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Monthly Archives: September 2011

Yesterday I referred to an article that covered, in part, the pitfalls of trying to buy a new computer. The tragedy of attempting this task is partially generated in the way that the consumer is reached. Companies end up creating so many pre-built machines, with no discernable difference between models, that the public is left in a sea of electronic rectangles. The buyer becomes confused and disoriented, grasping at straws to figure out which model is best. It is this state of user confusion that I will address today.

I believe that the computer market can be simplified by addressing three key components. First, the consumer must have access to information about each part of a computer, including the unit as a whole. This should be clear enough for your grandmother to figure out, yet detailed enough for die-hard tech nuts.

Next, a sorting system should be put in place. This will let each user either sift through pre-built models or build his computer from the ground up, if he so chooses.

Last, an interactive website is key. The website will join the first two components. Information can be paired with images and prices, and the sorting system will guide the user through as much, or as little, detail as necessary.

Now I would like to provide a simple explanation for what I would like to see in a computer sorting system:

It is important to start with the most encompassing unit and move down through the most specific units. The tower (or case, for laptops) is first. It holds every other piece of hardware. After that, the motherboard is next. As an example, the sorting software will be able to take the X case and tell the user that only A, B, and C motherboards will fit in X. If the D motherboard is too large or small, it will not be available for access in the next step.

Once the motherboard is chosen, options for the processor are addressed. This is followed by the type and amount of RAM. After that comes graphics cards, sound cards, hard drives and optical drives. It is easy to see that each successive choice is dependent on the choices before it, yet the choices which follow have less dependants. For instance, a motherboard carries the RAM, graphics card and sound card. But the graphics card doesn’t plug directly into the sound card or RAM.

As far as website implementation of a sorting system, I would like to see a list of the products that may and may not work with my chosen motherboard. If, in the right-hand pane of discarded items, I see a graphics card that I like (but doesn’t work with my currently selected motherboard) I should be able to click it and see which motherboards are compatable.

Upon first glance at this idea, it seems like the sorting system will be as complex as anything currently available. The mapping of each product will be intense, to say the least. In the end, though, I believe that the final, visual, website driven product can be user friendly. If the model is consistent, and if the user knows that he is working from top to bottom, he will see progression or regression of the entire process and will be able to make informed decisions.

To press slightly forward, I believe a user should be easily able to move through each component while building his own, start-from-scratch PC. But what if he wants a pre-built machine? The sorting system can sort that out with the same map created to handle individual pieces. Let’s say that Ms. Smith wants to purchase a family system, complete with large screen and capable WiFi support. She will be able to start from WiFi cards/adaptors and look at every standard build that contains that card. If the card is specialized – and perhaps not available in a standard build – similar cards can be recommended by the sorter and pre-built machines with the new WiFi can be shown.

In the end, everything will revolve around the map of products and the increasing use of the map. Users will enjoy functionality and ease of use, and they will stay longer at websites to purchase a product, instead of leaving in frustration. Manufacturers will take note of customer satisfaction and they will, in turn, produce more capable information on each unit, allowing for betterment of the product map.

A reciprocal relationship between consumers, vendors, and manufacturers will benefit everyone. The end user will get what he wants, he will be informed and less frustrated with the system. Vendors will see profits rise as they use product maps and large-to-small building processes. Manufacturers will be in tune with the needs and wants of the consumer, drawing on multiple map designs, varying map implementations, and an increased number of specified builds, where customers decide and receive exactly what they are after.

The one element that I enjoy most about Apple computers is the simplicity. Their laptops are thin, smooth, fully integrated. You can have them in white, gray, black and you can count the number of different models on one hand.

This is how they manufacture computers:

Machines meeting the MacBook Air’s specification can be built cheaply enough; Apple’s managing it, and Intel’s price estimates probably aren’t too far off. But they require a different approach to PC building. For example, Apple’s laptops use custom-sized lithium polymer batteries. These allow Apple to make the battery exactly fit the space available, maximizing battery life and minimizing space, but there’s a downside of sorts: Apple can’t use standard battery modules. Similarly, the MacBook Air uses a highly integrated motherboard, with almost all functionality built-in. This makes the board smaller and cheaper to produce, but it means Apple doesn’t offer a wide range of processors, GPUs, WiFi adaptors, etc.

Yes, there are downsides – but the upside is simplicity, and simplicity is selling. Apple is doing very well with their laptops. So well, in fact, that the competition is being forced to reinvent their own wheels. Intel is now creating a $300 million investment project that will help to fund other PC makers [1]. The competition is falling away and it may be due to their complexity:

Consider Lenovo. Lenovo offers a range of different Wi-Fi adaptors in many of its systems. Instead of designing several different motherboards, each with a different integrated adaptor, it puts the adaptors themselves onto daughtercards and plugs them into a socket on the motherboard. The upside is that Lenovo can offer a lot of diversity, and the daughter cards can be standard Mini-PCIe components that anyone can use. The downside is that Lenovo has boards that are less integrated—hence larger—with more components and more complex manufacturing. Lenovo also has to buy smaller numbers of more adaptors than it would if it just picked one version and standardized. It also means that people buying Lenovo systems have to make dumb choices on the website.

The two quotes above are taken from this article on Ars Technica. The authors covers his experience in trying to find an alternative to the MacBook Air. Entirely, this piece begs the question: Why are there so many choices?

As I stated above, I like simplicity. Yet, it seems as if this is naturally opposed to choice. The daunting amount of computer models is enough to make anyone’s head spin. I hate to see it come at the price of making websites that are easy to use and technically capable.

Creating twenty models where the user is forced to move up and down the scale with each hard drive, RAM type, USB component, WiFi adaptor, and screen resolution is not efficient. At the very least, it is confusing. Why not have five models, instead? Mild to Moderate to High Performance. Build every computer well. Upgrade every component at each level.

A narrowed range of choices allows for easily navigable websites which, in turn, keeps customers happy and more willing to spend time shopping. Make my life easy and I will be back to purchase. Make my life hard and I might have to catch the MacBook wagon.

[1] http://arstechnica.com/hardware/news/2011/09/ultrabook-intels-300-million-plan-to-beat-apple-at-its-own-game.ars/1

In my blog posts I have certain motivations. At times, I want my readers to agree with me, and at other times I want them to disagree. Generally, this is veiled under my desire to have discussions about a wide range of material. Agreement may keep one listening and spots of disagreement can start an argument. Each element can be helpful.

Ironically, today it is my desire for discussion that I want dissect. Instead of questioning my facts and figures I want to you question my motives.

Dan Ariely’s most recent TED talk (05:35) covers the topic of conflicts of interest. He tells the story of how his doctor was trying to push for a simple medical treatment because of the doctor’s underlying need for a research subject. Ariely also speaks of his own self deception in the way that he modifies research results.

Knowing one’s self can be a long and difficult task. As a person, I am always changing, and necessarily the insight I have about my own being must be modified time again. Regardless of effort or demand, though, I believe that this knowledge is paramount. You must start with the self and move outward.

In Ariely’s case, his research hinges upon this. Here, my respect as an admirable blogger may come into question. I do not intend to avoid my motivations or to make myself neutral in all cases. Instead, I just want to see where I am going, where I have come from and, most importantly, where I am in the present. With greater awareness should come more definitive arguments, discussions and speculations.

As it has been in the past (see here and here), the right to record police officers in a public space is a contested issue.

On the 26th of August the public took a step forward. This quote is taken from the Court of Appeal’s report of Glik v. Cunniffe (1st Cir.), and a summation can be found at the Volokh Conspiracy:

Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting “the free discussion of governmental affairs.” Moreover, as the Court has noted, “[f]reedom of expression has particular significance with respect to government because ‘[i]t is here that the state has a special incentive to repress opposition and often wields a more effective power of suppression.’” This is particularly true of law enforcement officials, who are granted substantial discretion that may be misused to deprive individuals of their liberties. Ensuring the public’s right to gather information about their officials not only aids in the uncovering of abuses but also may have a salutary effect on the functioning of government…

I view this issue as circling the importance of balance. At all times, the people are up against their government, to hold them responsible for the decisions that they make. In turn, the government is there to keep the public in order. Without equal checks on both sides, the freedoms of groups and individuals can be stepped on.

In this most recent case, I believe the court is correct in noting that the gathering of information is a huge part of this balance. The citizens and their government should be looked upon.

To be more specific, I am also in favor of a separation between public and private spaces. Also, in the case of police making arrests, any video taping that takes place should not hold up their activities. The police should have the right to do their jobs without infringement. The public should have the right to take in their surroundings without censorship by those who feel they have immunity toward being observed.

Even further analysis can be found at the Citizen Media Law Project.