Saturday, September 14, 2013

    Staring into the Future: Programmatic Buying and Selling on Mobile

    Recently, I've had the fortune to work on a new-ish technology that is making its way into mobile.  That technology is known as Real Time Bidding, or RTB for short.  It is the programmatic buying and selling of ad inventory and ads and it is a truly amazing technology.

    RTB has existed for several years on the web world, but only in the past year or so has it made its way into mobile.  Programmatic buying has existed for longer in places like stock exchanges where the majority of buying and selling is done programmatically.

    So how, exactly, does RTB work?  At its simplest level, the entire process starts with the opportunity for an impression.  Let's use our friend Sarah to illustrate the process.

    Sarah has just dominated a stage in her favorite competitive shooter on her phone, "Kill 'em All".  She is between levels and as is common with games it's an opportune time to show Sarah an ad while she waits for her next opponent to enter her killing field.  This is where our process starts, with the opportunity for an ad impression:  there is supply of inventory to be filled.

    The game she's playing is hooked up to an RTB exchange and, likely via an embedded SDK, sends a signal to the exchange to let them know that they need an ad.  It's likely that there has been some limited information sent along about Sarah, or that the exchange knows a bit about Sarah from previous transactions.  At the very least, it is known that Sarah is an avid gamer from the games she plays and that she's likely between the ages of 18 to 25.  This information is packaged into what is known as a Bid Request and is sent off into an auction to be bid on.  Part of that Bid Request is the info about Sarah that's been collected.  It will also include info about her device and the type of ad that she is ready to be shown (in this case, it's a full screen interstitial).

    The Bid Request goes out to various DSPs (Demand Side Platforms).  These DSPs see the request and immediately begin processing it.  In lightning quick time, they are prepared to serve an ad that is targeted at Sarah.  This ad goes out in a Bid Response and most times will contain the ad to be shown along with the price they're willing to pay for the impression.  This price is effectively a bid on the inventory that Sarah's ad opportunity represents.  In general, whoever bids the highest will win the right to show the ad.

    The exchange at this point will pick the winning ad, generally based on bid price.  The exchange will then send the ad on to the Kill 'em All game, which will then show the ad to Sarah.  As soon as the ad renders on the screen, what is known as a pixel will fire off.  This pixel notifies the winning DSP that they've successfully shown an ad and that they won the auction.

    Here is the thing that I think amazes me the most about this process.  Everything that I outlined above happens in milliseconds, typically less than 250 milliseconds (that's a quarter of a second).  We have gone from the need for an ad to showing the ad in less time than it takes to move your mouse and click something.

    The other thing that amazes me is that all of the decision making has been done programmatically.  There are signals within the request that the DSPs can use to determine how badly they want to show the ad.  Using machine learning algorithms and bidding strategies, the DSP can effectively maximize their impressions to those that will earn them the most money.

    On the side of our app, Kill 'em All, they take a cut of the impression bid and share the rest with the exchange.  The DSP pays out as soon as the impression is shown.  If, for whatever reason, and ad is delivered down to Sarah's device, but not shown, no money changes hands.

    Sunday, May 19, 2013

    A Note from Cole

    I've experienced lots of new things from soccer, to gymnastics, to football , all of those things. Just inspire me.   I am 7 years old  I can writ meny amazing stories.

    Wednesday, October 5, 2011

    On Steve Jobs Passing

    It is an indicator of his impact on our modern life that news of Steve Jobs passing has spread like wild fire across not only the internet, but across broadcast television as well.  I can think of no other instances where a person has not only impacted, but in many ways defined our modern life.  At the helm of Apple, Jobs defined what personal computing was meant to be; he redefined how we listen to music; he ushered in what the modern age of mobile computing is.

    His vision has shaped and defined my industry.  No longer is it simply enough to have a killer device, you must have an ecosystem to go with it.  Within the ecosystem he shepherded in, entire industries are taking shape.  And make no mistake, while other ecosystems have arisen to challenge the Apple ecosystem, the sweet spot, the one where all of the action truly is, is still the Apple ecosystem.

    My family is in no small part supported by the machine that Jobs put into motion.  The industry I work in would only be a shadow of its current self had the iPhone never existed, and the iPhone was one of Jobs' babies.

    I will never be a man of vision like Steve Jobs.  Yet I would count it an incredible blessing to work with one whose vision is like his was.  Perhaps one day I'll turn around and find that I have had the opportunity to work with someone of his vision, but such was his vision that it could not be appreciated in the moment, but only in hind-sight.

    I am and will be forever grateful for the impact that Steve Jobs has had on not just my industry, but on this world.  Our lives are better off having tasted the fruits of Jobs labor.  The world is a much more exciting place having had the benefit of Steve Jobs' genius.

    Tuesday, June 14, 2011

    Indoctrination and the Mac App Store

    A couple days ago I bought my first Mac.  It is a 13" MBP, all aluminum and glass, light and airy and ridiculously sexy in its design.  It is hands down the nicest laptop I've ever worked on.  I get why folks love these things.

    Now, I've been using Apple products in the form of iPhones for several years, so this isn't my first Apple device, and there's one thing that I'm finding very compelling on this MBP that I didn't think I would:  the Mac App Store.  Every time I've needed some miscellaneous app, I've fired up the App Store first.  Why?

    I've been indoctrinated by my iPhone to always look there for my apps, and that paradigm is moving with me as I delve into this entirely different segment of Apple's products.  And, while I've heard many people disparage the Mac App Store, I'm willing to bet that it's going to be a lot more successful than folks are giving it credit for.

    There are a lot of people that are coming to Apple computers as their second or third Apple device.  Those initial devices will almost invariably be iOS devices, and on iOS you look to the App Store to find all the killer things you need.  There's now a link between Apple and App Store in people's heads, and that link will hold true as people dive into Apple computers.

    So beware, all you haters.  As the late adopters show up to the party, this Mac App Store thing might just take off.

    Wednesday, May 25, 2011

    Music: Ownership vs. Access

    I've recently signed up for two different music services, Google Music Beta and Rdio, but it was the Rdio account that really got me thinking about whether or not I needed to own my music.  Up 'til recently, ownership was really the only way to go.  With traditional ownership you can select the music you want to listen to, organize it into playlists and carry it with you on the go (on your smartphone or iPod).

    Rdio, however, allows you to gain all of these benefits from traditional ownership.  With Rdio, you can select the music you want to listen to as long as it is in Rdio's library, and Rdio has quite a hefty library.  You can organize the music into play lists and if you're willing to pay for the premium account you can carry it with you on your smartphone or iPod (by either streaming or syncing).  There's one big difference, though.  If you stop paying for Rdio, you lose access to all of this music.

    It's that exact thought, the fact that Rdio provides access, not ownership, that got me thinking:  Is ownership really as important today as it was in the past?

    There has been movement on the traditional ownership front as well that has brought the two (ownership and access) back to feature parity:  cloud storage (aka: bit lockers).  Both Amazon and Google have recently launched services that allow you to store your owned copies of music in the cloud and stream them to your devices or computer via http.  The size limits are such that you can feasibly store quite a bit of music (in the 100 GB range) in the lockers.  You can then access web pages or apps which will stream this music back to you.  It's worth noting that this scheme has yet to be tested in court, and almost certainly will be, though both Amazon and Google maintain that since they are only streaming music the user owns, there's nothing that requires additional licensing.

    While Google Music is in beta and is free for the time being, Amazon charges for the storage space, $1/GB per year.  For 100GB of music, you're looking at $100/year for the service, which equates to $8.33/month.  It's interesting to note, though, that Rdio charges about the same for premium access at $9.99/month.  If all you want is streaming on your computer and not mobile access, then you can get the service for $4.99/month.  Google Music allows you to store by the song, not the GB, and will allow you to store 20,000 songs.  In practice that will equate to about 100 GB of music.

    It would appear that the services are similarly priced, until you take into account the fact that you will also need to buy (as none of my dear readers would dare torrent an album, I'm sure) your own music on Amazon or Google.  Depending on how much music you buy, this can incur a significant cost.  As long as that music is in Rdio's library, you can just add it to your collection and listen as much as you want without incurring any additional fees.

    Music Library
    But, the library is the rub.  As I discovered when talking about this with a friend, Rdio's library doesn't contain much of anything that you can't get from the major labels.  We went through a list of bands that had only released on CD, were brand spankin' new, or were only together for a special project.  None of them were in Rdio's library, though several were at least taken note of and had pages in Rdio.  With Google and Amazon, all you need to do is rip those CDs and upload them and you're good to go.

    Uploading, though, can be a pain.  As I write this, Google Music Manager has been eating my bandwidth for at least 24 hours to upload 2000 of 3600 songs.  Amazon Cloud Drive is in much the same boat.  That initial upload is a real killer.  I anticipate at least another 20 hours of uploads.  If I lived in Canada, that would most certainly rail my bandwidth for the month.

    So where does that leave us?  There are, of course, reasons to go with something like Cloud Drive or Google Music.  You ostensibly own the music and if you decide you don't want to pay the storage fee you can keep listening past that monthly/yearly payment off of whatever it is you store that music on.  As well, you can upload whatever you would like:  None of the edge cases are denied you as long as you have the music in hand, so the only library limits are based on what you actually own.

    But, the question of ownership vs. access comes down to one of cost of exploration in my book.  With services like Rdio, I can explore and find new music to my hearts content.  I pay one monthly fee for the privilege.  I can pay the premium price and take that music with me on my devices, as well, without having to constantly stream.  To explore said music with a service like Google Music or Amazon Cloud Drive, I would have to pay the cost of the storage plus the cost of the exploration in buying new music.  In my case, that cost of exploration could get quite high.  Rdio helps me keep that cost down.

    In my eyes, access wins.  I'll pay a marginal monthly fee to keep access to such a vast library happily, one that I can explore to my hearts content.

    Edit: Changed some font colors

    Thursday, May 5, 2011 Card Unboxing

    I received a box of 50 business cards in the mail today from  I was so impressed with the packaging that I decided to do an unboxing video.  The cards look great, as you can see in the video, and the packaging is impressive.

    Couple quick insights into ordering cards from moo:

    • Each card can have a different image
    • If you're ordering from a connected service like, then moo will include a QR code that points back to your entry on that site (for instance, my QR codes point back to
    • The card creation wizard is really easy to use
    • My cards were a special free offer (only had to pay for shipping).  They have a black advert at the bottom for  That will not be present on fully paid cards, but it's not distracting at all.
    I'm impressed enough that I'm going to order more.

    Thursday, March 10, 2011

    Nokia BH-905i Blog Review

    As Breaking Benjamin's "Fade Away" came roaring out of the BH-905i's for the first time, I realized that I was in possession of a very slick set of headphones.  Listening to the clockwork strains of "Fade Away", I was pleased with how full the sound was, and how awesome the lows sounded.  Turns out that Breaking Benjamin is an ideal band to listen to on the BH-905i's, but more on that later.  First off, let's get into the what the BH-905i's are, and what they come with.

    The BH in BH-905i stands for bluetooth headset, but as you can probably ascertain from this picture here, they come chock-full with wiring capabilities.  The "i" indicates that they are specifically engineered to work with an iOS device.  They have active noise cancellation, as well, and it does a good job of blocking out any persistent background sounds.

    The BH-905i's come with a very nice foam padded leather case that zips up.  Inside is a place to nest your headphones, along with a smaller bag to hold all of the various cables and plugs that come with the headphones.  On the back is a small pouch for carrying any additional gear you may not be able to stow inside.  All in all, it's a handy way to transport your headphones, keeping them safe and secure the whole time.

    Inside, you'll find a cable for iPhone connectivity, a cable for "Nokia AV" 3-prong connectivity and a cable for slotting into a regular headphone jack.  You'll also find multiple tips for 6.35mm, 3.5mm and 2.5mm.  As well, there is an airline jack.  There is also a splitter which splits the 3-prong "Nokia AV" cable into it's component headphone and mic jacks, allowing one to plug the BH-905i's into a computer.  No one has actually sighted the kitchen sink, but rumor has that it may be present as well.

    Bluetooth Performance
    I tested the bluetooth functionality with my iPhone 4 running a jailbroken version of iOS 4.2.1.  Sound over bluetooth was surprisingly good.  The performance of the headphones left me feeling more like I was listening plugged in than over bluetooth.  As a means of comparison, over bluetooth the BH-905i's sound much better than the cheap earbuds that Apple ships with all of their iDevices.

    There are  a set of buttons on the right earphone which control playback, allowing you to play/pause the music, skip forward and back, and turn your volume up and down.  All of these worked just fine and were easy to get accustomed to without having to see the headphone.  All of the controls are on the right-hand side, which makes sense if you're a righty, but I don't believe lefties will have any major problems manipulating the controls.

    Over bluetooth calls, the BH-905i's do a respectable job of transmitting the sound from the person on the other end of the line.  However, I found that I would have rather taken the call directly on my iPhone than on the headphones.  Two things contributed to this.  First, peoples voices tend to sound thin over the headphones.  Second, since the headphones cover both of my ears entirely, I found that I was having a hard time hearing myself when I talked.  I ended up thinking I needed to talk louder than necessary.  It would be nice if some of my side of the audio was piped back into the headphones so that I could feel like I only needed to talk at a normal volume.

    On the other end, the callers that I spoke with all said that I sounded great.  They didn't have a hard time hearing me at all.  The sound was so clear, in fact, that when I started whistling on one call, the person I was speaking with asked me to stop, as they said it was too loud.  When I talked at a normal volume, though, everyone said I was coming in loud and clear.

    Wired Performance
    Bluetooth performance was good, but wired performance is much better (as it should be).  When you plug these headphones in, you are really in for a treat...  Depending on the type of music you're listening to.  This is where I started to notice that the audio performance was not the same across the board.

    Let's start with the (slightly) negative:  mids are a bit muddy, and highs aren't quite as crisp as I would have liked them to be.  In practice, though, this can be overcome with a little judicious use of a graphic equalizer.  By bumping up the mids a tad and the highs a bit more, I found that I could correct for this performance issue.  It's also only a problem that shows up in certain types of music.

    For instance, as I mentioned above, Breaking Benjamin sounded outstanding on the BH-905i's.  Nickel Creek and the Civil Wars, though, needed some adjustment.  But as the latter two bands are folk and not dependent on rumbling bass and rely instead on mids and highs to convey their sound, you start to notice the sound difference.  Bumping up the mids and highs took care of the problem and ultimately listening to these bands was a treat on the BH-905i's.

    And that leads me to where the BH-905i's really shine:  in the lows.  Listening to any kind of music that relies on good lows (even low-mids) conveys a sound that is outstanding.  Breaking Benjamin, Metallica, Red, all these bands sounded absolutely magical on these headphones.  I found myself going to this music over and over while in possession of these beasts, hearing things in the music I had never heard before.  It was truly an ear-opening experience, hearing nuances of the music I had never heard before.

    In the end, I have to say that I'm going to be sad to part with these headphones.  I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to music on them.  I have heard things in the music that I've never heard before.  The bluetooth connectivity is nice, but ultimately you'll probably want to be listening to these plugged in as it's the preferred way to get the best sound.  Just keep in mind, though, that these are premium headphones.  While the sound is outstanding, for a retail of $299 I think I would want to get more.

    With that said, you can have these on Amazon for $179 new.  At that price point, I feel like these may be worth it.  The extra utility that is represented by doubling as a very decent communications headset is nice, doing more than just allowing you to listen to music.

    Edit:  Added tags
    Edit 5/25/11: Added some missing words to a sentence