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(From TechCrunch, via the New York Times’ Opinionator blog.)

This brings me a certain level of nostalgia: the customer reading the paper online is using a TRS-80 Model I, the first computer that I owned. While this is being treated more like a whimsical joke than a glimpse of futures past, it’s worth noting that this really does have some insight into the way newspapers and the online world went. In a few years, we really could get the whole paper delivered online and more—and all the crazy futurists saying that “print is dead” may, judging by the health of the newspaper industry, not be all that crazy. (I don’t think books are going anywhere, but periodicals of all stripes are being increasingly challenged.)

Nerd Note: whoever put this on Youtube captioned it “1981 primitive Internet report,” which tells us that, uh, that person wasn’t using computers in 1981. Consumers didn’t have access to the Internet then, primitive or otherwise; instead we had private networks like CompuServe, the one actually being demonstrated here.

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Specifically, to steal from Seth Godin, in an entry he titled “Who you are and what you do”:

The neat thing about the online world is that you are judged almost entirely by your actions.

If you do generous things, people think you are a generous person. If you bully people, people assume you are a bully. If you ask dumb questions, people figure you’re dumb. Answer questions well and people assume you’re smart and generous. You get the idea.

This leads to a few interesting insights.

  1. If people criticize you, they are actually criticizing your behavior, not you.
  2. If you’re not happy with the perception you generate, change the words you type and the messages you send.
  3. When you hear from someone, consider the source. Trolls are almost trolls through and through, which means you have no obligation to listen, to respond or to placate. On the other hand, if you can find a germ of truth, it can’t hurt to consider it.

The biggest takeaway for me is this: online interactions are largely expected to be intentional. On purpose. Planned. People assume you did stuff for a reason.

Be clear, be generous, be kind. Can’t hurt.

I think Godin’s pinging off the same thing I was thinking of on January 1st when I spent a paragraph describing why I wanted to “disconnect” from some people who were being bitter or easily offended or took pleasure in kicking over other people’s sandcastles. It’s just that Godin captured it in one six-word sentence. A positive, not a negative; not what you want less of, but what you want more of. Be clear, be generous, be kind.

chipotle: (furry)

Leo Laporte’s This Week in Tech featured some thoughts from Jason Calacanis, founder of Weblogs, Inc. (Engadget et. al.) and Mahalo, on branding. Craigslist, the venerable classified ad service, blocked a site called Craigsfindr which searched all of the Craigslist sites at once. From Craigslist’s standpoint, it doesn’t matter that this is “adding value” to their website—they don’t want somebody scraping their data and taking it out of their sandbox, period.

This led to discussion of why, in the past decade, somebody hasn’t built something “better” than CL. One can argue that the Web 1.0-ness of Craigslist is a feature, not a bug, but it’s not hard to imagine genuine improvements to the searching and cataloging functions, not to mention the potential benefits of a (moderately) open API. So why hasn’t that happened? To do a rough transcript from the episode:

Jason: In order to get people to switch a service, it’s going to require hitting them somewhere between three and seven times with a marketing message, it’s going to require having a product which is 50%, 100% better. You can’t just make it 10% better. There’s zero switching cost, theoretically—you just type in a different domain name—but it means you have to market the heck out of it to displace it. If someone wanted to start “This Seven Days in Tech” and it was a show that was twice as good, it’s gonna take them a couple years to do it.

Leo: Thank God! […] Didn’t Tom Peters say that a product, to supplant another product, has to be not twice as good, not three times as good, but ten times as good as an established brand? You know what you have. Why take the chance unless I can see a significant improvement? And Craigslist does the job.

I couldn’t help but think about this in relation to some discussion I’ve been in on two friends’ journals recently, which those of you who read some of the same LiveJournals I do will have no doubt seen—the discussions about art archive sites. It was asserted that the “Big Brand” in our fandom isn’t very good. It isn’t: the software is slow, fragile and under-featured, and one might argue that spending $16K in donations on a new system with three single points of failure is, shall we say, sub-optimal. So why, my friends asked, aren’t better alternatives succeeding?

Honestly? I think Laporte and Calacanis nailed it. Here’s my own takeaway bullet points; visualize PowerPoint slides if it feels more Web 2.0 for you that way.

FA provided the right service at the right time: they took the deviantArt model of a gallery merged with social networking (home pages, blogs, comments, watch lists) and targeted it squarely at this fandom. It turned out a strong demand wasn’t being met. Whether or not you think FA met it well, before they started nobody else was meeting it at all. Yerf was dead, FurNation was in shambles, VCL remained state of the art for 1994, and dA was perceived as hostile.

But in barely more than a year, everything had completely changed; when you have no competition, going from zero to majority market share is easy. Anyone post-FA doesn’t have that opportunity. A “competing” site has to succeed at what Calacanis outlined above. Are any of them?

  • “Significant” improvement is subjective, but the responses I saw suggested that by and large people didn’t feel the new sites were two or three—let alone ten—times as good as FA.

    • ArtSpots is, to me, the best gallery site both technically and in terms of “added value” service, but it’s made a conscious choice to limit its content in both form and rating. I don’t see this as a problem, but limits are limits. If you’re a writer, AS isn’t even under consideration; if you’re an artist who does both all-ages and mature work, you can just put it all on FA.

    • The wincingly-acronymed Furry Art Pile has an innovative approach to organization, but based on what people were saying in discussion, “different” isn’t translating to “better” for most people. It may not be translating to worse, either, but just being different isn’t good enough.

    • YiffStar has an art gallery in addition to their story archive, and they also have a second domain, AnthroStar, which essentially filters the porn out. (Did you know that? I didn’t either, but that goes with the next “slide” about marketing.) But there’s no compelling technical reason to switch from FA to YS; the gallery features seem less about expanding YS’s audience than about expanding the services for their existing audience. That’s a big audience, mind you, but so is FA’s—and my comments about FAP three bullet points down apply here, too.

  • Back to Calacanis: “hit [the audience] with a marketing message” means getting a banner, an AdWords ad, a press release, something that makes the case for checking the site out in front of people’s faces, and “three to seven times” means just that: you can’t just do it once or twice, you have to keep doing it. You might object that in this fandom word of mouth is the real advertising, but two points. One, there are places to advertise just to the fandom, from web sites to con books. And two, if the discussion here or on [livejournal.com profile] tilton’s journal was the first time you’d heard of ArtSpots or FAP or AnthroStar, what does that say about their name recognition?

And last but not least, two personal observations:

  • With the exception of YS, all of these sites—even FA—are comparatively new, and as outlined above, FA has a tremendous “first mover” advantage now. Even if FAP did everything right it would take years to build up significant mind share. And even though it’s doing some seriously cool technical stuff behind the scenes, FAP’s interface and marketing could both use work.

  • FurAffinity has positioned itself as allowing erotica without explicitly (ha!) promoting it. By contrast, FAP says: hey, we know you’re really here for the porn, have a front page full of tags that sound a touch fetishy even when you’re not logged in and seeing the really “adult” stuff. Yes, I know that the audience for porn is huge—but from a marketing perspective, “we have everything including porn” trumps “we have porn and also clean stuff.”

So here’s the two million-dollar questions, figuratively speaking:

  • What would a site have to offer to be better enough to get people to switch?

  • What would be the best ways for that site to get sufficient name recognition to bring in the switchers?

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I realize it’s become something of a cycle for me to go several weeks without posting here and then make a post which mostly consists of an apology about how little I’m posting. I’m going to try to stop doing that. Which is not to say I’m going to make an immediately-to-be-broken vow to post more; I’m just going to try to stop apologizing for it.

It feels to me like I’m posting a lot, but that’s one of the combined virtues and vices of Twitter. While I’m tempted to engage in a defense of Twitter, those who want to read a much better one than I could muster can read Rands’ “We Travel in Tribes”:

Via the LazyWeb convention, I expect reasonable, informed, and quick answers to most any question. Where I used to use Google, I now use Twitter for questions, because not only do I get the answer, I also get the opinion. And sometimes I get my world rocked with random, psychic, off-the-cuff, tangential information that Google will never give me because Google doesn’t know who I am.

My own use of Twitter is more prosaic, granted. I’ve had conversations on it, I’ve asked questions (and gotten responses), and I’ve learned a few interesting things. Mostly, though, it’s where the minutiae of my life ends up going these days: stuff that I’d like to share but not enough to write a journal post about.

This does leave me wondering what to actually write about here. I’ve done essays on occasion and I suspect I still will. I’ve sometimes tried to start other blogs elsewhere—a link blog, a tech blog, a political blog (twice)—and all of them have been false starts. I may try to resurrect the link blog, but, y’know, I may not. Tech stuff might as well go here. Political stuff I tend to be reticent to get into. I’m interested in discussing politics but not so much arguing politics; attempts to merely talk about current events a few years back left me feeling rather singed. Besides, looking for things to be outraged about has decidedly limited appeal.

At any rate, I’d like to commit to writing something weekly, but I’m not going to—not yet, at least.

What’s been going on? Work, mostly, and mostly office work. I haven’t gotten appreciably farther on Gift of Fire, nor on the new Claw & Quill software. At the beginning of the month I visited [livejournal.com profile] shaterri, [livejournal.com profile] quarrel and [livejournal.com profile] ladyperegrine in Seattle, which was a wonderful if slightly whirlwind visit. (I have a photo album of that you can visit if you’re so inclined: “Seattle” is the main one, with a food porn type one of the visit to The Herbfarm taken on the iPhone.) Starting tomorrow evening, my mother will be in town to visit for the long weekend; we’ll be staying in Emeryville for no specific reason other than availability and the likelihood of exploring some of the Oakland area, which actually has a lot of interesting there there.

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John Gruber of Daring Fireball wondered if there were any “testbed virtual hosting utilities” for OS X like Headdress and VirtualHostX. I only knew of the first, but I stopped using it when I realized how easy doing this actually was. Warning: geekery ahead. )

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From TechCrunch:

Six Apart is launching an advertising network for blogs and will begin offering professional services (design, implementation, development, optimization) after acquiring New York-based creative agency Apperceptive.

The company is now competing with Federated Media Publishing, Glam, the upcoming Technorati ad network and a number of others to get bloggers to join their network. Six Apart has long sold advertising for itself on its network of free blogs on LiveJournal (before it was sold) and Vox. CEO Chris Alden says they have significant experience in grouping like-blogs and selling to large advertisers.

chipotle: (furry)

The observant will, of course, have noted that despite the message bankruptcy I am indeed still using AIM and logging onto MUCKs. I’m trying to do less of each, though, particularly when trying to do something else simultaneously: office work, writing, what have you. Is this “working,” whatever that may mean? Yes, even if I have some distance to go. The next step is getting more serious about workspace organization (i.e., my room) and time management. The latter’s always been a killer for me, but I think if I can take the approach of today I would like to get X done for small but concrete values of X I’ll manage. To pick a real-life example, “write something I can show for Claw & Quill” is so large it’s paralysis-inducing, but “Get something started for Claw & Quill” isn’t concrete enough to attack.

What I have accomplished is writing a short horror story, with the intent of sending it off for submission to the Eurofurence program book. (EF’s theme this year is horror.) I’m going to get a bit of feedback from the writing group before shoving it out the door, and, oh yes, come up with a title for the damn thing. I’m fairly happy with it in its current state, though. It may eventually show up elsewhere, but—assuming it makes it into the program book—you’ll just have to go to the con to read it.

As for why I am sending that off to EF, my answer for now is: because they’re just swell people. (Which is, from what I’ve seen, absolutely true.) Any other answers are waiting on other people to say something. (“You go first.” “No, after you.”)

To reiterate past mentions, I do still use Twitter, as chipotlecoyote, and update it both more frequently and more inanely than I do this journal. If you’re desperate to get in touch but e-mail is too slow and old fashioned for you, a Twitter reply or direct message will reach me faster. Theoretically.

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I read an interesting column on TidBITS; while this is a Mac news site, “Instant Messaging for Introverts” isn’t platform-specific. Instead, it’s about the author’s problem using IM and similar apps, and trying to explain first what an introvert is (i.e., not “shy, withdrawn, afraid of crowds, or lacking in social skills”) and why this can lead to the problems he’s describing:

Introverts typically need to concentrate on just one thing at a time, and are often particularly sensitive to interruptions and distractions. Now, I happen to think “multi-tasking” is a concept that should never, ever be applied to human beings (regardless of personality type), but be that as it may, I can certainly say that I’m easily distracted, and having more than one thing to think about actively at any given time is sure to make me both ineffective and grumpy. Chatting online while also working on another task, therefore, is unthinkable.

As Rands observed in his article about “Nerd Attention Deficiency Disorder,” or N.A.D.D., the state of having a half-dozen different activity windows scattered about your computer screen isn’t multi-tasking. It’s context switching, or less generously, an inability to focus. I am less sanguine about the upsides than Rands is. People with N.A.D.D. have problems in 2008 that they didn’t in 1998 and really didn’t in 1988. The internet, and particular its flirtations with ubiquitous presence, offer opportunity for immediate distraction that has never existed before in all of history. No, I don’t think that’s an exaggeration.

In 2006, Internet law guru Lawrence Lessig wrote to his e-mail correspondents, “Bankruptcy is now my only option” and deleted all their messages, asking them to resend anything particularly pressing. I’ve gotten reasonably good at managing e-mail without just deleting it all, but I’m considering declaring IM bankruptcy.

Sound nuts? Here’s the thing. Suppose I have an IM window open and a MUCK window open, as I’m wont to do, and a couple of hours elapse. Now three or four (or five or six) tabs are open in Adium, each a different conversation; two or three MUCK characters are online, at least one of whom is sitting in a room with a handful of other characters, some trying to interact with him or her. In addition, several people will almost certainly be “paging” to one or more of those characters intermittently, in effect creating separate private communication channels.

That’s a half dozen or more one-on-one conversations and one or more group conversations at the same time. You wouldn’t attempt something that absurd in “real life,” but the mental context switching that you have to do online is the same. And if I’m sitting in front of the computer, the chances are there are other windows I’m trying to pay attention to, like a web browser or a text editor.

This is, pardon the language, objectively batshit.

Since many—not all, but many—of my correspondents across the internets read this, I’m going to put this here as a general beg for understanding. My “real job” work often requires real job attention, and I’ve learned from experience that I cannot write fiction and have any other communication window open. Given that at the moment I’m trying to write a novel as well as, at the immediate moment, an unrelated short story I need to get done ASAP… well, here’s my thoughts.

  • When I am on MUCKs, I may turn off pages more than I historically have. It’s difficult enough to keep up when I have a character in a busy room having “cocktail party” conversations — throw in a couple page conversations and it gets psychotic. (VR social dynamics apparently dictate the only cause for missing someone’s cues is because you hate them.)

  • I’m going to try to be more aggressive about setting my IM “away” when I don’t want to be disturbed. I’m going to try to do this instead of just not being on IM at all, but respect the away-ness.

  • When I really can’t be disturbed I’m just going to shut the IM client off, and log off the MUCKs. Sorry. Email, Twitter and even SMS will all get in touch with me in ways that don’t break my concentration (but won’t get an immediate reply).

Oh. And sometimes, when I am online, it may be appropriate to ask me if I’ve actually gotten the shit done today that I need to get done. I have about a decade of NADD to try and dig my way out of.

chipotle: (drinks)

So I’ve generally been steering clear of the various LiveJournal-related controversies, but I’ve been chewing over a few things the last day.

You are about to view content that may not be appropriate for those who don't want a glimpse at LiveJournal's future. )
chipotle: (drinks)

Things at work are getting a little ‘hot’ right now — nothing ominous, just a crunch period, and I’m finding having an IM window up is simply too distracting. I have, however, continued using Twitter; if you want to get in touch with me when I’m not around via IM, a direct message via Twitter is a pretty good way to do so. (And, of course, I’d like to get friends on Twitter anyway — like any such service, how useful it is is directly proportional to how many people using it you know!)

My Twitter username is chipotlecoyote.

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As usual, it’s been a while since I’ve updated. Perhaps I’m simply getting out of the habit of journaling? I hope not, since I don’t have anything else on the horizon to replace it, use of Twitter notwithstanding. Of course, between that and Coyote Tracks (my “tumblelog”), it’s possible my need to parade myself before the internet at large is satisfied.

As I mentioned in passing, Anthrocon was a lot of fun. I don’t have a lot more to say about it, in retrospect: all of you I met, I enjoyed meeting, and as usual, there’s a few I wish I’d spent more time with. The panels I was on were generally fun, the Iron Author stories were appropriately awful, and I got to see a little more of Pittsburgh than I did last year, from the pleasantly upscale Shadyside to the “Strip district,” said to be the up-and-coming hip neighborhood. It reminds me a lot of the areas in Oakland around Jack London Square: a warehouse district that’s had some businesses for decades, is starting to get clubs moving in for that grungy bohemian vibe, but is still very much a working warehouse district. As mentioned on Twitter, I did make it to Primanti Brothers for lunch, which seems to be something of a Pittsburgh tradition (and it is pretty good).

Yesterday was my first experience with jury duty. I’d originally been given a summons for the week of the convention but deferred it until this week. In Santa Clara County you’re on “standby,” checking in twice daily until they tell you to report to a courthouse the next day; I checked in Monday, and got told to report to the Hall of Justice yesterday to meet the Superfriends be assigned a “panel” (a group of potential jurors) and wait to see if I actually got called. Many people don’t; my panel did get sent to a courtroom for a specific criminal case, and I watched the whole process of selecting a jury, but I wasn’t actually called to serve. The Hall is just far enough away from the downtown center to make walking somewhere interesting for lunch problematic. I ended up at “House of Bento,” a Japanese fast food place that’s taken over the location of the Juicy Burger that used to be on First Street. (I think there was another very short-lived occupant between those two.)

Now, it’s back to the office and back to attempting to set up a server for the demo of the web product I’ve been working on. It’ll be nice to have, after a decade, possibly worked on a web site that I can actually give someone a URL to—with very few exceptions, everything I’ve worked on has been for internal company use at various employers.

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As [livejournal.com profile] tugrik mentioned, I did indeed get an iPhone.

It’s almost superfluous at this point to describe it, in part because so many people had their minds made up about the thing before it shipped. The best comment I’ve seen was this, from Michael Mulvey:

Why there’s an iPhone craze:

This is real simple and doesn’t require a long-winded explanation.

The iPhone is the floating car we imagined we’d be driving in the future.

The Jetsons, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Minority Report …the iPhone is that touchscreen gadget they all used (metaphorically speaking) to communicate with. As John Gruber points out (so obvious we all didn’t catch it), the iPhone is the first mobile device being promoted for its interface, not hardware.

Either that makes perfect sense to you, or it sounds nuts. Some people in the latter camp have moved to the former camp by actually using one. (I’ve heard from more than one person who really wasn’t interested in an iPhone until they had some time to play with it.)

I will tell you the most valid criticism, which contains many problems rolled into one observation: this is a version 1.0 product. It could be faster and cheaper, it could do more, it could do what it does better. There are a handful of poor design decisions, and a few long-solved problems have become unsolved by the new UI.

I will tell you the least valid criticism, too, because it is true yet misses the point entirely: there’s nothing the iPhone does that hasn’t been done by something else. The point is that there’s nothing else that does anything how the iPhone does it, and that’s been the focus all along.

I have an old smart phone and an old iPod and have been thinking about upgrading both of them as it is. For me, there wasn’t a lot of downside, save the timing financially. (It’s a fair amount of money to drop just before a convention.) But the price isn’t so out-of-line with getting a new iPod and a new smart phone.


[livejournal.com profile] tugrik also mentioned I had some activation problems. When I first tried to activate the gadget, it told me, essentially, that with my credit approval I needed to go down to AT&T and pay a deposit. I went down to AT&T, where I was told the deposit was: $0. They had no idea why it didn’t go through.

There are a lot of news stories floating about right now talking about widespread activation problems. The thing is, AT&T’s credit process, transferring phone numbers, and the other minutae of activation doesn’t magically change with the “i”; 5% of activations are probably always harder to work through than usual. What’s changed is the method, sheer volume, and particularly media attention focused on these activations. It’d have been great if it’d all worked flawlessly, but that doesn’t happen much on this planet.


Oh yes: Twitter Twitter Twitter. Thank you. (The iPhone doesn’t have instant messaging, but reading/sending “tweets” is very easy. Again, I’m “chipotlecoyote” there.)

chipotle: (Default)

INFOGRAPHIC
June 20, 2007 | Issue 43 • 25


Apple's New iPhone

Apple is set to release the much-hyped iPhone Friday, June 29. Here are some of its most highly anticipated features:

  • Nanotechnology enables it to reassemble itself when thrown against a wall

  • Exclusive link to Google Street View so you can watch yourself using your iPhone at all times

  • Takes Polaroids

  • When moved from hand to ear, makes Lightsaber sound effects

  • Prominent Apple logo

  • Reproduces through asexual budding

  • Has way, way more PRAM than the last thingy

  • Comes with an iPhone hat, so people know you own an iPhone during the brief periods you're not using it

(From The Onion)

So what’s really interesting about the iPhone, at this point, isn’t the phone as much as the reactions to the phone. There may never have been a product before about which so many confident predictions of success or failure have been made before all but a few people have ever seen the damn thing in person. And there may never have been a product in consumer electronics before that’s making this big an entrance. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo wish they could have gotten this kind of buzz.

This doesn’t mean that there’s not a lot of slamming going on. Daring Fireball’s John Gruber has all but been making a sport of tracking “iPhone Doubters,” most recently deconstructing a New York Times piece. The explanations for why the phone is sure to fail are predictable enough that most observers could have written half of them before the device was even announced: it’s too high-priced, it doesn’t do anything that other phones don’t already do, Apple has no experience in this market, the touch screen is a stupid idea for [pick one of a half-dozen reasons], the battery life will be terrible, the data speed is too slow. Only the wildly Apple-obsessive are going to go out and buy this when it’s first available and, well, nobody else will.

Other than the gratuitous Apple fan bashing (the psychology of that is best left for another post), most of those points are reasonable. It is a damn high price, you can get other devices (for less) that match the iPhone feature for feature or surpass it, the touch screen keyboard is a big unknown at best, and the cell data standard the iPhone uses is slow. What with all this common sense antidote to irrational iPhone hype, you’ve gotta wonder just what AT&T is thinking by telling their stores to beef up security and crowd control on June 29th. And what Sprint is thinking when they tell their staffers to expect up to 6% of their smart phone customers to abandon them immediately. What industry analysts are thinking when they write that the iPhone may capture 26% of the smart phone market. What financial analysts are thinking when they keep listing Apple’s stock as “outperform.”

Well, no, we don’t have to wonder what they’re thinking. They’re thinking the iPhone is going to be liquid money. Executives at the carriers who refused to deal with Apple are, at this moment, preparing their résumés.

So what does the iPhone actually have going for it?

Let’s look at the price a moment: $500 or $600, depending on whether the iPod is a 4G or 8G version. That is damn expensive for a smart phone, let’s face it. But think about it as an iPod alone for a moment: if you removed the phone part and just had this be a wide-screen iPod with the touch-screen UI they’ve demonstrated, you’d have a unit that Apple could probably get away with selling for $300 or more. This is arguably the best video iPod ever, not a phone that does MP3s as an afterthought. Is this $300 worth of iPod and $300 worth of phone? Before you write that off as completely irrational, ask how many people out there have spent more than $500 total on both an iPod and a smart phone already. Big number, right? That’s what Apple is betting the potential market is here, and on that point, I don’t think I’d bet against them.

But, okay. Is it really that good a smart phone, given what we know about it and what we know about smart phones on the market now? If I compare it to a Sidekick III, the iPhone seemingly gets its ass handed to it: the Sidekick has a web browser and e-mail client and SMS and camera and all those things, plus a real keyboard, plus an integrated SMS client, plus a large library of third-party applications you can get delivered to it over the air.

Of course, to actually make a phone call on the Sidekick, the process is something like: click the phone app, scroll to “look up contacts” and click, scroll down the contacts and click. In a phone call, you can mute it by, um, pressing the menu button and finding mute. I think. I’m sure there’s a way to do a conference call on it, but fuck if I know.

The takeaway point here is that the Sidekick is regarded—correctly—as having one of the good user interfaces for a smart phone. But from a usability standpoint, the iPhone kicks its ass.

I’m not going to wax rhapsodic and proclaim that the iPhone is a revolutionary reinvention of the mobile phone. The truth is, though, that a lot of consumer electronics products—car radios, video players, and definitely cell phones—have terrible human engineering. There’s little to no thought given to how self-evident a function is or how easy it is to access it relative to how often the function will be used.

And if there’s one thing that Apple is (usually) good at, it’s human engineering. The UI differentiated the iPod from its competitors; there were always MP3 players with more features, but it was just easier to use, and iTunes was easier to use library management software. At risk of linking to John Gruber again, he’s one of the people who’s gotten what the iPhone’s “killer app” is: it’s the interface, stupid.

The iPod is illustrative here. Some pundits and technophiles still don’t get why someone would “put up” with a device that has fewer features and costs more, and figure it must just be because they’re uninformed fashion-conscious sheep. In some cases, that’s probably true, and of course now the iTunes Store has the network effect going for it (which also applies to the iPhone, of course). But the idea that people might be choosing to buy iPods because they don’t want to “put up” with a device whose multitude of features are painful to use seems to be off the radar. It shouldn’t be.

So will I, your humble coyote, be in line to get an iPhone, to pony up $600 initially and $70 a month onward? (Not much more than I’m paying now, mind you, but even so.) I don’t know. I won’t say I’m not tempted, although I won’t say that I don’t have reservations, either. I trust folks who’ve actually used the iPhone, like Andy Ihnatko, who’ve said that the touch-screen keyboard works surprisingly well, but I’ve been known to hit 100 wpm on a normal keyboard and upwards of 30 wpm on a thumb board, and I just don’t see that happening without tactile feedback. (I suspect my Sidekick has also given me first stage RSI, so I’m not sure slowing me down wouldn’t have positive side effects.) I use my Sidekick a lot for IM.

And certainly not least, there’s an inherent risk in being an early adapter. A lot of the iPhone will crash and burn! articles are based on facts not in evidence or projection (“I’m not interested in an iPhone, so it can’t have that big a market”), but the million-dollar question is how well the iPhone’s been executed. The advance reviews are starting to pop up now, of course, and so far they've been pretty good, although not without criticisms.

But whether or not I’m actually in line on Friday (no, I’m not definitively ruling it out), I’m definitely going to be watching.

chipotle: (Default)
If I appear to be on AIM less than I have been, this isn't illusory. I've decided I have too many damn windows open too often. I'll still be running IM, but will be trying to run it decidedly less when I need to be focused on other things. If you want to get in touch anyway, send me a message via Twitter, username chipotlecoyote. I'm leaving the Twitteriffic client up and polling, as it's considerably less intrusive. (Granted this may be in part because I'm following only a few people there, and none of them know me. But we'll see.)
chipotle: (Default)

I described Twitter in an earlier post as “micro-blogging,” which it is, sort of. If you go to the site and register, you will see a text field labeled:

What are you doing?

and an input box of 140 characters total. No more. Type something there, and it’s immediately posted on your Twitter page.

“And that’s it?”

Well, mostly. You can send these little “tweet” updates from an IM client, or a mobile phone. You can subscribe to someone’s Twitter “presence” as an RSS feed. The home page acts like a LiveJournal Friends page when you’re connected, showing the last “tweets” that people you’re following have sent. It can track conversations. And there are clients out there like Twitterrific which talk to the Twitter API.

“And… that’s it?”

Well, yeah, pretty much.

There are other Twitter-like services, most notably Jaiku, which lets you interconnect other “networking” sites in with your Jaiku presence page. Posts to my (somewhat neglected) tumbleblog or even this journal could show up in Jaiku if I wanted them to.

“And the point is what, exactly?”

That’s what I’ve been wondering for months, until just the other day. This is what occurred to me.

Futurists and technology pundits and sci-fi authors and fans have, for the past two decades or so, envisioned a highly-networked future—and we’ve mostly envisioned it as the “metaverse,” a virtual reality a la Snow Crash and Neuromancer. And each new lurch in technology in that direction gets examined in light of these fictional standard-bearers. Conversation? Check. A sense of place distinct from the real world? Check. Total immersion? Not so much. Yet Second Life is not only largely constructed by its inhabitants, it has a real economy, complete with currency exchange, property rights and rent; despite its crappy implementation, this is some serious virtual trailblazing. Futurists may have been mostly on the money with what Second Life represents; what Twitter represents, though, wasn’t even much on the radar.

Twitter—and understand that from this point on, I’m talking about the concepts it and Jaiku et. al. implement—is tying together the technologies that have been cascading down around us for the last decade. Ubiquitous computing is mostly here, and the aspect of that which I don’t think futurists who coined the phrase saw coming is ubiquitous presence. We are creating what amounts to opt-in telepathy: you can know what all your friends around the world are doing or thinking at any given time, and have a persistent (albeit not necessarily permanent) record: on this day at that time my friend told me this. And the records we’re creating can be automatically cross-referenced, hyperlinked, tagged and categorized.

When ideas like this have been written about in the past, it’s usually with a dystopic cast to them: your thoughts and actions and movements can be recorded and tracked without your consent, used for nefarious purposes by Big Government, Big Corporation, or whatever other Big Nasty you imagine. Britain’s proliferation of security cameras in public areas is the most oft-cited harbinger of this in the real world. (Out of all the tracking methods available to Big Siblings, those are actually among the least nefarious—but that’s another post.)

But Twitter is a completely different animal, one I don’t think any of us saw coming: millions and millions of people choosing to be tracked. Instead of bits of information about us that the observers choose to record, we are publishing as much information about ourselves as we choose to share. This is not journaling, pausing occasionally to share diary entries or mini-essays like this one. It’s immediate stream-of-consciousness, where am I and what am I thinking stuff. What’s John Gruber of Daring Fireball been thinking about? I can check. You can check. Hell, we can subscribe to an RSS feed of all of his friends’ tweets. And Leo Laporte, late of “The Screen Savers” and now running the TWiT podcasting empire, pretty much lives his life online.

The granularity of who can access that information is coarse: generally, either a white list (only those we designate as “friends”) or everyone. But many of us are, apparently, perfectly willing to share stuff with complete strangers as long as we’re the ones in control. We’re choosing what to share and what not to share. This can be weird stuff to people in my generation or older, but to people under, say, 20, this—not Twitter specifically, but the concept of ubiquitous presence—is just a part of life. You can choose to opt out, but it’d be a little weird, like admitting to your friends that you listen to classical music and don’t know any popular rock bands.

Again, this isn’t about the specific services and brands popular right now; it doesn’t matter if Twitter and Bebo and Facebook are also-rans in a year. This kind of interaction simply didn’t exist a decade ago, yet the foundational technologies—the Web, cell phones, and text messaging (IM or SMS)—are already deeply woven into our culture. All of these are fundamentally disruptive technologies. By blending them together, what’s being created is something new: the cyberpunk metaverse not as a separate entity, but as an overlay.

If this is a trend rather than a fad—and I’m pretty sure it’s a trend—there are far-reaching implications. Accessibility, privacy, and social interaction offline as well as online can be affected. To me, this is neither fantastic nor forbidding—but it’s fascinating. And, for all of the many jokes to be made about “Web 2.0,” I think it’s going to prove very important in the next decade or two.

chipotle: (Default)

So I’m on Twitter now, with the account name chipotlecoyote. I am here to see if I can fathom what the point is. My impression is that it’s “micro-blogging” for the ADD crowd. Of which I am arguably one.

Anyone else on this thing?

chipotle: (furry)

Hmm. How to explain International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day? The easiest way is just to shamelessly quote from the Boing Boing article I linked to:

Jo Walton (author of the incredible, haunting novel Farthing, which you should read right now, but not if you plan on getting any sleep for the next week) has declared April 23 to be “International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day” (a reference to Howard Hendrix’s now-infamous webscabs rant) to be celebrated by authors giving away a “professional quality work” on their websites.

(As further explanation to the link-averse, Hendrix, the vice-president of the Science Fiction Writers of America, railed against SFWA members—all professional authors—who “post their creations on the net for free,” because they are “undercutting those of us who aren’t giving it away for free and are trying to get publishers to pay a better wage for our hard work.” I’m really not sure whether it was more insulting to people who post work online or to actual union organizers.)

Well, not only have I not read Farthing, I don’t qualify as an SFWA professional. But screw all that—I’m participating anyway. See, I’ve been chewing for about a year on whether releasing a story or two from Why Coyotes Howl might stir up more sales and just generally be, you know, more visible. This is a good opportunity to find out.

So, on April 23rd, I’ll be making “Why Coyotes Howl” (the title story) available online in its entirety for free.

chipotle: (Default)
I'm playing around with del.icio.us, a "social bookmarking" site. Time will tell. What it will tell, I'm not sure.

And, [livejournal.com profile] haikujaguar went ahead and created a syndication feed for my tumblelog, so you can read it here by friending:

[livejournal.com profile] chipotle_tumble

The first step in my plan to make a living as an internet celebrity is complete! I don't have a step two, though.
chipotle: (Default)

Design nerdery

In the past couple weeks I’ve made tentative steps toward the new Claw & Quill design. I think I read too much about good software design practices, and one school of thought which boils down to, “Don’t worry too much about the look and feel first,” with the corollary advice of, “Don’t start designing the UI on the computer first thing because it’ll encourage you to lock the design down too early.” All well and good, but I brainstorm better by moving things around on the screen. Given what C&Q’s going to aspire to be, I need to pull off a hat trick in UI terms: it needs to be powerful enough to meet the needs of several classes of users while remaining simple enough that it isn’t intimidating, so I’m going to be playing around a while—and I’m not up for the retro-hipster approach of doing it all on paper and moving around pieces with scissors and tape. (I’ve seen variants on that advice more than once, but c’mon, does anyone really do that?)

Mac nerdery

I’ve been on something of a Mac utility buying binge the last week or so. Since some of you are Mac users, here’s a brief mention:

  • Path Finder, a quasi-replacement for the Mac Finder. Something of a power user toy, but I’ve found myself using its special powers regularly enough that a purchase was called for.
  • Intaglio, a drawing program that’s sort of a reincarnation of the old MacDraw. You could think of it as being to Illustrator what Paint Shop Pro is to Photoshop. (There’s a better-known competitor to Intaglio called LineForm with a couple unique features, but Intaglio has better typographic control, which I need.)
  • Painter’s Picker. Did you know the system-wide color picker can accept plugins? Neither did I. This is a great little widget for building up complementary (or clashing!) palette schemes based on classic color theory.

Blog nerdery

Last but not least, have you ever heard of “Tumblelogs?” Jason Kottke describes Tumblelogs as:

… a quick and dirty stream of consciousness, a bit like a remaindered links style linklog but with more than just links. They remind me of an older style of blogging, back when people did sites by hand, before Movable Type made post titles all but mandatory, blog entries turned into short magazine articles, and posts belonged to a conversation distributed throughout the entire blogosphere.

A “linklog” is something I’ve seen before, of course; [livejournal.com profile] haikujaguar has been doing one for years (“Micah’s Mine”). Most tumblelogs I’ve seen look like projectionist, which is to say that they look like something 37signals would build if they got really blasted (“even more rounded corners! everything green pastel! make that body font one billion points! Wicked!”).

I’ve toyed with the idea of setting up one. I really often do think of blog entries as short magazine articles; I don’t just throw up links and quotes and random crap. After listening to a recent podcast with Merlin Mann going on about them, though, and mentioning a “tumblelog in five minutes!” kind of site, I figured: why not. It would be an adjunct to my journal, not a replacement.

So, with little fanfare, I present: Coyote Tracks, my tumblelog. (It actually took an hour or so last night of hacking to make it look less ugly.) It should have an RSS feed for those of you so enabled. (This means someone could set up a syndicated feed for you to “friend” in LiveJournal, but I haven’t yet.) I expect Coyote Tracks to be considerably more random and wide-ranging in content. I’ll do my best to make sure anything “work unsafe” or potentially inflammatory is obvious, but—as is always true—if you don’t like a link, don’t click on it. I won’t be offended.

Coyote Tracks: http://chipotle.tumblr.com/

chipotle: (Default)

This wins the internets: combining geek (and I mean, really geek) humor and Led Zeppelin.

stevenf’s zep.pl

*** Black Dog achieved in 36 ZepMarks ***

Naturally, someone else ported it to Python. And, because I’m just like that, I ported it to Ruby:

#!/usr/bin/env ruby

words = ['hey', 'mama', 'said', 'the', 'way', 'you',
  'move', 'gonna', 'make', 'sweat', 'groove']

success = [ 0, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,
  8, 5, 9, 7, 8, 5, 10]

iterations = 0
matches = 0
matched = Array.new

while matches < 16
  iterations += 1
  print "[#{iterations}] "

  0.upto(15) do |i|
    if matched[i]
      print words[success[i]], ' '
    else
      r = rand(11)
      print words[r], ' '
      if r == success[i]
        matches += 1
        matched[i] = true
      end
    end
  end

  print "\n"
end

puts "*** Black Dog achieved in #{iterations} ZepMarks ***"

(Oh, c’mon, it was only 604 bytes — don’t whine about it needing an LJ cut!)

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