Apple and Google Stocks are Looking Mighty Fine

Amid all the rumors that Apple had stock related fraud, Apple’s stock dipped nearly 5% last Tuesday. When I read these articles, my first instinct was to buy. To me, it seemed evident that Steve Jobs wasn’t responsible for any of this. Numerous reports implicated former employees and that Jobs hadn’t benefited personally. And yet, the stocks were taking a beating.

While I was pondering the crazy idea of buying some Apple shares, the next morning news broke that an internal investigation exonerated Jobs, leading to a jump in shares of 5%. Damn.

It seemed stupid to me that people ignored previous indications that Jobs didn’t do anything. Did people not read the news? And I quote:

the matter “raised serious concerns regarding the actions of two former officers in connection with the accounting

It had been said from the very start the whole thing spun around the former officers, but then an internal investigation makes everybody confident again. Oh well. I guess I missed that boat.

In the other news, after my recent post about Google Checkout, I’m really starting to wonder if I should invest in Google. Three other factors have popped into my mind as to why the next 18 months for Google could be record-setting:

1. Google bought tons of dark fiber. Nobody stills knows exactly why. Perhaps in 2007 we’ll start to see the reason. I think the YouTube bandwidth could be a hint of things to come.

2. They are finally starting to do something with their radio ad agency they purchased. The interesting part to me is the following sub-heading in that article:

Until Google can strike a deal with CBS, or some other radio giant, “there will be no significant impact until mid-2007

Well, now that CBS loves Google, I’m sure we’ll see that deal go down smoothly (eventually).

3. They have YouTube. Seeing as YouTube’s popularity is only growing, I’m interested in seeing what will happen. You see, one of the biggest costs to YouTube was bandwidth, the one thing Google can take in the chin without flinching. Even if YouTube costs a fortune to run, I think Google is ready to monetize it. I don’t think 2007 will be the year of Internet TV — it’s too early for that. But I do think 2007 will be the year internet TV will finally be recognized, just as internet telephony took a hold this year with Skype et al.

Right now Google is $500 a share. Adding in those above points plus the possibility of entering the CPA (cost per action) ad market, I think Google might gain a lot of value next year. Like in the order of 10 to 20 percent.

I’ll be pondering this a little while longer.

A New Library: NSFW JS — Protect Your Visitors at Work

I wrote a drop-in library in JavaScript that protects your visitors from accidentally viewing material not suitable at work.

It is based on an article about adding a new “NSFW” attribute:

I am now proposing a new attribute:

rel=”nsfw”

NSFW is an abbreviation often used to indicate that content is “not safe for work.”

Check out the demo and source code here. There are tons of examples on the page so I won’t post any sample code here. It could probably be a little more efficient, but I got lazy. But despite my “laziness,” the script does three major things:

  1. All marked <a> tags prompt the visitor
  2. Marked <img> tags are replaced with a placeholder until they are clicked on.
  3. Marked <div> and <p> tags masked so that all the text is the same color as the background until it is clicked on.

I went a step further and made it also check the CSS class name as well as use the text “adult” interchangeably with “nsfw”. Here is an example of #2 (the content is safe for work, despite the warning message):

For those of you still reading, the version I wrote took me longer than I hoped because I had one major goal in mind:

Dropping this script in should not break any site, ever.

Well, that’s difficult given the current state of the Internet: tons of links out there already have “onClick” actions. Any regular drop in script would overwrite those actions! So I had to make sure my version would work even in those situations. So, granted, it probably won’t work exactly as I’m hoping on some small percentage of sites out there (who knows), but for 99.999% of the cases, this should work.

I have appropriately called this script Nsfw JS and released it for free as usual.

Update: I plan on releasing an update to this library soon, so if you plan on adopting this now, make sure to check back later.

Google’s Future Depends on Google Checkout

I have a secret to share: Google cares half as much about Gmail, Gchat, Gmaps, and virtually every other spin-off they have recently made combined when compared to Google Checkout. Google Checkout is Google’s new secret weapon, and its value to Google has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the payment processing market.

This isn’t about competing with PayPal, even though that’s what it looks like at first glance. It is their way of cornering a totally new market: a different ad model commonly known as cost-per-action. Currently, Google is the king of pay-per-click (where you get paid when someone clicks on an ad). But pay-per-click is getting heavy competition from Yahoo and Microsoft. Now Google wants to jump ahead and enter a new market. This market isn’t exactly without its competitors, but as I will demonstrate shortly, Google has a secret weapon called Google Checkout that gives it a huge edge over the currently entrenched king ValueClick.

What’s Google Checkout? I recently tried it out following up on a promotion they were running. After using it twice, I am convinced it is highly under-valued. It is like a universal shopping cart account. It is so sweet not having to create an account at random websites (and having to remember them). Here are the top three features Google Checkout offers consumers:

  1. It remembers you. After your first purchase, it remembers everything about you so you never have to type in your email, shipping address, or payment information again. Just like Amazon.
  2. One login for every site you purchase from.
  3. Email privacy. The explicit option to opt out of promotional emails from that seller *and* the ability to hide your email address from the seller.

#3 is great. I was able to cancel my order without emailing the store directly using a web form, allowing me to keep my email address hidden from them. Just how easy was purchasing with Google Checkout?

Here’s the steps it requires after you click on “Checkout using Google Checkout“.

Step 1: Sign in.

Step 1... login

Step 2: Checkout.

step 2... checkout.

This looks just like any other checkout application, right? Wrong. This could be any online store. The checkout process is exactly the same and the amount of typing I do is absolutely minimal. I register with Google once, and I can go and buy stuff at any store that supports Google Checkout without further handing out my personal information.

It’s like PayPal, but not scummy.

One observation I will make is that Google Checkout allows Google to fully track the purchases its users make. This could be another long term investment for Google in terms of targeted ads. If they found that a certain user recently purchased an iPod, for example, they could show that user more iPod accessory ads. If they noticed you like Best Buy, they might show you more Best Buy ads. The possibilities are endless.

But most importantly, Google Checkout closes a huge loop in their ad program. They now have data on who purchases what. Well, let’s rewind a bit and explain the current cost-per-action model.

After you click on an ad, some data is stored by the online store you are visiting, and the owner of that ad A.K.A. publisher. After you’ve paid up, you’re sent to a confirmation page that says stuff like “Thanks for buying!” On this page, there is code (a 1×1 pixel image) that tells the publisher you bought stuff. This allows the publisher to close the loop and know which clicks led to sales. The publisher is then paid per sale that resulted from a click from their ads (thus, “action”).

There are two main obstacles in the industry currently.

  1. Ad blockers and various security settings can disable this extremely vital code, depriving the publisher of revenue. Stores that are aware of this can game the system and purposely eliminate some percentages of sales from being credited.
  2. Post-sales data is unavailable. Cancellations and refunds still have to be treated like sales. It’s 100% the honor system.

But with Google Checkout, everything changes. Google knows you made the purchase right then and there. There is no external “code” that can be blocked or lost. And unlike regular cost-per-action companies, it also knows if a purchase is later refunded, returned, or canceled – something that is extremely difficult (impossible) to track for all modern day publishers.

If this is widely adopted, they will corner the cost-per-action market since they would be able to track a sale with a much higher degree of confidence than their competitors. This is beneficial to both merchants and publishers. And as I demonstrated above, the application is also awesome for consumers.

I have three pieces of evidence that signify that their interest is in the cost-per-action market rather than, for example, Paypal’s turf:

  1. They’ve shown nearly zero interest in consumer to consumer payments. This makes sense since they don’t care about that market. They’re happy letting Paypal have that pie and dealing with all the eBay fraud. They’re even letting merchants use the service free of charge.
  2. They started a super-private cost-per-action test several months ago. Google Checkout launched only days later.
  3. It is directly related to their core business model. In fact, it is the logical next step. It’s an industry they know well.

They need market share for this plan to work. I predict they will continue to take huge aggressive steps for this product in 2007. Think about it: what other product have you seen Google take losses and offer huge discounts to consumers and merchants just for using it? Right now, Google has only one cash cow. Gaining this market gives them two.

They need this to be a home run success to safeguard their future. I am willing to bet a fortune that Google will push this service as if their life depended on it. Because it does.

Catastrophes Nix the Net

While I was writing my post about the permanent nature of the Internet, secretly in the back of my mind, I knew that there were things that could happen that would destroy those sacred “permanent” foot prints. You see, while the Internet usually has many copies of a given piece of data, a large majority of it sits on servers under half a dozen US companies (Google). When these companies go under, with them, so will our data. And I’m fairly positive that no company can last forever. Forever is a very long time.

Natural disasters can do their damage too. Take the major earthquake that screwed over Asia, effectively cutting off a third of the world from half of the Internet. This brings up another possible way the Internet may not be forever.

The Internet can fork. Right now there is one giant Internet. But what happens when it forks into two, three, or 20 pieces? What happens if a group of countries decides to make their own net (China)? What happens if that net catches on and the old one is left behind? How likely is this to happen? Well, this all depends on the economic stability of the US and the international ability to keep overall peace. If a World War III broke out, you can kiss the united Internet good bye.

When I said “forever” yesterday, what I really meant was “Probably your lifetime. Maybe ten lifetimes.” Forever is a long time.

Evolution or Two Gods?

A while back I decided I was going to stay away from political news, but I’ve decided it limits my available topics too much.

Arstechnica had a post bashing Intelligent Design (ID) today. The whole debate is really the same arguments being re-hashed over and over. I hate seeing these circular debates, and I wish people introduced new ideas into the discussion. I have such a proposal, but first — a little background.

I’ve thought about this debate over Intelligent Design. If people want to believe God made life, that’s cool. What’s not cool is then claiming the whole theory has nothing to do with God. I once saw a debate between that Dawkins guy and someone else, and it went something like this:

Dude: Intelligent Design is not religion.
Dawkins: How can you say that!
Dude: It’s a scientific theory, just like Evolution.
Dawkins: You can’t test it. It just claims God made the world.
Dude: No. Intelligent Design does not claim there is a God. Only that life was designed.
Dawkins: Ok. So who is this designer?
Dude: Intelligent Design doesn’t make that assumption of who the designer is.
Dawkins: Who is the designer?
Dude: I’m telling you: Intelligent Design only advocates a designer, not who the designer is.

I’m sure many people have seen similar lines of questioning to this in various debates. Typically, such debates end up something like this:

The Creator is Someone Offensive but Equally Likely
You: Is the designer God?
Dude: Well, Allah, God, Jesus – different religions might refer to the Designer as different things since ID is secular in that respect.
You: Could it be Satan?

I’m not joking here. It is difficult to deny this point without pulling out scripture so most people are forced to accept it as equally likely under ID. Unfortunately, that point doesn’t make ID any more or less correct, it just admits Satan (or a flying spaghetti monster) could have made the world. This does nothing to further the discussion, but it is the usual knee-jerk response.

The next example is what I wish was more often pushed during discussion:

Polytheism as a Counter Theory
You: How many Designers are there?
Dude: ID makes no claims about the nature of the designer.
You: Any reason why many Designers is less likely than One?

I am not sure if you’ve learned about this, but one of the great mysteries of biology is why there are two genders when population survival would be simpler if there was only one sex. There are various theories about this, but the question is further complicated by the existence and survival of hermaphroditic animals (hamlets, snails, worms). Well, this is a tangent, but you get my point. Why only one, right? Most animals have two parents, so why not the Designers of life as we know it? No, really. Think about this. Without bringing in religious texts, why only one? Doesn’t it seem equally, if not more likely, that there are two Designers by looking at most higher order animals (especially humans)? Doesn’t it seem like there is more evidence of multiple designers rather than one?

Again, this argument does not serve to invalidate ID. You can’t invalidate a theory that can’t be tested. However, it goes to show how incredibly non-secular ID is. People can roll their eyes at the Satan/FSM comments because nobody says those things and means it (usually it’s in sarcasm), but a polytheistic argument using my biology example should be highly understandable. I’d love to see a monotheist push ID as a multi-designer theory because it will never happen since it is not a secular concept.

Even if ID caught on in public schools, it should be forced to mention the Designer as “Intelligent Designer(s).” If you are offended by this idea, it is because you agree with me in that Intelligent Design is not secular.

You can’t separate religion from this debate, folks. And that’s why it doesn’t belong in public schools.

Social Networks Usher in a New Era of Mankind

I read an interesting article about social networks and privacy today. The article explains how damning social networking can be to an individual. I agree.

It doesn’t matter if you think photos of you licking tequila off a person at a party seem “okay” to you now. It may seem “fun” to you now that there’s a photo of you streaking across the street. It may seem totally “normal” for you to be breaking the law and drinking when you’re only 20. And if you’re lucky, all these things will remain “okay” for years to come. Unfortunately, it’s increasingly likely that an innocuous “joke” comment you left on someone’s profile will later come back as damning evidence against you in a job interview, a political career, or marriage. You simply don’t know, and it would be stupid of you to ignore that possibility.

I’ve tried to explain this to my friends the best I can, but it seems people just don’t get it (at least those my age).

Most people would agree they were pretty immature only a few years ago. Well, it’s no news flash that you will seem pretty immature to yourself in five years too.

But the Internet doesn’t have a memory of five years — no, it’s more like forever. There is a damn good chance my kids will some day find a cache of this page. Possibly even my grand kids. Have you thought about that when you make a profile somewhere?

People think just because their data is in a “private” network, it is safe. Sure, it’s safe from predators – for now – but give it five years. Give it 10. All it takes is one leak and it’s all over. All it takes is one person to see a photo of you drunk out of your mind making out with somebody to copy it and blog about it in their publicly accessible journal.

People these days are posting about their bad grades, unstable love life, frequent usage of drugs, and other things that nobody wants their employer to know. The point is that you just don’t know who will look at what you are writing. It doesn’t stop at a potential employer. There are already documented instances of the police using it to nab criminals. I have heard first hand from a friend working in the government that Facebook is used during security clearance screenings and many people fail due to photos of them breaking the law. Sometimes they were even prosecuted.

It will be very interesting in 10 to 15 years when the first major political candidates emerge that have gone through the Myspace and Facebook generation. Something similar to what I am thinking already happened recently. Tons of under age drinking photos will emerge. Some will involve rampant nudity, drug use, or illegal activity. None of it will be helpful to their image. Some of it may destroy marriages and careers.

Luckily, the net is still young and undeveloped. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you can get away with removing your content if you do it early enough.

I’m not trying to advocate avoiding social networks since I also think they will become an inseparable part of everybody’s social life. But they should be used cautiously. The rule of thumb I use is this:

Would I want my boss to see this? How about my parents?

Think about it.

Foot prints on the Internet are like foot prints on the moon (rather than the traditional beach) — they should be regarded as permanent. This isn’t like anything humanity has ever had before. You really can make a permanent mark. It’s your job to make sure you do damage control now, because you probably can’t later.

Clean Coding

Consider the following source code:

$uSess = uLogin($uName, $pwd);

That’s a fictional piece of code that might exist in a login script. The uLogin function, short for “user login” versus, perhaps, aLogin for “admin login”, accepts two parameters: a username and a password and assigns the result to a session variable called “uSess”.

This sort of code is very common, and I hate it. By looking at the code, there are numerous problems with how the variables and function are named that can cause long term problems. The proper naming should be:

$USER_SESSION = userLogin($username, $password);

There are two primary changes I have made.

  1. Globals and constants should be capitalized. While technically $password is a global variable, in this context, I am referring to variables that are accessible in any function or class, which sessions are. Since the result is being assigned to some session variable (in my example), it should either be in all caps or use the $_SESSION global array.
  2. No abbreviations!!! Was it passwd? Pass? Psswd? Pwd? Password? Pword? You might remember now, but you won’t in three months. And if someone else in the same namespace decides to create another variable referring to another password, things can get VERY messy when you end up with code with $pwd, $password, $pass, and $pass2 all mixed together near each other. It would have made things much simpler had each person who added the variables used a fully qualified prefix and name such that, instead, you ended up with: $password (the original), $adminPassword, $systemPassword, $databasePassword, etc.

It’s only a few more letters to type that will save you hours some day in the future. It’s worth it.

Housing is Crazy

I live in LA, the land where land costs you an arm and a leg. That’s right, the prices for living here are insane. Condos here go for as much as houses in other cities. Houses start at something crazy like $400k. And that got me thinking. What the hell do I need to make to be able to afford a house here?

Well, without doing any hard math, I decided to look at my parents’ lives as an example. They did pretty well for themselves, and owned quite a number of properties over the years. I thought about what they could afford on their income and it really put things into perspective.

My parents bought their first house here in the US 20-or-so-years ago. I don’t remember the exact figures my dad once told me, but I recall something like $120k. That’s $220k in today’s money. I have no idea what my parents made, but I know they are very cautious spenders, and I think they bought it in cash after years and years of saving in poverty.

Then, about 10 years ago, they bought their second house. I believe it was for something like $350k, which is about $440k of today’s money.

And here’s where my brain went numb in awe. At that point, my parents had no debt and bought everything, including the house and cars in cash. That isn’t typical, and even though we lived a middle class lifestyle, something tells me my parents were far better off than most of our neighbors.

And thus my chilling conclusion. How in the hell are people in LA supposed to afford a house? Granted most of them aren’t buying it in cash, but with interest and fees, a $400k loan is a hefty monthly payment (~$3000), easily dropping someone from “rich and comfy” to “college student.”

No wonder some people commute over an hour to get to work.

Reality check.

Nintendo’s Marketing Team Got SO LUCKY

Today is news that the Wii is kicking ass. I find two things interesting about this article.

First, only Nintendo-brand products saw an increase in volume in the last notch in the graph. That is probably more of a hiccup than anything, but you could also attribute the growth to the halo effect on the DS and mass shifting of consumer attention to the Wii.

The second point follows up on my earlier post about how lucky Nintendo got. In short, I wrote that Nintendo messed up their pre-launch marketing (at least in the US), causing a less-than-solid demand. Well, the proof arrives today in that graph.

Everybody is busy staring at that huge spike on the end, but my eye focuses on the line before it spikes. That’s right, the Wii was the lowest item on that graph only weeks ago! In fact, on its launch day (Nov 19), it was still the lowest ranked search item among all other consoles listed on that graph.

Yes, Nintendo got lucky that their product is kicking ass due to second-wave word of mouth. This is because unlike Sony or Microsoft, a slow start for the Wii, coupled with its irregular control scheme, would have doomed the console because nobody would want to port games to the “gimmick” console.

Most importantly, Nintendo got lucky because consumers, as they had only hoped, darted for the “novel” control scheme over the bigger and better graphics. In hindsight, most people would claim, “Of course consumers would!” But staring at this decision two years ago — well, Nintendo has very some brave managers. And without knowing how sales were going to turn out until long after launch, and looking at the early consumer interest on the Wii (especially launch day), it must have been a scary ride.

I say “lucky,” but let’s not confuse the fact that it was still an ingenious product. The marketing department, however, deserves little credit for its wild success.