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Edward Tufte Books

Notes and Thoughts on Edward Tufte’s one-day seminar

Dr. Edward Tufte is doing his one-day seminar tour. I sent two of my team to attend on the first day in Austin, and I went on the second day in Houston. If that doesn’t send the message that I think this is a very worthwhile and valuable seminar, then let me be clearer: Dr. Tufte has been and remains the expert in data visualization and he not only keeps up with developments in this area, he explores it and expands it by doing his own developments.

The fee was $380, and includes all for of Dr. Tufte’s books, which cost $100 by themselves. I was not aware that these four gorgeous books were self-published by his own Graphics Press; gives my JoSara MeDia something to aspire to.

And I got all four of his books signed, so the geek fan boy in me is quite happy.Edward Tufte Books

There was no set delineation of the presentation, though in typical Tufte fashion there were handouts and suggested reading during the “study hall” period. I got there early, sat on the front row and had Dr. Tufte come down the row, introduce himself and ask what I did while signing the books. We talked a bit about medical records, EPIC (a large EMR company) and how faxes still dominate the medical field.

Besides geeking out with Dr. Tufte, what did I get out of it?

  • As always, adopted some suggestions for many of our apps, including thinking about the Media Sourcery workflow app as a box score (which it kind of already resembles) and taking my Grand Canyon map experiments into a video panning phase (which I tried once, but looks like the tools have improved).
  • Too often we hear our customers ask us to “dumb it down for the users.” Tufte continually reinforces the opposite of this, that users can handle the complexities, as he goes through his examples.
  • And, of course, his fundamental principles of analytical design (I listed seven, his book BEAUTIFUL DESIGN lists six…so maybe I created one!)
  • The “Tufte-isms” were great, thrown out frequently…so frequently I’m not sure I captured all of them. Quotes from Dr. Tufte are marked like this.

The outline below is my own, just to arrange my notes. They are here for my bad memory, and for your consumption.


TufteNoInscriptionsLike most of the world, Dr. Tufte is not a fan of Powerpoint. And the readings assigned in the study hall (more on study hall later) remind of a few of his standard recommendations:

  • Simplification is not the answer, users can handle complexity
  • “Clutter and confusion are failures of design, not attributes of information” (Envisioning Information, pg. 50)

Study hall had several assigned readings in the one hour time set aside, which Dr. Tufte roamed around, signing and talking. Also in the agenda is a set of “Special Interest Topics” (ten sections of these) and two selections of “Homework”. Wonder if I should set deadlines for my guys to get this done… :)

Information Examples

Dr. Tufte went through multiple examples of “information as the interface.” From the seminar page on his website:

Fundamental design strategies for all information
displays: sentences, tables, diagrams, maps, charts, 
images, video, data visualizations, and randomized
displays for making graphical statistical inferences.”

Example #1 – Stephen Malinowski’s Music Animation Machine (try it out at the link)

National Weather ServiceExample #2 – National Weather Service (the base site is linked to, but the site reviewed was a specific forecast, enter a zip code to see the particular page)

mentions little data, with no more little data graphics…which doesn’t force viewers to have to figure out graphs.

Everyone knows how to use, read and view numbers, words and simple graphics.

Tufte: “Minimize design-figuring-out-time, Maximize content reasoning time

A lot of data on one scrollable page. “Humans are good at scanning and recognizing what they are looking for” (example: finding your name on a long list of names)

Tufte: “Being read to from a Powerpoint, the rate of information transfer asymptotically approaches zero.” This guy is witty, eh?

Tufte: “Only two industries call their customers users: illegal drugs and software.” OUCH!

1st: view/eye, 2nd: scroll, 3rd: drill down

Example #3: Policy Story from the NY Times (old article, can’t find online)

Logo and author links show responsibility, accountability, credibility

There are 60 numbers in the story, no graphics, reinforcing the earlier point about that everyone knows how to use/read/view numbers and words…no need to get fancy.

Tufte: “Use experts to get the presentation/article out of your voice and into the experts voice.”

The graph in this article is terrible, sourced from a lobbyist group, with no defensible numbers.

Example #4: Health Article from NY Times (again, an old article). Dr. Tufte does like the NYTimes website, and uses them frequently in examples.

Main point here is a graph of charges vs. Medicare reimbursement. The graphic uses annotations on the graphic, which helps the reader to immediately know how to read the display.

Dr. Tufte continually emphasizing comparing corporate IT properties to Google News, Google Maps, NY Times and WSJ. “Put your IT material next to these. Aim high.”

Espn box score pageExample #5: ESPN.Com World Series page

Using the box score, one level down from the home page. An example of numbers and words, a table of lots of numbers, that is viewed all season for every game and has been for a decade. Great example….though the example he showed didn’t have the cool underwear ad that mine captured! Score!

Tufte makes a point about ordering by interest or mathematical order, not alphabetically.

He ends this segment with my favorite quote: “No matter how beautiful your interface is, it would be better if there is less of it!

How to give a presentation

From the seminar page on his website:

A new, widely-adopted method for presentations:
meetings are smarter, more effective, 20% shorter.”

  • Begin with a document – Paper has the highest resolution of any current medium
  • Every meeting should begin with a study hall – don’t make a big deal about it. Give attendees your document at the beginning of the meeting and ask them to read it. No one reads material passed out before a meeting. Use meeting time for the content.
  • Don’t touch every point in the document. Annotate.
  • Take questions. Take notes on the questions. Directly answer the questions.
  • Example: take a document with your symptoms and questions in to your doctor.

Dr. Tufte shows an Amazon article where they have no powerpoint, all meetings start with a 30 minute study hall. Quote on the article (not sure who to attribute): “Powerpoint is easy for the presenter, hard for the audience.”

Information Architecture

From the seminar page of his website:

“Standards of comparison for workaday and for cutting
edge visualizations. How to identify excellent
information architectures and use them as models and
comparison sets for your own work and for the work
of your contractors. Monitoring the designs of others.”

This section was a bit of a jumble, with various topics, but some excellent examples.

Covered scientific publishing, discussing how jargon is reduced as articles go from the back of Nature to the front of Nature to the more populist web sites and publications. Most people only read the abstracts (so true), and the abstract should state (like a thesis) problem-relevance-solution.

After a break, Dr. Tufte once again mentioned the woefulness that is government and corporate IT Dashboards. He referenced again the ESPN.COM box score page as a easily readable dashboard with tons of numbers as a “standard for comparison.”

The point of an information display – “To help thinking about the content

Example #1: NYTime Article with Annotated Linking

Tufte notes that NYTimes employs 40 “Graphics News Reporters.” Do not use plain un-descriptive lines, use annotations on lines. Also goes through a diagram on pg. 78 of BEAUTIFUL EVIDENCE which uses annotated lines in a diagram tracking SARS patients.

Example #2: Tim Berners-Lee, his original paper suggesting the Internet and linking

Tufte showed the manager’s comment that he originally put on top of Berners-Lee’s paper “Vague but exciting…”. And a good quote from the document, a hierarchy of nouns to the flatness of verbs.

Example #3: xkcd – over lap of items on the front page of college website on left side intersecting with items you really want to know…with only the college’s name in the intersection.

Example #4: Google Maps – again, enforces compare this with your workaday presentations, since everyone uses and knows how to use this seemingly complex app. Compare diagrams to Google Maps. Satellite view – overlay data on top of them.

Example #5: Popular Music chart (from pg. 90-91 of VISUAL EXPLANATION). I found a similar one online, it is shown to the right. It is a flat interface, Tufte showed an iPad version of it in a video and on screen which had the artists names clickable, playing their music with videos behind the diagram. Very cool.

Then he showed the Viz-A-Matic….a graph generate that showed what NOT to do.

Being a Spectator (consuming a presentation)

From the seminar page:

New ideas on spectatorship, consuming reports.
How to assess the credibility of a presentation
and its presenter, how to detect cherry-picking,
how to reason about alternative explanations.

Tufte: “A presentation or graphic should provide reason to believe.”

Tufte: “An open mind but not an empty head.”

Two things in presentations as a spectator – Content and Credibility

Watch out for Cherry Picking (which is not when a Houston Rocket stays back toward his basket waiting for a long pass) – picking only certain details to support points. Also, not linking to the source documents, and being in a “rage to conclude“.

Tufte: “Why go to a presentation whose conclusion you agree with?”

Measurements that are in presentations – have a sense of what is relative. See how the measurements are actually made; get out into the field. See directly. The fog of data will fall from your eyes. Tufte mentions when a chemical company was policing themselves, collecting water samples in clear water…”sampling to please.” People and institutions cannot keep their own score.

Search Google Images for data, the search results are not gamed like the normal Google text searches are.

Finale – Maps moving and Fundamentals

A little bit of talk about displays, and a demo of movie panning over very nice maps of the Swiss Alps. This is something I’ve tried to do with the Grand Canyon app, and I’ll try again.

Dr. Tufte also talked about Small Multiples and Sparklines briefly, but these are covered in detail in his books.

Dr. Tufte demonstrated a tool called “Image Quilts” by Adam Schwarz. It is a chrome plug-in/extension. I played with it, using my friend and artist Barbara Franklet’s images through a google image search.

Barbara Franklet Image Quilt

He closed with his Fundamentals. As stated in the beginning, there are six in the book, but I counted seven.

  1. Show Causality
  2. Make Comparisons
  3. Displays Should be Multi-variate
  4. Integrate All Modes of Information (text, numbers, images, videos, everything)
  5. Document (i.e., show sources)
  6. It’s all about content
  7. Displays are flat, but the world is not

Tufte: “move to web-based presentations. move away from flatland.”

I cannot recommend this seminar and these books highly enough.

Edward Tufte Signature

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 3.50.11 PM

TestFlightApp.com goes away February 26, 2015 – use new iOS 8 Test Flight App

IMG_1295The website we have utilized for beta testing of apps, TestFlightApp.com, shuts down on February 26th, 2015. All app testing will be moved to the iOS8 TestFlight app and managed through Apple’s iTunes Connect.

As a developer, and a user there are many more PROs to this than CONs. The new TestFlight app for iOS8 radically simplifies the process of beta testing apps.

In the old TestFlight.com, a developer had to:

  • invite users to TestFlight
  • get the user to register a device on TestFlight
  • take the UUID of the device and register it on developer.apple.com
  • put the device ID into a provisioning profile
  • use that profile to build
  • re-upload the build (or the new provisioning profile if that was all that changed) to TestFlightApp.com
  • distribute the build to designated TestFlightApp users

There were several places where that process could get stuck and could indeed go wrong.

With the new TestFlight iOS8 app, the steps are much simpler:

  • developer submits app (there are several steps involved here for developers, but they are basically the same as submitting an app to the app store. After Archiving, you “Submit” the app to a version on iTunes Connect that is marked “Prepare for Submission”
  • check the box for “TestFlightBetaTesting”Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 3.50.11 PM
  • select “External Testers” (this will not be visible until the app goes through Beta App Review)
  • invite the test user via email (does not even have to be their iTunes email, as Apple will do the mapping)
  • the users will be asked to download the TestFlight app (if they have not already done so)
  • the app will then be available for install from the TestFlight appIMG_0128
  • apps installed via TestFlight app will have orange dots beside them
  • users will be notified when new versions are availableIMG_1296

The device ID mapping is done by Apple. No changes in the provisioning profile are needed.

What else is different? Here are the cons:

  • No Android. Obviously, since Apple acquired them, support for this has been dropped. It was an advantage to have all testers and testing in one web site.
  • Beta builds only available for 30 days. After that time, the developer must submit another build.
  • No TestFlight SDK. The developer could including TestFlight’s SDK and get more data on what parts of the app the users was testing. These feature has not yet been moved over to the new TestFlight app (if anyone has found it, please let us know).
  • Wait for Beta App Review. Apps do have to be submitted for “Beta App Review”. The first time this is done, it can take a few hours to a couple of days. After that, it is quite quick, if the developer answers a question concerning the level of changes in this build (fewer changes do not apparently require an extensive review).
  • Issues with Gmail invites. We’ve run across one issue with invites receive in Gmail that were not able to acknowledge the TestFlight invitation and thus allow the app to be run under the TestFlight app.
  • Works only with iOS8. This is not as big an issue as it was. We assume Apple waiting until the adoption rate was high enough before discontinuing the Test Flight app web service.
  • If this is an upgrade to an existing app store app by the same name, the Test Flight app will write over it. The user will be notified of this with a alert notification. The user can always get the production version back via the app store.

Overall, the PROs far outweigh the CONs, and hopefully some of the other pieces will show up in the future.

Existing users can be exported from TestFlightApp.com into CSV files for import as external users on Apple’s iTunesConnect web site (where user management is now controlled). Detailed instructions here.

Cloud Storage Options (with pricing table)

There are several options for cloud storage with different pricing options and some slight difference in features. Pricing is changing quite a bit. The table below tries to show for a given amount of storage which option is the cheapest amongst the major players.

Note that I ignored the variety of promotions; for example, I received 50GB for free from Box when I installed their iOS client and signed up for an account in January. I did include extra space that the user gets when doing somewhat simple tasks (like inviting friends as DropBox provides).

I also did not include multi-user (cost per user per month) plans, as a lot of them state “custom pricing”.

There are other options out there like MEGA and BRIGHT COVE which I did not include yet in this comparison.

I’ve tried to note where there are other things which might impinge on the amount of storage (for example, the Google drive storage is shared by several applications.

For the color coding, Green is the best price for the amount of storage, Red is the worst.

For those of you that are more organized that I, take note that you can get a total of 44 GB for free by simply by signing up for all of these (5GB from Amazon, 10GB from Box, 2GB from DropBox, 15GB from Google Drive, 5GB from iCloud and 7GB from MS One Drive); but like your car keys, you just gotta remember where you put everything.

Everybody except DropBox offers at least 5GB for free; one would assume DropBox will change that soon. With recent announcements, DropBox also has the most expensive options in several tiers, so one would assume that will change as well.

Amazon and Google come out as the least expensive options the majority of the time.

I included the iOS 8 iCloud Drive pricing that came out of WWDC; with current pricing, Apple’s options suck…with the iOS pricing (which is not on a price sheet yet, but on presentations) they are actually competitive.

If you see any errors or changes, add a comment. This is from public pricing sheets (except for Amazon’s, which I had to login to find, and iOS8 pricing, which is only from WWDC presentations) as of July 6, 2014.

Long table after the break.


MobileprovisionProfile Screenshot

What time does an Apple provisioning profile expire?

For those of you that do not get the challenges of living in the Apple Developer world, a bit of background: To deploy an iOS app outside of the Apple App Store, either as a “beta” with an Ad-Hoc Distribution profile, or as an Enterprise with an Apple Enterprise Developer account, a Apple Provisioning Profile is required. This profile is built on Apple’s Developer Web site and requires a developer certificate (“trust” the developer!), a list of devices (up to 100) or the domain of the Enterprise (depending on whether this is for Ad-Hoc or Enterprise Distribution), and an app ID. This information is used to generate the provisioning profile, which is distributed along with the app to identify which devices are allowed to utilize the app.

For reasons only known to Apple, provisioning profiles, even Enterprise Provisioning profiles, expire once a year. Perhaps this is Apple’s way of ensuring that Enterprise’s keep up with their $299 annual fee to keep their Enterprise Developer License.

Recently, Apple extended the time validity of the certificates generated under the Enterprise Developer License to three years. But the profiles all still expire after one year.

This has spawned a huge marketplace for MDM (Mobile Device Management) solutions, used to help deploy (or redeploy, in the case of an expired profile) apps in an Enterprise.

It is easy to see what day a profile expires (it is visible on the device under Settings/General/Profiles, generates pop-up warning on the device, and it visible in your Apple Developer account page). But, because of a last minute customer call, we needed to know when would it really expire. This customer did not have an MDM solution, and, though we had built into our app and forced upgrade functionality, if the profile expires, the app stops working.

This is obviously a major issue with Enterprises deploying Apple apps internally. When given enough warning, it can be handled, even without an MDM.

Apple Provisioning ProfileBut, given less than 24 hours notice, what we really needed to know was not only the data, but the time the profile would expire.

When you build a profile, you need to get it into XCode (the Apple IDE) to use it. This can be done from XCode, or you can download the profile as a file, then double click on it and open it in XCode.

In other words, the profile (shown to the right) is just a file. It is in the format of a “plist file”, a properties list file.

Since we were trying to determine what time the profile expired, and we could not find that information anywhere, we decided to look into the file. We opened it with a simple text editor (right click, select “Open With” and select your favorite editor.

Most of it was quite easy to read, as plist files are XML. You can tell it is a plist file as it starts with this information:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC “-//Apple//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN” “http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd”>
<plist version=”1.0″>

The file contains the developer certificate, which is a long character string that looks like garbage. But after that data string, there is more information, including the follow nugget we had been looking for:


Not only the date, but the time (in GMT, or Zulu time).

Hope this helps anyone else who has the need to look for the same information. Obviously, the best practice is to avoid waiting until the last minute. But if you do, it is good to know how much time you have.

Google Glass

On being a Google Glass-hole

It’s not a very attractive phrase, but it does seem to be prevalent, and addresses invasion of privacy concerns.

And, yes, I have joined the ranks of Google Glass “Explorers”, Google’s name for folks interested enough to shell out an amount of cash larger than the cost of a fully loaded MacBook Air for the chance to test, play and develop.

There are several pieces that my company is working on that, for obvious reasons, I won’t divulge here. But I will describe my experiences, some good, some bordering on not usable.

Ordering was straightforward, there were several options of shades/shields, single and stereo earpieces if you don’t like the built in audio, and a few other odds and ends. It arrived quickly, intact from Louisville, KY.

Hinge and prism/screen

Fitting to one’s face is not intuitive, at least not for me. There are several videos online on how to do it, but I didn’t see one that said the screen (which looks like a prism in front of the right side) is actually on a hinge. Until I discovered that, the projection from the screen was always a bit out of my site, too far to the left. When the info on the screen is a bit out of focus, I found the somewhat obvious solution of moving the Glass (not Glasses, that’s a marketing no-no) forward or backward on my nose brings it into focus.

My Glass came with software version XE12. I connected it to my iPhone via the App Store Glass app, which is supported starting with XE12 (per the release notes). I have a Samsung Note 2 I plan to test with as well.

Battery life is a challenge…ok, it sucks. I’ll have some statistics I’ll add before too long, but it is back to the recent old days of “if you don’t remember to plug it in, it won’t last long.”

There are three ways to take photos, and taking photos is key to several things we want to do with Glass with company projects (and with some personal experimentation):

  • You can say “ok, glass, take a photo”. This works really well when you are around lots of people, if you want to be the center of unwanted attention;
  • You can tap the camera button on Glass.
  • You can wink, if you have this feature enabled (and you have software version XE12, as noted above)

The “Wink” feature has the most promise, as it is hands and voice free. But there appears to be a significant delay between when you line up your photo, wink, and then Glass takes the picture. You have to hold you head aimed on the subject, and have it framed. I’m going to try to measure the delay.

Videos are, by default, ten seconds, unless you hold down the photo button while taking a video. Then you have to tap the button again to stop (there may be another way to do this that I haven’t discovered yet). I took a video while power-washing the driveway; yes, that may seem a bit over the top, but training applications are certainly a big part of what Glass could help with…plus I wanted to show my son that under all that muck our old basketball stencil was still there. Video quality was good, but it took a while for the videos to get uploaded to the sync sport (at Google Plus), so it is certainly not close to an always on technology. The audio is pretty impressive, considering I had a gas-powered power washer going.

Getting the videos out of the Auto-Backup at Google Plus is currently a process that has too many steps. You cannot link to the videos. You cannot upload them from Auto-Backup straight to You-Tube (many people have been complaining about that for a long time). I’ll figure out a way to share the videos later.

From a development standpoint, there are currently two options: the GDK to run apps on Glass, and a Mirror API, which allows access to several programming languages and allows mirroring of certain information onto Glass from an app. That looks like the most promising route.

More next time.

Untappd on AppAnnie

The Psychology of UnTappd

If you haven’t heard of or used the app known as Untappd, you may not be a beer drinker. But the rise in Craft Beer brewing and drinking in America (see a good infographic here) has pushed many Americans out of their lager drinking malaise and into enjoying the multitude of tastes that are presented by the craft beer industry.

If they treated introductions like a MLM scheme, I’d own part of UnTappd by now :). And that is the beauty of the mixture of social media, location, goals/badges and history/statistics that UnTappd succeeds at: it is an app that you want to share, and after sharing, you encourage your friends to use. That psychology is what all social media type apps should strive for.

The app is simple: you have a beer, you log that beer in UnTappd. If you desire, you can include a ranking (one to five bottle caps), a location (from Foursquare’s massive location database), a picture (which, like all social media photo sharing can come back to haunt you) and a comment.

This app is free, and that, plus making it available on as many platforms as possible, is a genius move by the developers.  By simply giving users the means to track their beers, they are building a huge data warehouse of likes, dislikes and drinking characteristics (when, where, what type, with whom) that any brewery or pub/bar would be mad not to take advantage of. Breweries can register to manage their brand on the site here.

This is the opposite approach of the app which is leading in profits in May 2013 on the iOS App Store, Candy Crush Saga. Candy Crush is also free but makes revenue based on in-app purchases that help get through levels users are stuck on (note that one does not have to purchase anything to get through the levels, a user just needs patience…the fact that Candy Crush Saga is leading in revenues is a clear indicator that US app users want instant gratification and are willing to pay for it).

The appeal and staying power of the app is revealed in this chart from App Annie: since its release in October 2011, the app has stayed in the top 250 for Free iOS App Downloads and usually in the top 100. (chart after the break) (more…)

mid-2011 11" Mac Air vs. new 13" Mac Air

Apple Mac Air 13″ and Migration Assistant

I’ve had a mid-2011 11 inch Mac Air for two years. This was my first Mac laptop, and the size (perfect for traveling), the instant on and several other features sold me on it. I had Compaq laptops for my duration at Compaq (of course) and had meandered from Sony VAIO’s (good product) to ASUS netbooks before deciding that paying four times the cost of a Windows laptop might actually be worth it. It would be difficult at this point to convince me to go back to Windows (though I do keep a Windows desktop for some apps).

But I upgrade to the just announced Mac Air 13 inch for several reasons:

  • Size. Yeah, I know, I said that. But customers squinting at the 11 inch screen to see demos just didn’t get the point across;
  • Battery life. The new 13″ was spec’d at 12 hours of battery life. Running multiple apps plus XCODE and sometimes Eclipse just wasted the battery on the little 11″.
  • Performance. See above…sure, I could shut some apps off, but why should I?

My local Apple store, who I have a good relationship with, had the fully loaded 13″ (8 GB RAM, 512 Flash storage and the upgraded processor) in stock. My son’s big ole Windows laptop was giving him fits so he was the designated hand-me-down recipient of the 11″ Mac Air.

This lead me to try Apple’s Migration Assistant.

I have never been a big fan of automated migration programs. They either seem to miss a configuration (or several), don’t move all your files, or just plain don’t work.

In addition, I had three types of XCODE development profiles and certificates on my Mac: one set for Media Sourcery, one set for JoSara MeDia (our publishing company) and one customer’s (an Enterprise License that we develop under for them). Having just been through the un-documented gyrations of renewing and reissuing the one Apple Enterprise cert/profile, I was not optimistic.

However, after a false start or two, Migration Assistant blew my incredibly low expectations away.

It not only moved all my files, it:

  • moved all of the certs and profiles that XCODE requires, without any additional configuration;
  • moved all WiFi configurations;
  • moved browser history;

Except for the Microsoft Office license (yes I run Office for Mac, and will as long as my customers use it).

My main hiccup was when I first set it up, Migration Assistant projected a nice 75 hours for copying files over. That issue was attributed because Larry has too many WiFi networks at home, including a new one from an AirPort Time Capsule (more on that in another post). When I made certain that both laptops were on the same WiFi network, Migration Assistant projected a more reasonable 4-5 hours to copy everything over.

I let it run over night, and started getting used to a bigger screen (which isn’t easy…the 11″ is nice…the things we do for our customers). But, just for precautions, I asked my son not to delete anything on the old Mac for a while.

Gifting eBooks and apps – a step by step guide

My article on how to gift Kindle ebooks, nook books and Apple App Store apps has been puslihed on the JoSara Media web site.

You can use the following shortcuts to get to each separate guide (with screenshots):

Kindle eBook
Nook eBook
Apple App Store App


COMPAQ: Building implosion, HP and Apple

The implosion today of two buildings (CCA 7 and 8) on the former Compaqcca8 campus comes nearly ten years to the day after the business implosion of Compaq through its acquisition by HP. Like Compaq, CCA7 and CCA8 on the Houston campus, now owned by the local community college, had been deemed too expensive to renovate; the choice was made to blow them up and rebuild.

This parallels not only HP’s recent “blowing up” of its tablet and (profitable) PC business, but the final disposition of the great COMPAQ Computer Corporation, a company that I proudly worked at for fifteen years. Compaq in the beginning was an incredibly innovative company in portable computers and servers…but in the later years was one Steve Jobs shy of a full Apple cart.

It is easy to envy Apple, now one of (if not the, depending on market closings) the highest valued companies in the world, and in the enviable position of charging and receiving premium prices on almost all of their products. The history of Apple is well known, and its story and that of Compaq can be seen as mirror images…until Apple’s turning point, when Jobs returned, grown up and ready with innovation, differentiation and a long term plan.

In between the leadership of John Sculley and Steve Jobs’ return as interim CEO in 1997, Apple faced similar crossroads to Compaq’s at the same time. Obviously over-simplified, in 1998 Compaq chose to follow the kings of the day, and emulate IBM by acquiring services (and people and debt)-heavy Digital Equipment Corporation; while Apple chose a gambler’s path of innovation, a path to no longer try to compete on the speeds and feeds of cpu/memory/disk with the PC vendors of the day, but to create a content consumer/content creator vision, to innovate and differentiate.

In 1997, Compaq’s revenues were approx. $25 billion, and income was approx. $2 billion.

In 1997, Apple’s revenues were approx. $7 billion, and income was a LOSS of approx. $1 billion.

Three years after Compaq acquired Digital Equipment Corporation, HP acquired Compaq, a controversial acquisition according to HP’s board (mixed if with a bit of Deutsche Bank conflict of interest scandal). The services division of the combined Compaq and DEC was not meshing, and was not proving as “accretive” as had been hoped in the original merger documents. CEO Eckhard Pfeifer was let go in 1999, and by 2001 Compaq’s meteoric time in the technosphere flamed out.

Four years after naming Jobs interim CEO, Apple released the iPod..then the iTunes store…then the iPhone…then the iPad.

Could those paths have been switched? If Compaq had not purchased Digital, would it still exist? There were many variables, and I’ll leave the possible scenarios to the academics, to future business school case studies. As a man I admired said, “you can’t un-honk a honked horn.”

Like many people, I found my fifteen years working at Compaq an incredible experience. I met the love of my life while working there. After we were married, she would look out the windows in the break room at CCA8 and see our daughter waiting for the school bus in front of our house in Lakewood Forest. With the demise of those buildings, and the presumed demise of the last vestiges of Compaq with the pre-announced sale of the PC business, we choose to think back fondly on those days , the great people we worked with… and whimsically wonder what could have been.


Grand Canyon app in Apple App Store

As a lover of books and technology, I’ve spent a lot of time the past few years investigating how to combine them. The proliferation of tablet computing, and the need/availability for interaction, have pushed us to a point where a book can be more. Terms like enhanced eBook, interactive eBook and others have been bandied about; but whatever the term, adding multimedia to a print book turns it into something more.
We also recently have been working with non-profit organizations, such as my friends at the Texas State Historical Assoication, helping them to take their unique and valuable content (most of it in print format, or even out-of-print) and get it into a digitized, interactive medium…into a format that will continue to promote their goals of education, research, preservation and membership.

I stumbled across the work of some fine people utilizing HTML5 to build enhanced eBooks (the Baker Framework, and the Laker Compendium. With the current ePub standard, there is no standard support for adding multimedia; Amazon’s Kindle format provides some, but only on certain platforms.

With these converging trends, technologies and paths, I’ve put together an app for the Apple App Store that is an experiment of sorts; a proof point, if you will, that not only can you build an entertaining enhanced eBook, but that utilizing available content that you can use this content as a bridge to sustainable funding for non-profits.

That available content happened when my brother took me on a journey through the Grand Canyon, with some great guys. A once in a lifetime trip – hiking, rafting, and experiencing one of the natural wonders of the world.

With that introduction, I am happy to announce:

Cecil does the GRAND CANYON holding a poptart
For iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch

If you want to reflect back on a trip you made to the Grand Canyon, one of the eight natural wonders of the world, or you just want to imagine one, this app will take you there.SittingOnARock

With proceeds benefiting the Grand Canyon Association, this Grand Canyon app follows the author, friends and guides as they:

  • hike down Bright Angel Trail;
  • raft one hundred miles down the Colorado River;
  • hike the so-called “Death March” hike to Thunder River and Surprise Valley;
  • visit Havasu;
  • brave Lava Falls (and live to tell about it);
  • helicopter out from Whitemore Wash.

Containing hi-definition videos, hundreds of photos, maps and the story of the journey, this multimedia application will be sure to remind you of your own trip to the Grand Canyon…or increase your desire to visit.

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