My Brain’s Weakness for Plainness

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Tom Hulce as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Milos Forman’s 1984 film adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s play “Amadeus.”

A recent article in the Washington Post highlighted findings published this year in the Journal of Consumer Psychology which may explain why certain pop music is, well, popular. Citing such lyrical compositions as Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance.” George Harrison’s 1987 “Got My Mind Set on You,” and Megan Trainor’s “All About the Bass,” the Post pinpoints the repetition in each song and links the practice to psychological theories that roughly propose that “people are more likely to engage in a given behavior the less effort it requires.” And, if listening to music is effort (recall the film Amadeus, in which the Emperor observes that Mozart’s composition has “simply too many notes”), then the “less effort” that makes people more likely to engage can be translated to the number of times a phrase repeats (“Shut Up and Dance,” 12 times; “Got My Mind Set on You,” 20 times; “All About the Bass,” “bass” is repeated 40 times).

This sort of topic might be considered in the tech space, too, where making tough things simple might make things better. Conversely, introducing complexity, even where intended to promote additional consumer engagement, may have an opposite effect. Read more

“Best….Amazon Prime Day….Ever!”

red hots 2Unless you’ve been lucky enough to vacation someplace far away from the Internet and social media, you are all too aware that Wednesday, July 15, was the inaugural “Amazon Prime Day” across the globe. The retail behemoth created the day to celebrate its Prime service, which offers users free two-day shipping on all items, as well as access to a wide variety of audio and video content, for a $99 annual subscription fee.

On Prime Day, customers were promised access to dramatic one-day only sales on thousands of in-demand items. Amazon’s primary goal, however, was to have the day serve as a massive recruitment drive for their Prime service.

Within hours, the company was quick to tout the promotion’s success. “Amazon sold more units on Prime Day than Black Friday 2014, the biggest Black Friday ever,” a corporate press release boasted. “Worldwide order growth increased 266% over the same day last year and 18% more than Black Friday 2014.”

Amazon succeeded in significantly increasing the number of Prime subscribers, as well. “Thank you to the hundreds of thousands of new members who signed up on Prime Day, and our tens of millions of existing members for making our first ever Prime Day a huge success,” said Amazon Prime vice president Greg Greeley. “Customers worldwide ordered an astonishing 398 items per second and saved millions on Prime Day deals.”

Many in cyberspace were less than impressed, however. Twitter users took particular delight in skewering some of the more esoteric offerings, such as a 5 pound bag of red hots candy for only $13.59 (with free shipping!) or a 24” extra-long handled shoehorn for only $11.99.

Amazon moved 14,000 iRobot Roomba Pet Vacuum Cleaning Robots, at just under $300 apiece. “[I] bought two Roombas,” one particularly snarky Twitter user wrote, “and now I’m going to have them battle it out in my living room for my approval.” Read more

Amazon, Self-Driving Cars, Ride-Hail Service and the Franchise Four

mSSUtqe7OWRMI6imT7HmQ5AOn a shelf in my basement is a Hudepohl beer can from 1976 commemorating the Cincinnati Reds’ World Series victory that year over the New York Yankees. Somewhere else in the house (I hope) is a similar can that was issued when the Reds beat the Red Sox in 1975. In my basement, time remains somewhat frozen – the can on the shelf, a picture of Pete Rose being held at first in Crosley Field by Ed Kranepool of the Mets, a Wheaties box featuring Johnny Bench (the Reds would not win another series until 1990, when they went wire-to-wire in first place from the start of the season until the four-game sweep of the heavily-favored Oakland Athletics). And so it was somewhat jarring during last night’s All Star game to see Joe Morgan, one of Cincinnati’s “Franchise Four,” walk onto the field with cane.

This morning’s trade press offers additional images of how time marches on. First, Happy Birthday, Amazon! Amazon is celebrating its 20th anniversary by offering deals that are fancied to compete with Black Friday pricing. The “catch” is that buyers must sign up for Amazon Prime, but there is loophole there, too, that a user could invoke to avoid certain fees. Nevertheless . . . I have not purchased anything today, nor have I shopped for anything. What struck me, however, was how much Amazon has evolved from a bookseller to an electronics emporium to a place to buy Clorox wipes and camera chargers. And car parts. Of course, not everything for sale on Amazon is useful, or tasteful, and in this article from Wired, readers share some of the either more unusual, exotic, or simply useless things they have ordered on Amazon.

The other (second) news item that caught my eye was a concern that driverless cars will have a negative impact on municipal budgets that rely on traffic offenses revenues. Presumably, driverless cars won’t speed; hence, no speeding tickets (or, apparently, fabulous excuses for speeding). Some wonder whether this will affect the politics of driverless cars (or, more accurately, the politics of regulating them).

And, finally, a ride-hail service for the visually impaired. reports,

Most ride-hailing services, which connect passengers with drivers via a smartphone app, don’t have a feature for blind users. The world’s largest ride-hailing company Uber, which is in 250 cities in 57 countries, is currently being sued for allegedly denying rides to blind passengers with service animals. Gett, which is small compared to Uber — it operates in 50 cities worldwide — aims to distinguish itself by making its app accessible to visually impaired passengers.

Although phones themselves offer voice-activation controls, not all apps feature similar functions. Therefore, ride-hail services that rely solely on touchscreen interactions are often inaccessible to the visually impaired.

The new Gett app was launched last week in New York, the UK, Russia and Israel.


Will the Last Pay-TV Subscriber Please Turn Off the Set?

While things are hardly as dire for the pay-TV industry as my title might suggest, subscription numbers for the first quarter of 2015 are far from rosy. In fact, net pay-TV adds were the lowest they’ve been in ten years.

So says Leichtman Research Study Group in their most recent analysis of the pay-TV industry.

While the first quarter of the year has typically been the strongest for adding new subscribers (due, in large part, to holiday television gift giving), Leichtman reports that the top 17 cable and telephone companies added less than 10,000 net new video subscribers in the first quarter of 2015, compared to 250,000 adds in the same time period a year previous.

Phone companies were a bright spot among the top U.S. pay-TV providers, adding a combined 140,000 new customers in the first quarter of the year: Verizon FiOS added 90,000 subscribers, and AT&T U-verse added 50,000. DBS providers were down 74,000 subscribers, with DirecTV up 60,000 and DISH down 134,000. Cable companies were down 58,264 subscribers, with Time Warner up 33,000 and Mediacom up 1,000. Others more than counteracted these gains, however—Cable ONE was down 29,884 subscribers, Cablevision 28,000, Comcast 8,000, and Suddenlink 6,400. Read more

“In This Century, the Game Starts Over for the Countryside”

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His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General and Commander in Chief of Canada, delivers a keynote address.

Several weeks ago, I participated in the Intelligent Community Forum 2015 Summit in Toronto. I started the following post as I made my way back to DC, but held publication until I could pull certain of the data points raised in various panels. 

(Toronto) Twenty-four hours into the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) Summit and I have experienced the flip-side of preaching to the choir.

The ICF Master Class sessions are generally aimed at municipal leaders and are geared toward encouraging them to adopt and integrate broadband into more aspects of their community functions. If that sounds familiar, it is because a theme that is also promoted heavily at NTCA, particularly in the Smart Rural Community (SRC) initiative (applications, by the way, are due July 15). So, as various panelists and speakers have taken the stage here, I find myself nodding in agreement and thinking, “Finally, someone else see things through our lenses.” And, as importantly, articulates additional ways to explore and express the need for broadband throughout rural areas. Read more

If You Build It, They Will Subscribe

By deploying fiber further out into their networks, NTCA member companies are able to offer their customers higher broadband speeds than ever before, a recent NTCA member survey shows.

According to NTCA’s recently released 2014 Broadband/Internet Availability Survey Report, 45% of those respondents currently deploying fiber serve at least 50% of their customers using fiber to the home (FTTH), up from 41% last year. As a result, 83% of respondents’ customers are able to receive broadband service in excess of 10 Mbps.

The overall broadband take rate for survey respondents was 70%.  The most popular speed tier offered was 10.0 Mbps and above, the choice of 34% of responding companies’ customers, a dramatic increase from 8.5% last year.

Thirty-nine percent of respondents’ customers are served by FTTH, while 31% are served by copper loops, 18% by cable modem and 12% by fiber to the node (FTTN).

Seventy-four percent of survey respondents indicated that regulatory uncertainty remains a barrier to fiber deployment, second only to cost (92%).  Read more

Cyber-Security Redux (Re-Three?): Day Ain’t Over Yet

6a0120a85dcdae970b0128776ffd8b970c-piHours after I posted the article about NIST, New York Times reported that the St. Louis Cardinals face Federal investigation for allegations that the team hacked the Houston Astros. Sports commentator Jeff Passan quipped the story has a “Zeitgeist” quality to it:  “The best franchise in baseball allegedly hacks a team that has lost 100 games in three consecutive seasons and steals scouting reports, trade talks, and other proprietary data.”

The New York Times speculates that the breach may have occurred when Cardinals officials examined lists of passwords that Jeff Luhnow, currently the GM of the Astros, used while he worked for the Cardinals; Luhnow left the Cards in 2011, and has been joined by former Cardinal employees.

The Cardinals officials are believed to have used those passwords to gain access to the Astros’ network, law enforcement officials said.

That tactic is often used by cybercriminals, who sell passwords from one breach on the underground market, where others buy them and test them on other websites, including banking and brokerage services. The breach on the Astros would be one of the first known instances of a corporate competitor using the tactic against a rival. It is also, security experts say, just one more reason people are advised not to use the same passwords across different sites and services.

While the news of the past several days (Uber, Federal government, Cards) may be less than novel to security specialists (although the Federal government hack is fairly audacious), the publicity surrounding the stories is free advertising to those in the network security field.

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