In the Kottke/Hourihan household, much of the past 4 weeks has been spent determining which has the most sensitive built-in accelerometer: an iPhone, a Nintendo Wiimote, or our newborn son.
The iPhone was eliminated fairly quickly...the portrait-to-landscape flip is easy to circumvent if you do it slow enough or at an odd angle. The Wiimote might be the winner; it registers small, slow movements with ease, as when executing a drop shot in tennis or tapping in a putt in golf.
Newborns, however, are born with something called the Moro reflex. When infants feel themselves fall backwards, they startle and throw their arms out to the sides, as illustrated in this video. Even fast asleep they will do this, often waking up in the process. So while the Wiimote's accelerometer may be more sensitive, the psychological pressure exerted on the parent while lowering a sleeping baby slowly and smoothly enough so as not to wake them with the Moro reflex and thereby squandering 40 minutes of walking-the-baby-to-sleep time is beyond intense and so much greater than any stress one might feel serving for the match in tennis or getting that final strike in bowling.
Biologists Helping Bookstores is a guerilla effort to reshelve pseudo-scientific books (books on intelligent design, for instance), taking them from the Science section and moving them to a more appropriate area of the store, like Philosophy, Religion, or Religious Fiction. (via mr)
Several of the web's most popular sites (Digg, YouTube, MySpace, CNN) are using the mullet strategy (business up front, party in the rear) for content to attract both boisterous users and well-heeled advertisers. "They let users party, argue, and vent on the secondary pages" -- that's the party in the rear -- "but professional editors keep the front page looking sharp" -- the business up front.
An update regarding Harry Potter and the Phantom Delivery: Amazon issued me a refund for the book. I'm close to the end of the book...I hope it ends as well.
Following an editorial in the NY Times by Steven Shaw about doctors' food recommendations for pregnant women, my wife Meg wrote a post about how she ate while pregnant. "I found my balance between enjoying food and tolerating risk, and it included the occasional Wellfleet on the half-shell. It's easy to get overwhelmed by all the recommendations, and to live in fear of every bite of food you put into your mouth. But that makes for a very stressful, anxious, long nine (plus) months. And that certainly isn't good for the fetus."
Back in April, I pre-ordered Harry Potter 7 from Amazon. They guaranteed delivery on its release date, Saturday July 21 before 7pm or they would refund the cost of the book...the details of that offer are here. All day Saturday until shortly after 7pm, the UPS tracking information indicated that the package containing my copy of the book was "IN TRANSIT TO FINAL DESTINATION", which is UPS-speak for "the UPS guy/gal who will deliver your book does not yet have it in his/her possession"...the magic phrase for that action is "OUT FOR DELIVERY".
At some point after 7pm, the UPS status page updated to say that a notice was left at 3:36 pm, implying that a delivery attempt was made and no one was home to receive it. (Amazon's tracking page says that UPS told them "Delivery attempted - recipient not home".) No such notice was left. My door buzzer did not ring at 3:36 pm (I was home all day on Saturday) and the doorman of the building next door who takes the deliveries for our building when people aren't home reported no notice or delivery attempt. Here's the complete tracking info from UPS:
Location // Date // Local Time // Description
NEW YORK, NY, US // 07/21/2007 // 3:36 P.M. // NOTICE LEFT
NEW YORK, NY, US // 07/20/2007 // 12:00 P.M. // IN TRANSIT TO FINAL DESTINATION
NEW YORK, NY, US // 07/19/2007 // 4:51 P.M. // DESTINATION SCAN
NEW YORK, NY, US // 07/19/2007 // 4:50 P.M. // ORIGIN SCAN
US // 07/19/2007 // 1:34 P.M. // BILLING INFORMATION RECEIVED
Maybe I'm lying about being home or maybe the person trying to deliver the package made an honest mistake, but it's curious that a delivery attempt could have been made when the package was not even "OUT FOR DELIVERY". Here's what I think happened. I think UPS's network was overwhelmed by Amazon's Potter-volume in some parts of the country and they had no way to deliver all those packages. (The forums for the book at Amazon and Google Blog Search are full of similar complaints from others...warning, spoilers! UPS even offloaded some of the volume to the USPS for "last-mile" delivery.) So, UPS just marked all of those packages they had no intention of delivering as "oops, we missed you, you must have been out".
Let's go back to Amazon's guarantee, which states that the refund "does not apply if delivery is attempted, but no one is available to accept the package". Amazon would be pretty angry with UPS if they cost them a bunch of money due to refunds and, more importantly, the loss of a bunch of customer goodwill...maybe Amazon would switch a larger portion of their formidable package output to another carrier, for instance. So UPS intentionally misclassifying those deliveries covers their ass with Amazon and covers Amazon's ass with regard to the refund.
My copy of the book from Amazon will be here sometime today (UPS doesn't deliver on Sunday), by which time I'll already have mostly finished the copy I bought at Barnes & Noble about 7:30 pm Saturday evening. The extra $20 isn't a big deal to me and neither is having to wait all day to start in on the book. But this book was a *huge* deal for Amazon (2+ million pre-orders out of a first printing of 12 million) and for their customers who desired their instant Potter gratification. Amazon should be hopping mad at UPS over this; UPS shifted the blame from themselves to Amazon's customers...who are in turn going to blame Amazon, doubly so because Amazon
probably won't might not issue refunds for those "missed" deliveries because they don't need to. A customer service-oriented company like Amazon shouldn't take this kind of crap from their shipping vendor...incidents like these will erode customer goodwill and eventually their customer base, the retention of which is one of Amazon's stated primary goals.
Update: I've asked Amazon for a refund and am waiting on their reply. From the emails I've gotten from readers so far, it sounds like Amazon is being liberal in the refund policy, as one would expect.
Update: No word from Amazon yet, but the USPS (not UPS) delivered my book Monday morning. It had a UPS sticker on it with instructions to the Post Office to deliver it to me. No update on the UPS tracking page that its been delivered. I'm tempted to leave it unopened in its custom Amazon box as a collector's item. Maybe I can get JK Rowling and Jeff Bezos to sign it.
Update: Amazon issued me a refund for the book.
Dear internet, I'd like you to meet Ollie Kottke.
Some vital statistics: He was born on July 3 just before 1pm, weighed about 7 lbs., 2 oz., loves to eat (and then sleep), is O.K. (ha!), dislikes sponge baths, unfortunately doesn't have any descenders in his name, both mom and baby are home and doing fine, Ollie is not a particularly popular name right now (and is not short for Oliver), and I've never been quite so content as when he fell asleep on my chest yesterday and we snoozed together on the couch for an hour or so. A little slice of heaven.
Also, I'm going to be taking about two months of paternity leave from working on kottke.org. I'll probably post a few things here and there when I can, but it won't be a priority by any means. I hope you all have a good rest of the summer and that you'll find the site again when I start back up in the fall.
Update: Meg has a post up too and there are photos on Flickr.
CEOs must be designers, not just hire them. "Design is no longer just about form anymore but is a method of thinking that can let you to see around corners. And the high tech breakthroughs that do count today are not about speed and performance but about collaboration, conversation and co-creation."
McSweeney's is opening a small design shop called Timothy McSweeney's Design House to "tackle smaller jobs where the personal touch is welcome". If I wanted a job, this is one of the places I'd apply. (via quipsologies)
The World Without Us looks like an interesting read:
If a virulent virus -- or even the Rapture -- depopulated Earth overnight, how long before all trace of humankind vanished? [...] Days after our disappearance, pumps keeping Manhattan's subways dry would fail, tunnels would flood, soil under streets would sluice away and the foundations of towering skyscrapers built to last for centuries would start to crumble.
Here's a similar article from New Scientist from late 2006. (via mr)
George Bush is searching for answers to account for his failed Presidency. "The reality has been daunting by any account. No modern president has experienced such a sustained rejection by the American public."
Why does your shower curtain do that thing where it blows into you while you're showering? David Schmidt did some fluid-flow modeling and found that the spray creates a vortex (basically a low pressure region) which sucks the curtain in. (via cyn-c)
In the battle of Steve Jobs (CEO of Apple) vs. Steve Jobs (former CEO of Pixar and current Disney Board member), Steve Jobs (Apple) was the clear winner. Apple sold an estimated 500,000 iPhones this weekend -- grossing somewhere between $250 million and $300 million -- while Pixar's Ratatouille grossed $47.2 million.
Update: Some more interesting iPhone statistics, including Apple's stock price increase since the iPhone was announced ($32 billion increase in market cap) and that iPhone was mentioned in 1.25% of all blogs posts over the weekend. (thx, thor)
Update: Apple's stock price went down this morning in heavy trading. I guess Wall Street wasn't so over the moon for the iPhone?
Edward Tufte highlights some infographics done by Megan Jaegerman for the NY Times in the 90s. Tufte: "Her work is elegant, smart, finely detailed, inventive, and informative. A fierce researcher and reporter, she writes gracefully and precisely. Her best work is the best work in news graphics."
John Gruber remarked on the lack of a clipboard on the iPhone and I found myself missing that feature this afternoon. Steven Johnson suggested a double-click of the Home button as a shortcut to the phone favorites screen to shorten initiation times for frequent calls. Both of these observations beg the question: how are new capabilities going to get added to the iPhone? A bunch of you are either interaction/interface designers or otherwise clever folks...how would you add a feature like a clipboard to the iPhone?
Here's where interaction on the iPhone stands right now. Pressing, holding, flipping physical buttons (home, power, silent, volume). Tapping buttons on the screen to active them. Tapping the screen to zoom in/out. Tap the screen with two fingers to zoom with Google Maps. Pinch and expand on screen to zoom in/out. Swipe screen to scroll up/down and side to side. Swipe screen to flip album covers in iPod mode. Touch and hold screen to bring up magnifying loupe and drag to move cursor. Flip unit to reorient screen from portrait to landscape and vice versa. Swipe message to delete. Swipe screen to unlock. There are probably more that I'm forgetting.
How do you add to that while keeping the interface intuitive, uncluttered (both the physical device and onscreen), and usable? Add a button to the device? Add buttons onscreen...a menu button perhaps? Double and triple pressing of physical buttons? New touchscreen gestures? Physical gestures like shaking the entire phone to left or right? Voice activated features? A combination of some/all of those?
I wanted to clarify my comments about Facebook's similarities to AOL. I don't think Facebook is a bad company or that they won't be successful; they seem like smart passionate people who genuinely care about making a great space for their users.1 It's just that I, unlike many other people, don't think that Facebook and Facebook Platform are the future of the web. The platform is great for Facebook, but it's a step sideways or even backwards (towards an AOL-style service) for the web.
Think of it this way. Facebook is an intranet for you and your friends that just happens to be accessible without a VPN. If you're not a Facebook user, you can't do anything with the site...nearly everything published by their users is private. Google doesn't index any user-created information on Facebook.2 AFAIK, user data is available through the platform but that hardly makes it open...all of the significant information and, more importantly, interaction still happens in private. Compare this with MySpace or Flickr or YouTube. Much of the information generated on these sites is publicly available. The pages are indexed by search engines. You don't have to be a user to participate (in the broadest sense...reading, viewing, and lurking are participating).
Faced with competition from this open web, AOL lost...running a closed service with custom content and interfaces was no match for the wild frontier of the web. Maybe if they'd done some things differently, they would have fared better, but they still would have lost. In competitive markets, open and messy trumps closed and controlled in the long run. Everything you can do on Facebook with ease is possible using a loose coalition of blogging software, IM clients, email, Twitter, Flickr, Google Reader, etc. Sure, it's not as automatic or easy, but anyone can participate and the number of things to see and do on the web outnumbers the number of things you can see and do on Facebook by several orders of magnitude (and always will).
At some point in the future, Facebook may well open up, rendering much of this criticism irrelevant. Their privacy controls are legendarily flexible and precise...it should be easy for them to let people expose parts of the information to anyone if they wanted to. And as Matt Webb pointed out to me in an email, there's the possibility that Facebook turn itself inside out and be the social network bit for everyone else's web apps. In the meantime, maybe we shouldn't be so excited about the web's future moving onto an intranet.
 And I'm definitely not, as more than one person has suggested, "bitter" about Facebook's success. Please. Just because you disagree with something doesn't mean you're angry. The only reason I even wrote that post is that I got tired of seeing the same people who think AOL sucked, that Times Select is a bad business decision for the NY Times, that are frustrated by IM interop, and that open participation on the web is changing business, media, and human culture for the better trumpeting that this new closed platform is the way forward. ↩
 Aside from extremely limited profile pages, which are little more than "hi, this person is on Facebook and you should be too" advertisements. Examples here.↩
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