Harvard Business Review has compiled a list of breakthrough ideas for 2007. “Our annual survey of emerging ideas considers how nanotechnology will affect commerce, what role hope plays in leadership, and why, in an age that practically enshrines accountability, we need to beware of ‘accountabalism.’” The first idea on the list comes from Duncan Watts, whose research shows that it’s not so-called influentials who are responsible for driving cultural trends (as argued in The Tipping Point) but the presence of many ordinary people who are able to be influenced within a given social network.
Music industry: CD prices are being driven down by $9.99 albums on iTunes Music Store. “Physical retailers are pressuring the labels downward on price (of course, Wal-Mart is the biggest culprit) because they don’t want to be undercut by iTunes 9.99 on all single albums. We’re rapidly moving to a 9.99 world on the big sellers (the ones stocked in Target and Wal-Mart and Best Buy).”
OhMiBod is the ultimate iPod accessory: a vibrator that hooks up to the iPod and buzzes in time with the music. “I will never listen to music the same way again.” Don’t miss the playlists compiled specifically for OhMiBod use. NSFW. (thx, tania)
Quick! Which photo sharing site community thingie is more popular: Fotolog or Flickr? You might be surprised at the answer…but first some history.
Fotolog launched in May 2002 and grew quite quickly at first. They’d clearly hit upon a good idea: sharing photos among groups of friends. As Fotolog grew, they ran into scaling problems…the site got slow and that siphoned off resources that could have been used to add new features to the site, etc. Problems securing funding for online businesses during the 3-4 years after the dot com bust didn’t help matters either.
Flickr launched in early 2004. By the end of their first year of operation, they had a cleaner design than Fotolog, more features for finding and organizing photos, and most of the people I knew on Fotolog had switched to Flickr more or less exclusively. They also had trouble with scaling issues and downtime. Flickr got the scaling issues under control and the site became one of the handful of companies to exemplify the so-called Web 2.0 revitalization of the web. The founders landed on tech magazine covers, news magazine covers, and best-of lists, the folks who built the site gave talks at technology conferences, and the company eventually sold to Yahoo! for a reported $30 million.
This is a somewhat stunning result because by all of the metrics held in high esteem by the technology media, Web 2.0 pundits, and those selling technology and design products & services, Flickr should be kicking Fotolog’s ass. Flickr has more features, a better design, better implementation of most of Fotolog’s features, more free features, critical praise, a passionate community, and access to the formidable resources & marketing power of Yahoo! And yet, Fotolog is right there with them. Perhaps this is a sign that those folks trapped in the Web 2.0 bubble are not being critical enough about what is responsible for success on the Web circa-2007. (As an aside, MySpace didn’t really fit the Web 2.0 mold either, nobody really talked about it until after it got huge, and yet here it is. And then there’s Craigslist, which is more Web 0.5 than 2.0, and is one of the most popular sites on the web. Google too.)
What’s going on here then? I can think of three possibilities (there are probably more):
1. Fotolog is very popular with Portugese and Spanish speakers, especially in Brazil. According to Wikipedia, almost 1/3rd of all Fotolog users are from Brazil and Chile. In comparing the two sites, what could account for this difference? Fotolog has a Spanish language option while Flickr does not (although I’m not sure when the Spanish version of Fotolog launched). Flickr is more verbose and text-intensive than Fotolog and much of Flickr’s personality & utility comes from the text while Fotolog is almost text-free; as a non-Spanish speaker, I could navigate the Spanish-language version quite easily. Gene Smith noted that a presentation made by a Brazilian internet company said that “Flickr is unappealing to Brazilians because they want to the customize the interface to express their individual identities”.
Cameron Marlow noticed that Orkut is set to pass MySpace as the world’s most popular social networking site (Orkut is also very popular in Brazil), saying that “Orkut’s growth reinforces the fact that the value of social networking services, and social software in general, comes from the base of active users, not the set of features they offer”. Marlow also notes that Alexa’s non-US reporting has improved over the past year, which might be the reason for Fotolog’s big jump in early 2006. If Alexa’s global reporting had been robust from the beginning, Fotolog may have been neck and neck with Flickr the whole time.
2. Flickr is more editorially controlled than Fotolog. The folks who run Flickr subtly and indirectly discourage poor quality photo contributions. Yes, upload your photos, but make them good. And the community reinforces that constraint to the point where it might seem restricting to some. Fotolog doesn’t celebrate excellence like that…it’s more about the social aspect than the photos.
3. Maybe tags, APIs, and Ajax aren’t the silver bullets we’ve been led to believe they are. Fotolog, MySpace, Orkut, YouTube, and Digg have all proven that you can build compelling experiences and huge audiences without heavy reliance on so-called Web 2.0 technologies. Whatever Web 2.0 is, I don’t think its success hinges on Ajax, tags, or APIs.
Update: You can see how much Fotolog depends on international usage for its traffic from this graph from Compete. They only use US statistics to compile their data. I don’t have access to the Comscore ratings, but they only count US usage and, like Alexa, undercount Firefox and Safari users. (thx, walter)
 Usual disclaimers about Alexa’s correctness apply. The point is that among some large amount of users, Fotolog is as popular (or even more) than Flickr. Whether those users are representative of the web as a whole, I dunno. ↩
Here’s a fun rumor. I heard that the staff of the Daily Show and Colbert Report upload the shows to YouTube as soon as they can after the shows air and then the next day, lawyers from Comedy Central hit YouTube with takedown requests for the uploaded shows. Which makes total sense…sort of. The people making the shows want them to be seen while the lawyers want to ensure that people are paying to see them. It’s a crazy media world we live in.
Is it worth paying $700 for a bottle of wine? Well worth it, says Slate’s wine columnist, for the right bottle. “My father took a sniff of his glass, and he immediately registered a look of shock that called to mind the expression on Michael Spinks’ face when Mike Tyson first landed a glove on him in their 1988 title fight. Unlike Spinks, however, my father managed to remain upright. I took a sip of the wine and quickly pronounced the same verdict I had rendered 20 months earlier: ‘Holy shit.’”
Map of the Land of Oz. “Oz is completely surrounded by deserts, insulating the country from invasion and discovery. The isolation may be splendid, it is not total: children from our world got through, as well as the Wizard of Oz and the more sinister Nome King. To prevent further incursions, Glinda created a barrier of invisibility around Oz.”
Top 10 most litigious US companies from 2001-2006 (based on trademark cases): 1. Microsoft. 2. Cendent. 3. Altria/Philip Morris. 4. Best Western. 5. Dunkin’ Donuts. 6. Lorillard Tobacco. 7. Levi Strauss. 8. Baskin-Robbins. 9. Chanel. 10. Nike. Found in the sidebar of this article on Levi Strauss suing other jeans companies for their triangle pockets.
In today’s NY Times, Robert Sullivan argues that NYC is falling behind the rest of America in making the city hospitable for pedestrians, cyclists, and takers of public transportation. “London now charges drivers a fee to enter the core business area, but here such initiatives are branded as anti-car, and thus anti-personal freedom: a congestion fee, critics say, is a tax on the middle-class car commuter. But as matters now stand, the pedestrian is taxed every day: by delays and emissions, by asthma rates that are (in the Bronx) as much as four times the national average. Though we think of it as a luxury, the car taxes us, and with it we tax others.”
Wikipedia explains R&B: “She orders a milkshake and begins to blow bubbles into it (a possible allusion to oral sex). She continues to prance throughout the restaurant and walks into the kitchen, ‘helping’ the chef remove biscuits from the oven as she purposely moves her buttocks (which the biscuits are shaped like) near his face to possibly make him wish to have sex with her, yet he shows no interest in her and she leaves in dismay.”
Steven Shapin reviews the history of vegetarianism, from Pythagoras to Hitler to organic Zambian green beans. “Recent epidemiological studies suggest that adult vegetarians tend to have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, lower rates of obesity, and, more controversially, higher childhood I.Q.s — though vegans tend to have lower I.Q.s than their carnivorous peers, and the nature of the links between vegetarianism, health, and I.Q. is unclear.”
Serious Eats is looking for a web designer who’s familiar with blogs, isn’t afraid of a little PHP code, and is located in (or is planning on relocating to) NYC. Serious Eats is a start-up that is focused on sharing food enthusiasm through blogs and online community. You’ll be working with a fine group of folks. SE is headed up by Ed Levine, who Gourmet editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl calls the “missionary of the delicious” and Meg Hourihan, who co-founded blogger.com and happens also to be married to me. Alaina Browne, formerly of A Full Belly and Mule Design, and Adam Kuban, pizza and burger expert, round out SE’s crew of passionate food people.
Fringe benefits: you can’t imagine all the culinary goodies that make their way into that office everyday. Meg comes home and casually says things like, “oh, we had a private tasting of the new Haagen-Dazs flavors in the office today” all the freaking time. If you’re a web designer with an interest in food, this is your place.
David Shenk is writing a book about genius, specifically “how science is unveiling a rich new understanding of talent, ‘giftedness,’ and brilliance — and the lessons we can all apply to our own lives”, and he’s using a blog to help him while he researches and writes it.
As promised, I’ve made some long overdue changes to the kottke.org RSS feeds and the remaindered links. I’ve combined the two kottke.org feeds — previously one contained main posts, movie posts, and book posts and the other contained the so-called remaindered links — into one feed, located here:
If you’re already subscribed to the main feed, you shouldn’t have to change a thing. If you’re subscribed to the remaindered feed, your newsreader (if it’s smart enough) should automatically and permanently redirect you to the new feed. If not, just change the subscription to point at the above feed. If you’re subscribed to both, unsubscribe from the remaindered feed. The new combined feed will mirror the front page of the site…whatever appears there will appear in the feed.
Second thing: the remaindered links are dead. Long live the remaindered links. Oh, they’re still here on the site, but it’s been a long time since they were just links…they’re more like mini posts with no titles — some of them are actually longer than the non-mini posts. The distinction made sense when they were included in the sidebar on the front page, but not anymore. Functionally that means no separate RSS feed, no separate archives, and no separate index page…they’re all gone (or will be soon). All the remaindered links posts are still available, but they’re in the main monthly archives now. The point is, you don’t need to worry about any of this. Just subscribe to the above feed or come to the front page each day and you’ll get everything that’s new on kottke.org everyday. Simple.
Things should have worked this way for, oh, the past two years, but I just never got around to changing it. What finally kicked my butt into action were two things that happened in the past two weeks. I had coffee with Cory Doctorow last weekend. He asked how things were going with kottke.org and remarked that I’m not posting nearly as much as I used to. I replied that I had been posting as much as ever, but got the feeling that Cory was only subscribed to the main RSS feed, which only accounted for about 15-20% of my total effort on the site. I wondered how many other people out there were only subscribed to the main feed and started to, oh, I guess “fret” is the right word.
Fret turned to panic when I checked my server logs. Bloglines sends along how many people are subscribed to an RSS feed in the user-agent string that’s deposited in the referer logs on the server, like so:
When I compared the number of subscribers to the main feed to the number subscribing to the remaindered feed, the main feed number was nearly 3 times higher. Even worse is when I looked at my server logs for the feeds (I stopped looking at my stats months ago)…visits to the main feed are outpacing visits to the remaindered feed 5:1. Which means that somewhere between 75-85% of the people who are reading kottke.org via RSS aren’t even getting most of what’s on the site! Which was dumb, dumb, dumb of me to let happen for all these months and why I’ve now corrected the situation. Interestingly, the stats from Rojo indicate the opposite situation…way more people are subscribed to the remaindered links feed than the main feed. Weird. (Another RSS stats tidbit: I’ve served up 58 gigabytes of RSS so far this month. That’s crazy!)
As always, your bug reports, questions, and concerns are appreciated and may be directed to email@example.com.
Long audio interview with Michael Lewis by economist Russ Roberts on “the hidden economics of baseball and football”. “Michael Lewis talks about the economics of sports — the financial and decision-making side of baseball and football — using the insights from his bestselling books on baseball and football: Moneyball and The Blind Side. Along the way he discusses the implications of Moneyball for the movie business and other industries, the peculiar ways that Moneyball influenced the strategies of baseball teams, the corruption of college football, and the challenge and tragedy of kids who live on the streets with little education or prospects for success.”
I don’t typically write about many new Web 2.0 products, but Do The Right Thing is doing something interesting. The site works on a modified Digg model. If you see a story you like, you click a button to declare your interest in it. But then you also rate the social impact of the subject of the story, either positive or negative. Over time and given enough users, you can look at all the stories about a company like Starbucks and see how they’re doing. This is something that people do when reading the news anyway — e.g. “I feel worse about Exxon Mobil because they outsourced 20,000 jobs to India” — and having them explicitly rate stories like this is a quick way of taking the temperature of the social climate around issues & companies and recording the results for all to see.
It would be interesting to see if people would be willing to specify some demographic information (provided that it’s not sold to a third party) like sex, age, race, religion, political party affiliation, and income bracket…that would allow the social impact data to be sliced and diced in interesting ways. Even without that data, the opportunities for data analysis are intriguing…like graphs of a company’s social impact over time.
Apologizing for not posting much lately is liable to get a fellow burned at the stake around these parts but since I’m feeling a little chilly today, I figured why not. Things outside kottke.org have been taking up much of my attention for the last week or so and they’ve made posting here regularly and with gusto more difficult than usual. Apologies.
But also, and more relevantly, I’ve been working on a number of improvements for kottke.org and I’m finally rolling some of them out. On the front-end, the part you see, the changes are relatively minor but things are working differently now on the back-end. I’m still using Movable Type to edit the site, but now there’s a layer of PHP that takes what MT spits out, works some magic, and presents it to you folks, an arrangement that is probably a little nuts to anyone who knows their bangs from their octothorpes, but it promises to allow me more flexibility with how I want to present things around here.
Anyway, here’s what’s new:
Slight changes on the front page, including dates for the short entries and separate listings for each movie “review”.
Monthly archives are now combined. Instead of going to separate pages to see the December 2006 entries for movies, books, remaindered links, and main entries, all entries are presented on one page. Books and movies are still available on their own pages.
A pared down the archive page to remove the superfluous monthly archives, as well as little changes to pages here and there for the same reason.
Something fun: a page of random posts from the kottke.org archives, featuring lots of broken links, really poor writing, but also some nice posts from back when. The posts randomize every time I update, which is every hour or two during the day.
That’s it for now. There will be more over the weekend, I hope, including some looooooooooooooooooong overdue changes to the RSS feeds and remaindered links. As always, your bug reports, questions, and concerns are appreciated and may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update: Via email, a nomination for Pakistani squash player Jahangir Khan, who engineered a 5+ year unbeaten streak during which he won the International Squash Players Association Championship without losing a single point. (thx, abbas)
Update: Also via email, a vote for darts champion Phil Taylor, who has won 13 world titles, including 11 out of the last 13. (thx, krush)
Designers often have the design disease, where you “can’t stop looking at things through your designer eyes”. “But it’s not just books, it’s everything. You’ll choose wine by the design of the label and you’d stay [at a hotel] because of the sign.” (via emdashes)
Update: Bruce writes: “A parallel affliction to the Design Disease is Climber’s Complaint, wherein someone who takes up rock climbing begins to see every object and architecture as potentially climbable. Similarly, Skater’s Disorder afflicts those for whom every surface is seen to exhibit some measure of skate-worthiness.”
1993 New Yorker piece on Barry Diller’s search for his future and that of television, cable, and technology. This article is a time capsule of the optimism surrounding technology in the early 90s. Note that no one saw the internet coming then…the word doesn’t even appear in the article even though most of the things hoped for by the media barons came to pass on the web without their involvement. This interesting exchange between Diller and Steve Jobs happens about halfway through: “After studying NeXT’s brilliant software and graphics — ‘It’s the most magical computer,’ Diller says — he recalls telling Jobs, ‘You’ve made this thing too hard. It shouldn’t be this hard.’ ‘No,’ Jobs answered. ‘It’s like learning to drive. It takes two months.’ ‘No, it takes very little time to drive,’ Diller said. ‘A computer is not that — it’s hard. Why make it harder?’”
A report encompassing the work of thousands of climate experts says that “global warming will happen faster and be more devastating than previously thought”. “The really chilling thing about the IPCC report is that it is the work of several thousand climate experts who have widely differing views about how greenhouse gases will have their effect. Some think they will have a major impact, others a lesser role. Each paragraph of this report was therefore argued over and scrutinised intensely. Only points that were considered indisputable survived this process. This is a very conservative document — that’s what makes it so scary.”
One of the most interesting articles I’ve read in the New Yorker in recent months is Raffi Khatchadourian’s piece on Adam Gadahn, an American who is a member of Al Qaeda and “one of Osama bin Laden’s senior operatives”. In it, Khatchadourian describes how a kid from Southern California coverts to Islam, becomes a radical activist, and ends up making anti-American videos in Pakistan for ObL. Near the end of the article, we’re told about the work of forensic psychiatrist Marc Sagemam, whose study of Al Qaeda members and their motivations formed the basis of his book, Understanding Terror Networks (on Google Book Search):
Sageman discovered that most Al Qaeda operatives had been radicalized in the West and were from caring, intact families that had solidly middle- or upper-class economic backgrounds. Their families were religious but generally mainstream. The vast majority of the men did not have criminal records or any history of mental disorders. Moreover, there was little evidence of coordinated recruitment, coercion, or brainwashing. Al Qaeda’s leaders waited for aspiring jihadists to come to them — and then accepted only a small percentage. Joining the jihad, Sageman realized, was like trying to get into a highly selective college: many apply, but only a few are accepted.
Perhaps his most unexpected conclusion was that ideology and political grievances played a minimal role during the initial stages of enlistment. “The only significant finding was that the future terrorists felt isolated, lonely, and emotionally alienated,” Sageman told the September 11th Commission in 2003, during a debriefing about his research. These lost men would congregate at mosques and find others like them. Eventually, they would move into apartments near their mosques and build friendships around their faith and its obligations. He has called his model the “halal theory of terrorism” — since bonds were often formed while sharing halal meals — or the “bunch of guys” theory. The bunch of guys constituted a closed society that provided a sense of meaning that did not exist in the larger world.
Within the “bunch of guys,” Sageman found, men often became radicalized through a process akin to oneupmanship, in which members try to outdo one another in demonstrations of religious zeal. (Gregory Saathoff, a research psychiatrist at the University of Virginia and a consultant to the F.B.I., told me, “We’re seeing in some of the casework that once they get the fever they are white-hot to move forward.”) Generally, the distinction between converts and men with mainstream Islamic backgrounds is less meaningful than it might seem, Sageman said, since “they all become born again.” Many Muslims who accept radical Salafist beliefs consider themselves “reverts.” They typically renounce their former lives and friends — and often their families.
It’s easy to see the power of this approach. A recruiter only needs to use the potential recruit’s own feelings of isolation, loneliness, and social alienation against him and after that it’s like a stone rolling downhill. Reading this, I thought about similar the situation sounds to recruitment at college fraternities or the armed forces. Different ends of course, but the technique is similar: give a guy in a tough spot a comforting social framework, some self-esteem, and a bit of responsibility and eventually he’ll go to war with you, sometimes literally. Anyway, fascinating article.
Update: Additional information from my inbox: “Thank you for pointing out that Food Network one frame commercial! They do this _all the time_ and the technique was driving me batty: not only is it annoying, I didn’t know if anybody noticed/cared. There is at least one other channel (either HGTV or TLC) that does that exact same thing.” (thx, alex)
Update:Michael Buffington writes: “You sure the single frame ad isn’t a case of local market cable ads getting dropped onto the national feed? When I had cable, I’d see this all the time. A single frame for some well known brand suddenly hijacked by Cal Worthington and his 500 used cars.”
Why is meat the most shoplifted item in America? “So, more innovation is required in the battle against meatlifting. Meat-sniffing dogs pop to mind, though some shoppers might object to having a Doberman nosing around their crotches in search of stolen steaks. But you know what they say about civil liberties in a time of crisis.” That must have been a fun article to write.
All links on Wikipedia now automatically use the “nofollow” attribute, which means that when Google crawls the site, none of the links it comes across get any PageRank from appearing on Wikipedia. SEO contest concerns aside, this also has the effect of consolidating Wikipedia’s power. Now it gets all the Google juice and doesn’t pass any of it along to the sources from which it gets information. Links are currency on the web and Wikipedia just stopped paying it forward, so to speak.
It’s also unclear how effective nofollow is in curbing spam. It’s too hard for spammers to filter out which sites use nofollow and which do not and much easier & cheaper just to spam everyone and everywhere. Plus there’s a not-insignificant echo effect of links in Wikipedia articles getting posted elsewhere so the effort is still worth it for spammers.
Tremble funnyman Todd Levin dons the Non-Expert’s hat over at The Morning News to explain how to buy wine. “FANCY SERIF FONT + PARCHMENT LABEL + SOMETHING YOU KIND OF REMEMBERED FROM THE MOVIE SIDEWAYS + $12-$16 PRICE TAG = SUCCESS”
Adam Gopnik on the current health of New York City. “This transformation is one you see on every street corner in Manhattan, and now in Brooklyn, too, where another local toy store or smoked-fish emporium disappears and another bank branch or mall store opens. For the first time in Manhattan’s history, it has no bohemian frontier. Another bookstore closes, another theatre becomes a condo, another soulful place becomes a sealed residence. These are small things, but they are the small things that the city’s soul clings to.”
Notes from Apartment #5. “Dear Neighbor. When you arrive late every night, you are probably concentrating on your chores and don’t realize that this building, this street, the traffic, the people are all very still, very quiet.”
Jargon watch: “book” as a synonym for “cool”. Sample usage: “That YouTube video is so book.” As books are decidedly uncool, you might wonder how this usage came about. Book is a T9onym of cool…both words require pressing 2665 on the keypad of a mobile phone but book comes up before cool in the T9 dictionary, leading to inadvertent uses of the former for the latter. (thx, david)
A friend got a water buffalo for Christmas from her dad. She won’t actually take delivery of the animal. The Web page says that it will be given to a family in Asia. If you read the fine print on the page, however, it turns out that there is no actual buffalo and no actual family and you won’t get a photo of your family and your buffalo. The money simply gets dumped into the common fund at the charity. We are trying to decide if this is the crummiest possible Christmas present.
Bob Thompson, currently a resident of Yunnan province in China, read Greenspun’s post and offered to help him donate an actual water buffalo to an actual family in the area. Greenspun and his friend Craig MacFarlane took him up on the offer and an animal was purchased for ~US$460 and given to a family in need:
Interview with Dr. Nina Jablonski, student of the skin. “[My skin] is my unwritten biography. My skin reminds me that I’m a 53-year-old woman who has smiled and furrowed her brow and, on occasion, worked in the desert sun too long. I enjoy watching my skin change because it’s one of the few parts of my body that I can watch. We can’t view our livers or heart, but this we can.”
Most of what we hear about global warming concerns the atmosphere and its carbon dioxide levels. In the New Yorker a few weeks ago, Elizabeth Kolbert wrote about what’s happening in the ocean (not online, unfortunatelyit is online (thx, tim)). It turns out that like all tightly coupled systems, the ocean and the atmosphere like to be in equilibrium with each other, which means that the chemistry of the ocean is affected by the chemistry of the atmosphere. Much of the extra carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by humans over the past two hundred years is being absorbed into the ocean and slowly making the ocean more acidic.
The CO2 dissolves, it produces carbonic acid, which has the chemical formula H2CO3. As acids go, H2CO3 is relatively innocuous — we drink it all the time in Coke and other carbonated beverages — but in sufficient quantities it can change the water’s pH. Already, humans have pumped enough carbon into the oceans — some hundred and twenty billion tons — to produce a .1 decline in surface pH. Since pH, like the Richter scale, is a logarithmic measure, a .1 drop represents a rise in acidity of about thirty per cent.
As Kolbert later states, “from the perspective of marine life, the drop in pH matters less that the string of chemical reactions that follow”. The increased levels of carbonic acid in the water means there are less carbonate ions available in seawater for making shells, meaning that thousands of species that build shells or skeletons from calcium carbonate are in danger of extinction. As a particularly troubling example, coral use calcium carbonate taken from the seawater to construct themselves. Climate modeller Ken Caldeira believes that if humans keep emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at the same rate as today, by 2075 the world’s coral reefs will begin to disappear because their rate of natural erosion will surpass their ability to grow fast enough to keep up.
The truly worrisome thing about all this is that the ocean is an extremely slow moving machine and that once in motion, it’s difficult to stop or change its course.
Profile of “radical chef” David Chang and his restaurants, Momofuku Noodle Bar (one of my favorite restaurants) and Momofuku Ssam Bar, an Asian version of Chipotle. After a vegetarian customer threatened to sue Chang for not offering vegetarian broth, he took all but one of the veggie options off the menu. “We added pork to just about everything[…] Fuck it, let’s just cook what we want.”
Video of the World Freehand Circle Drawing Champion. I read somewhere recently that everyone seems to have a talent like this, something a little odd that they can do better than most people. I can spit watermelon seeds a great distance (I’ve won two contests!). What can you do?
Which of the following works would you choose to be lost, if only three could be saved: Michelangelo’s Pieta, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, or Einstein’s 1905 paper on relativity? Not so sure I agree with the conclusion here…surely Einstein’s paper stands as a work unto itself, apart from the discovery it contains. Plus, maybe someone else (or a group of someone elses) wouldn’t have given us relativity as elegantly and usefully as Einstein did. (via 3qd)
By now you’ve all heard about the iPhone and read 60 billion things about it, so I’ll get straight to it. I’ve been tracking some of the best points from around the web and jotted down some thoughts of my own.
Caveat: Evaluating an interface, software or hardware, is difficult to do unless you have used it. An interface for something like a mobile phone is something you use on the time-scale of weeks and months, not minutes or hours. There are certain issues you can flag as potential problems, challenges, or triumphs after viewing demos, descriptions of functions, and the like, but until you’re holding the thing in your hand and living with it day-to-day, you really can’t say “this is going to work this way” or “I don’t like the way that functions” with anything approaching absolute confidence. With that said:
In his keynote announcing it, Steve Jobs said the killer app for the iPhone was voice. The thing is, many people you talk to who are are under 35 use their phones more and more for text and less and less for voice. Same thing for Treo and Blackberry aficionados. Does the text entry via the touchscreen work as well as text entry via a mini keyboard? The tactility of raised buttons provides a lot of feedback to the typer’s fingers that a touchscreen does not. (Jason Fried said: “When you touch the [iPhone] it doesn’t touch you back.”) Can you type on it with your thumbs? What about if your thumbs are large? I know people who can text without looking at the keypad and/or Blackberry keyboard, that’s out the window with the touchscreen. Can you dial with one hand?
The touchscreen text entry is the biggest issue with the iPhone. If it works well, the iPhone has a good shot at success, and if not, it’s going to be very frustrating for those that rely on their mobile for text…and every potential customer of the iPhone is going to hear about that shortcoming and shy away.
The price is pretty high. So was the price for the first iPod. And the Macintosh. Apple will approach this in a similar way to the iPod…start with a premium product at the high end and work their way down to shuffle-land. It isn’t difficult to imagine an iPhone nano that just does voice, SMS, music, and a camera. (Or an iPhone shuffle…you press the call button and it randomly calls someone from the ten contacts the shuffle synched from your computer that morning.)
I guess we know why iPod development has seemed a little sluggish lately. When the Zune came out two months ago, it was thought that maybe Apple was falling behind, coasting on the fumes of an aging product line, and not innovating in the portable music player space anymore. I think the iPhone puts this discussion on the back burner for now. And the Zune? The supposed iPod-killer’s bullet ricocheted off of the iPhone’s smooth buttonless interface and is heading back in the wrong direction. Rest in peace, my gentle brown friend.
How long before the other iPods start working like the iPhone? I imagine a widescreen video iPod with touchscreen but without a phone, wifi, camera, etc. will be introduced at some point after the iPhone comes out in June. Without the need for the clickwheel, the shape of the video and nano iPods becomes much more flexible. If they can cram all the memory and electronics into a smaller space, the nano could be half its current height with a touchscreen.
What’s really kind of sad about the intensely exuberant reaction to the iPhone is that the situation with current mobile phones are so bad in the first place. It’s not like we didn’t see any of this coming or couldn’t imagine the utility of the iPhone’s features. Visual voicemail is a good idea, but the reason Nokia or Motorola didn’t introduce it years ago is that the carriers (Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile, etc.) don’t want to support it despite its obvious utility and ease of implementation. (T-Mobile sends my Nokia phone a text message every time I get a voicemail…what could be simpler than sending the number along with it and shunting those messages to a special voicemail app on the phone to see a list of them? Listening to them out of sequence would be a bit harder, but doable. Blackberry announced they were doing this back in 2005.) Integrated Google Maps, email, and search makes obvious sense too. As for the touchscreen, we’ve all seen Jeff Han’s work on multi-touch interaction, Minority Report, and Wacom’s Cintiq, not to mention the mousepads on the MacBooks and the iPod’s clickwheel. The Japanese are pretty unimpressed with the whole thing.
What *is* fantastic about the iPhone is the way that they’ve put it all together; features are great, but it’s all about the implementation. Apple stripped out all the stuff you don’t need and made everything you do need really simple and easy. (That’s the way it appears anyway…see above caveat.)
One reason there’s limited innovation in cell phones generally is that the cell carriers have stiff guidelines that the manufacturers have to follow. They demand that all their handsets work the same way. “A lot of times, to be honest, there’s some hubris, where they think they know better,” Jobs says. “They dictate what’s on the phone. That just wouldn’t work for us, because we want to innovate. Unless we could do that, it wasn’t worth doing.” Jobs demanded special treatment from his phone service partner, Cingular, and he got it. He even forced Cingular to re-engineer its infrastructure to handle the iPhone’s unique voicemail scheme. “They broke all their typical process rules to make it happen,” says Tony Fadell, who heads Apple’s iPod division. “They were infected by this product, and they were like, we’ve gotta do this!”
From the video, it looks like it take four clicks (after unlocking the phone) to make a phone call. For everyday use, that seems excessive. I hope there’s going to be some sort of speed dial mechanism…with my current phone, pressing “2” and then “send” calls my wife (which I can basically do without looking, BTW).
I don’t know what the state of the art is in voice recognition these days, but I’m a little surprised that’s not an input option here. To call someone, you say their name (my current phone does this). To text someone, you speak the message and they get the text on their end. Speaking “Google Maps, sushi near 10003” would have the expected result.
Or maybe drawing graffiti on the screen with your fingers and other gestural input methods? You could have different swipes and taps as a speed dial mechanism…swipe the screen from top left to bottom right and then tap in the lower right hand corner to call mom, that sort of thing. Or Morse code maybe? ;)
The OS X included with the phone obviously isn’t the version that’s running on my Powerbook right now. John Gruber proves that footnotes are often more interesting than the referring text and offers this little tidbit:
That is to say the core operating system at the core of Mac OS X, the computer OS used in Macs, and “OS X”, the embedded OS on the iPhone. More on this soon in a separate fireball, but do not be confused: Mac OS X and OS X are not the same thing, although they are most certainly siblings. The days of lazily referring to “Mac OS X” as “OS X” are now over.
Several people have speculated that the iPhone’s version of OS X is actually a preview of what we’ll be getting with Leopard, the next version of Mac OS X.
My favorite thing about the iPhone is the Google Maps integration. I would use that at least 4-5 times a week.
Will phone numbers and addresses detected on web pages in Safari be clickable? Click to dial a phone number, click to look up an address with Google Maps, that sort of thing. Update: There’s a video online somewhere (anyone?) of a demo that shows a URL in an email and/or text message that’s clickable. (thx, Deron)
The resolution of the screen on the iPhone is 160 ppi. People who have seen it close up report that the screen is extremely crisp and clear. Apple displays have been higher than 72 ppi for quite awhile, now but not as high as 160. How soon can we expect 160 ppi on the MacBooks?
Double the width of the iPhone and you’ve got the iTablet. 640x480, a bigger virtual keyboard to type on, etc. Just a thought.
My friend Chris suggested that it should ship with a dock that hooks directly to a monitor. Attach a keyboard and mouse to the monitor and voila!, you’ve got the world’s smallest portable computer.
This is one of the biggest questions in the hardcore technology community: will Apple allow 3rd party development of widgets and apps for the iPhone? Right now it seems like they might not, but there’s a lot of speculation in the absence of information going on. It sure would be nice if they did, but Apple doesn’t have a good track record here. I bet the Dodgeball and Upcoming folks are looking at the integrated Google Maps and wishing they could integrate their apps in the same way. (And Flickr too!)
Games! A no-brainer. Probably lots you can do with the motion sensors and proximity detectors, not to mention the touchscreen. Although the touchscreen does make it difficult to see and control the onscreen action at the same time. How would you play Pac-Man on the iPhone?
Available in more than one color? Probably a few months after launch…or it could be right away.
Don’t you think that maybe every company should fire their founders after a few years and then hire them back a few years later? I mean, how crazy is it that Apple birthed the Apple II and the Macintosh — each a significant achievement that taken alone would have sealed Apple’s reputation for innovation in the history of computing — and then fired the guy that got them there, stumbled badly enough that they were heading for mediocrity and obscurity, and then brought Jobs back, who spurred a string of successes that has nearly overshadowed the company’s earlier achievements: OS X, the iMac, the iBooks/PowerBooks/MacBooks, the iPod, iTMS, and now the iPhone. It’s insane! Not to mention fun to watch. Perhaps Google should fire Larry and Sergey with the idea that they’ll take them back in a few years when they’re a little older, a little wiser, a little more seasoned in business, with a new perspective, and possessing an enormous amount of motivation to prove that their dismissal was a bad move.
Apple has figured out a way to retain a hold on hearts and minds in a business previously based on bytes. I applaud its designs, I worry about its tactics and what they mean for the future of marketing and group think. A group that wants our devotion but doesn’t need the press, doesn’t want the press, can’t keep the press off its backs, is a group that’s more interested in mind control than in improving lives with its products.
Consider the mall or the urban multiplex. The steady rain of contempt that I heard Hollywood executives direct at the theatres has been amplified, a dozen times over, by friends and strangers alike. The concession stands were wrathfully noted, with their “small” Cokes in which you could drown a rabbit, their candy bars the size of cow patties; add to that the pre-movie purgatory padded out to thirty minutes with ads, coming attractions, public-service announcements, theatre-chain logos, enticements for kitty-kat clubs and Ukrainian bakeries-anything to delay the movie and send you back to the concession stand, where the theatres make forty per cent of their profits. If you go to a thriller, you may sit through coming attractions for five or six action movies, with bodies bursting out of windows and flaming cars flipping through the air-a long stretch of convulsive imagery from what seems like a single terrible movie that you’ve seen before. At poorly run multiplexes, projector bulbs go dim, the prints develop scratches or turn yellow, the soles of your shoes stick to the floor, people jabber on cell phones, and rumbles and blasts bleed through the walls.
If we want to see something badly enough, we go, of course, and once everyone settles down we can still enjoy ourselves. But we go amid murmurs of discontent, and the discontent will only get louder as the theatre complexes age. Many of them were randomly and cheaply built in response to what George Lucas conclusively demonstrated with “Star Wars,” in 1977: that a pop movie heavily advertised on national television could open simultaneously in theatres across the country and attract enormous opening-weekend audiences. As these theatres age, the gold leaf doesn’t slowly peel off fluted columns. They rot, like disused industrial spaces. They have become the detritus of what seems, on a bad day, like a dying culture.
Denby also considers what happens to movies when the primary target audience (12-30 year-olds make up 50% of the movie-going population) may prefer to watch movies on DVD, their computers, or on iPods.
No exhibition method is innocent of aesthetic qualities. Platform agnosticism may flourish among kids, but platform neutrality doesn’t exist. Fifty years ago, the length of a pop single was influenced by what would fit on a forty-five-r.p.m. seven-inch disk. The length and the episodic structure of the Victorian novel — Dickens’s novels, especially — were at least partly created by writers and editors working on deadline for monthly periodicals. Television, for a variety of commercial and spatial reasons, developed the single-set or two-set sitcom. Format always affects form, and the exhibition space changes what’s exhibited.
As a fan of watching movies on the big screen of a theater, I hope that sort of movie making doesn’t go away anytime soon.
An Elvis taxon is the apparent rediscovery of an animal that has vanished from the fossil record, but that is really the discovery of a look-alike animal. “The term Elvis taxon is used because of the large number of sightings of Elvis Presley long after his death, as well as for his many impersonators.”
Apple’s new iPhone looks like a thing of beauty. Widescreen touch interface, no buttons, runs OS X, useful widgets, integrated email, Google Maps, Google/Yahoo search, visual voicemail (see who voicemail is from before you call), SMS, Wifi, etc. etc. Oh, and it plays music.
A lot of people are wondering just how big this thing is. Using the technical specs from apple.com, I grabbed some cardboard, scissors, and glue and made a scale model of the iPhone. Here it is:
My hands aren’t that big (I can barely palm a basketball on a good day), but it still seems to fit pretty well. How does it stack up against similar devices?
Here’s the iPhone vs. my current mobile phone, the Nokia 7610:
iPhone vs. a 5G iPod:
Thickness of the cardboard iPhone vs. the 5G iPod:
1G iPod shuffle, 3G iPod, 5G iPod and the iPhone:
iPhone vs. a TiVo remote and a Wii remote:
That’s all the gadgets I could find on a couple of hours notice.
I also dug up something I wrote a couple of years ago in the gigantic text file I keep on my Powerbook of ideas for kottke.org posts. 99% of the stuff in that file is completely dunderheaded, but I have to say I hit close to the mark on this one:
true convergence of phone + mp3 player will happen when someone solves this user experience puzzle: physically not enough room for two optimized interfaces (one for calls, one for music) on same small device. possible solution: no buttons, replace with touch screen that covers the whole front with one-touch switching between modes…
Once we’re able to get our hands on it and use the interface, the iPhone could turn out to be a disappointment, but they’re heading in the right direction at least. More thoughts soon.
Yesterday a weird smell descended on New York City, a miasma of natural gas odor. Today you might sense a low hum emanating from all over the Earth, localized in households whose inhabitants spend unhealthy portions of their paychecks on consumer electronics. Geeks the world over are vibrating in anticipation of Steve Jobs’ keynote at MacWorld starting in, oh, 5 minutes. Since I too am slightly vibrating and won’t be able to get anything done for the two-hour duration of his talk, I’ll be following along here, sipping from MacRumors’ live coverage. (Gizmodo, Engadget, and Twitter have coverage too.)
As an appetizer, here’s a few of the less hysterical predictions for what Our Fearless Leader is going to provide us with today:
- BREAKING NEWS: Attendees still taking their seats!
- Started. Gizmodo is stumbling badly. Zero updates.
- Sales updates. Apple now sells more music than Amazon.
- The Zune has 2% market share, the iPod has 62%. What brown can do for you, apparently.
- Apple TV in September. Not an actual TV, but a device that hooks to a TV. Here’s some specs: 802.11b/g/n, 40GB HD, 720p HD, component rca, usb2, ethernet, HDMI. Retails for $299. Shipping in Feb.
- New product: internet communicator, mobile phone, and widescreen ipod all in one. Steve is very excited about this one. Called the iPhone. No buttons. Multi-touch screen. (WHOA!) Runs OS X. Jobs: “Software on mobile phones is like baby-software.” It does all the stuff that OS X does. Calendar, mail, movies, music, podcasts, etc. Turns off the display and sound when you bring it to your ear to talk. It’s got an accelerometer (motion sensor) and a proximity sensor. 2 megapixel camera. Screen resolution is 160 ppi. Here’s what it looks like (photos from Engadget):
- Free IMAP email from Yahoo for iPhone customers. (Shot over Google’s bow.) And it’s “push-IMAP”…works just like a Crackberry.
- The iPhone has a full copy of Safari. Just browse away.
- iPhone ships in June in the US. $499 for 4 gig, $599 for 8 gig. Available only with Cingular as the carrier. (Can you unlock?) Can purchase either at Cingular or Apple stores. Have to sign up for a 2-year contract.
How the New Yorker picks its cartoons. “The funniest cartoon is not necessarily the best cartoon. Funnier means that you laugh harder, and everybody’s gonna laugh harder at more aggressive cartoons, more obscene cartoons. It’s a Freudian thing. It gives more relief. But is it a better joke? To me, better means having more truth in it, having both the humor and the pain and therefore having more meaning and more poetry.”
Some upcoming and recently released sequels which are released a long time after the previous movie in the series, some real and some imagined:
Sylvester Stallone returns as the 50-something year-old title character in Rocky Balboa to fight the heavyweight champion of the world.
Police Academy 8: To the Moon. Steve Gutenberg leads a merry band of recruits and Bubba Smith to the moon to form the first extraterrestrial police force. Hijinks ensue. Special appearance by Henry Winkler, who jumps a shark on waterskis in the Sea of Tranquility.
ET 2. Henry Thomas needs the work.
Star Trek 12. William Shatner, Ricardo Montalban, and a wormhole. Enough said.
Sir Sean Connery as James Bond in Goldfinger 2. Turns out Oddjob wasn’t really dead. He and Bond battle it out after tempers flare and hats are thrown at a Florida condo board meeting. Pussy makes crabcakes for dinner.
Jaws 5. I think the shark talks this time.
Rambo IV: Pearl of the Cobra. Stallone has run out of material.
Marty travels forward in time to bring embryonic stem cells back to the present in Back to the Future Part IV.
Harrison Ford is set to star in Indiana Jones 4, slated to be released almost 20 years after the last installment of the film. Ford will be 65 years old at the time of the filming. Not sure how many swashes he’ll be buckling in the this one.
Star Wars: Episode 7. Han, Leia, and their high school-aged kids are ensconced in a Tatooine suburb (Chewy lives in the garage, R2 & 3PO in a little love-nest down the street) while Luke scours the galaxy for little kids with high midichlorian counts. Seventy-year-old Billy Dee Williams will appear as Lando Calrissian.
Clerks 2. Randal and Dante work through a midlife crisis for minimum wage while Jay and Silent Bob kick their habit.
Sharon Stone is still sexy and irritating at 47 in Basic Instinct 2.
Beverly Hills Cop IV. Axel does paperwork at his desk all day. Eddie Murphy does double duty by playing a elderly, sassy, obese black woman.
Karate Kid IV. Sadly, Pat Morita is unable to reprise his role as Mr. Miyagi and a 45-yo Ralph Macchio unconvincingly plays college sophomore Daniel LaRusso. Academy Award nominee William Zabka directs.
Bill & Ted’s Straightforward Trip to Home Depot. Station!
Breakin’ 3: Electric Boogaloo 2.
Disco is Dead. John Travolta runs a wrecking company that is contracted to tear down the very Brooklyn discotheque he danced in as a youth. Intense self-examination of his current path in life follows.
Ei8ht. Gwyneth’s character having been dispatched in the first film, Pitt is free to bring Angelina into this one as wife #2. This time, murders are committed where the first names of the victims match those of the children on the Eight Is Enough television program. I don’t want to ruin it for you, but Dick Van Patten’s head might end up in a box.
Please consider this letter notice of your termination, effective immediately. Despite clear expectations and requirements — January temperatures not to exceed 40° F, consistent snow and blustery conditions, minimum of one blizzard with white-out per annum, &c. &c. — you have failed to date to meet expectations and deliver even rudimentary winter weather. A forecast high of 72° today in New York City is clear proof of your failure to do your job.
A replacement will be appointed immediately. Perhaps we will try a young go-getter for this role, someone who is willing to take on the many weather challenges of this magnificent season rather than rest on his “Great Winter of ‘02-‘03” laurels.
Does free will exist? “The conscious brain was only playing catch-up to what the unconscious brain was already doing. The decision to act was an illusion, the monkey making up a story about what the tiger had already done.”
Interview with Ben Schott, author of the Schott’s Miscellany books. It sounds like we have a lot in common, job-wise. “One of the metaphors of what I do that I like is a sort of curator. Often it’s a question of finding information that might’ve otherwise been undiscovered or neglected or not focused upon. What’s fun — and I think this is one of the great joys of curating — is making juxtapositions.” I liked this bit too: “I think it’s easier to be snarky than it is to be decent. Anything to get a smile. It doesn’t last. And actually, it does date.”
Malcolm Gladwell on the difference between secrets and puzzles, particularly as it relates to something like the Enron scandal. I think this is one of the more interesting pieces from Gladwell in recent years. Having lived in California during the blackouts and the absurdly high electricity bills, I want Skilling’s head as much as anyone, but Gladwell has a good point here. There’s moreon his blog, including a question: “According to the way the accounting rules were written at the time, what specific transgressions were Skilling guilty of that merited twenty-four years in prison?” Also note the similar themes to one of my favorite articles from last year, The Press’ New Paradigm.
Strange Maps post about the Vinland Map, a document proported to have been drawn in the 15th century from a 13th century map. The Vinland Map depicts an unknown land across the Atlantic Ocean called Vinland which some think is the part of North America visited by the Vikings in the 11th century.
1994 best/worst-of the internet lists with predicitons for 1995. “Pick any tragic event and you can probably recall seeing a newsgroup that taunted its seriousness. There was alt.tonya-harding.whack.whack.whack. Then we had alt.lorena.bobitt.chop.chop.chop. And no, I haven’t forgotten alt.oj-simpson.drive.faster.”
Compiling a list of the best things I’ve linked to from kottke.org seems to get harder each year. I estimate posting about 2400 links to kottke.org in 2006, which is roughly one link every 2.5 hours on weekdays. Which is insane…I don’t know how you guys read all of that. Last year I managed to whittle down the best-of list to ~65 links (2004’s list had ~40 links), but I couldn’t manage less than 100 this year. (Hell, the overflow list contains another 100 links that didn’t quite make the cut…hopefully I’ll be posting those in a few days.)
But enough with the statistics. Besides containing some really entertaining, informative, and provoking reading/viewing material, this list also functions as kottke.org’s year in ideas for 2006, akin to the annual list in the NY Times Magazine. Climate change, the industrialization of childbirth, race & class in college & professional sports, the inherent messiness of science, adults who don’t want to grow up, the role of journalism in the age of information abundance, and how creative work gets done are all ideas represented in the links below. Even the funny YouTube videos signal the arrival in 2006 of online video, especially if you throw Ze Frank in the mix. Enjoy.
America the Overfull, Paul Theroux’s New Year’s musing on an America with twice as many people as when he grew up. “We are passing through a confused period of aggression and fear, characterized by our confrontational government, the decline of diplomacy, a pugnacious foreign policy and a settled belief that the surest way to get people to tell the truth is to torture them. It is no wonder we have begun to squint at strangers. This is a corrosive situation in a country where more and more people, most of them strangers, are a feature of daily life. Americans as a people I believe to be easygoing, compassionate, not looking for a fight. But surely I am not the only one who has noticed that we are ruder, more offhand, readier to take offense, a nation of shouters and blamers.” (thx, youngna)
The Long Tale of 2006. “What makes the long tail so disingenuous is that what happens in the long tail has almost no ramifications on what happens in the head.” With the internet, some of the most popular sites are “places like YouTube and MySpace where large amounts of user generated content drives traffic and then deposits money in hands not of the creators, but instead in the coffers of the large corporate landlords”.
Talking about it afterwards, a friend remarked, “I bet way more people in the US would go see this if they knew it was about Princess Diana”. It is and it isn’t, but I agree: the movie concerns Princess Diana and it’s great, so go see it. Trailer here.
I wasn’t asked to participate, but if I had been, my answer would have been something like the following.
I’m not an optimist by nature, so a question like this is a bit difficult to answer. But as I look around at friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances, what gives me hope is while these people might sometimes be pessimistic in what they say, they are optimistic in what they do. The cost of saying something, publishing something even, is cheap these days, but actually doing something still costs emotionally, physically, economically, socially. As a barometer of how we’re all doing, this is a good sign…in spite of what we hear in the media and from each other.
Faces of New York. Photographer Simon Hoegsberg asks people about their faces and then photographs them. “Essentially I would say I have made a drastic change the last three years. Age caught up with me. Good times caught up with me. Wild parties caught up with me. And what I see now is a truly aging woman. I no longer see the spontaneous, witty, charming…I see an elderly woman. And I find that difficult, but in a way very freeing.”
A pair of trend maps for 2007, both based on subway maps. The top one depicts the top online companies/brands & how they’re connected while the bottom one deals with ideas (with the River of Consciousness standing in for the Thames).
Both maps were found in this article about internet predictions in 2007. I don’t know about you, but I find these types of maps fun to look at, but completely inscrutable informationally speaking. Surely there’s a more enlightening way to present this information than in Tube map form.
Classic Slate piece: how to buy a mattress. “The mattress biz is 99-percent marketing. So just buy the cheapest thing you can stand and be done with it, because they’re pretty much all the same.” (via torrez)