Inside the Moral Kiosk

by Ethan Kaplan

Music + Microcode - Former and current music executive and technologist

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2014 / 2015 Here’s the thing: 2014 is kind of a wash in retrospect. A lot of things happened at the very end of it that I can’t talk about yet, and a lot of things that happened in the latter eighth of the year will shape 2015 for me, and I can’t talk about that yet.

But since everyone is doing prognostication of 2015 I can sort of participate in that.

The Apple Watch: having seen one, and knowing people that are currently wearing them out and around, I think it’ll be a hit. Supposedly it lessens “pulling the phone out” behavior by around 75% and it is a pretty device indeed.

Second Phase of the AAFG: Amazon/Apple/Facebook/Google are now the marquee companies in tech (its still very weird to not see Microsoft in there). I think we’ll see a new trifecta or quadfecta emerge as more mature startups start to enter their second phase. Uber, Dropbox, AirBnb, Box, etc. I think we’ll also see...

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Apple’s People Problem

Apple is great a making products for people. They are terrible at making products with people.

People are messy. They hate things, they want to manipulate things. When and where people want to communicate they will alter the environment as they see fit, never mind the whims of the provider of the infrastructure.

Apple is great at perfection. Making perfectly machined, perfectly designed pieces of technology (both software and hardware), and marketing those technology marvels likewise in a state of immaculate perfection. Beautiful people, beautiful hands, beautiful photography and video. Even beautiful music.

It is all perfect.

Too perfect.

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 2.45.00 PM.png

In one of the most famous ads they have produced of late, a sullen teenager is seen constantly rooted on his phone, observing the world only through a screen. In the end, he perfectly framed what he missed through the device with the device,...

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About this Watch


I feel like I write this post whenever Apple enters a new product category. So that would be three times so far in my life. iPhone, iPad and now Watch.

It seems whenever Apple does this, you get a few reactions:

  • Desk flipping anger
  • Indifference
  • Wild exuberance
  • Cautious optimism

In all cases I’m usually in the latter category. Apple is usually about setting the stage for potential rather than immediately realized returns. That proved true with iPhone, iPad and I believe it so with the watch. The Watch is launching with more foundation to rest on in terms of their over-all ecosystem, but I think it more represents the first play in a long game.

If we look at the games each device is playing, the phone represented a redefinition of “smart” and “phone” combined. The iPad was and remains a challenge of the traditional notion of what computing is, and I believe the watch is a statement...

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The Internet of Me

I’ve been following the whole “internet of things” discussion for a while. As an early user of home automation gear, the ability to control and track every aspect of my home is fascinating. As an early user of OBD devices as well, the same applies for my car.

But the thing that is missing in all of these new technologies is simple: me.

I don’t want the Internet of Things. I want the Internet of Me. I am the root of the universe I inhabit. I effect every aspect of my environment with causal chains that reverberate far longer than I am in any given space. I’m a state machine disrupter.

And yet all the home automation, IoT, bio-tracking tech is based around giving agency to the data outside of myself rather than with my self at the center.

Put another way: when I get home my house recognizes my phone is nearby and unlocks the door. It does this because of a single conditional. What it...

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A Bit About My Grandpa

My Grandpa Stan (my maternal Grandfather) was born in August 1933 to second generation American’s in New York City. He is and was a born hustler, teaching himself trades – usually around technology – in order to avoid ever having to work for people. The last hustle was cell phones, which he was involved in from 1985 to not too long ago. He was the first cell phone wholesaler and retailer in California.

My Gramps never wanted me to fly.

When I was 19 I decided to go get my pilots license. It had been a life long dream and I had half an intention to make it a career. I started lessons at John Wayne Airport (KSNA) and managed to take one lesson before my Gramps found out.

The conversation went something like this.

Gramps: “So you think you’re going to become a pilot?” Me: “Yes, I’m an adult legally, and paying for it myself, so why not?” Gramps: “Who pays for your college?” Me: “Uh…...

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Moving On from a Life’s Work

When I was 16 years old I started a website.

That is the beginning of my history when I am introduced by someone or introduce myself.

When I was 16 years old, I started a website.

When I was 35 years old, I shut that web site down. That was last night.

Turning back the clock then.

On March 23, 1996 I was seated about midway back at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles, CA. This was when the Wiltern still had seats. I was there to see Patti Smith’s first show in Los Angeles in 15 years.

I was also a huge R.E.M. fan, having seen them the prior October in Anaheim. In fact I was wearing a tour t-shirt “just in case” any of them happened to be in attendance.

Right before the show started, a bald guy sat in front of me. I turned to my date that night with a look of “No, it can’t be.”

After he got up to go get a drink, I asked the guy sitting next to him (later revealed to be Lance Bangs)...

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In a crate in my garage and a cabinet in my office are notebooks. Some spiral bound, some Moleskin, some gridded and some lined. Most of them are filled margin to margin with black ink scrawls.

Contained are ideas, sketches, concepts and designs. Penmanship that is sometimes loopy, sometimes hurried and sometimes angular and meticulous.

Some pages are dated and some are note. Numbers emerge with both dollar prefixes and without. Phone numbers, IP addresses, budgets and random figures without context.

Boxes, lines and arrows. Databases, objects, systems and servers. Home entertainment systems, server closets, data centers and software.

Occasionally a missive. “Why is it that I hate everyone right now?” or “Don’t forget: Amy’s birthday next week.”

Todo lists, call lists, brain dumps and ideas.

Sometimes a name. “Eric Garland Project,” “Stipean,” “90nights”

There are stacks that...

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Live Nation Labs Acquiring YourTrove

Many years ago, when I was still at Warner Bros Records, I met with three entrepreneurs and engineers at a restaurant in New York City. Seth Blank, Nick Vlku and Jesse Emery showed me this amazing product they had made that could take the amalgamation of social data from groups of people, index it, make it searchable and contextualized. It could expose trends, similarities, and from a simple search query you could find out much more about your world than just staring at a Facebook timeline.

I was amazed.

And then my one year old son threw one of their plates of food across the room before dumping a drink all over the table.

Two things happened as a result of that dinner:

  1. Nick, Seth or Jesse don’t have kids, although Seth just got engaged in Paris. Mazel Tov!
  2. I spent the next three years figuring out how I could work with them

It makes me extremely happy to announce that we have...

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function(life) { return is_how_you_live_it};

I recently bought a car. It was my fifth car ever purchased, but the process of doing so differed radically from the last time that I did it. I never saw the car, test drove the car or actually talked to a person through the process. The entire process, from discovery of the car I wanted to the actual sale transpired through web and email services. One day I started emailing someone, and three weeks later I drove away with a new car.

Marc Andreessen has coined the phrase “software is eating the world” but there is a more fundamental reason that this phrase has had such a powerful metaphorical hold. It isn’t that software is just eating the world. It is that the world itself is now possible to represent by polymorphic functions with refactorable logic.

For background, a function is a piece of programming that given a set of parameters produces a discrete output. A polymorphic function...

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Syntagms, Narrative and the Lack of Fun

When we look at social software services like Facebook and Twitter, we are really talking about systems who’s whole purpose is to get us to form narratives through them. We form these narratives by stringing together syntagms (fragments of text) into sequential interwoven dialogs that together form stories/narratives amongst others.

The feeds and reverse chronological way these are presented is the easiest distillation of what we contribute. We are story tellers through the medium provided by other services, in both active and passive means.

But when we remove all the artifice of software and features, what we are really doing is creating stories. Narratives about our day in a reverse chronological string of text and images. It mixes and infiltrates others to form meta-narratives that we hope, in the end, are contextualized somehow into something meaningful.

What draws these syntagms...

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