With this black background and tiny specs reflecting the light, I think they look more like alien space craft than creatures from the deep.
Archive for April, 2011
Oh, and happy Earth Day as well. Got carried away with my aquarium photos and completely forgot to mention that I’ve started posting more articles to my Vertography Blog – a blog for all things green. Check it out, and add it to your RSS reader, if you’re still doing that, or follow @vertography on Twitter. I’ll see about a Facebook page soon as well.
For anybody who’s been down there, you’ll know just how hard it is to get a good shot of these guys. The room is dark, and people are pushing to get to the front and be right up close to the jellies. Oh, and did I mention that they’re constantly moving? Well, they are, not fast, but fast enough to make it that little bit harder to catch them well.
A little while back we took a Sunday drive down to the Monterey Bay Aquarium (one of my favourite places around here). This is one of the many photos I took while we walked around the aquarium – a shot of a leafy sea dragon. Aren’t they amazing!
For those not living in the San Francisco area, BART is a regional train service here that connects many of the East Bay cities with San Francisco and the cities on the SF peninsula down as far as the international airport (although connecting to the airport was something of an afterthought that was only added in the time I’ve been living here).
With the ending of the shuttle I was taking from SF to San Bruno, where Devicescape‘s headquarters is located, my only option from Embarcadero to San Bruno is BART. Now, over three months into that commute, I have some observations about BART that as an infrequent user I hadn’t really noticed all of.
OK, it would be a lie to say that I had not noticed the screeching BART trains make through the tunnels as an infrequent user of the service, but now I am on their trains for an hour each day (30 minutes each way), the screeching is unbelievable. I’ve never been on a train service anywhere else in the world that is so loud. Most of the time a conversation with the person sitting next to you is impossible. My noise canceling headphones only managed a small reduction in the noise level.
Choosing cloth carpets for a commuter train in a place where rain is not that uncommon has to rank up there as one of the most stupid decisions ever made. And now the cars have been in service for many years, those carpets are stained and disgusting. Granted, there are a few cars with new hard floors in use, but some of them are labeled as “demonstration” cars, and they are clearly getting old themselves, so unless the demonstration period was measured in decades, it looks as though no plan to upgrade the remaining cars was ever agreed upon.
Cloth seats were also perhaps not the best choice, but at least that is more common on trains that serve cities as far apart as BART does. The problem is that most train services clean them, or replace them when they become too soiled. Apparently not BART; frequently I see seats that are so badly stained I would rather stand than go near them. And that’s just what I can see. A recent report found all kinds of unpleasant stuff hiding in the BART seating.
No Food & Drink
Even more bizarre for a regional train service with journey times of 30 minutes to over an hour, food & drink is banned. They even interrupt useful next train information announcements with warnings about large fines for consuming food or drink on board.
Most train services are happy to have concession stands and/or vending machines within their stations selling food & drink because they get much needed revenue from such stands. Some train systems even have carts being pushed through the trains, or specific cars where food & drink is sold. Not BART.
The reason? They want to keep the trains clean. Clearly that’s not working. They’d be better off selling food & drink in the stations & actually cleaning the trains.
I mentioned in the last section that the no food & drink announcements frequently cut off information announcements about the next train (sometimes even the one about the train currently at the station). It is not just the food & drink ones though. BART has a plethora of poor audio quality (often complete with office noise in the background) announcements that are played from the central control centre and will always override the station specific train information.
Bad announcements are not just limited to the stations though. On board announcements are made by the operator. Some are really good at this, others not so good. Either way, it appears that there is no script for what should be said. I often catch a train in the mornings where the operator announces the destination station name at each stop – very disconcerting if you weren’t paying attention. Others give a little more detail, like “This is Daly City; Millbrae train,” which makes it much clearer.
BART frequently stops mid-tunnel, especially the evening trains for some reason, and once again the operator information varies from total silence to a clear reason. This sort of thing should be consistently clear.
Escalators & Ticket Barriers
Everybody understands that escalators & elevators break down, but not daily. Embarcadero station, it seems, has its escalators out of service more often than in service these days. Shopping malls manage to keep their escalators running most of the time, why is it so hard for BART?
Even more annoying, when the escalator is out of service, they chain them off, forcing everybody into the narrow staircase next to it. An escalator can still be used as stairs when it is not running, but it seems BART is unaware of this.
Delays on train services (at least outside of Japan) are not uncommon, but BART seems to have them more frequently than I would expect, and without reason. We will frequently stop between stations for minutes at a time with no more explanation than “there is a traffic jam ahead” (I kid not, that was an actual operator announcement from a few weeks ago).
Finally, the overhead indicator boards that are on each platform have 4 lines of text on them than could be used to continually advise about the time for the next train. Instead, BART has chosen to fill them with more of their pointless announcements most of the time, or have them all show just the current time (something I can get from my watch or cellphone).
There is enough space on these boards that they could easily reserve one or two lines for next train information all the time, and scroll their other messages in the other portion of the screen. The current usage of these displays is just another indication that BART management knows very little about running a train service.
Every so often an app comes along that breaks the sacred rule of ads: they include some form of advertising in a paid app. The most recent was Angry Birds, a hugely successful $0.99 app, by including a house ad on their pause screen. That’s pretty innocuous – most players will rarely, if ever see that screen, and the ad was for other Angry Birds products. But where did this rule come from?
Free With Ads
Most people seem to have accepted that a free app with some ads is an acceptable compromise, allowing the developer to collect some revenue to (help) pay for the development & maintenance of the app. This model appeared on the web too, where many sites carry ads to pay for their content being free.
Unfortunately, it rarely brings in enough money to truly pay for the development of the app, or the creation of the content. As the news industry is discovering, ad supported web sites alone just don’t pay the bills. The solutions for the web are well known:
- Less content, which is a vicious circle, since less content means less ads;
- Lower quality content, also a vicious circle since you less readers;
- Subscriptions for accessing some or all of the content;
In the app world, especially in an app world where updates are expected to be free for life & the initial purchase price as near to $1 as possible, the choices are more limited. The Angry Birds idea of adding discrete ads later in the life of the paid app seems like it might become more the norm as developers loom for ways to at least subsidize ongoing maintenance of very low cost apps that are in the long tail of their sales volume.
The odd thing about the fuss over ads being included in a paid app is that most of those complaining are probably happily paying for newspapers, magazines and television content, and at rates often much higher than $0.99 for life, yet all of those include ads as well.
My Comcast cable bill makes my app purchases look insignificant, and yet almost all the channels on there show ads. Even the premium HBO channels show house ads between programming; essentially the equivalent of the Angry Birds pause screen ad.
Watched a movie at a theatre recently? Over $10 to enter, and they spend 15+ minutes before the movie plays showing ads for all kinds of things.
Why is it acceptable to pay for these types of content and still see ads, but it breaks an inviolable law for a paid app, charging a fraction of the price, to include even discrete house ads? Seems like there is a double standard there somewhere.
There’s no such thing as a free update, at least not for a developer. Every update, no matter how small, involved time and effort. It also requires an annual subscription to the developer program(s) for the platform(s) the app is being supported on, and continuous outlay for expensive hardware to make sure the app works on the latest devices as well as a selection of older ones.
I don’t want this piece to become a whine about how developers are not getting paid enough for their apps though. If you’re not getting paid enough to keep your business working, you need to look for a (creative) solution to that, or change business!
With enterprise software, the cost of updates is covered by, often very expensive, annual maintenance contracts. For shrink wrapped or downloadable desktop consumer software, the initial purchase price includes some maintenance, and major updates normally have to be paid for (if you’re lucky, at a discount rate). But for mobile apps, free updates for lifetime have become the rule. A developer who tries to charge for an update by making the next version of their app a different app that must be bought again is likely to called greedy & given lots of bad publicity online.
In some segments of the market that is less of a problem – games, as an example, have a short life before they are replaced by the next great idea. Apps that are expected to have a longer useful lifetime find it harder to maintain a revenue stream that can pay for new features, or even maintenance of existing ones.
What options are available in the current app world to a developer wanting to keep improving their app?
- Ads, even in an app that was initially paid for;
- Subscription for content and/or a service;
- Charging for new features via in-app purchases, or by creating new apps on major releases;
If your app does not lend itself to a service you can charge for (or Apple’s ever changing rules on subscriptions outside of the app store payment mechanism concern you), then your options are charging for new features or running ads.
In the near future, in expect we will start to see more paid apps including some form of advertising. I hope it is better than the generic & poorly targeted banner ads we see today from networks like AdMob and iAds.