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Sinofsky Japanese

A couple days ago, bloggers began to notice that ex-Windows boss Steven Sinofsky has been tweeting from an iPhone.

After explaining himself in the comments section of one of these blogs, Sinofsky has now written a full post about why he uses an iPhone.

He says the goal is to scope out "the competition."

He writes:

"Obviously you should use a competitive product. You should know what you’re up against when a consumer (or business) ultimately faces a buying decision. They will weigh a wide array of factors and you should be aware of those not only for the purposes of sales and marketing but when you are designing your products." 

That's a fine explanation, except for one thing.

Apple isn't Sinofsky's competition anymore. Sinofsky left Microsoft late last year. He's now teaching a class at Harvard, so his current competition is…Yale?

Sinofsky goes on to offer some tips for other executives looking to effectively check out products from their competition.

In his words, he says these are common mistakes to avoid:

  • Using the product in a lightweight manner. All too often analyzing the competition itself becomes a checklist work item. Go to the store and play with it for a few minutes. Maybe ask a friend or neighbor what they think. The usage of a competitive product needs to be in depth and over time. You need to use the product like it is your primary product and not switch or fall back to your old way of working. Often this is weeks or more of usage. Even as a reviewer this applies. Walt Mossberg famously took an iPad on a 10 day trip to France—no laptop at all. That’s how to use a product.
  • Thinking like yourself, not the competition. When using a competitive product you need to use it like it was intended to be used by the designers. Don’t get the product and use the customization tools to morph it into the familiar. Even if a product has a mode to make it work like the familiar (as a competitive bridge they offer) don’t use it. Use native file formats. Use defaults in the UI and functionality. Follow the designed workflow. They key is to let loose of your muscle memory and develop new memory.
  • Betting competitors act similarly (or even rationally). If you think like a competitor you have to make future decisions like they might. Of course you can’t really do that or really know and this is where product intuition comes to mind (and also why blogs predicting product directions are often off the mark). You have to really wrap yourself around the culture, constraints, resources, and more of a competitor. The reality is that your competitor is not going “fix” their product to turn it into your product. So then the question is what would a competitors do in their context, not what would you do if you were designing the follow-on product in your context. This might actually feel irrational to you. One of the most classic examples of this is whether or not the Mac OS should have been licensed to other PC makers or not. Arguments could be made either way, both then and now. But what is right or assumed in one context simply doesn’t make sense in another. That context can also include a time dimension where the answer actually changes.
  • Assume the world is static. Even after you’ve reviewed a competitor through usage you might feel confident because they are missing some features or might have done some things poorly. That’s a static view of the world. Keep in mind analyzing the competition is a two-way street. If you noticed a weakness there’s a really good chance the competitor knew about it. When everyone pointed out that a phone was missing copy/paste, don’t make a mistake thinking that was news to the development team and would remain a competitive advantage.

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The Power of a Switch: Maddy Yozwiak at TEDxYale City 2.0

Maddy Yozwiak is a junior at Yale, majoring in Physics. In high school, she researched and blogged about environmental issues and solar energy. Once she was at Yale, she founded Project Bright, which aims to empower students to design and install solar energy systems on campus buildings. Maddy received a Sustainability Achievement Award from the Office of Sustainability for her work. AboutTEDx, x = independently organized event In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)
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Asa Mathat / AllThingsD.com

Like any young start-up, the early days of Facebook were thin and scrappy. Its very first server back in 2004 cost $85 to rent. They didn’t spend more than they had in the bank. They were small, tight and still had everything to prove.

To do that, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, the company needed to test its mettle against its existing competitors. And back then, those weren’t MySpace or Friendster, but the existing social networks inside U.S. universities.

“We first went to schools that were hardest to succeed at,” Zuckerberg said on Saturday morning, kicking off the Y Combinator Startup School event in Palo Alto, California. “If we had a product that was better than others, it would be worth investing in.”

Zuckerberg spoke to a packed house in the Stanford Memorial Hall auditorium, with an audience mostly composed of twentysomethings, the veritable next wave of young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. The conference is geared toward the young and idealistic, those who may build the Facebooks or Twitters of tomorrow. Hence, Zuckerberg focused on the challenges of turning a rough-and-tumble outfit into the 1-billion-user-strong social giant it is today.

So if you’ll hearken back to 2004, Facebook’s first days were limited to college students alone, those who had verified university email addresses. It was a play for an early conception of true online identity; unlike other existing networks, you were supposed to be yourself on Facebook.

After first growing Facebook inside of Harvard’s network, then, the plan was essentially to go hard or go home — to launch the network at universities like Columbia, Stanford and Yale. These were the schools, Zuckerberg said, that had the most integrated social networks campus-wide. If Facebook caught on here, it’d be safer to assume that scaling to less-integrated schools would be a downhill battle.

That’s exactly what happened. Facebook spread from school to school, moving slowly to cope with the early scaling issues that popular services often face (Twitter and the Fail Whale, anyone?).

Much of the other advice Zuckerberg offered to the young crowd was the usual platitudes — listen to your users, stay simple, be reliable.

But his most important point was clear: Punch above your weight class. If your product is better than anything out there, the users will let you know it.

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I went to school for maths, and have since been focussing on programming and hope to pursue my career in this area.

My math training is a huge advantage when it comes to internalizing algorithms and abstract ideas like classes and boolean algebra and so on (not to mention exciting new concepts like hypergraph databases: just seeing those two words together gives me a massive mind-boner).

But that's all abstract stuff. I've no idea what my computer -- that physical, tangible hunk of metal that sits on my desk -- is actually doing.

Pretty much everything that happens up until we have an assembly language is magic to me. I'm a hardware dunce.

How can a physical object tell itself to manipulate "data"? How does me pressing a bunch of plastic buttons right now make that big glowing box in front of me assume patterns that resemble letters and words? Where and how are those patterns stored and transmitted in the physical world? Is the internet actually a series of tubes??

If anyone can recommend a few books that explain how a computer turns electrically charged matter into streaming videos of naked ladies and apps that make fart noises, I'd be eternally grateful.

I don't want to stray from my studies of programming too much, I'm not looking for a career in electrical engineering; but I'd like to have some general understanding of how this magic hunk of metal that I work with all day, every day, actually operates.

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In the 1970s Staten Island was undergoing major infrastructure changes and a huge population expansion. It was ten years after the opening of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which connected the island to Brooklyn in 1964 and, for the first time, to the rest of the city by land.

It also had a reputation for being provincial compared to the rest of the city and still does today. In the early eighties, photographer Christine Osinski was looking for a new home with her husband after high rents forced them out of their Soho apartment in Manhattan. A therapist she was seeing at the time recommended that Osinski look for a cheaper place on Staten Island. “We used to take the ferry in the summer to cool off but never got off the ferry,” she says. “Once we got off initially it felt like a time warp and it was hard to believe it was part of New York City. It seemed remote and had its own unique character—clearly a working class sensibility.” It was a place Osinski could relate to coming from the South Side of Chicago. She grew up in a house she describes as, “similar to the one Michelle Obama says she’s from. It was a brick bungalow in a harsh muscular area with lots of factories.”

The move to Staten Island came a few years after studying for her Master’s at Yale in 1974. During that time, she recalls the all-male faculty in the photo department was initially dismissive of her photographs of people and often saw them as funny. “Once I got to Yale I began to recognize where I was from,” Osinski says. “There was a contrast between me and my working class roots compared to the backgrounds of the other students.”

Osinski says her professors and fellow students thought her pictures were interesting but found the people comical. “Their response to my photos made me begin to question where I was from,” she says. “I began to question why I was photographing what came naturally to me, specifically the middle class. I also began to wonder if I was making fun of them. So I stopped photographing people.”

Years later, she began photographing Staten Island to explore the place where she was now living. “The Island was a goldmine for pictures. Everything seemed interesting,” Osinski says. “Mostly I went out walking for long periods of time. When I began photographing the people were very small in the landscape, but eventually I moved closer and they became the primary focus of my photographs. There were a lot of people outside, people having block parties, at parades and kids hanging out. People were very curious and having the 4×5 camera on a tripod helped me. It was just nice being outside and meeting people. You just never knew what was going to happen. It was an adventure.”

Osinski says she felt Staten Island was undergoing a big shift and that the new construction always seemed so sad to her. “In the photo of ‘Forest View Estates’, there’s not a tree in sight,” she explains. “The materials were cheaper than the older houses and it seemed like a symbol of what people were opting out for. It seemed like it was in keeping with a certain working class idea of what success is. The ‘new’ is what many people seem to strive for because it seems better.”

In her images, Osinski shows duplexes that aspire to be mansions. “Some of it seems funny, like the man building the Grecian columns on the house. It’s like misplaced grandeur,” she says. She depicts cramped new housing developments and homes separated by brick walls decorated ostentatiously with Putti giving a nod to the Old World and a taste of the Island’s many Italian immigrants. “The photo of the animals shows the clash of the old and new living side by side until the old finally gives way to the new.”

After spending 1983 and 1984 obsessively working on the project, she realized that it was almost impossible to make prints. The work was made with an uncoated Linhoff lens on a 4×5 camera, making all of the highlights totally blown out and almost impossible to print properly. Today Osinski is a professor of art at Copper Union where she’s worked for 28 years. But during a residency at Light Works in Syracuse she began scanning some of the negatives and realized with the new digital scanning capability she could finally achieve the quality she had always hoped to have with the work.

“I generally look to photograph the supporting players and not the main characters,” she says. “I tend to look at the minor players and the overlooked places. A lot of my work is about the familiar so that it begins to take on a more unusual presence. It makes you question your assumptions about things you know. Right under your nose there might be something that you’re not familiar with. Maybe taking pictures is an opportunity to make someone look again.”

Now with the unpublished archive finally scanned and in order she hopes to create a new book and is looking for support on Kickstarter.

You can see more of Christine Osinski’s work here.

Paul Moakley is the Deputy photo editor of TIME. You can follow him at Twitter at @paulmoakley.

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