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Archive for February, 2007

The Megapixel Myth – You're getting ripped off.

February 8, 2007 49 comments

Megapixels don’t matter. There, I’ve said it. Throw your stones, rotten vegetables, or what-have-you.

David Pogue has an article in the New York Times today about the Megapixel Myth. His heart is in the right place, and he comes to the correct conclusion, but he’s fairly sparse on the details and the proof is a little hard to grok without actually being there.

News.com ran a story this week quoting Chris MacAskill, my father and SmugMug’s President. He comments on how the word megapixel is a marketers’ dream, and he’s right. Anyone marketing a camera based solely on megapixels is ripping you off. But their article wasn’t clear enough either. So here it is, as clear as I can make it:

What you *really* want are “better” pixels, not more of them. Contrary to popular belief, adding more pixels to the same size sensor isn’t going to help you very much. In fact, it may hurt. Why? It’s reallly quite simple: A limited amount of light gets through the lens and hits the sensor in your camera. It’s really quite small. At some point, if you cram more pixels into the same tiny space, those pixels aren’t picking up enough light to be useful. Instead, they’re making your photo noisier and reducing the quality.

The real way to get better images is to have a bigger sensor (so it can capture more light) and a better lens (so more light gets to the sensor). It’s that simple.

Don’t believe me? NASA’s Spirit Rover has a 1 megapixel camera and it takes better photos than any 8 megapixel camera you can buy at Best Buy. MSNBC has a great article on how it works and sample images. See for yourself.

Finally, SmugMug has printed more than 3 million photos for very discerning customers. We publish the reasons why photos get returned. The number of returns for “not enough megapixels” is at or near zero.

So how do you figure out what camera to buy since megapixels don’t matter? Pogue is right on the money with this one: read reviews at sites like dpreview.com.

Categories: smugmug

Server Analysis – Sun victory!

February 7, 2007 25 comments

We started evaluating server vendors about two weeks ago, and I’m happy to declare a winner. Sun just got my business and I’m excited to see how they stand up to some hardcore scrutiny once they’re in my datacenters.

Everything’s not 100% rosy, though, so in the interests of being transparent and open, let’s take a look at the Pros and Cons of the Sun sales experience, in rough order of importance to me:

Pros

  • They’ve embraced Linux and open-source.
  • They’ve embraced x86-64 hardware.
  • Lots of Sun employees use SmugMug. They rallied to make sure we were talking to the right people.
  • Their CEO blogs, and he blogs in an open and honest way. Yes, this was a key selling point for me.
  • They had a perfect platform for us – the X2200 M2 supports twin Opterons with 16 DIMM slots, making it easy and cheap to get 4GB boxes or 32GB boxes and anything in between.
  • Production time is measured in days, not weeks or months.
  • Their lights-out management sounds awesome on paper. (For the x64 gear. The T1000 didn’t have great LOM, I’m afraid).
  • Their engineering rocks. ZFS is drool-worthy, Thumper is a cool piece of hardware, Sun Spots are innovative, and Black Box is just pimp. I’m a geek, what can I say?
  • They’re profitable again.
  • They’re pushing hard (with some bumps along the way) to give love to startups.
  • They’ve been very attentive to us, including:
    • Sending a handful of people, including some fairly heavy hitters, out to our “office” the very next day after my initial post.
    • Getting their hands dirty trying to understand exactly what our use cases are.
    • Agreeing to benchmark and profile some our unusual use cases internally to gather data.
    • Sending quotes over in a nice, useable format (PDF)
    • Getting aggressive on pricing despite the fact that we’re a small company.
    • Keeping in contact with the status of the whole process regularly.
  • After publishing a factual, by-the-numbers review of the T1000 that was less than positive, Sun’s reaction was perfect. They didn’t blow up, deny it, or try to cover it up. Instead, they got us more hardware, invited me to their HQ, and put the right people in the room to understand our use case and the numbers we were seeing. This is ongoing, for the curious, and their response was crucial to today’s decision.
  • The reverent terms they use to describe their CEO, Jonathan, and the direction and pace he’s setting. Having your employees on board 100% is huge.
  • In a prior life, I knew Jonathan briefly and liked him a lot. My father and he worked very closely together through NeXT. Trivia fact of the day: Jonathan’s old company, Lighthouse Design, wrote a game for the NeXT called Void that I absolutely loved. It was a multiplayer LAN game set in space, and it was a blast. Lighthouse was smart enough, though, to put it in the NeXT Software Catalog in the ‘Network Diagnostic’ section so that people could order copies on their company’s dime. True story. (Oh, and as far as I know, Jonathan doesn’t even know we’re investigating Sun. He didn’t grease the wheels or anything to get us a good deal – we’re not unique).

Cons

  • The sales process sucks. I don’t mean the sales people – they were great, on-the-ball, and attentive. I’m talking about the internal processes to get approval for things every step of the way. The process would lurch from super-fast “here’s what we need” to super-fast “yes we can get that for you” to molasses-slow “we’re waiting for approval” or “we’re waiting for your Sun ID to come through” and then back to super-fast “let’s fiddle with this detail in the quote” to super-fast “here’s a revised quote”. Large-company-itis got in the way, big time. I needed to have bought this stuff a week earlier, at least, than I actually did. We’re not alone in this particular view.
  • Their up-front prices are higher than Rackable’s. I list this merely because it’s worth mentioning. SmugMug is built upon the concept that “you get what you pay for” and I wholeheartedly believe that. Sun got aggressive about pricing for us, and got their prices to be in the same ballpark as Rackable’s, which was great. But they didn’t meet or beat them, so we will end up paying more up-front. TCO remains to be seen, but we hope with higher-quality gear, service, and management, TCO may be lower. Note that I’m just comparing hardware prices here – I’m happy to pay more for better support (2 hour turnaround, for example), but we’re just talking hardware prices here, which you’d think would be similar since the companies all have access to roughly the same components. I’m also not sure how Ning’s math works and ours doesn’t – I guess it’s because he assumed Sun’s servers cost the same as his whitebox servers, which they clearly aren’t for us.

Now, where did the other vendors fall down?

HP

Pros

  • HP employees use and love SmugMug. They were very helpful making sure we got the right sales contacts.
  • Their lights-out management stuff is fantastic.

Cons

  • Didn’t have a platform that fit our needs (16 DIMM slots, 2 CPU sockets). Dang.
  • Passed us off to a VAR. I think in my entire career I’ve only seen Value Added Resellers “add value” once. The other hundred or so VARs I’ve dealt with have just been a complete pain.
  • A few of our customers let us know that, theoretically, in some world view, Snapfish competes with SmugMug and is owned by HP. I don’t consider Snapfish to be a competitor in almost any sense of the word, and I’m not sure it’d sway my judgement if it was, but I suppose it could have been a tie-breaker if there had been a tie.

Dell

Pros

  • Easily the fastest on the draw getting quotes to us. One phone call, boom, we had a PDF in our hands. Bonus points for it being PDF.

Cons

  • Didn’t pay attention to our actual needs. Quoted 16GB (8x2GB) machines and 32GB (8x4GB) machines, rather than the 32GB (16x2GB) machines we actually needed.
  • Turned out not to have a platform that does what we needed.
  • Lights-out not built-in to their servers.

IBM

Nothing really got off the ground here, so I guess they didn’t really want our business. Made a few calls, but didn’t get much useful back. An employee does love SmugMug, but found out sorta late in the game.

Rackable

Pros

  • Actually has machines that fit our specs. Turned out to be more rare than anticipated – 2 CPU sockets + 16 DIMM slots isn’t as easy to find as I thought.
  • Cheap. In every sense of the word.

Cons

  • Weeks have gone by with lots of emails and phone calls, and we still have lots of brand-new expensive broken servers. Can you guess why we started looking for someone else in the first place?
  • Hardware delivery times are long these days.
  • Cheap. In every sense of the word.

So there you have it. I’ll definitely post my thoughts once we’ve had some time to spend with the hardware.

Categories: business, smugmug

I don't wear manfume. Do you?

February 7, 2007 3 comments

Fantastic web marketing. Bruce Campbell is still my hero. Easily the funniest “online test” I’ve ever taken, complete with references to everything from DOOM to Jimmy Wales.

Man, I wish I was smart enough to come up with something this clever.

Categories: business, personal

Steve Jobs on DRM

February 6, 2007 2 comments

I love it when CEOs are open, transparent, and specific about their companies and their products. They set the bar for what I’m trying to accomplish on this blog with SmugMug. Customer communication can only improve a company’s ability to deliver good products.

Jonathan Schwartz is a great example of this, and now Steve Jobs is in the game. Not quite a blog, for Jobs, but a super-important letter, anyway.

If you like music, read it.

Not that my opinion matters all that much in the grand scheme of things, but I think he’s 100% on the money, both with his analysis and his conclusion.

Categories: business

Find Jim Gray using the power of the web

February 3, 2007 Comments off

I’ll make this short and sweet: A ton of great people from lots of great companies teamed up and managed to get satellite and aircraft imagery up on Amazon so that you, and everyone you know, can quickly and easily help sift through and help in the search.

You can help find Jim Gray. Go now.

You can also read more here if you’re curious about the heroic efforts behind this part of the search.

Categories: personal, web 2.0

Amazon S3: What would you like to know?

February 2, 2007 16 comments

As I mentioned in my article about performance issues with S3, I’m speaking on the subject at ETech this year. I’m planning on spending roughly half the time on the business ramifications and half on technical architecture. And I’ll be posting the slides or a PDF or something here after the presentation.

But I’d love some feedback about what you would like me to talk about so you can get the most out of my presentation and/or the information I put up here.

Leave a comment telling me what you’re most interested in about S3 and our implementation and I’ll re-prioritize based on your feedback.

Thanks!

UPDATE: Slides from ETech 2007 are up.

Categories: amazon, business, smugmug, web 2.0

It's the product, stupid.

February 1, 2007 3 comments

Ford lost $12.7 BILLION dollars.

I think Robert Scoble could help Ford out. He’d take his trusty camera to any street in the United States and interview random people for 30 minutes. Lo and behold, he’d find out that people really want to buy Ford. Only they can’t, because the products suck again. Friends of mine say things like “I really wanted to buy an American car, but they just aren’t any good anymore” as they drive their new Toyota home from the dealer.

There’ll be a lot of noise about how it’s the labor unions or the pension plans, but that’s not it. Toyota has the same labor unions, and Ford’s labor spent years building good products that sold well. Toyota and other foreign companies have to deal with import fees that could cripple their prices, but don’t – offsetting the pension issue.

Ford’s been through this before, and the tactic they used last time will work again if they would only look at their own corporate history: find out what the customer wants and build it.

Dell just got rid of its CEO and Michael Dell is back in the game.

Hopefully, Michael’s first order of business will be to sit down, go to dell.com, and try to buy a PC. Once he discovers he can’t buy one that’s not loaded with junkware, maybe he’ll fix the problem. Scoble could probably help him out too, again simply by asking the average Joe what they don’t like about Dell.

As you can imagine, I’m the go-to guy in our circle of family and friends when it comes to computer equipment. It used to be “Dude, you’re getting a Dell!”. Now it’s “Mac mini in the house!” and they couldn’t be happier. First words out of their mouths? “Wow, it doesn’t come with all those annoying programs?”

Oh, and Dell, you might want to rethink dropping the “Dude” campaign. Years later, people still use the phrase. But make the product good again first – nothing kills a bad product faster than great marketing.

Categories: business
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