Just over a month ago, I switched comments off for this blog. I wanted to post a very brief follow-up on that decision.
In a nutshell, it was definitely the right move.
If you write on the internet, read this.
Just over a month ago, I switched comments off for this blog. I wanted to post a very brief follow-up on that decision.
In a nutshell, it was definitely the right move.
If you write on the internet, read this.
Special thanks to Carnegie Mellon University for sponsoring the Marco.org RSS feed this week:
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By Danny Sullivan.
“Open” is meaningless. It means whatever people want it to mean to advance their agendas, much like “freedom”, “national security”, and “family”.
It’s true that parts of Android are open-source. But Google pushing PR about Android being generally “open” for consumers, whatever that’s supposed to mean, is misleading at best. That’s why I called it bullshit: most people misinterpret it more favorably to Android and Google than what it means in reality, Google knows this, and they not only allow the misinterpretation to continue but actually fuel its expansion.
Bullshit isn’t lying, usually: it’s the art of bending the truth to persuade others of a false or misleading perception without technically lying or doing anything “wrong” yourself.
Why is it that your choice of smartphone platform incites so much irrational anger and so many accusations of being a “fanboy” from people who use a different one?
Normal people own, at most, one mobile phone at a time. Typically, they own the same one for 1–2 years. And smartphone owners often remain loyal to a platform for a few consecutive phone purchases. Therefore, most people can’t reasonably equivocate and get them all: they need to be decisive, and then they’re stuck with their decision for a while.
Here’s an approximate picture of today’s U.S. phone marketshare, by platform:
If you publicly express an opinion that any particular platform is best for a significant portion of buyers, you’re effectively saying that the people who chose differently were wrong. Most people don’t like to be wrong.
And because it’s such a massive and divided market, any stated opinion will cause this reaction from a lot of people. If, for example, you say Android is best for any common set of goals, a lot of people might get upset:
Not seeing this implication requires more open-mindedness, empathy, and attentive reading ability than many people have. So no matter how much you wrap it in qualifiers or try to be constructive, a lot of people are going to be insulted if you say something good about the thing they didn’t choose — and it’ll be even worse if you say something negative about the thing they did choose.
This is one reason why so many big publishers are so opinionless and seem to like everything. Saying you don’t like something, or that any choice is clearly the best for most people, will cause enough people to stop listening that the precious metrics that pay the bills might decrease.
When people get defensive over their choices that you inadvertently cast doubt upon, and they don’t want to admit (to themselves or anyone else) that they made the wrong decisions, they will often attempt to convince themselves (and possibly everyone else) that your opinions are invalid by discrediting you.
Hence, fanboy: a derogatory term that means someone who is blindly and irrationally devoted to a product that I believe is inferior to what I bought when faced with a similar choice, and whose opinions and arguments can therefore be completely disregarded.
I used to attempt to defend myself against accusations of being a fanboy, but I just don’t care anymore. It’s impossible to express a useful opinion to any significantly sized audience without inadvertently angering someone enough to hurl irrational insults at you.
If given the choice between expressing an opinion and being useful, or pleasing most people most of the time by saying everything is great even when it isn’t, I’ll choose expressing an opinion every time. And if that results in derogatory feedback, so be it.
Matt Alexander at The Loop:
E-readers are targeted products built with the aim, as I wrote in my Kindle Touch review, of providing a compelling “replacement for the venerable and inherently simple printed word.” They are cheap, lightweight, have long battery life, and operate well in direct sunlight, but they do little more than present traditional literature in an electronic package.
So far, we agree, although I think presenting literature electronically comes with quite a few nontrivial gains that shouldn’t be glossed over. But then:
And while that might be enough for some, it is clear that e-ink is progressing towards a colorful, responsive, video-capable future, and that is certainly not what constitutes an e-reading device. That is a tablet.
Is it really clear and inevitable that e-ink is going to become colorful and video-capable? I’d argue that most of e-ink’s appeal today will still appeal to a lot of people five years from now, and probably even longer.
Newsprint can’t do much compared to color glossy magazine printing, but it has never gone away. Why must black-and-white e-ink readers inevitably be replaced by multimedia color tablets?
The e-reader’s purpose is, ostensibly, to serve as a stopgap measure until both e-ink itself and LCDs evolve to the point of intersection —
and that does not seem too terribly far off. Tablets are losing weight with each iteration, prices are lowering, battery lives are lengthening, and soon, everything that makes e-readers wonderful products will be assimilated into other pieces of technology.
As tablets lose weight, so do e-readers. As tablets get cheaper, so do e-readers. As tablets get longer battery lives, so do e-readers. With the (large) exception of the screens, tablets and e-readers are using the same classes of components, the same batteries, and the same manufacturing processes. But e-ink readers have far lower hardware and power needs, so e-readers should maintain their advantages over tablets for quite some time: the best e-reader on the market today costs $79, weighs less than a third as much as an iPad 2, and has a battery that lasts a month. That’s a huge gap that won’t be filled with incremental hardware improvements.
Plus, the ideal size of an e-reader is probably going to remain smaller than the ideal size of a tablet. And there are other big advantages to reading on a basic e-ink reader, such as the lack of a bunch of apps and multimedia features to distract you from reading.
I don’t think the e-reader is “doomed” at all. It may just be relegated to a fringe device for reading nerds, but that’s what it’s been for most of its lifespan as a category and it’s been fine.
A lot of people have asked me about this part today, since e-readers are doomed and all:
Nook sales were up 70% from a year ago for the 9-week period ending Dec. 31, but holiday sales for its $99 Nook Simple Touch reader were weaker than expected.
I don’t think this, alone, is a sign that e-ink readers are in trouble. The Nook Simple Touch is a decent-but-not-amazing reader that’s 7 months old, and most of the buzz this holiday season went to the brand-new Kindle lineup.
Matt Alexander responds to my rebuttal of his e-readers are doomed article:
Moreover, despite the many merits of e-ink in its current form — merits I’ve written about at length in the past — the e-ink display is unquestionably life-limited. There is little that can be done to evolve the technology further. Sure, the current form is good for reading (and only for reading) — I do not question that — but it is very clear to me that there’s only so much more that can be done before color and video become involved.
I disagree. E-ink still has a long way to go in responsiveness and pixel density. The current Kindle is 167 ppi. Imagine how nice it would be to read on a 300+ ppi version, like the iPhone 4’s “Retina” screen but with e-ink.
I’d take that before color.
And when those are implemented, surely the benefits of a dedicated e-reader will be lost altogether?
If e-ink readers could display color and video without losing e-ink’s advantages, wouldn’t they still have their huge leads over tablets in affordability, size, battery life, simplicity, and lack of distractions?
And if color and video ruin e-ink’s ability to deliver on those advantages, wouldn’t there still be just as big of a market for the slow, grayscale displays as there is today?
As much as you or I might enjoy the e-ink experience, people are not thrilled about buying a device that does one thing very well when they can buy something that does that one thing fairly well along with dozens of other features.
Then why does anyone buy grapefruit spoons, prime lenses, or two-seater sports cars?
Or tablets? Laptops do everything tablets do fairly well along with dozens of other features, and you probably already own one.
Remember Cow Clicker? This great Wired article by Jason Tanz is worth a (long) read:
And then something surprising happened: Cow Clicker caught fire. The inherent virality of the game mechanics Bogost had mimicked, combined with the publicity, helped spread it well beyond its initial audience of game-industry insiders. Bogost watched in surprise and with a bit of alarm as the number of players grew consistently, from 5,000 soon after launch to 20,000 a few weeks later and then to 50,000 by early September. And not all of those people appeared to be in on the joke.
See also: The Life-Changing $20 Rightward-Facing Cow.
Apple’s In-App Purchase system permits two types of subscription purchases. The documentation suggests that Auto-Renewable subscriptions are the right choice in almost every case:
Auto-Renewable subscriptions are delivered to all of a user’s devices in the same way as non-consumable products. However, auto-renewable subscriptions differ in other ways. When you create an auto-renewable subscription in iTunes Connect, you choose the duration of the subscription. The App Store automatically renews the subscription each time its term expires. If the user chooses to not allow the subscription to be renewed, the user’s access to the subscription is revoked after the subscription expires. …
Non-Renewing Subscriptions are an older mechanism for creating products with a limited duration; consider using auto-renewable subscriptions instead.
When developing Instapaper 4.0, I initially offered the optional subscription purchase as Auto-Renewable, since it sounded like a perfect fit: a server-side service with ongoing monthly operational costs should be billed until the customer cancels it and the server-side resources can be reclaimed.
When I implemented the auto-renewing subscription in development, which requires quite a bit of tricky server-side subscription validation and tracking, I quickly ran into this mandatory dialog in the purchase flow:
A few things about this dialog bothered me, as a developer:
But most importantly, this directly says that I “would like your name, email, and zip code”, when that’s not true. I really don’t want any of that information. (Your email address is your Instapaper username, but I already have it.)
The last thing I want to do is take someone’s money for a premium purchase and then immediately give them the impression that I want to sell them out.
There’s no way for a developer to opt out of this data collection and disable this dialog. If you sell an auto-renewable subscription, your customers will be told that you want their personal information, and you will be given that information (and the liabilities that come with it) whether you wanted it or not.
This is pretty bad, but I ultimately decided that it was worth the convenience benefits of auto-renewing. A non-renewing subscription would be a pain in the ass for my customers, generate more support email, and degrade the experience: it sucks if they go to use the premium features and they can’t because their subscription expired yesterday. To provide uninterrupted service with manual renewals, I’d need to send annoying push notifications to subscribers — my best customers, who I’d rather not annoy — whenever their subscription was about to expire.
So I sucked it up and submitted 4.0 with the auto-renewing subscription and the complex server-side code to support it.
It was rejected. I was told via phone about an apparently unwritten rule that I was violating: auto-renewing subscriptions can only be used for apps that deliver “new content” during each renewal period, like magazines. Charging a monthly price for an ongoing service is not allowed.
This Stack Overflow member got it in writing:
Based on product functionality, it would be more appropriate to use the non-renewing subscription In-App Purchase type. The Auto-Renewable Subscription product is best suited for apps that require or feature dynamically or frequently changing content, such as digital periodicals or radio subscriptions.
Reading between the lines on my rejection call, and seeing it codified more clearly here, it’s obvious that only traditional-style media publishing apps can use auto-renewable subscriptions. They were created solely for the existing newspaper and magazine industry, not web services.
This certainly explains a lot about that terrible solicitation dialog. When Apple was developing the auto-renewing subscription system and negotiating with the major magazines and newspapers, they were all “publishers”, and I bet none of them ever asked for an option not to collect their product’s personal information.
Ultimately, I had to ship Instapaper 4.0 with non-renewing subscriptions, I was able to delete all of the clunky auto-renewing server code, nobody sees that terrible dialog in my app, and I need to ship an update soon that will annoy my best customers with manual-renewal notifications.
But this is a great example, like Newsstand Kit’s background downloads, of Apple adding a capability to iOS that’s potentially useful to thousands of developers, and then restricting it so that only a handful of players (usually big companies) can actually use it.
I hope that, in time, they unbundle some of these myopically targeted enhancements and make them potentially useful to all developers. But Apple’s record on this isn’t great so far.
Federico Viticci plays a good devil’s advocate to my post from yesterday:
Imagine if every app in the Store went free, and started billing users periodically for “usage”. That would create an unrealistic ecosystem of free apps with in-app subscriptions for all kinds of content. …
What if every developer of every app starts implementing background downloads for remote content? Even once per day, for every app, it can be a lot of data. And when you add data caps to the mix and start imagining games that can download new levels remotely on 3G…not good.
Slippery-slope worries like this are definitely one reason why some of these new features are restricted to only a handful of apps by policies or bundling. (I’ve had multiple Apple engineers tell me as much at WWDC.)
But similar worries applied to previous features that are now available to everyone, such as multitasking. What if every app could run in the background indefinitely? That would cause problems (just ask any Android user). To prevent bad situations for users but offer some helpful functionality to apps, Apple used the tools at its disposal: technical limitations, implementation rules, and app review.
The same tools are already in place with auto-renewable subscriptions and Newsstand Kit’s background downloads. Autorenewing subscriptions are all centrally listed and can be easily canceled (once the user figures out where they are, which is suspiciously difficult to find). And with the exception of that automatic renewal, they’re just like other in-app purchases, which haven’t destroyed the ecosystem of free apps.
Newsstand Kit’s background-wakeup push notification can only fire once a day, and background NKAssetDownloads only work if the device is on Wi-Fi and has a healthy battery charge. So give all apps the ability to receive that background-wakeup push notification once a day, as long as the user has granted them permission to use push notifications. Then let them update or download whatever they can do in the 10 minutes that they’re allowed to run in the background. And if the system decides to terminate them during those 10 minutes for any reason, that’s fine, too.
Even without NKAssetDownloads, and even if Wi-Fi was required, this would be a huge benefit. Unlimited-time NKAssetDownloads are only required by magazines because so many of them are ridiculously bloated at hundreds of megabytes per issue, but a huge class of apps could download everything they need in a few hundred kilobytes over a few minutes, at most.
App review already prohibits misuse of background execution, misuse of push notifications, excessive data throughput over the cellular network, misleading use of in-app purchase, and misleading descriptions. Apple already has all of the tools required to prevent features like this from being misused.
One final note: Currently, auto-renewable subscriptions can’t be used to provide an ongoing service, even though services usually have incremental costs for each user. But they can be used to provide periodical content that the user never sees and that has an incremental cost of zero. That seems perverse and backwards to me. Can anyone make a good argument against allowing auto-renewable subscriptions for services, but that doesn’t also apply to periodicals?
Auto-renewable subscriptions were obviously a huge cave-in to the big media players. Maybe Apple won’t let anyone else use them because Apple thinks they’re universally bad for users, and they want to limit use only to important media companies that wouldn’t otherwise support iOS (which would be a great fit for my Bullshit list).
Just a thought.
Dr. Drang, at the end of this post about killing apps in the multitasking switcher:
There’s another bit of iOS voodoo floating around that I’d like to see Fraser tackle: recalibrating your home button. My gut feeling is that this, too, is a waste of time.
I tried the “recalibration” procedure a few times on my iPhone 4 and iPad 2, both of which slowly developed unreliable home buttons.1
It seemed to help for a few minutes the first time, but later attempts showed no improvement, so the first time was probably just coincidental. I think it’s safe to say that recalibrating iPhone or iPad home buttons is a myth.
Anyone have any solid knowledge to the contrary? (If an Apple “Genius” told you, that’s not good enough.)
Update: I’ve received numerous reports, some from current and former Apple employees, that “recalibration” is indeed bullshit. Grant Paul even reverse-engineered the OS routine being invoked by the extreme long-press and confirmed that it only force-quits the current app. Nothing more.
The solution for the iPad 2 was to bring it to an Apple store, where they replaced the entire iPad under warranty as a result. The iPhone 4, sadly, was out of warranty by the time its home button started getting noticeably unreliable, but it was never as bad as the iPad 2’s. ↩︎
Julie Bosman at The New York Times:
Barnes & Noble, in a move to increase sales of its Nook devices, will offer deep discounts on them to customers who also buy subscriptions to the Nook editions of People magazine or The New York Times, the retailer is expected to announce on Monday.
Interesting move. I can’t see people subscribing to these publications just to get the discounts, but I can definitely see some New York Times subscribers choosing the “free” Nook Simple Touch over a Kindle.
The truth is, the average Android user is not the same as the average iPhone user. iPhone users surf the web more, they’re more willing to buy software, they’re more willing to install and use apps. Some of these stats aren’t even close. What I see as the fundamental flaw in the Church of Market Share doctrine is the assumption that users are users.
MG Siegler, on Google’s hypocrisy and constant selling out to carriers:
Apple, for all the shit they get for being “closed” and “evil”, has actually done far more to wrestle control back from the carriers and put it into the hands of consumers. Google set off to help in this goal, then stabbed us all in the back and went the complete other way, to the side of the carriers. And because they smiled the entire time they were doing it and fed us this “open” bullshit, we thanked them for it.
Remember when Google argued for net neutrality? They’ve been pretty quiet about it recently.
There are two stories here. First, it’s remarkable that Instagram has surpassed 14 million users with only an iPhone app so far — not even a useful web interface.
It’s also interesting that the Instagram CEO believes that an Android version will “nearly double” the user count. Given Android’s significantly higher market share, why wouldn’t it more than double? (Right.)
The other half of the story is Instagram’s plan to advertise, presumably by inserting photos from braaands into your stream even when you don’t follow them.
“I think the advertising experience is going to be extremely engaging,” [Instagram CEO Kevin] Systrom said. “It’s much harder with text,” but Instagram offers photos, and brand names such as Audi, Kate Spade, and Burberry have joined Instagram.
“They’re sharing pictures of products and the message of their brands. That shows we’re at the beginning of what will come with brands,” he said.
“Obviously, we didn’t start a business to not make money,” he said. “Our focus now is on growing the network. You really need to build up the network, or no advertisers care.”
When app-based startups have the goal of “get as many free users as possible”, they need to port their app to every major platform.
For most VC-backed consumer web startups, the goal is to get as many users as possible by making everything free, spreading everywhere, and figuring out how to make money later, which usually relies on selling your userbase’s attention or privacy to corporate customers.
I’d guess that Instagram could have charged a few bucks for their app from the start, made us their customers, budgeted carefully, and avoided VC funding and advertising. But they chose the free-now-ads-later model, and it appears to be working very well.
Thanks to HelpSpot for sponsoring the Marco.org RSS feed this week:
At HelpSpot, we’re big supporters of open source software and simply couldn’t run our business without it. So, 6 years ago we created Open Source Help Desk List to assist companies looking for an open source help desk software solution. Its success has been beyond our wildest expectations, serving as an invaluable tool for thousands of companies to find the solution they need. We hope it can help you as well.
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P.S. Check out the newest project we’re working on, the PHP framework Laravel.
On this episode, we had four big discussions that I’m proud of:
If you only listen to occasional episodes of my podcast, or if you haven’t heard it yet, I highly recommend this one.
(Also, where’d this awesome timeline wiki come from?)
If you live somewhere with cold, dry winters, like the U.S. midwest or east coast, you probably need a humidifer. Without one, your air is probably too dry for comfort and can cause little annoyances and health issues that I’m nowhere near qualified to discuss.
Almost nobody buys a humidifer that they’re happy with and that effectively humidifies the air. Below is what I’ve learned in my experience. First, a myth and a placebo:
Remove the voodoo element: you should have something in your house that contains a hygrometer (a humidity meter) so you can tell when you need to use a humidifier and whether it’s working well enough. Many humidifiers have built-in hygrometers, as do some high-end thermostats and most digital indoor thermometers.
I suggest humidifying at least your bedroom, but ideally, you should humidify your entire house or apartment. Size matters: small humidifiers can’t humidify large areas. Humidity travels well between rooms, so one large unit can serve multiple rooms as long as the doors are kept open.
Now, the types:
Steam humidifiers boil water and visible steam comes out. These are equivalent to boiling pots of water on the stove: they’re fairly quiet, but they use a lot of energy, and they can easily over-humidify a room and fog up the windows and walls.
The air in a steam-humidified room never feels even or natural: it feels like someone just sprayed water into the air. (Which is basically the case.)
Ultrasonic humidifiers effectively spray water into the air: they atomize the water into a fine mist that blasts out of a nozzle. Almost all of the cute animal-shaped humidifiers you see in stores are this type. If you hold your hand in front of it, your hand will be noticeably wet within seconds.
These have most of the downsides of steam models: windows, walls, and even nearby floors get noticeably wet after a while, and the air isn’t evenly humidified. And they have another downside that doesn’t affect steam models: with ultrasonics, mineral deposits in the water get flung into the air, too, leaving many people complaining about “white dust” accumulating on surfaces.
I’ve owned at least one of each, and the only ones I’ve ever been happy with were evaporative.
For the last two months, I’ve used this huge Honeywell HCM-6009 to humidify the entire first floor of my house, and the highly regarded but very expensive Venta Airwasher LW25 in the bedroom.
The Honeywell is the workhorse: on recent dry days of about 20 degrees (F), it has evaporated up to 6 gallons per day (two full tank pairs). It’s not quiet enough for most bedrooms, but it’s quiet enough for the living room. I use one of these in the base (replaced monthly) and a capful of this in each tank of water to greatly reduce crap buildup in the base and filter. (The first month, I didn’t use them — they make a big difference.)
The Venta is very different. Rather than blowing air through a wick-filter, its fan blows down through a spinning multi-surface disk onto the water’s surface. This removes a lot of dust from the air, but the disk is difficult to clean, and you can’t dump the dirty water too often without wasting a lot of the required additive. The Venta is extremely quiet, though — this is by far its best feature. Unfortunately, with both humidifiers on their “medium” settings and all doors open, the Venta only evaporates 1-2 gallons on the same days that the big Honeywell is able to evaporate 6. The Venta doesn’t claim to be a high-output humidifier, but its low output and high price make it very difficult to recommend for anything but the smallest rooms with the most noise-sensitive occupants. It’s also disappointing that, at this price, it doesn’t have a hygrometer or an auto-shutoff feature to maintain a maximum humidity level.
If you need a humidifier, I highly suggest a basic evaporative model like the Honeywell HCM-6009. Just plan to buy some water additives and replace the filter once or twice per season, and it will humidify a hell of a lot more than a pot of water on the radiator.
Here’s a thought I had after reading about the discount applied towards Nooks if you buy a subscription to select periodicals: What if instead of buying an e-reader that is book-centric, you get an e-reader that is Instapaper-centric (with the ability to side load eBooks)?
It’s an interesting idea, but it effectively already exists: the $79 Kindle is a pretty good Instapaper device that happens to also be able to read books and old-world periodicals from one of the biggest catalogs in the world.
Sadly, most of the junk mail I get these days is from companies I already do business with.
Me too. The biggest offenders, by far, are American Express and Verizon (FiOS, not Wireless).
Verizon takes it an infuriating step further. We have a bare-bones FiOS phone line for emergencies, and we’ve given its number to almost nobody. It rings about twice a week, and nearly every time, it’s a Verizon telemarketer trying to upsell us. (Pick up, 5 seconds of autodialer silence, “Hi, I’m calling on behalf of Verizon…”) And we pay extra every month to have this number unlisted.
I’m just about ready to cancel the line and just hope we never need it, or keep its only phone unplugged, simply because Verizon so relentlessly telemarkets us despite my demands each time to stop.
In a footnote to my Coffee Joulies review, I wrote that it might be interesting to test the Joulies against equal masses of rocks or metal.
Here, Jeff Ammons has done just that.
A lot of people have asked whether I’ve used this filter, by Able Brewing Equipment (formerly Coava), in my AeroPress in place of the usual paper filters.
I have, but I don’t like it. Here’s why:
On my preferred AeroPress grind, nearly as fine as espresso1, the Disk clogs badly. This results in two problems: more difficult cleanup and increased sediment in the cup from the grounds that pass through.
So the Disk ruins three great things about the AeroPress:
I also didn’t detect a taste improvement over the paper filters. Maybe you can, in which case, go in peace and love your Disk. But I can’t recommend it.
If you happen to have a Baratza Virtuoso, I like the “8” setting. The dial goes from 1 to 40, with 1 being smallest. ↩︎
I don’t agree with a lot of their choices, but good for them for finally defining strong standards.
Now comes the hard part: ensuring that Google’s apps follow the standards often enough, and getting enough support from leading OEMs and third-party developers, that the standards actually become conventions rather than just suggestions.
I have terrible news about the great Medelco glass kettle that I’ve always called the Helvetica Kettle.
The new ones are printed with an ugly “fun” font resembling Comic Sans.
But it gets worse. Much, much worse.
It turns out that, all this time, my Helvetica Kettle…
…was actually an Arial Kettle.
By some people who reported some things said by some other people familiar with the matter who said:
The tablet will use a quad-core chip, an enhancement that lets users jump more quickly between applications, two of the people said.
I love when mainstream reporters or CPU marketing people try to explain multiprocessing. Or any other CPU advancement, for that matter. Remember when Intel successfully bullshat people into thinking that the Pentium 4’s “NetBurst” microarchitecture made their internet connections faster?
This is the allure of “content”: it allows comforting, structured data which simplifies the complexity of a large business and makes decisions less intimidating. Executives aren’t making qualitative picks regarding art or an artist, they’re merely signing off on whichever “content” produces more valuable metrics.
For my part, I have no opinion on what their chances are, only to say that the successful design platforms that we’re most familiar with tend to be ‘born that way,’ whether it’s Apple or Adobe or even Windows Phone, which had to essentially reboot the notion of Windows to properly integrate the kind of design culture that Microsoft aspired to.
Great design is usually great from day one.
I’m not sure what Disqus was really trying to say in this giant image. I think they were attempting to defend comments (their business, as an embeddable comment system) in response to the recent anti-comment discussions around these parts.
Their conclusion was that most good comments come from people who don’t give their real name, and I guess the implication is that sites without comments (like mine) that prompt people to respond publicly from their own online identities elsewhere are suffering as a result.
But Disqus gives commenters the choice to post anonymously, under pseudonyms, or using their real names. You can type whatever you want into those boxes. Given that choice, of course most people wouldn’t put their real names in. It’s not worth it. Most people lack the fortitude to attach their real names to debatable public opinions.
All Disqus’ data shows is that most people smart enough to write coherent comments are also smart enough to dodge the risks of attaching their names to them.
To show how anonymity affects comment quality and volume, you need to test the same community both ways: forcing everyone to use real names, and forcing everyone not to.
(Matt Gemmell responds well to Disqus’ post, too.)
An iPhone alarm disrupted a Philharmonic performance:
Actually, [the iPhone owner] said he had no idea he was the culprit. He said his company replaced his BlackBerry with an iPhone the day before the concert. He said he made sure to turn it off before the concert, not realizing that the alarm clock had accidentally been set and would sound even if the phone was in silent mode.
And a lot of people started condemning the iPhone mute-switch behavior, which doesn’t mute all sounds all the time.
John Gruber defended Apple’s implementation. Andy Ihnatko strongly disagreed and argues for a hard-line “‘Mute’ mutes everything” implementation.
The iPhone makes very few exceptions to the Mute switch.1 For the most part, exceptions to the Mute switch are:
The Alarm and Timer in the Clock app. Timer is a one-time countdown that you can only set for up to 24 hours, useful for cooking, laundry, and parking meters.2 If you forget about your Timer, its alert sound is generally welcome.
Alarm works just like an alarm clock, most often used to wake people up. I’m with Gruber on this one: to me, an alarm that obeyed the mute switch would be infuriatingly broken.
Apple’s guidelines for developers clearly illustrate their rationale:
For example, in a theater users switch their devices to silent to avoid bothering other people in the theater. In this situation, users still want to be able to use apps on their devices, but they don’t want to be surprised by sounds they don’t expect or explicitly request, such as ringtones or new message sounds.
The Ring/Silent (or Silent) switch does not silence sounds that result from user actions that are solely and explicitly intended to produce sound.
In other words, the Mute switch silences sounds that the user didn’t ask for, but not those that the user explicitly requested. Users are fully in control, in that sense. My iPhone has never made a sound while muted that I didn’t ask it to make.
Ihnatko frames this as Apple’s arrogant design:
My philosophy is “It’s much better to be upset with yourself for having done something stupid than to be upset with a device that made the wrong decision on its own initiative.” …
Apple’s most notable successes and failures usually spring from the same basic company mindset: “We know what the customer wants better than the customer does. …”
Apple certainly shows that attitude a lot (and is often right), but that’s not a fair characterization here.
The user told the iPhone to make noise by either scheduling an alarm or initiating an obviously noise-playing feature in an app.
The user also told the iPhone to be silent with the switch on the side.
The user has issued conflicting commands, and the iPhone can’t obey both.
It’s a typical design problem: it can’t be heavy and light and big and small. Neither decision will satisfy everyone all the time or cover every edge case: if Apple implemented Mute in Ihnatko’s preferred way, millions of people would be just as irritated when their scheduled alarms didn’t wake them up.
When implementing the Mute switch, Apple had to decide which of a user’s conflicting commands to obey, and they chose the behavior that they believed would make sense to the most people in the most situations.
That’s good design.
Ihnatko’s “Case ‘B’” wouldn’t really happen: when muted, alerts from iCal and Reminders only vibrate. ↩︎
Siri is great for setting timers. After putting the quarter in the parking meter, as I’m walking away, I can put the phone up to my face and tell Siri, “Set a timer for 37 minutes.” ↩︎
This Ars Technica article by Jacqui Cheng is interesting from the pros’ perspective, but the idea that the Mac Pro is being neglected is short-sighted:
The fact that the Mac Pro seems to be on Apple’s back burner is making professional users nervous and forcing them to begin looking at other—non-Mac—hardware solutions to ensure their future employability. …
With the current iteration of the Mac Pro about to turn 18 months old—and even at the time of that update, the previous version was nearly two years old—these users are becoming increasingly jaded about Apple’s commitment to the pro market.
Since the Mac Pro’s introduction in 2006, it has always followed the Xeon CPU roadmap. New Mac Pros are released when Intel releases new Xeon CPUs for them to use. That’s it. I’ve given away my secret on how to very accurately predict when the Mac Pro will be updated (and when it won’t be).
There’s not much about the Mac Pro for Apple to update between Xeon launches. The chipsets (and the ports they support) are also dependent on Intel’s server-class roadmap, so it wouldn’t have been easy, for instance, to have released a Thunderbolt Mac Pro update (with the same CPUs) while waiting for the next Xeon.
Apple can’t switch away from Xeons for the Mac Pro, and Intel hasn’t yet released the dual-socket successor to the current lineup’s CPUs. It was scheduled for release a couple of months ago, but Intel delayed it, and estimates put its release at early March. So — ready for this crazy rumor? — I bet we’ll see new Mac Pros in March, at which point pros can go back to complaining only (and legitimately) about Final Cut Pro X and Apple’s attitude toward the pro software market.
Thanks to Scrivener for sponsoring the Marco.org RSS feed this week:
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This makes a lot of sense, and it’s in line with how Apple has kept around old iPhone models since the third-generation product’s launch.
Cheap 7” Android tablets are now selling in meaningful numbers (mostly the Kindle Fire and Nook Color), but I haven’t seen a single credible review claiming that anyone should buy one over an iPad for any significant reason except their much lower prices.
The Kindle Fire and Nook Color are $199 and the iPad starts at $499. How far down can Apple push the price of the iPad 2’s basic design, maybe with only 8 GB of flash? $199 probably isn’t possible and $399 probably isn’t a significant enough reduction to change anything, but if they can get it down to $299, that would take a lot of wind out of the 7” tablets’ half-assed sails.
John Gruber’s theory is pretty good.
It’s painful, expensive, time-consuming, stressful and ultimately pointless to work overtime to preserve your dying business model.
Kelly Clay paraphrasing an anonymous Google engineer:
While he says there is no direct pressure to conform to “crazy hours,” he hints at the reason he lives a Google-centric life: His pay is directly related to the amount of time he spends with Google. For those who can’t keep up with the demand, they simply have no choice but to leave, as previous (and notably older) Google employees have done when they must make the choice between raising a family or getting a raise. (I personally know at least one former Seattle-area Googler who quit under similar circumstances after being forced to either choose seeing his newborn less, or receive a demotion if he didn’t travel more.)
This workaholism culture has infected much of the tech industry, especially startups. It’s sad that it has even hit Google to at least some degree.
Even before my wife was pregnant, I never let a job prevent me from having a healthy relationship and home life. You just need to stand up for yourself: if you need to work long hours constantly (not just in occasional “crunch times”) to remain competitive and reasonably paid, your employer has serious cultural problems that will probably never be fixed.
There are plenty of employers out there who respect their employees enough to permit them to have a work-life balance.
This metaphor only makes sense if we assume that pies behave in ways that pies doesn’t actually behave. The argument only makes sense if we pretend the economy behaves in similarly imaginary ways.
Every few years, the MPAA’s lobbying power, rhetoric, and immense campaign contributions succeed in purchasing a bill in Congress to advance their agenda in a way that’s hostile to the technology industry and consumers.
Their bills have had mixed success and usually die before being brought to a vote, but SOPA and PIPA came frighteningly close to becoming law. The internet-wide protest this week seems to have stalled their progress and probably killed them for now.
But what will happen when the MPAA buys the next SOPA? We can’t protest every similar bill with the same force. Eventually, our audiences will tire of calling their senators for whatever we’re asking them to protest this time.
Eventually, we will lose.
Such ridiculous, destructive bills should never even pass committee review, but we’re not addressing the real problem: the MPAA’s buying power in Congress. This is a campaign finance problem.
We can attack this by aggressively supporting campaign finance reform to reduce the role of big money in U.S. policy. This is the goal of groups such as United Republic and Rootstrikers.
It’s also worth reconsidering our support of the MPAA. The MPAA is a hate-sink, a front to protect its members from negative PR. But unlike the similarly purposed Lodsys (and many others), it’s easy to see who the MPAA represents: Disney, Sony Pictures, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Universal, and Warner Brothers. (Essentially, all of the major movie studios.)
The MPAA studios hate us. They hate us with region locks and unskippable screens and encryption and criminalization of fair use. They see us as stupid eyeballs with wallets, and they are entitled to a constant stream of our money. They despise us, and they certainly don’t respect us.
Yet when we watch their movies, we support them.
Even if we don’t watch their movies in a theater or buy their plastic discs of hostility, we’re still supporting them. If we watch their movies on Netflix or other flat-rate streaming or rental services, the service effectively pays them on our behalf next time they negotiate the rights or buy another disc. And if we pirate their movies, we’re contributing to the statistics that help them convince Congress that these destructive laws are necessary.
They use our support to buy these laws.
So maybe, instead of waiting for the MPAA’s next law and changing our Twitter avatars for a few days in protest, it would be more productive to significantly reduce or eliminate our support of the MPAA member companies starting today, and start supporting campaign finance reform.
There are a lot of stories out there which are genuine examples of terrible government overreach and/or the evils of the current copyright system. Megaupload’s story is not one of them.
Megaupload is actually a great anti-SOPA argument: it’s an example showing that we already have the means to fight online piracy without SOPA. Maybe we can’t fight it as quickly, cheaply, and effectively as SOPA would, but our current procedures also have very few negative side effects and much less potential for abuse.
“Someone else can take it from here.”
Rocky Agrawal on Google’s sometimes misleading stats that make Google+ sound more widely adopted than it might really be:
Google is by no means alone in how it plays with numbers. This deception happens nearly every day and is especially rampant in Silicon Valley where new business models are created and standard metrics aren’t always available. It also reflects the optimistic nature of the Valley. We want to see exponential growth. We see hockey sticks everywhere. Even worse, these statistics get thrown around in the echo chamber and presented as fact. And as they get reblogged and retweeted, they lose the disclaimers that made them technically true in the first place.
The number of accounts created on a free web service is almost meaningless. Not only are some customers worth much more than others to a service, but a nontrivial portion of accounts on any free service often don’t correspond to actual humans using the service. Even if you somehow block all automated spam, spam-like human activity like bulk affiliate marketing will still distort the numbers. And a lot of accounts are duplicates created in error when people forgot about their original accounts or confused the registration form for the login form. Should all of these count?
When multiple services are bundled into one login, like Google’s, a very large portion of the bigger service’s userbase (e.g. Gmail) might not even realize that they have an “account” on the smaller one (in this case, Google+). Should they count?
Even for the real people who intentionally register to use the service, as this article points out, most abandon their accounts shortly after registering. I created an account to try Google+ and effectively abandoned it after a few minutes. I don’t consider myself a Google+ user. Should I count?
I prefer to gauge a social network’s success on more subjective factors: How many people do I know who use it? How much do I feel like I’m missing by not using it?
Thanks to MindNode for sponsoring the Marco.org RSS feed this week:
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My biggest complaint with the Kindle Touch so far has been that it’s frustratingly slow.
Great news: this new software update makes it much faster. Page-turns are now as fast as the Kindle 4 and Nook Simple Touch. Navigation and menus have improved to be about the same speed as the Nook’s, and in the ballpark of the Kindle 4’s (but a bit slower).
It’s still not perfect: I still dislike the unintuitive touch interface, proneness to accidental actions and backwards page-turns, and lack of physical page-turn buttons. But this update makes the formerly frustrating Kindle Touch into a decent product.
Boris at The Next Web:
It seems to me that Siri is slowly entering this area of ‘nice to show but not actually useful’. I know a quite few people with an iPhone 4S and I asked around a bit and they all almost regretfully acknowledge that they, in fact, don’t really use it anymore, once you get beyond the newness of it all.
Siri has two big problems:
Reliability: Siri’s service reliability seems to be getting worse over time — not misinterpreting what was said, but responding with an error indicating that the service can’t handle commands right now. Anecdotally, I’ve had about a 50% failure rate recently.
After a few failures when trying to use a feature, a lot of people will get permanently discouraged and just stop using it. Reliability is a very serious problem for Siri that I hope is getting the attention it deserves within Apple.
But I still use Siri. My wife still uses Siri. Last night at dinner, my friend used Siri. I don’t think Boris and his friends are a representative sample.
James B. Stewart at the New York Times:
So with all the focus on tax rates, I sat down with my 2010 returns, calculator in hand. I’m still reeling from the results.
I paid 24 percent of my adjusted gross income in federal taxes and 37 percent in combined federal, state and local income taxes.
I just did the same calculation on my 2010 returns. While they’re not quite as high as Stewart’s, my numbers really make me wish for Romney’s tax rate.
Equally rankling to many is New York City’s unincorporated business tax, which is “charged to every individual or unincorporated entity carrying on a trade, business or profession — in whole or part — in New York City,” according to the New York City Department of Finance. “I despise it,” Mr. Willens said. (As head of his own firm, Robert Willens L.L.C. in New York City, he pays the tax.) “You’ve already paid federal, state and local income tax on the same income. It’s double taxation. It’s odious. I hate it. The self-employed are supposed to be the backbone of the economy. They’re treated very harshly. I guess there’s no organized lobby for the self-employed.”
This is one of the (many) reasons I live just above New York City, not in it. New York State already imposes a large tax burden, but New York City makes it much worse.
New York City’s additional taxes effectively tell self-employed people to live somewhere else.
The L.A. Times reports:
Under a new deal between the two companies, Netflix users won’t just have to wait 56 days to rent Warner Bros. movies on DVD. They’ll have to wait 28 days to add the movies to their queues.
This just reeks of greedy desperation to attempt to boost DVD sales. Unfortunately for Warner Brothers, it won’t work.
If I’m adding a movie to my Netflix queue, I’ve already decided not to buy the DVD. I’m adding it because it looks mildly interesting and I’d like to watch it sometime. If I can’t add it to Netflix, I’ll just forget about it and probably never see it.
Maybe the studios’ problem isn’t that people can rent movies. Maybe there are just fewer people motivated to buy and keep their own copies of the studios’ decreasingly interesting movies on plastic discs of hostility.
Read Matt Drance’s post on this, too.
Sennheiser has outdone themselves with the higher-end sibling to the HD 280 Pro.
I’ve written often on this site about how happy I am with the pair of 280s that I’ve had, going strong, since 2005. They’ve always been my office headphones, staying at work through three different jobs, affixed to my head for many hours per day. They passively block outside sound very well, and my coworkers can’t hear my music because the 280s are not “open”. Coworkers have always been so impressed by my 280s that many of them have bought their own. Whenever I fly somewhere, I bring the 280s, even though they’re huge and have a big, coiled, unwieldy cord, because they’re so comfortable for long periods and block out the plane noise so well.
But recently, Sennheiser quietly released a higher-end model: the HD 380 Pro. (Well, it was released two years ago. In the world of headphones, that’s “recently”.) I wasn’t motivated to try them since my 280s were going strong and I could never find the 380s in a store to test. But I recently got them as a gift (thanks, Mom!). And I’m sure glad I did.
I knew it would be difficult to surpass my love for the 280s, and I wasn’t sure if the 380s were worth almost twice as much money:
In short: the 380s are completely worth it.
Headphones are difficult to compare objectively, and different listeners have different preferences, especially regarding comfort. But they’re remarkably better than the 280s:
They share the 280s’ other good qualities as well:
Like the 280s, they can be driven to very high volumes by the low-power amps in iPhones, iPods, and computers. It’s uncomfortably loud for me to surpass about 75% volume on my iPhone.
I tested the 380s with my NuForce Icon uDAC-2 headphone amp, and I didn’t notice any difference in fullness or bass power compared to plugging directly into my iPhone or MacBook Pro.
I’d love an option to replace the heavy, coiled cable with a shorter, straight one. (The cable is replaceable, but I don’t know of any alternatives to replace it with.) Otherwise, I have no complaints.
If you’re looking for a great pair of closed headphones for mostly stationary use, I can’t recommend these two models enough. The 280s are great. The 380s are greater. And neither are very expensive, as good headphones go.
If you already have the 280s and wonder whether it’s worth upgrading, it depends. How much do you use your headphones? How much do you care about these differences? And how much will you miss the money?
I wear my big headphones constantly while working, and if they’re anything like the 280s, it’s probably safe to assume that these 380s will outlast at least my next four computers. An extra $80 for a significant upgrade on such a long-lasting, heavily used product is an easy sell for me.
If you’d like to buy a pair of 380s, I’ll get a small commission if you use this Amazon link. Thanks.
I never knew how I was supposed to be doing this, so I finally just looked it up.
“iBook” is only used to refer to the old laptop, never anything related to the bookstore or reading app, presumably to protect the old laptop’s trademark.
It’s apparently never correct to say “iAds”, although I’m sure nobody would complain if you were referring to them generally that way, such as “I’m tired of seeing iAds in all of my apps.” But iAd is more appropriate when discussing the network itself.
Now I know.
I can tell you from first hand experience that the reading experience is very different on each of the different mediums and that’s why the distinction matters to me. I don’t care which version you bought because it changes what you read, but I do care because it may not be the same as the book I read (sometimes in the minor content differences, but always in experience and layout).
I disagree. Many people romanticize the experience of reading a printed book, but I just don’t get it.
When I start reading, the form of the book quickly disappears. Just as I don’t notice the individual letters in each word, I stop noticing the layout, the font, the paper, the binding, and every other physical artifact because I’m focused on the writing.
The same effect hides most flaws in e-ink readers, as I noted in my Kindle 4 review:
Honestly, once I got into what I was reading, I forgot about the cheap, crappy page-turn buttons and the tacky ads on the sleep screen. Even the distorted unblinked text isn’t very noticeable when you’re engrossed in a book.
Whether I’ve bought a book made of dead trees or encrypted bits doesn’t really matter, and I don’t think my experience suffers when I choose the bits.
Since I don’t think the distinction matters, I rarely need to say “I bought the Steve Jobs book in iBooks,” or “I bought the Steve Jobs book on my Kindle.”
I just say, “I bought the Steve Jobs book.”
Let’s take a hike on the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles to visit our friends in Newport Beach.
Thanks to Kooaba Déjà Vu for sponsoring the Marco.org RSS feed this week:
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It was an honor to be interviewed on one of my favorite podcasts, NPR’s Planet Money.
The New York Times reports on Newer Technology’s Power2U outlet with built-in USB ports for charging USB-powered things.
It’s an interesting idea that I’ve been following for a while. But even though I’m renovating my home office right now, I need to buy new outlets for it next week, and I’m a huge geek, I’m still not buying these.
There are some alternatives that avoid some of these downsides. But even if I could get a perfectly executed USB-outlet combo, I don’t think it would solve a problem that I really have.
The biggest problem is most outlets’ location: it’s not very convenient to plug a USB device into an outlet that’s near the floor. Many USB cables, including Apple’s, are barely long enough to reach an outlet from a desk. This would make a lot more sense for outlets at desk or countertop height.
But I’m also just not very bothered by USB power bricks by themselves. You still need to keep the USB cables around, after all, so these USB outlets are only saving you from dealing with half of each device’s charger. How many USB-charging bricks are you really likely to be saved from over the lifetime of these outlets before you get devices that can’t be properly charged by them?
If these still make sense to you, by all means, go for it. But I just don’t see the appeal in practice.
J. R. Daniel Kirk:
However, coffee bean weight is determined, to no little extent, by the water naturally present in the bean. When you roast a coffee bean, one effect of the roasting process is that the bean dries out.
The longer you roast the bean, the drier–and therefore lighter!–the bean becomes. …
So here’s the question: should we, in fact, measure coffee by volume rather than weight in order to produce more consistent coffee? Or, alternatively, should we vary the weight of coffee such that fewer grams are in play for darker roasts and more for lighter roasts?
Water doesn’t account for much of an unroasted bean’s mass. According to strangers on the internet:
Water accounts for between 8 to 14 percent of the weight of unroasted coffee. … The total loss weight loss for an average roast is approximately 16 percent.
I like to use about 12g of beans in my AeroPress. That would be about 14g of unroasted beans, and honestly, I don’t think I would notice the difference between 12g and 14g most of the time. And that’s the weight difference for the entire roasting process.
But the difference between light and dark roasts is very small relative to the entire roasting process. Most good roasts are likely to fall in the narrow band between 430–460°F.
All of the water, being heated far past its boiling point into steam, probably escapes long before the lightest usable roasting temperature is reached, leaving no meaningful water-weight difference between light and dark roasts.
But let’s assume that there’s a tiny difference. For a 12g serving, a 1% weight difference is about 1 coffee bean. Your kitchen scale probably isn’t precise enough to notice.
So there might be a water-weight difference between lighter and darker roasts, but it’s probably too small to matter when you brew.