How To Drop Your Data Plan And Keep Using Your Smartphone

How To Drop Your Data Plan And Keep Using Your Smartphone

Guest author Tim McCormick is a product developer & writer in Palo Alto, CA interested in publishing, learning technology, and urban innovation.
the full article came out today in ReadWrite (formerly ReadWriteWeb), a top-20 global blog/site focused on the Internet as participatory technology and media, syndicated to The New York Times and many other outlets. My original essay, part 2 of which is due to come out tomorrow on ReadWrite, was entitled “From Smartphone to Mindphone: cheaper, smarter, not always-on.” Cooler minds at RW changed it to title you see, an excellent value-proposition, service journalism angle which seems to be getting good numbers online.
Over the last six months, I’ve made an experiment of giving up my $90/month cellular + data plan, and exploring alternative ways to use my smartphone (iPhone) costing as little as $5/mo. The key point is that you don’t need a contract or a subscription to use a smartphone, contrary to just about everything you ever hear.

RFR IPhone Next, concept by Fabio Merzari / RFR Designers, Italy

I’ve come to think that it is not only often possible to largely cut out phone costs via these methods, but they actually provide a helpful path to other goals such as better prioritizing your time and attention, lowering stress and disruption, improving online reading patterns, and making you more connected to place and local community.

This isn’t about dropping smartphones or nostalgically longing for a pre-cellphone era or an uncontaminated, unplugged, “In Real Life.” It’s about using smartphones in smarter ways, exploring their amazing potential while limiting their cost, intrusiveness, addictiveness, and other problems. It’s about making our tools serve our goals, rather than accepting, as Marshall McLuhan said, that “First we build the tools, then they build us.”

[…]  read full article at ReadWrite.

emBooks: You can take it with you (proposal for microbook publishing-on-demand)


Scout Books. Portlandy portable reading for off-screen time!

You can take it with you.

I’ve been working on an idea for customized / print-on-demand microbook publishing, to make pocket-sized booklets for notebooks, short reads, chapters of books, essays, voter guides, instruction books, etc. Or, perhaps even the condensed books that O’Reilly Media’s Joe Wikert proposes, which publishers would price higher than a traditional “full-length” book in order to provide the service of intelligently condensing the content. (“sell the value proposition that “shorter saves time so it’s OK to charge more for it.”).

Imagine a platform to which you could upload text or other content, have that be placed into a booklet template (approx. 3.5″ x 5.25″, up to 64 pages), and then order one or any number of copies (cardstock cover, center-stitched). This size is close to mobile phones (thus emBook), Moleskine and many other pocket notebooks, Scout Books booklets, metric B7 (88×125mm = 3.46″ × 4.92″) and to the USPS’s 3.5×5″ minimum mailing size.

The system would convert the content to an PDF containing cover + 8 interior pages, 8.5×11″, double-sided. [It may be possible to do this even in OpenOffice, I am investigating this].

The pages are laser-printed, folded in signature once, center-stitched then folded again, then trimmed on three sides to make a 64-page book approx 3.5″ x 5.25.”
It would be done at one or more high-volume POD vendor facilities. Orders would be queued, printed consecutively, bound and mailed from there.

An outer wrapper sheet would be printed, with the exposed face showing the customer’s delivery address and pre-printed postage. The back side of that, and the other sheet half (which after binding & trimming would be at the booklet’s center) might be used for a re-order form, reply postcards, mini-catalog of other available products, a forwarding wrapper to send the book on to another recipient or donate it, etc.

Back-of-the-envelope production cost estimate: below $2/booklet + postage. The model would be to create a highly automated, self-service process, all customer interaction via the Web, all fulfillment by commodity 3rd-party POD service. Then sell at the mobile app / low-end eBook price range of $5 retail. Obviously, do it at large scale, no returns, very low-touch service.

Potentially, one service option could be to offer the PDF file back to customers for them to print it themselves. It isn’t too hard for a reasonably crafty person to print, bind, and trim these, could be a good solo or group or micro-entrepreneur DIY project.

Custom / print-on-demand publishing is a huge space, and I’ve done just a little bit of research, but so far the 2 most comparable enterprises I’ve find are:
1) Scout Books – 32-page 3.5×5″ kraft-covered notebooks or custom content (but printed offset in runs, not 1-off POD)., Portland

2) Moleskine’s custom photobooks and MSK (My Moleskine) service.
They do full-color photobooks, the MSK service to let you print your own custom pages to add to notebook; and apparently they are exploring POD services.

moleskine_msk.jpgPossibly, Moleskine, alone or in connection to its partnership with Evernote, has designs on this space and ability to gain a strong position. So far, though, I don’t think so, because of these differentiators:
1) they are a branded, high-end consumer good. By contrast, I’m thinking of a platform for commodity POD production and DIY projects. Given their product line, I expect they would set a price point significantly higher than I thinking of, and not be open to arbitrary 3rd-party content publishing.

2) Part of my interest is, potentially, to curate and crowd-curate publishing content, e.g. essays on net culture, classic essays, alternate scholarly publishing, literary works. (I’d love to see a Classic Internet Essays series, e.g.) I don’t think Moleskine is going there. (Scout Books, possibly, though; then there are many other mini-book publishing efforts out there, like Penguin Shorts)



Perhaps done as part of Palo Alto’s “Digital City” (“City as Platform”) program with CIO Jonathan Reichental. Could be done as a city program, or by utility companies, realtors, or local businesses, universities, military bases, churches, large employers, etc.

For new households in a city, or possibly for all households, auto-generate and mail a customized emBook which contains a variety of relevant community information, derived automatically from whatever is known about the addressee.

General municipal info:

  • info on and perhaps statement by city officials – mayor, council, etc.
  • elections info
  • services info – utilities, trash/recycling, elections, assistance programs, job programs, translators, libraries, how to get help and report issues
  • history, overview, key landmarks & buildings and historical sites
  • city open data – budget, capital programs, crime, accident data, etc.

Information customized based on address:

  • your govt. representatives – city, county, state, federal – and how to contact them, their ratings according to various watchdog scorecards, etc.
  • your local library, police precinct, schools, emergency shelters/procedures
  • yours and local home values, assessments, property records
  • aerial photo? streetview photo?

Potential detachable mail-in postcards:

  • prefilled voter registration card(s)
  • library-card signup form/info
  • school enrollment info
  • govt services: job programs, assistance programs, translators
  • transit pass signup
  • survey / feedback form

Hypothetically, it could also include

  • who are your neighbors?
  • non-public data or city notices specific to you, e.g. property assessment, lien, permit renewal

Yes, there’s a good bit of data to hook together, but the means and interest to hook it up efficiently is growing rapidly, and you’d be solving the problem once to scale it up nationally or internationally.


work with for streamlined or user-generated production of booklets about particular areas or tours as featured on the Historypin platform.  (or, Historypin could help or be used in the City Kits described above).


Aldine octavo (pocket) edition, 1502

Product a Bible edition as a collection of emBook booklets. (loosely one booklet per Bible book). Booklets can be ordered individually or as a set.
pocket Bible: just like Aldus Manutius in the 15th C.!  Of making many small Bibles there is no end!








APPLICATION #4:  Custom Personal Notebook
You choose the paper ruling (blank, line type, grid, dot-grid, etc.). Then:

  • Print your name, contact info, photo, any often-referenced material inside cover.
  • Calendar highlights – e.g. birthdays, anniversaries. [potentially, pull in automatically from e.g. Gmail calendar].
  • Any other content you want to add: material you reference often, or are learning; devotional materials.



Comments welcomed; will be approved before posting (sorry, spam issues). Please feel free to also send comments to tmccormick (at), or comment / follow at @tmccormick on Twitter/

Letter to the New York Times about Twitter and Open Media

Twitter / Fail Bird illustration by @MyklRoventine

Twitter is an online social networking  service that enables its users to send and read text-based messages of up to 140 characters, known as “tweets”. It was founded in 2006 in San Francisco by Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Evan Williams, and Biz Stone, and now counts about 500 million users worldwide.

I posted the below comment to the New York Times online, in response to a call for questions accompanying technology reporter Nick Bilton’s profile of Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, October 6th, “A Master of Improv, Writing Twitter’s Script.” Bilton is currently writing a book about Twitter, expected out in late 2013.


There’s a basic reason many people are concerned about Twitter’s evolution: a valuable service seems to be turning from a transformative, open-innovation platform into a closed, ad-based model.

Twitter offered a vision of a universal messaging system, and enabled a large creative ecosystem that built tools for reading & writing to it. User-led and 3rd-party innovation helped it succeed globally and become a sort of de facto public newswire.

It was natural to hope Twitter might evolve business models to preserve this openness. Costolo recently cited Amazon as a model, and Amazon’s AWS is a huge, profitable open-platform business offering internet infrastructure at low cost and on equal terms to any comer, enabling a vast variety of new services to be built.

In contrast, Twitter seems to be turning to an old-fashioned, closed-platform model. Only approved partners can build onto the system, and user experience is controlled. It’s yet another walled garden. Was that really the only possibility? Many people don’t think so, and now support alternative, open platforms & standards such as, OStatus,, and

Critics of Twitter’s enclosure movement aren’t merely naive or slow. We care about preserving open media and an open Internet, and realizing the potential of a universal newswire that serves users, rather than being built primarily for advertisers and investors.

Tim McCormick
Palo Alto, CA, USA



Reporter Nick Bilton followed up with answers to questions such as, what’s the LA office like, will the cafeteria perks go away, and does the CEO really have a “brawny” physique?  



iStone: ceramic cellphone docks and enclosures

Mashable recently did a nice article about “iPhone docks” which convert your mobile phone into a desk phone:

This reminded me of an idea I had previously to design a ceramic cellphone dock:

Heavy, breakable, non-portable…precisely so. I like the idea of marrying the mobile phone’s new, live, hot, emitting qualities, with ceramic’s timeless, elemental, cooling, absorbtive qualities. It connects to ideas of information attenuation, mindfulness, “contemplative computing,” Calm Technology, the Slow Web. More specifically, there is a spreading idea that for multiple health & social reasons, it’s good to leave your phone away from where you’re sleeping, eating, or socializing.

Hiroyuki Wakimoto 脇本博之 (Bizen, Japan; b. 1952): Wood-fired ceramic box No. 8

Moriyuki Ando 安籐百利行 (Gifu, Japan; b. 1944): Ceramic box No. 5 w/ Haiyu Kairagi glaze

A variant on the deskphone-dock as above is the phone enclosure or harbor: a box or object kept near entrance of a house, office, restaurant, where you can place phones to be recharged and kept safe. You might put one there as a ceremonial object and discreet affordance encouraging visitor to fully engage and enjoy their visit. It might be a tasteful and smart executive gift, design gift, etc.

I’d like to organize a campaign, e.g. on Kickstarter or Quirky, to design and produce these: the iStone, or “cPhone”: ceramic iPhone dock.



Comments welcome.  They will be approved before posting (sorry, spam issues). Please feel free to also send comments to tmccormick (at), or comment / follow at @tmccormick on Twitter/

Entrepreneurship in the Expanded Field: or, explaining startups to Martians

Sometimes I imagine Martians landing in Silicon Valley and, after looking around at the buildings, signs, and wonders, they instinctively turn to me, and ask one key question. “What,” they ask, “is this Startup religion your people speak of with so mighty and united a voice?”

And I say, “What you mean ‘we’, white man?”[2]

But I jest. When in Rome, do as the Romans, and when in Silicon Valley, start with startups. But “Startup,” I will argue, is just part of something more basic and global, entrepreneurship. This has existed in many forms, places and times, and it’s good to map that whole field and locate Startup within it, to consider all the possibilities, as a guide for the perplexed, and for Martians that may land in, say, France on their next visit.

Geoloqi, a startup in Portland

"entrepreneur" is an old idea from Cotillon

Unlike startup, which was invented recently by Eric Ries[3], “entrepreneur” is a term that’s been defined and explored for centuries, since being coined by the early Irish/French economist Richard Cantillon (1680s-1734) in his Essay on the Nature of Trade around 1730. Cantillon, incidentally, also got very rich through one of the earliest major speculative stock bubbles, the Mississippi Company, thus solidifying his credentials for present discussion.

The economist J. B. Say gave a classic definition in 1803:  an entrepreneur is an economic agent who recombines land, labor, and capital to produce higher productivity. Austrian economist Schumpeter (1883-1950), however, won the Internet by popularizing the term “creative destruction” as a description of capitalist change — adapting a concept from Marx.


early HP PC ("oscillator"), 1939

Silicon Valley has its own history and historians, however, and here, entrepreneurship is generally understood to have begun around WWII when Hewlett & Packard met in a garage at the newly-founded Stanford University, chopped down a grove of cherry trees, and invented the early personal computer (known as the oscillator) with a Series A round from Sequoia Capital. There may have been precedents, but they weren’t here and didn’t scale, so you even bringing it up is frankly kind of amateur.

Key other books in the Entrepreneur testament include Everett Rogers‘ landmark work establishing the field of innovation studies, The Diffusion of Innovation, 1st ed. 1963 [4].

Despite being based in Ohio and initially focusing mostly on the social dissemination of new farming techniques, Rogers developed a universal terminology and theoretical framework, which however is now understood to apply only to technology startups.

Finally, in 1997 Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School produced entrepreneurship’s Book of Revelation, The Innovator’s Dilemma. [5] Christensen brilliantly demonstrated that even the best-run companies can and do often fail, because they become structurally oriented to their current markets and uninclined to invest resources in emerging, unpredictable adjacent markets.  He showed that the stock market most rewards companies that can develop these new products and markets (e.g. Apple), and that the upside to better discovering these “disruptors” is huge.

Meanwhile, American permissive parenting and educational culture was knocking out whole generations of kids readily self-identifiable as “disruptors”; “disruptive innovation” became a central tenet of economic and personal development, counterculture was recast into Richard Florida‘s “Creative Class,”[6] and from the ashes of the Great Society and post-WWII economic equality and security was born Startup Nation. As Marx observed, bitter that his partner Engels was so rich from the cotton boom, religion is the opiate of the masses and entrepreneurship is the opiate of the precariat.

Contemporary Silicon Valley theorists (“wordrepreneurs”) typically synthesize Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” and Christensen’s “disruptive innovation” into the more holistic, if not precisely meaningful “Creative Disruption.”

Look, the point is, people have been thinking of new ways to do things, investing in them, and disseminating them, forever, for as long as they’ve had practices, concepts, and tools, thank goodness. Birds do it, bees do, governments do it, the French even do it, well (“le Startup”). My view is, if we want to explain all of this entrepreneurial-type activity to the Martians, wherever it might occur, and if we want to understand the true properties of, and opportunities for, innovation and entrepreneurship, then we should start with first principles and a general definition like this:

Entrepreneurship is risk-taking innovation activity that produces social and/or economic benefit.

Now let’s break down those deliberately chosen terms:

1. Risk-taking is inherent because entrepreneurship means reallocating resources towards uncertain new opportunities. However, this does not mean that entrepreneurs are necessarily or even typically risk-seekers; research suggests that personality traits only weakly predict entrepreneur success, and entrepreneurs are more typically sociable opportunity-, solution-, or perfection-seekers who confront and minimize attendant risk well (Byers et al, 1998)[7]

Also note, the resource risked by an entrepreneur may not be capital; it may be time, reputation, position or status within an organization, or even self-worth.

File:Microsoft Store Front.jpg

Microsoft Store, 2008. (Wikipedia)

2. Innovation is new (inventive) practices that create higher value. This intentionally excludes non-inventive business activities such as opening a new, duplicate retail outlet (e.g. Microsoft Store, left), or obvious incremental improvements in a product or process.

.3. Activity: following the convention of most innovation literature, I exclude pure knowledge, ideas, invention or creation that doesn’t produce observable social/economic change. Yes, of course we could debate what is social value or change, but this definition helps make a commonsensical distinction.

4. Social and/or economic benefit: entrepreneurship might create pure social benefit (e.g. a new government program or not-for-profit), pure financial benefit (e.g. a new derivatives trading strategy), or any combination of these.

By pointing out “benefit”, I aim to suggest that the scale and distribution of benefit is really what matters. I believe the most significant entrepreneurship is that which produces the largest and most widely shared benefits, not that which creates mere change, novelty, or wealth transfer. I mention both social and economic benefit in part to observe that in practice it’s often difficult to separate them, either in entrepreneurs’ motivations or in the effect of their activities.

5. Words not in this definition: technology, capitalist, Western, modern, consumer, democracy, Internet, product, commercial, market. These all describe realms where entrepreneurship occurs, but entrepreneurship does not necessarily involve any of them.


A map of the extended field of entrepreneurship:  Goals and Structures

We might make an analytic map of all the activities we classify as “entrepreneurial,” to consider possibilities and classify/relate known cases. I suggest one with the two axes as below: theoretically one could identify or envision enterprises at any point on this map, i.e. any combination of goal and structure.


Axis A:  Goal: from pure profit to pure social/personal goal, for example:

  1. public good (universal social good)
  2. social good / enterprise (social benefit to particular group or cause)
  3. sustainability of business / lifestyle / personal opportunity
  4. financial goals
  5. “exit”: e.g. sale of enterprise

Axis B:  Structure: ranging across cases from

  1. Program
    A project/initiative done entirely within structure of a larger org (e.g. govt program, corporate project/product).
  2. Skunkworks / internal spinoff
    Within a larger org, but done in a separate administrative unit with possibly different operating procedures.
  3. Co-entrepreneurship:
    initiative that is semi-autonomous but developed within some structure of pooled equity, e.g startup collectives, accelerator portfolio co (e.g. Betaworks).
  4. Traditional startup (normal / traditional startup model)
  5. Fractional entrepreneurship:
    A given project, at a given time, might be pursued with only part of one or more people’s attention or commitment. In fact, even a traditional startup has fractional involvement of many parties such as investors, lawyers and other professional service providers, friends & family. These fractional involvements are not usually represented explicityly in the structure or equity of the enterprise (although they could be).

An enterprise has a path, not a nature

While entrepreneurial enterprise are commonly talked of having a model, e.g. “startup” or “social enterprise,” in fact it’s typical for projects to evolve across models, i.e. across positions on the above Entrepreneurship Map.

Projects may begin as ideas, market analysis, complaints, failures, accidents, experiments, side efforts, or research & development (R&D); they may migrate to become an official program or product, or a public or open-source project; they may be acquired, or incorporated into another product, or acquired to be terminated.  Organizing a single, independent company devoted to the single project (the typical “startup” model) may be inappropriate, inefficient, or not suit the participants’ or project’s needs.


So What?

I believe that existing attention, tools, services, assumptions, thinking, policies, investment, etc. are highly concentrated in just a few areas of this map; but innovation and social/economic needs are served by enterprises from all areas of the map.

If entrepreneurial enterprise, and entrepreneurs, are more diverse than our standard practices assume,  then that means we are probably missing a lot of opportunity.  I would suggest that by overconcontrating on particular, even exclusionary notions such as “startup”, we may waste human resources, misallocate investment, increase risk and inefficiency, miss innovation opportunity, and fail to meet human needs.

Advocates, experts, or beneficiaries of particular entrepreneurial practices often assert, explicitly or implicitly, with or without necessarily offering any evidence or argument, that their way is generally the best or only one possible, or is synonymous with entrepreneurship or “innovation” or “risk taking” or “startups” or “startup culture” or “technology” or “Silicon Valley”, or that all of the above are more or less the same thing. There’s a good chance that what they advocate grows out of their particular experiences and economic interests, rather than analysis of what are all the possibilities, which might best meet your needs, or what the world needs. Or less sinisterly, it may be that just by engaging with a certain person or organization, e.g. entering a hackathon or entering investor discussions, you are assumed to be following one particular model, but this isn’t articulated or analytically derived.

For one thing, this is a fast-changing map, with entirely new areas emergent such as B Corps (corporations with social-benefit provisions mandated by charter) and all kinds of crowdfunding / crowdsourcing being invented or legislatively enabled by the JOBS Act. Basically, nobody out there is an expert on all the possibilities.

So, advice to people and to projects: consider all the angles, and find the way to do what you do best — what best suits your circumstance, values, and assets.  It’s a big world, a  universe of possibilities, so don’t just follow local dogma.



1.  the title “Entrepreneurship in the Expanded Field” alludes to the essay by Rosalind Krauss “Sculpture in the Expanded Field” (PDF). October, Vol. 8. (Spring, 1979), pp. 30-44.
2. “What you mean ‘we’, white man?”:
A 1958 comic in Mad magazine by E. Nelson Bridwell depicted The Lone Ranger and his companion Tonto surrounded by hostile Indians, the Ranger saying “it looks like we’re finished!” Tonto replies, “What you mean… WE?” The punchline has often been retold as “What you mean ‘we,’ white man?”, as in the 1974 top-40 soul hit “The Lone Ranger” by Oscar Brown, Jr. , or in a 2008 blog post by Paul Krugman.
3. Ries, Eric. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. (New York: Crown Business, 2011).  Ries, to his credit, actually articulates one of the broadest contemporary notions of entrepreneurship I’ve seen, defining “startup” in his book as “A human institution designed to create something new under conditions of extreme uncertainity.”
4. Rogers, Everett. The Diffusion of Innovation. (Glencoe: Free Press, 1963). .
5. Christensen, Clayton. The Innovator’s Dilemma. (Harvard Business Review Press, 1997).
6. Florida, Richard. The Rise of the Creative Class (Basic Books, 2002).
7. Byers, Tom, and Heleen Kist, Robert I. Sutton. “Characteristics of the Entrepreneur:
Social Creatures, Not Solo Heroes
“.  in Dorf, Richard C., editor. The Technology Management Handbook, CRC Press, 1998).


Comments welcomed; will be approved before posting (sorry, spam issues). Please feel free to also send comments to tmccormick (at), or comment / follow at @tmccormick on Twitter/