November 28, 2014

The Wirecutter:

The holiday season is approaching once again, and that screaming you hear is the sound of Internet users everywhere becoming inundated with holiday “deals.” Thousands of deals. Tens of thousands of deals. And, as you may know from experience, most of those deals don’t actually result in any kind of savings.

In fact, they are often a waste of money due to marketing trickery or just plain bad products. In fact, according to our research so far only 0.6% of the 42,000 deals we’ve studied since early November are actually a good deal on a good piece of gear. Our attitude is dictated by a general idea: if we wouldn’t buy it ourselves or tell our friends and family to do so, we won’t list it. If the price or the item itself is not good, we won’t list it.

This time of year, we are inundated by “deals”. The folks at The Wirecutter do a great job of separating the wheat from the chaff. It’s also a great list if you are looking for gift ideas.


I write about economics for a living, so I understand concepts of deadweight loss and depreciation and inefficiency.

That said, I still ask my parents for gift cards for Christmas every year. And I buy them for people, too.

I know this is a sacrilege, and you might, too — there are all sorts of articles out there about how gift cards are sincerely a terrible, horrible gift. And yet I keep wanting them. It could be because I’m just a bad decision-maker, but I think there are excellent reasons to get a person a gift card … provided you buy it for the right kind of person.

I think gift cards can have their place for certain people. Do you give gift cards? Do you like to get them?

November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

For those who celebrate Thanksgiving today, here’s hoping you travel safe, end someplace warm, and have a wonderful day.

I just wanted to take a moment to offer my thanks to the Loop community for so graciously including me and supporting me. It’s been a tremendous experience and I’m enjoying it tremendously. Thank you!

Can you get to Lake Tahoe on December 3rd at 7pm? If so, come meet Woz, support an excellent cause (the Lake Tahoe Unified School District) and get a cool custom “Woz Rocks” Hard Rock Cafe pin.

As part of the event, guests who purchase one of Hard Rock Cafe Lake Tahoe’s new pins will have the opportunity to meet with Steve Wozniak and receive his signature. The “Woz Rocks” Pin ($30 at event) features Steve Wozniak playing a computer shaped guitar while riding a Segway. In addition, Hard Rock Cafe Lake Tahoe created a second “Woz Rocks” pin ($20 at event) which features the same image of Steve wearing “Berkeley blue and gold” to honor the Apple co-founder’s alma mater. Both pins will be available at Hard Rock Cafe Lake Tahoe’s Rock Shop retail store for a limited time while supplies last.

True to Hard Rock’s “Love All – Serve All” mantra, proceeds from sale of Hard Rock’s “Woz Rocks” pins will benefit the Lake Tahoe Unified School District. The pin sales will assist in providing a quality learning environment so all students can develop competence in basic skill areas and are prepared to be responsible, contributing citizens.

Here’s Woz, talking about his new pin.

November 26, 2014

Vanity Fair:

I am afraid of the cops. Absolutely petrified of the cops. Now understand, I’ve never been arrested or held for questioning. I’ve never been told that I “fit the description.” But that doesn’t change a thing. I am afraid of cops the way that spiders are afraid of boots. You’re walking along, minding your own business, and SQUISH! You are dead.

Simply put, I am afraid of the cops because I am black.

I’m not as Black as Bell but I am the same height and weight and I know the feelings he describes.

Mental Floss:

What do Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Toy Story, Reservoir Dogs, Titanic, Anchorman, 22 Jump Street, and more than 200 other films and TV shows have in common? Not much besides the one and only Wilhelm Scream.

The so-called Wilhelm Scream is the holy grail of movie geek sound effects, a throwaway sound bite that had inauspicious beginnings and was revived in the 1970s and made into the best movie in-joke ever.

Once you recognize the scream, you’ll be amazed at how many movies use it.

The opt-out feature, available on both iOS and Android, is a periodically updated list of the apps on your phone, which Twitter says it will use to serve you a more “tailored experience,” including “who to follow” suggestions, relevant tweets, and other content it adds to your timeline, as well as its promoted content.

Um, no thanks.

AMPLIFi TT is a tabletop multi-effect that transforms any room into a jam space so you can play, practice and record guitar more easily than ever. Launch the AMPLIFi Remote app and start jamming to the music you love—in your home, office, dorm room or anywhere in between.

This looks like another great product from Line 6. It’s compatible with the Mac and iOS and outputs to any sound system.

A great article from Om Malik on Silicon Valley.

Washington Post:

The Internet’s biggest encyclopedia is a lot like other major sites on the Web: It’s been a little hesitant to weigh in on net neutrality, the idea that all Web traffic should be treated equally by Internet service providers such as Comcast or Time Warner Cable.

That’s because the folks behind Wikipedia actually see a non-neutral Internet as one way to spread information cheaply to users in developing countries. With Wikipedia Zero, users in places like Pakistan and Malaysia can browse the site without it counting it counting against the data caps on their cellphones or tablets. This preferential treatment for Wikipedia’s site helps those who can’t afford to pay for pricey data — but it sets the precedent for deals that cut against the net neutrality principle.

This issue, along with those raised by Mark Cuban in his controversial interview, show the complex nature of the net neutrality argument.

Google is in the middle of a battle with the German Magazine Publishers association, part of a larger battle over Google’s excerpting of content. Magazine publishers, already fighting for their financial lives, want to be paid for excerpted content. Legal firm CMS Hasche Sigle represents the German Magazine Publishers. That’s background. Here’s the issue.

From the New York Times:

Andreas Schwab, a German member of the European Parliament, has been making headlines in the last week after drafting a resolution that calls for the breakup of Google.

But Mr. Schwab is not just a legislator, he is also “of counsel” at the German law firm CMS Hasche Sigle, which has represented some of the German publishing interests that have been most eager to declaw Google. He earns roughly $15,000 to $75,000 annually from the firm, according to a disclosure filing. The firm’s website lists his expertise as competition policy.

There’s some smoke here. The question is, is there also fire? Not clear.

Potential conflicts like working at a law firm are barred by the United States Congress, though permitted in some American state legislatures. European law has no prohibition on holding a second job at a law firm, though it does require disclosure of the relationship.

In an email, Mr. Schwab said he had not discussed his resolution with the law firm and called it “a purely political issue.”

“All transparency rules are fully respected,” he said, adding that many of his colleagues had to weigh in on the resolution. “You can be sure that the text of this resolution” is “based on a neutral assessment of the facts.”

Pomplamoose is an extremely talented indie band, born to be internet musicians. At the core is real life couple Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn.

If you don’t know them, you’ve no doubt heard some of their music. They came to life on YouTube (here’s the Pomplamoose channel) with a series of low-budget, but incredibly well produced videos, mostly of covers and mashups.

Pomplamoose has also done a number of highly regarded commercials, including this spot for Hundai and this one for Austrian Mobile.

In short, Jack and Nataly have done everything they can do finance their music/video-making habit. Part of the big picture is touring. In the linked article, Jack lays out all the numbers from their last tour, which netted them a total of -$11,819. That’s not a typo, they actually lost $11,819. But wait, this is not a sob story. This is a success story and well worth the read. I am a fan.

What I find most amazing is the before and after sliding article at the top of the article. In a sense, someone got the bright idea to cover the face of the Marriott Marquis hotel with this giant screen, an entire city block long.

The Mitsubishi Electric screen occupies the entire block of Broadway that lies between 45th and 46th street, and even wraps about another 30 feet around each corner. Its true resolution is 2,368 x 10,048, and it measures over 77 feet tall by 323 feet long.

It’s simply massive. And it’d have to be to stick out in advertising-saturated Times Square.

Certainly the least known of the three original founders of Apple, Ron Wayne is putting his own proof sheets from the original Apple I manual up for auction, along with some other early Apple drawings. From an interview Wayne did with ComputerWorld:

In 1976, when that contract was drawn up, it boasted three signatures: Wozniak’s, Wayne’s and Jobs’. Wayne, then 41 and thus the elder statesman of the trio, was instrumental in the founding of Apple. He had been recruited by Jobs to convince Wozniak to launch the partnership. For his part, Wayne was offered a 10% share in the new company, Apple Computers.

Wayne relinquished his part of the deal just days later, receiving $800 for his shares. He bowed out in part because of past business venture failures as well as the fact that all the partners were personally liable for any debts the new company might accrue.

“No, I don’t regret the decision,” Wayne said Monday. “My passion was not computers. I had put my two cents in and was glad to help.”

Here’s a link to the auction page.

November 25, 2014


Starting today (in the U.S. only), we’re beginning to test a new way for advertisers to connect with consumers on Twitter and convert them to loyal customers in their stores, on their websites and in their apps. This feature, Twitter Offers, enables advertisers to create card-linked promotions and share them directly with Twitter users.

There is zero chance I would ever use this. Anyone else interested in giving your credit card info to Twitter?


AC/DC’s new album is coming out next week, but you can listen to it now for free through iTunes. Rock or Bust, the fifteenth studio album from the group, can be streamed in its entirety through the iTunes Store and iTunes Radio.

The album has 11 new tracks and clocks in at a little more than half an hour and you can pre-order the album.

Listening to AC/DC brings me back to memories of junior high and high school.

Jurassic World trailer

Judge for yourself. (h/t A. de La Grandière)


Trade in your iPhone 6 to a Passport and BlackBerry will give you up to $400 in trade-in value, plus an extra $150 “top up” for U.S. residents.

They’re not paying enough.


Each year, millions of Americans head for retail stores to take part in that famed post-Thanksgiving shopping extravaganza—Black Friday—with some even cutting their holiday short to get a jump on the seasonal deals.

Maybe they shouldn’t bother.

As always, shop carefully and shop smart this holiday season.

It’s coming.

Twenty-two years after the events of Jurassic Park, Isla Nublar now features a fully functioning dinosaur theme park, Jurassic World, as originally envisioned by John Hammond.

The movie is scheduled for release on June 12th, 2015. But the official marketing push starts this Thursday, on Thanksgiving evening.

This is one of those movies that gets me very excited and just a bit worried, worried that it will be awful. But Chris Pratt is in it and, so far, I’ve liked every one of his movies, at least the ones that I’ve seen.

Here’s to hoping.

Mark Cuban is frequently painted as provocative and adversarial. He’s a big personality, but he’s also smart and savvy. Cuban is also one of the more outspoken critics of net neutrality, laying out his arguments in this interview with the Washington Post.

At the heart of his side of the debate is the concept of fast lanes:

People like to use movies and TV shows as a reference to issues that could occur on the Internet. [But] the real issue is that there will be many applications that we can’t foresee today. [And] we need those applications to not just have priority, but guaranteed quality of service.

I want certain medical apps that need the Internet to be able to get the bandwidth they need. There will be apps that doctors will carry on 5G networks that allow them to get live video from accident scenes and provide guidance. There will be machine vision apps that usage huge amounts of bandwidth. I want them to have fast lanes.

I think this is a point, worthy of consideration. The question is, does data need fast lanes? Or is the answer to upgrade the infrastructure with pipes big enough so that all data can move faster.

Two new iPhone commercials

Apple continues its string of iPhone commercials that feature voice work by Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake. This first one focuses on the ability to make and receive phone calls from any Apple device.

The second one focuses on the iPhone 6, the A8 chip, and the game Vainglory, the game that was demoed at Apple’s iPhone 6 event. I have to say, I do enjoy the interplay between Fallon and Timberlake.

November 24, 2014

Pad and Quill, a Minneapolis based company, began as an idea on a napkin in 2010. Starting with 4 prototypes, a barter to paint our web designers deck and a Paypal account to track orders, Brian and Kari began shipping cases from their basement and since they have grown to a business selling tens of thousands of unique hand crafted products a year.

Initially riding the Apple iOS wave, Brian and Kari (Mr and Mrs PQ) sought to bring to market iPhone and iPad cases crafted from organic materials such as leather, Baltic birch wood and buckram linen book cloth. Over time, the celebration of the craftsman, the accentuation of natural beauty and the delight of their customers solidified as the core values of the company, driving the creation of an expanded line of iPhone cases, iPad cases, sleeves, and tech bags.

With each product being constructed by hand, by craftsmen and women skilled in the century old trades of woodworking, bookbinding, and leather craft every customer receives a product that was essentially made for them. While they’ve come a long way from passing packages to the mail guy through their basement window, both Brian and his wife Kari enjoy the day to day interactions with their customers and dreaming up new ideas for future hand crafted products.

iPhone 6 camera vs. CNN camera

Where the reporter makes the Stupid Statement of the Day: “Let’s see how the cameras compare!” Here’s a little hint – they don’t. They can’t. Not even remotely. Stop trying to force the comparison.

He does offer a couple of good tips on proper shooting though. So it’s not an entirely worthless video.

Washington Post:

Researchers coated subjects’ hands with Lactobacillus, a harmless bacteria that you don’t typically come across in a public bathroom. The idea was to mimic hands that hadn’t been washed properly. After drying hands, researchers went in and conducted 120 air-sampling tests. They found that Lactobacillus counts in the air were 4½ times higher near high-powered jet dryers than around warm-air dryers. And bacteria counts were 27 times higher near warm-air dryers than when subjects used paper towels.

Ok, that’s it. I’m simply not going to use public washrooms any more.


HandBrake is a tool for converting video from nearly any format to a selection of modern, widely supported codecs.

Handbrake has been my go to video converting app for years.


Cyberspace may be ancient history for Gibson, but how our future unrolls before us has once again captured his attention. After sticking fairly close to the present for his last half-dozen novels, The Peripheral is Gibson’s most wide open and far-ranging adventure in decades. Multiple futures, near and far, collide. Characters zip back and forth in time, conspiracy theories come true, and an apocalypse unfolds in slow motion, with all the inexorability of a slowly rising tide.

I’ve been a huge fan of Gibson’s since I first read Neuromancer as a kid. It’s is still the first and only book that blew my mind so much that, when I read in pretty much one sitting, I immediately turned back to page one and started reading it again.

New York Times:

Those who saw Odell Beckham Jr.’s acrobatic catch live on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium probably could not fully appreciate it in real time. Those who saw it on video — millions, once the awe spread on social media — were dazzled by his seemingly impossible body control. And those who saw still photographs of the catch might have wondered, how did the photographer capture that?

Jeffrey Furticella, a picture editor on the Sports desk at The New York Times, reached out to some of the photographers who shot the catch on Sunday night.

As a photographer, I always love to read the stories behind the images.

World record jump of the Lotus F1 team

This world record jump is not only not what you’d expect, it’s also bat-poop crazy.

Last week, public outcry over the poorly thought through Mattel book, Barbie’s I Can Be a Computer Engineer caused Random House to pull the book, Amazon to drop the book, and Mattel to apologize. Here’s a good run down of that part of the story.

What I like best is what happened next. Developer Kathleen Tuite put together this tool to let you re-caption the book in a more appropriate fashion.

You can search Twitter for #FeministHackerBarbie to follow along, or check out this Tumblr feed for some of the best.