Bitcoin and Thoughts From Bill Gates

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Bitcoin recently.

Here are some of Bill Gates’ thoughts that I’ve pulled together:

“[Its] unique position arises from a number of elements. TCP/IP protocols that define its transport level support distributed computing and scale incredibly well. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has defined an evolutionary path that will avoid running into future problems even as eventually everyone on the planet connects up.”

“Most important is that [it] has bootstrapped itself… It has enough users that it is benefiting from the positive feedback loop of the more users it gets, the more content it gets, and the more content it gets, the more users it gets.”

“[It] is the most important single development to come along since the IBM PC was introduced in 1981. It is even more important than the arrival of the graphical user interface (GUI).”

“Another unique aspect of [it] is that because it buys communications lines on a commodity bid basis and because it is growing so fast, it is the only “public” network whose economics reflect the latest advances in communications technology.”

“Eventually you will be able to find the name of someone or a service you want to connect to… and rerouting your call to temporarily be a point-to-point connection will happen automatically.”

“[It] is at the forefront… and developments on [it] over the next several years will set the course of our industry for a long time to come.”

Okay, I haven’t been completely forthright. These are indeed Bill Gates’ quotes. But they’re from his 1995 memo to his Executive Staff, “The Internet Tidal Wave”. Every time Bill referenced “The Internet,” I replaced it with the pronoun “[it]”, forcing myself to consider these same properties, when applied to the Bitcoin network instead of the Internet.

I have found it to be a productive exercise to look at the opinions around the Internet in the early days to understand the current state of Bitcoin. It has many similar properties:

  • Confusion – how can consumers and businesses rely something that’s decentralized?
  • Dismissal – we haven’t seen the killer popular applications built on top yet, so we don’t “get it”.
  • Fear – the famous early uses have been scary – “hackers” using it for governmental or subversive purposes, and incredible volatility.

The more we see sites like Coinbase make Bitcoin understandable to the general public, and the more mainstream merchants we see accept Bitcoin as a currency, the less we’ll see of the confusion, dismissal, and fear.

Bitcoin is a platform in need of killer applications. The very principles that made the Internet so disruptive to every facet of life – decentralization, lower barriers to value-creation, and ease of value-transfer – are mirrored in Bitcoin. We’ve seen the global revolutions with the PC in 1981 and the Internet in the early 90s – will we see another in 2014 with Bitcoin? Time will tell, but I’m bullish.

Instant Karma At SXSW

I’ve long been a believer in Karma. Not in a supernatural way, but in the idea that through a series of loose and indirect actions that help others, what goes around does indeed come around. This week, at SXSW, I experienced full-blown instant Karma, and the story is too good not to share.

I left my Airbnb, and headed out to find a car2go to drive into downtown Austin. (Side note: 2 of those 3 proper nouns didn’t exist 5 years ago.) When I found a car, I reached down to put the key in the ignition, and my hand grazed a shiny new iPhone 5s. It was on, unlocked, and had no service. Apparently, the previous owner had already given up and cancelled the service. After a brief second of hesitation (sorry, Mom), I decided the rest of the day would be my mission to track down the owner and save him 700 bucks. Having been the target of a stolen iPhone earlier this year, I remembered that sinking feeling and knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night unless I made an honest effort.

Through a series of jumping between apps, the lost phone, and my phone, I got ahold of one lucky dude on Google Voice. I’ll leave his name out and refer to him as “Darren” for this post.

“Hello?”

“Your Facebook says you partied too hard last night, had a #SXSFail, and bought a new iPhone this morning. You can go ahead and return that!”

You can imagine where the conversation went from there. I was already content just feeling like I did the right thing, but was promised a round on Darren for my troubles. I’m not one to argue with that. I headed downtown to the bar he set up as the meeting point. As I walked up to “Chicago House,” the door was full of security guards who wouldn’t let me in. That’s when Darren came to the door and said “It’s cool – he’s with me.”

This is where it gets awesome.

It turns out, Darren is a local DJ and producer. He was setting up the sound for Rahm Emanuel’s private party to host a bunch of big wigs from the City of Chicago. Not only that, but Rahm wanted local Chicago artists there, so The Hood Internet was in the back room setting up for their set later that night. As Darren slapped a VIP wristband on my hand, he brought me into the dance club in the back and asked “want to meet the band?”

Darren was eagerly sharing the story with everyone who would listen. I had a pre-show dance party with the one and only White Mystery Band, talked shop with The Hood Internet, reminisced about my late hours of coding in college to their music, and snapped a nice little souvenir shot.

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And just to add another layer on the cake, having a little chat with the mayor of Chicago himself wasn’t too bad either.

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Obviously, this sort of direct and instant Karmic exchange won’t happen every time you track down that poor soul who lost his phone. But it’s certainly a great reminder the next time I’m at a crossroads: good things happen when you’re good to people. And it just feels all warm and fuzzy.

Grassroots Innovation: It’s about Permission

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the UP America Summit, in friendly Iowa City, Iowa. It was put on by UP Global, the folks behind Startup Weekend, StartupDigest, NEXT, and Startup America. They got a bunch of us who run innovation programs together for a dedicated corporate track, to share our common learnings, struggles, and success stories. I represented The Garage, Microsoft’s grassroots innovation community, along with people from Coca-Cola, Sprint, The World Bank, GoDaddy, American Airlines, ACT, Hallmark, and others.

I put together a few of the key themes that emerged over and over within the group and wanted to share them here. The one that absolutely resonated with everyone instantly, is the title of this article, and the first point I’d like to call out:

  1. Grassroots innovation is about permission. Fueling creative tinkering with new ideas can’t be management-directed, but it must be management-supported. Those closest to the customers, problems, and existing products (typically at the bottom of a hierarchy) have the most personal drive to try a new approach to a problem, and this autonomy fuels their projects long after an executive mandate has worn off. However, if an employee feels that their efforts to innovate are counter to their “real job,” the project tends to die off over time. One thing that we practice at The Garage is having passionate employees plan and organize a Garage Week (think: blue-sky hackathon within an product team), but have executives promote participation via an email to the whole organization to grant such “permission to innovate.”
  2. Innovation is about a culture shift, not just money or ideas. Nobody owns innovation. Neither infinite resources, nor the “perfect platform” to surface the most innovative ideas will succeed without an organization-wide chutzpah toward innovation. We found that many of our companies have seen various forms of “internal Kickstarters,” idea voting platforms, and contests that did not achieve their goal of finding “that next big innovative thing” without a cultural embrace.
  3. Open innovation is important. Mathematically, the sum of experts with skills and experiences outside of any given company is larger than the sum of experts inside. We are often blind to a future innovation because we don’t embrace those outside our organization who can truly define the problem and solution. Getting employees outside the walls of the company and out into the community is paramount.
  4. Access is the greatest thing we can provide startups. And more specifically, access in a timely manner. If a startup is working toward a partnership with a large company, they often waste an incredible amount of time being passed around internally. If we really want to encourage open innovation and allow an idea to flourish, the greatest service we can do is recognize if it isn’t a good fit early, cut the chord, and save the startup valuable time by being honest and closing the door. If we can think of an introduction we can make that’s a better fit, that’s a bonus too. The list of startups that had an interesting new product that failed due to partnerships with a big company that never quite materialized is far too long.
  5. Innovation isn’t new. We can learn from our company history. Every billion dollar company, whether it is innovative today or not, had at least one enormous innovation in the past. It could have been business model (such as the advent of loyalty programs) or technology (such as the computer mouse), but that billion dollars didn’t come from doing the status quo. So, we should look within our companies at the environments that created those innovations in our past. The nuance is that recreating these conditions is hard since the these often occurred before exponential growth. Innovation at scale is a much trickier problem since it involves a massive amount of communication, collaboration, and precision. But at least, by examining our history of disruptions, we’ve got a great place to start.

The most important thing that we can do now: keep sharing our successes and failures with each other. We can approach corporate innovation the same way that we approach Startup Weekends: experiential education, where we learn by trying new things, and iterating when something seems to stick.

Passive Calorie Tracking Will Be A Gold Mine

Consider these two statements:

1. Humans are generally lazy.
2. If you measure something, and can see the results, it will improve.

Weight loss and gain are approximately determined by the simple laws of thermodynamics. If you put more energy into your body than you require, it will be stored as mass, and vice versa. Therefore, the simple equation of Calories in minus Calories out is a pretty easy way to determine if a person will gain or lose weight.

We’ve gotten pretty good at passively measuring caloric output. I’ve been wearing the BodyMedia Fit Link Armband, and plenty of others around the globe are monitoring with other “Quantified Self” devices such as the Jawbone Up, Nike+ Fuelband, various FitBits, and the Basis B1.

The thing we’re not good at is measuring caloric input. I’m good at it, but I’m not a normal person. When I’m cutting body fat, or performing an experiment that I’m determined to stick to, I track every macronutrient and Calorie that goes into my body with MyFitnessPal or DailyBurn. However, normal people aren’t that diligent (see rule #1), and they often don’t want to face the reality that the donut that they just ate may be half of the Calories that they require for the day. Ignorance is bliss, even if it’s self-imposed.

These “Calories out” measurement devices are proving that passive measurement tools work. If a person doesn’t have to perform work to measure their energy output, they’re perfectly willing to track and analyze it. In fact, it capitalizes on rule #2: If you measure something, and can see the results, it will improve. Dick Talens of Fitocracy recently wrote an awesome piece on generating a positive feedback loop for results, and I couldn’t agree more.

The thing that we haven’t gotten yet, is passive measurement and visualization of Calories in. The moment we can hook up some sort of combination glucose monitor + heart rate monitor + mass differential measurement tool to even ballpark the Calories we’ve ingested, there will be a gold rush to create weight-loss tracking tools with merely the effort of strapping on a device.

I don’t know where the state of scientific research is in this area, but the race is on. And if you’ve got any ideas of how to guess at how many Calories a person has ingested, I’d love to work with you.

My Measured Life: Graphs and Insights from Wearing The BodyMedia Fit Armband

For the past few weeks, I’ve been wearing the BodyMedia Fit Link Armband. It provides a measurement of how many Calories per minute I’m burning. Using a combination of motion measurement with an accelerometer, steps taken, galvanic skin response (skin moisture), skin temperature, and heat flux (heat produced by the body that escapes), it can provide these measurements with a mean error less than 10%. It also provides data on when I was actually asleep at night, total sleep time, and brings in data from third party services like MyFitnessPal (where I’ve been tracking food intake) to provide net caloric balance. It’s got a mobile app that syncs over Bluetooth, so I can get graphs on-the-fly of my caloric burn during various parts of the day. I’ve noticed a few interesting trends, and I wanted to share them here.

This is a graph of Calories burned per minute on a day where I ran in the morning before work, and lifted weights after work.

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This is a graph of Calories burned per minute on a day where I went skiing.

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This is a graph of Calories burned per minute on a day where did an hour of hot yoga before work (6 AM – 7 AM).

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This is a graph of Calories burned per minute on a day where I did a lot of weightlifting (short heavy sets) and a quick run, followed by some walking around to run errands afterwards. I also went out to bars the night before, which explains that 2 AM spike for the stumble home.

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Here are a few of my most interesting observations from this data:

  • Not surprisingly, running is the most time-efficient way to burn calories. I was running at roughly an 8:30 pace, and was right around 10 Calories burned / minute the entire time.
  • When I’m at my desk, I may as well be asleep as far as my caloric burn is concerned. That’s a scary thought for those of us with desk jobs. Even scarier: most of the time I’m using a standing desk, which didn’t seem to affect much. Those spikes throughout the work day are just when I wander around to other people’s offices.
  • Lifting weights burned about 3x the amount of Calories per minute as sleeping, but at 5 Cal/minute, it’s still only about half that of running. Lifting is obviously beneficial for other purposes though, like gaining strength.
  • That skiing graph is pretty funny to look at. It’s obvious where I took lunch, and skiing seems to provide running-like caloric burn rates when on the hill, but low points at about ~2x sleeping while sitting on the ski lift between runs.
  • In general, I’m amazed at how fast my caloric burn rate returns to that of sleeping after I work out. It seems to have little effect on my burn for the rest of the day.
  • The yoga day is perplexing to me. The caloric burn during the yoga class was surprisingly low, never exceeding 6 Cal/minute. This can be attributed to one or both of the following:

    • All of that sweating really is just from the room being 104 degrees.
    • The BodyMedia Fit is poor at estimating in this case since there isn’t a lot of bipedal movement to make the accelerometer think I’m in motion.
  • Another interesting takeaway from yoga: It took a long time for my caloric burn rate to return to my sleeping rate after I finished. The class was 6 AM to 7 AM, and despite sitting in a car driving home, it took about 45 minutes to decrease below the average rate from the class. My guess is that during this time, my nervous system was still pretty messed up from the temperature change and stressed body movement, and it takes a lot of Calories to recover.
  • Merely walking around is pretty effective for burning Calories at about 5 Cal/minute. I guess that living 15 minutes from the bus stop to work really is a great lifestyle choice.
  • Stumbling home from bars is surprisingly effective for burning Calories.

I’m going to continue testing the BodyMedia Fit for at least another couple months, until my free trial of the web service is up. I’d love to chat about my other experiences with the device, its sleep tracking, integration with the mobile app, and other devices you’ve used, so feel free to reach out on Twitter at @gilbert.

How Close Are We To A Single Computing Device?

My iPhone is a computer. And it’s almost powerful enough to be my only computer. But when I’m at my desk, I want the rich interface, multi-window interaction, and file system of Mac OS X. Mac OS X could, in the near future, run on my iPhone. Imagine this:

I’m using my iPhone as usual. It has an iOS interface with sandboxed apps, and is beautifully optimized for the screen and interaction model of the device. But then, I get close to a monitor, mouse, and keyboard. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say that I have to plug my lightning adapter into some hub that connects to these peripherals.

My iPhone detects the desktop setup, and switches over to a Mac OS X interface. It’s as if I’m running off of a Mac Mini, but all of the processing is happening on my iPhone. And if we’re really moving in the direction that Apple (and everyone else) is betting on, most of my file storage is in the cloud anyways.

App developers will ship apps that have three interfaces: iPhone, iPad, and Mac. These new forms of “Universal Binaries” will be the new standard. All of the apps will live in special folders that are entirely sandboxed, and run as-is on iOS. Any app that doesn’t follow these sandboxing rules, and doesn’t have iOS interfaces will live in the traditional /Applications folder, and won’t be distributed by Apple in the App Store.

One computing device with multiple interfaces depending on what I’ve got available at the given time for an interface.

I’m sure there’s a team in Cupertino working on getting OS X to run on ARM, and then we’ll hear an announcement similar to the Steve Jobs’ Intel announcement:

Now, I have something to tell you today. Mac OS X has been leading a secret double life for the past five years. There have been rumors to this effect, but this is Apple’s campus in Cupertino. Let’s zoom in on it and that building right there. We’ve had teams doing the just-in-case scenario. And our rules have been that our designs for OS X must be processor-independent and that every project must be built for both the PowerPC and Intel processors. And so today for the first time, I can confirm the rumors that every release of Mac OS X has been compiled for both PowerPC and Intel. This has been going on for the last five years. Just in case. So Mac OS X is cross-platform by design, right from the very beginning. So Mac OS X is singing on Intel processors and I’d just like to show you right now. As a matter of fact? As a mater of fact this system I’ve been using right here…Let’s go have a look.

Perhaps in the near future, we’ll hear:

Now, I have something to tell you today. Mac OS X has been leading a secret double life for the past few years. And so today for the first time, I can confirm the rumors that Mac OS X has been able to run on iOS devices to power Mac OS X apps from your pocket. Just in case. So Mac OS X is cross-platform by design, right from the very beginning. So Mac OS X is singing on ARM processors on iOS devices, and I’d just like to show you right now. As a matter of fact? As a mater of fact this system I’ve been using right here…Let’s go have a look.

iMessage Should Have a Dead Battery Auto-Responder

Traditional SMS is a peer-to-peer system across multiple networks. Apple’s iMessage is a centralized system with a single network. This gives Apple the opportunity to do some interesting things, such as deliver read receipts, show typing status, and send high quality images over “text” messages. But it shouldn’t stop there.

Apple has the opportunity to build one of the greatest things about email into iMessage: auto-responders. Specifically, dead battery auto-responders. I’m thinking that it could work something like this:

  1. User opts into a service that allows their iPhone to transmit a quick signal upon a dying battery to Apple’s iCloud servers if network is available. This signal flips a bit in iCloud saying, “this device’s battery is dead.”
  2. User can set a message that gets blasted out to anyone who iMessages that account notifying the sender, “Hi, I’d like to respond, but unfortunately, the battery on my iPhone has died.”
  3. When the iPhone gets charged again, it sends a signal back to iCloud that flips the bit back, and the auto-responder becomes disabled.

One potential reason that Apple wouldn’t implement this feature is that it increases user awareness of dead iPhone batteries, but it’s certainly a great way to mitigate that helpless feeling of, “if only I could tell this person that I wasn’t receiving their messages!”

There’s also the fact that, yes, I could access my iMessages from other devices, but better safe than sorry.

It seems a little silly, but I was on the bus last week on the way to meet a friend who was visiting town, and I sure felt like a jerk knowing he had an unanswered message to me: “Are you on your way? Am I at the right place?”


I’ve filed a Radar feature request with Apple, and you can view it on Open Radar here. If you’re an Apple developer and you agree, feel free to dupe!

The iPad

I’m upset about the name, “iPad”. I’ve got a lot of other thoughts regarding the product, but this is what particularly gets me right now.

Sure, there are all the jokes out there, but that’s not what really bothers me. I think it has a terrible ring to it.

1. I’m not a huge fan of the “i” prefix. It’s not really necessary anymore, and simply “Slate”, “Tablet”, “Canvas”, or even “Pad” would have sounded more pure. The “i” sounds cheesy these days. “The Apple Canvas”. Now that’s a name with some prestige.

2. Say “iPad” out loud a few times. It feels wrong after saying “iPod” all these years. It feels like I’m patronizing someone from the South side of Boston trying to pronounce a renowned Apple product. Or even how a “stupid American” would pronounce a beautiful foreign word with a shortened and cropped vowel sound. There’s something inherently ugly about the “short-vowel-a” sound in this particular product name. The pronunciation of the “o” in “iPod” felt a little pretentious. It gave the product a little boost in subconscious value. “iPad” sounds cheap and insincere.

Chrome for Mac: The Experience is in the Details

Don’t get me wrong. I love Chrome for Mac. The simplicity, the screen real estate, the speed – it is my current browser of choice. Throughout the development of this site, I preferred to evaluate it aesthetically through the frameless monocle of Chrome.

But something doesn’t feel right. Google missed something.

It’s not just that the software isn’t perfect. Nothing ever is (and it’s still beta software).

I’ve been using Chrome for about a week now, and the little things that bother me are starting to add up. I’m not just talking about lack of in-browser support for PDFs, choppy rendering of heavy sites while altering the window size, or easy indicators of a site’s RSS feed. I know these features will come in time.

I’m extremely sensitive to design inconsistencies. Apple’s done a pretty phenomenal job ensuring that software that’s written their way is consistent in UI and behavior. It’s almost relaxing to use software developed to the Human Interface Guidelines specifications. Every single behavior and placement is expected. Apple cares about every pixel, and the behavior of every single keystroke and mouse click.

This is where Chrome falls short. The tiny nuances that are generated deep in the software stack matter. They matter a lot. I don’t know all the details of Chrome’s implementation, but I know it doesn’t quite feel like a native Cocoa app.

I’m upset that in Google’s genius (I really mean it) decision to place the tabs above the Omni Bar, they screwed up the title bar buttons. In their rewrite of the standard title-bar, they somehow lowered the close, minimize, and zoom buttons by two pixels. This just seems careless.

Chrome Bar Buttons

The implementation of the red “circle x” image that appears when a user hovers over the matte “x” to close a tab is horrendous. There is no other attempt at a 3D graphic anywhere else in the entire application. Nor is there any global light source to justify the half-hearted attempt at a shine on the top. In fact, when viewed against the standard shine on the bar button items, it looks especially tacky. I have another issue with the hover graphic. As it tries to match the same “x” size as its tasteful counterpart, the matte “x”, the circle must take up a larger area. When the title of the page just barely fits in the tab (as seen in the graphic below), the red “circle x” spills into the empty space intentionally left to be aesthetically pleasing, and awkwardly juts up against the text.

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The position of the “x” has been widely debated by others, and I buy into Google’s strategy here.

There is one more example that really screams at me. In all standard Mac OS X applications, a user can select text, and then drag the text to any appropriate location. The interface for this is snappy and intuitive. A lighter version of the highlighted text moves with the cursor.

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Google has decided to use some type of proxy for this. This is disappointing. Their choice doesn’t even really make sense. There is a small image of a globe. This is for text, images, and anything else draggable. Perhaps it is a “global proxy” for anything you drag? I have no idea, but it’s annoying.

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I’d liken it to earlier versions of Mac OS using a proxy outline of a window when dragging instead of moving a the whole window. The upgrade was just flat out refreshing.

I hope someone from the Chrome team is aware of these issues, and cares as much as I do. I can’t wait to see what fixes and features are added with future releases. It’s a beautiful browser, but it needs some serious work on OS integration. Mac OS X users expect a certain quality of native applications. Where would we be if we didn’t deliver that quality?

You just can’t skimp on the little details.

Andrew Maier on Long-tail User Experience

Maier nails it:

Good user experience isn’t something that can’t be “bolted on” after a website or application has been built. It needs to live within the application’s development process, and breathe in every interaction a user has thereafter.

He makes some great points about considering the user experience at initial exposure, continued use, and predicting how your community will evolve and use your service. Also, I love the graphic showing the evolution of the facebook.com profile page. Seems like nostalgic images of the old page rarely show up anymore.