Friday, March 6, 2015

Apple Pay may not be a big thing for retail shops, but it may be huge for online shopping.

Most of the attention that Apple Pay and the other new mobile payment systems have received has centered on how (or why) paying for a latte on your cell phone is better than whipping out a credit card. Some people say why bother, but I think that's because credit cards are pretty good for that kind of task. The brick-and-mortar application for mobile payments is small beer. It's an incremental improvement. It's online shopping where Apple Pay may become revolutionary.

The ability to enter a totally secure credit card online with just a thumbprint solves a lot of problems for our mobile website. I'm convinced one of the main reasons people don't shop on their phones — even if they are on mobile-optimized sites like ours — is that they have to type. People have to enter all kinds of info like addresses and credit card info on a phone's dinky keyboard and that sucks. The other reason is that they need to remember passwords but all their passwords are on their laptops or buried in some other secure password-remembering App that's a pain to access.  Apple Pay can solve all that.

Apple Pay could let your finger print be your password to a site. Apple Pay knows your billing address so presumably it could automatically enter that when you finger print too, saving you from typing your  address. Apple Pay could allow the mobile browser access to the phone's contacts where you have 99% of your likely candidates for a ship-to address (chances are if you're sending a gift you know the person and they're already in your contacts). That means you could log in, enter your billing address, credit card info, and ship-to address in one  thumb print and maybe 2 more clicks. Think about that. You find something online with your phone. You click the link to a shopping website. Then you place a complete order in 3 clicks. You wouldn't need to download the company's app, it can all happen in the browser. A website could take an order from a new customer, too, in just 3 or 4 clicks. This could be a big deal. 

Designing a warehouse event space out of pallets

Adam's pallet construction studio.

Adam Moskowitz owns the cheese importer/distributor/warehouser hub Larkin in Long Island City, Queens. (He's also the impresario behind the great Cheesemonger Invitational.) I visit his warehouse from time to time to taste incoming batches of Manchego for Essex St. Cheese.  For most of the last year he's been outfitting a room as a teaching space. I've seen it grow from a typical concrete-and-cinder block slab to a warm, fantastic space. It's called Barnyard and most of it is decorated with parts of pallets that come with the cheese imports. Pallets on the lights, pallets as tables, pallets as chairs. Awesome idea.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Your debt and the government's debt. Why are they different?

There are some concepts that, even though they've been in circulation for many years, are still hard for most of us to wrap our minds around. Like Einstein's theory of relativity. Or how global warming makes winter storms. Or, especially recently, government debt. 

What's so strange about debt?

First there's debt that's intuitive. Most of us would probably say debt is OK when it allows us to do something that's long-term beneficial that we couldn't otherwise do. Like buy a car or a house. 

But when things get financially tough we all feel we should hold as little debt as possible. That's sound strategy for a person or a family. Even a city.

But countries are different. Just as how, in the theory of relativity, the normal rules of life break down when we approach light speed, so it is with money when you approach the  size of a country. At that large a scale, when things get financially tough, it's actually in the country's best interest to take on more debt, not less. 

Paul Krugman does a good job explaining why in a short article that contains no numbers and no graphs and very few wonky words,  Full disclosure: I studied economics and physics and I understood the theory of relativity (kind of) even before I understood the theory of government debt. I wish I had Krugman as a professor!

Monday, February 2, 2015

The urban density math of snow plowing

I caught this piece today that said 25% of Detroit's streets were plowed a day after the city's biggest snowfall since 1974. Whether or not that's good or bad here's another way to look at it.

Detroit has 1,884 miles of residential side streets and about 700,000 residents. That means every resident has to pay for about 14 feet of plowing.

New York City has 6,000 miles of streets and 8.4 million people. Even though that measure includes all roads, not just residential side streets, the fact that there are so many more people means big per capita savings. Each New York City resident only has to pay for 4 feet of plowing—over a 70% savings.

It's just a reminder of the uphill battle depopulated cities like Detroit have. The people leave but the streets don't go away.

Detroit can't copy New York's density but they might want to borrow one of its tricks that can create savings. The Big Apple owns very few plow trucks. Instead they just mostly stick plows on garbage trucks, like in the picture above. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sharing = creativity

A structural look at innovation. Hat tip to Nicole R.