Internet & Computers

At one time or another, most of us have had an idea for a new product, or a way to change an existing product for the better. How many times have you seen a product advertised on TV and found yourself saying something along the lines of, “I thought of that years ago!” Someone else beat you to making that great idea happen. It’s frustrating, but the daunting process of working through the jungle of patents and lawyers in order to bring an idea to life has always been somewhat of a pitfall.

The Internet gives aspiring designers, artists, filmmakers, engineers and others a place to showcase their ideas and products. The Web has allowed us to create a worldwide marketplace, a digital shopping mall where housewives can make money selling boxes of “vintage” items from the garage and specialty manufacturers and artists can target specific customers and drive business to their shops.

So, what’s the next step for small business commerce on the Internet? What if you don’t even have a business yet? What if you’re just one person with a great idea for a movie, art piece, cookbook, food product, technological marvel, graphic design or band? Where can you go to get help making that dream come true? That’s where Kickstarter.com comes in. Launched in 2008, Kickstarter is a gateway that allows aspiring artists, designers and others to announce their ideas to the world and ask for a small donation to turn that idea into reality. It’s called “crowd funding,” and the concept has been around for quite some time.

How many times have you been asked at the checkout counter of a local retailer or grocery store to donate a dollar to a charity or organization? The idea behind asking for donations in this fashion is simple: If a million people give a dollar, what is just small change to us can have a tremendous impact on others. Kickstarter takes this idea to the next level, giving people the opportunity to pitch an idea to you in hopes of convincing you to make a small contribution. And that’s where the fun is. Kickstarter calls this being a “backer,” and your small contribution will get you perks—if the idea gets funded.

Each project has a monetary goal or pledge that must be reached in order for it to be labeled “funded” and move forward. If a project needs $5,000 to be completely funded but only receives $4,500 in pledges within the predetermined time limit, then no one who pledged money is charged and the project goes unfunded.

Should the project meet or exceed its goal, however, along with the satisfaction of knowing that you helped foster creativity and innovation, you’ll get something in return—perhaps a signed DVD of the movie you helped fund, a serialized art print from the artist, a free meal at the local restaurant you helped get started or an advanced copy of a technology product before it goes on sale to the public. Your perk for funding a project grows if you donate more money. Additionally, you’ll have access to “backer only” updates, which are quick updates from the designers or artists themselves that document, in almost diary form, how the project is progressing (e.g., “filming is complete … we’ve moved to the production phase” or, “the cookbook is back from the editors”). Going along for the ride and watching an idea come to life is part of what makes Kickstarter so great.

So far, Kickstarter users have pledged more than $125 million since its launch and have successfully funded more than 15,000 projects. That’s a lot of ideas and a lot of innovation happening at a time when we all seem to be looking for the “next big thing.” Kickstarter’s most successfully funded project to date has been the video game Double Fine Adventure, which raised more than $1.7 million—and the game isn’t done yet. Amazingly, the video game started with a goal of $400,000, and within the first 24 hours the company raised more than $1 million. Another successful project was an iPhone docking station from ElevationLab, which raised $1.4 million.

Through Kickstarter, we have a new avenue to pursue our dreams and freely exchange ideas with the end consumer. It looks like the American Dream is still alive and doing quite well.

Published in the summer 2011 issue of MyLIFE magazine


Photo by Michael Merone

For more than a decade, iStore has been providing Apple solutions to Arizona residents, businesses and school districts. In 1994, Steve Walker, iStore founder, began selling and servicing pre-owned Macintosh computers from his home. He soon realized that to more effectively serve his customers, the company needed more space for a service center and a showroom to display the used computers. So, in 1995, Re-Mac Computers opened in Mesa, Ariz.

Below is a recent Q & A session between Steve Walker and MyLIFE magazine.

MyLIFE: Steve, tell us about how the iStore was founded. What were some of the barriers you encountered before opening the store? What is your background that led you to where you are today?
Steve Walker: It’s actually not that exciting. I started back in 1995. I worked for a friend of mine and his family who had a little independent Apple store 15 years ago. They ran into some tough times, so I went out on my own. I put an ad in the Yellow Pages and sold computers out of my garage. People would call and I would qualify them over the phone, drive a bunch of computers out to their house—whatever two or three models I thought they would be interested in—and sold them used Macs.

MyLIFE: This was, obviously, way before Apple had retail stores?
Steve Walker: Well, they had re-sellers. But, yes, this was before Apple retail stores. Apple retail stores were established around 2001. In 1995, I opened a little store over by Fiesta Mall, and in 2001 I opened our Scottsdale store.

MyLIFE: Did you name them iStore right away?
Steve Walker: No, we were called Re-Mac initially. We re-branded to iStore in 2008.

MyLIFE: Did you encounter any problems with Apple licensing? Tell us a little about that transition and the relationship you have with Apple.
Steve Walker: The relationship is good. Apple has a lot of resources in place to support their re-sellers and Apple specialists, which is what we are. The biggest challenge is that they have their own corporate Apple retail stores, and there’s a lot of competitive “air” between our channel, the Apple specialists, the independents and the Apple retail stores. Apple is a “big monster.” Many different divisions and “almost companies” within a company, so to speak. It’s highly competitive. We’re in direct competition with our supplier, which makes it challenging.

MyLIFE: So what are a few of the differences between the iStore and Apple, from a customer’s perspective?
Steve Walker: We actually do a lot of the same thing. We provide a lot of the same services as far as the general sales go and the products and so forth. We get a broader range than Apple performs. We do on-site service. We can come out to your home and fix any problems, set up your computer, business consulting, IT support. If you have a business and you need someone to manage your technology, we become your outsourced help desk. We can provide all the service and support you need to keep that technology running as efficiently as they can be running, whereas, the Apple stores don’t venture outside of their stores for any services. You have to go to the Apple retail store, get what you need, and that’s it. We offer that, plus anything on-site.

MyLIFE: What about training?
Steve Walker: Historically, we’ve offered one-on-one training here in our store. So, you buy a package of training. You can buy time with our trainers and learn at your own pace. Learn whatever the content is you need to learn. If you want to learn how to edit a home movie, you can use your training time to do that, or maybe you’re trying to figure out GarageBand. We have actually recently released a new software product, AIR CARE, in which we’ve taken the in-store one-on-one training experience and we’ve taken it to remote service. So, you no longer need to come into the stores to get personalized training. You can stay at home in your pajamas, or at your office, and connect directly with one of our trainers. We can conduct that same one-on-one training.

MyLIFE: Have you always been an entrepreneur? Obviously you started, as you said, in your garage selling custom Mac systems to businesses and people.
Steve Walker: I grew up here in Mesa. I started a two-year mission for my church after high school when I was 19. After that, I dove right into the computer industry. I was 23 when I started Re-Mac.

MyLIFE: Interesting story, Steve. Thanks for your time.
Steve Walker: You’re welcome.

Published in the summer 2011 issue of MyLIFE magazine

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I recently stumbled upon an editorial at Engadget lamenting the removal of an optical drive on Apple’s new Mac mini.

“I don’t like it. Not one iota. But frankly, it doesn’t much matter—Apple’s officially done with the optical drive, and there’s no evidence more strikingly clear than the mid-2011 refresh of its Mac mini.”

While the author made several great points, the idea of an optical disk drive (ODD)-less desktop makes perfect sense—well, to me at least. The past certainly plays a vital role in this scenario, as was noted in the editorial. Apple has a track record of doing things like this when others have said it’s idiotic—for example, the removal of the 3.5” floppy drive from the original iMac. But let’s not forget the inclusion of USB ports on that computer as well. It was the first Mac to have USB and, given its release date, probably one of the first consumer computers to even adopt the fledgling standard. Apple has gone so far as to remove printers from the display area of its stores recently. Physical media is something Apple believes is rapidly dying.

So why does removing the ODD make sense? Let’s investigate the uses of disk drives. First and foremost is the playing (we’ll discuss ripping later) of CDs and DVDs. Without speculating about how many people actually use physical CDs on their computers to play music or DVDs to watch a movie—because there certainly are some of you out there who do—let’s just talk about why this makes sense for Apple.

Apple operates iTunes, and the iTunes store is the largest seller of music in the country, by quite a bit. Obviously, if they can push you to buy your music from iTunes, where they get a cut of the sale, rather than you buying a CD from a big box retailer, why wouldn’t they do that? We can all see that the use of CDs is slowly dying, as it becomes merely a pit stop between the record labels and your iPod. With the creation of online music streaming and subscription services such as Grooveshark, Spotify and Rhapsody, purchasing music may die too.

DVDs are slowly being phasing out as well. As online streaming becomes more and more popular with services such as Netflix, iTunes Movie Rentals and Hulu, gone are the days where physical DVDs need to take up an entire wall of our living rooms. You can have as many movies as your computer’s hard drive can hold; even external storage takes up far less space than a wall full of alphabetized DVD cases. Again, renting or buying from iTunes makes sense, instead of ripping DVDs you got from a friend or in the mail from Netflix. Plus, almost everyone has a stand-alone DVD or Blu-ray player and is not using the Mac mini to watch movies on their computer monitor or living room TV.

Ripping a CD is different from ripping a DVD. While fundamentally the idea is the same—content that’s contained on the disk is format-shifted from physical media to digital media—the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) as no issue with us ripping CDs to use on iPods, play on computers using iTunes or stream around the house with AirPlay. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and movie studios, on the other hand, take issue with the practice of ripping DVDs though, and any step made toward preventing people from content-shifting and sharing movies is OK with them. It might even put Apple in their good graces for licensing movies to iTunes.

Data transferring is another big use of the ODD. Burning data to a disk to share with friends used to be popular; however, with the boom of the “cloud” and the availability of inexpensive, high-capacity, re-useable USB thumb drives, using a CD or DVD to burn data really doesn’t make sense in most scenarios.

Then, let’s factor in the Mac App store. Apple just released an operating system that does not come on a physical disk and sold more than a million “copies” in 24 hours. To say that people have not or will not adopt a diskless lifestyle is fallacy. Think of how much money Apple saved, and possibly passed on to the consumer, on the release of Lion. No time spent burning millions of DVDs and shipping them to stores, no boxes taking up highly valuable shelf space in Apple stores, no inventory to return when an update happens and 10.7 becomes 10.7.3 and they reburn DVDs for retail purchase … not to mention lower piracy rates from people buying one copy of the software and allowing friends and family to install off the same disk This idea can translate to all software—and the Mac App store tracks your purchases for redownloading on another machine if you get a new one.

Like it or not, we are moving to a diskless world and, looking to the future, as Apple tends to do, think about Internet-connected TVs. Look beyond the current AppleTV for sharing content. If your TV had an e-mail address or a specific Internet address, you could be sitting at home in Phoenix and using iTunes to stream a movie or photo slideshow to Grandma’s TV in San Diego. Apple was smart; the company started this trend with the Mac mini. Although it’s a desktop computer, I’m sure some research was done as to HOW people are using the Mac mini. Everyone I know who owns one has it hooked into their HDTV as a place to store purchased movie files or to stream content from iTunes or other Internet-based services. So why not ditch the ODD?

The Internet is connecting us in ways we don’t fully understand yet, but one thing we do know is that the prevalence of Internet-based storage and streaming is growing. I’m certainly not saying that disk media is dead for everyone, and I certainly don’t think that Apple is done with the optical drive entirely either. But I can see that as Apple demotes the computer to being merely a “device” upon which we store content, iCloud and other Internet-based solutions will become faster and easier to use than burning a disk, printing a page or syncing a device.

The Engadget article can be found here: http://www.engadget.com/2011/07/27/editorial-apples-officially-over-the-optical-drive-for-better/.

If you are at all like me, ergonomics might not be really high on your priority list when using a laptop. I bought a laptop so I could work in small, tight, uncomfortable areas, such as an airport terminal, where some guy sitting next to me keeps glancing at my screen, hoping I don’t notice, or on a bed in a hotel room as I shove handfuls of greasy fries in my face. To me, that’s what “portability” has meant—until now.

California-based Aviiq has created a portable stand for laptops. It’s a pretty ingenious idea: Start with something that’s super thin, so it fits in your laptop bag, which is already full of spare batteries, several dozen business cards and every possible connector and charger for your myriad devices. Then, make it easy to use. The Aviiq Portable Quick Stand pops open much like a little tent, once you apply some pressure on it. Next, make it durable, because it’s going to get a lot of abuse. The Portable Quick Stand is made from rubber and Hylite, a German-made patented composite material comprised of sheets of aluminum bonded to a polypropylene core. The stand comes in five fashionable colors. I suggest the gray or black, because they match most laptops.

So does the stand work? It sure does. It takes some getting used to for the first three to five minutes. My hands and wrists just weren’t used to the keyboard being sloped at an angle, but I found it to be a lot easier for long typing sessions in front of the TV, with my laptop propped up on the ottoman.

The Aviiq Portable Quick Stand is available at aviiq.com. MSRP: $39.99.

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