Anders Brownworth

Technology and Disruption

Microsoft's Tablet Problem

Typical PCs retail around $400 and Microsoft gets roughly $35 for the OS. Above that, they probably average $80 for Office. The OS in the tablet market is not a billed item. In the case of Apple, it is subsidized mostly by the hardware and app purchase and in Google's case, by apps and advertising. There isn't room for Microsoft's OS purchase model in the tablet market. Therefore, the only cash-cows remaining for Microsoft are apps - particularly gaming and productivity. Microsoft as of yet hasn't transitioned their Xbox and Office user bases to the tablet. Where a user used to be $50 or so per year in value to Microsoft, they are now essentially worth nothing. So how do they sustain their core business? If they make inroads, at best they can hope for is in the range of $5 per user per year. That means they need to have an order of magnitude more customers than they do now!

Just Released: pub-sub-map, Publish and Subscribe to Real-time Locations on a Map

I have open-sourced pub-sub-map, a node.js driven web application that presents a map and lets you subscribe to real-time location markers. As marker positions get updated, the new location is pushed to all web browsers subscribed to them in real-time.

How could this be useful? Coupled with an iOS application I'm writing, you could follow a number of runners in a marathon, or see where all the taco trucks or taxis are. Scraping data from various mass transit systems, you could have a realtime display of where all the trains and busses are. Or you could track a model rocket or stratospheric balloon project to see where it lands. Basically, pub-sub-map can be useful for anything that moves where any number of people want to follow in realtime. It is an expansion of what you can already do right now with

I use express as a web framework running in node.js with jade templates to render the web frontend. I don't use polling to push location information. Instead, all location updates are pushed to subscribed browsers via also running in the same node.js application.

Here's a video of pub-sub-map in action.

pub-sub-map is the next-generation engine I am developing for Give it a try and let me know what you think.

SwitchCoder - Code Voice and SMS Applications in the Cloud

My latest project, SwitchCoder, allows you to write voice and SMS applications in JavaScript and have them run from inside the phone company. Check out our intro video:

Getting up to speed is easy. Here's a video showing how to create a group SMS application using SwitchCoder.

You can invoke SwitchCoder scripts three ways: by calling a script, sending an SMS to a script or invoking a script over the web. Here's how that works:

Sign up now. We give you $10 of free credit so you can buy numbers and try it out. Be sure to let me know what you think about it! Update

To those of you who were getting Rails errors trying to test out, I have pushed a new rev of the code that should address that. Also, the maps take a little time to download, so if it isn't giving you access to your public map data, come back in half an hour and you should see complete data. lets you download your public data in a variety of formats including Excel and Google Earth. It's free - enjoy!

RunDumper - Download Public RunKeeper Data

I just released, a weekend hack I did that lets you download your public RunKeeper activities and maps in a variety of popular formats. I love RunKeeper but wasn't very comfortable not having my own copy of my workout data, so I decided to build a rails application that did something about it. Now I can download all of my activities in Excel, CSV or JSON formats and my maps in Google Earth KML format.

If you want to give it a try but don't use RunKeepr, try plugging in my username: Anders94

Restless Leadership

If you are doing bold and courageous things as a way to recover, it's too late - the timing is bad. You need to push the reset button at the top, not the bottom. Hopefully Apple is doing that now at the height of their success.

It works like the performing arts - you need to reboot your career when you are at the top. Leaders need to have a lack of complacency at the top - they need to be very paranoid. Failure breeds melancholy and restlessness. Good leaders have that at the top.


It seems the price to meet in the tablet world is $199. Its hard to see a viable business there if the product isn't subsidized by a content business. Let's see, that makes the players Apple, Amazon and Google. Everyone else is either making hardware for them or loosing money. ... Or Microsoft.

The Value of an Education

The most valuable thing education gives you is a thought process, not any particular fact. But this isn't always clear because the mind is usually trained by working through data from example after example. What remains of significance from the data is a better way of thinking. A great teacher trains your mind rather than gives you facts.

Wars are won before they are fought - Sun Tzu

Usually the playing field is not level making the outcome effectively predetermined. In business, usually the incumbents have the advantage. Disruption happens when something that was an advantage turns into a disadvantage, swapping the playing field in favor of a newcomer. Horace Dediu calls this "asymmetric competition" or ASYMCO.

Online Education: Cal Tech vs. Stanford Machine Learning Courses

I went through two Machine Learning courses on iTunesU, the Caltech Machine Learning course taught by Yaser Abu-Mostafa and the Stanford Machine Learning course by Andrew Ng. They almost couldn't have been more dissimilar in approach. Initially I started with Andrew Ng at Stanford. Immediately he jumped into the math surrounding machine learning and didn't divert much from the theory for the first few classes. I suppose some people might learn well by starting from the theory, but not me. I switched over to Yaser Abu-Mostafa's Caltech course. While still thankfully math heavy, he started firmly grounded with the reasons for why one approach might be a better choice than another using examples.

I think this represents a fundamental strength of online learning. I'm a huge fan of Stanford; I find most of their computer science classes on iTunesU fantastic. In fact, I learned iPhone development back in the early days by watching Stanford's CS193P, but the machine learning class wasn't ideal. Rather than be stuck with that, I could cherry-pick a better class for my learning style over at Cal Tech.

This reminds me of a Freekonomics story on online learning by Sanjoy Mahajan. There was a Stanford class done live with students at Stanford and an online audience. The total enrollment was around 16,000 students and of them about 200 were matriculating students at Stanford. 248 students got perfect scores in the course and none of them were Stanford students. Did this point to some fundamental lapse in the admissions process where these students were being overlooked? Were they not applying? Or did it have something to do with the other things happening around each of those students when they were taking the class? I imagine it is a bit of all of these reasons but most significantly, I think it has to do do with pace and fit which are things you can manage as an online student where you would have a much more difficult time physically attending the class. (that and the sample size of only 200 Stanford students)

I can stop the lecture whenever I want and go research a particular topic or even snag a 10 minute Khan Academy refresher on how to do matrix math whenever I need. I can also cherry pick the best course for my learning style even across institutional bounds if things aren't exactly the right fit. About the only benefit I won't get doing all of these classes over the years is institutional credit. I don't really care about that at this point, college credit has long since lost its impact on my ability to be hired. Credit doesn't motivate me to do these courses, interest in the content does.

I believe credit, which is more of a problem for younger learners, will be effectively solved in the next 5 to 10 years. Some system employers recognize will emerge, with or without institutional buy-in. What is not clear to me is what model will be the winner at this point. Will the colleges and universities get together and make a cross-institutional system that assigns something similar to a certificate of achievement or even a traditional degree, or does some third party accreditation system emerge which evaluates courses become respected? I don't know at this point but I am watching Stanford in particular. Watch Stanford president John Hennessy discuss this in an interview from All Things D back in June if you want some idea where this is headed.