Why I’ll always support open and cheap public education

I was talking with my dad last night and I learned a little bit more about my past. He told me about his childhood. He grew up in Brooklyn and lived in the projects there (subsidized housing for families who don’t make much money). His dad ran a lathe machine at Westinghouse. Worked nights. Dropped out of school at the eighth grade. Hated his job, but knew he was lucky to even have a job. My dad was the first one to go to college in our family. Why did he go? Because there was a community college that accepted him and was free. He went on to get a PHD from Rutgers, and get a job at Ampex in Redwood City (which is why he moved us out from New Jersey to Silicon Valley). Everytime I drive past the Ampex sign along 101 (which I’ll do in a few minutes when I drive Patrick to his house in Petaluma) I thank whoever hired him at Ampex. It’s why I’m here today. Oh, that and that free community college in New Jersey that took in my dad.

I was thinking about that when I read Dave Winer’s writings today about open meetings. I love the user group attitude that open meetings have. I love the openess. It lets everyone participate no matter what their skin color, no matter what their gender, no matter what their social status is (at Friday’s party I saw geeks who are struggling to get some server money together hanging out with geeks who had millions to their names). Say what you want about all the hype, all the hubris, but hype and hubris don’t stick around until 4 a.m. just for the sheer joy of writing and sharing and coming up with something new.

Does this stuff matter to society? Does it matter to families? Does it matter to you? Yes. Sharing knowledge with others helps us all out. It bootstraps people out of poverty and into more interesting lives. My only disappointment is that we can’t get more people who are unlike us to attend.

Another meeting is on Monday night. Nothing important will happen there. Just the future. Who will build it?

Thanks to those people who believed that public education was important for society. Thanks to those people who thought that poor people needed a hand up. Now it’s time for me to give back.

Spat asks ‘what about the SmartPhone?’

Spat asks why Microsoft doesn’t make a bigger deal about the SmartPhones when it comes to the iPod. I love my SmartPhone as much as the next guy, but you can’t compare that to the iPod. Here’s why: my son will not consider buying one. A cell phone has a monthly service charge. An iPod doesn’t. Also, an iPod is “cool” but a SmartPhone isn’t. There’s a variety of reasons for that.

By the way, I really dislike it when Microsoft employees post blogs but don’t put their names on their blogs (or their email aliases). Why? Cause I wanted to email Splat something internally, and I can’t. Please, please, please use your real name on your blogs and put your email address out there. Or don’t blog.

To make things even worse, I used the contact link on Spat’s blog, but my email was rejected by Microsoft’s spam filters. Sigh.

Back to the iPod. I brought home one of the older Portable Media Centers for my son to try out. He has been playing with it all day. Says “why didn’t you make a bigger deal about this, if you had, I would have considered one of these instead of an iPod.” What turned him on? He burned a CD onto both his 20GB iPod and the Windows Media Center. The Windows Media Center sounds noticeably better. Tomorrow we’re going to try some experiments to figure out whether it’s the headphones that come with both units, the format/compression, or the unit itself, but he’s right, his new iPod doesn’t sound as good.

I think we should do a podcast together tomorrow too, since he’s become quite the podcasting expert (he even told Woz about various podcasts that Woz didn’t know about).

Update: thanks to Jojjo, who pointed out that Spat is Steve Patrick. I still wish he would have that on his home page somewhere. Blogging is a very powerful relationship-building tool. How can anyone build a relationship with Steve if they have to dig through old posts to find his email and name?

John Battelle analyzes why Google is running away from the crowd in the search space internet advertising space. Hey, I can tell you that one. I work for a Google competitor. We simply aren’t as good. Yet.

The word-of-mouth network around the world is so efficient now that you can NOT win if you don’t build the best of breed products and services. When I can honestly say that MSN is better than Google, you can bet I’ll be singing that from the rooftops. MSN +is+ getting better. I can see the improvement every month. The question is will we pass Google’s quality? Will we have an advertising engine that’s better than Google? I believe we can. But we’re not there yet (even the guys who make MSN’s search engine admit that). Until we are, Google will continue being rewarded by the market.

This reminds me of working on a magazine. See, Google isn’t a search company. It’s in the audience aggregation business. Get an audience together and then figure out how to serve advertising to that audience. Lots of people think Google is a search company. It’s not. This is why Google probably doesn’t care too much about newer search engines like Technorati, Feedster, IceRocket, Sphere, or Exalead (all of which have some search advantages over Google).

Google just wants to make sure they have the biggest audience (and smartest, and richest, and youngest).

Do you have a way to attract an audience on the Internet? That’s what the business types at the big companies are looking for. Do you have a way to serve better advertising to those audiences? That’s what they are looking for too. There’s business opportunities in those two places. The trick is, getting an audience is getting harder due to the choices we all have as to where to spend our time (and our money). The more choices there are, the harder it is to get any decent sized audience.

And on the advertising side, getting advertisers to feel comfortable spending money on your service will be hard. I remember when I helped run a camera store in Silicon Valley. We used to advertise in the Yellow Pages. Lots of other competitors would always pitch us on spending money with them. So we tried the alternative once. It didn’t work. So we went back to where the audience was.

You want to know where the money is in the internet advertising business? Follow the audience. That’s where it’s going to be.

Woz’s math puzzle

So, I was out to dinner tonight at San Jose’s Fishmarket (we like it cause they have good fish for decent prices) and while waiting for a table Steve Wozniak (cofounder of Apple Computer) walks in with some friends and family. He is gracious as always, later in the evening I get to talking with him (my son wanted to see his video iPod) and he pulls a fun little math trick on him. I wrote that up over on Channel 9 cause I wanted to show you how he did it and Channel 9 lets me ink my way through stuff like that.

Anyway, we had a neat little talk. He showed Patrick his two iPods (a black Nano and a black 60gb video iPod). Showed me his Sony camera (same one that Steve Gillmor has). Showed me how to break a pencil with a $2 bill. Told me that his son, Jesse, had graduated from college and was working on software for NASA (on the project to repair the Hubble telescope). I remember helping Jesse and his computer club layout San Jose State’s newspaper back when he was about Patrick’s age (he already knew more about page design and fonts at that time than most college students did).

I talked about the Xbox 360 and how the team asked me “doesn’t this look like something Apple would have done?” We had a good laugh over that.

We talked about his phone numbers (remember, he is famous for phone phreaking before he started Apple Computer. He also played lots of practical jokes on people with his phones — called the Pope up one time and almost got him on the phone. He also had a famous joke line back in the 70s and 80s). I memorized his office phone number back in 1989 and never forgot it (weird how I can do that, but can’t remember names of people very well). He’s never changed it. He told me he also owns the number 888-888-8888. Can you guess why he can’t use it? Yeah, when he had that number he just got call after call from babies who picked up their parents’ phones and accidentally dialed that number. His cell phone number is very similar, but changed by a single digit to avoid the baby problem.

I remembered from my time hanging out with him that he always has a laser pointer on him. The color tonight was green. He was having fun with me by pointing it at the lemons on the table. His daughter told me about a time that he played some tricks on members of the Dallas Cowboys who were sitting in a restaurant nearby and they came over and sang her happy birthday.

It was a real treat running into Woz again. He got me my start in this crazy industry (I asked him for Macs for our college journalism department back in 1989 and he ended up donating $40,000 worth, which got me to learn all about how they worked).

Oh, and if you know Woz, you know he regularly attends concerts at Shoreline Amphitheater (right behind where Google’s headquarters now are). He told me stories of taking his Segway and heading off by the waters edge along the Amphitheater. Turns out there are a ton of skunks that live there. So, how do you Segway past a skunk, I asked? “Slow and steady. Don’t stop.”

Heh. He told me that members of a famous band went running along the same trail and got sprayed by three skunks. Gotta note that: if Woz asks me to go on a Segway ride, reconsider.

“I like the smell of skunk,” he told me. Says it’s sorta sweet. He said if you really want to smell something bad you should get a llama to spit on you. He said that happened to him once and it was the worst, most vile, smell he’d ever encountered. Take the worst sewer smell, mix in skunk, barf, and few other disgusting things and you’ll get llama spit. He said if you ever get spit on, just take off your clothes and burn them cause you’ll never be able to get the smell out again.

It sure doesn’t come through on ASCII text here on the blog, but the way he told it had me busting out laughing.