Marco.org • About ▾

I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

Jared:

Working at Tumblr, I’m the only person in the office without an iPhone.  I own a BlackBerry Curve 8300 and it’s a perfectly fine phone, but its features are incomparable to those of the iPhone.  The only thing keeping me on it is Verizon.  Unlike everyone else here, I get reception at work.  I also get reception everywhere in NYC.  Hell, I get reception virtually everywhere I go.  They don’t, and they probably never will as long as they remain on AT&T (at least in the NYC region).

I was a loyal Verizon customer before moving to the iPhone in late 2007. I frequently travel to the fringes of cellular reception areas, including many areas with zero coverage from any carrier. I’ve found:

  1. AT&T isn’t as bad as many people think.
  2. Verizon isn’t as good as many people think.

Often, I’d be in the car with my iPhone and Tiff’s Verizon phone on a long trip. I found that, in various travels through extremely rural New York and Pennsylvania, neither Verizon nor AT&T had noticeably better coverage. Usually, either both or neither would work. Occasionally, the Verizon phone would work and the AT&T phone wouldn’t, but the opposite was true just as frequently.

New York City’s population density and abundance of huge metal buildings is challenging for any popular cellular network. It’s not a question of adding more towers — the problem is likely to be that there are so many towers to provide the necessary capacity that they overlap too much and interfere with each other. The bands are full. We’re saturated.

AT&T’s data network is definitely slow and congested here. So is Verizon’s voice network. I dropped plenty of voice calls on Verizon, and frequently had trouble placing or receiving calls even with full “bars” — the telltale sign of CDMA tower congestion. Tiff had the same problem, so I know it wasn’t just my phone. I also used two different Verizon phones in New York — one, the E815, known for having amazing reception — before switching to the iPhone. And I’m still a Verizon customer for my EVDO USB stick.

AT&T already expanded capacity onto the 850 MHz band in some big metro areas over the last few months. It helped, I think, but not enough to beat Verizon’s wide-open data speeds. But when Verizon finally gets some smartphones that normal people will actually want to use for mobile web browsing and music streaming, their network will buckle under the same pressure. In that way, it’s actually in Verizon’s customers’ best interests that the Droid doesn’t sell very well.

Due to the congestion, neither carrier is particularly good or reliable for voice. But today, Verizon is much better for data in Manhattan than AT&T.

The fastest and most reliable network in Manhattan for both voice and data is actually Sprint, because it has a very advanced EVDO deployment that’s used by almost nobody, relative to Verizon or AT&T, and therefore suffers none of the congestion problems. But Sprint has its own problems: in addition to mediocre device selection, the coverage isn’t as good as Verizon or AT&T. First-party tower preference kills most of the advantage of being able to roam onto Verizon’s network.

So it comes down to your needs. For me, my phone is a personal computer most of the time, and it’s occasionally used to make or receive phone calls. Most data is downloaded over WiFi, with occasional small transfers over the cellular network. Network flakiness hurts me less than device flakiness. For me, therefore, the device is much more important than the network, because I’m using the device much more than I’m using the network.

If you make a lot of phone calls, use a ton of cellular data, or frequently travel to Vermont, and will accept more shortcomings and limitations in your device to ensure the use of a better data network, you should consider Verizon. But if your phone is more of a pocket computer than a mobile telephone, the iPhone is the only way to go.

As a culture, we don’t particularly care about animal suffering—so long as we don’t have to know about it.

Dan

Now testing: New text parser with much higher filtering accuracy and inline image support.

In about 20 years, these people will live in a world where those same people WILL be able to get married, and they will have to shamefully explain to their grandkids why they were on the front page of the newspaper celebrating an ignorant and hopeless cause.

TheGreg on Maine’s victory of bigotry

The Exit Strategy NYC subway app just got a massive upgrade, turning it from a fun novelty to a full-fledged subway map. The street maps are amazing — it’s now an entire offline street-level map of Manhattan and some parts of the other boroughs, including address ranges on each block.

   

It would have finally dethroned iTrans NYC as my frequently recommended subway app of choice, but it still lacks some iTrans features that I love and use frequently: train schedules, service advisories, GPS location detection, and directions.

I wish one of these apps would integrate the features of the other so I could keep my app count down. Until then, they’re both so good that I’ll gladly keep them both installed.

I’m usually pretty bad about remembering to empty the Trash, but I think this is a personal record.

But this isn’t really about what you think god wants, is it? You’re using the bible as an excuse for your own prejudices, selectively quoting the parts you happen to agree with. The old testament also states that you’re not allowed to shave your beard and that you must stone adulterers and disobedient children. It forbids wearing cloth made out of a mix of wool and linen. It states that women who have their period must not be touched for seven days. So, how many disobedient children have you stoned recently?

LKM’s stuff (via chartier)

If you are demanding registration before checkout, you need to cease this practice immediately. It is costing you a fortune.

Tog: How to Achieve Painless Registration

Langer: “The guys in the office knew I was freaking out about turning thirty, so they got me a birthday cake in hexadecimal to help soften the blow.”

What we know about eating animals is that we don’t want to know.

The New Yorker: Should you eat meat?

Dear Every Site That Paginates Articles

I’m sure you split stories like this into two pages for a good reason: to save my bandwidth. After all, the remaining 3,126 characters of the story’s body (1,530 bytes as transferred with gzip compression) would have increased the page’s total size by 0.32%.

No, I’m just yanking your chain. I know you’re double-charging your advertisers for the same story by artificially inflating your pageview count. It’s just like the old auto-frame-refresh trick, but this one’s better because most of the ad networks haven’t banned it yet. That’s their problem, right? Why should you leave money on the table? You’re a business.

But it doesn’t really work as well as you had hoped because only a tiny percentage of viewers will actually read page two. You know that, but you don’t care, because you won’t give up a chance to make a few extra cents. Who cares if it annoys the crap out of that tiny slice of your audience? Who are they, anyway? The people who actually read your content thoroughly instead of skimming the headline and moving on? That can’t possibly be your most important audience segment — they’re just the most involved and attentive. Repeat customers. You already have their “eyeballs” that you can sell to your real customers. And these dupes get their eyeballs double-counted. What a steal!

Keep up the great work, publishers.

The DMCA takedown problem

A lot of people were talking about the “secret copyright treaty” last week, but most of the cited scary parts are already U.S. law that we’re trying to get everyone else to enforce the same way.

This is the truly scary part of today’s system:

…”notice-and-takedown” rules that require ISPs to remove any material that is accused — again, without evidence or trial — of infringing copyright. This has proved a disaster in the US and other countries, where it provides an easy means of censoring material, just by accusing it of infringing copyright.

Here’s how this system is supposed to work (approximately — I am neither a laywer nor an expert on this):

  1. Someone posts copyright-infringing material on a site.
  2. The copyright owner sends a DMCA takedown notice to the site’s owner, its hosting company, or Google.
  3. The recipient must either remove the cited material within a very short time (usually 24-48 hours) or file a counter-notice asserting that they believe the takedown notice is invalid.

In practice, it doesn’t always work smoothly. The person receiving the notices, usually someone at the hosting company, isn’t a copyright lawyer, as lawyers are expensive. Every incentive encourages a fast, blind takedown. Questioning weak or ambiguous claims costs a fortune and invites liability.

Here’s what happens, in practice, if a copyright owner sends an invalid or questionable takedown notice to a host or Google:

The takedown system is unreliable, and putting any faith in it raises some questions:

Most takedown notices are probably valid and sent by lawyers, right?

No. Anyone can send them, and most people aren’t copyright experts.

Well, the infringement decision is usually straightforward and obvious, right?

No. There’s a lot of gray area, and many claims are impossible to verify. Hosts always err on the side of caution, assuming that every takedown notice is valid and the only possible outcome is the prompt removal of the content. Google apparently doesn’t bother even looking.

The copyright holder’s identity is verified somehow, right?

No. Anyone can send a takedown notice with a single email or by filling out a single web form from anywhere, potentially via anonymizing proxies, claiming to be anyone else. I’ve never seen any hosts or site owners who took even the most rudimentary measures to verify the claimed identity of notice authors. Google probably runs a sophisticated identity verification algorithm: if (1).

This isn’t a good combination.

Anyone can force any content on nearly any site hosted in the U.S. to be taken down or removed from Google’s index, at least for a while, with no ramifications, liability, or traceability by filling out a simple web form or sending an email.

An attacker could republish this post on another blog, give it yesterday’s date, and send an email to The Planet claiming that this is infringing their copyright. Within a couple of days, this post would be gone, and I’d have no recourse.

Much of this system is necessary, and there’s a lot of of gray area. I don’t know how to fix it, but it needs to be fixed.

’90s rock bands that disappeared for a while but produced surprisingly good albums recently that nobody knows about

Hey guys, check out my fancy unboxing video of the new Apple Magic Mouse!

The new Magic Mouse, left, replacing my huge, awesome, but flaky MX Revolution.

I didn’t want to like this mouse.

Apple’s previous mice haven’t quite agreed with me. The Mighty Mouse, and the ball-less, no-button wonder before it, seemed to put form over function in the worst, Steve-Jobs-glass-laptop-screen way.

The MX Revolution after a year

Logitech’s premium mice follow the opposite design paradigm: make a big honking thing full of buttons and wheels with 13 different functions. The MX Revolution is a great mouse for many reasons, but the real revolution was the weighty, flywheel-like scroll wheel that moves in the normal notchy, incremental way unless you flick it quickly, at which point it unlocks from notchy mode and free-spins until stopped. This is an amazingly useful and intuitive function when scrolling through very long content, like a long web page, large documents, or an iPhoto library.

But it comes with a cost. Setting the auto-unlock wheel mode requires the Logitech software, which screws with the standard OS X pointer sensitivity and scrolling acceleration. To get mine to work the way it should, I had to install Logitech’s software to enable the auto-unlock wheel, uninstall it, and install SteerMouse instead to enable most other functionality.

In addition to the software complexity, a more fatal flaw with the MX Revolution at my work computer drives me crazy: at least once per day, the mouse becomes unresponsive for a few seconds, then reactivates at factory defaults with no auto-unlock wheel and no button mappings. These features only reactivate if I unplug and replug its USB receiver, a procedure that I’ve now become quite good at performing. I had a warranty replacement sent from Logitech, but it has other strange issues and a completely different-feeling and less-precise scroll wheel, so I don’t use it. In addition, the MX Revolution in my home setup has started suffering from quirky behavior.

With three different MX Revolutions flaking out in three different ways, I was ready for a change. But the auto-unlock wheel is so helpful in my everyday tasks that I didn’t want to give it up.

The Magic Mouse

Fortunately, Apple provided an alternative with the Magic Mouse. Inertia scrolling, optional but enabled by default, makes the scrolling continue slightly after you stop the scrolling gesture, similar to scrolling views on the iPhone.

I tried a Magic Mouse and was very impressed, so I took the risk and bought one. So far, only two days in, I love it. Inertia scrolling is intuitive and well-executed, and I can use it just like I used the MX Revolution’s auto-unlocking wheel: flick quickly to scroll a lot, tap to stop.

It’s tiny, which seems like it would be an issue with comfort or ergonomics. So far, it hasn’t been.

Beyond scrolling, I haven’t used any of the touch gestures yet. I suspect that attempting to do them on a mouse, which is likely to move itself and your pointer while you perform each gesture, is less convenient than performing them on a bigger, flatter, stationary trackpad. (I don’t use the non-scrolling gestures on the laptop trackpads, either.)

It still has the inconvenient behavior of Apple’s recent mice that requires you to lift your left finger off of the mouse in order to right-click. This hasn’t been a huge problem for me, although I have accidentally sent a left-click event when I intended a right-click a few times.

Time will tell how reliable it is. It seems solid so far, but it’s only been two days.

And it provides huge advantages in simplicity: no software, no USB dongle, no charging cradle, no buttons, no wheels. With just one big surface on top and two thin low-friction rails to make contact with the desk on the bottom, it’s even easy to clean.

So far, it’s surprisingly good, and I’m finally going to unplug and pack away my tragically flaky MX Revolutions.

Now he mostly answers email, and occasionally finds time to actually program.

Regarding and possibly by Loren Brichter: a succinct explanation of an independent developer’s life.

Thick people doing thick things is not funny. Clever people doing clever things is not funny. But clever people doing thick things really is funny.

A Top Gear editor

I don’t even know what to say about Merlin’s post. I’m honored. Beyond honored. Speechless. (But you know that I don’t stay speechless for long.)

Normally, when someone publicly says something so nice, most people wouldn’t call attention to it. It’s considered arrogant or immodest. But I think it would be more rude for me to pretend that he didn’t write it or that I didn’t see it or that I wasn’t completely honored by it. And I’d like to expand on the other point he’s making.

If you don’t like hearing two people each talking about how great the other is, you should probably skip this post. Go ahead, scroll past — I won’t take offense. Come back next week to read my latest incorrect Apple predictions. There! Some modesty. But really, my predictions are hilariously bad. Check out this gem on my old site, written three months before the iPhone’s unveiling.

Merlin’s too modest to tell you a few additional details about the story. The Kindle feature, for instance, was his idea. He emailed me last spring, asking very nicely if I’d consider implementing it. When Merlin Mann gives you an idea, you take it, because it’s probably a very good idea. And it was. (Unfortunately, getting the auto-delivery through Amazon’s transfer service is so unreliable that I’m about to release a replacement that’s slightly more manual but 100% reliable. But that’s an implementation detail.)

Back to the point: We’re all in this together. It’s an entire ecosystem. And that’s why Merlin’s article isn’t just about me. (I’m already embarrassed enough to be featured so prominently in the title — when I read it, while painfully waiting for the article’s body to load over my slow cellular connection on the train, I thought I was getting in trouble for something.)

The bigger message isn’t that everyone should write bookmarklets or attempt to send automated emails to Amazon’s Kindle conversion service, but that they should choose to consume (and, if you can, produce) high-quality work in their preferred medium. Mine, and Merlin’s, is text.

I can’t understate the importance of this demand. Instapaper is useless without the two key ingredients that it was created to bring together: high-quality text content and people who choose to read it. And neither ingredient can exist without the other.

I often hear people defending their “guilty pleasure” habit of subscribing to awful blogs or reading tabloids or watching bad TV with phrases like “It’s good sometimes” or “It’s not that bad” or “I have to follow what’s happening.”

There’s only so much time in the day, and only so many days in our lives. There’s enough great work out there that you don’t need to waste any time with anything that isn’t great.

Do you really need to subscribe to that collection of RSS feeds that cumulatively publish hundreds of items per day? If you currently do (I’ve been there), do you really need to read every headline? Exercise: Don’t open your feed reader for a week. Did you miss anything?

Do you watch TV because it’s there, or because you really want to be watching that show? Exercise: Cancel your cable service and just get the really great shows from Netflix or iTunes. When you’re out of shows for a few days and you have some free time, do anything else. You’ll save a bundle of money that you can spend on anything else. Sign up for cable again when you really think it’s worth the time and money. (For most people who try this, that day never comes.)

I can’t give you advice on how to be a better producer. Merlin’s the guy for that. But I’ll do my best to convince you to be a better consumer.

Instapaper is one small part of that. Give Me Something To Read is another.

I’ll even now offer you my hosts-file target IP that I’ve been using. It’s on an old server that I need to operate for a while. Just map any domain you never want to accidentally visit (like if an RSS item or bit.ly link sends you there without warning) to 66.135.33.106 in your hosts file. Here’s an example from mine:

66.135.33.106   www.techcrunch.com

Where technology can’t be your guard rail, start enforcing a higher standard with self-control. Do you really need to watch that show or eat at that fast-food restaurant or spend twenty seconds of every day skimming that blog’s headlines? Is it really a net gain?

Life’s too short to drink bad coffee or read bad blogs.

Make the effort to care.

Orbital for iPhone is a ridiculously good game.

So far, I’ve managed to hit 38 in Gravity and 12 in Pure. And I can’t stop playing it.

I finally had a good camera with me when the work lights were on.

Words That We, As An Internet, Have Overused And Are No Longer Permitted To Use

This is why we can’t have nice things.

I hope Chrome OS isn’t anything like the attitude portrayed by the guy doing this voice-over.

Hope

I’ve mostly stopped writing about the dismal App Store approval process and the issues it causes because I’ve felt hopeless. Nothing has changed. Nothing has improved. Despite some token status-reporting “improvement” attempts, nearly everything about the App Store is the same, or worse, than it was a year ago.

The average review time has nearly doubled. There are more undocumented rules being enforced less consistently than ever before. Apple is as just as opaque, unhelpful, and hostile as they’ve been. Unscrupulous publishers are gaming and abusing rankings, search results, and descriptions like crazy. Invalid or off-topic reviews are still rarely removed, and the rate-on-delete dialog still unfairly destroys every app’s average star rating. It’s a mess.

But I like it here.

A lot of things are wrong with my country, too. And my state. But it’s still the only place I want to be, and I’d rather fight to improve it than abandon it.

I don’t want to go to any other mobile platform. The iPhone is still an amazing device with a great hardware and software ecosystem and hundreds of high-quality apps. But app review is a massive problem that’s slowly degrading the platform.

This can only be fixed with a major policy change.

The people at Apple capable of changing this (a very high-level executive at least, but probably only Jobs) couldn’t possibly care less when any single developer leaves the platform or makes a stink, even if it’s Google, because it ultimately doesn’t generate a lot of bad press outside of geek circles.

But they hate bad mainstream press. And the amount of negative attention surrounding app review is finally reaching a level that inspires hope — hope that the shitstorm may finally be large enough to cause a policy change.

Any policy change would require a lot of work, technically. It’s unlike Apple to announce any upcoming changes before their release. If such a policy change happens, the decision will have probably been made at least a few months beforehand.

I suspect that we’re crossing that point now, and the decision is about to be made (or recently has been made) to abolish what we know of today as app review.

I have no idea what would replace it, or whether its replacement would be significantly better. But it’s not like Apple to sit on their hands with such a high-profile part of their product line and do nothing to improve it.

Maybe this is just blind hope. It’s certainly not based on any information. It’s a hunch at best. But I can hope.

So I bought [a new iMac], but I bought it, for the first time, with misgivings. I felt the way I’d feel buying something made in a country with a bad human rights record. That was new. In the past when I bought things from Apple it was an unalloyed pleasure. Oh boy! They make such great stuff. This time it felt like a Faustian bargain. They make such great stuff, but they’re such assholes. Do I really want to support this company?

Paul Graham: Apple’s Mistake

Today at work, I’ve:

I like working at a small company where such a great variety of tasks is common for one person to perform.

Cynical-C Blog: (via Paul Scheer)

On November 20, 2009, at a Borders bookstore in Columbus, Ohio, Sarah Palin held a book signing event in support of “Going Rogue”. Palin’s supporters wanted her to run for the presidency, but they weren’t exactly sure what she’d do as president. Short on specifics, most of them were uncertain what her policy positions are. They just felt that they liked her. She’s “real”. And that the solution to all of our country’s problems—health care, energy, the deficit, unemployment, and the economy—was to cut taxes and lower spending, and Palin, they said, would solve them by doing just that.

This is one of the scariest movies I’ve seen in a long time.

But apparently the [Wall Street Journal] believes this stuff serves a purpose. Like FAUX News, they are providing an alternative reality for their partisan audience. Accuracy is irrelevant. …

Most of us came to the conclusion during the Bush years (if we hadn’t previously) that it was actually important that the people running our government be hitched to reality and base their policies on actual facts. I know this may sound unduly partisan, but it seems increasingly that Republicans believe that anything can be true if you just want it badly enough to be so.

daggatt blog: the weird turn pro

A pocketable camera for an SLR nerd

I used to carry my SLR and laptop with me in my huge backpack every day, but a few changes have resulted in almost never bringing my camera day-to-day anymore:

I’ve started considering getting a second, inexpensive camera that’s small and light enough that I could keep it in a jacket pocket or a small bag without much of a weight cost.

Compact cameras and I don’t usually get along because we have very different priorities: I like optical and technical perfection with available manual controls, and don’t care much for most consumer-oriented features (like face detection, lots of “scene” modes, huge zoom ranges at the expense of optical quality, and insanely high pixel densities at the expense of noise). Compact cameras are almost always designed for the opposite type of consumer that I am because there are a lot more of them.

Compact cameras targeted at people like me do exist: Gruber’s favorites, the Ricoh GR Digital series, are great examples. But they’re limited, expensive, and rare.

Then there’s the iPhone dilemma: I already have an iPhone 3GS, which contains a passable camera for many situations. It’s a huge improvement over the fixed-focus iPhone 3G camera, but it’s nowhere near the optical quality and versatility of a lens and sensor larger than the tip of a ballpoint pen. But it’s always with me, always charged, and much more versatile in software and on-the-go actions. It’s therefore much more difficult to justify a standalone compact camera to sit between the iPhone and the 5D Mark II, especially since most of them wouldn’t satisfy my needs very well anyway.

But today, Nora tipped me off to the relatively new Canon S90.

Let’s see: small size, great image quality, RAW shooting, manual controls, not too expensive.

We may have a winner.

I need to play with one of these in person. Then I need to convince Tiff to let me jump over the iPhone dilemma.

Or maybe I just need to suck it up and carry a moderately heavy bag every day again.

Wow. I’ve never received as much encouraging feedback in such a short time, via both email and reblogs, as I have after suggesting that I might be interested in purchasing a Canon PowerShot S90.

This thing has a quite a fan club.

Ken Rockwell said about it:

Buy an S90. The S90 is one of those cameras that will get more and more popular throughout its typically short product cycle life, and then the prices will skyrocket as it goes out of stock just at the peak of demand. Order yours today to avoid the rush.

Order it while you can, since I see the S90 as being a camera that is so good that Canon and dealers will underestimate its popularity, making it very hard to get with long wait times after its first introduction. If you want one, order one now since otherwise you may have a long wait after they hit the street and people see how great they are.

That hasn’t quite panned out, but that doesn’t mean it won’t. Even though I don’t agree with a lot of what Ken Rockwell says, that’s a strong recommendation.

The decision for me is really between the S90 and nothing. If I were to get a compact camera to fill this role, it’s clearly the best option.

You don’t charge the search engines to send people to articles on your site, you pay them.

If you can’t make money from attention, you should do something else for a living. Charging money for attention gets you neither money nor attention.

Seth Godin (via AZspot)

Another reason I love the 15” MacBook Pro: The MacBook Air could never run two simultaneous transfers when transferring big video files from my desktop for a plane ride, especially not at anywhere near this speed. (17 MB/s up from SD card, 77 MB/s down to disk.)

I’ve never even seen a non-SSD laptop drive that could perform a sustained write at over 50 MB/s.

I got the S90. Seems like a perfect fit for what I want. Thanks for the helpful feedback and emails, everyone.

Instead of trying to spin the issue with BusinessWeek, however, Apple should put effort into actually changing what happens behind the scenes. If the approval process were to be significantly improved, it would generate far more positive PR for Apple than Schiller has with this most recent attempt to placate the concerns of the tech press.

Schiller’s spin on App Store issues ignores real complaints

Well, the S90 is no 5D Mark II, but it served its purpose last night on my trip to the airport: burdened with baggage and with only one hand free, I never could have taken this if I only had the big camera. Even if I had it packed, I never would have been able to get it out of the bag and take the shot with only one hand. With the S90, I just reached into my jacket pocket.

Ohio.

What am I not grateful for this Thanksgiving? Being the guy who ‘knows stuff about computers’.

Matt Langer

I’m thankful for being able to raid my mother’s classic-rock collection.

Thanksgiving: A United States holiday commemorated by adults traveling back to their hometowns, enjoying their family for a while, exhausting most conversational possibilities after a day, becoming bored senseless, realizing that there’s still three more days left in the weekend, meeting up with old friends who are also in town for the weekend and similarly bored, learning that absolutely no nearby bars or coffee shops are open (or exist), and realizing that the only thing to do is to drink their parents’ liquor and play Euchre like naughty high-schoolers, except that they were too nerdy to drink their parents’ liquor in high school, so they’re doing it at age 27 instead when it’s far less cool and rebellious but far more obvious as the best choice they have at the moment to pass the time and enjoy themselves.

Even with most venues open tonight, we decided that we actually had the right idea last night and just needed to add a few more people and upgrade the bourbon quality.

Tiff and I have completed the airport ritual of aggressively removing all subscription cards, blow-ins, thick bound-in ads, ad jackets, and other nonsense before reading the magazines we’ve purchased.

Starbucks VIA “Ready Brew” instant coffee

I actually bought something at Starbucks.

I actually bought instant coffee.

I actually bought instant coffee at Starbucks.

And it wasn’t awful.

All of these should come as a surprise to anyone who knows me, but was in exactly the situation that I hoped it would be good for: air travel.

Airplane coffee is awful. Even JetBlue’s, despite the claim to have “fresh” Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, is awful. (Not that Dunkin’ Donuts is an ambitious goal.) You can count on airplane coffee being abysmal. But you can also count on any plane with beverage service to be able to give you a cup of hot water instead.

I didn’t like Starbucks VIA as much as Dan Benjamin did, but I can honestly say that it’s not bad.

VIA comes in two flavors: Italian Roast (“Extra Bold”) and Columbia (“Medium”). The Italian Roast tastes burnt and flat — definitely not recommended. But the Columbia provided a much more full-bodied, complex flavor than I ever expected from a packet of powder with a Starbucks logo on the front. The rest of this review is only referring to the Columbia.

It tastes much better than any coffee I’ve ever been served at Starbucks.

There’s a small amount of fine sediment left at the bottom of the cup, but it’s very minor — much less than you’d get from a typical French press.

While I disagree with Dan Benjamin on how it stacks up against well-made drip coffee, I agree with his statement on the quality relative to typically bad-coffee settings:

It’s as good or better than the coffee you’d find in a decent restaurant. It’s much better than any coffee I’ve made in a hotel room, while camping, or while on a road-trip. And of course, it’s far superior to any instant coffee I’ve ever tasted.

The tiny 4-ounce cups that Delta gave me provided a very good water ratio for a single VIA packet. Starbucks recommends one packet to 8 ounces of water, but that would be far too weak.

I can’t imagine ever wanting to make this at home or work, since I already have better coffee regularly available. But at a tenth of an ounce and just under $1 per packet, it’s not ridiculous to carry a few around while traveling.

I’m impressed.

Here’s a shitty photo of an airplane wing, shot through a dirty, scratched window with a point-and-shoot digital camera. You’ve seen a million of these before.

It’s also an amateur aerial photo of New York City. Jamaica Bay, specifically, during a typical descent into JFK. I think that’s Rockaway Park in the bottom-right. You’ve definitely seen a million of these before.

Fortunately, I’m not posting it for its photographic or artistic value.

I’m posting it because this view makes me happy every time, and I always look out the window like an excited child seeing a city from an airplane for the first time. It’s my “welcome home” view, and it’s incredibly impressive regardless of how many times I’ve seen it before. (Pittsburgh residents are familiar with the sudden, amazing view of their city when entering via the Fort Pitt Tunnel. This is the New York version.)

Whenever I return to New York from a trip, I look forward to this, and it reminds me how lucky I am to live in a city that I like this much.

Buying any e-book reader now is a gamble. Every model has access to a different catalog of books, some of which are restricted by copy-protection schemes. This leads to a classic early-adopter format dilemma: Say you’ve got 30 e-books on the Kindle you purchased two years ago. Now you’re in the market for a new reader, and you’re leaning toward the Nook because it lets you share books with your friends. Tough luck—those Kindle books won’t work on your Nook. Or imagine you buy the Nook today, but by 2012 Barnes & Noble decides to quit the e-book business because it can’t compete with Amazon. Too bad—your Nook will be about as useful as an HD-DVD player.

Farhad Manjoo (via azspot)

Very few people complained about iTunes DRM because they all had iPods anyway, and DRM lock-in was mostly a theoretical and ideological problem — “What if I wanted to switch away from iPods someday?” Nobody ever did.

This hasn’t been a problem yet for ebooks because the Kindle has been the only game in town. (Sony Readers have never sold well enough, or with a large enough commercial book catalog, for anyone to complain.) Now that there’s (probably) about to be real competition in the ebook-reader market, this is going to be a huge problem for long-term customer satisfaction and word-of-mouth referrals. As soon as someone mentions these new book-reading gadgets at the dinner table, Uncle Whoever is going to chime in with, “You know, those things only read their company’s books! I saw it on the news last week. You have to buy all of your books again when you get a new one! Those crooks!”

Regular people don’t know or care about what publishers demand or that they can “lend” books to each other for a few days if they happen to know more than one person with one particular type of ebook reader that currently has an installed base of zero.

It’s staggering really that modern American Christianism supports wealth while Jesus demanded total poverty, fetishizes family while Jesus left his and urged his followers to abandon wives, husbands and children, champions politics while Jesus said his kingdom was emphatically not of this world, defends religious war where Jesus sought always peace, and backs torture, which is what the Romans did to Jesus. At some point these charlatans need to be chased out of the temple. Which these days means the Republican party.

Andrew Sullivan (via azspot)

Dear President Obama,

Do you really want to be the new “war president”? If you go to West Point tomorrow night and announce that you are increasing, rather than withdrawing, the troops in Afghanistan, you are the new war president. Pure and simple. And with that you will do the worst possible thing you could do — destroy the hopes and dreams so many millions have placed in you. With just one speech tomorrow night you will turn a multitude of young people who were the backbone of your campaign into disillusioned cynics. You will teach them what they’ve always heard is true — that all politicians are alike. I simply can’t believe you’re about to do what they say you are going to do. Please say it isn’t so.

An Open Letter to President Obama from Michael Moore

So far, I haven’t seen anything from the Obama administration that comes anywhere close to my most modest, conservative expectations for policy change.

Sure, Obama has only been in office for about a year and he still has a lot of Bush’s mess to clean up. But I don’t even see that happening particularly effectively.

Instead, I see a lot of unnecessary “compromise” with Republicans and right-wing nutjobs. (“Compromise” is not an effective word to describe a situation in which every concession comes from the more-powerful side and the less-powerful side is irrational and crazy.) I see a lot of policy decisions not being made and a lot of action not being taken. I see the government playing softball with big business, even when it goes against stated policy goals. I see nearly every harmful Bush-administration policy untouched or strengthened. And I see an increasing disconnect between the priorities of the administration and the opinions of actual voters.

What part of this is the “change” Obama spoke of? What part should give us the “hope” that we were promised?

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