Marco.org • About ▾

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

Participating in today’s Tumblr Pic Pick theme of “beginnings”, here’s a photo of the beginning of Tumblr from April 20, 2007.

That’s my desk on the left, David on the right. Today, it looks like this. (Brownpau did a great animated GIF comparison.)

The misnaming tic

People frequently screw up names in the same ways.

Mac often becomes “MAC”. I don’t know why. Names of other computer-related products aren’t usually accidentally capitalized. Nobody says ITUNES or EXCEL.

The iPod Touch1 gets hit hard, too, by people calling it the “iTouch”. These are often knowledgeable people — even Don Norman called it that in this great talk about design and attention to detail. Nobody has ever said iMini or iNano or iVideo — in fact, people would look at you funny if you asked them if they had seen your iNano anywhere — but “iTouch” has nearly become the universally recognized name for the iPod Touch.

I get it all the time with my own name. “Hi, I’m Marco.” Easy, right? Within minutes of meeting me, it’ll often be screwed up as “Marcus”. Fine, Marco is an uncommon name in the U.S., and these people probably haven’t met any others. But isn’t it likely that they haven’t met anyone named Marcus either? And why Marcus? They never call me by any other incorrect names. Just that one.

Maybe these common, consistent mistakes are like a mental “snap to grid” feature, because people are wired to remember names in certain ways. When something is misaligned according to our norm, we have a very hard time getting it right and will predictably screw it up in the same way at a large scale. And these norms seem largely disconnected from education levels or demographics, suggesting more universal traits of how we remember and process names.

If this is true, I wonder if there’s a way to predict and avoid these cognitive misalignments when naming new things.


  1. Yes, I know it’s officially capitalized as “iPod touch” by Apple. I consider that a stylized trademark for which non-Apple writers need to apply more normal styling, like substituting “Macy’s” for the technically correct “macy*s”. 

Great since day one

The original iPhone was great on day one. It couldn’t do as much as today’s iPhone, but it performed its feature-set extremely well. There were almost no rough edges or unpolished areas in its hardware or software, and nearly everything seemed justifiable, well conceived, and well executed.

Apple tends to do that a lot. It’s deeply ingrained in their culture, priorities, and product development practices. In brief, their philosophy seems to be to ship only what’s great and leave out the rest. That’s why, instead of having a bad copy-and-paste implementation for the iPhone’s first two years, we just didn’t have one at all.

Android as a platform, both in hardware and software, doesn’t reflect this. Nearly every hardware and software release has major shortcomings or rough edges. Many details and design decisions are lacking, wrong, or inexplicable.

Neither Google nor the current Android device manufacturers embody the part of Apple’s culture that allows them to release a great product on day one. They have a different pattern: It’s always getting better. We’re always supposedly one or two releases from it being really great.

Much like desktop Linux.

The joke of “next year will be the year of Linux on the desktop” is almost as old as the internet, but it’s true: desktop-Linux fans always say it’s “getting better”, and there’s always a major distribution update a few months away that’s about to be awesome. But it never is. And it never will be, because the reasons why desktop Linux isn’t awesome today will still hold tomorrow: it’s still an extremely fragmented development community for which the non-geek user experience is one of the lowest priorities.

What keeps nearly every Android device and OS release from being truly great are deep-rooted issues that have no apparent solution for the foreseeable future. The device manufacturers aren’t very good at software, yet they keep writing their own. The OS has no consistent hardware platform to target. The manufacturers produce devices with inconsistent build quality (the Droid’s battery door, the Nexus One’s button misalignment) and lots of why-is-this-here moments (the Droid’s keyboard, the Nexus One’s trackball). The current must-have Android phone changes every few months, and they’re often radically different from each other, making it difficult for consumers, developers, the press, and the carriers to build loyalty toward any of them or entrench them in the market. The OS needs to be updated over the air with three involved parties, only one of whom is motivated to update it. Features are added when they can be, not when (or if) they should be, or if they can be done well. Nearly every usability detail appears to be an afterthought, as if “design” is relegated to a coat of paint at the end of the development cycle rather than a deep-rooted philosophy throughout it.

How many of these problems will be significantly alleviated or eliminated in three months? How about in three years?

The Android ecosystem doesn’t seem capable of producing devices that are great on day one. Yet Apple consistently pulls it off.

I never make technology-buying decisions based on future promises, rumors, or potential. I let other people be the bleeding-edge extremely early adopters, and I stick with what I know will work and stay out of my way. I don’t buy things that are “getting better”, because they usually don’t. Whatever caused them to be lacking in their current release will usually prevent them from being great in future releases.

I buy things that are great today. They’re usually things that have been great since day one. And, more often than not, they’re Apple products.

No one in their right mind would have wished for another Great Depression, of course. But we seem to have got the worst of all worlds. The bank bailout, the stimulus, and the Fed brought us back from the brink just enough to dampen zeal for anything more. As a result, we are now slouching toward a tepid recovery that could just as well fall into a double dip recession, while a large portion of our population suffers immensely.

Robert Reich: Slouching Toward a Double Dip or a Lousy Recovery at Best 

The Grandparents Camera

My grandparents’ film camera finally stopped working, and they asked if I could choose a good digital camera for them. This was easier said than done.

Tiff and I compiled our ideal criteria:

Finding such a camera was amazingly difficult. Because digital cameras are popular consumer electronics, Google was abysmally useless. Honestly, Google should be embarrassed by how bad their search is when looking for product reviews and recommendations. Affiliate-marketing spammers have won. Extremely.

Snapsort was much more helpful. I narrowed it down to a handful of models that looked promising, including some of the new touchscreen cameras, but the internet couldn’t tell me which cameras had the best ergonomics or the easiest interfaces or the fastest autofocus motors. (At least, I couldn’t find honest opinions on these subjective criteria under all of the affiliate spam.)

So we went to B&H and played with nearly every point-and-shoot camera on the market.

It’s interesting how your criteria change when you’re shopping for a different type of customer than yourself. This was the most insightful shopping trip I’ve ever taken. The digital-camera industry, like many other technology industries, is completely ignoring this market. Almost nothing was simple, ergonomic, and low-needs, targeted at an audience that just wants to get something done without needing to care too much about the details.

Megapixels. Scene modes. Video. Effects. GPS. WiFi. All completely irrelevant.

And almost nothing that was relevant to us was advertised or easy to find online.

After an exhaustive search, we ended up with the Canon PowerShot SX120 IS.

(The pictures in this post are from Canon’s website.)

They loved it.

They instantly loved the huge screen. They were quickly able to figure out the controls, and I think they’re comfortable with playback.

It’s not perfect. I could do without most of the buttons on the back. If I were designing a camera for this purpose, it would look more like a VCR, with simple previous/next buttons and Play. That’s it. My grandfather asked what “DISP.” meant. He shouldn’t need to care, and he shouldn’t need to figure out how to change it back if he unknowingly hits it and the screen’s contents change to something unfamiliar.

It’s very comfortable to hold. It’s amply sized, yet not bulky. It was one of the only cameras that had an appropriately sized spot on the back, in the upper-right, to place your right thumb while holding it. It uses normal AA batteries, and we got them some low-self-discharge NiMH rechargeables with a basic wall charger. Its “Easy” mode removes nearly all screen clutter, and its autofocus motor is fast enough that they can skip the half-shutter-press most of the time.

But the zoom slider is physically too difficult to press, partially because its center nub is too small. And the zooming action is too fast: my grandfather commented that it’s difficult to get exactly the right zoom level because it quickly goes past what he intends.

The flash operation is a happy surprise: just pull it up if you want the flash to automatically fire if needed, or keep it down if you don’t want the flash. Simple, tactile, obvious, and sensible.

Another major insight during this process was how nontechnical people can manage SD cards, storage, and backup. My mother got her first digital camera a few years ago, and she never reuses SD cards: she takes pictures until her card is full, and then she buys another card. When she downloads into iPhoto, she tells it not to delete the originals from the card.

At first, I tried to tell her that this was wrong and wasteful, but I’m glad that I lost that argument, because flash memory is very cheap and she now has a backup of every photo she has ever taken.

So The Grandparents Camera works the same way. I got two nice 16 GB SDHC cards for about $30 each, and each one will hold about 6,000 photos. I told my grandmother to take as many pictures as she wanted, and if she ever fills up both cards, to let me know and I’ll send her more. And Tiff told her that whenever she wanted to get anything printed, just bring the camera to a drugstore or camera store and hand it to a teenager working there, and they’ll know what to do.

Easy.

I can confidently recommend the PowerShot SX120 IS as The Grandparents Camera, but I’m not sure how much longer you’ll be able to buy it. Point-and-shoot models are usually discontinued and replaced within two years, at most. And none of the other models from any brands seemed anywhere near as appropriate as this one to be The Grandparents Camera. I fear that soon, nothing will be a good choice for this. And this one isn’t even great for this purpose — it’s just good.

I bet there’s a huge market out there if a manufacturer made a great Grandparents Camera.

The iPhone 4 is great*

The iPhone 4, by most accounts, is absolutely excellent. I love mine. It’s a huge step forward, and all previous iPhones look dated and primitive by comparison.

But there’s a giant asterisk. It has two major flaws, both of which appear to be physical and unsolvable by software updates:

  1. The antenna’s reception severely decreases when the phone is held in an extremely common way. If you hold the phone with your left hand, you probably cause this problem to happen regularly. Every review mentions this issue, and Consumer Reports refuses to recommend the iPhone 4 until (and unless) it’s fixed.
  2. The proximity sensor often fails, causing the user to inadvertently push buttons with their ears and faces during calls. Every iPhone has had a proximity sensor, and none have ever worked poorly or intermittently on a large scale.

Both have been reported and demonstrated by such large numbers of customers that I’m confident that these are not limited to only some iPhone 4 devices. I’m fairly certain that both problems are affecting all iPhone 4s sold so far. They don’t seem to be manufacturing defects limited to a subset of the units.

The proximity sensor issue hasn’t received any official recognition, but Apple Store employees have come up with some creative non-answers.

The bigger issue, and the one that concerns me, is Apple’s response to the antenna issue. Paraphrased, they effectively said that the real issue is that iPhones over-report their reception levels, and their solution is an imminent software update that will display fewer “bars” for much of the signal range.

Unfortunately, that’s a bullshit non-solution. And everyone knows it.

Apple’s arrogance and indifference in issuing this response is disappointing. It’s as if they’re expecting this issue to go away if they just wait long enough and ship enough iPhones. But it won’t. It’s only going to get worse as more people try to exchange their iPhones at the Genius Bar for these two issues, thinking it’s just a problem with their iPhones, and encounter the same problems with every replacement.

AT&T’s miserable network has already given the iPhone a reputation of being a terrible phone that always drops calls. Both of these issues make phone calls significantly worse. And for a phone that’s so great in nearly every other way, usually with such carefully considered design, these are embarrassing flaws that make me suspect that the iPhone 4 was rushed without enough testing because Apple had devoted too much time this spring to the iPad’s release.

To fix the problems, Apple will need to replace, redesign, or relocate the proximity sensor and prevent electrical conductivity between the antenna sections (possibly with an insulating coating on the steel). They can do this with a mid-cycle hardware revision, but they’d face an even more massive PR disaster (and a potential class-action suit) if they didn’t recall all iPhone 4s sold so far for replacement with the fixed models. It would need to be an unconditional (but probably optional) recall.

But I seriously doubt that the same Apple that wrote that giant-middle-finger response to the antenna problem would swallow their own pride enough to admit that they were wrong and conduct a recall on their flagship product.

And that’s a shame, because the temporary negative press from doing a recall is minimal compared to the huge asterisk that everyone will always place next to anything good about the iPhone 4.

Addendum: On free bumpers

A lot of people have suggested that a recall isn’t necessary to fix the antenna issue, since Apple could just give away free Bumpers. I think that’s unlikely. What’s more likely, if Apple chose to go this route, is that they’d come up with something similar in function to the Bumper, but extremely minimal and cheap. Every new iPhone would start coming with it, and existing owners could mail-order one for free upon request. It would work, but would be so basic, ugly, and cheap that it would convince a lot of affected people to just buy a Bumper for $30.

It would be similar to the solution Apple came up with to the original iPod Nano’s scratching issue: they settled the class-action lawsuit ($25 per person) and started including a basic slip-case in the box with all Nanos.

I think, if Apple is going to address this issue, that this sort of solution is the most likely. But this is only a complete solution if the proximity-sensor issue can be fixed in software.

AnandTech on Apple’s iOS 4.0.1 signal-strength meter adjustment. Seems sensible. Click through for more great explanations and illustrations.

Verizon and I haven’t had a great history with data-plan billing. Every time I get a new data device or change its plan, they find a way to screw something up.

This time, they’ve allowed my MiFi to receive (and bill me for) an incoming text message. A text message that the MiFi, and indeed any Verizon data-only modem or similar device, isn’t capable of receiving or displaying to me in any way.

It’s ridiculous that their systems permit devices incapable of text messaging from having this service enabled. But since it’s Verizon, the company that intentionally made millions in extra profit by artificially lengthening the voicemail bumpers, it wouldn’t surprise me if this is malicious. I’m going to pay this extra 20 cents for nothing, and so will everyone else whose data modems get spammed with occasional text messages, since it’s not worth calling them and complaining and risking the further breakage of my plan. (Trust me, they’ll screw it up somehow if they touch it. They always do.)

I’ve been using Verizon data service for about six years, and I always get the impression from their systems, billing, and customer-service reps that I’m the first person to use or ask about any of these things.

My iPhone 4 antenna-gap fix

I hate cases. I hate that they make the phone bigger, look cheap, and increase friction into and out of pockets.

During the Q&A session after yesterday’s press conference, John Gruber asked, “Do any of you use the cases?”

All three executives held up their bare, caseless iPhones. None of them use cases, proving Gruber’s presumably intended point: that fixing the antenna flaw with a case isn’t a very good solution for people like us (and him, and them) who don’t like using cases.

So here’s my solution. Can you see it?

Let me move down a bit and add a ridiculous amount of direct light. (Please pardon the dust.)

See it now?

It’s the tape trick, but with an excellent substitute for the tape: invisibleSHIELD film. It fits right over the gap and covers the entire left side, so when it’s held left-handed (as I always hold mine), there’s no electrical bridging.

Here’s the start and end of the tape, in case you missed it: (I didn’t cut the left edge very well.)

ZAGG now offers a “sides only” sheet of invisibleSHIELD film, but when I ordered mine, they only had options for the front and rear of the iPhone 4. (I wanted to cover only the rear glass. I don’t like the texture or clarity enough to apply it to the front.)

It comes on rectangular sheets like this:

After peeling out the pre-cut sections of film for the front and/or rear, you’re left with a border that’s exactly the width of the iPhone 4’s steel sides. I applied this strip to this side, then applied a second one to the opposite side of the phone, going right over the SIM tray (if I ever need to get to it, I’ll peel off the film) and stopping just short of the sleep/wake button.

So, you’re probably wondering how well it works.

I have no idea. AT&T service in New York is still mediocre and spotty, but AT&T service in New York has always been mediocre and spotty. But I can’t reproduce the dramatic bar-drop caused by touching the gap.

I expect the results to be similar to what AnandTech got when they tested it with tape and gloves: the -24.6 dB affect on signal strength by a bare grip is probably reduced to approximately -16.6 dB, which is better than a Nexus One (-17.7 dB) and almost as good as a 3GS (-14.3 dB). And since the iPhone 4 seems to make better use of low signal strength than the 3GS did, I’m tentatively calling this a win.

And subjectively, I like the feel of the film, especially on the back. It increases friction, making the iPhone slide less on flat surfaces and making me feel (whether true or not) that I have a better grip on it, but without the pocket friction and added size of the Apple Bumper.

Dan Savage’s thoughts on the moral outrage about ‘sexting’ (via inky, mappeal)

Fair warning: This contains a lot of profanity. If that offends you or if you are in an environment where that could get you in trouble, keep scrolling.

It’s a generational paranoia because young people are doing something that old people didn’t, because they couldn’t, and now can’t, because no one wants to see them naked.

He makes some very good points about what each generation considers acceptable and how the outrage over “sexting” is itself so often rooted in sexism and the control and perceived ownership of women.

It is nice to be able to just do a down load and fix a problem. No postage and very little down time, it beats waiting for the brown truck to show up.

ChasinGame, a website that reviews a type of product that I didn’t know existed until a few hours ago, when I needed to pick out a good one for family members.

A rare look into another world.

Busy day on the Hudson.

Also, I love my camera.

Love the photo. (via inky)

I think we should build nothing but shrines [at Ground Zero]. One of every kind of church. Spare no expense. I thought they should move Shea Stadium there. That’s another kind of shrine. No serious business at Ground Zero from now on. Just contemplation, prayer, reflection and baseball.

Dave Winer

The President should stop talking and acting on anything else – not the deficit, not energy, not the environment, not immigration, not implementing the health care law, not education. He should make the whole upcoming mid-term election a national referendum on putting Americans back to work, and his jobs bill. Are you for it or against it?

But none of this is happening. The hawks and blue dogs are still commanding the attention. Herbert Hoover’s ghost seems to have captured the nation’s capital. We’re back to 1932 (or 1937) and the prevailing sentiment is government can’t and mustn’t do anything but aim to reduce the deficit, even though the economy is going down.

Robert Reich 

Cow Clicker:

You get a cow. You can click on it. In six hours, you can click it again. Clicking earns you clicks. You can buy custom “premium” cows through micropayments (the Cow Clicker currency is called “mooney”), and you can buy your way out of the time delay by spending it. You can publish feed stories about clicking your cow, and you can click friends’ cow clicks in their feed stories. Cow Clicker is Facebook games distilled to their essence.

(via inky again — I guess he’s writing my blog while I’m busy with cache serializers this week)

This is the first Facebook app I’ve ever been tempted to install. And Ian Bogost’s rationale in creating this is worth a read.

Know why the iPhone 4’s antenna grip got tons of attention but there aren’t stories about the same sorts of minor flaws on other phones?

Because if there’s a minor flaw with whichever Droid Xtreme Edition or HTC Whatever is being hyped by the gadget blogs this month, who cares?

Emails

Most of the emails I get for Instapaper fall into four categories:

  1. “You just ruined my life because I couldn’t figure out how to install the bookmarklet in Mobile Safari, despite the step-by-step instructions, and I somehow failed at this for three or more hours of constant effort. Your app is completely useless, and you have made the world a worse place by having made it.”
  2. “I like Instapaper but it would be really great if you added these seventeen features, all of which are obviously worth adding, from my other favorite services that are nothing like Instapaper.”
  3. “I run a blog or YouTube channel and I would like to review Instapaper. You will get tons of exposure. Please send a promo code for a review copy and five to ten additional codes for a giveaway.”
  4. “I would like to enter a business relationship with Instapaper. I might even be credible. Here is a giant wall of text explaining why I believe this is a great idea. When can you meet me in person this week to talk about this and engage my services, take my money, or hire me?”

These are frustrating for both sides, because there’s not much I can do about most of them. Some people can never be helped enough, some people are never satisfied, some people don’t realize that I get requests for more promo codes than Apple gives me and that a promo code has never produced enough “exposure” to have been worth the time to generate and send it, and some people don’t realize how little time I have during the day to either meet with them or respond to any emails that justify more than a few words in response.

But occasionally I get the best kind of email, and it makes it all worth it:

Thanks, Chris.

Photo by Dan Walsh.

This reminded me of the most surprisingly sad articles I’ve seen recently, Two Car Models, New York Emblems, Discontinued:

The Lincoln Town Car, a mainstay of executive transportation, and the Ford Crown Victoria, part of taxi and police fleets, are being discontinued.

Every yellow car in the picture behind the crosswalk is a Ford Crown Victoria. The black one in the middle of them is a Lincoln Town Car. These are by far the most common vehicles in Manhattan, and they’re icons of the current era. Nearly every taxicab and police car in the country today is a Crown Victoria, and nearly every car-service car is a Town Car. They’ve been so common for so long that observant drivers have learned to recognize the Crown Victoria’s distinctive headlights as police cars, and many people refer to car-service vehicles generically as “town cars”.

They’re fast, with huge V8 engines, and cheap, with the Crown Vic just under $30,000 and the Town Car just under $50,000. They’re also far more reliable than other mainstream vehicles for their intended uses, which often require them to be heavily customized, operated nearly 24 hours a day, and driven much harder than average.

But cities and populations are demanding more fuel-efficient taxi and police fleets. The most fuel-efficient cars with reasonable passenger space are consumer-level sedans, compact SUVs, and hybrids, but they’re not built for this sort of use:

Passengers should prepare for a bumpier, more cramped ride. Forget roomy trunks that fit a French-door refrigerator; the older models are yielding to smaller gas-and-electric hybrid vehicles with knee-bumping back seats and flimsier frames.

The Town Car’s likely replacement is a mix of other luxury cars, but most equivalents in passenger luxury cost much more. The Crown Vic has no obvious replacement: in practice, old New York taxis are being replaced by Camrys, Altimas, Priuses, RAV4s, Escapes, Malibus, and Siennas.

And none of those provide anywhere near as much passenger comfort and trunk space as the good old Crown Victoria. Every replacement so far is worse for us, the customers.

They’re huge, gas-guzzling beasts that I would never buy or want for myself. But I’ll miss them.

iMac or Mac Pro?

Today’s overdue Mac Pro update is a welcome change, but for a computer that’s so expensive, why not just get an iMac?

Here’s an attempt at configuring an iMac and a Mac Pro to be as similar as possible, in a high-performance configuration (yes, you can build a cheaper iMac, but this is for people who stress their hardware):

  iMac Mac Pro
Monitor 27” built-in 27” Cinema Display
CPU 2.93 GHz i7 2.8 GHz W3530
RAM 8 GB (in 4 slots) 8 GB from OWC (in 4 slots)
Max RAM 16 GB (4 slots) 16 GB (4 slots), or 32 GB with OWC’s 8GB modules
Video card Radeon 5750 Radeon 5770
SSD boot drive 256 GB mediocre SSD 240 GB much faster SSD
Second drive 1 TB 1 TB
Hard-drive bays 2, inaccessible 4, easily accessible
Max monitors 2 a lot
Firewire ports 1 4
AppleCare $169 $249
As configured $3,487 $4,660 ($1,173 more)

I made some assumptions, like that you’d be willing to buy third-party disks and RAM, and that you’d be comfortable upgrading both in a Mac Pro (where it’s easy and intended), but you wouldn’t be comfortable upgrading the disks in an iMac (because it’s difficult, unintended, and has so much potential to damage the screen or get dust in it that even I refuse to attempt it). I also assumed that you wouldn’t care about the PCI-Express slots or extra optical bay in the Mac Pro, and that you wouldn’t find the dual-socket versions worth their premium, even though they give you twice as many RAM slots.

The Mac Pro will probably carry at least a $1200 premium over a similarly configured iMac no matter how you configure them. So the iMac is the practical winner for most people with average needs.

So why buy a Mac Pro?

I have a Mac Pro and Tiff has a 24” iMac. Both were purchased in early 2008. We both have high demands: I write a lot of code and process a lot of data and media files, and Tiff heavily edits wedding photo shoots with thousands of huge RAW files.

Now that both of our computers are nearly three years old, mine’s still doing fine for the foreseeable future (although I’ll put an SSD in it soon), but we’re ready to throw Tiff’s out the window.

My desk is clean and mostly free of cables and peripherals, but Tiff’s desk is covered in hard-drive enclosures. She’s using an X25-M SSD in a Firewire 800 enclosure as a boot drive, since the iMac’s internal hard drive is too slow. She’s using a pair of 1 TB disks in RAID-0 as primary storage, in another Firewire 800 enclosure daisy-chained to the SSD’s, because the iMac’s internal hard drive is too small. And she has another 2 TB external USB disk for Time Machine.

My Mac Pro has 4 internal hard-drive bays, so I don’t need any enclosures except for the occasional off-site backup disk. All of my disks are faster, quieter, and more reliable because they’re in directly connected, well-ventilated internal bays. And each one was cheaper, because I didn’t need to buy an enclosure to go around it. If I need more disks, I can add a PCI-Express eSATA card to connect an external enclosure at full speed.

Tiff’s iMac is maxed out at 4 GB of RAM, which is part of the reason she needed an SSD. My Mac Pro has had 6 GB for its entire life so far, and if I needed more, I could add another 4 GB for just $150 or spend more as needed to install up to 32 GB.

When we replace Tiff’s iMac, the excellent 24” monitor that’s built into it will need to be replaced, too. When we eventually replace my Mac Pro, I’ll be able to keep my monitors. (Possibly with an adapter, if the port has changed by then.)

If I splurge on an internal SSD, I can bring that with me to any future computers. If the iMac had an internal SSD, it would likely depart with the iMac to wherever its new home was.

And if we sold our computers, I’d get much more money for mine. My friend recently sold his single-socket, 2.0 GHz Mac Pro for just over $900 on Craigslist with local pickup. It cost about $2000 new… in 2006. A quick search indicates that we’d be lucky to get $600 for Tiff’s iMac (assuming we’d keep the external disks).

Especially because that excellent 24” monitor stuck inside of it is starting to flake out. And it’s out of warranty. When that monitor dies, the computer is worth almost nothing.

While the Mac Pro costs a lot more up front, high-performance users also get a lot more value and versatility over its lifespan, which is likely to be much longer and end much more gracefully.

This morning, at 4:19 AM, Tiff and I were happily asleep.

At 4:20 AM, we were not.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE FIRE. FIRE.

Then silence. A smoke alarm had gone off, at full blast, very briefly. (It’s apparently a newer model that speaks the problem to you in a pleasant female voice that doesn’t sound very alarmed. “Fire. Fire.”)

I jumped out of bed to fight the fire and ensure our safe rescue. I quickly scanned the apartment to find it, hoping it wasn’t between me and the extinguisher in the kitchen.

Nothing.

No smell. No smoke. Not even any dust in the air. No carbon monoxide being detected by anything. Batteries are all fresh. AC power wasn’t interrupted. Another smoke alarm 6 feet away hadn’t been triggered. Absolutely no problems at all.

So we figured, since it had only briefly alarmed, that it was a fluke and went back to bed. But this is easier said than done, since we were briefly very surprised and shaken from a solid sleep to do something presumably fueled by sudden adrenaline. And there was that nagging feeling that there really was something on fire that we couldn’t find, see, or smell, and that was now somehow escaping the smoke detector’s detection.

Soon, we were able to fall asleep.

For a few minutes.

EEEEEEEEEE

Damn it.

So we disconnected that one and waited until morning. Now, the stress of worrying about missing a real fire that we can’t find increases substantially after you disconnect a smoke alarm, despite having another one 6 feet away. It took a lot longer to fall asleep that time.

Fortunately, Ask MetaFilter saved the day this morning when I was doing some quick research: it was probably dust, spiders, or dusty spiders.

Terrible white-whine ad. What message are they trying to convey?

The Kindle update

Yesterday, Amazon announced a new Kindle, similar in design to the new DX and just $140/$190 for WiFi-only and 3G models, respectively.

Naturally, the tech press is already declaring it “dead”, because the tech press loves product “killers” and other perceptions to completely rule out entire classes of products because they lack the empathy or worldview to recognize these products’ markets.

Dave Winer says:

When I read on tech blogs that Kindle is a goner, I think these people must not read very much.

I love the Kindle. The iPad didn’t “kill” it. Amazon is going to sell a ton of these, especially at this new price point.

Reading on the iPad is a bit of a kludge. You can read on it, and it’s a lot better than reading on a computer, but it’s still too reflective, heavy, bright, and power-hungry compared to the Kindle.

People often assume that the iPad’s backlit LCD screen is an advantage over the Kindle because it doesn’t need a separate light to be read at night. But the Kindle’s e-ink screen is actually more versatile for different lighting: not only does it work in bright sunlight just as well as paper, but I find it easier to read a Kindle at night with a small lamp on than with an iPad in the dark, even using dark mode and low brightness. And I often can’t use those same nightstand or headboard-clip lamps with the iPad to light the area less harshly because the iPad’s screen is too reflective. The iPad is also too heavy to comfortably hold in most ways for long periods, and its wide range of software capabilities can be distracting. When you’re holding a Kindle, all you can do is read. When I read on an iPad, I always want to go check my email. And my feeds. And Tumblr. And Twitter. Just for a minute.

The iPad is a great casual computer, but the Kindle is the superior reading device.1 And there doesn’t need to be any “killing”. If you really like an iPad for its other uses, now that a Kindle’s entry price is $140, it’s perfectly reasonable to have both.

Tiff and I are taking our first backpacking trip in a few weeks. We’ll presumably have no access to AC power for 6 days, and we’ll likely regret carrying anything heavy or unnecessary. But we’ll have times at camp in which it will be nice to be able to entertain ourselves.

I’m not bringing the iPad. I’m certainly not bringing a laptop. I’ll have my iPhone for emergencies, but powered off to conserve its battery. I’m bringing the S90, not the 5D Mark II.

And I’m bringing a Kindle, loaded up with books and Instapaper compilations, in a Ziplock bag for waterproofing. No case, no charger, no extra batteries. Total weight: 10 ounces. (I’ll be carrying more coffee than that.) If it breaks, it’s a lot cheaper to replace than an iPad. Its battery will outlast the trip, even with heavy use. It holds so much text that I’ll always have a great selection and more than enough supply. And I’m simply bringing a few extra sets of AAA batteries (2 oz.) for my headlamp to light it at night if needed.

Gizmodo and the like probably don’t care that the Kindle is the perfect device for so many uses like this that people encounter on a regular basis in Real Life. But Kindle owners, and Amazon, don’t need them to.


  1. The iPad is better for certain content types, such as anything that requires color, images, tables, formulas, sound, or video. But when most people think of “reading”, they’re thinking of traditional text-only books and occasional magazines and newspapers. With these, the Kindle is by far the best reading device. 

Like most Linux-based mobile platforms, Android is not entirely open source. The core operating system consists of the GPL-licensed Linux kernel and an Apache-licensed middleware and userspace stack. Several key components at the higher levels of the platform—particularly the Android market and several other pieces of Google-branded software—are proprietary. Device makers that want to use include those components on their products have to commercially license the software from Google.

Ryan Paul, Android’s ascent in China might not elevate Google (via David Chartier)

This sort of thing is what makes me so uneasy about trusting Google with anything. It’s the same story: Google is “open” with the products that don’t make them money and closed with those that do, using “open” as a marketing buzzword against Apple and hoping nobody notices how incredibly closed and secretive most of their products and operations really are.

iOS is far more “closed” than Android, but at least Apple doesn’t try to bullshit me about it. They put it right out there. “We control everything because we think it’s better that way. If you don’t like it, there’s the door.”

And since they’re honest with me, I trust them more.

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