Flickr — Still Dominated by the Geeks

I’ve heard many people say that Flickr, the popular photo-sharing site acquired by Yahoo in 2005, “has gone mainstream.”

That’s easy to assume with it’s relatively high profile millions of users and many more millions of photographs, but it’s still very much slanted towards web-savvy users in North America. reports on an interesting Cornell study that describes, “revealing various interesting properties about popular cities and landmarks at a global scale.”

The findings show that the Fifth Avenue Apple Store, which opened in May 2006, is more popular than many other well-known tourist sites such as St Paul’s Cathedral in London, the Reichstag in Berlin and the Washington Monument in the US capital.

I don’t believe it.

Well, I believe the study is accurate for Flickr users, but to make any further assumptions beyond this limited user base is foolish. This just shows how far from truly mainstream even the largest of web applications are. I’m not knocking the Apple Store, but something tells me more Americans are interested in the US Capital.

For me, this really hits home two points in this web-centric world of ours:

  1. We’re creating exponentially more minable data than a generation ago.
  2. All gleanings based on this flood of data must take this into context.

Want to see the web-centric populace slanting data toward the modern age in action? Check out the revision history of Wikipedia’s entry on Swine Flu. At this rate soon it will eclipse the combined importance of everything that happened in say, 1958. Sorry 1958.

Joy! Replacing Dead Batteries in an APC Battery Backup

Last week my UPS gave up the ghost. Before you feel bad however, note the APC Back-UPS XS 800 did not go quietly into that Ballard night, it beeped incessantly until I unplugged it. (I’m sure that’s good practice for a valuable piece of tech, but it just doesn’t make me want to plug it in again…ever.)


I was dismayed to see replacement batteries at APC’s site for my model ran $79.99, which is frightfully close to what I paid for the whole unit in the first place. Other retailers online ranged hugely in price, and frankly most of them didn’t look like the kind of economic endeavors I like to share my credit card with.

I took a chance and headed down to Fry’s, knowing they stocked at least 20 different APC UPS models. As soon as I tracked down an employee in the UPS aisle and asked him about battery replacements…well if I’m to speak kindly this would be a deer in headlights scenario.

I poked around the store and found something that looked like what I needed, but it was in the home security aisle. Luckily, I brought the APC battery down with me, so I brought the dead battery into the store for reference. (Note this is a good idea right up until you find yourself hauling 24 lbs of batteries around a giant electronics store.)


After deconstructing the APC “RBC32″ I found out that two common 12 volt 7.0 amp batteries sandwiched together with APC’s wiring harness worked perfectly, and saved quite a bit of coin. Each battery from Fry’s was $26, so right off the top I saved $28, and that’s not including shipping which is substantial for 12 lbs of batteries.

In Conclusion

Don’t buy overpriced APC brand replacements or pay a ton to ship heavy batteries, just pull apart your original, save the wiring harness and find something compatible in town. The re-wiring is self-explanatory and you’ll save a lot of coin.

Heck, you might even get a charge out of it.

The only thing this technique doesn’t account for is battery recycling—Fry’s won’t take your old batteries, so you’ll have to find another home for them—preferably not in a landfill.

ISPs Can Never Be the Gatekeepers

According to this CNET article, AT&T and Comcast may soon be assisting the RIAA in combating piracy. What a boondoggle in the making—I’ll try and make this short and sweet.

ISPs cannot become arbiters of content and the defacto police for creators—this would be an extremely dangerous precedent. It conjures images of the Great Firewall of China. Piracy is a serious issue, but attempting to filter it at the ISP level is a minefield.

I have no problem paying for Internet access, but I won’t pay for access to MOST of the Internet. Filtering is not just a threat to individual’s access to a free flow of information, but a threat to all content creators and their rights to uncensored distribution. How long before any company with a bit of cash can filter out a smaller competitor for trumped up violations? How long before blacklists of questionable content become whitelists of paid-for content providers? For customers, what constitutes a violation, and what is the recourse? Does an ISP keep a running list of all your activities using their service without your consent, available for purchase by the highest bidder?

Today we enjoy a huge amount of open access and rely upon law enforcement and the courts to address copyright infringement. These duties should not be turned over to for-profit companies and advocacy groups. This isn’t just a threat to Net Neutrality, but to every citizen’s access to a free flow of uncensored information.

Apparently, Google has similar ideas. Yesterday they launched M-Lab, “an open platform that researchers can use to deploy Internet measurement tools.”

At Google, we care deeply about sustaining the Internet as an open platform for consumer choice and innovation. No matter your views on net neutrality and ISP network management practices, everyone can agree that Internet users deserve to be well-informed about what they’re getting when they sign up for broadband, and good data is the bedrock of sound policy. Transparency has always been crucial to the success of the Internet, and, by advancing network research in this area, M-Lab aims to help sustain a healthy, innovative Internet.

The Godfather, Coppola Restoration & McCluskey’s Blink

I really scored at Christmas, receiving many things I very much do not deserve. One of these was a Blu-Ray player, (Thanks K&M!) and it didn’t take me long to jump into The Godfather, Coppola Restoration, which I’d purchased on Blu-Ray even before I had a player.

By all accounts, the original negatives of the first two films were so torn up and dirty that they could no longer be run through standard film laboratory printing equipment, and so the only option became a digital, rather than a photochemical, restoration.

The final product, which the studio is calling “The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration,” combines bits and pieces of film recovered from innumerable sources, scanned at high resolution and then retouched frame by frame to remove dirt and scratches. The color was brought back to its original values by comparing it with first-generation release prints and by extensive consultation with Gordon Willis, who shot all three films, and Allen Daviau, a cinematographer (“E.T.”) who is also a leading historian of photographic technology. [New York Times]

The restoration is a thrill to watch, and I’ve never seen a better presentation, even compared to viewings in the theater. Particularly captivating was the amount of detail preserved (rescued even?) while keeping the character (grain, color) perfectly intact.


“What?” I yelled in my darkened apartment, fumbling for the rewind button immediately following Michael Corleone’s pivotal showdown with Sollozzo and the corrupt police chief McCluskey. I’d just seen something I’ve never noticed before: a body on the floor blinked as the scene ended. A blinking corpse. It jolted me out of the moment, out of the fantasy, out of the 40s. Blu-Ray did that, it gave me too much detail?

I’ve since learned that McCluskey’s blink is a known quantity—a minor bug in continuity that’s charming in today’s world of computer aided post process. Apparently that blink is visible in other formats, but I’d never seen it until I had the restoration and the resolution to appreciate it. I would never have noticed it without this version. Therein lies the rub.

For me, details matter, technology matters, and I’m just anal enough to obsess about shadow detail and grain when I think it’s important, like in the case of The Godfather. McCluskey’s blink floored me because it reminded me that I’m watching something made 37 years ago and it looks as good or better than things produced today. I never lost anything by not seeing that blink before, and maybe it was actually detrimental to the experience seeing it now.

The blink could be the only thing I’m not crazy about in the Coppola Restoration, an otherwise perfect thing, but that’s not a fair critique. If anything it goes to show how caring, faithful and complete the restoration process was. It does make me wonder however, how frequently we’ll see Blu-Ray editions of classics that aren’t cared for so well. Perhaps those unfortunate reels are best left as they are…perfect with their flaws.

Macworld Keynote Official Addendum

Yesterday during the 2009 Macworld Expo keynote address, most likely due to time constraints, Phil Schiller neglected to mention that the new 17″ MacBook Pro’s matte screen option was added solely because of my moanings. Consider this an official addendum.

The Last “MatteBook?”

On Tuesday Apple announced their redesigned MacBook and MacBook Pro, as well as an updated Cinema Display. The new lineup is undoubtedly gorgeous, streamlined, and a good step forward for the consumers.

What’s conspicuously absent in Apple’s new lineup is any new matte screen option. Despite the fact that 17″ MacBook Pros and older Cinema Displays are still available, it looks like soon there won’t be a single Apple product without a reflective display.

Glass covered displays have brilliant color saturation and deep blacks, but I feel they have three major issues for use in my work:

  1. Color Accuracy – I’m skeptical that even with hardware calibration that they can be as accurate as a matte display.
  2. Glare – A notebook is a mobile machine, one that will undoubtedly find itself in a variety of lighting conditions. It can be a huge disadvantage to have a reflective screen, and certainly makes working outdoors nearly impossible.
  3. Non Standard – Granted this is a pretty arbitrary issue, but it’s something I feel strongly about. When preparing work for web delivery – whether that be photography or general web design, I want to use the monitor that most closely represents what an average reader will be using. Glass covered displays might become the norm, but they aren’t now.

Only time will tell, and I’ll admit my experience with Apple’s newer glass displays has been limited to two days work on a current generation iMac. It’s possible my fears are overblown, but it seems just as possible that the next time I’m in need of a display upgrade Apple’s displays won’t even be considered.

The Pushback Cometh: Privacy and Mobile Devices

Apologies for the following—buzzwords used indiscriminately:

The introduction of location based services – specifically social networking tools integrated into mobile devices – is leading toward new battle lines being drawn between consumers and social software developers.

(Read this NYT article from last year for background information, or check out this recent Information Week article about a related privacy kerfuffle.)

The basic questions here are ones that have been asked for decades, and certainly have been hotly debated in the midst of web services in the past few years. Everyone is concerned about what’s on their Facebook profile, but that’s still a representation of a person, a construction of their making, a personality meant for a special purpose hosted and shared via remote servers.

Contrast that with social services that connect people on the ground. All of a sudden, the buffer established by your web persona is non-existent. When you’re sitting in a bar and others have access to your location, they can walk up and chat with you physically, which is obviously much different than leaving a casual comment on a blog.

Unless software developers are very cautious about making privacy features that are self-explanatory and effective, there will be widespread concern. It’s happening already, and it will continue. (And what I really mean is, there will be media sensationalism and unnecessary panic en masse.)

The physical disconnect of social web communication is non-existent in meatspace, you don’t communicate with a constructed persona, but your own self in person. (Which is all well and normal, it’s what we all call humanity I believe.) But we now have the tools to receive information boosted by web, GPS, and cellular technologies that overlay a data layer upon that good old meatspace. There you have the power of interconnectedness and instantaneous information retrieval just like the web as a platform, but with the ability to reach out and touch someone physically.

It’s a problem that will be solved. Eventually, but not without a few bumps along the road. Most people today are more comfortable leaving tracks and signs, leaving data in their wake than they are broadcasting it in the flesh.

Candidates for office leave signs on the roadsides to advertise themselves, they don’t stand on street corners proselytizing. (There’s a certain stigma attached to standing on a street corner with a sign isn’t there?) Leaving information about what you’ve done and where you’ve been is much different than broadcasting your location. Layers of trust must be built into the interactive platform and utilized sensibly by the consumers. It will be fun watching the sparks fly.

There Is No Information Overload

I don’t believe in information overload.

I think it’s a term used to explain away losses of productivity or minor inefficiencies, or a scapegoat for whatever you choose to distract yourself with at any given moment. (I should know.) I don’t believe it’s an impossible phenomenon, but for the most part I think its manifestation is really a consequence of information flowing into your brain in the wrong context.

Today, computers are the hub of information retrieval in every home and workplace. A TV is good for information viewing, but it’s passive and not intended for fetching information based on a query, it just spits out what’s sent, whether you ask for it or not. When you want a specific question answered immediately, you always go to a computer.

Mobile devices are slowly cutting into this monopoly, albeit at a snails pace. What is really starting to work are mobile applications specifically designed for the context in which they are used. For example, you want a taco and use your phone for a location-based search of a Mexican restaurant. It’s a map-based interface, and the information is given to you based on your immediate location. That’s all well and good, and is technology widely available today. (App Store anyone?) You can also do that from your computer, but what’s important is that that information is available in the context that you need it in.

The proliferation of this type of information retrieval is the answer to information overload. (If there really is one, that is.) What is important is that there is information there, in the background, available and context-sensitive.

Cooking Up an Example
I’ll give you an example of what I’m talking about. I keep recipes on my computer. Not because it’s convenient or practical, but just because my computer is where I save everything. When I want to cook something, I either print or write down the recipe and take it to the kitchen for prep, or scamper off to the store for ingredients.

Here’s the dream scenario. Recipes are available on my computer, but they’re also available on my microwave, fridge, and above my stove. When a recipe is selected a shopping list is made available in my phone. Better yet, my fridge checks it’s own contents and lets me know what I need from the store. If I have all the ingredients maybe my stove starts preheating. You get the idea.

The point is a computer is more a gatekeeper, or even roadblock, today than ever before. With wifi chipsets becoming ever-more microscopic and flexible OLED displays starting to be practical, it’s nearly possible to have a genuinely useful information cloud out and about in meat-space. More seamless devices (don’t think phones and computers) with more connectivity spread out into their appropriate context could make a lot of sense.

Perhaps even….gasp…reserving your computer just for work. Wouldn’t that be novel?

The more information available in the correct context lets it blend into the background. If the retrieval isn’t a burden, yet another task to complete, that’s where it’s most useful. That’s the goal…providing information in context, perhaps that can make our current concept of computers and information overload slowly go away.

Try Out New Web App, Get on TV

A Noonhat Lunch with Beth Goza and Deepak SinghAfter Brian Dorsey’s Noonhat presentation at the 4th Ignite Seattle I decided to give his app a shot: sign up on a particular date and find random people to eat lunch with. Simple enough, and fun too.

Wednesday morning, right on schedule, I received an email confirming the fact that there were two other folks in my proximity with the same plans as my own. I got the email addresses of Beth and Deepak and we began to exchange pleasantries and firm up the details.

Then there was the email from Brian asking if King 5 could tag along. Lunch with strangers isn’t nearly as awkward as lunch with cameras and microphones.

Thanks to Beth and Deepak for a great lunch. You can check out Noonhat here, and see King 5′s coverage here.

Yes, iGot an iPhone

In case you were wondering, yes, on Friday I stood in line at an Apple store and bought an iPhone.

Hands On Review, iDay, 4 Days Hence

Apple iPhone
In short it’s exceeded nearly all of my expectations. It’s hard to keep the darn thing in my pocket it’s so fun to play with. The media functionality and Google Maps integration seem particularly well executed, but nearly every interface shows polish and attention to detail. The screen is not only extremely scratch resistant, (I was worried prior to getting it in my hands) but without doubt the best one I’ve ever seen on a portable device; the touch-based interaction is fun and intuitive. I even love typing on the non-keyboard.

My software experience did get off to a bit more of a rocky start. I had to reinstall iTunes even though I had the latest version, but after that I was off to the races with a smooth activation and transition to my new phone. (I was lucky apparently.) Syncing has been effortless, and I’ve got a full feature length movie, a few hundred photos, all my usual podcasts and a dozen albums loaded on my iPhone with plenty of storage to spare. (I, like most people, opted for the 8GB version.) Battery life has been much better than I expected, but that stat could always be better couldn’t it? With my current usage I’ll need to charge it every other day.

There are a few things I’ve found lacking however—divided into three sections—things I think should have been included from the get-go, apps I’d like to see on the device, and finally things that are most likely on the horizon but that’d I’d love to see in iPhone some day.

What Should Have Been in the Box

  • MMS
    Email is the only way to get photos off your device besides syncing. It’s a pinch to send email with photo attachments with iPhone, but why not be able to do it via SMS as well?
  • Video and Audio Recording
    The 2MP camera included is performs well and has a great interface—but why no video capabilities? Why no audio recording through that mic?
  • IM
    Text messages are organized just like iChat’s, but that’s no replacement for a true IM client. Why no iChat?
  • Ringtones
    Custom ringtones tend to drive me crazy, but I know many people love them. Why isn’t there a way to purchase ringtones through the iTunes store? What happened to that tab? (It’d be great if you could create your own, but I know that’s never going to happen.)

What I’d like to See

  • More Widgets
    More Yahoo! widgets just like the weather widget. Apple could release pre-approved widgets, and allow customization of the home screen without even offering a full SDK.
  • Standalone RSS App
    I’d love a full RSS reader, as opposed to Safari and web-based solutions.
  • Flash and Gears
    Safari, though it’s a great implementation, in general could use a bit more versatility. Flash would help. Gears could would too…allowing offline functionality in web apps.
  • Games
    I’m pretty sure that DS thing—that other thing with a touch screen—is doing pretty well.

The above widgets, games and apps all could be realized with an SDK or some sort of an Apple controlled iPhone app ecosystem. (I brought up the “walled garden” question when the phone was announced.) Though Steve Jobs made the case at WWDC that web 2.0 apps address this need that’s at best just a stalling tactic. Right now I think they’re just nailing down the basics, and for all the fun games / apps / widgets we’ll have to wait a while. That’s what will really unleash the power of this device.

For the Next Gen?

  • GPS
    Make those GMaps (and everything else) really location savvy. The possibilities are endless.
  • 3G
    I’ve been pleasantly surprised with my EDGE performance. Then again, I haven’t used it much.
  • A2DP
    Time to finally cut those white earbud wires? I think so. A firmware update could uncripple the iPhone’s bluetooth.
  • SDK
    The aforementioned SDK would really open up the iPhone world. Once the platform is solid enough that stability isn’t an issue I think we’ll see widgets, if not full blown apps right behind.

Video Conferencing? iChat AV on the go?

Now I’m reaching a bit further. Initially the whole lack of a video camera and true iChat functionality confused me—but then it dawned on me—does version two have a video camera—facing the user—for live mobile video conferencing? If it doesn’t I think it should.


My initial experiences with my iPhone have been extremely good. For me it has completely lived up to the hype. I’ve peeked into nearly every nook and cranny of the device and really put it through its paces. I’ve had only one app crash thus far, and every person I demo it for is genuinely blown away if not stricken with pangs of jealousy.

I can part a crowd of techies with a marimba chime, but more telling I think was the incredible demographic diversity I saw at the Apple store on Friday when I made the purchase—a huge variety of people, all sick and tired of disappointing devices they have to use on a daily basis. For them, and me, Apple has solved a problem.

Similarly, the future looks bright for the platform as a whole. When an SDK, 3G , GPS and maybe even video conferencing hit this handheld it will be even more of a show-stopper than it is now.

iPhone—Yes, This Does Change the Game

Yesterday, Steve Jobs and Apple, Inc. unveiled the iPhone. It’s the most important mobile technology release in years, and I believe it will have an impact on the portable computing landscape for more than a decade to come.

What’s in an iPhone?

From a hardware perspective, the iPhone isn’t absolutely breakthrough in any one single way. It’s a GSM mobile phone, a music and video playback device and a portable computing platform. All of these are technologies taken apart are established if not mature, in the form of smart phones, iPods and laptops. But of course no one has ever come even close to combining all of them into one device, let alone demonstrating the requisite engineering, design, and user interface innovations necessary to make it an intuitive and effective experience.

At the end of this piece in TIME magazine, Apple’s Jonathan Ive said,

I think there’s almost a belligerence—people are frustrated with their manufactured environment…we tend to assume the problem is with us, and not with the products we’re trying to use.

Far too many device manufacturers have been taking people’s frustrations for granted. I’ve only tolerated mobile phones in my life, I’ve never genuinely enjoyed a single one. The iPhone may just be the device I’ve been dreaming of for 4 years: WiFi, bluetooth, high-speed mobile connectivity, a full OS, slick media playback capabilities and all in a sexy package. Perhaps I can finally put my broken-record complaints to rest, and a few lucky people with iPhones can stop blaming themselves for not “getting” poorly implemented technology.

Why the iPhone Really is Revolutionary

Every mobile phone in existence today has a marginal interface at best, marginal controls, and a feature set that’s crippled. Even Windows Mobile I find frustratingly constrictive in use on modern devices like Qs and Treos.

A Re-thought Interface
Apple has broken down the walls of conventional mobile phone building by starting with an interface not built on buttons—nearly every bit of it is touch based. They call it Multi-touch. Multi-touch is unproven in the hands of the consumer, but it demonstrates the lack of real innovation in the mobile device market in the past three years. Handsets are progressively slimming and increasing in power, but the most popular mobile in the country, the RAZR, is novel only for a appealing form-factor.

The interface concepts demonstrated by the iPhone will haunt the thoughts of mobile device manufacturers for years.

A Full OS
Apple has promised a full OSX implementation. This doesn’t mean an identical interface of course, but the OSX kernel will be running on the iPhone. Conventional thinking was that this couldn’t (and shouldn’t) be done with a small computing device, considering limits in processing power and battery life. A complete operating system opens up the functionality in robust applications, not just miniaturized utilities that have become the norm on many handsets.

A Full Browser
The biggest benefactor of a full OSX kernel on an iPhone is undoubtedly Safari, Apple’s web browser. Safari on an iPhone allows full page web browsing. If it truly allows easy scaling and the device can process complex web applications smoothly, in one swoop Apple may have called into question the entirety of WAP, the protocol that allows internet access in many conventional mobile phones.

Again, this one new device calls into question the way web content has been delivered to millions of phones every day for years. How’s that for revolutionary?

Will the iPhone be a Walled Garden?

Before I’m accused of chugging the Cupertino Kool-Aid, I do have to bring up what I believe is the single biggest question left outstanding on the iPhone: Will it be open?

Many mobile experiences today are defined by content provided by specific vendors through fixed channels. No choice, no flexibility. Verizon’s Vcast comes to mind, like AOL all over again. We already know the iPhone will be an iPod, and even though an iPod is still the exclusive player for iTunes Music Store protected AAC files, it will still play standard MP3s and properly encoded un-DRM’ed video (H.264).

But what about applications on the iPhone? Will users be able to install non-authorized widgets, or create their own without delivering them to an iPhone with Apple’s blessing? Will 3rd party games and applications make their way into the Apple ecosystem? I believe the iPhone can still be an effective device even if the OS is constrained, but that it would be a much more compelling tool as an open system.

My hope is that Apple will offer a route for user-created widgets (as they do now for OSX), and create an application delivery mechanism for 3rd party programs. Any game or productivity app could be verified/registered through Apple, and Apple could take a cut of any proceeds. It may lessen the burden of support that would undoubtedly increase on an “opened” OS, but still have the power of user-created projects and 3rd party development—all while creating an additional revenue stream. It seems a decent compromise.

Make a great device, open up the platform, and watch the world of mobile technology scurry to keep pace. June has never seemed so far away.

My Set of Foolhardy Macworld Predictions

Here it is, the eve of Macworld 2007; tomorrow is the biggest day of the year for Apple fans and the most highly anticipated Expo in years.

Like most lists of Macworld predictions, mine will no doubt prove at least 50% dead wrong in little more than 12 hours from now, but that’s all part of the fun.

Here’s my list, in order of likelihood, from sure thing all the way down to wishful thinking:

  1. iLife & iWork Suite Updates
    This is hardly even a prediction; both suites have seen regular updates demonstrated at Macworlds of the past. The spreadsheet question may be answered, for those mac users that love Excel, I know there has to be at least two or three of them in the world, just dying for *shudders* spreadsheets.

  2. Leopard Ship Date, Fancy New Features
    On the latest MacBreak Weekly, Leo Laporte postulated that Leopard would be ready to ship at the Expo, so Apple could beat Vista’s January 30th launch date. I think that makes a lot of sense, but other than bragging rights I’m not sure if the rush to ship 10.5 would bring Apple a considerable amount of extra sales. I’ve always thought Macs sell OSX, not OSX the seller of Macs. Since I don’t see a ton of significant Mac hardware upgrades at this Expo, why rush to ship Leopard without a spiffy new piece of aluminum around it?

  3. “iTV” Media Extender Introduced
    I have to admit whether or not the “iTV” has a hard drive, whether or not it allows 3rd party DVR integration, I’ll buy one of these instantaneously. I’ve been waiting years for a great media extender for my TV that doesn’t require a huge box in my living room.

  4. New Cinema Displays. + Really Big Ones.
    Cinema displays and iSights have been disappearing from retail stores, so at least we’ll see new displays with built-in iSight cameras, just like iMacs and MacBooks already sport. Further, I think Apple will rebrand even larger LCDs, perhaps up to 50 inches and larger equipped with HDMI and more versatile I/O than their current displays.

  5. 6G, Full Screen iPod
    Long overdue. Give me a 16×9 touchscreen or give me tears.

  6. Refreshed Airport Express
    A draft-N unit, for streaming video. When this is released firmware upgrades will be passed out to Mac owners with newer units to bump up their Airport cards to draft-N as well.

  7. MobileMe / iChat Mobile
    Ah yes! The notorious “iPhone.” I highly doubt Apple will go the path of MVNO as many people have claimed, but instead selling GSM or CDMA phones directly to the customers on behalf specific carriers. (Locked units.) Apple’s hardware, Apple’s lightweight OS, Apple’s walled-garden & features—the device will be more iPod than Treo, 4 and 8 Gigabytes of storage and priced in the neighborhood of $299 / $399. I was formerly quite convinced we’d be able to purchase these immediately, now I’m a bit more reserved.

  8. Pro App Updates: Logic, Final Cut, Aperture
    All these are begging for an upgrade—true Aperture just hit 1.5 just a few months ago, but development seems to be progressing very rapidly, and it’s not an impossible dream for v.2 in the near future.

  9. Mac Pro Goes 8 Core
    Back in September AnandTech confirmed that two quad-core chips work just fine in a Mac Pro. I wouldn’t be shocked to see this new configuration available.

  10. MacBook Pro Updates
    Admittedly, this is just a selfish desire. I’d love to see spec. bumps and a 12 or 13 inch MBP, but I think it’s unlikely.

  11. GPS and Proximity Importance
    One last bit of complete conjecture. Apple will announce at least one device with integrated GPS capability. This could be a phone, iPod, or other portable, but the potential for creative and functional uses for geo-specific data creation and aggregation are far too huge to be passed up. Look at geo-tagged photos and location-specific blogs. Location-based searches are exploding, and news will soon be able to be filtered by proximity. We need more devices that are smart enough to gather, and create, the data layer that’s beginning to cover the globe. Google’s going to be putting these services on handsets, so Apple had better team up with them or build their own.

Dear Steve, iPods Need Wifi.

Dear Steve,

Today I read your Q & A with Newsweek posted on MSNBC. Though it was brief, I very much enjoyed it.

When you were asked about Microsoft’s Zune however, your response didn’t quite sit right with me, even as an avid OSX and iPod fan.

Microsoft has announced its new iPod competitor, Zune. It says that this device is all about building communities. Are you worried?

In a word, no. I’ve seen the demonstrations on the Internet about how you can find another person using a Zune and give them a song they can play three times. It takes forever. By the time you’ve gone through all that, the girl’s got up and left! You’re much better off to take one of your earbuds out and put it in her ear. Then you’re connected with about two feet of headphone cable.

I agree that the first generation versions of the Zune aren’t a threat to the iPod. The iPod and the iTunes Store are great experiences—they are market leaders for a reason—top to bottom sensational lifestyle media products. However, when (note I do not use the word “if”) wireless purchasing is enabled on the Zune, and there are a decent amount of them floating around (C. 2008), the 3×3 try n’ buy scheme will be an appealing feature. (Despite being nastily DRM-laden, which as you know is currently the sad reality we all live in.)

I appreciate that adding wireless purchasing capabilities to the iPod could negatively impact the UI experience. Save the heavy lifting for iTunes, don’t rob Peter to pay Paul, Peter Paul & Mary are still .99c per track on the iTunes Store. Gotcha.

But iPods need WiFi too. You might as well come out and say:

We can’t currently make a larger iPod screen and offer seamless wireless features without disastrously compromising battery life in our current form factor.

Now I know you’d never say that, and I know that battery life and technology is really what’s holding you back, but as an iPod/OSX user I hate to hear you say that headphones are the only good way to connect people around music.

And perhaps being a billionaire allows one a slightly more flexible window of what is deemed socially acceptable today, but I’m pretty sure if I walked up to a strange woman in a coffee shop and asked her, “hey, can I put this in your ear?”

That the answer would be NO.

T616′s Glorious Exit, Moto SLVR’s Arrival

The Sunday before last I threw my well-loved but aging Sony Ericsson cell off my deck. That was Super Bowl Sunday, so I leave you to fill in the rest of the details concerning my motivation. (Needless to say if you were the lucky finder, uhm, free phone.)

The T616′s spectacular exit wasn’t completely unexpected or undeserved however, as it had taken to rebooting spontaneously mid-conversation and mysteriously would drop individual button functionality randomly, obviously out of pure spite. “You’d like to check your voice mail eh?” the Sony would taunt me, “remove my battery and reboot me three times, then we’ll see if I’ll let you get your precious messages, moo HA HA HA.” Clearly the phone had gone bad, and with our relationship deteriorating I don’t feel too wrong about giving it one final ‘long distance connection.’

I’ve been shopping for phones for a few months now, and have mostly been completely underwhelmed. The entire industry (or at least U.S. incarnations of such) seems to be lagging badly in mobile development. Perhaps consumer techno-demand just isn’t as fervent here as it is in Korea, Japan, and Europe, but look at my situation: Two and a half years ago I bought the T616, which was a pretty hot phone for its time. It had a full OS, simple browsing capability, a camera, POP access. At that point I was assuming that for my next phone I’d have a plethora of superior options, all located on next-gen high speed networks. The networks are here—kind of, but the phones are not. I don’t want a full on Treo or anything nearly that bulky, and anything less than that doesn’t have much of a suite of features superior to my 2 and a half year old phone. Already I’m disappointed even before making a purchase—I’m so jaded I get buyer’s remorse even before whipping out the credit card.

Motorola SLVR Review (MOTO-SLVR-REVW)

Motorola's SLVR

Enter Cingular’s SLVR (pronounced “sliver”), the follow-up to the ubiquitous RAZR (Motorola apparently despises excessive vowels), which is slightly slimmer, but in my beloved candy-bar form factor. Laser etched keypad with a copper sheen, sleek black case with brushed aluminum highlights—this phone makes all others ugly.

Also of note is the ever-so-controversial iTunes integration. Now I didn’t buy the SLVR for iTunes, but I have to say that I am very pleasantly surprised at how much I’m enjoying the convenience. The software integration is excellent, and the sound quality is superb—I can say with confidence it is easily superior to my nano in audio reproduction. There is a rather annoying 100 song cap, but for bus-commuting-tunage that limit doesn’t bother me one bit.

What’s disappointing about the phone is that, well, it’s a Motorola. Which means the OS is mostly crap. I’ll never understand why you can’t apply more than one phone number to one contact. This has always seemed a too device-centric or location-centric approach to storing contact information to me, as opposed to a more human-centered approach. Unlike my old Sony, with the SLVR I have 4 potential avenues to make contact with one person (home, office, mobile, fax, for instance) instead of one person with 4 ways to contact them. It’s a personal preference admittedly, but a fundamental one that I feel is important; have you ever seen an address book that doesn’t have more than one line for phone numbers?

Also a drag is the fact that the headphones connect via the USB port, not an additional standard headphone jack. Moto does supply an adapter to use your own headphones, but when doing so you have to remove the USB plug before you can answer an incoming call. When using the included headphones receiving a call with music playing is a seamless experience; I’m always entertained by watching my shadow resume dancing once my caller has hung up.

So why the SLVR in the end? I’d love to get a Sony W600 or W800 but I don’t like the look of either of them, and the W800 decent chunk of change. I don’t want a slew of features if it compromises the form factor, which eliminates a lot of other phones. (I don’t even feel the SLVR in my pocket.) I don’t care about cell-phone cameras, as I’m usually packing around my SLR. If the W810 gets announced before my 30 day money-back window is up I’d be very tempted to jump on that device, but I’m sure it’d be quite a bit more costly than the SLVR, and for my purposes I’m not sure it’d be worth it.

The Goodness

  • Killer looks
  • Great sound quality
  • USB plug charges the phone; no proprietary charger
  • Full Bluetooth functionality
  • For short trips, iTunes playback usurps an extra device (iPod)

The Not So Goodness

  • Motorola contact manager; SUCKR
  • No headphone jack
  • Unimpressive battery life
  • iTunes 100 song cap
  • USB 1.1

Firefox 1.5

Firefox 1.5 was released yesterday, and I’m thusfar very pleased. Head on over to to download the best browser on the planet. Features, ease of use, extendability, security—if you’re still using Internet Explorer I have no idea why.

Does the Web Change Your Definition of Free? And Why You’re a Web SuperStar

Are you willing to pay for e-mail? Are you willing to pay for a search engine? In dollars that is?

With millions of people begging for all of us to use their free services the web has made us all spoiled. As a user it’s not just liberating, it’s empowering—but to what effect? Econ 101 boasts that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, (damn that opportunity cost) and that’s pretty much always the case correct?

If ad revenue is garnered from “free” services at what point is free not enough? Anil Dash asked this question about Flickr a month ago and a small firestorm ensued. There’s no doubt that immeasurable social capital and utility are gained by the users of web applications on a daily basis, but at what point is “free” not the appropriate monetization?

Google’s Gmail is an extremely popular platform (I’m a happy user) that has come under scrutiny for its dubious privacy policy. I’m fully aware of the fact that the content of my Gmail communication is parsed to serve the most tightly targeted ads to my browser as possible, but I use it hoping that all my gmail is appropriate in that context, given my personal privacy standards. I use the service because the benefits in utility I gain outweigh the costs incurred, and that’s surely the litmus test of any web application. But it still begs the question (even more pertinent in social software like Flickr than utilities like Gmail), when do users’ contributions actually deserve monetary returns?

What about all the bands acquiring armies of devoted followers with their MySpace accounts? It’s easy to point out that with the exposure they get from participating in the community it’s well worth the ad revenue pocketed by MySpace via page views and click-thrus of the bands’ MySpace pages. Which puts all of us at an interesting position in this economy…that our participation is worth very real dollars, but if we don’t get social satisfaction from our effort we had better move along, or be waiting for the next check in the mail.

Yes, You’re a Web SuperStar

This question makes me think of the common-consensus joke I’ve heard so much—that celebrities never want to pay for anything. Anyone that believes they are superior to the commoner demands special treatment—and if they can get said treatment I imagine it’s a tough sell to convince them they should do anything differently.

So what am I saying? Well, as web users we’re all a sort of internet superstar. We all rightly demand a high level of service just for our presence, and we should all keep that in mind, and choose our “free” web resources accordingly. If you’re not getting paid to bless a service with your presence, consider that with skyrocketing ad revenue perhaps you deserve to be.

Happy World Usability Day

Today is World Usability Day.

World Usability Day was created to help everyone know more about the ways to help create a better user experience of our world.

Why usability? Read the usability stories for more…

Office Live is Coming

From this WSJ article it sounds like Microsoft will soon be launching, “an online version of its Office suite of business productivity applications.” Intriguing. With Google continually adding to its stable of web-based applications and soaking up endless ad revenue you’d have to assume Microsoft was going to move toward a solution like this.

It doesn’t sound like an online Office replacement however, but a bit more of an addendum to Office as a hosted solution that offers, “a secure online workspace for organizing and managing customer and business information.”

The race between Microsoft and Google to produce the dominant webOS just quickened its pace?

The Googlizing of Web Navigation

Let’s have a moment of silence for tertiary navigation on the web.

The poor soul never really had a chance. What with the primary navigation soaking up all the glory and the proud secondary navigation cutting through the clutter. Just when designers and information architects really started to efficiently implement a 3rd level of navigation Google comes along with a minimalist search box and blasts it all to bits. How tragic an end for the web’s third tier.

Point →
Who wants to wade through three whole levels of navigation (or more!) when there’s a 90% chance a search’s top 10 hits the mark? It’s clutter, I’m glad to see it go.

Counter Point →
I want to wade. I miss it. Some searches suck, and as a user it’s nice to have an understandable hierarchy., Circa February 2004

Take the mighty ‘Zon as a case study of the degradation of tiered web navigation. Just a few months ago Amazon moved away from a strip of tabbed navigation that highlighted a users’ frequently visited “stores.” There were usually around 8 tabs in total, with many of their labels running into two lines of copy.

This was well and good, I never disliked it, but I was always frustrated when there was a store I wanted to quickly navigate to that wasn’t readily available. Evidently Amazon was thinking the same way, because they drastically slashed their tabbed main nav, and added a whiz-bang DHTML pop-up window. (Click on “See All 32 Product Categories.”), Circa October 2005

What this highlights is that the path from main navigation, to a secondary subsection, and then to a tertiary listing of products has been slashed to ribbons. Now via the prominent A9 powered search (cross-marketing bonanza), the home page can jump directly to a search, which in turn links directly to product pages. Quite a departure.

This also points out the increasing confidence Amazon has in their recommendations and other features dependent on your purchase and browsing histories as opposed to a “store” based navigation structure.

Last Gasps of the Subject Directory

Amazon is just one instance of the Googlizing of Web Navigation and the effective beginning of the end of the subject tree. I’ve always like subject indices and stepping through categories one by one, confident that whatever bucket that lay before me contained all of what I wished to uncover. That kind of categorization will always be attractive to me, and I’ll always seek it out every bit as often as I do a search box in any e-commerce application.

As far as search engines go, Yahoo, and Lycos have long dropped a subject directory from their respective homepages—and who ever bothers to go Far too many clicks for this day and age I suppose. Ah well, hopefully I’ll always have dmoz.

Will subject indices and tertiary navigation be simply relegated to niche applications on the web or will they make a daring comeback as users become more accustomed to a larger variety of information management systems? Maybe in the end I should just forget about directories and tertiary navigation, and instead figure out “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb Search?


John Gruber at Daring Fireball just struck gold with his iTunes 5 Announcement From the Perspective of an Anthropomorphized Brushed Metal User Interface Theme. Hilarious. Now we know how the iPod mini must feel.

Map Fight

A year ago I heard Amazon had vans rolling around city streets snapping pictures via roof-mounted cameras. It seemed like a joke at the time but it turns out their rigs have covered a lot of ground, now with 24 cities under their belt for the beta launch of a9 Maps.

Amazon joins the mapping fray where Google and Microsoft have recently been tussling it up. Of course all this development isn’t just to give us better directions, but to create new avenues for web content, advertising, commerce, and to bridge the gap between the desktop, our wallets, and the street. It’ll be great to watch these three platforms compete for our hearts and minds mature to full-fledged applications in the coming months. The interesting thing is, while each application contains unending JavaScript and DHTML madness coupled with fun and (to varying degrees) intuitive UIs, from what I can tell they all still give pretty dreadful directions.

Foam On The Range: NASA Grounds the Shuttles

NASA just reported all future shuttle flights are grounded as a sizable chunk of foam fell from Discovery’s fuel tank in a similar fashion as the foam that felled Columbia in 2003.

This time, engineers believe, the foam tumbled harmlessly away during liftoff and Discovery was spared.

I’m as staunch a supporter of our space program as anyone, but with the workable lifespan of the shuttle nearing its conclusion and the $1B fix that didn’t take, I feel strongly it’s time for NASA to move on. Move to another vehicle—smaller, more efficient, and safer. Or as Rich and I discussed last night build the space elevator already. Let’s not risk any more lives when we have the power to make a better vehicle.

A Konfabulation of Widgets

That didn’t take long. Yahoo just announced that they’ve bought Konfabulator, and now already they’ve got widgets available for download, free of charge.

Widgets are small and lightweight applications easily accessible from the desktop—it was Konfabulator that made them famous on OSX before they moved them to Windows and Apple launched a similar suite in it’s latest OS, 10.4 Tiger. I think this really makes a lot of sense for Yahoo!, who like other high-powered portals have a preponderance of data and limited avenues of distribution to users. They certainly have the cash, ($755 million last quarter) and while new tech like RSS feeds are sexy there are still only so many routes for web content after the browser.

There’s been a lot of additional goodness in the tech world that I also can’t neglect:

  • Forbe’s Best of the Web is up.
    Each and every time Forbes publishes this list I scratch my head at more than a few links, “if this is some of the best, what the heck am I used to reading..?” Even so they’ve got a lot of great sites covered.
  • Microsoft’s Virtual Earth is live.
    It looks like a very strong tool and should be good motivation for Google to keep pushing the boundaries.
  • reports Tipping Point is offering a bounty for security bugs.
    This kind of thing doesn’t surprise me, and I think solutions of this nature are going to become more and more common. OSS has taught a lot of people communal effort and communication is just as effective as closed-door development, even if it’s unconventional.
  • Lussumo is a very promising new message board app.
    I’ve been very frustrated with the security issues surrounding phpbb, and I’m very intrigued by a fresh look at what’s really essential in a message board. It looks like the developer’s have studied up Google and 37 signals for design inspiration—and that’s a good thing.

Deep Impact—NASA Marches On With Remake of 1998 Elijah Wood Smash Hit

Although unfortunately this time Elijah Wood couldn’t get a starring role, which reportedly could have potentially smashed him to bits on a distant frozen mudball. No, the saving grace of this go-around instead is that the new Deep Impact team has been infused with the same utterly horrific oratorical abilities that caused viewers of the origianl Deep Impact to deeply impact their their faces in plaster walls.  (From Reuters)

What you see is something really surprising. First, there is a small flash, then there’s a delay, then there’s a big flash and the whole thing breaks loose. We may have been able to detect some structural response to the impact

How much do you get paid to spout this tripe? Allow me to translate this 4th grade paragraph into 2nd grade drivel: It…Went…Boom.

We are waiting for the outgassing to stop. It’s clear it’s was still coming out for several hours … and could go on for weeks

(Went boom.)

We know that we created quite a crater. We believe it penetrated quite deeply so we know we’ll get a good look at the interior

(Kind-of gross boom.)

The Hits Keep On Coming

Of course spiffy dialogue isn’t the only parallel between 1998’s Deep Impact and today’s. From an IMDB plot summary:

the President announces that special caves will have to be built, and the government will have to have a lottery-of-fate to randomly select 800,000 ordinary American citizens to go along with 200,000 scientists, soldiers, and other officials. These 1,000,000 people will be set aside to save the population from extinction when the comet hits.

This time around President Bush has announced his “lottery-of-fate” will be decided behind closed doors with paperless proprietary voting machines. It will randomly select 800,000 old white evangelical Republicans for saving, along with 200,000 Halliburton management personnel. Scientists this time will not be saved, but instead burn in hell for tempting God’s wrath.

So while NASA performs miracles with a dwindling budget, as far as I can tell we’re still stuck here to die with Elijah Wood (who, like us, is neither Halliburton management nor old white Republican).

Sequels usually suck—but on this occaision many congratulations to NASA and the entire Deep Impact team.


The Supremes Are MGM’s Grok-Star

Here it is, Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd. a 324kb PDF o’ change. Back in March I screamed save betamax, save innovation and on first glance when one sees a 9-0 landslide you’d think I again would have something to scream about, and of course you’d be right.


To prove my point, Justice Souter wrote the decision for the court, which included this legal gem:

We hold that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by the clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties.

I can’t gag back the feeling that broad rulings like this one by the Supremes are just cop-outs—let’s toss it back down around the lower courts for a while and see what bobs back up? There I said it, now let me quote Siva Vaidhyanathan of who is more than a tad more eloquent than I.

If the lower courts read the court’s ruling broadly, watch out: This could severely restrict other, more important innovations for decades to come. Even without broad readings, the courts could soon be filled with frivolous copyright suits against technology companies — handing big entertainment companies like MGM a potent economic weapon to wield against smaller innovators and upstarts that are developing new devices and models of distribution. Souter struggled to construct a decision that would not impede the inventor in her garage who is tinkering away at the next great thing. The problem is, she will definitely have to hire a lawyer now.

Vaidhyanathan continues by postulating that the darlings of the post-com could be the biggest intellectual property violators of them all:

What about Google? Consider this: Google, like Grokster, is primarily a search engine. Its business model relies on advertisements. And the more we use Google, the more money it makes. Like Grokster, Google resolves communication queries. It generates a link from an information provider to an information seeker. And almost all of what it delivers is copyrighted.

As frustrating as a ruling like this is, I don’t think it’s potent enough to stifle innovation but also not fairly grounded enough to form a cogent platform for protecting IP. Some have said it is clearly a ruling against P2P, but I believe it is obviously not and it certainly won’t make much of a difference in the use of such networks, only in the quantity of lawsuits surrounding them.

I’m Disappointed in Yahoo error message

Though Yahoo has done some great things both aesthetically and technically to make their homepage one of the premier portals on the web, they can’t manage to redirect to point toward

Why hand out an error page when you can send a user directly toward where you obviously know they intend to go?

The competition doesn’t have a problem getting it right (, and to be fair Yahoo does give a helpful error page that steers the user in the right direction, but why not take them where they want to go seamlessly at the server level, DNS style? C’mon Yahoo this is basic usability, how many millions are on your doorstep every day? You should be laying out the red carpet, not setting tripwires.

Save BetaMax

Don’t worry, it’s no big deal- but this Supreme court decision has the potential to shape the way corporations, inventors, and consumers use and consume technology wholesale for years to come. Should a company be held liable for illegal activity made possible by their product? A VCR can be used illegally, so can a shotgun, and as Scalia points out in questioning so can a printing press. But this is a different case when potentially the vast majority of users of Streamcast and Grokster’s software that facilitates file distribution on peer to peer networks are using it for copyright infringing activities, right? But Creative Commons licensed materials, public domain, or even genomics research conducted legally using the same P2P networks should also be prevented?

I don’t think so, for such a ruling (which isn’t expected for months) would stifle innovation and open up creatives to a myriad of unnecessary and damaging litigation. Yes, P2P networks are abused, but if MGM et al. would compete with them instead of attempting to sue them into oblivion it would be a completely different story altogether. Consumers don’t want to pirate maliciously, they simply want an easy way to access a product by making a reasonable payment. Because so many media companies refused to distribute content electronically for a decade consumers were forced to spend their time (money) accessing media in alternative methods, (stage right, P2P). Kids with broadband will always obtain copyrighted material without adequate reimbursement paid, but then again there a lot of folks still taping Blockbuster rentals.

Rational consumers do exist and with them is a sale waiting to be had, this isn’t something that needs to be setting in the courts, it should have been settled in Econ 101.

A Piece Of My Work Get’s A Slashdotting

Roger McNamee’s latest post in a series entitled “Video On The Internet” on his blog, TheNewNormal just picked up a slashdotting. I made it a few months ago for work, and though it isn’t my name and content driving the traffic it is awesome to see a site I put together get the geek’s equivalent of a front page quote in the New York Times.

It’s fun to see a project created on a simple idea and a small budget come together so well and get so much attention. Shoot, I’m smiling ear-to-ear, I can’t wait to look at the server stats.

Did I mention a site I made just got ./ed?

KOMO Steps Up To The Mic

Browsing local radio KOMO 1000′s news site I spied this link in the main navigation. What is it? A link to their podcast. (Definition via wikipedia) Not only was I very pleasantly surprised but I was just plain excited to see it- a local mainstream radio station that realizes the power and potential of turning over their broadcast to users’ full digital control.

By providing a podcast, KOMO allows a listener to download a selection of their programming to play back at their leisure on a portable audio device. It’s just like VCR for a digital audio source, but even easier to setup, and no blinking “12:00AM”. It makes perfect sense, they are providing a source that uses only marginally more bandwidth than they would otherwise, they still get to include their advertisements, promos, and they get the same name recognition they would if you were listening to a live broadcast. My hats off to you KOMO, way to break the waves, and take advantage of technology instead of cursing it.

You Have “mini” Questions?

Yes indeed I have a new toy. Mac mini be thy name. I’ve opined for years that Apple needs a killer “iCheap” to really even attempt to take a bite out of Microsoft’s monster-share of the pie and while the ill-fated cube (aka iKleenex) couldn’t do it I think this little lovely has a decent shot. What the Mac mini is of course is the long hyped “headless” iMac- an Apple with no keyboard, video, or mouse. Lack of accessories cuts the price but leaves nothing to be desired, especially when it comes to a form-factor to drool over, my hand spread easily covers the whole unit. (And wipes off the drool.)

What is really going to be a kick is watching the after-market wheels spin like crazy on this one, the mini is destined to be the in-car computer of choice far into the foreseeable future, and soon there will be more devices to stack on or over the mini that I’m sure it’ll start to get silly.

So Why’d the Wish Buy?

First of course the price was right, though after I added all my upgrades and bought a gig of RAM to stick in the mini it ceased being a “budget” PC by any means. It’s still nine yards short of a G5′s 1st down price, and I can’t wait for the G5 PowerBook. With my old laptop struggling of late it was time for an upgrade. The best part is that with the gig of RAM added this sandwich sized unit isn’t a slouch- I’ve got 12 applications open right now and am streaming audio and video over the LAN- no hiccups at all- the only thing not mini is my geeky grin. When I decide to upgrade the best decision will be figuring out how to use the mini next- Car? PVR? Server? Giant martini coaster?

The only knock for me is a minor one- though it wasn’t as hard to open as I thought it would be, (who thought I could be happy to wield a putty knife?) it was a hell of a time getting lil’ Humpty back together. The unit wasn’t made to be user-serviceable, I ask why the hell not? I’m not going to the store to have someone install my RAM. I’d be so ashamed! Seriously I’d rather void my warranty and beat my computer to bits than turn it over to a hired pocket-protector.

mini Only in Name

In short it’s a Mac made for the masses that has done nothing but please this discerning computer user to the (IBM powerpc) core.

Already it’s not a mini to me- it’s just a question of why every other computer is so damn big.