After weeks of teasing, endless itty-bitty leaks, and about a zillion radio plays of the one track they’d released so far, the entirety of Daft Punk’s new Random Access Memories has just hit iTunes, days before the official release.
The catch: it’s streaming only right now. You can find the link right here. Hit the “View in iTunes” button, then just tap the “Listen Now” button. Enjoy your early taste of the album you’ll be hearing all summer.
While a few sites are declaring this a “leak”, that’s almost certainly not the case. Apple did something similar to this leading up to the recent release of Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 album, and the promotional text of the stream specifically suggests that you “pre-order the album” — which isn’t something they’d say if it wasn’t intended to go up a bit early.
“Why would they do this?” you might ask. “Isn’t this just giving pirates a hi-fi copy to spread around?”
Yes — but that’s very much not a worry at this point. We’ve got just four days before the album’s official street date. The album is almost certainly on trucks around the country. Once it’s on the trucks, it’s being ripped and uploaded to the Internet, almost without fail.
Streaming your album early, on your terms, is the new “accidental” leak. It’s fighting piracy with the only tool that can really fight it: convenience. A massive chunk of people who download leaks do it just to get a taste; to say they heard it early. By giving those people the taste they want through a sanctioned, official, high quality means, you’re nixing the need for them to download a bootleg copy.
Will it eliminate piracy of the album? Of course not — but it’s one small nudge upwards in a hugely uphill battle.
(Plus, artists make most of their money by way of touring these days anyway — and if there’s any show worth seeing live, it’s Daft Punk)
My parents have yet to receive their Christmas gift. Because they are avid skiers, I bought them gift cards to Heavenly Mountain last December, and because of some issue with either the ZIP code or security code on my credit card, my charge keeps getting rejected. I have tried five different cards.
I have called AmEx. I’m about to call Chase since I just got a new card, and sit there and go through the transaction step by step with them to make sure there’s not some sort of security thing on my card’s side preventing the transaction from going through. I’m going to do that once I finish this post. Why won’t you let me give you my money, AmEx?
My mom did, however, receive her Mother’s Day gift yesterday, and the payment experience was exactly the opposite of the middle-class problem described above. That’s because I challenged myself to use Max Levchin’s new startup, Affirm, as a payment method.
Optimized for mobile, Affirm lets you pay without a credit card via phone in literally two taps (that’s their marketing pitch, in case that’s not obvious). It “loans” you the money with no fee, then gives you 30 days interest-free to pay it back. Affirm monetizes by charging a fee to merchants in return for guaranteeing payments through its social media-enabled risk assessment.
Right now the service is only available if you’re buying something from 1-800-Flowers, which is fitting. I don’t know about you, but lots of people are happy to pay $20 more for the convenience of not having to call a random florist by your mom’s house and pay by credit card over the phone during normal business hours.
Pro tip: You can always get cheaper flowers by calling a local florist, but I prefer to do my parent gift shopping at 1 a.m. on my cell phone in bed so …
“Given 1-800-FLOWERS.COM’s culture of innovation, we are always looking for innovative experiences to test and learn [!],” 1-800-Flowers head of VP of Mobile and Social Amit Shah told me on why they chose to be Affirm’s guinea pig during their high season. “This is an important focus for 1-800-FLOWERS.COM as we have been in the mobile space for more than five years — serving a rapidly increasing number of our customers who are using our mobile site and apps to send gifts every day.”
They’re on to me.
The real simple Affirm/1-800-Flowers integration lets you choose “Affirm Express Checkout” as one of the payment methods when buying your “Fields Of Europe ™ For Mom Large” and then asks you to log in with Facebook or Gmail to your Affirm account to complete the order. No credit card numbers, no security codes, no phone calls to customer service. Hallelujah.
Because it is born mobile, Affirm then texts you that you’ve completed your order, and you have about a month to log back in to Affirm to pay for your blossoms. I forgot about it after I did it, and about a week later Affirm emailed me to remind me that I hadn’t paid. So I did. Right then.
“It’s hard to build something really convenient,” Levchin told me in an interview about the startup, below. Though he wouldn’t confirm the rumors, we’re hearing that in addition to Levchin himself through HVF, a lot of the PayPal mafia (i.e. Levchin’s homies) went in on the company’s $3m-$5m seed round, namely Peter Thiel and David Sacks. Competitors include Signifyd and Klarna.
Now it sucks that Affirm wouldn’t let me use a promo code to buy my overpriced bouquet, especially since overeager Google Wallet desperately wants to pay me $10 just to try it, but overall Affirm was worth it. (Levchin says that the Promo Code feature is coming in a new release.) Other than that, I wish that all online checkouts were this painless — This kind of friction removal has the potential to greatly expand the e-commerce market, bridge online to offline payments and engender trust among users.
Are you there AmEx? It’s me, Alexia.
I’m probably going to be consigned to whatever level of hell is reserved for pretentious editorialists for saying this, but sometimes when I’m trying to evaluate some new piece of technology, I consider whether Henry David Thoreau would have taken it to Walden Pond with him.
Wait, just give me a second. I know how it sounds. Let me explain.
I’m not some Neo-primitivist who thinks we should all go barefoot and use calorie-impoverished diets to extend our miserable lives. On the other hand, I’m suspicious of things people invent that have no purpose except a slight increase in convenience.
Yes, time is the only thing that we, as privileged first-worlders, can’t purchase. Convenience is the nearest thing to buying time, however, and it commands an understandable premium. That said, I can’t help but feel that our connected world (inclusive of the web and the devices we use to interact with it) is being populated with tools that would not look out of place in Skymall.
Google Glass is one of them (and I expect to see a knockoff in my complimentary seat-back magazine soon), but the objections against it are so obvious that I abandoned several articles enumerating them as unnecessary (one working title: HUD Sucker); at any rate, they have been expressed perfectly well by others, and I don’t plan on duplicating their efforts. Now that you know this isn’t about yet another opinion on the thing, you can move your cursor away from the “close tab” x, unless you’re reading this on Google Glass, in which case I beg to inform you, sir or madam, that it is not becoming.
But to proceed: Technology is about empowerment, and in fact I think that Thoreau’s modern analogue would find many useful tools to bring with him on his sojourn in nature.
The man was, after all, hardly a masochist or even what we would now call a Luddite, not that he had many technologies to which he could object in those days (“glow-shoes, and umbrellas”). He brought a grinder with him in the days when mortar and pestle were still in vogue, and of course many books, which were one of the primary means of entertainment, along with drinking and conquest.
Picture this modern Thoreau embarking on his hermitage. He is not trying to return to the necessities of cavemen — he wants to carve and fill a niche that is big enough to hold him, his needs, and his edifying pleasures — but no more.
So while it seems unlikely he would find room in his bag for a Slap Chop or personal air conditioner, there are many marvels of modern technology which he would be happy to utilize. If he could bring the entire Western canon on an iPad (or e-reader, to conserve power), surely that would be preferable to choosing a bare two dozen paper books. A compass would be essential, but surely a GPS unit would not be amiss? If a knife, why not a multitool? And if I’m honest, if paper and envelopes, why not Twitter? But there things begin to unravel.
Enablers and facilitators
Anyway, the point is not to make an inventory of Thoreau 2.0′s bag (heavy waxed canvas, I think), but to express that the criteria he might use to select what goes into that bag are useful ones. The idea is to find things that extend our own natural powers, or grant us new ones.
There is a real difference between the tools, digital or physical, which empower us with new actions, and the tools which merely make existing actions easier. If you want to chop down a tree, it is not realistic to do it with your teeth. Yet once a man has an axe, it is only a continuum of difficulty between felling the tree with that, and felling it with a chainsaw. The difference between the two is only effort.
Similarly, if you want to communicate with someone across the world, or retrieve information hosted on a server thousands of miles away, you will need a tool — even the most stentorian or far-sighted among us could not hope to work in place of the most fundamental element of a phone or the Internet. But once that connection is made, as you add speed and modes of consumption, past a certain point you are no longer enabling new actions, but rather facilitating existing ones.
I’ve always liked Samuel Warren’s description of difficulty in Ten Thousand A-Year: “What is difficulty? Only a word indicating the degree of strength requisite for accomplishing particular objects; a mere notice of the necessity for exertion; a bugbear to children and fools; only a mere stimulus to men.”
Do we all need the digital equivalent of chainsaws, reducing the necessity of exertion to its absolute minimum? Note, I don’t think we’re quite there yet – our devices and networks are still developing. But once you see that something is not actually new, but only does what another thing did before faster or cheaper, isn’t it a rational choice to draw a line there — whichever side of that line you choose to stand on?
For more powerful tools carry risks and problems of their own, and some find that the cure is worse than the disease. It’s a mistake to write off such people as simply old-fashioned, or ignorant, or afraid of the future. There are sophisticated objections to these things on the tumultuous outmost margin of technology, every spasm of which is breathlessly extrapolated into some magical future by pundits with brief memories and narrow considerations.
Sometimes, on reflection, I find myself among their company. That’s why I like this little Thoreau exercise. A simple question: Does this add something new, as an axe or a mobile phone does? Or does it make something easier, as a chainsaw or Google Glass? And in either case, at what cost?
The answer is rarely surprising, but the process helps clarify what exactly it is that I think I need from these things, what they really provide, and what may come in the future to replace them.
An old saying states that “security is inversely proportional to convenience.” This explains the slow adoption of many important security technologies. HTTPS, the secure version of the HTTP protocol used to browse the world wide web, has been around for more than two decades, but it’s only been in the last couple of years that it has been enabled by default on many major websites.
Back when we sucked down email from our ISPs over POP3 connections, all your data was, literally, yours: it was under your control more often than it wasn’t. If someone wanted access to your data, they had to access (or attack) your computer. As more and more of today’s data lives “in the cloud”, security becomes more and more important. If someone wants to access your data, you might never know about it as the attacks (or subpoenas) would be executed against the various cloud services you use.
Unlike Dropbox and similar services, which make it clear that they can access your data if they need to do so, SpiderOak employees can’t even see the names of the files you upload. And yet, SpiderOak hasn’t enjoyed quite the same level of success as Dropbox, in part because the security implementation makes it a little harder to use.
SpiderOak has made some great strides in making a friendlier product for casual users. They’ve revamped the sign-up process to make it easier and less intimidating, without compromising security. And they’ve just unleashed their new Hive addition, which makes multi-device synchronization easier than ever.
Historically, SpiderOak required users to explicitly share specific folders with specific devices. That’s a great feature, allowing you to ensure that your personal stuff doesn’t ever get synchronized to a work laptop, for example. But not everyone wants to explicitly decide which data can reside on which devices. Hive, available now, provides a pre-configured folder that is automatically synchronized with all devices linked to your account. This brings more Dropbox-like functionality to SpiderOak users, allowing them to enjoy secure cloud-based storage without manually configuring every device.
As Dropbox’s success has made abundantly clear, though, file storage and synchronization is so last year. The new hotness is service integration and automation. Things like IFTTT and all the other automation built atop it are making Dropbox the filesystem of the Internet. SpiderOak wants to be the private filesystem of the Internet. In order to support a rich ecosystem of third-party applications while still enforcing a commitment to zero-knowledge privacy, SpiderOak is working on Crypton, “a framework for building cryptographically secure cloud applications.”
SpiderOak has a couple of other tricks up their sleeve, too. While Dropbox and its ilk are strictly hosted solutions, SpiderOak has worked with a number of different corporate clients to deploy zero-knowledge privacy behind those companies’ firewalls. For various government and military agencies, this kind of on-premise secure storage is a requirement that Dropbox can’t easily provide.
Finally, SpiderOak has a few PSAs about the distinction between security and privacy available at zeroknowledgeprivacy.org. “Why Privacy Matters” and “The Fine Print of Privacy” are easy to read primers on some of the issues surrounding privacy online today. Even if you’re happy with Dropbox — or any of the cloud services that are quickly becoming indispensable — it’s worth spending a few minutes to read these primers.
“Can you hear me now?”
You may remember that line from a wireless-phone company commercial. The reason that line is so successful is that we all say it. I’m willing to bet that many of you say that or some version of that question pretty often. We want to make sure we are heard.
This review of the Plantronics Voyager Legend headset is for the entrepreneur on the go, or the small business owner, manager or professional who needs a solid hands-free device with excellent reception and sound clarity. And one also looking for time savings and convenience.
Last year, I was part of a Plantronics contest and received a Voyager Legend headset. At the time, I rarely used my mobile phone for important business calls because I could not depend on the other mobile headsets I had tried in the past. That meant I coordinated most of my meetings when I was absolutely certain I would be in a quiet place with the strongest wireless signal.
Since then, little by little, I started to use the headset. I’m pleased to report that I use a Voyager Legend headset nearly every day now. I live on an island and when I go out for the day for business meetings, I have to take a ferry and am often gone for the day. So I end up taking a lot of calls when mobile. And I worry less about where I’m going to be when it’s time to take an important call.
The Voyager Legend (pictured below) comes in several flavors – regular and what is known as “UC” which stands for Unified Communications .
UC is the platform on a user’s computer that allows them to integrate IM, phone calls, video conferencing and more. The Voyager Legend UC headset plugs into your computer with the included USB dongle, letting you take voice and video calls from your computer. The Voyager Legend UC also comes in two variants; one regular and one optimized for Microsoft. The UC version, either one, is $199. The regular Legend (non-UC version) is priced at $99 and this is the one I have.
Both versions of this headset are multi-point, allowing you to have two different mobile phones configured to connect to your headset. That means you don’t have to switch headsets to use a different device.
For team members who use multiple devices during the workday, you begin to see the advantages.
What I really like:
- The Mute button. On the headset, there is a simple button, but cooler is that the headset announces to you only that the “mute is on.” Of course, it tells you it is off, too, when you press it again. You can press the mute button on your actual phone, but I like the headset one.
- The sensor technology (I don’t know exactly how it works, but it is cool): If I put it on my ear as the phone is ringing it will still answer the call. No fumbling about to make the switch. If it’s already in my ear, I can use voice commands to answer it or ignore it.
- On the UC front, not having to manually connect each device you want to switch to, is a time-saving option.
What I would like to see:
- A universal charger – the headset has its own proprietary connection. This is the only downside, in my view. To be fair, it is probably pretty hard to fit a micro-USB connection into that tiny space. The good news is that the other end is a standard USB connection so most chargers will accept the USB end, or your laptop can charge it for you.
Although this review is focused on the Voyager Legend, I have to throw in a few good words about another option – the Calisto speakerphone, also by Plantronics. The Calisto is a portable speaker approximately four inches square by 1.5 inches tall. It can connect to your laptop with a small USB keyfob or via Bluetooth. It is powered by a rechargeable lithium battery (connect it to a USB charger).
I am using the 620 model, optimized for Microsoft Lync and it is wonderful. Seriously. I have used it as a speaker in hotel rooms to play music on my Samsung S3. And I have used it as a speakerphone in my car when I’m not using a headset. It connects very quickly and for those who find that their cell phone speakers are just not enough, this little device is a lifesaver. It comes in its own little neoprene case for $149.95. It is also UC-capable.
Overall, if you find that you want a robust, sophisticated hands-free device, the Voyager Legend headset (UC or regular) is a serious contender.
If you just can’t put something in your ear, or need a speakerphone, look to the elegant little Calisto speakerphone.
Image credit: Plantronics
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