29 November 2012

Surface versus Slate

Microsoft finally announced the "pro" version of the Microsoft Surface tablet. The device runs a full version of Windows 8, so it will be completely compatible with legacy software. The problem is distinguishing this new Microsoft Surface from, for example, the previous slate of Windows tablet like the Samsung Slate.

I know - it is early. Way early. Who knows what this product will look like or the generation after it that will include a lower energy Intel CPU. And, yes, I am a very pessimistic guy when it comes to technology, a trait allows me to be pleasantly surprised when I am wrong. With those disclaimers out of the way:

The Slate is a Windows 7 11.6" tablet made by Samsung that runs in the retail circle under a grand and has a battery life of under 4 hours. The new Surface from Microsoft is a Windows 8 tablet running under a grand and will have a battery life of (you will never guess!) under 4 hours. So, the big change Microsoft is bringing is ... A new operating system? Neeto.

No question, I firmly believe from a consumer perspective that these devices are, at best, a niche product today outside of the greater Seattle area. From a corporate view there is a real need for a business capable tablet. We need the corporate licensing options, Microsoft Office, a good app selection, a mostly compatible Internet Explorer, a cellular data connection when Wi-Fi isn't available, a good enough keyboard, the ability to manage centrally, a cheap price (under $750) and a battery life in the 10 hour range. The concept is to put these in the hands of employees and they can take their work with them anywhere they go and not need to plug in for juice until the end of the day.

The iPad does not work today because there is no Microsoft Office and Apple only licenses consumers. (I could dig into the problems with that, but .. another day.) The Surface RT is missing a cellular data connection, a good app selection and a way to manage these devices centrally. This Pro version addresses the software and central management issues but kills us on the battery life and price.

The more critical question is, if the specs in the Surface Pro were what we wanted, why didn't we buy the Windows 7 tablets that existed already?

Does it really take this long to put on your lipstick, Microsoft?

05 November 2012

Fielding a Japanese Baseball Team

My passion for the Seattle Supersonics and Mariners has not worked out too well. One day I woke up and the Sonics were stolen away and the Mariners have still yet to reach the big game. On the face of it, they appear doomed to be a team with an empty stadium. That is, unless the Mariners organization decide to take a different approach entirely.

The fact is that the Mariners may never be able to be consistently competitive with the teams at the top of the salary list. Our owner, Nintendo of America, is hardly rolling in greenbacks these days. They need the Mariners to be a profitable investment by filling those seats at Safeco Field and securing top dollar for television rights. Unfortunately, the only reason any tickets were sold at Safeco Field was to see Ichiro. He looks lovely in a Yankees uniform, eh?

Seattle’s total payroll is at around 80 million, or 50% less than the Texas Rangers who are the division top dog. It is possible to have a run at a Pennant in that salary category but it takes the big dollar teams to make missteps (Phillies) and your team to suddenly play much better ball than expected (Atlanta). It does not happen often and it will not last long without raising the salaries of those star players. Short of that miracle, the Mariners ownership needs money to invest in better players, money that does not exist because there is no reason to buy a ticket to a team with nothing to offer but losses. It is the perfect recipe to be competitive with the Houston Astros.

There is a somewhat easy fix for Nintendo. Japanese baseball.

All of the ingredients are in place for this to be a success. The Mariners are at rock bottom and need to create something entirely new. Why not speak with the Japanese baseball clubs about an agreement that brings their best players to the Mariners when they are in the off-season in Japan? There is some overlap in the two, but not significant enough that it could keep this from working. If sharing players would not work then bring over some of the experienced ones as full time MLB players. The M’s do not need an entire team of ball players from the Pacific islands, just enough that the press and fans are focused on this unique approach.

Would the Mariners make it to the playoffs with this plan? Not likely, but they are not going there today, either. Tourism from Japan would skyrocket. The Seattle area, which already embraces their Pacific Rim neighbors, will love attending games on the chance that their low payroll team could upset the high salaried big boys. Nintendo of America is the perfect owner for this situation, for obvious reasons, and might start making significant profits on their baseball investment, ultimately allowing them to invest in better players. Who knows. Maybe Ichiro would be tempted to return to Seattle for his final season.

Aside from the potential of having a ball club that is as uncompetitive as the one we have now, there really is not much down side. If the fans do not fill the seats then the team could return their players to their previously terrible state. Which is to say that they really would not need to change a thing. The most important thing is that this would be a heck of a lot of fun.

So, what do you say, Nintendo? Want to take a shot at fielding a team in America from your home country? I would love to buy season ticket to see how it works out. 

03 November 2012


How many companies have an entire world of people (outside Redmond) that will settle for nothing less than their product, which has delivered to them an endless supply of revenue. This is a company that has enough financial resources to do, within reason, anything they want. And they have. They envision the ideal of how things should work, and still generate revenue for them, then they take their best shot at it. Sure, they often fail, or sometimes their vision does not mix with reality, but this is a company turning profit into amazing free or near free products for everyone. And that is why competitors and even some consumers hate Google and their crazy business model.

You know Gmail, YouTube, Google Voice, Google+, Google Maps, Street View, Google Docs, Google Drive, Google Analytics, Google Calendar and the dozens of other web-based products. They are fabulous and, for the most part, they are free. Google collects your information and creates unique advertising opportunities that allow them to make revenue while limiting the disturbance by said promotions. Provided you are not dealing in highly confidential material, this is a trade made in heaven for consumers.

Some will argue that Google is destroying the competition by giving stuff away for free but common sense tells us otherwise. Internet Explorer did not destroy web browser competition, Kroger did not put Whole Foods into chapter 11, McDonalds did not destroy steak houses and tap water did not move Coca-Cola to the toilet paper business. This is capitalism and consumers will choose what fits their needs best.

Google's true world-changing opportunity is happening on the hardware end of the equation. While Android may have have sent Steve Jobs to the nuclear front as a theft of iPhone, today this product is truly a unique operating system that makes iOS look as imaginative as Melba Toast. (Though many people love Melba Toast.) The continuous innovation and a "free" price has helped Google's little piece of software turn into the Windows of mobile phones. Were that not enough, it is now starting to eat up huge chunks of the tablet world, too, thanks to Amazon's Android variant and the Google's own Nexus devices.

In the United States, the change being injected is even more insidious. Google appears to be on a mission to end the domination of the cellular carrier and, with a little luck, they may actually succeed.

Google's new Nexus 4 appears to be an amazing piece of hardware with specs on par or better than anything on the market, including the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S3. Screen resolution, speed, NFC, wireless charging, camera quality - it has it. No surprise there since it is just now being released.

What is amazing about this new phone is the price. For three hundred bucks you own the device. No contract. You own it and can use it on any carrier you want at deep discounts over contract monthly costs. Suddenly abandoning two year contracts from T-MobileVerizon, AT&T and Sprint are in reach of everyone. Even more crazy is that you can run this phone (thanks to Google Voice) without any cellular contract at all! Yes, you can get phone calls, text messages and run all the apps you like with nothing more than Wi-Fi connections.

Some are complaining, "but it doesn't have LTE!" Like it matters. Yes, theoretically LTE can run much faster, but in practice the HSPA+ on Nexus 4 will keep data flowing much faster than 3G. The critical element here is that most of us spend the bulk of our day clouded in Wi-Fi networks at home or the office, a connection much more consistent and faster than cellular networks of any kind, and this device will run better than anything on that pipe while saving you fifty bucks a month on your cellular bill. One can easily envision a future where people carry Google mobile devices that are all free from wireless carriers.

This move is consistent with everything Google does. They build products that give individuals what they want for as little as possible and in return they continue to collect information that feeds their bottom line to fund more products that give us what we want for free. It is the circle of Google. Yes, all the while they continue to piss off nearly any company that sells something that competes with their products. They have a very good reason to hate Google because it is tough to win against a company that is giving great things away to the masses, but until someone can find a way to cut off the river of cash flowing their way consumers like us will be forced to continue to use all of their wonderful toys.

We Need One Flat Tax

Not long ago the world was controlled by those who owned the property. Their children would inherit this land and the family was safe in the knowledge that they would forever rule. They, rightly, enjoyed the spoils of a world that worked for their pleasure. With few exceptions, no one would dare stand up to this oppressive system because it was the only system they knew. That is, until a few stubborn folks hanging out in Philadelphia invented the “United States of America”.

When John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, Henry Lee and the other members of the First Continental Congress gave a middle finger salute to King George, they were planning a system of government that would never allow a precious few to forever be in power. Everyone would have an equal opportunity to succeed. Yes, they also wanted a nation free from religious persecution, the right to arms, a separation of church and state and a few other crazy things, but you get the point.

So, how has this been working out lately?

Sales of ultra luxury vehicles are at an all time high. Art galleries are expanding because the uber-wealthy have clearly found nearly everyone to be a young Monet. CEO salaries and Wall Street bonuses are breaking records on a daily basis. And yet we keep talking about a sluggish economy and low jobs numbers. How is this possible? Well, it is quite simple, actually.

The two primary taxation methods in America are income and sales. They try to make these semi-progressive by adjusting it based on your income or limiting sales tax to non-necessities. However, the bottom and top one percent rarely pay either. Neither have a “job”, so they skip that 30% tax bracket business, and they already own everything (or nothing) they need but food which, surprisingly, is often not taxed because it is a necessity.

How the top end is often taxed is on capital gains at nowhere near the top income tax bracket. However, even that is often more than they will pay thanks to countless loopholes of moving funds through foreign subsidiaries. Another nifty trick is using losses on one investment to offset the gains on the other so their investments and income are rarely ever truly at risk.

This is why Democrats are wrongly harping Mitt Romney about his tax rate. When I hit a certain income level I pay more than 30% of my income to the Feds, but Mitt can get his down to a fraction of that amount. In fact, I would be disappointed in Mitt if he paid more than 15% because it is relatively easy to do. After all, why should he be the one rich person to pay more?

Instead of beating up Mr. Romney, we should be beating up our elected officials. The problem is easy to solve and could be done in a way that crosses party lines. The Republicans want to have a flat tax with no deductions. The Democrats want a progressive system that gives everyone a fair chance. Both can be achieved with the same proposal.

Create a single flat tax at a national level. Eliminate the income tax, death tax, capital gains – all of it. One tax with no deductions, no skirting earnings in other countries – no tricks. That tax percentage would be assessed annually based on your total world-wide net worth and each of us pays a flat percentage of it annually. Everything you own today totaled and you pay a fraction of a percent annually to the Feds. If you cannot pay then the IRS would keep a tally of what you owe until the day you can. Simple and fair. The entire country pays their percentage with no loopholes at the top and bottom of the ownership club.

Some will argue this is unfair to the rich since they would be paying more in total dollars than the poor, but you can take that argument up with our forefathers. Their goal was an even playing field for all and that means we all pay the same percentage. Some might argue this is unfair to the poor since they may have no income. Some day they will be earning money again and we all need to pay our share, even if they may be paying it later with interest.

If we see past the silly extremes we may find this idea would create a beautiful new tax system and allow our country to focus on the bigger problems. Heck, we could take it a step further and require a balanced budget (please!) that automatically adjusts the percentage we pay based on our government expenditures. There is nothing that would spur on a bigger change in Congress than sudden increases in taxes because they spent too much money.

Anyway, that is my crazy proposal to fix our ridiculous tax system. I am quite certain everyone will have their individual reason why they do not like it. Who has ever liked taxes? And that part, I am afraid, even this idea cannot fix.