venomous porridge
I’m Dan Wineman and sometimes I post things here.
You could follow @dwineman on Twitter or App.net, or email me.
Sep
16th
2014
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Oh Stop It, U2

Some more good observations on the central human rights struggle of the modern era (← JOKE):

Steven Frank:

It’s that my various document libraries, and especially my iTunes library, are sacred. You DO NOT touch them. If I entrust them to your cloud service, you double-triple especially DO NOT touch them.

Daniel Jalkut:

The notion that Macs, iPhones, and iPads are personalized devices runs deep in Apple’s history and remains a powerful marketing message.

So, many of the people who complained about the U2 album suddenly appearing in their “Purchased” list weren’t outraged by a petty act of gifting an album that they may or may not like. They were instead annoyed, and perhaps a little scared by the implication that Apple doesn’t respect the boundaries that separate “customer stuff” from “Apple stuff.”

Marco Arment:

The right way for Apple to do a big U2 promotional deal like this would have been to simply make the album free on the iTunes Store for a while and promote the hell out of that.

Instead, Apple set everyone’s account to have “purchased” this album, which auto-downloaded it to all of their devices, possibly filling up the stingy base-level storage that Apple still hasn’t raised and exacerbates by iOS’ poor and confusing storage-management facilities. And when people see a random album they didn’t buy suddenly showing up in their “purchases” and library, it makes them wonder where it came from, why it’s there, whether they were charged for it, and whether they were hacked or had their credit card stolen.

Ben Thompson:

Apple wants people to believe their device is a reflection of who they are. That’s why the U2 brouhaha was such a screwup.

Sep
15th
2014
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Still Mad About U2

TJ Luoma disagrees with me (excerpts quoted below):

Dan, for someone who started their post with “this analysis is way off the mark” I have to say… your analysis is way off the mark.

No one is angry about receiving a gift.

Actually, they are. They got something for free. That’s a gift. They didn’t want it, and they’re complaining about it. For days. And days. And days.

No, I don’t think that’s accurate. The iTunes Store gives away free music every single day and no one cares. The only difference here is the delivery mechanism, and that difference is the entire reason for the anger. The fact that it was U2 is irrelevant (although it’s possible that if Apple had chosen a more current band fewer people may have been upset).

Imagine waking up to a fruit basket

You mean, imagine a completely different scenario that doesn’t relate to the transfer of digital information onto your portable electronic device?

(This is analysis you consider “on the mark”?)

Yes, it’s an analogy. You want something less abstract? OK, imagine you’re not a U2 fan. You’ve never bought a U2 album. Can’t stand them. You’re out for a jog, you’re listening to your iPod on “shuffle all,” you’re in the groove. Out of nowhere: boom, Bono in your ear. Wouldn’t that be a little annoying? Wouldn’t you have a right to be pissed at whoever screwed with your music collection?

This isn’t a made-up scenario. With iTunes in the Cloud, and with the automatic downloading of purchases introduced in iOS 5, that’s exactly what will happen to anyone who doesn’t jump through hoops to remove the unwanted content (and you couldn’t do this from your phone at all until today).

The content of an iTunes library has been 100% under its owner’s voluntary control ever since iTunes was introduced 13 years ago. That trust had never been broken before, and this ham-fisted promotion was a terrible reason to break it now. I hope nothing similar ever happens again.

It’s in your iTunes library, which a) almost no one is ever going to see, b) you can delete it if you want to, and c) if you don’t want to, you can say “I got that for free.”

Whether anyone else can see it isn’t really the point; that was just an illustration. The important thing is that I and I alone decide what goes in my library — in fact, this is the whole reason I pay for music at all instead of listening to iTunes Radio or Beats or any other streaming service. The value is in the ability to curate it, and in knowing that its contents won’t change at the whim of licensing deals or other factors beyond my control. Undermining that ability and that control is an act of deep disrespect.

Violation was a really unfortunate word choice.

Yeah, I know it has other connotations in the dictionary, but you also know that in the past month we have been talking about civil rights violations and privacy violations, to name just two.

Yes, this does count as a (minor) privacy violation. It’s also a violation of trust and of expectations, and arguably of good taste. I should have been more explicit about what kind of violation I meant, and I apologize for any offense my use of that word by itself may have caused.

This is people afraid that someone might think bad about them because they had a free album in their iTunes library. That’s your strongest argument about why this was bad.

No; if you read carefully, you’ll find that my argument is that Apple should have had the empathy to predict the uproar this decision caused, especially since they had immediately beforehand announced what they called their “most personal” product, with features designed around “intimacy” (their language, not mine). They should have known that a music collection is, to many people, especially young people, also a personal, intimate thing that oughtn’t be trifled with.

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Mad About U2

Peter Cohen:

The inordinate amount of actual anger directed at Apple and U2 over this is so disproportional to the actual event, I’ve started to wonder about the mental state of some of those complaining. It’s really been off the charts.

If you fall into that camp, let me speak very plainly: I have no sympathy for you. I have trouble thinking of a more self-indulgent, “first world problem” than saying “I hate this free new album I’ve been given.”

I appreciate that this topic has zero significance in comparison to any of the genuinely terrible things that have been happening in the world in 2014. But if we’re going to talk about it, let’s talk about it right, and this analysis is way off the mark.

No one is angry about receiving a gift. People are offended by the way the gift was given: without warning or fanfare, it just appeared in your iTunes library. Imagine waking up to a fruit basket from a well-meaning acquaintance, except instead of on your doorstep it’s sitting ominously on your kitchen counter. Do you shrug and chow down on a nectarine, or do you change your locks?

Music collections are deeply personal, and to young people, they can be surprisingly wrapped up in identity. Back when CDs and cassettes were the thing, my friends and I would collect and proudly house them in elaborate alphabetized racks. Every cramped freshman dorm room had several cubic feet devoted to this purpose. You wouldn’t visit a friend for the first time without spending at least a few minutes arms folded, waist bent, scanning tiny lettering on 25 or 50 or a couple hundred plastic spines. It was smalltalk; it was a courtship display. Wait a sec, you’re into Genesis?! Oh, just the early stuff. Cool, cool.

We’ve surrendered the physical trappings, but the connotations remain. And I think Apple didn’t see this because — no matter how deeply they insist music runs in their DNA — from the perspective of the iTunes Store, “library” means licensed content the user is currently authorized to stream or download. But due to various design decisions Apple’s made over the years, that’s not what it means to anyone else. I’d wager that to a majority of iTunes users, “library” means my personally curated collection of stuff that I enjoy and feel comfortable associating with my identity. Messing with that is, to be frank, nothing short of a violation.

It takes a certain degree of empathy to get that a music collection isn’t the same thing as a Facebook feed, and empathy in marketing decisions at this level is rare. But any company that hopes to gain our trust in mediating intimacy ought to be much better at figuring this stuff out.

Sep
9th
2014
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Sep
5th
2014
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Watch this

I never do this, so I’m gonna do this: Here’s my completely uninformed speculation on what Apple might announce on Tuesday, apart from the stupidly huge new phones we’re all expecting. Items in descending order of confidence, roughly:

A flexible wristband with a flexible, high-DPI touchscreen running its full length.

The charger is a squat peg that plugs in and sits on your nightstand, and you just drop the band over it. Charges via induction. This works well because the device contains an induction coil that runs its whole internal circumference, completely surrounding the terminal inside the peg for optimal efficiency (think electric toothbrush).

Two orientations: portrait, when you hold your arm across your body and read it from the dorsal side, like a traditional watch; and landscape, when you hold your arm vertically, palm towards you. Portrait is for checking the time and reading brief notifications. Landscape is for longer messages and more detailed interactions. The device recognizes the position it’s being held in and moves the UI from one side to the other as appropriate.

When not in active use, it can optionally display customizable wrap-around graphics or animations, though this will affect battery life.

No built-in wifi or cellular connectivity. Just Bluetooth LE, or something like it. If you have an iOS device on you, it uplinks through it, and it’s in this mode that the device is most useful (though it will still tell time and record your steps and so forth on its own). As a bonus, your iOS and OS X devices will be configurable to require a passcode or password only when it’s not in proximity.

You won’t be typing on this touchscreen. Any text you need to input, you’ll dictate, and Siri will be on hand if your phone is present.

The clasp is a new, stronger breed of MagSafe, and when closed the seam is near-invisible.

It runs iOS, but not any UI that we’re currently familiar with. No third-party apps or SDK except through partnership with Apple, at least initially.

No more iNames. New era. And it won’t be called anything having to do with watch or time. Too purpose-limiting. Think bigger.

Oh, and I guess it has some boring health sensors too.

Aug
29th
2014
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(Source: twitter.com)

Jun
18th
2014
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This is great: Damien Guard’s investigation of Typography in 8 Bits.

The computers I had the most contact with as a child were the Apple ][ series, the Commodore 64, and the Atari 800. School was all Apple, and most of my friends lived in C=64 households, but Atari was what I had at home, what I knew best, my first love. Oh, how we would PEEK and POKE those summer nights away.

Seeing these tiny, cramped, pixel-starved letters again, and these weirdo character sets — especially the Atari and C64 ones, which omitted such pedestrian glyphs as braces and backticks in favor of playing-card suits and box-drawing characters — was like catching a whiff of the carpet cleaner they used at my parents’ gym when I was nine: that drab facility in whose lobby my sister and I would regularly find ourselves parked, unsupervised, with nary to stave off boredom but a Donkey Kong arcade cabinet and a ration of three to seven quarters scrounged hurriedly from the bottom of a purse or a PBS tote bag (I made it to the top of the barrel level in hopes of rescuing Pauline precisely, I think, one time) and whose vivid recollection, to this day, will beach itself on the unsuspecting sands of my psyche the moment that exact carpet cleaning chemical, or maybe it’s a floor wax or a wallpaper glue, presents itself, which is no surprise because we all know your nose has a red phone on its desk (noses have desks in this metaphor; just go with it) with a direct line to the Kremlin of your memory — but what I find myself finding out this morning is that, improbably, at least if you happen to be wired up like me, pixels do too.

Jun
13th
2014
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The real problem with… well, everything

Rian van der Merwe on Facebook’s newly announced intention to ignore the Do Not Track setting in web browsers:

I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with how online data collection is driving product decisions. If a product’s sole source of revenue is advertising, then the design is going to reflect that. The product is going to be optimized for data collection so that it can provide better accuracy for advertisers. And if a product’s direction is driven by anything other than user needs, that product becomes worse for end users. That is inevitable. Nothing you can do about it.

This is why the “Well, what’s wrong with better ads?” argument doesn’t hold water. It’s not that I want to see less relevant ads (or no ads at all). It’s that I don’t want a company’s design decisions to be driven by a need to get as much data out of people as possible (as opposed to how to meet their core needs better).

I couldn’t help but notice similarities between this argument and the one I use to explain why I don’t like games that have consumable in-app purchases. It’s not the cost that’s the problem — I’m happy to pay as much as $50 or $60 up front for a great game — rather, it’s the way game design is influenced by the need to incentivize spending money. “This slot machine has some really compelling gameplay,” said no one ever.

Products, like anything else that takes part in an ecosystem, evolve to optimize whatever sustains them, and over time they shed the remainder like dead skin. Websites that rely on pageviews to survive become linkbait crapfarms. Ad-supported social networks sell off your attention in the precise quantity you’ll tolerate — until you get used to that, and then they sell off a little more. And games become shallow, joyless chores in fun’s clothing, because there’s a 0.15% chance you’re a “whale.”

If you’re working on a tech product right now, here’s what I propose. Before you type another line of code or click another pixel, stop and think: What do I want this to become? Now, is that vision the basis of your business model? Not something that exists alongside it, or despite it, or in carefully balanced tension with it, but the basis of it? If it isn’t, then you’re building the wrong thing.

Apr
23rd
2014
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merlin:

“Maybe everybody else knows this, but what is the difference between the pager and the email?”

—Chief justice John Roberts (via maxistentialist)

What.

Not to minimize the many legitimate occasions on which Supreme Court justices have shown a grasp of technology that would embarrass Grampa Simpson, but this particular quote isn’t one:

Roberts isn’t asking about the difference between e-mail and a pager. He’s asking about the differences in how police department policy treated e-mails sent from a computer and texts sent from department-issued pager. He’s actually making a rather sophisticated distinction, not betraying his ignorance. The exchange preceding Roberts’ question features Quon’s lawyer Dieter Dammeier explaining the policy, “The city will periodically monitor e-mail, Internet use and computer usage,” and Justice Ginsburg asking if it wouldn’t be reasonable for an employee to assume the same would apply to texts sent via pager.…

What Roberts is trying to tease out is whether there are differences in reasonable expectations of privacy and the police department’s conduct depending on where e-mails are stored (on a government server) vs. where text messages are stored (by a private company).

Now, the Aereo case does have some great examples of the justices being confounded by gimcracks and befuddled by geegaws, but that doesn’t bother me much. Their job is to interpret and reconcile the decisions of lower courts, not to draft policy. They are experts in the law, and novices in every other field. Do you also expect them to have encyclopedic knowledge of human biology and reproductive medicine when hearing an abortion case? No; it’s the duty of the arguing attorneys to provide the background information. If one side leaves out a key detail, and the omission would harm the other side, then the other side fills it in. And outside parties file amicus briefs, and the justices do their own research in the three or four months it takes them to draft a ruling following oral argument. That’s the system. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good.

It does seems shocking when a justice doesn’t know how SMS works, because we—the Technopedants of the Internet—do, and because of the principle that it’s hard to imagine not knowing something that you know. But I guarantee you they ask questions that ring as dumb or dumber in the ears of subject-matter experts every time they hear a case. I’d be terrified if they didn’t.

Apr
2nd
2014
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chrisereneta:

Uh huh. You got that right. PLATFORM STRATEGY.

I’ve followed Flummox and Friends since its Kickstarter campaign a while back. It’s a great idea — a show aimed at smart kids who need a little help with social skills — and the execution is terrific. Recently I had the tremendous privilege of developing FlummoxVision, the iPad app which went live today. We’re hoping that this app will see enough success to carry the show onto other distribution platforms, so as many kids as possible can benefit from it.

I’ve been doing client development with Karbon for a couple years now. There are a few ways a project can be rewarding: it can be fun to work on, or it can be in support of a worthwhile cause, or the client can bring great content and design sensibility to the table. You hope for at least one of these. Two? Let’s not be greedy.

This project had all three. I’m thrilled that I got to do it, working with Chris and Christa was a blast, and I’m very proud of the result. It’s a free download, so please give it a try.

chrisereneta:

Uh huh. You got that right. PLATFORM STRATEGY.

I’ve followed Flummox and Friends since its Kickstarter campaign a while back. It’s a great idea — a show aimed at smart kids who need a little help with social skills — and the execution is terrific. Recently I had the tremendous privilege of developing FlummoxVision, the iPad app which went live today. We’re hoping that this app will see enough success to carry the show onto other distribution platforms, so as many kids as possible can benefit from it.

I’ve been doing client development with Karbon for a couple years now. There are a few ways a project can be rewarding: it can be fun to work on, or it can be in support of a worthwhile cause, or the client can bring great content and design sensibility to the table. You hope for at least one of these. Two? Let’s not be greedy.

This project had all three. I’m thrilled that I got to do it, working with Chris and Christa was a blast, and I’m very proud of the result. It’s a free download, so please give it a try.