Serious Statistics Programs Pay for the Fun Ones

Here is an article that explains how one of the four co-founders of SAS, a statistician, has an awesome job where the serious product (SAS) pays for him to develop the fun product (JMP).
Note: That is an understatement, as it probably would pay for him to stare at the ocean for the rest of his life if he wanted. It is still a good point, though: sell serious stuff to pay for the fun (for you) stuff.

You Might Be Better At Business Than You Think

From this post:

The talk was simple. Come up with a product, charge money for it, make more money than it costs to run it, and you turn a profit! This is the formula that’s been in place since business began. Yet in front of a group of new tech entrepreneurs it seemed like a revelation, a brand new story never told before. [The presenter] said people were coming up to him in droves after the speech thanking him for opening their eyes. Who closed them?

This sounds pretty surprising; isn’t stuff like this covered in the “Business 101” textbook?

Why the iPhone Can Be a Hard Sell

In order to purchase an iPhone in the USA you need to sign up for a 2 year contract with a cellular phone vendor. That seems like a relatively fair deal: Apple gets their money, the cell phone vendor gets their money, and you get an iPhone. Part of the deal is that the phone is locked to this particular cell phone vendor; this means that if you want to put a SIM card in the phone and actually make calls with it, then it will only work with this one vendor. This seems unfair but it is still acceptable; Apple makes the rules and we play by them. There is one more catch, though; the only way that you can ever upgrade the software on your iPhone is if you have an active SIM card with the cell phone vendor.
The implication here is that if you want to keep using your iPhone past the two year contract, where using it means keeping it up to date with the most current operating system, then you must continue your contract with said cell phone vendor! This is unacceptable. You might wonder why you would bother to keep using your iPhone after the contract expires, and you should. Well there are two very good reasons:

  1. You bought a new model if iPhone and you want to use your old one for music only (or perhaps your spouse/partner/children/friends want to use it).
  2. You are using your old phone for development purposes.

Ideally, the iPhone device would function like most other computers and allow you to install future software updates on them without interference. Even if it were locked down to Apple software only that would be totally acceptable. The current model really makes me cringe when I think about the money you would have to waste just to use a 2 year old device; I guess this explains why so many old iPhones are always up for sale on the sales boards. One other thing to note, if said cell phone vendor is teleported off of the Earth by aliens, then you are left with a multi-thousand dollar cell phone that will not work; since it only works with said vendor. Of course, Apple would have to deal with this, but what if Apple is teleported off of the Earth? Again, you are left with a useless multi-thousand dollar cell phone that will not work. What a rip off.
The reason why the iPhone can be a hard sell is that despite the fact that they are selling it; you can never really buy it. It is really a leased device; if you want to maintain it you need a cell phone contract. Fortunately for us there is an amazing device that is just as powerful; the iPod Touch!
Note: People report that you can “activate” your phone using any active SIM car from said vendor; but this is not stated anywhere officially and can’t be counted on in the future.
Note: Here is an excerpt from a conversation I had with the cell phone vendor’s support where I was trying to learn more about how the iPhone works with them.

Grant: If AT&T goes out of business, I would be left with a cell phone
that I could not use right?
Rhonda: Apple and [vendor] have an agreement to have [vendor] be the exclusive
carrier for their device. If something should happen to [vendor] and we no
longer provide service, I am sure that Apple would move the devices to
a carrier who would. I can not see that happening but I am sure it
would be worked out.
Grant: What if Apple goes out of business?
Rhonda: Currently the iPhone is programmed for use with [vendor]. The
iPhone software is updated and maintained thru iTunes so I would not
be concerned about having a device that couldn't be used.
Grant: Re #3, I am confused about what it means to use and activate
and update the device and stuff.
Rhonda: The iPhone does not function without Active service.

Maybe Java and C# are the F-16 of the IT world

Emerging Technologies
The U.S. Air force Air Demonstration Squadron , also known at The Thunderbirds, started out in 1953 flying F-84 Thunderjets. The F-84 had been flown for the first time in 1946. In 1955 they upgraded to the F-84F Thunderstreak. One year later they broke the sound barrier with the F-100C Super Sabre, which they stuck with for 14 years. In 1969 they switched to the F-4 Phantom, which had made its maiden flight 11 years earlier in 1958.
In 1974 they responded to the gas crisis by flying T-38 Talon. It was sort of like the Toyota Prius of jets at the time. After a control stick failure in 1982 caused the death of four pilots, they upgraded to the F-16, which they have been using ever since.
Now the point is that in the early days of jet technology, frequent upgrades were necessary to take advantage of the advancements, but the F-16s work just fine and they are content to fly an aircraft that made its first flight in 1974, 35 years ago at the time of this writing.
Maybe Java and C# are like the F-16 of the IT world.
In the nineties we went from text-based applications to GUI applications. From structured programming to object oriented programming, from compiled code to byte code, from desktop applications to web based applications, and eventually to ”enterprise applications”. And that is where we are today. Sure, we have new frameworks and a few additional tools like Hibernate and AJAX. The F-16s have upgraded avionics and weaponry too. But we are still flying the same basic airframe.
As the technology has stabilized, our skills don’t decay as quickly. This is good for people who are slow learners, but it means that movers and shakers may not have the same opportunity to be a rock star that Windows programmers had in the early nineties or web developers had in the late nineties.
So where do we go from here?

— Zachary Schmidt
Good question.
In the late nineties and early 2000s it was an exciting time in IT. People were learning a lot about object-oriented programming and different styles of running software projects. Things have settled down though, like Zac explained. I had always assumed that everyone, having ramped up on the current technologies, would be spending nights and weekends ramping up on whatever might end up as the “next current technologies”. That really hasn’t happened though.
Where do we go from here? Perhaps it is functional programming, but I don’t have any strong opinions here. Rather, I would share that where we ought to go from here is towards smarter programming with powerful languages. IT is generally lacking in both of those things today; and addressing them would save time and money.

Orbitz detects known customers and increases their prices

Someone told me a few months ago that Orbitz will detect and raise prices for some customers. It didn’t occur to me to check this until last night. I found a good deal on Orbitz for a hotel+car package, but looked around the web for better deals. After a few minutes, I reran the search on Orbitz and the same deal came up $200 more expensive. I fired up IE’s InPrivate browser and tried again. Now the original, cheaper price showed up. I reran the search in a previous browser and still got the $200 extra charge. Because I lack an MBA, I don’t understand how screwing your frequent customers is a good business tactic. I’ll be searching Orbitz and other travel sites using InPrivate or InFilter mode from now on because I don’t trust their prices anymore. If more people find out about this, people will lose trust in Orbitz and use it less frequently. I suggest people use a different browser or computer to verify that you aren’t getting screwed on prices, particularly package deals.

— Pinku
(via pinku)

iPhone Barcode Scanners and Boosting Innovation

Here is a good article about a barcode scanner library for the iPhone. One interesting thing is that the imaging library used in the app is available in a SDK sold by the company.
It seems that the application is meant to drive sales of the API.
I suppose this is not a new idea, but I have never done something like this so it was new to me :).
Seem interesting?