Particle Debris (week ending 5/22) Racing, Racy Apps and Russian Ruckus

A friend of mine who used to work for Apple is an auto hobbyist -- he restores cars. Last week, he told me a story about why car companies get involved with racing. Of course, there's notoriety when they win, but the underlying reason is the acquisition of technical expertise.

After years of winning (and losing), a car company learns an awful lot about engines, why and how they fail, and that expertise seeps into their regular product line for consumers -- making for better products.

I've always believed that the same applies to Apple. The analog for computing is the High Performance Computing (HPC) arena utilized at the U.S. National Laboratories, like Los Alamos and Oak Ridge with their supercomputers. Apple got out of that market in 2005, but is now working very hard to capitalize on the related technology of multi-core technologies and, in general, Grand Central. With that background, Neil McAllister asked some good questions last Friday about whether Apple is barking up the wrong tree.

In one sense, I think the author failed in his vision. It's true that people can only focus on one thing at a time, but computers don't have that limitation. And developers are the ones aching for better technologies to make their apps faster. Apple is providing those tools, but possibly with just a consumer focus.

Of course, Intel does get involved in HPC, and Apple certainly inherits a lot of that expertise just by working with Intel. However, in the end, all of that Intel expertise is filtered through the Apple focus on the consumer. In the end, that's always why Apple products are cool in many ways, but don't meet the needs, beyond the desktop, of the enterprise or HPC scientists.

It's a perpetual problem with Apple, and Mr. MacAllister picked up on some of the currents of the conflict. Without its own racing team, Apple is perpetually tinkering with giving the consumer the best product, but without that deeper perspective and technical expertise that other companies have acquired. Even so, Apple succeeds for other reasons, so the above is explanation, not criticism.

Enough on that.

Also on Monday, I discovered great editorial by George Simpson. Basically, he said that our expectation of free content on the Internet is an unwise feeling of entitlement. As Mac users, we know that everything that is good and has value also has a price. For example, investigative news has to be paid for. So our greedy expectation that we shouldn't have to pay for valuable content is misplaced. If we don't pay in some fashion, say ads, then we descend into character assassination and jingoism. Ads on the Internet are a business reality. Worse, alternatives to current advertising techniques could also be quite ugly. Food for thought.

On Tuesday, I read about how Google is using a computer algorithm to predict which employees might consider leaving the company. The goal is to retain its most valuable engineers and executives. The algorithm helps Google "get inside people's heads even before they know they might leave," according to Laszlo Bock, Google's head of human resources.

It's not as scary as it sounds. The algorithm is merely a quantification of those factors that lead people to leave -- lack of recognition, frustration with inability to make an impact as the company grows, and being stakeholders. These feelings come to the surface in employee reviews, but many companies don't know how to deal with them.

Also on Tuesday, I read about how a survey in London showed that a quarter of UK employees work so hard that they spend several hours a week with their mobile devices in the sack. This brings new meaning to the idea of hubbies bringing their toys to bed. UK spouses won't, however, be pleased.

Finally, on Tuesday, I found a neat article about Twitter that explains some of the abbreviations and conventions used. It explains the retweet ("RT"), how to use "OH," how to contact people who don't follow you, and touches on manners and spammers. A good overview. For an even more in-depth look, check out "The Ultimate Twitter Toolkit." Note: this is a multi-page article.

If you think you know all there is to know about Twitter, you might be wrong. This article at the New York Times on Wednesday told the story about "Tweeting Your Way to a Job." Proving once again that smart, creative people always figure out how to invoke technology that less imaginative people scorn.

Also on Wednesday, I read that AT&T is planning a service plan rate reduction for iPhones. It might have have been the outcome of those negotiations we read about between AT&T and Apple regarding their contract renewal.

The next item comes from the "Netflix keeps rolling along" department at Car Talk Plaza. First, Netflix struck a deal with Microsoft to deliver content on the Xbox 360. Now, customers who have a Windows Media Center system will have access to about 16,000 movies and episodic television programs from Netflix. To paraphrase Apple's own Peter Oppenheimer, Netflix hasn't exactly been sitting around doing nuthin'.

Recently, I wrote an editorial about how Apple has legitimately assumed the responsibility to ensure the privacy and security of customers and their data when they buy an iPhone as well as protect users from questionable content (not knowing the age of the user.) However, that can go too far. Aron Trimble at TUAW pointed out on Thursday that Apple has denied approval to the Eucalyptus book reader because it might be used to access the Kama Sutra from the Gutenberg site.

Oh, Puhleeze. You blew this one Apple.

Finally, if Apple hasn't enough grief with Psystar selling PCs with Mac OS X installed, the Russians are Coming! On Friday, The Register explained how Russian supplier RussianMac is selling an Asus Eee PC 1000H with Mac OS X installed for about $613 (€440). The Register suggested that Apple will have a much tougher time in the Russian courts than it's having in the U.S. with Psystar. Is this a break in the dam? Or just a trickle?

I assume everyone knows that R2-D2 was actually driving the Enterprise in the new Star Trek movie.

Technical Word of the Week (TWoW)

Twitterdom or Twitterverse (n.) The set of all people who are engaged in Twitter, their culture and technology.