Apple, Take Me Away!

LoyaltyTagsRight before the annual developer pilgrimage to Moscone Center, the interwebs become flush with wish lists for Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference and this year is no different. I can’t quibble with my peer’s desires for Apple to focus on fixing bugs and increasing stability rather than adding new and shiny features, but there is one tiny area I’m secretly hoping will play a major role in iOS 9 – Apple Pay Loyalty Programs.

Without a doubt, Apple Pay has been one of the best advancements out of Cupertino in the last 10 years. It makes paying for goods and services generally quicker, far more secure and reduces the amount of “stuff” I need to carry around in my pockets. When it was announced, Apple hinted at upcoming upgrades that would allow retailers to offer loyalty programs and incentives if people used Apple Pay at their retail locations. That was then, and this is now.

Although Tim Cook’s Apple Pay has made impressive in-roads in the space, many retailers have remained skeptical and have refused to join in the secure fun either because they are lazy, cost conscious or can’t get access to the kinds of information that Apple won’t make available via Apple Pay – customer data. Retailers currently have no way to say to Apple Pay customers “If you buy from us, we’ll give you loyalty points you can use for a future discount!” and that’s a problem. As a consumer, I desperately want to reward businesses that make my financial transactions more secure and I want them to recognize my choice by giving me the kinds of incentives I’ve come to enjoy over the years.

Like me, you probably carry around loyalty cards on your keyring or wallet that the cashier swipes when you check out at the grocery store. I hate these things desperately, they need to die a violent death. I absolutely love paying for my lunch via Apple Pay at Panera Bread, but I wince when I have to reach for my wallet to hand the cashier my Panera card just so I can get credit towards next month’s free cookie. It makes no sense.

If there’s any single thing on my wish list for this year’s WWDC, it would be for Apple to give me the ability to never have to carry loyalty/reward cards around ever again. With Apple Pay, Cupertino has made good on its original Passbook promise – A safe, secure and digital wallet without the physical wallet. I’m really hoping that they’ve found a way to integrate loyalty programs into Apple Pay for iOS 9. Doing so is good for the consumer, for businesses and ultimately the economy as paying for stuff electronically gets easier and more secure. Now if I could just get rid of my car’s key fob. Maybe one day.

UPDATE: BINGO! At today’s WWDC keynote address Apple unveiled that they will be adding merchant rewards cards to Apple Pay with iOS 9. Yes Virginia, sometimes dreams do come true!

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Economic Egress

The next time someone tries to tell you that Obama is destroying the country, or that his administration will be the ruin of us all, please point them at this handy chart. The Democrats should have this printed on t-shirts, bumper stickers and anywhere else they possibly can. It speaks volumes, especially about the economic policies of so-called “fiscal conservatives”. It’s simply the best chart I’ve seen in years.


There’s a chart of job losses in the current economic downturn that has been making its way around the internet. While the data the chart shows is pretty scary, like most statistics it represents only a small slice of how we arrived where we are. I’ve been hearing of conservatives who are up-in-arms over Obama’s spending and how the economy is tanking because of his so-called “socialistic programs”, so I decided to add a bit of data to the chart to help gain some useful perspective. Adding the lens of history to the chart, we see (click to enlarge):

The country has been shedding jobs at a historic rate for over a year but during all that time, what did Bush do to stop the bleeding? He cut taxes for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. And when that didn’t stem the tide, he didn’t change course, he instead sought to make those tax cuts permanent. Now those very same tax cut & borrow Republicans have the indignant gaul to berate a President who has been in office less than a single financial quarter? I didn’t hear conservatives throwing “tea-parties” when the Congress was asked to appropriate billions of dollars over and over again for a war of choice in a foreign land. Those funds went down a massive black hole that will never be seen again and yet when Obama asks conservative Americans to do their part and pitch in for the good of ALL of Americans here at home, suddenly they have a problem.

Nate Silver worked out that even with the current state of the stock market and declining retirement accounts, the majority of Americans are willing to give the President 12-18 months before they consider the economy “his”. That means Obama has several months to turn things around, not six weeks as some would like us to believe. A little perspective, every now and then, is a good thing. Try and remember that.

UPDATE: More perspective courtesy of Crooks & Liars who link to a graph of the Dow from all of last year. They note that the stock market lost more than HALF of its value from May of 2008 to November, all under George W. Bush. All this and yet conservatives are convinced that Obama’s newly implemented policies are what’s scaring the pants off investors. I suppose once Obama turns the economy around, that’ll be Bush’s doing too.

Cavuto & Stein Are Fools

Found this stinging video via Andrew Sullivan and just had to share. GOP and FOX News pundants like to promote the myth that no one could have predicted the current disastrous state of the economy. Well, evidently economist Peter Schiff did, a full 2 years ago. Check out this assortment of clips from his various appearances on FOX News and how the organization treated him and his realistic assessment of the bleak future of our economy. It’s a bit long, so if you want the best bit, start at the 4:00 mark to see Ben Stein & Neil Cavuto totally underestimate the scope and depth of the problem. It’s damning:

FOX, like George W. Bush has a habit of surrounding itself with lackeys and “yes men” and stuff like this is the result. Hopefully the new President-Elect knows there is value in taking off the rose colored glasses and telling the American people how it is. We’re in it deep now and with hard work and sacrifice we’ll find a way out sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, people like Cavuto, Stein & others were part of the problem, not the preventative solution we needed.


2009 Honda Fit Review Is Go!

Back in August I wrote that I had test driven a 2006 Honda Fit and was in a holding pattern for the brand new 2009 model to come to Honda dealers before I made my final purchasing decision. Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I took the plunge in early October and I’m pleased to report that it was the right decision. I’ve now been driving my new car for over a month and have a good handle on how the Fit drives, my likes, dislikes and quirks. The review that follows isn’t an exhaustive play by play, but rather what I’ve come to learn that might help other buyers like myself decide if the Fit is right for them. If you’re in the market for a new fuel efficient vehicle and have been thinking about the 2009 Honda Fit, then read on.

The Good

Having been an owner of three previous Honda CRV’s, I was really worried about how much space I would have in the new Fit. I’m not a small guy and I do feel cramped in my wife’s Civic. But one of the first things you notice is that it is surprisingly roomy. It feels like it’s just big enough for me without having the extra size and weight of an SUV. The magic back seats are much better than my old CRV seats and fold down 100% flush with the storage compartment in the back. I can already tell this will come in handy when loading big items into the cargo area.

Honda’s advertisements for the Fit tout its fuel economy and with good reason. My Fit’s gas tank is a full 3 gallons smaller than my CRV’s, but now I’m getting an average of 31.5 mpg as opposed to 21 before. This means I’m getting roughly the same number of miles out of a full tank as I was with the CRV, but for less fuel and less money. Totally wonderful!

The car is super fun to drive. Unlike my CRV, the Fit takes corners tightly, hugs the road like a semi-real sports car and does an admirable job of shifting both up and down. There are many winding roads around where I live and I’ve rediscovered the joy of driving on them thanks to my new Fit. Other nice things include:

• Daytime running lights for safety

• Real time MPG indicator as you drive

• Two glove boxes instead of just one

• Hidden iPod adapter in the upper glove box

• Audio controls on the steering column

• GPS navigation system shows ATMs, restaurants & more

The Not So Good

I’ve never run across a car that was perfect and the 2009 Honda Fit is no exception. There will always be things that, for one reason or another, you wish were different about the vehicle. Thankfully, I don’t consider any of the items below to be deal breakers from a buyer’s perspective. I do think they are things that Honda should look at improving in future revisions.

My single biggest problem with the 2009 Honda fit is the lack of useable dash space. What exactly is useable dash space you ask? It’s those places where you can put loose change, a pen, maybe a receipt the bank teller just handed you, etc. Because the Fit’s dash features sports style gauges, there is no place above the steering column to throw things. My CRV’s gauges were flat and therefore there was a small “shelf” that I often used for just this purpose. What’s worse, the passenger seat pretends to have such a shelf, but it lacks a rubber foot like the CRV did which renders it useless as objects simply slide right off when you turn a corner.

Honda also touts the fact that the interior of the Fit has no less than 10 cup holders, but this isn’t so much of a feature as it is a waste of space. Even seating 5 people, each person would have to have 2 drinks each to make use of all those cup holders. Note to Honda: I’d rather have utility space rather than so many cup holders in the future, thank you very much.

Being an user interface designer, I can’t help but critique the audio and navigation system too. On the surface the hands-free GPS seems great, but after using it for more than a few minutes, you really start to learn how poorly it is designed. Every single time you turn the ignition on, you’re confronted with a disclaimer screen that you must manually dismiss. Every. Single. Time. If you don’t, the system will default to a giant digital clock. Sure, you can get to the audio controls, but you won’t be able to use the GPS portion unless you hit that damned “Okay” button. Bad Honda, bad! Other things that need improving include:

• Honda’s iPod interface doesn’t see “Podcasts”, only playlists

• Turning off auto-door locking isn’t obvious or easy

• Too many hands-free voice commands to remember

• Cloth materials on doors seems to scuff easily


Overall, I love my new car. I managed to lower my car payments significantly while keeping much of the cargo space of my old CRV. The Fit’s gas mileage is great for a non-hybrid vehicle and has cut way down on my fuel costs. The 2009 Fit is fun to drive, has sleek lines and nice styling. While I would love for the interior to make better use of space, and some of the quirks of the audio / navigation system to be ironed out, I none-the-less can recommend the 2009 Honda Fit whole heartedly for anyone looking to buy one.


Is It January 20th, 2009 Yet?

Word today from the Washington Post that the new President-elect has had a team of advisors scouring the record for actions and executive orders that Obama could act quickly to undo once he’s sworn in:

“Transition advisers to President-elect Barack Obama have compiled a list of about 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse the president on climate change, stem cell research, reproductive rights and other issues, according to congressional Democrats, campaign aides and experts working with the transition team.

A team of four dozen advisers, working for months in virtual solitude, set out to identify regulatory and policy changes Obama could implement soon after his inauguration. The team is now consulting with liberal advocacy groups, Capitol Hill staffers and potential agency chiefs to prioritize those they regard as the most onerous or ideologically offensive, said a top transition official who was not permitted to speak on the record about the inner workings of the transition.”

Something tells me Barack Obama is going to be an effective leader. I’ll be keeping tabs on him in the weeks, months and years ahead, but this bit of news is encouraging. Bush’s war on science, civil liberties and the environment all need to be met head on and reversed where ever possible. It appears Obama is taking his first steps to undo the gigantic mess George W. Bush plunged this country into. As far as I’m concerned, the inauguration can’t come soon enough.


Dumb & Dumber

What a week it’s been. Threats of America turning back to the economic equivalent of the stone age. A main course of showboating with a side of grandstanding from McCain and an interview so embarrassing from Palin that even conservative columnists are afraid to turn their TV’s sound on. All this, and it’s only Friday. First, this lovely bit from the New York Times about McCain’s last minute stunt to push election momentum in his favor:

“Instead he [McCain] found himself in the midst of a remarkable partisan showdown, lacking a clear public message for how to bring it to an end.

At the bipartisan White House meeting that Mr. McCain had called for a day earlier, he sat silently for more than 40 minutes, more observer than leader, and then offered only a vague sense of where he stood, said people in the meeting.

Still, by nightfall, the day provided the younger and less experienced Mr. Obama an opportunity to, in effect, shift roles with Mr. McCain. For a moment, at least, it was Mr. Obama presenting himself as the old hand at consensus building, and as the real face of bipartisan politics.”

Let’s be clear about this. McCain didn’t “suspend” his so-called campaign so that he could “get things done”. He grandstanded and used the crisis this week to inject himself directly into a situation for the sole purpose of taking wind out of Obama’s sails. His last minute break-up of the about-to-be-signed bill is proof of that. He says he puts country first, but his actions at the White House yesterday prove this to be a lie of the highest order. He’s quite literally risking all our livelihoods on a grab for power and it disgusts me.

Then there is his sad excuse for a running mate, Sarah Palin. First she didn’t know what the Bush Doctrine was, then she sat down for a glass of warm milk and cookies interview with Sean Hannity, and now she makes a fool of herself with Katie Couric. Republican columnist Kathleen Parker tells the truth that dare not speak its name:

“Palin’s recent interviews with Charles Gibson, Sean Hannity and now Katie Couric have all revealed an attractive, earnest, confident candidate. Who Is Clearly Out Of Her League.

No one hates saying that more than I do. Like so many women, I’ve been pulling for Palin, wishing her the best, hoping she will perform brilliantly. I’ve also noticed that I watch her interviews with the held breath of an anxious parent, my finger poised over the mute button in case it gets too painful. Unfortunately, it often does. My cringe reflex is exhausted.

Only Palin can save McCain, her party and the country she loves. She can bow out for personal reasons, perhaps because she wants to spend more time with her newborn. No one would criticize a mother who puts her family first.

Do it for your country.”

Ouch. Something tells me things are going to get a hell of a lot worse for McCain / Palin before they get better.


Going Postal

Just one year after last May’s stamp hike from .39 cents to .41 cents, rates are rising yet again. On Monday the price to mail a first-class letter be .42 and that roll of stamps you bought at the Post Office just last week will need .01 cent orphans in order to get mailed. Learning about this latest rate hike has really angered me, especially considering the current anemic state of the United States Economy. With the average cost of a gallon of gas approaching $4.00 a gallon, food prices that are skyrocketing and an ever weakening dollar, the last thing we need is to spend even more money to mail our bills and send our Father’s Day cards.

Of course, you could have purchased the Post Office’s “Forever Stamps” last week instead of the traditional .41 cent fare (I’ll never buy normal stamps again), but this still seems like a perfect occasion for “smart government” to step in and wave the rate increase for the good of average citizens. I realize that the increasing cost of fuel hits the Post Office just like average Joes, but I still think they could take one for the team. The only part of this equation that gives me any comfort is that I’ve made the shift to paying almost all my bills electronically in recent months. The only businesses that still get a paper check from me are local ones where paying online just isn’t an option. Eventually physical pieces of mail will become so expensive that it just won’t be practical anymore, but until then, I guess I’ll be visiting the Post Office on Monday to pick up a sheet of .01 cent stamps. Again. Ugh.