Shared posts

13 Sep 23:18

Twitter Favorites: [washingtonpost] The tricky science and design of transit etiquette PSAs

Washington Post @washingtonpost
The tricky science and design of transit etiquette PSAs
13 Sep 21:14

Twitter Favorites: [meetar] Just added ".@" as a mute word, and half my stream disappeared.

Peter Richardson @meetar
Just added ".@" as a mute word, and half my stream disappeared.
13 Sep 19:35

Twitter Favorites: [JoeTheDough] This Lovecraftian analysis of Ghostbusters by @maxgladstone is very much my jam. Tremendous.

Joe Saunders @JoeTheDough
This Lovecraftian analysis of Ghostbusters by @maxgladstone is very much my jam. Tremendous.…
13 Sep 19:23

Twitter Favorites: [skeskali] FKA Twigs Is Right, "Alternative R&B" Must Die:

Cecily Walker @skeskali
FKA Twigs Is Right, "Alternative R&B" Must Die:…
14 Sep 13:04

Banks Did It Apple's Way

Banks Did It Apple's Way:

Nathaniel Popper:

JPMorgan Chase’s chief financial officer, Marianne Lake, took the stage at a financial conference on Tuesday under strict orders not to mention her company’s involvement in Apple’s new payment system.

But when Apple’s chief executive, Timothy D. Cook, at a news conference in California at the same time, finally brought up Apple Pay, one of Ms. Lake’s deputies in New York took a green apple out of her bag and put it on a table on the stage, signaling that Ms. Lake was free to discuss the service.

Subtle. In other tradecraft:

From the beginning, the project was top secret, with what one person involved called a “code name frenzy.” The card companies had code names for Apple and Apple for the card companies. At Visa, the code name was another consumer electronics company, chosen to avert attention from employees who were not involved. Visa soon had about a thousand people on the team.

Would love to know which other consumer electronics company was served up as the red herring.

All in all, pretty amazing how much pull Apple proved to have over another massive industry. That’s was being the most valuable company in world gets you, I suppose.

13 Sep 20:30

It's Too Big

by Rui Carmo

Although I decided to toss out my general comments on the Apple keynote (given that there wasn’t anything to add regarding watches) there was something to be said on the matter of large phones, so here it is.

Of late, I’ve started looking wistfully at smaller phones. I miss the the Nokia 6120, the Sony Ericsson W880 and other marvels of ancient engineering that graced my desk (and hardly weighed on my pockets) back when I worked in mobile, and would certainly use my Xperia U more often if it wasn’t for the hassle of getting a “normal”-sized SIM card again1.

In fact, my notes on switching to the Xperia U make it plain that I wasn’t very keen on the 4” phone craze either, so there you have it.

Even granting that the screen size race is at least partially sustained by customer demand, one cannot deny that there is a) plenty of one-upmanship involved and b) a rather idiotic amount of revisionist history writing going on right now, especially in the Apple zealot camp.

Both are a dismal waste of time and energy as far as I’m concerned, so I’m just going to admit that larger screens are a regretful consequence of increased customer demand given that many people rely on their smartphone for everything. After all, a larger screen is indeed beneficial for most activities, and if you do your engineering right the battery life usually benefits from a small boost due to the increased volume.

The issue, as far as I’m concerned, is that sizes beyond 4.7” start becoming unwieldy and increasingly hard to use one-handed.

And since people don’t carry their phones in their hands constantly, those larger sizes also become unwieldy in other ways.

A Year With An iPhone 6-sized Phone

As it happens, the iPhone 6 (non-Plus) is very, very close to the size of my HTC One (M7), which I’ve been using for a year now.

Right off the bat I listed its size as the main downside, and I haven’t changed my mind since. The screen is great (it’s a 1920x1080, 468ppi screen, better than the iPhone 6 and equivalent to the iPhone 6 Plus), but even after a year the size is a constant, grating annoyance.

It’s a pain to insert into a trouser pocket, bulges awkwardly, requires constant adjustment to avoid tearing the linings and is a considerable challenge to merely extract from said pocket, whether you’re sitting in the car or standing in the office.

Even after a year of weeky near-misses, I still drop it on occasion when it gets caught on the edge of my pocket. Keep that in mind if you’re lusting after the iPhone 6 Plus.

What keeps me using it on weekdays (besides work) is that it is excellent for reading news and e-books while commuting. Otherwise it mostly just sits on my desk, propped up on a stand so I can glance at notifications2 and pick it up with ease.

I’d go nuts if I had to take it out from my pocket every time I get a call.

So every weekend I revert to my iPhone 5, which is markedly easier to pocket and use one-handedly.

And every single evening I put the HTC One aside and pick up a 3.5” Retina iPod Touch, which is — to me — exactly the right form factor for something I want to keep with me at all times.

So I would certainly buy a smaller, thinner iPhone instead of a smaller, voice-enabled iPad. And I’m positive I’m not the only one.

Addendum — The One Itself

I haven’t written anything about my long-term experience with the One, so I guess this is as good a place as any.

Largely thanks to its great screen, the thing is still the best Android phone I’ve used (and I’ve played around with quite a few in the meantime).

It’s fast, polished, and what few apps I use on it run fine. Audio is great (thank you, Beats! Oh, wait — thank you, Apple!). The only thing that keeps marring the experience is the absolutely horrid camera3.

On the software side, it bears noting that I’ve disabled most HTC customizations (especially all the Sense UI crap and its little flotilla of accessory apps) and turned it into a reasonable facsimile of a “normal” Android device by dint of installing the Google Now Launcher and changing the default keyboard.

The only reason I haven’t re-flashed the phone with a ‘vanilla’ Google Play image is that I rather like the extended power management features HTC added in the latter versions, namely the “extreme power saving” mode that disables most features except calls and SMS messaging — it’s especially handy when travelling, or when the mobile network goes out of wonk and the phone decides to drain its battery beaconing in unmitigated panic.

It also bears noting that HTC pushed out an OTA upgrade to Android 4.4.3 early this week, so they’re good on my book (although I suspect that’s essentially due to their having to update the Google Play edition as well). But at least that (and their statement that it will eventually run Android L) gives me even less incentive to tinker with the firmware.

  1. The U’s side slot makes it almost impossible to employ micro-SIM adaptors or other kind of shims, so I only use it on vacation these days. 

  2. Which are still far better than in iOS, and far more customizable

  3. HTC completely dropped the ball on the 4Mp UltraPixel sensor as far as I’m concerned, since I’ve yet to get a single photo I’m happy with out of it, regardless of which camera app I use. 

Tao of Mac Icon "It's Too Big" was written by Rui Carmo for The Tao of Mac and was originally posted on Saturday, Sep 13th 2014. Except as noted, it's ©2014 Rui Carmo and licensed for reuse under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.

As usual, please consider donating towards hosting and bandwidth costs.

14 Sep 11:56

How do I remove unwanted cards from Google Now?

by Jane McEntegart

Question: I searched for the Blue Jays once and now Google won’t stop showing me cards with Blue Jays scores. How do I tell Google that I don’t care about the Jays, or even baseball? Even when I swipe the cards away, they just come back later.

Answer: Google’s personal assistant exists to make your life easier by delivering relevant timely updates based on information you provide to Google. Google Now uses information you use in Google Search to determine your interests, favourite sites and sports teams, as well as traffic and flight information. It turns the results of those queries into cards than can be accessed with a simple swipe left on your Android phone. Unfortunately, Google Now isn’t perfect, and sometimes we can end up with results we don’t want. Here’s how to edit your Google Now cards to remove topics you don’t care about.

Step 1: Swipe left to pull up Google Now. This is where you’ll see all of your current cards.

Step 2: Scroll to the card you want to get rid of and tap the three dots on the top right corner of the update.googlecardshowto

Step 3: Tap ‘No’ when Google asks you if you’re interested in Toronto Blue Jays games (or whatever other topic you’re trying to get rid of).

Step 4: You can also click the little magic wand to customize your cards even further. Here, Google will suggest updates based on your searches and you can manually add interests (like certain places or stocks) that don’t show up on their own.


08 Sep 00:00

Re Powers that be Buy Influence at Think Tanks [IP Letter]

We should worry when research is considered a product rather than an effort to broaden our understanding.
13 Sep 17:45

Porting to WordPress: Worknotes Part 1

by Jake Savin
wordpress-logo-sm.png: About a week ago I started a project to port this site from Manila to WordPress. While there are probably very few Manila users still out there who might want to do this, I thought it would still be a useful exercise to document the process here, in case anything I've learned might be useful.

This is something I have been wanting to do in my spare time for years now. But with family and work obligations, a couple of job changes, and a move from Woodinville to Seattle last fall, carving out the time to do this well was beyond my capacity.

Now that I'm recently between jobs, the only big obligation I have outside of spending time with my wife and son is to find another job. Some learning can't hurt that effort. Plus I seem to have a surplus of spare time on my hands right at the moment.

Managed or Self-hosted?

The first question I needed to answer before even starting this process is whether I want to host on a managed service (most likely, or if I should self-host. There are trade-offs either way.

The biggest advantages of the managed option come from the very fact that the servers are run by someone else. I wouldn't have to worry about network outages, hardware failures, software installation and updates, and applying an endless stream of security patches.

But some of the same features which are good if I were to go with a hosted solution, are also limiting. I would have limited control over customization. I wouldn't be able to install additional software along-side of WordPress. I would be limited to the number of sub-sites I was willing to pay for. I wouldn't necessarily have direct access to the guts of the system (database, source code, etc).

Most importantly, I wouldn't be in control of my web presence end-to-end -- something which has been important to me ever since I first started publishing my own content on the Web in 1997.

There's one more advantage of self-hosting which is important to me: I want to learn how WordPress itself actually works. I want to understand what's actually required to administer a server, and also start learning about the WordPress source code. The fringe benefit of this is also learning some PHP, which while some web developers prefer alternate languages like Ruby, Python, or Node.js, the install-base of WordPress itself is so enormous, that from a professional development perspective, learning some PHP is a pretty sensible thing to do.

I decided to go self-hosted, on my relatively new Synology DS-412+ NAS. It's more than capable of running the site along with the other services I use it for. It's always on, always connected to the Internet, and has RAID redundancy which will limit at least somewhat, the risks associated with hardware failure.

Develop a Strategy

The next thing I needed to work out was an overarching plan for how to do this.

Aside from getting WordPress installed and running on my NAS, how the heck am I going to get all the data ported over?

First, I made a list of what's actually on the site:

  1. A bunch of blog posts (News Items) sitting in a Frontier object database
  2. Comments on those posts
  3. A small amount of discussion in the threaded discussion group
  4. User accounts for everyone who commented or posted in the discussion group
  5. A bunch of pictures and other media files
  6. A few "stories"
  7. Some "departments" that blog posts live in
  8. A site structure that put some pages on friendlier URLs
  9. Logs and stats that I don't care much about
  10. A sub-site I never posted much to, and abandoned years ago

For the most part, there aren't any types of information that don't have an allegory in WordPress. News items are blog posts, comments are comments, stories are pages, pictures are image attachments, departments are categories. The stats and logs I'm happy to throw away. Not sure what to do with the site structure, but if push comes to shove, I can just use .htaccess files to redirect the old URLs to their new homes.

Next I needed a development environment -- someplace where I can write and refine code that would extract the data and get it into WordPress.

On the Manila side, I did some work a little over a year ago to get Manila nominally working in Dave Winer's OPML editor, which is based on the same kernel and foundation as UserLand Frontier, over which Manila was originally developed. The nice thing about this is that I have a viable development environment that I can use separately from the Manila server that's currently running the production site.

On the WordPress side it makes sense to just host my development test sites on my MacBook Air, and then once I have the end-to-end porting process working well, actually port to my production server -- the Synology NAS.

Data Transmogrification

Leaving the media files and comments aside for a moment, I needed to make a big decision about how to get the blog post data out of my site, and into my WordPress site. This was going to involve writing code somewhere to pull the data out, massage it in an as-yet unknown way, and then put it somewhere that WordPress could use it to (re-)build the site.

It seemed like there were about five ways to go and maybe only one or two good ones. Which method I picked would determine how hard this would actually be, how long it might take, and if it's even feasible at all.

Method 1: Track down Erin Clerico

A bunch of years ago, Erin Clerico (a long-time builder and hoster of Manila sites in the 2000's) had developed some tools to port Manila sites to WordPress.

A couple years back, I'd discussed with Erin the possibility of porting my site using his tools. Sadly he was no longer maintaining them at that time.

If I remembered correctly, his tools used the WordPress API to transmit the content into WordPress from a live Manila server -- I have one of those. It might be possible, I thought, to see if Erin would share his code with me, and I could update and adapt it as necessary for my site, and the newer versions of WordPress itself.

But this was unknown territory: I've never looked at Erin's code, know very little about what may have changed over the years in the WordPress API, and don't even know if Erin still has that code anywhere.

Method 2: Use the WordPress API

I could of course write my own code from scratch that sends content to WordPress via its API.

This would be a good learning exercise, since I would get to know the API well. And the likelihood that WordPress will do the right thing with the data I send it is obviously pretty high. Since that component is widely used, it's probably quite well tested and robust.

This approach would also work equally well, no matter where I decided to host the site -- on my own server or whatever hosted service I chose.

But there potential problems:

  • Manila/Frontier may speak a different dialect on the wire than WordPress -- I haven't tested it myself.
  • Client/server debugging can be a pain, unless you have good debugging tools on both sides of the connection. I've got great tools on the Manila side, but basically no experience yet with debugging web services in PHP on the WordPress side.
  • It's likely to be slow because of all the extra work the machines will have to do in order to get the data to go between the "on-the-wire" format and their native format. This will make debugging more tedious, and anything that slows me down will make me less likely to succeed in the end.

Method 3: Use Manila's RSS generator

Of course Manila speaks RSS (duh). And WordPress has an RSS import tool -- Cool!

In theory I should be able to set Manila's RSS feed to include a very large number of items (say 5,000), and then have WordPress read and import from the feed.

The main problem here is that I would lose all the comments. Also I'm not sure what happens to images and the like. Would they be imported too? Or would I have to go through every post that has a picture, upload the picture, and edit the post to link to the new URL? More unknowns...

In the end I'm a bit less worried about the images, since I can just maintain them at their current URLs. It's a shame not to have real attachment objects in my WordPress site, but not the end of the world. There's also the problem that some images are coming straight out of Frontier's object database because I haven't always used the "static pictures" feature of Manila. (Turns out that this will be an issue anyway for other reasons, but I digress.)

Loss of the comments however would be a let-down to my readers, and would also limit the export tool's potential usefulness for other people (or my other sites).

Lastly, Manila maintains a bunch of information that doesn't actually show up in its RSS feeds - at least by default. Discussion group messages only appear in the discussion group feed. Pictures don't appear at all. Nor stories...

Method 4: Make Manila impersonate another blogging service

In theory it should be possible to make Manila expose RPC interfaces that work just like Blogger, LiveJournal, or Tumblr. WordPress has importers that work with all of these APIs against the original services.

Assuming there aren't limitations of Frontier (for example no HTTPS, or complications around authentication) that would prevent this from working, this should get most or all of the information I want into WordPress.

But there are limitations with some of the importers:

  • The Tumblr importer imports posts and media, but I'd lose comments and users (commenters' identities)
  • The LiveJournal importer seems to only understand posts
  • The Movable Type and TypePad importer imports from an export/backup file, and understands posts and comments, but not media

The only importer that appears to work directly from an API, and supports posts, comments, and users is the Blogger importer. (It doesn't say it'll pick up media however.)

In the Movable Type / TypePad case, I'd have to write code to export to their file format, and it's not clear what might get lost in that process. It's probably also roughly the same amount of work that would be needed to export to WordPress' own WXP format (see below), so that's not a clear win.

When it comes to emulating the APIs of other services (Blogger, Tumblr, LiveJournal), there's potentially a large amount of work involved, and except for Blogger, there would be missing data. There's also the non-trivial matter of learning those APIs. (If I'm going to learn a new API, I'd rather learn the WordPress API first.)

Method 5: Make Manila pretend to be WordPress

While researching the problem, I discovered quickly that WordPress itself exports to a format called WXR, which stands for WordPress eXtended RSS. Basically it's an XML file containing an RSS 2.0 feed, with additional elements in an extension namespace (wp:). The extension elements provide additional information for posts, and also add comments and attachment information.

On first glance, this seemed like the best approach, since I wouldn't be pretending to understand the intricacies of another service, and instead would be speaking RSS with the eXtended WordPress elements -- a format that WordPress itself natively understands.

Also since I'm doing a static file export, my code-test-debug cycle should be tighter: More fun to do the work, and less time overall.

Method 6: Reverse-engineer the WordPress database schema

I did briefly consider diving into MySQL and trying to understand how WordPress stores data in the database itself. It's theoretically possible to have Manila inject database records into MySQL directly, and then WordPress wouldn't be the wiser that the data didn't come from WordPress itself.

This idea is pretty much a non-starter for this project though, for the primary reason that reverse-engineering anything is inherently difficult, and the likelihood that I would miss something important and not realize it until much later is pretty high.

Time to get started!

I decided on Method 5: Make Manila pretend to be WordPress. It's the easiest overall from a coding perspective, the least different from things I already know (RSS 2.0 + extensions), and should support all of the data that I want to get into WordPress from my site. It also has the advantage of being likely to work regardless of whether I stick with the decision to self-host, or decide to host at or wherever else.

Implementing the Blogger API was a close second, and indeed if Manila still had a large user-base I almost certainly would have done this. (There are many apps and tools that know how to talk to Blogger, so there would have been multiple benefits from this approach for Manila's users.)

In my next post I'll talk about WXR itself, and the structure of the code I wrote in the OPML Editor to export to it.

14 Sep 06:13

Thank You

by Eran Hammer

It’s hard to describe the joy of writing a successful open source project. There is the satisfaction from people using your code and knowing that all that effort wasn’t for not. There is the gain in reputation and boost to one’s career that translate most directly to the bottom line. But all these measurable metrics still fall short of the true joy.

For the longest time, hapi was about me. The most gratifying feeling is knowing that it really isn’t anymore. It is a community of kind, smart, and dedicated people who made a decision to use it and be part of it. I still get to lead but it is not mine anymore. It has taken a life of its own and that’s the most rewarding return you can ever expect. Creating something that far exceeds my own abilities.

I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about how I want to cash in on this success and I’ve decided to use my influence to fix diversity in tech. I think the hapi community is leading the way in stability (enterprise grade with that startup smell), quality (fanatical code coverage), and openness (almost twenty leads working together in the open). It should be enough, but what’s enough? So I decided to set my own personal sight on diversity.

As a gay man (yes, still a white male) I have been fortunate to never know true adversity. But I can easily empathize with those who do not feel comfortable stepping forward and joining the crowd (and let’s face it, white males do not have the best track record). I have been listening to non-male developers I respect and I’ve been reading research on the topic. To me, fixing diversity is the next big challenge.

I plan to use whatever influence I’ve earned, whatever open source karma I’ve got, to help nudge gender diversity in tech. Not because I have a daughter (I hate this stupid excuse), but because it is the right thing. It’s that simple. And I do have a lot to gain from it because the few women I got to work with in my career have been outstanding and I would like to see more.

So thank you for putting me in a position where I can try and make a difference. The support and adoption the hapi framework is getting is one of the highlights of my career and probably what I will be known for in the near future (much better than that authentication protocol I once wrote).

I would much rather be known for creating the most diverse community in tech. Now that’s something worth aspiring for.

14 Sep 05:08

Listing of the first Android One handset goes live pre-maturely on FlipKart

by Rajesh Pandey
Tomorrow, Google is hosting an event in India where it will be unveiling the first batch of Android One devices. However, Flipkart — one of the largest online retailer in India — had jumped the gun and accidentally made the listing of one of the Android One handsets live on its website.  Continue reading →
09 Sep 16:07

Are you making things people want? — Medium

by Boris Mann

The problems people encounter in their lives rarely change from generation to generation. But the products they hire to solve these problems change all the time.

12 Sep 23:35

Twitter Favorites: [bmann] "@Pocket API is beautifully simple. If you're a dev, you should check it out" (via @geekforbrains)

Boris Mann @bmann
"@Pocket API is beautifully simple. If you're a dev, you should check it out" (via @geekforbrains) < wish list for @disruptioncorp Hubble
11 Sep 23:33

Twitter Favorites: [PitchTalks] So proud of @ruhee_ getting things started!

Pitch Talks @PitchTalks
So proud of @ruhee_ getting things started!
11 Sep 19:44

Twitter Favorites: [colerise] tested both iPhone 6 cameras in a dark room. between them, the difference was negligible, but both were MUCH better than the iPhone 5S.

Cole Rise @colerise
tested both iPhone 6 cameras in a dark room. between them, the difference was negligible, but both were MUCH better than the iPhone 5S.
11 Sep 05:41

Twitter Favorites: [gregeh] Vancouver is the most liveable city in the world for introverts, discuss.

Greg Andrews @gregeh
Vancouver is the most liveable city in the world for introverts, discuss.
12 Sep 14:52

a dark, glass, rectangular fiscal wormhole of faux nostalgia

"More than half of all European mobile consumers gain access to the technology through contracts (even more in the US). Far from being ours to own, the handset is a gateway to a fiscal wormhole, siphoning money from our futures and pouring it into the dark glass rectangle of the present. You can most likely only Instagram because of he financial plan wrapped up in your phone. Therefore, nostalgic products such as Instagram are themselves only made possible by time shifting. The past and the future have been bent backwards on each other to enable the fake 70s glow of the selfie you’re currently posting." 

- Sam Jacobs, Money: Time: Space — from Real Estates - Life Without Debt (Bedford Press) 

12 Sep 11:21

Do company names actually matter?

by Yossi Kreinin

This is a bit of a trite thought, but: Can it be that company names actually matter? Consider some examples:

  • Microsoft:  stands for "microprocessor software". Still the dominant software vendor for descendants of the original microprocessor. Never made commercially successful hardware.
  • Intel: stands for "integrated electronics" (chips.) Upon commoditization of DRAM, successfully pivoted to microprocessors – a harder-to-design, easier-to-differentiate kind of chip. Growth slowed when less "vertically integrated" competitors emerged, with both chip manufacturing (fabs) and circuit design/"IP" (CPUs, GPUs etc.) getting commoditized (TSMC + ARM is cheaper than Intel.) Had/has a consumer product division which was never successful.
  • Google: "a very large number", does "things that scale". After its original service, web search, had success with webmail and a smartphone OS. Not known for particularly attentive customer support (support doesn't scale.)
  • Amazon: "plenty", does "things that scale". Originally an online retail company, had success with e-book readers and "cloud infrastructure". Does everything it can so you never have to talk to support, which doesn't scale.
  • Samsung: "three stars", the world "three" representing "big, numerous and powerful". Indeed they are, in a wide variety of areas.
  • Facebook: a one-product company. Buys up other messaging, sharing and social networking companies so people can't flock elsewhere. Facebook phone tanked.
  • Twitter: another one-product company.
  • Apple: name stands for sweet stuff (say loyal users to befuddled me.) Used to be called "Apple Computer", renamed to plain "Apple" in 2007. Successfully incorporated device and chip design, server- and client-side software and retail into its business.
  • IBM: international business machines. A long-time near-monopoly in business computing, still going relatively strong in data storage systems, job schedulers and other corporate IT stuff. No considerable success in any consumer market despite the IBM PC being the first wildly successful computer for consumers (PC division eventually sold to Lenovo.)
  • The Walt Disney company: vigorously lobbies for copyright protection for characters created during Walt's days. Few characters created after Walt's death are nearly as successful; arguably the most successful ones came from acquiring Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm. Money spent on buying Pixar probably could have been saved if the company didn't fire John Lasseter but instead let him develop his ideas about computer animation. Would Walt have failed to see the potential?
  • Toyota: originally "Toyoda", a family name. Today's CEO is a founder's descendant. The founder's first name is not in the company's name. The company does not seem weakened by the founder's demise.

Some of my Google/Wikipedia-based "research" might be off. And I doubt that founding a company called "Huge Profits" would necessarily net me huge profits. However:

  1. The company name often reflects founders' vision.
  2. Such a vision doesn't change easily, especially if a company is successful – because success is convincing/addictive, and because an organization was by now built around that vision.
  3. Once the founders are gone, the vision becomes even harder to change because nobody has the authority and confidence. (Indeed one way in which organizations die, IMO, is through the continuous departure of people with authority that are not succeeded by anyone with comparable authority. Gradually, in more and more areas, things operate by inertia without adapting to changes.) Steve Jobs had to come back to Apple Computer to rename it to just "Apple".

So if you're the rare person capable of starting a successful company, and you insist on it being a huge success and not just a big one, make the vision as unconstrained as you can imagine.

P.S. For investment advice taking company names into account, I recommend Ian Lance Taylor's excellent essay titled Stock Prices.

12 Sep 22:10

10 books that influence me

by Bruce Byfield

Yesterday, Steve Bougerolle tagged me for the meme of listing “ten books that stayed with you in some way.”

Considering I’ve been on a diet of three to ten books per week (depending on their density) since I was eight or nine, confining myself to ten is a bit of a challenge. Nor did I simply want to name without commenting, or to bother other people with the meme, which is why I am blogging rather than just answering on Facebook.

Still, here is my list, in no particular order:

  • George Eliot, Middlemarch: I’m one of those who think that Middlemarch is the greatest Victorian novel. The story of several couples in a small industrial town, the novel has a psychological depth that is unequaled even today. I’ve read it three times, and can easily imagine me reading several more times, each time finding something new to admire.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: I started reading the first book of the trilogy one Saturday in the summer between Grades Four and Five. I spent a very long Sunday evening waiting for Monday so I could get the last two volumes from the store. The experience was overwhelming, and gave me a life-long taste for fantasy and science fiction.
  • Earl Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle: Although I have been an agnostic since my mid-teens, I always assumed that a historical Jesus existed. But when I read this plausible case for the non-existence of Jesus, I was shocked for one of the few times in my life. I felt cheated that so much history and art had been founded on nothing. The book itself is obsessive to the point of unhealthiness, but worth wading through for its ideas.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign: I read this fragment of the Vorkosigan Saga for the first time a few months ago. Two weeks later, I read it again – something I almost never do. A mixture of space opera, Shakespearean comedy, and Regency romance, A Civil Campaign is one of the funniest books I have ever read, with a cast of characters that you can laugh at while still identifying with.
  • George Orwell, Collected Essays: This collection features not only the calm clarity of Orwell’s writing, but also the best record of what it was like to be an English intellectual in the 1930s and 1940s. By the time I finished it for the first time, it had had a permanent effect – for the better, I believe – on my prose style by making me much more aware of what my goals in writing were.
  • Wilkie Collins, No Name: A young woman is declared illegitimate, and seeks revenge and justice in Victorian England. Of course she has to repent at the end, but watching her get to that point is so much fun it hardly matters. This is one of the lost classics of Victorian literature, and deserves to be better known.
  • Susan Faludi, Stiffed:, The Betrayal of the American Man: I had read Backlash and admired it, but Stiffed, which was relatively ignored, is even more monumental. Feminists often say that men suffer under patriarchy as well, but, so far as I know, Faludi is the only feminist who set out to examine and prove this contention. It’s a book that every feminist should read, and every anti-feminist as well, and establishes what Backlash first suggested: Faludi is one of the great modern American journalists.
  • Paul Watzlawick, Janet Beavin Bavelas, and Don D. Jackson, The Pragmatics of Human Communication: This classic textbook applies system theory to psychology. For me, it was a gateway to the works of Gregory Bateson, Jacques LaCan, and Anthony Wilden, and, as such, a lifelong influence on my habits of thought.
  • Carl Gustav Jung, Collected Works (in English): I worked steadily through these thick volumes as I was writing my thesis. Jung is not an easy read, but he gave me the intellectual framework for studying fantasy and proved to me the importance of symbols in people’s thinking. If I seem eccentric, one reason is that I am more of a Jungian while most people are Freudians or anti-Freudians.
  • Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book: As a boy, I loved the deliberately archaic language and the poems between the stories, as well as their genuine pathos. I probably wouldn’t have stayed in Cubs as long as I did, except I loved the fact that the rituals were based on Kipling’s poetry.

Give me another five list items, and I would include Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, which started me reading anarchists, and the collected works of Shelley, which taught me most of what I know about poetry and kept me sane during my warehouse job between high school and university. But give me another five, and I would undoubtedly want space for another five, and five more after that. For me, books are not just ways to kill time, but some of the main building blocks of my psychology (most of the rest being music and people). So when I’m asked to list influential books, in an indirect way, I’m really telling my own story, which to me seems endless.

11 Sep 13:30

Thirteen is Understanding

by Anil

They say the best way to see if you really understand something is to try to explain it to another person. I'll never really understand what happened to my beloved city thirteen years ago today, of course, but I've had in mind that my young son is now old enough that I'll soon have to answer some question about 9/11. Already, he's been downtown and we've looked at the new World Trade Center tower and admired the sleek new skyscraper. It won't be too many more visits until he asks why they built this new skyscraper, or what was here before, or what those big reflecting pools are for.

There's no part of that day that one should ever have to explain to a child, but I realized for the first time this year that, when the time comes, I'll be ready. Enough time has passed that I could recite the facts, without simply dissolving into a puddle of my own unresolved questions. I look back at past years, at my own observances of this anniversary, and see how I veered from crushingly sad to fiercely angry to tentatively optimistic, and in each of those moments I was living in one part of what I felt. Maybe I'm ready to see this thing in a bigger picture, or at least from a perspective outside of just myself.

At a darker level, there's also the understanding that horrible things will happen again. I've accepted that the events of 9/11 did not catalyze enough change to meaningfully alter our path as a culture. We can promise to Never Forget all that we want, but that won't stop people from being in pain, from suffering, from attacking or being attacked. We can bemoan surveillance culture and compromises in our civil liberties, but even these wrongs have not substantially changed who we are. It does not diminish the memory of that day to remind ourselves that this kind of horror is not unique. And truly taking that belief to heart is, to me, the first sign that I've contextualized the events of 9/11 into my own life with perhaps some of the perspective that others have been able to arrive at more quickly.

And with that little bit of perspective comes a renewed sense of obligation. Even though I may understand a bit more about the world than I did 13 years ago, I still share every bit of the resolve that I found on that day, a conviction that I have a fundamental, unyielding duty to be more kind, more forgiving, more neighborly in serving my city, more thoughtful to my family and friends, and more courageous in speaking up about injustice. I have so much work to do to even approach any of those goals, but I find a great deal of comfort in realizing that understanding more has brought me to the same conclusions about what matters.

In Past Years

Each year I've written about this anniversary, in hopes of recording for myself where I am and what I've felt. These are personal observations, not speaking to any of the larger issues raised by 9/11, but I hope others find something of value in the observances.

Last year I wrote Twelve is Trying:

I thought in 2001 that some beautiful things could come out of that worst of days, and sure enough, that optimism has often been rewarded. There are boundless examples of kindness and generosity in the worst of circumstances that justify the hope I had for people's basic decency back then, even if initially my hope was based only on faith and not fact.

But there is also fatigue. The inevitable fading of outrage and emotional devastation into an overworked rhetorical reference point leaves me exhausted. The decay of a brief, profound moment of unity and reflection into a cheap device to be used to prop up arguments about the ordinary, the everyday and the mundane makes me weary. I'm tired from the effort to protect the fragile memory of something horrific and hopeful that taught me about people at their very best and at their very, very worst.

In 2012, Eleven is What We Make:

These are the gifts our children, or all children, give us every day in a million different ways. But they're also the gifts we give ourselves when we make something meaningful and beautiful. The new World Trade Center buildings are beautiful, in a way that the old ones never were, and in a way that'll make our fretting over their exorbitant cost seem short-sighted in the decades to come. More importantly, they exist. We made them, together. We raised them in the past eleven years just as surely as we've raised our children, with squabbles and mistakes and false starts and slow, inexorable progress toward something beautiful.

In 2011 for the 10th anniversary, Ten is Love and Everything After:

I don't have any profound insights or political commentary to offer that others haven't already articulated first and better. All that I have is my experience of knowing what it mean to be in New York City then. And from that experience, the biggest lesson I have taken is that I have the obligation to be a kinder man, a more thoughtful man, and someone who lives with as much passion and sincerity as possible. Those are the lessons that I'll tell my son some day in the distant future, and they're the ones I want to remember now.

In 2010, Nine is New New York:

[T]his is, in many ways, a golden era in the entire history of New York City.

Over the four hundred years it's taken for this city to evolve into its current form, there's never been a better time to walk down the street. Crime is low, without us having sacrificed our personality or passion to get there. We've invested in making our sidewalks more walkable, our streets more accommodating of the bikes and buses and taxis that convey us around our town. There's never been a more vibrant scene in the arts, music or fashion here. And in less than half a decade, the public park where I got married went from a place where I often felt uncomfortable at noontime to one that I wanted to bring together my closest friends and family on the best day of my life. We still struggle with radical inequality, but more people interact with people from broadly different social classes and cultures every day in New York than any other place in America, and possibly than in any other city in the world.

And all of this happened, by choice, in the years since the attacks.

In 2009, Eight Is Starting Over:

[T]his year, I am much more at peace. It may be that, finally, we've been called on by our leadership to mark this day by being of service to our communities, our country, and our fellow humans. I've been trying of late to do exactly that. And I've had a bit of a realization about how my own life was changed by that day.

Speaking to my mother last week, I offhandedly mentioned how almost all of my friends and acquaintances, my entire career and my accomplishments, my ambitions and hopes have all been born since September 11, 2001. If you'll pardon the geeky reference, it's as if my life was rebooted that day and in the short period afterwards. While I have a handful of lifelong friends with whom I've stayed in touch, most of the people I'm closest to are those who were with me on the day of the attacks or shortly thereafter, and the goals I have for myself are those which I formed in the next days and weeks. i don't think it's coincidence that I was introduced to my wife while the wreckage at the site of the towers was still smoldering, or that I resolved to have my life's work amount to something meaningful while my beloved city was still papered with signs mourning the missing.

In 2008, Seven Is Angry:

Finally getting angry myself, I realize that nobody has more right to claim authority over the legacy of the attacks than the people of New York. And yet, I don't see survivors of the attacks downtown claiming the exclusive right to represent the noble ambition of Never Forgetting. I'm not saying that people never mention the attacks here in New York, but there's a genuine awareness that, if you use the attacks as justification for your position, the person you're addressing may well have lost more than you that day. As I write this, I know that parked out front is the car of a woman who works in my neighborhood. Her car has a simple but striking memorial on it, listing her mother's name, date of birth, and the date 9/11/2001.

In 2007, Six Is Letting Go:

On the afternoon of September 11th, 2001, and especially on September 12th, I wasn't only sad. I was also hopeful. I wanted to believe that we wouldn't just Never Forget that we would also Always Remember. People were already insisting that we'd put aside our differences and come together, and maybe the part that I'm most bittersweet and wistful about was that I really believed it. I'd turned 26 years old just a few days before the attacks, and I realize in retrospect that maybe that moment, as I eased from my mid-twenties to my late twenties, was the last time I'd be unabashedly optimistic about something, even amidst all the sorrow.

In 2006, After Five Years, Failure:

[O]ne of the strongest feelings I came away with on the day of the attacks was a feeling of some kind of hope. Being in New York that day really showed me the best that people can be. As much as it's become cliché now, there's simply no other way to describe a display that profound. It was truly a case of people showing their very best nature.

We seem to have let the hope of that day go, though.

In 2005, Four Years:

I saw people who hated New York City, or at least didn't care very much about it, trying to act as if they were extremely invested in recovering from the attacks, or opining about the causes or effects of the attacks. And to me, my memory of the attacks and, especially, the days afterward had nothing to do with the geopolitics of the situation. They were about a real human tragedy, and about the people who were there and affected, and about everything but placing blame and pointing fingers. It felt thoughtless for everyone to offer their response in a framework that didn't honor the people who were actually going through the event.

In 2004, Thinking Of You:

I don't know if it's distance, or just the passing of time, but I notice how muted the sorrow is. There's a passivity, a lack of passion to the observances. I knew it would come, in the same way that a friend told me quite presciently that day back in 2001 that "this is all going to be political debates someday" and, well, someday's already here.

In 2003, Two Years:

I spent a lot of time, too much time, resenting people who were visiting our city, and especially the site of the attacks, these past two years. I've been so protective, I didn't want them to come and get their picture taken like it was Cinderella's Castle or something. I'm trying really hard not to be so angry about that these days. I found that being angry kept me from doing the productive and important things that really mattered, and kept me from living a life that I know I'm lucky to have.

In 2002, I wrote On Being An American:

[I]n those first weeks, I thought a lot about what it is to be American. That a lot of people outside of New York City might not even recognize their own country if they came to visit. The America that was attacked a year ago was an America where people are as likely to have been born outside the borders of the U.S. as not. Where most of the residents speak another language in addition to English. Where the soundtrack is, yes, jazz and blues and rock and roll, but also hip hop and salsa and merengue. New York has always been where the first fine threads of new cultures work their way into the fabric of America, and the city the bore the brunt of those attacks last September reflected that ideal to its fullest.

In 2001, Thank You:

I am physically fine, as are all my family members and immediate friends. I've been watching the footage all morning, I can't believe I watched the World Trade Center collapse...

I've been sitting here this whole morning, choking back tears... this is just too much, too big. I can see the smoke and ash from the street here. I have friends of friends who work there, I was just there myself the day before yesterday. I can't process this all. I don't want to.

12 Sep 17:05

How Tim Cook Might Have Introduced Apple Watch, and Exponent Episode 017: Let’s End it There

by Ben Thompson

In 2010, John Gruber wrote an article for Macworld called This is How Apple Rolls:

They take something small, simple, and painstakingly well considered. They ruthlessly cut features to derive the absolute minimum core product they can start with. They polish those features to a shiny intensity. At an anticipated media event, Apple reveals this core product as its Next Big Thing, and explains—no, wait, it simply shows—how painstakingly thoughtful and well designed this core product is. The company releases the product for sale.

Then everyone goes back to Cupertino and rolls. As in, they start with a few tightly packed snowballs and then roll them in more snow to pick up mass until they’ve got a snowman. That’s how Apple builds its platforms. It’s a slow and steady process of continuous iterative improvement—so slow, in fact, that the process is easy to overlook if you’re observing it in real time. Only in hindsight is it obvious just how remarkable Apple’s platform development process is.

I really like the idea of a Wearable generally, and I think the Apple Watch looks fantastic. But when it comes to software I’m concerned that Apple got away from this powerful process. That was at the root of my concern in Apple Watch: Asking Why and Saying No. As a follow-up to that article, I wrote in my subscriber-only Daily Update how I thought Tim Cook should have introduced the Watch:

If you’ll forgive my presumptiveness, this is what I would have liked to hear:

There is one more thing.

We just showed you the best phones ever. They are bigger in every way, allowing you to do more than ever before. But sometimes you want to do less.

For example, suppose you are walking to a place you haven’t been before; you don’t want to look at a phone screen, you simply want to know where to go.

Or maybe for you the iPhone is your primary computer, so you buy the new iPhone 6 Plus, and you keep it in your bag. How, then, do you ensure you don’t miss that important call, or quickly respond to a text? Perhaps you are at the park with your children, or out to eat with your partner. You want to stay in that moment, with those you care about, yet still be reachable.

I just showed you Apple Pay with an iPhone, but even then you still need to get something out of your pocket or purse. What if there were something even more convenient and natural?

For me, fitness is really important, but an iPhone, even with our new M8 chip, is at best a blunt instrument for tracking your fitness and health. Wouldn’t it be better to have something that was always on you, even while exercising?

For our customers, the iPhone is their life: where they work, play, and everything in between. But all of us have just a few people that mean so much more, to whom we are as close as can be even if we are miles apart. What if we could connect with those most important to us in a much more personal way?

We love the iPhone; it’s the best phone on the planet, and it lets you do almost anything. But, for just a few key things, we think there is a better way. A better product, one that is the next chapter in the Apple Story.

Cue video

And then, a demo of these five use cases, and nothing else, with a clear emphasis that the Watch makes the iPhone better by doing just a couple of things really well, and looks absolutely fantastic to boot. No searching for movies, no SDK, just a simple and compelling reason to exist, with the patience to know that all of the other good ideas – and apps – will come to the platform in due course.

(To read the rest of this piece and to receive the Daily Update every morning, you can sign up here)

On the latest episode of Exponent, the podcast I co-host with James Allworth, we go deep on this same point: why is Apple trying to do so much with Watch, and obscuring the parts that are truly remarkable?

Plus, luxury in Asia and console follow-up. You can listen to the episode here.

Podcast Information: Feed | iTunes | SoundCloud | Twitter | Feedback

The post How Tim Cook Might Have Introduced Apple Watch, and Exponent Episode 017: Let’s End it There appeared first on stratechery by Ben Thompson.

12 Sep 20:02

Running my own AutoPhone

by gbrown-mozilla

AutoPhone is a brilliant platform for running automated tests on physical mobile devices.

:bc maintains an AutoPhone instance running startup performance tests (aka “S1/S2 tests” or “throbber start/stop tests”) on a small farm of test phones; those tests run against all of our Firefox for Android builds and results are reported to PhoneDash, available for viewing at

I have used for a long time now, and reported regressions in bugs and in my monthly “Performance Check-up” posts, but I have never looked under the covers or tried to use AutoPhone myself — until this week.

All things considered, it is surprisingly easy to set up your own AutoPhone instance and run your own tests. You might want to do this to reproduce results on your own computer, or to check for regressions on a feature before check-in.

Here’s what I did to run my own AutoPhone instance running S1/S2 tests against mozilla-inbound builds:

Install AutoPhone:

git clone

cd autophone

pip install -r requirements.txt

Install PhoneDash, to store and view results:

git clone

Create a phonedash settings file, phonedash/server/settings.cfg with content:


Start phonedash:

python <ip address of your computer>

It will log status messages to the console. Watch that for any errors, and to get a better understanding of what’s happening.

Prepare your device:

Connect your Android phone or tablet to your computer by USB. Multiple devices may be connected. Each device must be rooted. Check that you can see your devices with adb devices — and note the serial number(s) (see devices.ini below).

Configure your device:

cp devices.ini.example devices.ini

Edit devices.ini, changing the serial numbers to your device serial numbers and the device names to something meaningful to you. Here’s my simple devices.ini for one device I called “gbrown”:


Configure autophone:

cp autophone.ini.example autophone.ini

Edit autophone.ini to make it your own. Most of the defaults are fine; here is mine:

#clear_cache = False
#ipaddr = …
#port = 28001
#cachefile = autophone_cache.json
#logfile = autophone.log
loglevel = DEBUG
test_path = tests/manifest.ini
#emailcfg = email.ini
enable_pulse = True
enable_unittests = False
#cache_dir = builds
#override_build_dir = None
repos = mozilla-inbound
#buildtypes = opt
#build_cache_port = 28008
verbose = True

#build_cache_size = 20
#build_cache_expires = 7
#device_ready_retry_wait = 20
#device_ready_retry_attempts = 3
#device_battery_min = 90
#device_battery_max = 95
#phone_retry_limit = 2
#phone_retry_wait = 15
#phone_max_reboots = 3
#phone_ping_interval = 15
#phone_command_queue_timeout = 10
#phone_command_queue_timeout = 1
#phone_crash_window = 30
#phone_crash_limit = 5

python -h provides help on options, which are analogues of the autophone.ini settings.

Configure your tests:

Notice that autophone.ini has a test path of tests/manifest.ini. By default, tests/manifest.ini is configured for S1/S2 tests — it points to configs/s1s2_settings.ini. We need to set up that file:

cd configs

cp s1s2_settings.ini.example s1s2_settings.ini

Edit s1s2_settings.ini to make it your own. Here’s mine:

#source = files/
#dest = /mnt/sdcard/tests/autophone/s1test/
#profile = /data/local/tmp/profile

# test locations can be empty to specify a local
# path on the device or can be a url to specify
# a web server.
local =
remote =

blank = blank.html
twitter = twitter.html

iterations = 2
resulturl =

id =
key =

Be sure to set the resulturl to match your PhoneDash instance.

If running local tests, copy your test files (like blank.html above) to the files directory. If runnng remote tests, be sure that your test files are served from the resulturl (if using PhoneDash, copy to the html directory).

Start autophone:

python –config autophone.ini

With these settings, autophone will listen for new builds on mozilla-inbound, and start tests on your device(s) for each one. You should start to see your device reboot, then Firefox will be installed and startup tests will run. As more builds complete on mozilla-inbound, more tests will run. will print some diagnostics to the console, but much more detail is available in autophone.log — watch that to see what’s happening.

Check your phonedash instance for results — visit http://<ip address of your computer>:8080. At first this won’t have any data, but as autophone runs tests, you’ll start to see results. Here’s my instance after a few hours:


12 Sep 19:14

Snapping the puzzle together

by msurman

I’ve had a picture in mind for a while: a vision of FirefoxOS + Appmaker + Webmaker mentor programs coming together to drive a new wave of creativity and content on the web. I believe this would be a way to really show what Mozilla stands for right now: putting access to the Internet in more hands and then helping people unlock the full potential of the web as a part of their lives and their livelihoods.

Puzzle pieces

The thing is: this picture has felt a bit like a puzzle until recently — I can see where it’s going, but we don’t have all the pieces. It’s like a vision or a theory more than a plan. However, over the past few months, things are getting clearer — feels like the puzzle pieces are becoming real and snapping together.


Dinner w/ Mozilla Bangladesh

I had this ‘it’s coming together’ feeling in spades the other day as I had dinner w/ 20 members of the Mozilla community in Bangladesh. Across from me was a college student named Ani who was telling me about the Bengali keyboard he’d written for FirefoxOS. To his right was a woman named Maliha who was explaining how she’d helped the Mozilla Bangladesh community organize nearly 50 Webmaker workshops in the last two months. And then beside me, Mak was enthusiastically — and accurately — describing Mozilla’s new Mobile Webmaker to the rest of the group. I was rapt. And energized.

More importantly, I was struck by how the people around the table had nearly all the pieces of the puzzle amongst them. At a practical level, they are all actively working on the practicalities of localizing FirefoxOS and making it work on the ground in Bangladesh. They are finding people and places to teach Webmaker workshops. They have offered to help develop and test Appmaker to see if it can really work for users in Bangladesh. And, they see how these things fit together: people around the table talked about how all these things combined have the potential for huge impact. In particular, they talked about the role phones, skills and publishing tools built with Mozilla values could unleash a huge wave of Bengali language content onto the mobile internet. In a country where less than 10% of people speak English. This is a big deal.

The overall theory behind this puzzle is: open platforms + digital skills + local content = an opportunity to disrupt and open up the mobile Internet.


Well, at least, that’s my theory. I see local platforms like Firefox OS — and HTML5 in general — as the baseline. They make it possible for anyone to create apps and content for the mobile web on their own terms — and they are easy to learn. In order to unlock the potential of these platforms, we also need large numbers of people to have the skills to create their own apps and content. Which is what we’re trying to tee up with our Webmaker program. Finally, we need a huge wave of local content that smartphone users make for each other — which both Webmaker and Appmaker are meant to fuel. These are the puzzle pieces I think we need.

On this last point: the content needn’t be local per se — but it does need to be something of value to users that the web / HTML5 can provide this better than existing mobile app stores and social networks. Local apps and content — and especially local language content — is a very likely sweet spot here. The Android Play Store and Facebook are bad — or at least limited — in how they support people creating content and apps. In languages like Bengali, the web — and Mozilla — have historically been much better.

But it’s a theory with enough promise — with enough pieces of the puzzle coming together — that we should get out there and test it out in practice. Doing this will require both discipline and people on the ground. Luckily, the Mozilla community has these things in spades.

India Community

Mozillians at Webmaker event in Pune

Talking with a bunch of people from the Mozilla India community underlined this part of things for me — and helped my thinking on how to test the local content theory. Vineel, Sayak and others told me about the recent launch of low cost Firefox OS smartphones in India — including a $33/R1999 phone from a company called Intex. As with Firefox releases in many other countries, the core launch team behind this effort were volunteer Mozilla contributors.
Working with Mozilla marketing staff from Taiwan, members of the Mozilla India community made a plan, trained Intex sales staff and promoted the phone. Early results: Intex sold 15,000 units in the first three days. And things have been picking up from there.

It’s exactly this kind of community driven plan and discipline that we will need to test out the Firefox OS + Appmaker + Webmaker theory. What we need is something like:

  1. Pick a couple of places to test out our theory — India and Bangladesh are likely options, maybe also Brazil and Kenya.
  2. Work with the community to test out the ‘everyone can author an app’ software first — find out what regular users want, adapt the software with them, test again.
  3. Make sure this test includes a strong Webmaker / training component — we should be testing how to teach skills at the same time as testing the software idea.
  4. Make sure we have both phones and a v1 of Mobile Webmaker in local languages
  5. Also, work with community to develop a set of basic app templates in local language — it’s important not to have an ‘empty shelf’ and also to build around things people actually want to make.
  6. Move from research to ‘market’ testing — put Mobile Webmaker on FirefoxOS phones and do a campaign of related Webmaker training sessions.
  7. Step back. See what worked. What didn’t. Iterate. In the market.

This sort of thing is doable in the next six months — but only if we get the right community teams behind us. I’m going to work on doing just that at ReMoCamp in Berlin this weekend. If there is interest and traction, we’ll start moving ahead quickly.

In the meantime, I’d be interested in comments on my theory above. We’re going to do something like this — we need everybody’s feedback and ideas to increase the likelihood of getting it right.

Filed under: mozilla, webmakers
12 Sep 17:49

Badge Alliance Exec. Director Erin Knight speaking at a Hot Lunch Talk in Denver, CO

Today, Erin will be presenting to the Donnell-Kay & Piton Foundations for their September 12th Hot Lunch:

"Not Just for the Scouts: The Potential of Digital Badges in Documenting Learning"

Description: Digital Badges are beginning to gain traction in the documentation of learning skills and accomplishments in an expanding learning environment. Come join us as we explore what digital badges are, how they are presently being used across many learning environments, and how they might serve learners in the future.

"Hot Lunch" is a lunchtime discussion series, co-sponsored by DK and the Piton Foundation. These discussions are designed to engage Colorado education, policy and business leaders in conversation about the current national challenges and promising practices in education today.

Go Badges! Go Erin!

12 Sep 14:15

What the hell are people applauding for when they applaud the Apple Watch? 

by davidbanks


What are all those people celebrating with their standing ovation? Even the guy on stage is applauding. Sure the new product is exciting, but applause? Unlike a play or a musical performance (even a U2 performance), nothing is actually happening on stage when a product is announced. All that work that goes into making a product was done months ago, and the audience isn’t even being asked (at the moment) to thank the people that made the product. Instead of rapt silence or an excited buzz, lots of people are moved to show their unbridled enthusiasm in a very specific way. It is the same kind of collective reaction that comes after a political speech and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. When we applaud the Apple Watch we’re applauding an imagined future.

As I’ve argued before, Apple events don’t just show us what’s for sale, instead they are “a demonstration that the product on display is part of a life always aspired to but never totally lived.” This is why I don’t think we should dismiss Apple events as mere salesmanship. This particular brand of bombastic salesmanship works for reasons that are important for understanding why a wearable computer is treated like the president during a State of the Union address.

First, it’s worth paying close attention to what is actually said by the presenters.  Along with very loaded words like “relevant”, “individuality”, and “intimate” there are a few phrases that get repeated several times:

  • “The most personal device we’ve ever created.”
  • “Apple builds great products that enrich people’s lives.”“
  • “Apple Watch helps you live a better day.”

Then there are sentences that describe relatively mundane features in monumental ways:

  • “It will fly you to the moon.”
  • “You can advance time.”
  • “This is the actual position of the planets for this time.”

Finally, there are the kinds of declarative sentences that seem to reinforce the inevitability of the kind of sociotechnical world that past Apple products have brought about:

  • “Precious photos number in the hundreds instead of a couple.”
  • “You can’t determine a boundary between the physical device and the software. “

The Apple Watch takes on so much more than itself. It has to bend the world through itself and back out to the audience. You have to see and understand what the world will be like with the Apple Watch in it; mediating conversations, bodies, and environments. And while the technology inside the device is certainly impressive, it really isn’t doing anything spectacular. It isn’t ending world hunger, curing cancer, or reversing climate change. It’s just playing music and receiving notifications like four other devices you already own except now it is on your wrist and looks pretty. So why the applause? What kind of future is this really heralding?

The Italian critic and media activist Franco “Bifo” Berardi describes the 20th century as “the century that trusted the future.” It was a time where it was apparent to reasonable people that the entire population would be fed and housed within a lifetime. And while the more developed nations have certainly been guilty of conflating technological development for social progress it was actually the nations still struggling to build a manufacturing base by the early 20th century, like Italy and Russia, that produced the most radical (and fascist) futurist movements. Futurists saw technology not only as a solution to existing social problems, but as having its own aesthetic and moral values that superseded anything that had ever been seen or done. Italian futurists latched onto the racing car as their totem: it represented the promise of speed as a world-conquering ability, and yet the car itself was good for nothing but going fast. Speeding things up wasn’t in service of anything, it was its own self-evident good. Futurists didn’t actually love race cars so much as they loved the idea of imbuing the world around them with the qualities of speed and acceleration.

If 20th century Futurists loved the race car, Bifo argues, then 21st century technocrats are in love with technologies that augment the body with information: “The bio-info machine is no longer separable from the body or mind, because it’s no longer an external tool, but an internal transformer of body and mind, a linguistic and cognitive enhancer.” Sound familiar?

Put side-by-side like this, Apple events don’t look much different than NASCAR races. Apple Events, like NASCAR races, require a lot of skill, and finite resources to pull off. It is communitarian conspicuous consumption. It isn’t just a celebration of the resources and skill on display. It is also the form in which they are presented that, I surmise, gets people really excited. Unlike NASCAR however, the Apple Event also announces a near future, a benchmark that reassures us that we are moving ever closer to a realized science fiction.

Any major product announcement isn’t much different than a State of the Union address. In fact, considering how quickly new products are adopted and how slow much needed legislation is passed, one could even argue that product announcements (whether or not you actually buy the product) are more likely to impact your day-to-day life than the declarations of a sitting president. When audiences applaud a device, they’re applauding the sort of life it outlines: one where we start to get more exercise, have intimate conversations with loved ones, and express ourselves with the preciseness necessary to stand out among 7 billion fellow humans.

Just like the Italians and Russians of the 20th century we might feel “behind” when compared to the educated social democracies of the Nordic countries or the manufacturing capabilities of China, but we can celebrate ourselves by reacting positively to a particular configuration of qualities that we see reflected in the watch face. If we didn’t value our health and each other, why would we make such a fine product that helps us appreciate both of these things? Of course part of the salesmanship is making you feel as though you are not completely actualizing these qualities and it is the product that will help you “live a better day.”

The phrases I listed above reinforce the idea that the Apple Watch is meant to make us feel like we are collectively embodying and achieving great societal feats. We may not be able to literally fly to the moon, stop time, and transcend the distinction between bits and atoms, but we value that kind of power. More important than the Apple Watch itself is the story it elicits about the society it serves. When Jony Ive or Tim Cook say they have “seamlessly blended performance and beauty to deliver a device that frees you to live a better life” they aren’t speaking in over-wrought generalities so much as they are describing the qualities (performance, beauty, and freedom) that neoliberal actors want to see in themselves.  All the more insulting then, that such a flattering portrait was shattered by U2’s “dystopian junk mail.”

David is on Twitter & Tumblr.


12 Sep 16:25

Preparing for Apple’s new interactions

by Marek Pawlowski

Strip away the hype from Apple’s September 2014 product announcements and you’re left with 4 new interactions which might change digital user experience at scale:

  1. Magnified depth
  2. Pressure levels
  3. Haptic feedback
  4. Activated confirmation

Their ramifications will ripple out beyond Apple’s own customer base as competitors replicate these methods.

Historically, Apple has used the introduction of new interaction methods to initiate new product categories: the Mac and the mouse, the iPod and the click wheel, the iPhone and capacitive touch (I wrote about this previously). The significance of the Apple Watch, iPhone 6 and Apple Pay is best understood in this context.

Apple’s modus operandi tends to be refining existing technologies rather than initiating wholly new methods. In fact, the MEX community already has a rich resource of best practice methods we can apply to these 4 interactions.

Consider this a guide to the strategic questions you should be asking.

Magnified depth

Magnified depth in Apple Watch UI

Turning the digital crown on the Apple Watch moves the user’s perspective through layers of magnification. The effect is demonstrated in the photo app, which presents a zoomed out view of all the user’s photos arranged as a wall of tiny mosaic tiles, then allows users to magnify in until a single photo fills the entire screen.

This is just one example of how this interaction method may be applied, but it should be understood for its wider significance. It introduces the notion that the interface canvas can be presented at any level of magnification and the user may control that magnification by turning the digital crown and swiping the touchscreen to pan left to right and up and down. That relationship between the crown for layers and the touchscreen for swiping is at the heart of the Apple Watch’s interaction model.

Beyond photos there are many instances where this interaction may change the user experience, such as navigating hierarchies (e.g. from individual songs through albums and up to entire genres of music) to revealing layers of granularity in data (e.g. a pie chart which explodes into more levels of detail as the user zooms).

MEX began investigating the effects of visual depth some years ago, coinciding with the introduction of the first glassless stereo 3D displays, like the Nintendo 3DS and smartphones from LG. While smartphones with this specific technology did not succeed, they opened our eyes to the principles of making visual depth usable and useful.

    MEX Principles
  • Human vision is better described as 2D rather than 3D. Our sight limits perception to 2D layers and it is only through physical interactions we explore additional spatial dimensions. For instance, in the physical world, the under-side of an item placed on a flat surface is invisible until we turn it over. Limiting freedom of navigation in digital 3D interfaces, therefore, helps them to feel natural.
  • User interface design for personal digital devices has always been 2D and constrained within a frame, such as the screen bezel, from desktop computers positioned a few feet away to handheld mobile devices. What happens when you remove the frame and allow the interface to exist within the physical environment?
  • Introducing the concept of spatial depth into the user interface allows designers to change the users’ relationship with content by moving items through three dimensions. This does not require true stereo 3D, but instead can be created through visual tricks – similar to those used by film directors – of moving objects into focus and adjusting their relative size.
  • Designing in 3D is not a purely visual exercise. It succeeds only when input mechanisms are appropriate for navigating and interacting with the 3D content.
  • Don’t over-emphasise the Z axis of depth – the X and Y axis remain vital in spatial interface design.
  • Considering the size, relative scale and weight of interface elements is essential to good spatial interface design.
  • Tapping into additional senses, such as hearing, by using sound effects and changes in music cadence and volume, further enhances spatial exploration.
  • Consider spatial zones. When consuming video, the majority of content might exist in two dimensions. However, a 3rd dimension might be introduced when there is a lull in the action, or a user wants to pull something out of the flat plane for future examination. For instance, a 2D advertisement could be saved for later in a 3D space.
  • – inspired by MEX session summaries, including Dale Herigstad, March 2014; Mattias Andersson, December 2010

Pressure levels

Pressure levels in the Apple Watch UI

The Apple Watch can differentiate between a light tap and a firm press. In effect, this creates the notion in the user’s mind that the screen is no longer a flat surface, but something with virtual depth. Apple has taken note of the principle that interfaces with visual depth require input methods capable of reflecting that depth.

Apple’s demonstration focused on using this command to bring up a contextual menu of additional options in apps, but the actions could potentially be applied to other scenarios. For instance, it may be possible to respond tentatively to an invitation with a light tap, but guarantee attendance with a firm press.

    MEX Principles
  • Physical controls provide better ‘eyes free’ interaction than touchscreens. They also allow for more nuanced control. The user experience can be enhanced through physical tactility and, in contrast to the current trend towards abstracting controls into software and touchscreens, manufacturers should explore how new types of physical input mechanisms can create distinctive product attributes.
  • Motor memory is embedded in most humans and interfaces which take advantage of this principle enable users to interact much more quickly with complex digital systems.
  • Artefact-based interfaces may be insufficient to cope with the level of contextual data in users’ lives.
  • – inspired by MEX session summaries, including Louisa Heinrich, September 2012; Ben Medlock, December 2011; Jason Mesut, November 2010

Haptic feedback

Haptic feedback in the Apple Watch UI

Apple devices have hitherto expressed themselves entirely through sound and visuals, but the Taptic Engine in the Apple Watch adds a new dimension: haptic feedback. This may be considered as both a distinct sensory communications channel with the ability to act as a standalone notification method and as a way of augmenting an overall experience with accompanying sound and visuals.

Its significance lies in the ability to communicate with users in environments and social contexts where it would otherwise be difficult or inappropriate. For instance, it may be the preferred notification channel in high noise environments when even the vibration of a phone in the pocket would not be sensed as easily as a vibration delivered direct to the wrist. Or in partial attention environments, from being in a meeting to walking down the street, where vibrations to the wrist may be the only appropriate way to convey information in the background without disrupting the user.

    MEX Principles
  • Tactile feedback is suited to communicating low level, simple emotions but unsuited to communicating complex or precise information.
  • Tactility has many dimensions, which can be combined or used individually to convey different sensations, including sharpness, texture, weight, balance and the number of sensory points. For instance, sharpness is most effective at communicating the importance of an interaction.
  • Sensory interactions such as sound and tactility are most effectively understood when proceeded by a signalling interaction. This notifies users, allows them to indicate their readiness and preference of sensory channel. A metaphor for this is the game of charades, where universally understood gestures are used to indicate the type of mime, e.g. book or film or person.
  • Tactility and sound are at their most effective when augmenting, rather than replacing, visual UIs. However, these channels can be effective in isolation for experiences where visual privacy is important, or with high emotional content.
  • Sensory interactions become more effective when conveyed in a continuous cycle, rather than occasional, discrete events.
  • Sensory interfaces take longer to learn than visual UIs. Designers should create tutorials and factor in a training period for users, gradually introducing sensory interactions to play a greater part in the overall experience.
  • Biomimicry can be an effective source of inspiration for tactile and audible interactions. Replicating the rhythms found in nature can make an experience feel natural. Deliberately unnatural interactions can be used to create surprise or when immediate attention is required.
  • Sound and tactility can be aligned with specific visual elements, used to convey motion or reflect spatial dimensions. For instance, in mapping, tracing a fingertip over a visual route could be augmented by sound and haptic feedback.
  • Context, particularly physical environment, creates variation in the way people filter haptic and audible interactions. Designing to dynamically adapt in response to environmental factors can overcome this and it is essential to conduct user testing in real world conditions, not just the lab.
  • User tolerance of playfulness in haptics and sound is greater than that of visual design. This creates possibilities for exploration, especially while users are learning a system for the first time.
  • Sound and tactility can be just as effective as visual interfaces in creating the signature feeling of an experience and should be considered a key part of branding.
  • – inspired by MEX session summaries, including Charlotte Magnusson; Patrick Bergel; Sophie Arkette; all September 2012

Activated confirmation

Activated confirmations with the Apple Pay UI

Apple Pay is interesting and impressive as a commerce tool, but the confirmation interaction it introduces has wider significance and may become the trigger for other applications. Strip away the payment context and you find a classic transaction trigger: a physical token (in this case the NFC chip embedded in the top of the iPhone) which initiates an identity check (in this case the Touch ID sensor embedded in the iPhone’s home button).

Again, this is not new, but Apple’s approach is different. Firstly, they have chosen to place the NFC chip at the top of the phone, which overcomes one of the ergonomic challenges afflicting current implementations of NFC in smartphones, which tend to place it in the middle of the phone’s rear casing. Simply put, Apple’s positioning is likely to feel more comfortable for most users when, for instance, touching their phone to an NFC reader at the point of sale.

Apple has also designed the overall experience as a single gesture: touching the phone to the NFC reader and holding a finger on the Touch ID sensor can be completed in a single motion. This is where it differs significantly from previous attempts at using NFC for smartphone payments, which required the phone to be held awkwardly to the NFC reader, before prompting for an additional series of inputs on the touchscreen.

If the convenience of this gesture works in practice, it is easy to see it expanding to the many areas of life which require a transaction trigger and confirmation: everything from opening a door to verifying your identity for a flight.

Crucially, Apple has designed the interaction to win the users’ trust – once established, this may act as a springboard. The March 2014 creative session at MEX provides insight into the principles behind trust in the digital environment.

    MEX Principles
  • Communicate clear affordances. People trust things that they immediately know how to use.
  • Visibility of system status. Keep users informed of every action within reasonable time.
  • Facilitate social proof. Build confidence driven from like minded communities through endorsements.
  • Set expectations and verify. Establish your brand promise to create understanding, communicate purpose and create a cycle of validation.
  • Culture trumps everything. Speak the users’ language with words, phases, symbols and language that are familiar.
  • – inspired by MEX session summaries, including Rich Clayton and team, March 2014

I have felt for some time that the introduction of visual depth and linking it with corresponding interaction channels like pressure sensing and haptic feedback could represent a new phase in mobile user experience. The work of the MEX initiative over the past several years reflects this and we are lucky to have a wealth of speaker presentations, results from working groups and research pieces to serve as guides to these methods.

Apple’s newfound focus on these areas will do doubt bring them the mainstream attention they’ve been lacking. We’ll be doing more to share best practice from the existing MEX archive and continuing to nurture new ideas by maintaining our exploration of these interactions at the next MEX event in March 2015.

Which do you think will have the most significance for users? Please post your comments below.

12 Sep 16:44

The Top 5 Android video players

by Steve Litchfield
“Eh?” I can sense your puzzlement from here. Why would you need a third party video player on an Android phone when Google supplies this functionality in the OS, as part of Gallery? In addition, many manufacturers also add their own custom video players (if only to get something under ‘V’ in an alphabetic application listing!) However, not every video player can play all files, and few people want to browse through the photo-centric Gallery for media from their side loaded video collection. Which is where third party players come in – luckily there are plenty to choose from. Even more luckily, I’ve tried them all and whittled them down a top 5! Continue reading →
12 Sep 15:17

New Moto X unlocked variant will be known as the ‘Pure Edition’

by Evan Selleck
Ever since the announcement of the new Moto X, it’s been known that the device will launch on both AT&T and Verizon, as well as be offered up as an unlocked device for $499 later this year. A new report claims that the unlocked variant will have a bit of a naming scheme to help it stand out. Continue reading →
12 Sep 14:00

The Narrative Clip shows off its innovative style at New York Fashion Week.

by Sarah

Narrative is collaborating with innovative fashion brand, MARLON GOBEL

Designer Marlon Gobel is a 12 year fashion industry veteran, who has worked with prominent names in men’s fashion like, Thom Browne and Michael Bastian. In 2010 he launched his own brand, MARLON GOBEL. Since the successful launch of his company, Marlon has been collaborating with other amazing designers and companies, adding Narrative to his impressive list, that includes Christian Louboutin, Swarovski and Swedish fashion brand, GANT.

MARLON GOBEL’s Spring/Summer 2015 show, TRANSHUMANISM, took place yesterday in New York. The fantastic collection is based around three main inspirations: Human Augmentation, Technology is fashion and the idea of a wearable device. The Narrative Clip is a featured accessory on several of the designs.

Take a look at some photos from TRANSHUMANISM by MARLON GOBEL


Image credit: Harold Levine

Image credit: Harold Levine

Image credit: Harold Levine


Image credit: Harold Levine

Image credit: Harold Levine

Image credit: Harold Levine

Watch the show

12 Sep 02:24

inonechart: Every Prince hairstyle from 1978 to 2013 Prince...