September 21st, 2014

Of Amazon and Watches

I really liked this article:

https://a16z.com/2014/09/05/why-amazon-has-no-profits-and-why-it-works/

It has a really interesting theory about Amazon continually having virtually no profits or losses quarter after quarter after quarter despite having massive changes in the maturity of existing businesses and brand new, rapidly growing business. I had never given this aspect of Amazon any thought. I have a pretty orthodox growth perspective on Amazon: they are growing. They are growing as fast or faster than anything else I might put my money into. So I'm in no hurry to experience the massive tax consequences of getting out of Amazon in a big way and then finding something else to invest in. Instead, I have been, and will continue to for decades to come, slowly get out of Amazon -- I'll wrap up around the time the Zon's fearless leader and I are both ... old. I think of it as either a commitment to a very long roller coaster ride, or a bet on El Jefe. At any given moment, one or the other or both are true representations of my motives.

I so liked this article that I thought, hey, Andreesen Horowitz often as not produces completely hare-brained stuff. Who is this Benedict Evans and how consistent is his analysis?

http://ben-evans.com/benedictevans/2014/9/15/ways-to-think-about-watches

This is nice. I think he oversells this point:

"If you tell the young people of today this they won’t believe you, but in the mid 1990s most people thought that mobile phones were an expensive niche product without mass-market potential. We already had phones, and pay phones, so why would you need this other thing?" But I was living in Seattle and working at Spry and Amazon during that time frame, so it makes sense that I'd feel like I was surrounded by people who took mobiles for granted -- even if most of the world was some years behind on the curve. I got so freakishly far out on the curve that I bought a Treo phone in the early 2000s. On road trips, I'd pull it out with my folding keyboard and ... where was I?

Okay. So Evans doesn't mention payments. The _first comment_ mentions payments. At the risk of flagellating a deceased equine, I'm going to do background now. We go to Disneyworld once or twice (this year three times) a year. The last few trips have involved Magic Bands, which are basically the wristband (waterproof and fairly durable) RFID equivalent of the Key to the World cards that people staying on property had grown accustomed to. They have profoundly influenced our experience of The World, both Disney and the regular old world we live in year round. Once upon a time, I didn't think of wallets as inconvenient, even though I often found my wallet inconvenient. I didn't think of payment cards as inconvenient, even thought I often found myself cursing how long it was taking to get one out or stuff it back into place, often with a paper receipt (btw: curse you paper receipts!). It didn't occur to me that the amount of time I spent waiting in line to pay, the amount of time I spent paying, then the amount of time I spent waiting for the goods (popcorn, a cold drink, merch, lunch) to be delivered -- those time frames have relationships to each other and those relationships are not Ordained By a Deity. Specifically, the mental tradeoff of whether or not to bother getting the merch or popcorn often depends on just how long it will take that line to move, in turn, depending heavily on time to complete payment. (Lunch is really interesting, because you can _see_ the change because the line no longer "fits" into the various elements of the queue -- the payments are processing that much faster vs. the kitchen.)

R. and I spent a bunch of time trying to figure out who could deploy wristband payments. It gnawed at me that it might be something that never got clear of resorts. This beautiful thing might be trapped like level loading public transport, because of costs that make no sense when you aren't on vacation. Then I thought, Apple! Apple could Make This Happen. But for all the talk of a coming Watch, and for all that there were watches and NFC phones and cases and etc. already in existence, no one seemed at all interested in making it possible for me to pay by holding my wrist next to a terminal.

Which is irritating. Every person I _KNOW_ has misplaced card or a wallet or something, at some point in their life. If it was _strapped to your wrist_, that would be a lot harder to do. We're freaking selling multiple brands of RFID tags and subscription services to fix this problem. GIVE ME A DAMN WATCH THAT I CAN PAY WITH.

Then Apple announced and Apple Gave It To Me! I have to wait. My contract isn't up until May. The Watch won't be available under the new year. Etc. But I can see the Holy Land and I'm not even standing on a mountain.

And this amazingly brilliant guy is musing on how it's just not obvious what the killer app for the watch is going to be. I'll tell him what it is, in all three parts.

(1) Every person who ever was in a meeting that they would leave if they got a certain phone call would rather not announce that by putting their phone on the table next to them. And every parent whose kid might have trouble in school that day is that person, which is a lot of people.

(2) I know you all quit with the watches because you could always check the time on your phone. And you all have cracked screens. Enough said.

(3) Payments.

Evans is right about the watch having to look right. And it was great to see that articulated carefully and thoughtfully. He's a smart guy. And that means that I might be really, really, really wrong about whether everyone is going to love wristband payments as much as I do. Time Will Tell.

The connected house

There's this "thing": "The Internet of Things". It has a bunch of sub-"things", such as wearables, and the "connected house".

I forget the details of why I decided to buy a Nest thermostat (probably to do with the opacity of programming the damn things and constantly having to adjust them manually: http://walkitout.livejournal.com/1075502.html And indeed, I adjust the Nest 'stats a lot less. Also, I love love love being about to tell the house to warm up or cool down on the day we return home from a trip but hours in advance of our arrival). We also experimented with a wifi garage door opener that you can access through a keypad or a phone app (mixed feelings about this: super awesome to be able to let a repair person in when you can't be there Right That Minute. Super UN cool that there has been an intermittent mystery open problem that forces us to lock it closed more often than I would prefer).

More recently, R. (I'm sure he regrets this) mentioned someone at work looking at who was at their front door -- while they were at work. I thought, cool! We should get cameras. But then I thought, wait, where would we mount them? I don't want to muck up the look of the front of our house.

Which led me to connected doorbells. There are a couple (I've ordered the SkyBell) that wire into standard doorbell wiring, but also will let you look through their camera (whenever you like!), alert you whether the bell is rung or not, based on motion sensor, infrared for night time -- and all through your phone app.

We have a slight problem. The doorbell is mounted in a place where the SkyBell might not fit. So we shall have to see. But if you're wondering what idiots are participating in the Connected House part of the Internet of Things, apparently I am one of Those Sheep.

ETA: If you are wondering, no, we haven't gotten into any of that control-interior-lights-TV-etc. using-motion-sensors stuff. If you have, I'd love to hear the details.

guess I didn't really need to go shopping

I went to the local consignment store for a costume for T. about a week ago and got something that matched what he said he wanted -- he even liked it when it got home. So that was pretty amazing.

This Saturday, they put out all the winter stuff, so I've been thinking I should wander around, figure out current sizes and what might work from last year and what needs to be replaced.

And wow, partly because I had to replace some stuff midway through last winter, everything looks like it is basically a workable size going into this winter. I bet that won't last. Maybe I'll see what they have in the next size up . . .

Spotify: one of the worst offenders in account management

I was foolish enough to sign up with gmail early on using firstname.lastname as my username. Other people have the same firstname and lastname and some of them sign up for services on the web using my gmail address. I unsubscribe from _a lot_ of stuff. Sometimes I wind up having to take over an account in order to get account related emails to turn off.

Spotify has turned out to be remarkably horrible! I sent them email asking them to shut it down.

"Hi. I started getting email from spotify. So I did a password reset to access the account. Now I am asking you to remove the account. Thank you."

They replied with this:

"Hey!

Thank you kindly for getting in touch about this.

I'm sorry to hear you want to remove your account. I'll be able to help you with this, I'll just need to confirm a few details first. Could you please get back to me with;

1) Your date of birth
2) Your Postal/ZIP code

I'll look out for your reply! :)

Kind regards,

Sonny"

So, a service I didn't ever sign up for makes it impossible to unsubscribe from their emails without taking over the account (or at least I couldn't figure out a way to do that). So I took over the account, asked them to shut it down, and they want my DOB and zip in order to shut it down.

No, thank you. I did actually reply to them explaining in more detail -- since they didn't understand the first email -- what I had done and why, and that I didn't care whether they shut the account down or just scrubbed the email from it, but I wanted at least one of those things to happen.

Oh, and then they asked me to answer a survey regarding their customer service (which I filled out).

Hi, Spotify!

You are loathsome. Change your account set up process to round trip the email address to make sure the person setting up the account isn't making a mistake (or intentionally spamming someone, which I do not believe occurred in this case).

To re-iterate: spotify wasn't one of the worst for allowing this to happen. But their customer service process after allowing this to happen _is_. Also, as is always the case with a two-tier online service, never, ever, ever pay any attention to the free account number. Because that thing is a farce.