most common[2]. Tags have several advantages over folders. First, they are not discrete. A message can carry multiple tags(sometimes called labels) at the same time, allowing you to find a specific message with various search terms.

For example, I could add a “2013” tag to every message I sent or received that year, but also add specific tags like “Receipt” or “Personal” to each message. Not only can I search for messages by a specific tag, I can cross-reference them and find all my receipts from 2013.

My problem with tags is the gigabytes of email that I received before tags were invented. I find the “search” functions in my email clients far more useful. If your business’ record-keeping is mission-critical[3] you may consider tagging your incoming email[4].

Folders

I love folders. I’m not ashamed of it. I’ll proclaim it loud from the rooftops. Tags are cool. They’re new and shiny and Apple wants us to use them. But I find the rigid hierarchy of folders comforting.

I think it’s easier to sort into folders. I rarely need to attach a single email to multiple categories, and if I do I can accomplish it through nesting the folders[5].

I like the feeling of knowing “where” something is[6]. All my podcasts are archived into folders. My photos live in folders. Nothing on my computer is tagged.

Even if it’s a giant “Archive” folder[7] that I frequently search, I like to know it’s all there somewhere. Tags just don’t fit the way I work.

What Should You Do?

Different things work for different people. If tags sound interesting to you, give them a try. Add some tags to your email app and let the app auto-apply those to some of your incoming messages.

If the thought of multiple tags stresses you out, sort your email into folders. Put together some rules to auto-sort your incoming messages so you can find what you need quickly.


  1. Gmail calls them “Labels”.  ↩

  2. Both services offer folders as a way of sorting as well. More on that in a moment.  ↩

  3. If you’re a doctor, lawyer, or accountant for example.  ↩

  4. Find an intern to tag your archived email.  ↩

  5. You can get away with this if one category is a subset of another: “Bananas” can’t go in the “Beef” folder, for example  ↩

  6. Look, I know it’s just bits on a magnetic platter. It’s just a metaphor, OK?  ↩

  7. Where most of my email lives  ↩

Thinking Through Email: Limit Your Intake

We’ve been taking an in-depth look at email over the last couple of weeks. We took a look at what it really is[1] and thought through how to mitigate it’s more distracting qualities[2].

Turning off your notifications will help you focus on your other work instead of being pulled away every few minutes to deal with an email. But what about when it’s time to actually process your email? What if working on our inbox is a 3 or 4 hour task?

I have two main suggestions in that case: reduce your intake and take advantage of automation. We’ll deal with intake in this post, but before we do, let me suggest that you find an email application that will do some of the heavy lifting for you.

Apps like Mailbox, Inbox from Gmail, and even Apple Mail and the Gmail web app have features that will automate a lot of the details of processing email. Take a few minutes to explore some of the features of third party email applications and find something that will work for you rather than limit you.

Cut it Out

I find it easier to put off checking my email when I know there’s a lot in there. When I get back from vacation my inbox often sits untended for days before I can talk myself into working on it.
I can justify not dealing with my inbox if it’s going to take me an hour or two to process.

We get a lot of email. We get a lot of email we don’t need. We get a lot of email we don’t need that we don’t have to get. The best solution is limit what comes in on a daily basis. Do you need constant updates on birthdays and anniversaries? Are you still getting social media notifications in your email?

Turn off as much of the automated garbage as you can. It just sits there and it makes your inbox seem more daunting than it really is.

How I handle it

I get a lot of email because I do a lot of things online. Email quantities build up quickly when you sign up for new services or join new communities online. If you signed up for email updates from that cool new blog you found, you’re probably getting three or four new updates a week.

Every few months I take a hard look at the emails I’m getting. Am I reading them all? Is this important to me? Do I care about baking the best pies or was I just buying my mom a cookbook?

As I check my emails across a span of several days [3] I think “Will I read this or am I archiving or deleting without reading?” If I read the email I’ll keep it this time around. Otherwise it gets moved to the Spam folder and I click the “unsubscribe” button.

What Can You Do?

Think about what kind of emails you really want to receive. Which are the ones that make you want to check your inbox and which help you talk yourself out of it?


  1. Emails are really memos, and as such they excel at some tasks and fail at others  ↩

  2. But for real, if you haven’t turned off notifications on your phone and desktop, you need to do that right now. Well, finish reading this, then go do it.  ↩

  3. It takes several days because most email updates don’t come daily.  ↩

Thinking Through Email: Turn Off Notifications

Email is tough. In the last post I wrote about why we have such a hard time with it, why we’re so often overwhelmed by it. The root of the problem is that it wasn’t built for the things we use it for. So where do we start? How do we get it under control?

I have a couple of ideas I want to talk through, though it will take us a few posts to get through them. These ideas work well for me[1] and I think they’ll be usefull to you as well. They’re not all original. Others have written about so often that they’ve become common practice these days[2].

RELAX

We need to relax when it comes to email. The email alert on our phones and PCs[3] has us so conditioned that we turn to deal with the email immediately. This impacts the quality of everything we do, including email itself.

Consider turning off noticitations. Ignore the inbox when you work on other projects or take a break from your work. Check email a few times a day rather than letting your inbox dictate your focus.

Remember, emails are memos. We don’t get a notification every time someone places a note on our desks. That sheet of paper doesn’t bring the rest of your work to a halt. It waits until you have the time to deal with it.

The more we let incoming email dictate our work, the more scattered and inefficient our work is going to be.

If It’s an Email, It’s not an Emergency

Think back on your last month or two of emails. How many times were you notified of an emergency through email? You may be in a position that invites that sort of email. But you’ll receive emergency notifications through a phone call, instant message or a text[4].

The key is that you have to convince yourself that it’s OK to not see an email the moment it arrives. If you feel you must, use priority options for your most important contacts. Both iOS and Android have a method to ensure some contacts can get through no matter what.

The Recommendation

Turn off your email notifications and deal with all your emails in bunches, rather than as they come in. You’ll be more productive as you clean out your inbox and less distracted when you work on other projects.

Our communication methods don’t own us. Email connects us to the people in our lives at home and at work. It’s a tool that we use to send information. It’s not an end, it’s a means.


  1. On the occasions that I’m disciplined in my interactions with email. I don’t have it together, I’m just trying to get there.  ↩

  2. If I need to attribute one of my suggestions here to someone in particular, let me know: machinecompatible@gmail.com.  ↩

  3. I mean in the Personal Computer sense, not the Windows Machine sense.  ↩

  4. If it’s a true emergency, you’ll probably get all four within minutes of each other.  ↩

Thinking Through Email

Email dominates our communication today. It consumes chunks of our work days. It frustrates everyone. But why do we have so much trouble with email? Why is something so essential to our work such a source of pain?

Let’s consider two reasons we get frustrated with email. First, we don’t understand what email is; second, they’re so darn useful we use them for everything. We’ll focus on the problems in this post and consider solutions in an upcoming post. So first,

What is Email?

Email grew out of an office environment. People at work designed it to solve work problems. Email was never intended to be the ultimate communication method. The memorandum was the dominant form of office communication, and we can draw a direct correlation between the two.

Take a look at the header from a memo I wrote for a class:

Heading from a memo turned in for a Seminar in Public Administration.
Heading from a memo turned in for a Seminar in Public Administration.

Now look at the header from a marketing email I got from Amazon this morning:

Header from a marketing email from Amazon.com
Header from a marketing email from Amazon.com

From, To, Date, and Subject. The format hasn’t changed at all. Our first problem with email is that we don’t understand what it is. No one would ever use a memo to set up a lunch date, or plan a meeting. We use memos to communicate agendas and minutes for meetings. We send them to inform an organization of upcoming policy changes. They are useful for transmitting information and awful for planning.

The Clash

Emails are memos in every way but one: email transmission is instant. It’s so tempting to shoehorn email into jobs it’s not suited for. How often have you tried to set up a simple meeting and found yourself trapped in an email chain?[1]. We’ve correlated email and communication such that we default to email.

The memo is useful for a lot of communication. Newsletters and marketing messages translate well to the format. We even send personal letters via email.[2]. But if we’re going to get our inboxes under control we need to find better ways communicate when the message doesn’t fit. It might be as simple as sending a text or (Heaven forbid) making a call.

Wrap Up

Before you send an email consider what you’re communicating. Are you informing or planning? Do you need a record or is the message disposable? Thinking before messaging can prevent a lot of headache on the backend.


  1. A Doodle Poll would solve that problem.  ↩

  2. Remember when we complained that email was so impersonal compared to getting a letter in the mail? I think the email header had a lot to do with that. It just felt wrong getting an message from Grandma with the same header as the memo we got from our manager at work.  ↩

App Crap: Colossatron

App Crap is a series of software reviews for Machine Compatible. It includes games and productivity applications, mobile and desktop applications, and web apps.

I ran across Colossatron from HalfBrick on the featured page of the iOS App Store a few days ago. It’s a fun combination of several different game types including tower defense, match-three, and snake. The player takes the role of the Colossatron, a robotic snake from outer-space bent on destroying the world.

Playing

The gameplay is straightforward. The Colossatron has 4 cities to destroy on each of 7 continents. Destroying every city on a continent will open that continent in survival mode allowing you to earn money and prisms. Play consists of adding colored pods to the Colossatron while it snakes it’s way across the screen. The pods will fire at the enemy’s on the screen automatically.

Red, blue, and yellow pods appear on the screen at random. Three pods of the same color will combine to create a stronger pod, and three stronger pods of the same color can combine a second time. Two pods of different colors can combine into a secondary color, purple, orange, or green. The types of weapons the pods contain will rotate every day. You can, however, unlock a particular weapon forever with prisms, the games premium currency.

Upgrading

A wealth of upgrades and power-ups are available including pods that provide passive bonuses. These include increased firepower and shields, as well as a Mega-bomb pod that clears all enemies from the screen. As mentioned above, players can unlock favorite weapons as well as upgrade their armor. Players can also choose a perk after each continent. These unlock special attacks and the ability to rearrange the Colossatron at will.

After destroying the 28 cities in the campaign, you can start a Prestige campaign. Prestige mode starts you at the beginning of the campaing. You’ll retain your armor upgrades, weapon purchases, and access to survival mode. Your perks are also reset and the enemy difficulty is increased.

The Results

Colossatron blends several varieties of casual games into a unique format. It’s a quick game to pick up and play, but provides enough depth to keep me interested. The game is free-to-play, and hits the sweet spot for that format. It’s fun to play for free, but offers some enticing upgrades for a reasonable price. If you’re looking for a new casual game to play and you’re tired of the same old genres, give Colossatron a try.

Check out Colossatron on the App Store: