Welcome to Episode 73 of The Digital Life, a show about our adventures in the world of design and technology. I’m your host, Jon Follett, and with me is founder and co-host, Dirk Knemeyer.
Hey, Jon. What’s news in the digital world these days?
I wanted to start out with this very exciting build your own computer kit ostensibly for kids, but also for the young at heart such as ourselves. The kit is called Kano
and it was a Kickstarter project that received massive enthusiasm from the Kickstarter community. What is Kano? It is the first computer they claim that anyone anywhere can make. That started shipping a few days ago. They described their mission is to give young people a simple, fun way to make and play with technology.
I’m excited about this because it takes the Raspberry Pi and some additional pieces of hardware, puts it together in a kit in a way that an eight year old can understand and start really digging into the world of computer engineering. I know for my own sons, they’re not quite at that age yet, but what’s attractive to me about this hands-on engineering is I fully believe that engineering is going to be a key skill to have going forward, and I want my kids to be able to not be afraid of it, to not be afraid to get their hands dirty whether it’s in playing with circuit boards or writing code. I want them to be comfortable with that.
The idea to get kids involved at a young age, it’s almost like the transistor radio kits of the past decades or maybe some of the science kits that you and I may have had growing up. I’m just delighted that that is shipping. Judging from the Twitter chatter and the reddit conversations, I think a lot of parents are happy about that too.
Yeah, yeah. It’s really a cool product. What’s neat about it is that it’s the whole total package. What I mean by that is the full Kano kit which is a $129, it comes with a keyboard as well as the processor and the stuff that you put together to make it all go. The pieces are complete and it is complete thing at a really affordable price, but then it’s also packaged very nicely and very accessibly. As I think about and … Jesus, I mean, did I have transistor radio kits when we were kids? I mean I think it was-
Yeah, but when I think of the do-it-yourself tech kits from when I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, it was all junky. It was all hard and a lot of pieces, a lot of instructions, and you had to be a geek already. You had to be someone who was predisposed for that stuff in order to really get into it and have it deliver value. What’s so cool about Kano is that the whole package is one that really, I mean, pretty much anybody can get into unless they just are total technophobes, and make this thing and make it happen. It seems like a really well-designed platform as a first step for bringing children or just the curious into engineering and computing technologies.
Yeah. I think you put your finger on it. They got the design right of the product. I mean even though the product is ostensibly something that you’re building yourself, the experience of using it is accessible, not just to the younger age bracket but it also appeals … I mean it appeals to me, from the standpoint that it’s an accessibility that you see all too rarely with technical education materials. It’s got that maker vibe to it. That feeling that you’re doing a little bit of hacking to make something around, but at the same time it’s, I wouldn’t say spoon-fed to you, but it’s such a delightful way to get onboard that it really smoothes out all those rough edges.
I think, whoever the designers were on the team that thought through this onboarding process into youngsters engineering, I think they did a great job.
If I have a $129 extra to spend on the kids this month, I know where that’s going.
I’m going to give my kids a little more time to grow up first, but yeah, it’s definitely something I’m interested in as well.
The next thing in the news that’s worth noting from The Digital Life perspective is our friends in New York, they have launched Digital.nyc
which is their “portal,” let’s say in quotes, to the startup community down in New York, sometimes referred to as Silicon Alley but it’s a younger startup community so far as digital goes in comparison to Silicon Valley or even to the Boston area. It just doesn’t have that depth of history, but I can tell that the New York City mayor and the funding behind these initiatives to really get a creative worker class going in, in New York is paying dividends.
I think they have somewhere in the range of 5,600 startups that they’ve mapped out on a wonderful interactive InfoVis just showing their startup ecosystem. Ten years ago, that wasn’t there. This is something that New York has taken on to add to its power as financial center, as an entertainment center, and frankly, on the East Coast, I think this New York as a startup hub has really started to grow some legs. This website launch which I think is most notable for just highlighting the extent that startup community has grown and investment community there has grown over the past five years, I think that’s really notable.
Yeah, yeah. There’s a couple of things that I take away from it. First of all, the site is really nice and it’s very informative. It obviously reflects a great deal of coordination between a lot of different organizations and initiatives. From my perspective, it’s an exemplar of what a community, be it a city or a country or whatever the powers of ten of that are, I thought it’s as good as it gets from that perspective. Now, who knows how well they maintain it or how it evolves, but from day one, they’re doing it the right way.
It fits into a bigger narrative of a number of places including New York City, other cities in the United States, as well as cities around the world trying to compete with Silicon Valley and be the next Silicon Valley. To the degree to which that ambition underpins this, it’s certainly understandable from the standpoint of economic development, the standpoint of looking to the future, but that motivation is so wrong-minded. Barring a terrorist act or barring the climate change, making Silicon Valley in hospitable … I mean Silicon Valley is Silicon Valley and if you look at the biggest tech startups and the biggest what tech companies are going public and they’re still all from Silicon Valley. I mean by just a tremendously disproportionate percentage.
The whole Silicon Alley thing and the … I don’t know how familiar our listeners are with this, but just all of the cabby climbing to try and unseat Silicon Valley is just silly. What New York has done with this website and reflecting their also impressive tech community, like rock on. That’s great, but it’s more of a rising tide lifts all boats situation than something competitive in my perspective.
Yeah, that’s a great point, Dirk. I think, not to be the clouds on the horizon here, but on NPR just yesterday, I heard in passing that, in general, entrepreneurship is on the decline in America. I’m sure there are many, many reasons for that. There’s much larger corporations and companies than we’ve seen before certainly, but over the course of the past 50 years, entrepreneurship is not what it used to be. I mean the businesses that are getting started up, I mean we’re in the tech community so we celebrate this, but generally speaking, that’s just not a typical experience for people.
Part of the reason why I’m excited about Digital.nyc is because it does celebrate entrepreneurs and creating new opportunities even if, generally speaking, they’re a whole long way to go.
Yeah, yeah, I think I agree. I mean we probably need a longer show in entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is declining but the problem is that the entrepreneurship that’s really going away rapidly is the stuff that is more traditional, it’s more brick and mortar. It’s also more sustainable. It’s more integrated into communities. The startups that are being celebrated by this site and by the technology communities that we’re a part of really have different characteristics. I mean the people will sit in an incubator. I’m in an incubator right now as we record this, in fact, and they’re really trying to create this business entity outside the context of a local community.
It’s more in the context of a business community that might seem like splitting hairs, but what it really gets to is that the types of businesses that are being created around technology are not rooted to place, are not rooted to community, are not rooted to people. They’re more sort of these nebulous extensions of global capitalism. While that’s okay in certain ways, it does lack a lot of the positive byproducts that the more traditional small companies, or let’s use the word small businesses, would provide to a community.
The other vector there too is there’s just a lot more turning of money. It’s not uncommon for people starting businesses in this context to start one and burn through an $100,000 or Y million dollar, fail, spin-off the next one, burn through the money, fail. There’s nothing wrong with failure, but it lacks some of the straightforward building and infrastructure that we go into the more traditional businesses that are just vanishing rapidly. I think there’s a bigger entrepreneurial milieu that would be worth exploring but is probably outside the bounds of the show we’re recording right now.
Yeah, that definitely piques my interest, Dirk, so we’ll explore that topic for sure in a subsequent episode. The third news item that came across my desk was, of course, Windows 10 is coming out and Microsoft made the announcement
and I feel like there’s this a little bit of a lack of attention to the announcement, I mean compared to the Apple fanfare that we always get. I think Microsoft is doing something very interesting with their operating system. It’s been called a unified user experience.
What that means is that across all the different devices in your tech ecosystem, be it your mobile phone, your desktop computer, your tablet computer, the way windows is intended to work is to provide this unified experience where you can jump from device to device and have this consistency that .. It often does feel jarring for me to be looking at my iPhone and then I’m spending a bunch of time on my desktop. It’s just not quite the same thing. The general idea behind that unified UX I think is a pretty brave experiment because we’ve got all sorts of different pixel formats, real estate is totally different, interactions are different across those platforms.
I can’t tell if the current instantiation of Windows us successful or not, but they are doubling down on this paradigm and according to the announcement, they are actually going in and building this next version from the ground up so that it’s suitable for the cloud as well or it’s meant to work with the cloud seamlessly. Interesting stuff on the UX side happening over at Microsoft which sometimes gets overlooked because of all, or at least, the perceived attention for Apple.
Yeah, I don’t know. The announcement of Windows 10, I mean I meet it with a yawn. The reason is, I mean Microsoft for the last, God, I don’t know. I mean some of these predates my adulthood, so let’s just call it the last 30 years, they have every year this big advertising drumbeat of “Oh my God, the latest and greatest, Microsoft is totally reinventing how software is used. It’s totally redefining the computing experience.” Like it’s just this yearly thing and cynically, most of the time, they lay an efficient perhaps more realistically most of the time is just messed off that’s sometimes decent, sometimes mediocre, sometimes irrelevant.
I mean God bless them. I hope that Windows 10 crushes it and totally solves the ecosystem problems across devices and the cloud and the whole nine yards. For somebody to do that well, amen brother. I mean I’ll be the happiest guy alive. Wouldn’t it be interesting if instead of beating their stupid, same marketing advertising bullshit drum, if they just launch the damn thing and instead of already setting expectations high and under delivering as always, what if they pleasantly surprise us once? How would that change our perception of the Microsoft brand? How would that change our interpretation of Microsoft’s position in the computing ecosystem?
I know for me as a user group of one, it would be hugely impactful for the positive if instead of shoving this next, big, latest, greatest bullshit down my throat, just launch it and then get people talking about it. You know what? Microsoft actually killed it here and instead of trying to ratchet it up to be this huge thing, they just took it on the down low, and you know what, they really exceeded expectations. That would be something to be excited about.
Yeah. That’s a great analysis, Dirk. I think they have a great marketing machine or at least they have allowed marketing machine. That’s probably to their detriment sometimes that they can’t let go of that. I too am cheering for this unified UX just to see where it goes. I’m withholding any judgment until I get to touch some of these new devices, but being more of an Apple person, at least, historically I’ve bought a lot more from Apple than I have from Microsoft. I think it would take a really killer operating system to get me to even think about entertain the notion to switch. At least, for me, they’d have to set the bar pretty high with Windows 10 before I’d even really be interested.
Yeah, I mean for them to get me to switch, it would require that it really was recognized as this amazing homerun, but then their whole ecosystem would have to improve. I mean the phone devices and the tablet devices would have to be just like barely below the Apple experience. They don’t have to be equal but they’d have to be just right there and fit and finish and how all the different parts, hardware, I mean Apple software is crummy, but the software that sits on the Apple device is often is good as not made by Apple.
That integrative experience would need to be similar and it would all have to happen over a period of time. Also, still to this day, I mean I guess maybe it’s been a year or two now, but when I fairly recently bought a PC, I mean it was like buying a PC from Dell in 1996. It’s just all sort of questionable. There’s this edges to it where you have to do this funky borderline engineering stuff to get it all to work right. It’s not just open the box and the sun shines in. I don’t know, to get me to switch, they just have a lot of work to do. I mean God bless them. I hope they get there.
I mean I’m increasingly disenchanted with Apple both on the product and the business side. I mean the whole … I don’t even have as much problem with the free music, but the whole U2 thing which is such a fiasco where at the big announcement they have u2 perform and then Tim Cook is acting like just spontaneously. He’s like, “Oh God, you guys are the best. I really love you guys,” which right away seemed dated and culturally out of touch. Then you find out that it was all just a big business ploy to promote this collaboration with U2 as opposed to something that’s actually spontaneous and interesting. It’s just another marketing fiasco.
I’m hardly an Apple acolyte these days, but yeah, there’s really not a good alternative. Microsoft has got a long way to go. I hope they get there because I’m increasingly jaded with being part of the hipster Apple stereotype. I like to wear some different clothes.
Yeah, yeah, that feeling is starting to creep into some of my thoughts as well, so I hear you.
Listeners, remember that while you’re listening to the show, you can follow along with the things we’re mentioning here in real-time. Just head over to thedigitalife.com. That’s just one “L” in the “digitalife,” and go to the page for this episode. We’ve included links to pretty much everything mentioned by everybody, so it’s a rich information resource to take advantage of while you’re listening or afterward if you’re trying to remember something that you liked. If you want to follow us outside of the show, you can follow me on Twitter, @jonfollett. That’s J-O-N-F-O-L-L-E-T-T. Of course, the whole show is brought to you by Involution Studios, which you can check out at goinvo.com. That’s G-O-I-N-V-O-.com. Dirk?
You can follow me on Twitter, @dknemeyer. That’s @-D-K-N-E-M-E-Y-E-R. Email me, email@example.com, or read me, dirk.knemeyer.com.
That’s it for Episode 73 of The Digital Life. For Dirk Knemeyer, I’m Jon Follett, and we’ll see you next time.