Linked List: March 2009

Jacek Utko: Can Design Save the Newspaper? 

Fantastic design work followed by fantastic increases in newspaper circulation, by Polish newspaper designer Jacek Utko. His advice: “Give power to designers.”

Reprinted from the now-defunct Sync Magazine:

The fruit of his labor: a simple 2-D monochromatic apple, with a healthy bite taken from the right side. Jobs loved the conceit — only he suggested it be more colorful. Janoff’s boss disagreed, insisting the logo be made all black to save on printing costs. “But Jobs was resolute, arguing that color was the key to humanizing the company,” says Janoff. “So I just put colors where I thought they should be, not even thinking about a prism.”

William Zinsser on Keeping ‘On Writing Well’ Up-to-Date 

Speaking of excellent writing books, here’s a nice piece by William Zinsser regarding his excellent On Writing Well:

But when I analyzed White’s book, its terrors evaporated. The Elements of Style was essentially a book of pointers and admonitions: Do this, don’t do that. As principles they were invaluable, but they were only principles, existing without context or reality. What his book didn’t teach was how to apply those principles to the various forms that nonfiction writing can take, each with its special requirements: travel writing, science writing, business writing, the interview, memoir, sports, criticism, humor. That’s what I taught in my course, and it’s what I would teach in my book. I wouldn’t compete with The Elements of Style; I would complement it.

iPhone Pirates Turn Against Each Other 

There is no honor among thieves.

Changes 1.5 

Nice round of improvements to Skorpiostech’s excellent $50 folder and text-file comparison/diff tool. Includes built-in integration with popular editors such as BBEdit, TextMate, Coda, and Espresso. Check out developer Ian Baird’s screencast showing off the new source-control HUD feature. DF readers can save $10 through April 15 with coupon code “DFCHANGES15”.

Get Satisfaction as a Protection Racket 

Jason Fried looks at Get Satisfaction from the perspective of a company that already has their own customer support infrastructure:

They also have a certificate-like customer-company pact agreement that they’d like you to sign. And if you don’t, they’ll make an outlandish claim about your lack of commitment to your customers. […]

Can you believe that language? “37signals has not yet committed to open conversations about its products or services.” WHAT?! We haven’t committed to open conversations about our products or services because we haven’t signed Get Satisfaction’s pact on Get Satisfaction’s site which generates Get Satisfaction’s income? That’s awfully close to blackmail (or a shakedown or a mafioso protection scheme).

‘Rebecca’ — An Excerpt in Seven Parts 

Beautiful six-years-in-the-making-and-still-going series of portraits by George Del Barrio. As he says: “Always; from so little grows so much.”

Email Addresses It Would Be Really Annoying to Give Out Over the Phone 

A McSweeney’s classic by Michael Ward.

Developer Notebooks 

Gus Mueller:

I learned a long time ago that the two best debugging tools I own are a nice piece of paper, and a good pencil.

What’s a Few Orders of Magnitude Between Friends? 

John August:

I’d argue that “square miles” and “square kilometers” really have no place in popular journalism, because we have little connection to what they mean.

Twitter: ‘Replies Are Now Mentions’ 

Twitter now identifies your @username anywhere in a tweet, not just at the beginning.

Macworld Expo Moving to February in 2010 

New dates: Tuesday–Saturday, February 9–13. The conference portion is moving to Moscone West.

MLB.com At Bat for iPhone 

The 2009 edition of MLB.com At Bat is out for the iPhone, and it looks great. $10 for the season, and it now includes live audio broadcasts for every game, with your choice of the home or away announcers. There’s a free version too, sans audio.

Ego 1.1 

New release of Garrett Murray’s web stat tracking iPhone app, now with support for Google Analytics.

Jason Santa Maria on Layer Tennis 

His cheat sheet is pretty good.

Josh Marshall on the Kindle and the Future of Books 

Josh Marshall:

But in our living room we have two big inset shelves where I keep all the books I feel like I need or want ready at hand. And last night, sitting in front of them, I had this dark epiphany. How much longer are these things going to be around? Not my books, though maybe them too. But just books. Physical, paper books. The few hundred or so I was looking at suddenly seemed like they were taking up an awful lot of space, like the whole business could be dealt with a lot more cleanly and efficiently, if at some moral loss.

iPhone Skype Client Coming This Week  

Wi-Fi only, of course.

Transcript of Merlin Mann’s and My Session From SXSW 2009 

Jordan Cole has done Merlin Mann and me an extravagant favor: he’s transcribed our entire SXSW “duet rant”, along with our little intro and outro segments, and published it on his weblog. Thanks a bunch, Jordan.

Jeff Carlson on What’s New in iMovie 8.0.1 

Typical release notes from Apple: no mention of any of these significant bug fixes or new features.

Hunch 

Caterina Fake announces Hunch:

In addition to helping you climb the decision tree, Hunch asks you a bunch of questions about yourself to find out more about what you’re like and what you like. Hunch creates a kind of “taste profile” of you and people like you, which combine with topic-specific questions to deliver a hunch just for you. This is still very nascent — we’ve had fewer than 200 people using the site so far — but the more people use it, the better it will get.

Stock Names 

This might be the cleverest promotion campaign I’ve ever seen. I’m a sucker for subtlety, though.

Layer Tennis: Powazek vs. Santa Maria 

You want pressure heading into a Layer Tennis match? This is pressure. This is going to be a good one.

Dave Gray’s Sketch Notes From SXSW 

Merlin’s and my SXSW session, rendered as a comic in real time by Dave Gray. I love these.

‘It Sucked and Then I Cried’ 

Exhibit A in the argument for obsession times voice, for being not a blogger but a fucking writer: Heather Armstrong, author of Dooce.com, and, now, this fine new book.

OmniPlan 

My thanks to the Omni Group for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote OmniPlan, their project management app for Mac OS X. I love the slogan: “OmniPlan helps you manage complex projects without requiring you to learn a complex program.” OmniPlan allows you to plan and monitor everything associated with a large project, from assigning tasks to managing the schedule.

Through March 30, save 15 percent on OmniPlan at the Omni Group’s online store using the coupon code “PLAN_FIREBALL”.

NewTeeVee Reports BlackBerry May Launch TV Episode Service 

Liz Gannes:

By downloading content in the background over Wi-Fi, RIM would avoid clogging 3G networks. Downloaded programs would be ready to play when users want to watch them on the go. […] By contrast, TV.com’s long-form shows iPhone app chops up episodes into clips and strings them together, with different versions of each clip encoded for 3G and Wi-Fi (the Wi-Fi quality is way better). The BlackBerry content experience would offer reliable, full-length, high-quality over-the-air (well, Wi-Fi) premium video downloads.

Sounds like a great idea, especially considering that BlackBerry’s top-of-the-line touchscreen device, the Storm, doesn’t even have Wi-Fi support.

Another Awkward New Microsoft Ad Campaign 

Odd new Microsoft commercial, which purports to show a real person named Lauren trying to find a new 17-inch laptop for under $1000. She goes into “the Mac store” and comes out disappointed, because — and this is true — the only sub-$1000 laptop comes with a 13-inch display. But then she says, “I’m just not cool enough to be a Mac person.” One can only assume that it’s intended as an anti-elitist insult, but the bottom line is that Microsoft is explicitly reinforcing the idea that Macs are cool, which strikes me as a very odd tactic. The theme of the commercial seems to be “PCs: Computers for Losers”.

But here’s my favorite part from Andrea James’s report on the ad campaign for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Lauren is, apparently, a “real” person and not an actress. She works as an office manager but is also a member of the Screen Actors Guild.

I’m sure all sorts of people who aren’t actors are members of the Screen Actors Guild. Some people join unions just for fun. Update: AP reporter Jessica Mintz says Lauren is an actress.

JavaScript Performance on iPhone OS 3.0 

A few weeks before the iPhone 3G and iPhone OS 2.0 shipped last summer, the WebKit team announced their new hot-rodded JavaScript engine — then called SquirrelFish, now renamed Nitro. WebKit performance was dramatically improved in iPhone OS 2.0, both for HTML rendering and JavaScript execution, but the new SquirrelFish/Nitro JavaScript engine was far too new to be included yet. I.e. the significant JavaScript improvements were yet to come. I published a piece on this that included a simple recursion depth test to indicate whether a JavaScript interpreter might be Nitro.

Wayne Pan has braved the NDA waters and published JavaScript benchmarks for iPhone OS 3.0, and they are impressive — with results ranging between 3× and 10× faster than iPhone OS 2.2. And I’ll confirm that MobileSafari on iPhone OS 3.0 passes my simple “could be Nitro” recursion depth test.

In short, JavaScript performance on iPhone OS 3 is way faster.

Leaked Photos of Tesla Model S Sedan 

Check out the roof. (Updated link to point to Gizmodo; Flickr took down Kevin Rose’s originals.)

WWDC 2009: June 8–12 

Last year’s sold out, and iPhone mania is far greater now than then, so I wouldn’t wait long to book a ticket.

Infographic-Style Retelling of Little Red Riding Hood 

Great work by Tomas Nilsson. (Via Bryan Bedell.)

Rowmote 

Another cool app that lets you use your iPhone as a remote control:

Rowmote controls Front Row, Airfoil Video, Boxee, iPhoto, iTunes, Quicktime, DVD Player, Keynote ’08 and ’09, PandoraJam, Plex, Powerpoint 2008, Skim, Spotify, and VLC. Rowmote 1.3+ also has preliminary eyeTV support (channel changing and volume control).

Scrabble and Other Games Have Overvalued Points 

Carl Bialik:

A trio of words — one that’s slang for pizza, another defined as a body’s vital life force and a third referring to a snoring sound — have conspired to change the game of Scrabble.

“Za,” “qi” and “zzz” were added recently to the game’s official word list for its original English-language edition. Because Z’s and Q’s each have the game’s highest point value of 10, those monosyllabic words can rack up big scores for relatively little effort. So now that those high-scoring letters are more versatile, some Scrabble aficionados would like to see the rules changed — which would be the only change since Alfred Butts popularized the game in 1948.

In short, if they’re going to change the list of allowed words, they should change the letter scoring values.

(Via Kottke.)

There’s Something About Boxee 

600 fans showed up for a Boxee event in New York Tuesday night. Smells to me like Boxee is going to go big, soon.

Buzz Andersen: ‘What We Can Learn From MacHeist’ 

This is the smartest thing I’ve ever read regarding MacHeist. I wish I’d written this.

Schott’s Vocab 

“A miscellany of modern words and phrases” — new weblog at The New York Times by Ben Schott.

The Other Side of the MacHeist Argument 

Marco Arment:

I’m not interested in arguing the specifics of the MacHeist deal with developers. I’m sure that nobody will argue the core of it: these applications are being sold at a steep discount.

My point is whether it’s a good idea, as conscientious consumers, to accept such steep discounts on the products that we use and love.

My argument is that it’s not.

Along similar lines, with stronger language, Simone Manganelli:

If you’re buying MacHeist, you’re a cheap fucking bastard, and it makes me queasy that so many in the Mac community would buy into such a thing.

That there aren’t a lot of dollars to go around for each $39 sale is obvious, though. The controversy isn’t over the deal, but over whether this sort of promotion is a good business strategy.

OmniGraphSketcher 

New $30 graphing program from the Omni Group; includes terrific drawing tools and looks like a great alternative to the graphics features in Excel and Numbers (which are heavily skewed toward the dopey features where pretty “3D” charts are derived from two-dimensional data). Watch the demo movie and prepare to be impressed.

Regarding Video DSLRs 

Stu Maschwitz:

Saying that photographers need to learn video because their cameras now feature video is like saying that you need to start a rock band because you bought an iMac that ships with Garage Band.

Why Does Apple Wait So Long to Announce the Dates for WWDC? 

Two or three months’ notice is cutting it way too close for some people, especially those who need to formally request time off from work. Last year they announced the dates on March 13.

Student Paints 60-Foot Willy on Roof of Parents’ House 

I love how he’s described as “cheeky”.

Regarding MacHeist 

I’m unsure why there seems to be lingering controversy regarding the new MacHeist bundle. My issue with the first MacHeist bundle two years ago was that developers were only offered low flat fees, rather than percentage cuts, and more broadly that they didn’t know what they were getting into when they agreed to participate. Clearly this is no longer the case. Gus Mueller, critic of the terms of the original bundle, is participating in this year’s, and he puts it plainly:

So why is Flying Meat participating in MacHeist this time around, when I blasted it a couple of years ago? Well, it’s pretty simple. The folks at MacHeist fixed the payment terms after MacHeist 1, and developers are getting a much better deal now. Tada.

Update: Whether it’s a good business strategy on the part of developers to participate in bundles like this, I don’t know. My hunch is no, but clearly that depends on just how big a slice of the pie one can negotiate — MacHeist has turned into a pretty damn big pie. What I’m saying is that anyone who participates now surely knows exactly what they’re getting into.

‘Where the Wild Things Are’ Trailer 

So very much looking forward to this. (Via Colin Devroe.)

‘Win at Checkers’, by Millard Hopper 

With regard to my newfound checkers hobby, I don’t yet have any trouble beating my five-year-old son, but the computer is killing me. Here’s the book I bought to learn proper strategy. It was written in 1941 by world champion Millard Hopper, and it’s both a good read and delightfully typeset. Tell me “Millard Hopper” isn’t the perfect name for a world-champion checkers player from the 1940s.

John Carmack on the iPhone Port of Wolfenstein 3D Classic 

The story behind the development of Id’s first game title for iPhone, Wolfenstein 3D. (Via Andy Baio.)

Language Log vs. Strunk and White 

Regarding my aforelinked praise for Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, a bunch of DF readers emailed with links to criticism of the book from the linguistics weblog Language Log. I think Language Log is terrific; I can’t say I read it regularly, but I enjoy it when I do. That said, having read through Language Log’s criticism of S&W, I can only conclude they just don’t get it. E.g., regarding S&W’s admonition against starting a sentence with “However,” S&W aren’t arguing that you can’t or that the construction is ungrammatical — rather, they’re arguing that you generally shouldn’t. It’s a recommendation, not a law.

More absurd is this piece from LL contributor Heidi Harley:

I was curious about how Strunk and White would formulate the notion of ‘related words’, so I went to check it out. And, I kid you not, this is the formulation of the rule:

“The subject of a sentence and the principal verb should not, as a rule, be separated by a phrase or clause that can be transferred to the beginning.”

I was afraid someone was playing a joke on me. But no, that’s really it! I was so amazed, of course, because the statement of the rule violates itself.

That the sentence goes against its own advice clearly is a joke, but Harley goes on to spend a paragraph deconstructing the sentence to show that, yes, duh, as a rule is itself a phrase that could be transferred to the beginning of the sentence — as though Strunk and White were, perhaps, utter morons.

It’s exactly the bits like this one that make Strunk and White so beloved.

Regarding NPD’s Estimate of Mac Sales 

This report from NPD last week was widely reported:

U.S. retail sales of Apple’s Mac computers fell 16 percent in February on a unit basis, even as low-cost netbooks helped Windows-based PCs sales rise 22 percent, research group NPD said on Monday.

It’s never been clear to me why reports like this are reported as fact. NPD doesn’t have some sort of magic access to Apple’s sales numbers, and Apple does not release monthly sales data. My understanding is that everyone who believes these numbers from NPD will be pleasantly surprised next month when Apple releases its actual sales figures for the current quarter.

‘Accessibility Is Not a Checklist’ 

Nice piece by Rob Foster on accessibility:

And from my perspective, accessibility is about giving a crap. Accessibility is NOT a checklist. Accessibility is about usability.

Jackass of the Week: Scott Moritz 

Moritz works for Jim Cramer’s TheStreet.com, and Cramer, you will recall, has publicly admitted to spreading made up rumors regarding Apple to make money shorting their stock. But even by those lowly standards, it’s pretty goofy to be talking about a 10-inch touchscreen “netbook” from Apple as a fait accompli:

The company will unveil a 10-inch touch-screen tablet computer sometime this year, say analysts. Not only does Apple want to showcase its design prowess, the company desperately needs a new hit to revitalize its computer line-up. Mac sales fell 16% from year-ago levels last month. No question, the tablet will dazzle Apple fans who typically don’t think twice about paying upwards of $2,000 for the latest, greatest Mac. But beyond the core fan base, Apple will discover what other PC makers have known for a while: Consumers find big tablets hard to swallow.

Improvements to Google’s Search Results Pages 

The new related terms feature sounds very useful:

For example, if you search for [principles of physics], our algorithms understand that “angular momentum,” “special relativity,” “big bang” and “quantum mechanic” are related terms that could help you find what you need.

Espresso 1.0 

New €59 text editor for web developers from MacRabbit, makers of the wonderful CSSEdit. Clearly positioned as a rival to Coda.

American Checkers for iPhone (App Store Link) 

My boy started getting into checkers a few months ago, which means I’m into checkers now, too. I looked around in the App Store, and while there were a bunch of checkers games, none of them were any good. (In fact, many of them don’t even enforce the rules of the game, such as that if you can jump, you must jump — why would anyone program a checkers game that doesn’t enforce the rules?)

But then came Igor Diakov’s American Checkers, released earlier this month. This is a great iPhone checkers game — without question the best in the App Store — and it costs just $1. The gameplay is good, the AI has five settings that (for me at least) span the gamut from easy to impossible, and it’s very fun.

50th Anniversary of ‘Strunk and White’ 

The best book of writing advice I’ve ever read. I read it cover-to-cover about once a year. I think what makes it special is that it’s so self-exemplifying; it recommends vigorous straightforward prose using vigorous straightforward prose. Here’s a link to the hardcover 50th anniversary edition at Amazon.

The Three20 Project 

Joe Hewitt’s new open source UI library for iPhone developers comprises a slew of useful, reusable classes and looks just great. As for the name, Hewitt writes:

The name of the new project is Three20, after the 320-pixel wide screen of the iPhone.

I’m not sure for how long that name is going to be relevant, but, I suppose, even when we get iPhone OS devices with more pixels than 480 × 320, there’ll be some retro value to “320”.

The Makers of Things 

Rands:

When Brooklyn and New York’s population was booming at the end of the 19th century, the best way to get to and from Brooklyn was via ferries. As solutions were considered, I’m sure there were those who simply thought, “More boats!” These ardent defenders of the status quo were not engineers — they were the business. Their goal was not to build something great, but to make a profit.

Kevin Fox on the Google Design Process 

Kevin Fox (who, until January 2008, was a senior user experience design lead at Google), on Google’s design process.

Richard Stallman: ‘The Javascript Trap’ 

I waver between rolling my eyes at Stallman’s kookiness and admiring his singleminded determination.

Regarding the New iPod Shuffle’s Remote Chip 

iLounge editor-in-chief Jeremy Horwitz on the implications for third-party headphone manufacturers who want to use Apple’s new remote control chipset. Week-old news, but I missed this while I was at SXSW.

Measuring the Design Process 

Scott Stevenson:

Visual design is often the polar opposite of engineering: trading hard edges for subjective decisions based on gut feelings and personal experiences. It’s messy, unpredictable, and notoriously hard to measure. The apparently erratic behavior of artists drives engineers bananas. Their decisions seem arbitrary and risk everything with no guaranteed benefit.

So Where’s Dell’s Mobile Phone? 

Eric Savitz on Dell’s long-rumored but nowhere-to-be-seen mobile phone:

Shaw Wu, an analyst at Kaufman Bros., asserts in a research note today that the company’s first attempt was basically rejected by the carriers as too, well, Dell-like.

He asserts that Dell showed a prototype to the carriers, but that they weren’t all that impressed. “From our conversation with supply chain and industry sources, it appears that it ultimately came down to lack of carrier interest and small subsidies, making it difficult for Dell to make a profit,” he writes.

Take it with a grain of salt, though — considering that Shaw Wu is nearly always wrong about Apple (see here, for example), I see no reason to think he’s any better-sourced about Dell. But the fact remains that mobile phones are big business right now, and Dell isn’t in the game.

Jacqui Cheng Reviews the New iPod Shuffle 

Side-by-side pictures show just how much smaller it is than the previous model.

Brad DeLong’s Geithner Plan FAQ 

Strongest defense of the Geithner plan I’ve seen. I hope he’s right.

Quietube: YouTube Without the Distractions 

Bookmarklet for stripping all the visual clutter away from YouTube videos. (Via David Weiss.)

Despair Over Obama’s Financial Policy 

Paul Krugman does not like Geithner’s plan:

In effect, Treasury will be creating — deliberately! — the functional equivalent of Texas S&Ls in the 1980s: financial operations with very little capital but lots of government-guaranteed liabilities. For the private investors, this is an open invitation to play heads I win, tails the taxpayers lose. So sure, these investors will be ready to pay high prices for toxic waste. After all, the stuff might be worth something; and if it isn’t, that’s someone else’s problem.

As Krugman wrote yesterday: “This administration, elected on the promise of change, has already managed, in an astonishingly short time, to create the impression that it’s owned by the wheeler-dealers.”

Regarding Marissa Mayer’s Personnel Decisions 

From Laura M. Holson’s NYT profile of Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP of search products and user experience (this is the source Douglas Bowman pointed to regarding the story that Google solved a design dispute by user-testing 41 different shades of blue):

At a recent personnel meeting, she homes in on grade-point averages and SAT scores to narrow a list of candidates, many having graduated from Ivy League schools, whom she wanted to meet as part of a program to foster in-house talent. In essence, math is used to solve a human problem: How do you predict whether an employee has the potential for success?

A scrum of executives sit around a table, laptops in front of them, as they sort through résumés, college transcripts and quarterly reviews. The conversation is unemotional, at times a little brutal. One candidate got a C in macroeconomics. “That’s troubling to me,” Ms. Mayer says. “Good students are good at all things.”

I realize how hard it is to find good employees, and how hard it is to evaluate prospective employees from their résumés — that snap judgments from limited information must be made. But this makes it sound like Mayer still uses SAT scores and college grade-point averages to judge current Google employees being considered for promotion.

As for holding one bad grade — or even entire bad subject areas — against someone, I’m more suspicious of people who did get good grades in every subject. In my experience they tend to be rule-crazy conformists, obsessed with their grades rather than with particular subjects.

Design Is How It Works 

Worth a re-link, in context of the aforelinked items regarding the role of design at Google, is this quote from Steve Jobs in 2003:

“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Apple Is a Design Company With Engineers; Google Is an Engineering Company With Designers 

Buzz Andersen, regarding Douglas Bowman’s description of the role of design at Google:

But I think a useful way to think about the difference between the two companies is: how likely is an individual contributor from each category to be present in a meeting with the CEO? Based on my experience at Apple, I’d say the answer is: pretty unlikely for an engineer, far more likely for a designer. I don’t have any direct experience with Google, but I suspect just the opposite would be true there.

The two companies clearly have fundamentally different approaches to deciding how their products work.

Douglas Bowman Leaves Google 

Refreshingly honest look at Google’s engineering-dominated culture, from their first lead visual designer:

Yes, it’s true that a team at Google couldn’t decide between two blues, so they’re testing 41 shades between each blue to see which one performs better. I had a recent debate over whether a border should be 3, 4 or 5 pixels wide, and was asked to prove my case. I can’t operate in an environment like that.

‘Old Growth Media and the Future of News’ 

Steven Berlin Johnson on the future of news publishing:

The first wave of blogs were tech-focused, and then for whatever reason, they turned to politics next. And so Web 2.0-style political coverage has had a decade to mature into its current state. What’s happened with technology and politics is happening elsewhere too, just on a different timetable. Sports, business, reviews of movies, books, restaurants – all the staples of the old newspaper format are proliferating online. There are more perspectives; there is more depth and more surface now. And that’s the new growth. It’s only started maturing.

In fact, I think in the long run, we’re going to look back at many facets of old media and realize that we were living in a desert disguised as a rain forest.

He starts the piece by recalling just how hard it was to come by Mac and Apple-related news when he was in college in 1987 — you were pretty much stuck waiting for two-month-old news from Macworld once a month. Imagine not hearing any real details about this past week’s iPhone OS 3.0 announcement until, say, the third week of May.

Johnson’s piece pairs well with the aforelinked piece from Clay Shirky.

‘Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable’ 

This essay by Clay Shirky is, simply, one of the smartest things I’ve ever read:

Revolutions create a curious inversion of perception. In ordinary times, people who do no more than describe the world around them are seen as pragmatists, while those who imagine fabulous alternative futures are viewed as radicals. The last couple of decades haven’t been ordinary, however. Inside the papers, the pragmatists were the ones simply looking out the window and noticing that the real world was increasingly resembling the unthinkable scenario. These people were treated as if they were barking mad. Meanwhile the people spinning visions of popular walled gardens and enthusiastic micropayment adoption, visions unsupported by reality, were regarded not as charlatans but saviors.

And:

Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.

The whole piece is a must-read.

OmniGraffle 

My thanks to the Omni Group for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote OmniGraffle, their excellent Mac OS X graphics editor.

I’ll just come right out and say that OmniGraffle is my favorite app from Omni — I use it to create graphics for Daring Fireball such as the table in my Safari 4 review comparing tab colors. It is a very good tool for a startlingly wide range of tasks. It can be used to create both flowchart diagrams (backed by an outline) and layer-based graphic design layouts. It can be used by non-artists to create high-quality graphics (thanks to its built-in and third-party stencils), and by artists to create original design work with precise control over layout and typography. It’s also a great tool for user interface and web page design mockups.

Order OmniGraffle at the Omni Group’s store through 23 March 2009 and save 15 percent using the coupon code “GRAFFLE_FIREBALL”.

Most-Secure Browser: Chrome 

Ryan Paul:

Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer were all exploited during the Pwn2Own competition that took place at [CanSecWest]. Google’s Chrome browser, however, was the only one left standing — a victory that security researchers attribute to its innovative sandbox feature.

Tethering on iPhone OS 3.0 over AT&T 

Joachim Bean:

Hello everyone, I just found a way to enable tethering on iPhone OS 3.0 over AT&T.

SpiralFrog Shuts Down 

Greg Sandoval, reporting for CNet:

SpiralFrog, the pioneering ad-supported music service, quietly closed down on Thursday. SpiralFrog’s site went dark at about 4 p.m. PDT.

Let’s recall what was said about SpiralFrog back in 2006. Paul Thurrott:

In a slap at market leader Apple, songs downloaded from SpiralFrog won’t work with iTunes or the iPod. The songs will, however, work just fine in Microsoft’s Windows Media Player (WMP) and any Microsoft-compatible PlaysForSure device, including Media Center PCs and Windows Mobile-powered Portable Media Centers.

That was quite a hurtful slap. On the other side, yours truly:

I smell yet another dud.

PDF Browser Plugin 2.3 

SchubertIt’s PDF Browser Plugin 2.3 uses Mac OS X’s built-in PDF renderer, but offers a slew of features not offered by Safari’s built-in PDF viewer — and it works in Firefox, too. Free for personal use, $69 for commercial use. See Dan Frakes’s review in Macworld for more information.

The Hit List’s Natural Language UI for Creating Repeating Tasks 

Andy Kim on the design process he went through for the UI to create repeating tasks in his upcoming task management app The Hit List. What he wound up with is a simple single-line text field into which you just type how often you want the task to repeat.

Noted for Future Reference 

Steve Ballmer:

“Apple gained about one point, but now I think the tide has really turned back the other direction. The economy is helpful. Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment — same piece of hardware — paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that’s a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be.”

(Via David Weiss.)

iLounge’s Gallery of iPhone OS 3.0 Screenshots 

NDA-busting screenshot gallery shows most of the new stuff. Note, for example, that Voice Memos continues recording while in the background — you get a red double-height status indicator at the top of the screen, much like the green one when you’re on a call.

HD Movies Now Available for Purchase and Rental From iTunes Store 

Apple:

Starting today, movie fans can purchase box office blockbusters for download in HD for $19.99 from iTunes, and films will be available as iTunes Movie Rentals in HD for $4.99 within 30 days after release.

Previously you couldn’t buy HD movies, and HD rentals were limited to Apple TV.

Cisco Buys Pure Digital, Makers of the Flip Video Cameras 

It’s a good acquisition for Cisco, but I hope they let the Flip continue to be the Flip.

Merlin Mann on SXSW 

Merlin Mann:

Not a list of peoples’ jokey internet names, not a moldy hillock of kinda-funny-once “memes,” not a series of asynchronous “@” responses, and not a goddamned drama about who follows whom today and what it all means. Talking about meeting people who speak in sentences and have complicated lives and make great things and care about a lot of the same stuff you do. That’s the thing.

Camaraderie doesn’t develop very well through LCD screens, and there is very little in this world that is better or more important.

The Camblr Strikes Back 

Cameron Daigle follows up on his “household Star Wars terms that aren’t actually spoken in the films” post from last week.

How Upgrades Should Be Done 

Sascha Segan:

Never mind the cut and paste. Never mind the picture messaging, or all the other stuff that should have been in iPhone 1.0. Never mind the new payment methods that will shake up the mobile shopping marketplace. The most radical thing Apple said at the iPhone 3.0 software release was:

“The upgrade will be available for free, this summer, to all iPhone owners.”

Why can’t any other smart phone vendors do this?

Two points. First, yes, Apple’s iPhone upgrade policy and iTunes integration is a killer feature. When you buy an iPhone, you’re buying a phone that will get better and offer more features over time. No one else can say that, at least yet.

Second, though, what’s with the “or all the other stuff that should have been in iPhone 1.0” silliness? Does Segan really think these features haven’t taken time and effort to develop? Should Apple have waited until this coming summer to ship the first iPhone?

Update: Android phones, at least so far with the HTC G1, follow a similar upgrade policy. We’ll see how it works when the G1 is two years old, though. And my friend Aaron Swartz says his beloved Sidekick has a great update system, too. Also, one thing the G1 and Sidekick offer which the iPhone does not is over-the-air software updates. I wonder how many iPhone owners never find out about updates because they never bother syncing with iTunes on a computer.

Claim Chowder on Wired’s Report of ‘Premium’ App Store 

Priya Ganapati, writing for Wired News last week:

As Apple gets ready to preview its new software developers’ kit and an updated iPhone operating system next week, there could be some changes to the company’s App Store too.

We’re hearing rumors that Apple could introduce a “premium” section in the store, in order to sell more expensive third-party programs. The premium section would largely be focused on games, giving game makers a channel to offer more in-depth (and pricier) titles without getting lost in the clutter of free and $1 apps.

So much for that.

The Nationalization Option 

Harold Meyerson on the Obama administration’s shameful “indulgence of bankers’ indulgences”:

It’s certainly not because Americans are dead set against bank nationalization: A Newsweek poll this month found that 56 percent of respondents supported it. Hell, Alan Greenspan supports it. But Geithner seems unable to imagine a banking system not run by its current leaders or owned by its current shareholders or engaged in the same arcane securitization practices that led to its collapse. An administration that is busily creating alternatives to our health-care system and our energy policies is being dragged down by a Treasury secretary who cannot conceive of an alternative to our catastrophic system of banking.

(Via Atrios.)

Hot Vinegar 

It was all worth it just to hear her pronounce “crayon” in person.

Gina Trapani Compares iPhone OS 3.0 to Android 

Gina Trapani:

Personally, besides its Gmail client, the feature I love most about Android that the iPhone doesn’t come close to is Android’s pull-down “window shade” notification area, that lists multiple alerts. So if you’ve gotten an SMS, new email, a Twitter reply, a missed call, you can drag and drop the window shade down to see them all. The iPhone still pops up a box you have to dismiss to do anything else (include hang up a call!), which is simply an inferior way to handle alerts.

I still don’t really get Android, so I’m always fascinated by the opinion of people like Gina (and Merlin Mann), who’ve actually used both for extended periods. One thing that seems clear to me is that the iPhone and Android are good at very different things. And iPhone OS 3.0 is about making the iPhone even better in the ways that the iPhone was already good.

The message notification issue is a good example. “Messaging”, in general — SMS, IM, email (or at least Gmail) — is definitely richer on Android. It just doesn’t seem like the iPhone’s single, modal alert panel is going to scale well once push notification opens up to third party developers. I think it’s questionable whether it’s scaling well now, really.

Fire the AIG Management 

Philip Greenspun:

We (the taxpayers) own AIG.  We should fire the top 20 managers immediately as an example to the rest.  They should be replaced with people who have never been employed by AIG; it would be bad to promote the next tier of AIG employees up to the top because that would effectively be a reward for their demonstrated incompetence in 2008.

Is it risky to replace the top management of a company? We voters do it every 4-8 years for the U.S. government, a vastly more complex operation than AIG.

I would add this: How could all-new management possibly do worse? AIG, today, is perhaps the single worst-run corporation in the history of the world.

WSJ: IBM in Talks to Buy Sun 

Better than just disappearing altogether:

IBM is in talks to buy Sun Microsystems Inc., sources with knowledge of the matter said, a move that could bolster the technology giant against rivals in the high-end computer server market.

iPhone OS 3.0 Preview Event Video 

You can also download a higher resolution version via Apple’s Keynotes video podcast (RSS link).

WeatherCal 1.0 

New $10 utility from Bare Bones:

WeatherCal presents the latest available weather conditions and forecast (up to five days in advance) for your desired locations, as all-day events in iCal. You’ll always know the predicted weather well ahead of time.

I’ve been beta testing it for a few weeks, and it does just what it claims on the tin. Perfect in conjunction with iPhone calendar syncing — so useful and natural that it seems hard to believe no one thought of this before.

Jackass of the Week: Scott Moritz 

It is disappointing and surprising that Apple didn’t announce a new non-iPhone hardware product at an event titled “iPhone Software 3.0”? Uh, OK.

Macworld’s Live Coverage of iPhone Software 3.0 Event 

As-it-happens coverage from Dan Moren and Jason Snell.

Boxee iPhone Remote App 

Clever design, and I’m glad Apple approved it.

AT&T Adding Capacity at SXSW to Deal With iPhone Crush 

Dan Frommer:

AT&T tells us it’s adding wireless capacity in downtown Austin to deal with “unprecedented” demand (that’s resulted in service that’s flaky at best). This, of course, was a result of thousands (tens of thousands?) of South by Southwest attendees bringing 3G iPhones into this part of Austin for the first time.

Indeed, last night was the first time all weekend my iPhone could get a reasonable network connection.

One Inch Holes 

Michael Gartenberg on the role of operating systems:

The head of Black and Decker once said, folks don’t buy our products because they want one inch drills, they buy our stuff because they want one inch holes.

iPhone OS 3.0 Copy and Paste 

I have no idea whether this description of how it’s going to work is accurate, but from what I’m hearing Copy-and-Paste is a big part of tomorrow’s announcement.

Jon Stewart Confronts Jim Cramer on the Daily Show 

It’s a great interview, but what’s of particular interest is that Stewart plays a clip of Cramer from December 2006 talking about how easy it is to manipulate Apple’s stock price — at that time by spreading baseless rumors that the then-not-yet-announced iPhone had been rejected by both Verizon and AT&T.

AIG to Pay $450 Million in Employee Bonuses 

MarketWatch:

American International Group is set to pay $450 million of bonuses to employees of the unit that was largely responsible for the New York insurer’s near collapse last fall.

Outrageous.

Foursquare 

Location-based social networking in the form of a game, and the “sequel” to Dodgeball. The 1.0 iPhone app is a bit crashy for me, but the design is very good.

Tech Book Published Exclusively on iPhone 

Drew McCormack:

I happen to have a few book length manuscripts lying around, so I decided to take one of them — Scientific Scripting with Python — and undertake an experiment: I developed a basic book reader, reformatted the manuscript for the iPhone, and submitted it to the App Store.

Transactions 1.0 

Great idea: new iPhone app that can conduct credit card transactions.

The ‘Raiders’ Story Conference 

Speaking of George Lucas, here’s an amazing find by Mystery Man on Film: a 125-page transcript from a week-long 1978 story conference between Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Lawrence Kasdan, where they hashed out Raiders of the Lost Ark. (Via Michele Seiler.)

OmniFocus for Mac OS X and iPhone 

My thanks to The Omni Group for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. OmniFocus is their excellent app for task management, available both for Mac OS X and the iPhone. Both versions are designed to stand on their own, but the real magic is in their ability to sync with each other. In fact, you can also sync OmniFocus data between multiple Macs, using iDisk or any WebDAV server. It’s designed both for people who follow the official GTD system and for those who just want a good app for organizing tasks.

Learn more at Omni’s web site; I recommend their excellent introductory screencast. Through March 16, you can save 15 percent off the regular price of OmniFocus for Mac OS X — use the code FOCUS_FIREBALL on The Omni Group’s online store.

Names Never Spoken in the Original Star Wars Trilogy 

With regard to the item below, regarding Star Wars names and terms which became well-known even though they were never spoken by the characters in the films, Cameron Daigle is compiling a list. AT-AT? Y-Wing? These things are all so deeply ingrained in my brain that it never occurred to me that they were never mentioned by name in the films themselves.

Ewoks, Ewoks, Ewoks 

From Dan Vebber’s outstanding “50 Reasons Why Return of the Jedi Sucked”, written in 1996:

But aside from what we see onscreen, the Ewoks are miserable little creatures for a completely different reason: they are the single clearest example of Lucas’ willingness to compromise the integrity of his Trilogy in favor of merchandising dollars. How intensely were the Ewoks marketed? Consider this: “Ewok” is a household word, despite the fact that it’s never once spoken in the film.

I’ve seen this movie dozens of times over the past 25 years, but when I read this claim — that the word “Ewok” is never even mentioned in the film — I immediately thought no, that couldn’t be. That’s really rather amazing. (Via Kottke.)

Update: DF reader Aditya Sood blew my mind with this nugget: Boba Fett is never mentioned by name in The Empire Strikes Back.

Google Voice 

Major expansion of what was once GrandCentral. Seems worth the wait. David Pogue has a preview of the new service in the NYT.

My Guesses Regarding iPhone OS 3.0 

From my Macworld Expo announcement predictions back in January:

As for what might appear in iPhone OS 3.0, here’s my wish list. First, a new home screen app (a.k.a. SpringBoard), designed from the ground up for a system where users have a few dozen or more extra apps installed. Managing dozens of apps on the iPhone today is simply a pain in the ass. Second, maybe an answer to the question of where the background notification API is — you know, the one we were told at WWDC to expect a few months ago, but which we haven’t heard a word about since. And maybe — pretty please, Mr. Forstall, with sugar on top — copy and paste.

Now that we’ve seen a preview of Palm’s Pre, I wonder if Apple is prepared to bring back the Dashboard-style JavaScript/HTML/CSS APIs for creating iPhone widgets that were slated for iPhone 1.0, but yanked for performance reasons.

Update: Another good guess, suggested by several DF readers: syncing of notes between the iPhone and Mac. And Boy Genius Report says MMS and network tethering.

Apple to Preview iPhone OS 3.0 Next Tuesday, March 17 

Media event on Apple’s campus, much like last year’s debut of the iPhone SDK and OS 2.0.

‘Forever’s Not So Long’ 

Good new 13-minute short film, written and directed by Shawn Morrison, produced by and starring Garrett Murray, and with an original music score by Robert Andersen. That’s right, the same Garrett Murray who just released Ego — quite a busy week.

On the App Store 

Adam Lisagor, on Apple’s insistence that apps are available not in or at but on the App Store:

Let’s look at it another way: what destinations built for the trade of goods would the word “on” apply to? I could say I bought a song on iTunes, but when I speak of it like that, I think of iTunes as more of a network for content rather than an outlet, much in the same way I’d say I saw 30 Rock on NBC or heard my favorite song on my favorite radio station. So does this mean that Apple likes to think of its iTunes Stores as networks? And if the iTunes App Store is a network rather than a retail outlet, what does that make the apps it sells? And herein lies the real question: is an app a product or is it content? […]

Apple, it seems, thinks of apps as content created by developers in the way that music is created by musicians and movies are created by filmmakers.

iTunes 8.1 

The Genius feature now supports TV shows and movies, and Party Shuffle has been renamed iTunes DJ:

With iTunes DJ, iPhone users that have Apple’s Remote application installed can request songs to be played. Users can also vote to control when songs are played. The DJ feature even has its own preferences, so you can send a welcome message to users and control whether voting is turned on or off.

Christopher Breen on the New Shuffle 

Breen nails it:

But I’m not the target buyer for this device. If you walk along any city street, ride a subway or bus, or wander through the local gym, you’ll see that nearly everyone uses the stock Apple earbuds. It’s not that their ears are any more ideal for these things than mine, it’s just that most people don’t care or know any better. This is what I got, this is what I’ll use.

Exactly. Lack of compatibility with no-button headphones is not an outrage. What matters is whether these headphone-cable controls are a good interface for controlling a Shuffle. (I’m skeptical, as are others.) It isn’t meant to be good for everyone, it’s meant to be great for most people. That’s how Apple rolls.

Third-Party Headphone Adaptors for New Shuffle on the Way 

Stephen Wildstrom, for BusinessWeek:

What if you don’t like the indifferent ear buds Apple supplies or, if like me, ear buds just won’t stay in your ears? You can buy the iPhone In-Ear Stereo headphones ($79); the remote is the same. Apple says there will also be third-party adapters that will let you add a remote to your favorite headphones.

I’ve seen a lot of complaints about this today, all of them from people who use non-Apple headphones with their iPods. (I do too.) It’s good that adaptors are in the works, but clearly, today, the new Shuffle is not usable unless you’re using it with Apple headphones. But so then don’t buy it. It’s an odd decision not to include any playback controls on the Shuffle itself, but not the least bit surprising for Apple.

And for the time being, at least, the old-style 1 GB $49 Shuffle is still available.

Apple’s Inline Web Page Audio Player 

Did you notice the little inline audio players on Apple’s iPod Shuffle web pages?

Screenshot of Apple's web page audio playback controller.

When playing, it animates with a circular progress meter:

Screenshot of Apple's web page audio playback controller.

Very cool — and very much like the iTunes song preview controller on the iPhone. Even cooler: no Flash involved. It’s QuickTime with this JavaScript to draw the animation using the HTML 5 <canvas> element. Doesn’t work in MobileSafari (yet?), but at least MobileSafari can play the audio in its usual (full-screen) way.

Windows Marketplace for Mobile 

Microsoft announces their upcoming mobile app store:

Developers will be able to see detailed feedback during and after the certification process of their application on the Windows Marketplace for Mobile developer portal. Ultimately this enables developers to devote more time to writing innovative applications, and less time trying to navigate the approval process.

Wonder who that’s in reference to?

Kutiman, Big Media, and the Future of Creative Entrepreneurship 

Merlin Mann:

Unsolicited tip for media company c-levels: if your reaction to this crate of magic is “Hm. I wonder how we’d go about suing someone who ‘did this’ with our IP?” instead of, “Holy crap, clearly, this is the freaking future of entertainment,” it’s probably time to put some ramen on your Visa and start making stuff up for your LinkedIn page.

Apple’s Documentation for New iPod Shuffle Headphone Button Controls 

Double-click for next track, triple-click for previous; double-click-and-hold for fast-forward, triple-click and hold for rewind. Clever, but I don’t think most people will discover these shortcuts without reading about them, and most people won’t read about them.

Apple’s War on Buttons 

The irony is that Apple makes such nice buttons — the buttons on the older Shuffles had a nice clickiness to them.

Scott Simpson Is Dreamy 

Scott Simpson:

Why is the word “dream” synonymous with “ideal”? My nighttime dreams never reflect what I really want.

Ember 1.0 

New $10 iPhone client for Campfire.

Ego 1.0 

New $2 iPhone app by Garrett Murray — lets you monitor web stats from Mint, Twitter, and FeedBurner. Terrific interface design.

Redesigned iPod Shuffle, With VoiceOver 

Sounds like a clever idea.

Two colors, silver and black, both 4 GB and $79. The guided tour video explains how it works. The VoiceOver spoken menus and song/artist names are generated on your computer in iTunes, and you can hear examples on the VoiceOver page. Mac OS X Tiger and Windows users get a lesser quality voice; Leopard users get the new high quality Alex voice.

On Advertising 

Mandy Brown:

Any economy which charges ever less for ever more intrusive ads will eventually be successful not in creating wealth but in driving the readers away, until the only ones left to heed the ads are all the other ads, the cell phones searching in vain for a target market among the cellulite.

User Interface of the Week: Password Engine 

My favorite part is that there’s a button for “Options”.

Update: Don’t miss gpsGuide, another iPhone app from the same author. Best help screen ever.

Would Safari 4’s Tab Interface Be Good for Touch Screens? 

Charles Ying looks at Safari 4’s new interface for tabs and speculates that it’s designed for future multi-touch displays from Apple.

I disagree. Tappable targets on a touch screen need to be bigger and/or further apart, because finger tips are large, whereas mouse pointers are very precise. The tip of the arrow mouse pointer is precisely one pixel. Apple’s iPhone UI guidelines suggest that a typical finger tip covers about 40 pixels on the iPhone’s 163 pixel-per-inch display. So I would say Safari 4’s tabs would be worse than Safari 3’s for touch screen use, because clickable targets in the title/tab bar are packed closer together. (For this same reason, the entire Mac OS X interface as a whole is poorly suited to touch screen use — look at how close the standard close/minimize/zoom buttons are.)

Dan Moren on the App Store 

Dan Moren:

Regardless, the review process for iPhone apps needs to be standardized, and it needs to be done now, not later. Apple’s created an impressive business out of the App Store — it’s time to stop acting like it’s being run out of a garage.

The Chimps Are Weaponizing 

OK, scratch that last idea. No chimps. (Thanks to DF reader Jim Colwell.)

149 Surprising Ways to Turbocharge Your Blog With Credibility! 

Co-presentation by Merlin Mann and yours truly at SXSW this Saturday at 3:30 pm. Maybe we’ll have a special guest, or bring a chimpanzee up on stage with us.

You can’t make this stuff up. Apple has rejected the latest version of Tweetie — currently the most popular Twitter client in the App Store — because there’s a swear word in the current list of top Twitter trends. The trends feature isn’t new to this version of Tweetie, nor is Tweetie the only iPhone Twitter client that has the feature. It’s just that there happens to be a dirty word in the trend list now.

Update: As of two hours ago, Tweetie 1.3 was approved by Apple, curse words in trends be damned.

On the Renaming of Xcode Projects 

Chris Espinosa:

One of the FAQs of Xcode is “Why is Save As… disabled for my project file?” Or, put more bluntly, how do you duplicate or rename a project?

Palm Issues Official Retraction of Roger McNamee’s Pre Crazy Talk 

Translation: This dude is crazy but we can’t get rid of him because it’s his money that’s keeping the company afloat.

More from Dan Moren and John Paczkowski.

(The problem with McNamee’s trash talk regarding the iPhone is not about whether the Pre will actually be a worthy rival. Let’s just concede that it will. The problem is that this is the wrong way to set expectations. Clearly there is room for both the iPhone to continue to sell well and for the Pre to have a successful launch — but investors who took McNamee at his word would deem that scenario a failure for Palm.)

Jakob Nielsen’s Kindle 2 Usability Review 

Jakob Nielsen:

11 years ago, I wrote that electronic books were a bad idea. Has Kindle 2 changed my mind? Yes. The two factors that convinced me were (a) equal-to-print readability and (b) multi-device integration.

Silicon Graphics Shares Delisted From NASDAQ 

The long, slow demise of a pioneering computer graphics powerhouse.

Formula 1 Steering Wheel User Interfaces 

More information here. (Via The Big Picture, which has a nice close-up of a Renault steering wheel.)

Wolfram/Alpha 

Always so timid, that Stephen Wolfram.

BackTweets 

Crucially, it dereferences URLs from shortening services like TinyURL and Bit.ly. (Via Andy Baio.)

Pantscast 1.0 

New $2 iPhone podcast player for “serious” audiophiles, from Hosensoft:

Recent advancements in audio algorithms — developed in some places like Germany and things — can squeeze out massively boosted audio depth, tremendous sound-stages with increased aSqFt (audio square feet), and a much richer wet/dry mix, to all your favorite podcasts.

It’s like having the podcast speaker right in the room with you.

I’ve used it to listen to several podcasts this afternoon, and it increased my enjoyment.

The Sizzling Sound of Music 

Dale Dougherty, on Stanford music professor Jonathan Berger:

Berger then said that he tests his incoming students each year in a similar way. He has them listen to a variety of recordings which use different formats from MP3 to ones of much higher quality. He described the results with some disappointment and frustration, as a music lover might, that each year the preference for music in MP3 format rises. In other words, students prefer the quality of that kind of sound over the sound of music of much higher quality. He said that they seemed to prefer “sizzle sounds” that MP3s bring to music.

DF Paraphernalia 

DF Paraphernalia, the Amazon Astore I put together a few months ago for the holiday shopping season, is open year-round. I’ve updated the Mac Hardware section with links to some of the new Mac Minis and iMacs. You get low Amazon prices, I get a nice affiliate kickback.

Update: And if you just want to jump to Amazon’s front page while still throwing kickback dollars my way, this link will work (and is at the bottom of most pages on DF).

Dan Benjamin’s NewerTech Voyager Q Follow-Up 

Good advice on which drives to buy for use with the enclosure, along with a description of Dan’s backup strategy.

Does Twitter Count Characters or Bytes? 

The difference matters — if you’re really only safe sending 140-byte tweets, then things like tinyarro.ws URLs aren’t really saving you space. (And it’s questionable whether they’re safe anyway, given that many Twitter clients don’t handle Unicode characters in URLs, regardless of tweet length.)

Rivers of Type 

Martin McClellan on full-justified books for the iPhone Kindle app:

Computer justified type only looks good to people who like straight edges on their blocks but don’t bother to read the text inside them.

You should never set justified type without hyphenation, that’s for sure. But some Kindle books are ragged-right (as they should be, at least on the iPhone) — it’s a per-book preference set by the publisher.

Inquisitor for iPhone 

Yahoo’s free web search app for the iPhone. Looks good.

Windows Mobile IE6 

Dieter Bohn’s “unboxing” video for the new Sprint Treo Pro spends a lot of time demonstrating the new IE6 browser for Windows Mobile. This is Microsoft’s latest and greatest mobile browser experience. Jump to around the 3:20 mark to get right to the IE6 segment.

Sifter 

My thanks to Sifter for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Sifter is a “hosted bug and issue tracker designed equally for technical and non-technical people”. That’s a bold goal, and I think Sifter has hit the mark. Bug/issue tracking systems are notoriously complex — they’re typically developer tools written for and by engineers. Sifter is different — it’s a “do less, but do it way better” sort of web app. And it passes the eat-your-own-dogfood test: the Sifter team uses Sifter itself for their bug/issue tracking.

The best part: Sifter offers a 30-day free trial, so you can try it out before spending a dime.

‘Not Ideal’ 

Washington, D.C. has long been a bastion of BlackBerry fanatics. The new touch-screen Storm, though? Not so much.

Renegade App Stores for the iPhone 

Yukari Iwatani Kane:

Apple Inc. faces a growing threat to its iPhone business, as renegade stores spring up online to sell unauthorized software for the device.

The developer behind some popular iPhone software on Friday plans to open a service called Cydia Store that could potentially sell hundreds of iPhone applications that are not available through Apple’s official store. Users must download special software that alters their iPhones before they can run these programs.

The idea of for-pay jailbreak app stores is an interesting development, for sure, but I think it’s a stretch to call it a threat to Apple’s iPhone business. It’s a threat to Apple’s App Store business, but Apple’s main mobile business is selling actual iPhones and iPods.

Talking to Your iPod 

Regarding my suggestion last week that Apple should add spoken menus to the display-less iPod Shuffle — allowing you to hear things like song playlist names — it occurs to me that speech could work the other way too. If the Shuffle had a microphone of some sort it could take verbal commands from you. I’d hate to sit next to someone on an airplane barking “Play, next, next, pause” throughout an entire flight, but it might be pretty cool for people who use their iPods while running or biking.

Acclimated to Severe Turbulence 

Philip Greenspun:

This evening’s New York Times was worrisome. An inset box showed that the S&P 500 had fallen 4.25 percent for the day, wiping out roughly a year of investment returns. A few months ago this would have been the top story. Today, however, it did not even make the front page.

For context, consider this, from Harper’s Index:

Number of times in 2008 that the S&P 500 closed up or down 5 percent in a single day: 17

Number of times between 1956 and 2007 it did this: 17

You Just Know This One’s Getting Filed Away in the Claim Chowder Folder 

Bloomberg:

Palm Inc.’s new Pre smart phone will lure customers away from Apple Inc.’s iPhone when subscribers’ contracts start expiring in June, Palm investor Roger McNamee said.

“You know the beautiful thing: June 29, 2009, is the two-year anniversary of the first shipment of the iPhone,” McNamee said today in an interview in San Francisco. “Not one of those people will still be using an iPhone a month later.”

McNamee isn’t just some crackpot:

McNamee is a co-founder of Elevation Partners, the investment firm that agreed in December to pay $100 million to lift its stake in Palm to 39 percent from 25 percent.

Not sure why he’d want to raise expectations like this.

Tinyarro.ws 

New URL shortening service; uses Unicode domain name and Unicode characters for the slugs to produce the shortest-possible URLs. E.g., here’s a link to the DF home page: http://➡.ws/.

The obvious use case for ultra-short URLs is Twitter, where every character in a URL counts against the 140-character limit. But be warned, despite the fact that these are legitimate URLs, some Twitter clients don’t parse them correctly — Twitterrific for one.

John Battelle: ‘Twitter = YouTube’ 

Smart piece by John Battelle on Twitter as an acquisition target for Google.

Excuses 

John Paczkowski on Steve Ballmer’s answer to questions about how poorly Windows Mobile compares to the iPhone and Android.

‘Public Enemies’ 

Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, directed by Michael Mann.

Opera Fingertouch 

New mobile touchscreen browser feature from Opera:

Fingertouch provides visual feedback when you hit a Web link, and assists you when you come across multiple links or other selectable elements in close proximity to one another.

Did Amazon Intentionally Cripple the Kindle iPhone App? 

Ed Burnette:

Kindle for iPhone is nice for people who already have a Kindle or Kindle 2 who might find themselves away from their device with a little time to kill. However, Amazon seems to have taken steps to make sure the iKindle does not cannibalize sales of their $359 money maker. If, as Amazon claims, the big-screen Kindle e-ink reading experience is so much better than reading books on a phone, then why bother crippling the phone reader?

His complaints are that the Kindle iPhone app doesn’t have a search feature and doesn’t connect directly to the Kindle store, both valid complaints. But it’s possible Amazon simply hasn’t implemented them yet. (It’s also possible that Apple, not Amazon, objected to direct integration to the Kindle store.) And how sure are we that the $359 Kindle hardware is a “money maker” for Amazon? Especially given that it offers free-for-life EVDO networking, I strongly suspect it’s a loss-leader for selling books.

Stimulus Logos 

Saw these new logos yesterday and thought they were terrific. Well, no wonder: they were designed by Aaron Draplin and Chris Glass. More like this, please.

Regarding Kindle for iPhone 

Glenn Fleishman:

Overnight, 240,000 books are suddenly available for the iPhone through a free application’s conduit. This might also signal that Apple has no plans to enter the electronic book reader market — otherwise, why allow Amazon to set up a beachhead?

And it also strongly suggests that Amazon is more interested in the business of selling the blades, not the razors.

Amazon Releases Kindle Application for iPhone 

The app is a free download, and lets you read Amazon’s proprietary Kindle e-books on your iPhone. The Kindle app doesn’t have an interface to the Kindle Store; instead, you buy books (or add free samples) to your account on Amazon’s Kindle web store, then when you next launch the Kindle iPhone app, it downloads any new content in your account. You can get free sample chapters of books, so it’s easy to try without spending a dime.

Kicking it around for a few minutes, it’s not bad. Pagination is a bit tiresome, though — you have to slide your finger or thumb across the screen to turn the page. Magnetism’s iPhone edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has a far better pagination UI — you just tap the side of the page. Makes a big difference for an action you have to repeat hundreds of times.

Betting the Company 

Eric Savitz on Palm:

The company this afternoon said it expects to post revenue for its fiscal third quarter ended February 27 of $85 million to $90 million, well below the Street consensus of $157.8 million, and down 71%-73% from a year ago. […] Palm said cash used in operations in the quarter will be $95 million to $100 million, which bring its total cash position down to $215 million to $220 million. Palm said that should be enough cash to meet working capital under its current operating plan — but that it nonetheless is evaluating options for raising more cash.

“Betting the company” is an overused cliché, but in Palm’s case it’s true. They need the Pre to ship on time and they need it to be a hit.

The other interesting tidbit is that Palm will be accounting for Pre revenue on a 24-month subscription basis, just like Apple does with the iPhone.

Does ABC News Understand How Income Tax Works? 

Perfect example of what’s wrong with major corporate news organizations today. As Atrios wrote, it’s hard to tell if they’re playing stupid or really are stupid, but either way, why would anyone want to read something this dumb?

Last Rites 

Thoughtful piece from Mike Davidson on the demise of the newspaper business, and the state of the news industry in general:

We’re uncovering more of the who’s, what’s, when’s, and where’s, but less of the how’s and why’s.

That’s Quite an Argument 

Christopher Dawson, technology director for a public school district in Massachusetts:

However, even iLife has its drawbacks in an educational setting. It simply hands so much to the students that they struggle with software (whether Windows, Linux, or even pro-level software on the Mac) that isn’t so brilliantly plug and play. Yes, iLife rocks in many ways, but the level of spoonfeeding it encourages actually makes me think twice about using it widely, especially at the high school level.

So the problem with Apple’s iLife apps is that they’re too good, and kids never learn that they need to struggle with technical issues before using software to express themselves creatively.

Readability 

Nifty new bookmarklet from Arc90 — lets you change crapped-up hard-to-read web pages into nicely-formatted plain text versions.

New AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule Offer Built-In Dual-Band Networking 

Glenn Fleishman:

With Tuesday’s update to the AirPort Extreme Base Station and Time Capsule, you no longer need to make a choice or connect two different base stations. The revised models offer simultaneous dual-band networking at the same price as previous models: $179 for the Gigabit Ethernet AirPort Extreme, $299 for a Time Capsule with a 500 GB drive, and $499 for a 1 TB Time Capsule. (The terabyte pricing seems ridiculous given that high-end 1 TB drives are now retailing for under $100.)

The New MSI Deja Vu 

Darren Murph at Engadget:

We knew MSI’s newest X-Slim laptops were ultrathin, but it wasn’t until we saw ‘em in person here at CeBIT that we truly appreciated the design. These are definitely amongst the sexiest laptops we’ve seen in some time, though it only took a moment for fingerprints to begin marring the previously flawless glossy top.

Yes, that industrial design is truly to be appreciated, and I certainly haven’t seen anything like it recently.

New Compact USB Keyboard From Apple 

Same no-numeric-keypad layout as the wireless keyboard.

U2’s ‘No Line on the Horizon’ on Sale for $4 at Amazon MP3 Store 

That’s the lowest price I’ve ever seen for a new album from a major act. Also: U2’s playing the Letterman show every night this week. (Via Jason Snell.)

Apple Releases Updates to iMac, Mac Mini, and Mac Pro Lineups 

$1499 now gets you a 24-inch iMac, and the $1199 20-inch iMac now has twice the RAM and storage. The entry-level Mac Pro is $300 cheaper, at $2499.

File this one under “Shaw Wu doesn’t know jack about Apple.”

Flickr Video Improvements 

Better quality for HD video and no longer limited to Pro accounts.

The NewerTech Voyager Q 

Dan Benjamin reviews the NewerTech Voyager Q, a $99 drive dock that lets you use internal hard drives as external storage.

General Mills Retro Cereal Boxes 

I love them all, but the Kix box is simply exquisite. (Via Michele Seiler at Coudal.)

The Pale King 

The Associated Press:

A long, unfinished novel by David Foster Wallace is scheduled for a posthumous release next year. “The Pale King”, excerpted in The New Yorker magazine edition coming out Monday, is set in an Internal Revenue Service office in Illinois in the 1980s.

I presume this is the same novel from which came the “Untitled Chunk” which ran in the Chaffey Review two months ago, given that the narrator of said Chunk was an IRS auditor.

See also: “The Unfinished”, D.T. Max’s massive essay from next week’s New Yorker on Wallace’s life and his struggle to complete The Pale King. (Via The Howling Fantods.)

Warren Buffett’s 2008 Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Letter 

Warren Buffett, in addition to being the most successful investor in modern history, is also a terrific writer. His annual shareholder letters are highly informative, clear, and to-the-point. E.g., regarding the sub-prime mortgage fiasco:

Investors should be skeptical of history-based models. Constructed by a nerdy-sounding priesthood using esoteric terms such as beta, gamma, sigma and the like, these models tend to look impressive. Too often, though, investors forget to examine the assumptions behind the symbols. Our advice: Beware of geeks bearing formulas.

And a willingness to humbly admit and take responsibility for his own mistakes:

I told you in an earlier part of this report that last year I made a major mistake of commission (and maybe more; this one sticks out). Without urging from Charlie or anyone else, I bought a large amount of ConocoPhillips stock when oil and gas prices were near their peak. I in no way anticipated the dramatic fall in energy prices that occurred in the last half of the year. I still believe the odds are good that oil sells far higher in the future than the current $40-$50 price. But so far I have been dead wrong. Even if prices should rise, moreover, the terrible timing of my purchase has cost Berkshire several billion dollars.

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