Google’s AdSense [click solicitation] policy of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell is hypocritical, but then so too are most of Google’s other opaque policies. Everything with Google is algorithmic yet the algorithm is never defined. Enforcement, too, follows yet another unpublished algorithm. Google seems open to the idea of its partners being a little bad while never defining exactly how much bad is too much bad. Presumably we’re deemed not smart enough to understand.
Google benefits from click fraud so it tolerates it to some degree, with that degree never being fully defined, either.
I’ve been at a loss of what to say about it. The hostile trail kicked our asses much more than any of us anticipated, and there were some pretty miserable times on the hikes, but the trip overall was such a great time with our friends that we’d definitely do it again… on a more hiker-friendly trail.
I feel different after having done this, but I can’t put my finger on why. It’s a good thing. I’ve never pushed myself this hard, physically, and I’ve never been in a situation like this in which the only reasonable way out is to use my own (hurting, blistered) feet to descend 3,000 feet of altitude over five miles of slippery, steep rocks before nightfall.
As Community Director, Marc manages Tumblr’s entire support infrastructure. From tackling general community issues to solving technical support requests, he’s personally read and responded to thousands upon thousands of email messages regarding browser cookies, forgotten passwords, and more.
Marc is special. And I don’t mean that as a euphemism for any sort of handicap or personality flaw. I mean that he possesses admirable and rare qualities.
Marc’s job is to deal with hundreds of support emails every day.
To most people in our industry, that sounds like hell. I can’t blame anyone for assuming that someone who handles support email as gracefully as Marc does couldn’t possibly exist in reality:
Yet, Marc wants to emphasize that he is, in fact, an actual human being. You see, a common misconception he encounters is that he’s a fake persona we created to make Support more personable. Emails addressed to “Whoever Really Reads This” and “Marc, Yeah Right” are a surprisingly regular occurrence.
He actually asked for this job, because he truly enjoys doing it. In person, he’s just as pleasant as you’d expect from his email responses. It’s not an act. He’s genuine.
Support is behind the scenes and underappreciated by most, but it’s a necessity, and there can be serious repercussions if it’s not done properly. And support for free web services is rarely done well.
In addition to the polite inquiries, Marc gets many emails every day from people who are angry about something, none of which is likely to be his fault. Often, he needs to deal with problems for which there’s no good solution, such as personal disputes or copyright issues, and he needs to be the bearer of bad news to at least one party.
His actions and demeanor help disarm people’s frustrations — with their passwords, their themes, their browsers, their phone company, their workplace’s IT staff, their content, other people’s content, politics1, religion2, or society as a whole3 — and make everyone’s day a little bit nicer. And as Tumblr’s support needs have grown past his (rather impressive) capacity, Marc has instilled the same positive attitude and guidelines in the other members of Tumblr’s support staff.
Tumblr is truly lucky to have such a pleasant, resilient, and talented person running our support and community management department4.
Face it: The national economy isn’t escaping the gravitational pull of the Great Recession. None of the standard booster rockets are working. Near-zero short-term interest rates from the Fed, almost record-low borrowing costs in the bond market, a giant stimulus package, along with tax credits for small businesses that hire the long-term unemployed have all failed to do enough.
My second pair of AKG K-26 P headphones (discontinued; replacement) just died in a similar manner to the previous pair: one speaker (one headphone?) stops working unless the wire at its base is jiggled in exactly the right way, and then eventually stops working entirely, despite no visible wire damage or fraying. It’s probably an internal fray. So I’m done with AKG’s portable line for now.
After some research, I decided to replace them with the Sennheiser PX 200-II (cheaper in white). I disliked the original PX 200’s poor sound quality, but the 200-II sounds much better — not only better than the PX 200, but possibly even better than the open-backed PX 100 (it’s been a while since I’ve tried them) and definitely better than the AKG K 26 P.
The PX 200-II is also much more comfortable and lighter than the AKG, and the cable only comes out of one headphone (the left), which will reduce wire tangles and possibly give them one less failure-prone cable stress point.
My only complaint so far is that the cable has a bulky inline volume-control blob that can’t be practically removed, which doesn’t make a lot of sense for lightweight headphones intended for compact, folding, portable use.
The volume-control module is just heavy enough to make the cord dangle and swing around uncomfortably while walking unless it’s clipped down, and it’s not quite far enough from the top for me to be able to clip it to the rim of a pants pocket, so I need to clip it awkwardly to the bottom of my shirt instead.
For headphones intended for use while walking, among other activities, this is a major oversight. It’s almost annoying enough to make me return the PX 200-II and look for a better model, but I don’t think I’d find one. I wish Sennheiser just offered these with a normal cable sans volume control.
I did this interview over the weekend, including PHP’s light and dark sides, how to poorly manage a high-volume email inbox, ideal photo editors, roasting coffee, and my last beer before the apocalypse.
Text and email are polite invitations to a conversation. They happen at the speed and leisure of both the sender and the receiver. In stark contrast, when you get a phone call, it’s almost always a convenient time for the caller and a bad time for the recipient, who I refer to as the “victim” because I insist on accuracy. My philosophy is that every phone conversation has a loser.
Game Center should allow non-game iOS apps to register for achievements and leaderboards. Think about it: Largest Dropbox File, Most TextExpander Time Saved, Longest iStat Uptime, Most LoseIt Pounds Lost This Week.
— David Chartier nails a great idea. I’d love to make Game Center-shareable achievements in Instapaper, but I don’t think there’s any chance that Apple would approve it, even after today’s improvements.
I still see a lot of Nanos in use on mass transit, but I bet I won’t see nearly as many of the new ones as the previous generations. In previous generations, the Shuffle and Classic were the edge-case products, while the Nano and Touch uncomfortably shared the spotlight as the mainstream iPods.
The new Nano is clearly shifted more to the Shuffle’s edge of the market, leaving the $229 Touch — now even smaller and much better than the previous $199 entry — more clearly positioned as the mainstream iPod that most buyers should leave the store with. (Or at least enter the store thinking they’ll buy, before they’re convinced that the $299 32 GB model is a much better deal and get that one.)
It’s not that they made the Nano worse — it’s more like they discontinued the Nano and expanded the Shuffle line with a new model, leaving a vacuum in the middle that will drive many more buyers to get the Touch and expand the iOS installed base.
With that goal in mind, it makes sense why Apple would tolerate so many trade-offs to make the iPod Touch much smaller and less expensive: it needs to compete with the old Nano.
I wrote a script to crawl U.S. App Store customer reviews for the top 100 apps from every category (minus duplicates) and compute the most common words in 1-star and 5-star reviews, excluding words that were also common in 3-star reviews.
Keep in mind that the results are not representative of overall user opinions: most users don’t review apps, and people who dislike an app are more likely to leave a review than people who like it.
These are the top words by rating, with descending frequency:
Bold words are adjectives or likely to be used as adjectives in context.
Some are obvious: people like awesome apps and dislike those that crash. A few words are more interesting, though:
It’s promising to see simple in the top-positive list, which says a lot about user expectations on the platform.
Both positive and negative reviews seem unusually obsessed with price. This seems odd, given the relative cost of the hardware, accessories, and cellular service where applicable.
The negative words are most interesting to me: in addition to complaints about the price, one word is especially telling of a prevalent attitude I’ve seen for a while: useless. More than any other adjective, reviewers condemn apps they don’t like as “useless”. Subjectively, I usually see this in contexts in which the app doesn’t have a minor feature that the reviewer wants, or where it doesn’t perform well in a rare use-case, so the reviewer unfairly declares the app “useless”. This demonstrates a curious psychological effect of modern western culture that I’ll write about soon.
I got a Kindle 3 for Instapaper testing. Impressions so far:
It is noticeably smaller and lighter than the Kindle 2, but it’s still the same size class. (The screen’s the same size, and it still has a keyboard, so there’s only so far they can go.) Most people who pick up a naked Kindle 3 for the first time may overestimate the difference because they’re accustomed to using the Kindle 2 in a case.
It’s so inexpensive ($140 for Wi-Fi only, $190 for Wi-Fi and 3G) that buying a $30+ case seems wasteful. And I loved getting a fancy case for my Kindle 2. (That’s still my favorite case for a gadget I’ve ever seen. It’s so immensely classy, and for the Kindle 2, necessary1.)
The form factor still encourages a case: the screen is still vulnerable to stabs and scratches from other items that share its bag, unless you’re dedicating a whole (hopefully snug) pocket to the Kindle, or you never plan to take it anywhere. But it’s also the first Kindle that I’ve been able to comfortably hold and operate without a case — mostly because of the rubberized back, replacing the Kindle 2’s smooth aluminum — so I think the ideal case would be one that isn’t clipped to it, possibly this, or maybe just a cheap plastic lid that could clip onto the front of it to protect the screen.
And cheap plastic wouldn’t be out of place. While it’s still a reasonably high-quality item, the Kindle 3 feels noticeably cheaper than the Kindle 2. It doesn’t feel quite right to spend $30 or more on a case for it.
Fortunately, you don’t need to:
A standard 6x10 bubble envelope — the size you’d use for shipping a DVD in a case — actually makes a decent low-budget Kindle 3 slipcase. And if your goal is to just throw it in a bag and have basic scratch protection until you remove it for use, it’s a pretty good solution.2
In an apparent effort to make the Kindle 3 smaller and cheaper, some of the most important buttons have been moved around. One positive change is that there’s now a Previous Page button on both sides, not just the left like the Kindle 2.
But Home, Back, and Menu have been shoved awkwardly into the keyboard area on the bottom, which I’m having a hard time getting used to. It seems incredibly unintuitive:
The new directional pad (they call it a “5-way controller”… the up-down-left-right thing that was a joystick-like nub in the Kindle 2) is cramped. It’s difficult to hit the directional buttons with confidence because I’m afraid I’m going to inadvertently hit the center (select) button instead.
The power-switch slider has been made much easier to slide. That’s nice, but it has also been moved to the bottom, so it’s awkward to reach, and I keep accidentally hitting it with my hands or clothes.
The next/previous-page buttons, the most important and most frequently used controls on a Kindle, have been reduced to very narrow strips on the outer edge of the Kindle 3’s left and right margins. I’m finding these more awkward to hit than the Kindle 2’s big clicky switches, which rocked toward their inner edges, but this is probably because they’re very different, not necessarily that either design is better.
The reading screen
The screen has been significantly improved, and there are subtle layout differences:
I’ve adjusted the contrast to attempt to best represent how they look in real life. Pictured: Michael Lopp’s new book, Being Geek — recommended.
Note how the removal of the top bar and elimination of the margin below the progress indicator has added space for three more lines of text per page at this font size.
There’s a new font chooser as well: on most content, you can select between “regular”3, “condensed”, and “sans serif”:
I still prefer the “regular”. There’s also a line-height option, but the default (pictured) is the largest, and the two smaller settings decrease legibility too much for my taste.
Some Kindle-edition books, such as Coders at Work, force their entire text to be in the sans-serif font. (On the Kindle 2, too.) It’s irritating. I saw this setting and hoped it would be able to override that, but it doesn’t — whichever formatting attribute forces the font to sans-serif also disables the font-face and line-height preferences on the Kindle 3. (The pictured book has the same problem as all of O’Reilly’s Kindle editions that I’ve seen: it seems to force a <BR><BR>-style paragraph break instead of the Kindle norm: book-style, tab-indented paragraphs. This also can’t be overridden by customers. I doubt that anyone important at O’Reilly is a Kindle user.)
As advertised, page-turning on the Kindle 3 is faster… sort of. The actual black-flash effect of the e-ink seems to be about the same speed as on the Kindle 2, but the delay between when you hit the next-page button and when the flash begins has been reduced to nearly zero. This is more likely due to a faster CPU in the Kindle 3 rather than an e-ink advance. Regardless, it feels faster, it’s more satisfying, and it reduces the learning curve.
The web browser
Every Kindle has shipped with a web browser, and their free cellular access makes this pretty appealing to geeks like me. The Kindle 3’s new WebKit-based browser is a huge improvement from the Kindle 2’s:
It’s still not useful enough for most people to do what they typically want to do in a web browser, but it’s functional and fast enough now that I’m glad I went with the Wi-Fi + 3G model in case I ever need to pull an xkcd. (“Functional” and “fast” are both relative to the previous Kindle browsers, which doesn’t say much. A first-generation, EDGE-only iPhone in Vermont would be more useful for web browsing than a Kindle 3.)
But, for those who haven’t used a Kindle browser, let me be clear: while this is a huge improvement over the previous Kindle browsers, you do not want to use this unless absolutely necessary.
The e-ink screen is meant to page-flip content, not scroll through it. And this isn’t a touch screen4. The result is that you need to move the virtual mouse-pointer cursor through the web page with the tiny 5-way controller. And e-ink’s refresh speed forces a small delay on every graphical change, so moving through pages is sluggish, clunky, and error-prone.
The browser is under the “Experimental” menu for good reasons. It’s a fun toy to see on the first day you get your Kindle, but you’ll quickly forget that it’s there and will probably never use it again.
The big picture
With the Kindle 3, Amazon has made most of the hardware and software better, technically. But they made a lot of the ergonomics worse. Maybe it’s because I haven’t had enough time to get used to it yet, but I can’t help but wish for the Kindle 3’s internals with the Kindle 2 button layout.
For Kindle 2 owners, the upgrade to the Kindle 3 probably isn’t worth it. But if you want to upgrade anyway, you probably won’t be disappointed.
I don’t know how many Kindle users actually use the speakers or headphone jack, but I’d guess it’s not many. And I bet a lot of Kindle users would love a smaller version without the QWERTY keyboard that would just require book purchases to be done elsewhere, or with a slow on-screen keyboard navigated by the 5-way controller. Yet the Kindle 3, despite the corners Amazon had to cut in build quality and ergonomics to get costs down, retains all of this rarely used hardware.
But the hardware isn’t the headliner for this revision. A big nitpicky hardware review (like… this) is missing the point:
Because if my support emails about Kindle 3 support are any indication, Amazon is selling a lot of these. And at that price, it’s no wonder: $140 is barely more than many iPad cases. Amazon is clearly sending a message to the market:
“We’re not competing with the iPad. You can buy both if you want.”
The iPad can do a lot more, but people who claim that it’s “killing” the Kindle are clearly not Kindle owners. Buy an iPad if you want to browse the internet, play music or video, check your email, or launch flaming peas at zombies.
But when you want to settle down and read a book, the Kindle is a much better choice.
Cases for the Kindle 2 will not fit the Kindle 3. The clip-mounting holes on the Kindle 3 are spaced about a half-inch further apart. I hope there was a good engineering reason for this seemingly arbitrary change that, at worst, could be a cheap move to sell more cases to upgraders.
Update: Reader Robert M. emailed me with a good theory for this: “Amazon sells a Kindle 3 case with an extendable LED light. It gets its power from the Kindle via the metal latches. My guess is that Amazon’s old cases had an electrical path from latch to latch, and would short out the Kindle 3. (Seems like you could engineer around that, but doing so might add complexity to a device they’re trying to sell as cheaply as possible.)” ↩︎
As long as you don’t accidentally mail it somewhere. ↩︎
The standard Kindle font is still PMN Caecilia, which works incredibly well on the Kindle screen and which I’ve grown to love. ↩︎
Sony has released a few Readers with touch-screen e-ink displays. I haven’t seen one in person, but they’re usually panned in reviews because the touch-sensitive layer makes the screen more glossy and prone to glare. For now, at least, e-ink and touch-screens apparently can’t be combined well. ↩︎
Why does Twitter work better for news than Google Reader? Simple, Twitter gives you what’s new now. You don’t have to hunt around to find the newest stuff. And it doesn’t waste your time by telling you how many unread items you have. Who cares. (It’s like asking how many NYT articles you haven’t read. It would be gargantuan. I don’t bother you with the number of Scripting News posts you haven’t read, so why does Google?)
James from Square Mile Coffee generously sent me a box of freshly roasted coffee all the way from London because I made an iPhone app that he likes. I’m incredibly lucky and thankful to have such great fans.
And it’s delicious. (The coffee.) Highly recommended.
After four years of my serving as Tumblr’s lead developer, Tumblr’s technical management needs have evolved to require types of experience that I don’t have, and my independent career has offered a lot of opportunities that I haven’t had the time to take full advantage of.
While Tumblr’s engineering team continues to grow, instead of continuing full-time, I’ll serve an active consulting role.
It has been an invaluable experience to develop a product from just two users to one of the top 50 sites in the U.S., and I’m looking forward to staying close to this incredible team.
The mouse pointer that appears on screen for a few seconds after the desktop loads, tracking the first couple of touches, before some component presumably loads and tells it to hide. The touch features are obviously just sloppy bolt-ons to Windows.
The little blue dot animation on each touch to give some feedback that it received the touch, presumably because so many applications in Windows aren’t meant to show any sort of touch feedback, because they’re not designed for touch usage. Sounds like a blast.
The browser scrolling performance right before he says, “Very fast.”
Flash running in the browser… otherwise it might be responsive.
Tapping the address bar in Internet Explorer to type a URL doesn’t bring up the on-screen keyboard automatically, or hide it after the URL is entered — he has to hit the keyboard button on the side to show and hide the keyboard manually.
It’s a Windows 7 version of the same old Microsoft Tablet PC form factor, but this time, with a finger instead of a stylus. They used to call these “slate”-type Tablet PCs. They were slaughtered in the market by the “convertible” type that had the flip-around laptop keyboards, because most Windows software simply works much better with a keyboard and trackpad.
This is what happens when a PC hardware company tries to copy an Apple product’s feature checklist without getting it.
I hope that, somehow, this is fake. But I bet it isn’t.
This is comical, but the actual likely intention is less fun than killing hung apps: it’s probably to get through the Windows NT-style “Press Ctrl + Alt + Delete to log on” screen, a relic from 1993, which is necessary on tablets presumably because Microsoft’s internal structure, politics, and fragmentation precluded the Tablet PC team from getting the Windows Account Security Or Whatever team to make an exception to this procedure for this edition of Windows 7. ↩︎
Passive-aggressive office signs always annoy me more than they probably should.
In this case, someone else on the same floor as the Tumblr office put up this sign in the bathroom:
What annoyed me about this is that it passively addresses the actual problem — that people sometimes throw paper towels on the floor next to the door, so they can turn the handle with the towel when exiting and avoid touching it directly — and that the only person I’ve ever seen do this works for the company that most likely posted the sign.
But worse, what kind of person spends their time making passive-aggressive, condescending signs like this?
So I became one of those briefly and amended it.
That was too harsh, as it was torn down within a few hours.
Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to replicate most signs: nobody spends a lot of time on them, so they’re usually just large, possibly bold Times New Roman at one of the preset sizes in the Microsoft Word font-size dropdown. I made a template in about 30 seconds, and put up an alternate version with subtle errors introduced:
This has been up without incident since yesterday evening.
And now, something that slightly angered me every time I saw it has become something that makes my day better every time I see that it’s still there.
That’s what life’s about: improving the world around you.
Subject: About Internet Intellectual Property Issue
We are a leading internet solutions organization in Asia, and we have something urgent to confirm with you. Yesterday we received a formal application from a company called ” Varmer Investment Co., Ltd “. They were trying to apply for ” instapaper ” as Brand Name and following Domain Names through our organization:
After our initial examination, we found that the Brand Name and Domain Names above are similar to yours. These days we have been dealing with it. Now we hope to get your affirmation. If your company did not authorize the aforesaid company to register these, please contact us as soon as possible.
In addition, we hereby declare that time limit for this issue is 7 workdays. If your company don’t respond within the time limit, we will unconditionally approve the application submitted by Varmer Investment Co., Ltd.
I replied, saying that I did not authorize this, and thanking Beck Chan for alerting me to this. (I believed it.) I thought that would be the end of it.
Thanks for your reply. Since your company did not authorize ” Varmer Investment Co., Ltd ” to do this, we would suspect this company intend to preempt the domain names in advance and use the domains in China/Asian market. Or perhaps they want to preempt these domains and resell them to you at rather high price in future.
As is known to us, the domain names registration is open to the public in the world, with the principle is “first come, first served”. Anyone has the right to apply for any available domain name. For the reasons above, we do not have the right to reject their legitimate application. Now the only thing we can do is to give you the preferential rights to register these domains yourselves, because your company has a similar domain name ” instapaper.com “.
If your company considers those Domain names important to your company and necessary to be protected, please inform us in time. Then we will send you a formal application form to fill in for registry.
We’re looking forward to your reply.
Ah, there’s the catch. I was starting to get suspicious — this sounds a lot less like the courtesy that I thought it was, and a lot more like extortion.
I asked, “Roughly how much money are we talking about?”
You should know the open registration policy of domain names, anyone has the right to register any available domain, so you register and purchase the names yourselves is best way and only way to protect your intellectual property.
Following is the procedure for registration, you can do follow these.
1. Fill in the application form and return it to us.
2. On receiving the form from you, we will secure all domains for your company and send the Invoice to you.
3. Transfer the payment to us by T/T and send us the payment proof.
4. We register all domain names for your company and link them to your website www.instapaper.com within two workdays after getting the payment.
5. You will be awarded the certificates by one branch of Chinese Government in 10 workdays.
Here goes the price list:
Cost (USD/ Per Year)
Please fill in the application form attached and return to us soon so that we could put these domain names under protection.
Further questions, please E-mail or call me directly.
Wow. $795 per year for all of this crap? Do I really need .com.cn and .cn? There’s really a “.asia” TLD? And what, exactly, does a “Brand Name” get me?
I asked about that one.
Brand name is an internet brand and works as the protection to Trade Mark on internet.
People can visit your webiste through www.instapaper.com, or visit your website through interent brand ” instapaper ” directly if the internet brand had been registered, but trademark is not.
Uh… OK. I know the internet is a bit different in China, but this is a bit of a stretch.
So I did some searching to see if any other U.S. companies had gone through this process and written about it, to see how they handled it.
To have a blog is to have some portion of your brain assigned to monitoring your audience. I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to hole up and think not of humans, but of work. I want quieter days with less stimulation from this increasingly buzzy world of external opinions and missions. I want big chunks where I don’t even think of myself. When work becomes truly ecstatic, everything else vaporizes… there are no thoughts of ‘how will it be received’ or ‘how would I turn this into something profitable’ or ‘could a company one day grow around this’ … I just want to quietly make shit for a while.
Jake gets a lot of flack whenever he puts much of himself out there, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. I’ve always learned a lot and been left with a lot to think about whenever I’ve spent any time with him. Specifically, his introspection is usually something from which I could benefit by applying it to myself.