Archive for February, 2012
I’m a bit late to this particular blog post title, I suppose.
I’m reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs and it’s riveting. What a privilege for those who have been able to work with such a man (and for him, to be able to change the world,) even counting the curses that came with both of these things.
I remember my single (one-sided) interaction with Steve. Inspired by his penchant for returning peoples’ emails sent to his email address, I sent him this one. Reading his biography I now understand that the thing I was questioning was at the core of his operating strategy, and I can only imagine the speed at which he dismissed my suggestion, if he ever read it. But the question only grows in importance.
FROM: Michael Morgenstern
TO: [email protected]
SUBJECT: Question on “freedom”
Thank you for the brilliant computers you have created, though I am increasingly critical of your business model.
I get that you want to deliver a top-notch user experience and vet all programs. So why not allow hackers a backdoor to download apps not on the app store? You could put a button that says “I understand that Apple has not vetted this experience.” Instead you go after those who try to do this.
To me, the difference is about respecting your users’ informed choices over your own, a quality I look for in a company. Do you have another explanation that would really silence likeminded critics?
Unless you’ve been living under a (neon covered?) rock, you might have heard about the ticket crisis facing Burning Man. Because tickets sold out at the end of the cycle last year, the organizers were worried about their fair distribution this cycle. They set up a multi tiered system: first, they sold 3,000 tickets for $420, for those who were extremely concerned about a lottery and really wanted to guarantee having tickets. Then for the bulk of the tickets (40,000 of them) they instituted a lottery. Because they did not want to prejudice against those with limited computer access they kept the lottery open for several weeks and then selected randomly.
While it’s an understandable chain of reasoning that because they want to be most fair and a lottery is completely random, they should hold lottery, there were many issues and flaws. Because people weren’t assured of getting tickets, everyone registered for two instead of one (the average registration was for 1.7 tickets.) The demand, also, was far greater than even that multiplier would predict (I believe about one in four people got tickets.) One may be tempted to say “tough luck,” but when 3/4 of the people who actually made the larger camps happen are missing, this is a problem.
Another issue is that, in the very year when scarcity was an issue, this system has raised the pool of people who are considering going to Burning Man. Anyone who requested two tickets and doesn’t know someone who needs the extra is liable to offer the ticket to people who would not otherwise have bought one (especially because they wouldn’t get the cash for the ticket for several months if they waited.) While introducing new people to the event is great, this means that the tickets are in even higher demand as extras get taken by people who didn’t want them in the first place!
Scalping tickets is VERY MUCH against the Burning Man ethos (the ticket price is ideally only the bare minimum needed to produce the event, and to charge more for an event about love and the rejection of commerce is pretty awful. Discussion about the weirdness of a ticket price to such an event should take place elsewhere.) So the organizers created the STEP program, which allows people to offer their unused tickets up at face value, and opens in a week and a half.
The ticket fiasco does illustrate the fundamental problem of the Burning Man ethos – that as soon as a reality of plenty becomes a reality of scarcity, everything breaks down. But I think that it doesn’t have to be a reality of scarcity..just yet.
I think this system will solve all of the problems, and here’s how it works.
- For those who have gotten tickets, they have one month to assign names to those tickets. Any tickets not assigned names will be taken back and the credit card refunded. Yes, this will encourage scalping during this one month period – it’s a necessary evil.
- After this one month period, people will be charged a 25-30% fee to change the name on a ticket. However, selling the ticket back to Burning Man will incur only a 10% fee. Those fees would be used to pay for the extra costs Burning Man has had to incur.
- IDs will be checked at the gate.
What this system does is eliminate the artificial scarcity induced by hoarding..and then some. Of the around 100,000 tickets requested to the event, I would bet that only about 30,000 of those represent actual names of people. We would be back to the old system, where it would take at least several months before tickets would sell out. This allows people to buy tickets immediately and actually encourages advance planning, but doesn’t stop people from going at the last minute as small batches of tickets open up.
One response I’ve heard many times to this idea is that it would end the time-honored practice of gifting tickets (buying them for other people.) No it wouldn’t! Instead, you’d just buy at ticket for a person with a credit card.
There are some difficulties introduced in this process, all of them surmountable. Checking IDs at the gate might be difficult, but I am sure there are innovative solutions to this problem. And yes, some people don’t have IDs. Perhaps they can use photographs. And then there is the fact that tickets now reside on the internet; in other words, having a paper ticket does not necessarily guarantee that it is valid. Instead people would have a printout (or a mailed piece of paper) that reminds them that the ticket is not necessarily valid and validity can only be checked by calling a phone number, visiting a website, or scanning a barcode.
We’ve created a problem of artificial scarcity. One day Burning Man will have a permit for more than enough people, but with this system we can give ourselves at least three years of time without tickets selling out as the event begins to grow.
I just lost a whole day’s worth of work because Soundtrack Pro doesn’t have a friggin autosave (and yes, because I didn’t save.) So here’s some Douglas Adams. Fuck it, I’m going to go get some sushi.
“Please call,” it said. “Not happy,” and gave a number. The name was Gail Andrews.
It wasn’t a name she was expecting. It caught her unawares. She recognised it, but couldn’t immediately say why. Was she Andy Martin’s secretary? Hilary Bass’s assistant? Martin and Bass were the two major contact calls she had made, or tried to make, at NBS. And what did “Not happy” mean?
She was completely bewildered. Was this Woody Allen trying to contact her under an assumed name? It was a 212 area code number. So it was someone in New York. Who was not happy. Well, that narrowed it down a bit, didn’t it?
She went back to the receptionist at the desk.
“I have a problem with this message you just gave me,” she said. “Someone I don’t know has tried to call me and says she’s not happy.”
The receptionist peered at the note with a frown.
“Do you know this person?” he said.
“No,” Tricia said.
“Hmmm,” said the receptionist. “Sounds like she’s not happy about something.”
“Yes,” said Tricia.
“Looks like there’s a name here,” said the receptionist. “Gail Andrews. Do you know anybody of that name?”
“No,” said Tricia.
“Any idea what she’s unhappy about?”
“No,” said Tricia.
“Have you called the number? There’s a number here.”
“No,” said Tricia, “you only just gave me the note. I’m just trying to get some more information before I ring back. Perhaps I could talk to the person who took the call?”
“Hmmm,” said the receptionist, scrutinising the note carefully. “I don’t think we have anybody called Gail Andrews here.”
“No, I realise that,” said Tricia. “I just-“
“I’m Gail Andrews.”
The voice came from behind Tricia. She turned round.
“I’m Gail Andrews. You interviewed me this morning.”
“Oh. Oh good heavens yes,” said Tricia, slightly flustered.
The message light on the phone was flashing though.
She hit the message button and got the hotel operator.
“You have a message from Gary Andress,” said the operator.
“Yes?” said Tricia. An unfamiliar name. “What does it say.”
“Not hippy,” said the operator.
“Not what?” said Tricia.
“Hippy. What it says. Guy says he’s not a hippy. I guess he wanted you to know that. You want the number?”
As she started to dictate the number Tricia suddenly realised that this was just a garbled version of the message she had already had.
“OK, OK,” she said. “Are there any other messages for me?”
Tricia couldn’t work out why the operator should suddenly ask for her number this late in the conversation, but gave it to her anyway.
“McMillan, Tricia McMillan.” Tricia spelt it, patiently.
“Not Mr. MacManus?”
“No more messages for you.” Click.
“Is something wrong?” asked Gail.
“No, I… I have to say that you’ve rather astonished me,” said Tricia. She decided to ignore the security camera. It was just her imagination playing tricks with her because she had television so much on her mind today. It wasn’t the first time it had happened. A traffic monitoring camera, she was convinced, had swung round to follow her as she walked past it, and a security camera in Bloomingdales had seemed to make a particular point of watching her trying on hats. She was obviously going dotty. She had even imagined that a bird in Central Park had been peering at her rather intently.
She decided to put it out of her mind and took a sip of her vodka. Someone was walking round the bar asking people if they were Mr. MacManus.
Hey, check out my friend James’ band, The Rouge Royale! I had the chance to film them a few months ago playing at a garden party, and James just threw it up onto YouTube. I’m glad the camerawork turned out well; though I’m used to shooting and then editing away the parts where I’m reframing, it gives it a very honest feeling!
Adorable story that happened to me yesterday:
I was sitting on the subway typing on my computer (yes, I’m one of those people. It makes a 45-minute long train ride the perfect email response time.) A little kid walked up to me. I later found out that he was named Dylan. He had big wide eyes, was a little bit chubby, and super talkative.
Dylan: How do you TYPE so fast??!
Me: Well, it takes years of practice. I’ve been practicing for many, many years.
Dylan: How many years? Like, since December?
Me: Since.. wow. Since 1990.
His eyes went wide as saucers as he contemplated such an eternity.
Dylan: Wooooow. That’s a LONG TIME!!
Me: Yeah. How old are you?
Dylan: I’m… (he holds up five, and then switches to six, fingers)
Me: Wow, six years old? Cool! You look a lot older!
Dylan’s mom, proudly: Everyone thinks he’s a lot older. He’s the biggest kid in the grade.
Me: Cool! Everyone must look up to you, huh?
Dylan: Yeah they do!
Me: That means you were born in…
It’s at this point that I realize I am having a reasonably intelligent conversation with someone who was born in 2006. I was in college then. I remember (not so long ago) when it was strange to think that there were people alive who don’t remember 9/11.
Dylan’s mom: Yep, you got it right!
Me: Cool man! What’s your name?
Me: I’m Michael.
Dylan: (looks excitedly at mom) his name is Michael!! Now I know three…five Michaels! My cousin Michael, Michael Jackson…
Me: Hey man, this is my stop. Nice meeting you. Take care!
Dylan’s mom: Dylan, let the man off, he’s got to go.
Dylan: Byeeeee! Nice meeting you!
As I walked to the subway door about 10 feet away, I turned back and waved. Dylan, a wide grin on his face, threw his hands up and waved at me. He yelled across the train:
Dylan: I’ll keep practicing!!
Kids. So fucking cute.