Adrift America in 100 Charts ~ book review

Prof G’s latest book details the state of the country through 100 charts, each one powerfully presented and creating a lot of stroky-chin moments.

Scott Galloway’s latest book, “Adrift”, is not really a book in the traditional sense – its longest run of prose is maybe 3 pages. Instead the book is a collection of 100 thought provoking charts, with only the minimal of commentary preceding each one. The reason for this I can imagine is that the charts speak and deliver more of a punch any words could ever muster.

Due to this rather unique format, the book lends itself to being opened up and be instantly consumable no matter what page you land on. Though, for maximum impact, one should really read the charts in each section sequentially as they build the narrative, even though the sections can be read out of order.

The charts themselves are not difficult to digest, presenting data, in a variety of styles and formats to illustrate the growth or decline of the American economy.

Any frequent listener/reader of Prof G’s output will know he doesn’t pull any punches and is not scared to say the things we’re all no doubt thinking, but this time, backed with historical data. Statements such as “social media are enragement platforms” noting then in a number of charts, how our young are getting further isolated from one another, and how this is creating future societal problems. Or how major universities are hedge funds masquerading as educational intuitions, but being taxed as the former.

The book isn’t all doom and gloom, there is much hope and cause for celebration. As he noted “nothing is that wrong in American that can’t be fixed with what is right in America” (quote attributed to President Clinton) but to start the correction, one has to first acknowledge where the system is failing, where the inequalities lay, and how small changes can start to make a difference.

Well worth the read, and given its unique format, makes ideal toilet room material.

The Cold Start Problem ~ book review

Andrew Chen charts the rise of the some of the larger Internet companies whose value only increases through an increased number of users – the network effect.

The inside track on how the likes of uber, Tinder, eBay and YouTube gained traction to break free of the network effect; where the usefulness of the service grows only by the number of users using the system. Former uber executive and VC investor, Andrew Chen, charts through his first hand experience of the efforts that uber underwent to build up networks of drivers to service an ever growing userbase.

Chen had some interesting insights with respect to mobile deployments noting that “1 in 4 people abandon mobiles apps after only one use” and “Of the users who install an app, 70% of them aren’t active the next day, and by the first three months, 96% of users are no longer active“. This goes to highlight just how hard it is to capture a userbase, and how you have only a few moments to truly capture that first impression into a lasting user inaction.

Given my recent experience with Clubhouse (another Chen is invested in), I can confirm I am one of the 70% who couldn’t quite grasp the user interface to make sense of it. It was canned quickly.

Chen goes into detail on a number of sites, the classic cornerstones of the modern Internet, including eBay and YouTube. I knew the basic history, but I was surprised to learn YouTube started off as a dating site, and when that bombed, the founders, opened their platform to offer any content. Similar eBay, had a crisis of growth, and stepped away from its pure auction style when it introduced the controversial “Buy-It-Now” button, which now accounts for 62% of their total.

One recurring nugget that kept coming over as he went through the backstory of each company, was how often the original goal of what the founders were trying to solve, wasn’t what they ended up building and delivering. Many times, the product they are known and famed for, was an offshoot (Slack for example after a failed photo sharing site; Instagram after a failed online photo editing suite).

The book is packed full of these little anecdotes and ah-ha moments and written in a very accessible manner. As is common with books that attempt to sell a framework “the cold start problem“, it becomes repetitive in places, which allows you to skip over it. Instead if you read the book as an insiders guide to how some of the big players grew their network, then it sits very well as a high-level historical read.

Overall, well worth the read.

Movies/TV of 2021

Reviewing the Top 8 movies and TV series that made it to the top of my list during 2021.

Every year, I keep track of everything I watch and then give it a rating. I have been doing this for years on IMDB. 2021 was a slow year for me, only achieving 184 titles compared to my record year previous of 405 titles. While I keep track of my repeat watching, my top movies and tv will only be the ones that were released in 2021.

Top 8 Movies

Nothing this year knocked it out of the park and achieved a 10 out of 10. This was a little unexpected as there was a number of movies I was really looking forward to.

My top 8 movies of 2021 are as follows, with only Belfast (came out of no where), Red Notice (huge surprise) and No Time To Die (could have been better) getting 9/10.

Top 8 TV Series

There was a lot of binging this year of TV series, which does take time away from watching movies. The top one here, that had the whole family roaring with laughter was of course Jeremy Clarkson’s Farm, maybe even better than his Grand Tour series (which had some weak outings of recent). The second surprise hit was Kate Winslet in Mare of Easttown, which didn’t pull any punches. Naturally the BBC had a strong outing this year, with 3 hitting shows making it, each of them as good as the other.

2022 has started, and I have the “classic” Dwayne Johnson Doom playing in the background as I write this – bet you don’t realize just how much top talent there is in this big screen adaptation of the game.

If you don’t track what you are watching, then I advise you give it a whirl. You quickly forget what you watch, and when, and how good it was. I make a rule to never repeat a movie in the same year – unless its really good and I want to enjoy it in the company of others – and keeping track makes it easy to do that.

What is nice, about tracking your viewing habits, is the surprise you get when doing things like this reviewing the year, and what caught your attention.

My Top 2018 TV

My top 2018 list of TV drama’s.

And after looking at my 2018 movie list, here is the TV counterpart. Again, these are all new TV drama’s that have been given a 2018 release. The standout surprise (discovered by complete accident) was Kevin Costner in Yellowstone (basically Dallas with cows).

Notable continued series top output includes Outlander and Chicago Fire/PD. Sadly Counterpart has lost its way as it starts season 2. The big disappointment of the year is Dr Who – don’t really know where to begin with that postmortem.

Overall a good year for quality TV drama.

My Top 2018 Movies

This year, I kept track via an IMDB list of all my viewing output, rating each one out of 10, as and when I watched it.  While I tagged over 240 items, here are only the movies that, according to their IMDB rating was released in 2018.

I confess to being surprised by some of my end-of-year results, but as they say, data doesn’t lie.   The stand out movie, that I was hoping beyond hope would not be dire, did not disappoint, which was of course Bohemian Rhapsody.  The other movie I was pinning hope on was the sequel to Mamma Mia – and that did fail miserably, to live up to anywhere near the sheer joy the first one gave.  Finally, the most overrated movie was Black Panther – so many political undertones weaved into what was basically Avatar in Africa.

Overall, a great year for movies, lots of surprises, some great quirky comedies and mindless blockbusters (thanks Jason!).

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The Gemini PDA 2018; hands on review

After a few weeks of usage, learn what makes this Psion revival a wonderful addition to the Android smartphone world

Before there was the smartphone there was something called the personal digital assistant or PDA.  This was usually a miniature looking computer, complete with display and keyboard that would fit into your pocket and instantly be available for work as soon as you opened it’s case (back in a time booting a laptop was a coffee making moment).

Psion_Series_3aI was a huge fan of the original Psion organizer, with a particular fondness for the Series 3.  It was a revolutionary device for its time, combining the size of a modern day smartphone with a keyboard that was nearly-almost usable.  Ironically, or horrifying by today’s standards, it had no network connectivity.   You could shove an RS232 cable into it and transfer data (who remembers zModem??) or if you were a real trendsetter you could shell out for the original Psion modem to connect you on the move.   It is ridiculous to think of a device with such limitations, but 25 years ago this was the cutting edge in mobile computing.

Gemini PDASo you can imagine my joy when I learned of the Gemini PDA, from Planet Computers in the UK, that they had partnered up with the original designer of the Psion PDA to produce an Android version of the popular clam-shell PDA.   I put my order into the Indiegogo crowd sourced site just before January 2018 and patiently waited for my unit to be built and sent to me – hoping of hopes they would not hit any snags before getting it over the line.

They made it.  It arrived a few weeks ago and after spending some time with it, I feel I can speak to its strengths and weaknesses with a little authority.

2018-05-04-08-35-46.jpgThe unit itself feels solid and weighty.  Not weighty, but a quality heavy.  There was a familiarity to it that brought back a huge smile – holding it, sizing it up, felt like I was holding my original Psion.

Flip open the case, revealed the beauty that lay within – a high definition color display and a keyboard that was ready for even the fattest of fingers to start tapping.   Closing the case again, had that wonderful spring-clam magnetic feeling.

By all accounts this is an Android smartphone, with a keyboard permanently attached.  The unit came with 4G and WiFi, including a camera.  It had the necessary SSD slot to increase storage, bluetooth, USB-C charging and everything else you would expect from a modern day iPhone/Samsung device.

Getting started was quick and easy – popped in my SIM card from Verizon, logged in with my Google account and within 5 minutes, I was up and running with all my apps installed magically from the Google borg.

It just so happened that the week the device arrived, was when the World Snooker started, a 19 day event that captures me annually.   The Gemini PDA was now my snooker source, allowing me to test both battery longevity, screen resolution and speaker quality.

On the battery front, the Gemini PDA did probably better than my Samsung S9+, even though I was streaming over WiFi for most of the day.  While it lasted longer, I did note that it took significantly longer to recharge the device (now that said, I know the S9 has made big strides towards rapid charging so probably not a fair comparison).

2018-05-11 08.57.33.jpgThe screen was beautiful, crisp clear and responsive.  It is fully touched screen and didn’t have any issues with the usual pinch’n’zoom and all the usual pawing one performs on a smartphone.

The speaker quality sadly was a let down.  It sounded tinny with a complete lack of bass.  I thought it first to be just the BBC stream, but after playing many a YouTube video, it never got any better.   Though, pair it up with bluetooth speakers and no problems, so clearly the physical speakers installed are not the best.

But speaking of that, one has to remember that this device is retailing at $599, fully loaded. That is significantly less than the Samsung S9 or Google Pixel.  While it is easy to be a bit sniffy about various items, the price point I feel is pitched just right, cutting corners where needed.

2018-05-04-08-36-28.jpgIt comes with the latest Android which has been modded a little to accommodate the Gemini hardware.   There is a couple of Gemini specific keys that will pop up a utility bar with quick-access functions, this was handy, but frankly after a period of time, just got in the way.

Now for the keyboard.  The very thing that makes this device stand out from the crowd.

The keyboard is wide enough that you can’t use it with your 2 opposing thumbs, and you can forget about using it in one-hand.  Just not that type of device.   Once put on a flat surface, the keyboard comes alive.  Solid, follow-through, satisfying travel and click in each key button with instant feedback on the screen.   My fingers are of a slim nature that I could type relatively fast.  My only frustration with it, was the space-bar, it is offset from the middle a little that I kept missing it with my right-thumb. The keyboard is slightly smaller than my travel bluetooth keyboard I use with my tablet/phone but not small enough that makes it unusable.

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Overall the device is a wonderful addition to the smartphone world and while I don’t think there is a huge mass appeal, it will be useful for those that need more than just a media-player from their mobile device (oh did I say it is also a phone?).   I think the biggest issue with the device is that Android is just not geared up to be in permanent horizontal/landscape mode.  There are too many apps that just don’t know how to handle this viewing mode which has the knock-on effect of hiding a lot of in-app functionality.

While the device can by used in portrait mode, it feels so wrong when you hold it like that with a keyboard hanging off the side.

So setting that aside, I am a huge fan of the Gemini and the mission statement that Planet Computers are making with this device to the market place.  I hope they sell enough units to make them profitable and to continue development.  The company is still young and desperately needs more support from the community to help round out some of the rough edges that the more mainstream Android forums usually provide help with.

Overall, a wonderful nostalgic trip back to a time there was a real difference between a PDA and a phone, but not quite ready to become a single device to replace my current Samsung S9.   Instead, relegated to a secondary device to throw into the carry bag for long trips or meetings.

Solid machine, worth the money.