Archive: Sep 2008

The Gates Foundation

Say what you want about Bill Gates in his Microsoft avatar, but he is the most impressive philanthropist. By far.

The Gates Foundation is not futzing around handing nickles and dimes to every worthy cause out there. They are focused on the big picture – solving real issues (health) that affect millions if not billions of people.

In our lifetime, they will be responsible for eradication a major disease. That is just… mindblowing. It is humbling and empowering and gives me so much hope that money, used effectively, can have an incredible impact in the philanthropic realm.

Thank you Bill Gates.

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Microsoft founder Bill Gates gave $168.7 million to develop vaccines for malaria, part of $3 billion in funding announced on Thursday to tackle Africa’s biggest killer disease.

Gates said the funding for the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, in conjunction with GlaxoSmithKline Plc, will support “next-generation” vaccines research to find longer-lasting protection against the mosquito-borne disease.
Gates gives $168 mln for malaria vaccines research – Yahoo! News

Adjusting to NYC

The Times has an interesting article about new settlers to NYC.

Newcomers suddenly realize either that the city is not working for them or that they are inexorably becoming part of it, or both. They find themselves walking and talking faster.

I went through a lot of the ups and downs after moving to the city, loving it on some days and hating it on most others. Moving from California was emotionally hard – gone were the open spaces, the greenery, the ability to be cocooned in my car as I drove along scenic 280 to work. New York was in my face. All the time. From the moment I stepped out, I was swamped in the sea of humanity. The subway was even worse and the concept of personal space was redefined.

But, much like the article talks about, there was a tipping point – where there was more to love about the city than to dislike. And even the things I disliked, I got used to. I learned to navigate the insane pavements – I got annoyed at the tourists who walked while looking up, shook my head at the newbies who walked three or four-across on the sidewalks; I became comfortable on the subway; I even find the people helpful! In fact, I’m so far gone that I feel pride at how cool the city is and defend it to the nay sayers.

“Every day you encounter situations where you have to step out of your safety zone, and it’s really kind of a self-discovery experience,” she said. “I see myself fighting it, but I also I see myself, every day, becoming a New Yorker.”

And that’s the reality – every day, I see myself becoming more of a New Yorker. And it is a pretty good feeling.

The apps make the phone

I caved and got an iPhone. No, I didn’t get AT&T and lock myself into their egregious pricing and business policies. A very kind friend upgraded to the 3G and donated his 1G 8MB phone to me! It is unlocked and worked on T-Mobile (and will work with any SIM card I so choose).

The form factor is great. Sleek and elegant. I miss the keyboard, but not terribly since the predictive typing is excellent. What makes the phone is the software.

My smartphone journey started with the Blackberry in 2002. It was an incredible email device and everything synced with my work needs – contacts, calendar etc. In 2005, searching for more functionality, I switched to the Treo. What was great about it was the Palm OS and the plethora of apps available. I had a very customized alarm clock, the NYC subway map in the palm of my hands and a whole load of little games to keep me occupied.

But the Treo’s form factor was terrible – it was just too huge. And it handled media relatively poorly. Especially music.

The iPhone is like the Treo on steroids. The form factor is great, the integrated music, videos and photos are excellent and most importantly, the apps make the phone.

Right now, I have a whole bunch of apps on it that I could not imagine living without – organizational apps, to-do apps, location-based recommendation apps, games, the much loved NYC subway map… I basically walk around with almost all the critical data that I need while mobile.

But… while the apps are great, the basic OS is merely acceptable. It is slow – when I hit the SMS icon, it takes a while to load up the messages, same with address book and other apps. It doesn’t offer basic functionality – like the much talked about cut and paste, and most importantly, it is locked to AT&T and Apple continues to spend valuable resources ensuring the lock stays is place.

What this means is that if Google does a halfway decent job with Android1, there is a market that is ready to switch over. Give me a solid OS, an app store that is truly open and multiple carriers and I would switch. Now, the device has to be sleek, but I’ll even live with a slightly bigger form factor if I don’t have to constantly worry about bricking my phone.

Treo started the trend, but dropped the ball. It will be interesting to see who fulfills the promise in the long term.

Image courtesy this Wired article. Wired and Leander Kahney own all rights.

  1. No, Windows Mobile will not cut it. I’ve tried it and it is potentially the worst mobile OS in history! 

Sarah Palin – the mandatory post

Everyone is talking about her. Everything that’s needed to be said has been said. So, I will just point you to the the best article I’ve read on the woman.

It is by one of my favorite reviewers, Roger Ebert. I didn’t know Ebert wrote on politics. One could ask – why is he qualified to do so? Why are any of us qualified? Have you seen all the bloggers pontificating on the topic?! 😉

It is brilliant. So brilliant that I am reproducing it in its entirety below – the bold emphasis is mine.

The American Idol candidate1

By Roger Ebert

I think I might be able to explain some of Sara Palin’s appeal. She’s the “American Idol” candidate. Consider. What defines an “American Idol” finalist? They’re good-looking, work well on television, have a sunny personality, are fierce competitors, and so talented, why, they’re darned near the real thing. There’s a reason “American Idol” gets such high ratings. People identify with the contestants. They think, Hey, that could almost be me up there on that show!

My feeling is, I don’t want to be up there. I want a vice president who is better than me, wiser, well-traveled, has met world leaders, who three months ago had an opinion on Iraq. Someone who doesn’t repeat bald-faced lies about earmarks and the Bridge to Nowhere. Someone who doesn’t appoint Alaskan politicians to “study” global warming, because, hello! It has been studied. The returns are convincing enough that John McCain and Barack Obama are darned near in agreement.

I would also want someone who didn’t make a teeny little sneer when referring to “people who go to the Ivy League.” When I was a teen I dreamed of going to Harvard, but my dad, an electrician, told me, “Boy, we don’t have the money. Thank your lucky stars you were born in Urbana and can go to the University of Illinois right here in town.”

So I did, very happily. Although Palin gets laughs when she mentions the “elite” Ivy League, she sure did attend the heck out of college. Five schools in six years. What was that about?

And how can you be her age and never have gone to Europe? My dad had died, my mom was working as a book-keeper and I had a job at the local newspaper when, at 19, I scraped together $240 for a charter flight to Europe. I had Arthur Frommer’s $5 a Day under my arm, started in London, even rented a Vespa and drove in the traffic of Rome. A few years later, I was able to send my mom, along with the $15 a Day book.

You don’t need to be a pointy-headed elitist to travel abroad. You need curiosity and a hunger to see the world. What kind of a person (who has the money) arrives at the age of 44 and has only been out of the country once, on an official tour to Iraq? Sarah Palin’s travel record is that of a hopeless provincial.

But some people like that. She’s never traveled to Europe, Asia, Africa, South America or Down Under? That makes her like them. She didn’t go to Harvard? Good for her! There a lot of hockey moms who haven’t seen London, but most of them would probably love to, if they had the dough. And they’d be proud if their kids won a scholarship to Harvard.

Palin is a shallow, chirpy person with those vaguely alarming eyeglasses. Now her fans all want a pair. Remember back when women wore glasses that departed their ears in plastic swoops and swirls? My theory is, anyone who wears glasses that look weird is telling me something I don’t want to know.

I trust the American people will see through Palin’s facade, and save the Republic in November. The most damning indictment against her is that she considered herself a good choice to be a heartbeat away. That shows bad judgment.

Please, please don’t talk about how other candidates who have run have had less experience. There is, in fact, no person who has run for office who has had less experience. Even Quayle had more!

  1. All copyright owned by Roger Ebert and the Chicago Sun Times 

Form and function

moma_contact_lens_caseA couple of weeks ago, I was at the MoMA design store in midtown Manhattan. I love that store since they have such innovative product designs across a spectrum of products.

I happened on this contact lens case and immediately fell in love. As someone who will likely have to wear contact lenses forever, the case is something I interact with every day. And contact lens cases are extraordinarily dull.

This case was so cute – bright, cheerful and shaped like eyes. Seeing it would brighten up my day for sure, so I bought it. Seven bucks. Fine. Most contact lens cases come free with solution or you get them from your doctor – seven dollars is therefore somewhat expensive for a case (even if it is not an expensive purchase in general – 1.5 Starbucks coffee!)

I went home and started using it. So cute… I did notice that since the base is colored, it is hard to see the lens floating in it, but I could live with that.

Then, last week, I needed to get my eyes examined. Knowing the doc would want to see me with my lenses on, I grabbed the case, planning to throw it in my bag. As soon as I picked it up and walked out of the bathroom, the fluid was sloshing over my palm. Huh. Weird. I grabbed a tissue and ran out of the door. Must have been an accident, right? No. Definitely not. By the time I got to the doc, the tissue was soaked and the lenses were in microscopic levels of liquid.

What is the purpose of a lens case? To keep the contacts in the solution. One presumes that the case should be movable while still fulfilling its goal for existence. This was a stunning failure. Thank god I found this out in a non-critical situation. What if I had traveled with these cases on a trip? It would have been a disaster.

I’m more than surprised that MoMA has these cases. Cute? Definitely. Filling the basic function? Absolutely not. And something that doesn’t work doesn’t deserve to be in the store.

Good design is where the form is exquisite while also meeting all the function requirements of the product. Incredible form with terrible function does not work for me1.

The same principle holds true in online design. Interaction design is the most critical aspect a website. If your site is super-pretty but a user can’t figure out how to get through the flow without falling out, there’s no point to it.

It always makes sense to start the question “What does the product need to accomplish”? In this case, it is to keep the contact lenses safe in the solution. In the case of an ecommerce site, it is to enable a frictionless transaction. Whatever the goal is, figure it out and make sure that there are no distractions along the way. Even if the site is ugly, if it enables the customer to fulfill her goal, it is infinitely better than having an pretty site that is hard to use.

The ideal solution, of course, is to have a product that can do both. Those are the products that deserve to be in MoMA’s design store.


UPDATE: Apparently I had a defective one. The new one I have has a seal that works. So, apologies to the MoMA and the designer. That said, the underlying point of the post holds – great design is when a product is exceptional at what it does with great design.

  1. For example, super-high heels are a completely failure in this regard and I refuse to wear them and suffer just because it makes me look better