Innovation, the US and China

If you haven’t read the excellent How U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work in the New York Times, you should do so now. The story describes a seismic shift in technology that many haven’t noticed until only recently.

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”

Similar stories could be told about almost any electronics company — and outsourcing has also become common in hundreds of industries, including accounting, legal services, banking, auto manufacturing and pharmaceuticals.

Charles Duhigg and Keith Brasaher- How U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work

It’s also worth reading Why China Wins after you’ve read the first article for additional context:

Go to the lobby of the Sheraton Four Points in Shenzhen — or a dozen hotels like it. Table-after-table is a white guy from middle America trying to make his company competitive again sitting with a Chinese factory head or “fixer” who can get them into the right factories. It’s not unlike wandering into Cuppa Cafe in Palo Alto and seeing table-after-table of VC sitting with hopeful entrepreneurs.

It shocks me that people always assume the Chinese can only make inferior products when Apple– the gold standard of well-made products– is made in China. Sure, China can make shitty products for cheap. But it can also make the world’s best products. Again, like Silicon Valley can produce a bloated, uninteresting startup like Color and a nimble startup like Instagram that millions love. The startup machinery doesn’t make a company great or bad. It just makes whatever is put into it, more efficiently than any other place. Ditto China and manufacturing.

Sarah Lacy – Why China Wins

If you haven’t tossed all of your old assumptions about quality, innovation, China and the future already, you should do so now. If you want to be prepared for the future, you can’t carry old expectations as baggage.

PadPivot: The First Project I’ve Backed on Kickstarter

I just pledged $35 to a Kickstarter project – the first time I’ve participated in the site, but certainly not the last. The PadPivot, shown in the video above was too awesome not to support. That, and I want one. A lot.

For those unfamiliar with Kickstarter, I’ve provided a quick description below.


So first off, yes, I am blathering on about a product I’ve never touched. In fact, the PadPivot doesn’t even exist beyond prototypes. But I know that it will come to life and in part due to my small contribution on it’s Kickstarter project. That’s pretty damn cool. The video does a far better job than I would have describing it, so I won’t go into detail, but I find both the product concept and its funding method very exciting, so I thought I would share.

A quick description of the PadPivot for those who may not have time to watch the video:


Kickstarter is an ingenious concept brought to life. The goal is to ease the creation of ambitious creative ideas like films, music, stories, events and physical products. Every project has a clearly outlined goal, a set amount of money to raise, and just as importantly, a finite time to raise it in. As they put it “A good idea, communicated well, can spread fast and wide.”

When a project is set up and launched the public has the ability to become a project “Backer”, by pledging anywhere from a dollar to hundreds. As a Backer, you select a level of support, pledging X amount, usually tied to a level. The levels are tied to rewards that the project is required to set up. This is part of the model is brilliant, and as you can see throughout Kickstarter, well thought out. For example, read their blog post on the topic of reward pricing to see the role it plays in the overall success of a project.

As I noted above, I opted for a $35 pledge level, because I wanted one of the PadPivots and I thought it worth a bit more than $25 (my thinking at the time was that I would help them hit their $10,000 just a little faster. Yeah, they blew through that in no time at all – at the time of writing, they have over $19,000 in pledges from 454 Backers.

So far, I’ve mentioned pledges a lot, but that isn’t exactly the same as actually buying something. This is another point where Kickstarter has built a solid foundation. Backers are only charged when and if the project reaches it’s Pledge Goal. As a Backer, you know where your money is going, and you feel much more confident that you aren’t throwing your money in a black hole. Kickstarter calls it an “all-or-nothing funding method where projects must be fully funded or no money changes hands.” I can get into that.

In this case, if they hadn’t raised the money by March 14th, 2010, my account wouldn’t have been charged. As they did hit the goal, they will begin production, using my funds alongside that of the other Backers.

More Kickstarter Projects

I haven’t pledged to any of these. Some of the projects are complete, including a couple that rocketed well past expectations early. While others may well earn my money, once I have time to dig a little deeper.

The Hip-Hop Word Count: A Searchable Rap Almanac

A ” searchable ethnographic database built from the lyrics of over 40,000 Hip-Hop songs from 1979 to present day. The database is the heart of an online analysis tool that generates textual and quantified reports on searched phrases, syntax, memes and socio-political ideas.”

TikTok+LunaTik Multi-Touch Watch Kits

Take a new touchscreen iPod Nano and transform it into a watch. As the creators noted “The idea to use the Nano as a watch was an obvious one ever since the product was announced. But we wanted to create a collection that was well designed, engineered and manufactured from premium materials and that complemented the impeccable quality of Apple products. Not just clipped on a cheap strap as an afterthought. ”
Also check out the Lunatik for a video.


As you can see on the project page, the makers of the Glif, a tripod mount and stand for the iPhone 4, wanted to raise $10,000. They pulled in $137,417. The product has proven very popular since its release into the world – an excellent example of a simple, useful and elegant idea brought to life.

Kickstarter Awards

Kickstarter has posted about many awesome projects on their blog as well. Check them out for inspiration.

Interaction Design in the Age of the iPad

The direct touch input removes a layer of abstraction, and that’s a really big deal. In this way, it was like going back to design for print – when you push it with your finger, it moves! – but it’s utterly unlike print in every other way imaginable. Point is, the direct interface really does mean reevaluating every assumption when it comes to interactive design.

Derek Powazek in Thoughts on Designing for iPad

Derek’s post is chock-full of insights, but that quote in particular struck me. I don’t think we’ve realized just how different the iPad and similar devices are from our familiar grounds, both in terms of design and usage. Tools that we’ve relied on, in some cases quite heavily, like the hover state, are on their way out, while entirely new capabilities are introduced.

We are no longer chained as designers, developers or users to that single little arrow moving about the screen. We can finally make use of all of our digits on-screen.

Apple, Flash and the Web

this whole saga is much more about Apple’s ability to control its own destiny than it is about revenge, cynicism, or pride. Apple nearly died in the 1990s. It was so far gone that it took money from Microsoft and had to pray that second-class ports of Internet Explorer would keep the Mac relevant in an increasingly online world.

Apple is not going to let anything like that happen again.

Matt Drance – Cocoa, Flash, and Safari

Matt’s article Cocoa, Flash, and Safari, provides insight into the current battle pitting Apple against Adobe on the iPhone and iPad. I highly recommend you take two minutes to read the piece to gain an understanding of the present and future of the platform and the business behind it.

Great Podcasts

It’s been a couple of years since I wrote about my favorite podcasts, but a recent discussion with Jonathan has nudged me to document my current recommendations.

My Top Five Six

(in no order…)


Radiolab focuses on a single “Big IDea” per episode, using the medium of sound to the fullest extent possible. It is indescribable, so I will simply say that if you subscribe to nothing else on this list, you must experience Radiolab.

The International Spy Museum’s Spycast

How can you beat a show hosted by a man with over three decades of experience in espionage made up of interviews with “ex-spies, intelligence experts, and espionage scholars.” It is a truly fascinating glimpse into the shadows.

This American Life

Most people reading this have likely been listening to This American Life for a while, but just in case you haven’t experienced what is quite possibly one of the best shows to ever ride the radio waves, I list it here.

The History of Rome

Being the history geek that I am, I love this series, which traces “the history of the Roman Empire, beginning with Aeneas’s arrival in Italy and ending (someday) with the exile of Romulus Augustulus, last Emperor of the Western Roman Empire.”

In Our Time

This BBC podcast covers an amazing array of topics under the banner of discussing “the history of ideas”. Isaac Newton, the samurai, genetics and the philosophy behind Communism are a small sampling of the topics you can hear each week.

The Moth

The Moth is a series of storytelling events held in several cities around the US, from which they take some of the funniest and most poignant to place on the podcast.

More Awesome Podcasts

You should get these too. They may not be in my top five, but the fact that I listen to them still speaks highly of their value – I’m pretty brutal about cutting out shows that aren’t amazing.

The Engines of Our Ingenuity

John Lienhard’s stories and perspective on the history of our technology and its impact on culture are inviting and informative. It’s a nice short podcast, every episode of which teaches me something.

NPR: Sports with Frank Deford

While I like to watch some sports (football and boxing for the most part), Frank Deford can hook me no matter which sport or aspect of the business of sports he decides to talk about. He is an amazing story-teller who truly cares about the subject and the people who play.

On the Media

Yet another NPR show that fills my iPod. If you care in the least about how the media works nd its impact on those of us who consume it, you need to listen to the show. On the Media ‘explores how the media “sausage” is made, casts an incisive eye on fluctuations in the marketplace of ideas, and examines threats to the freedom of information and expression in America and abroad. For one hour a week, the show tries to lift the veil from the process of “making media,” especially news media, because it’s through that lens that we literally see the world and the world sees us.’

The ATX Web Show

While this is a bit of a niche, Dave Rupert and friends put together a great show highlighting the Web design and development community here in town. It’s a great way to keep up with the future.

60 Second Psych & 60 Second Science

Exactly as their names imply, each of these podcasts come in bite-sized chunks, ready to make you smarter and help you understand how things truly work in the world at large and the world in our brain.

12 Byzantine Rulers

Lars Brownworth’s love of the subject is clear from the first minute and will quickly attract anyone interested in history. As noted on the site, Mr. Brownworth’s “passion for Byzantine history has taken him on travels from the furthest reaches of the Byzantine Empire right into Constantinople, (present day Istanbul) the very heart of Byzantium. He has traveled and studied Byzantine history extensively and produced this lecture series giving us an overview of Byzantine history as seen through 12 of its greatest rulers.”

Norman Centuries

Another great history podcast from Lars Brownworth, starts with the humble beginnings of the Normans traces the path of the Normans over the two centuries that they “launched a series of extraordinary conquests, transforming Anglo-Saxon England into Great Britain, setting up a powerful Crusader state in Antioch, and turning Palermo into the dazzling cultural and economic capital of the western Mediterranean”.

What am I Missing

What are your favorite podcasts?