"What If" book announced →

March 12, 2014 |

This just made my day:

As I’ve sifted through the letters submitted to What If every week, I’ve occasionally set aside particularly neat questions that I wanted to spend a little more time on. This book features my answers to those questions, along with revised and updated versions of some of my favorite articles from the site. I’m also including my personal list of the weirdest questions people have submitted.

Instant preorder. Seriously, go.

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Apples iOS 7.1 lands with CarPlay, improved fingerprint scanner →

March 11, 2014 |

CNET News:

Apple on Monday released an update to its iOS 7 mobile operating system – iOS 7.1 – that adds new features such as CarPlay and fixes bugs. With iOS 7.1, Apple also tweaked its Siri voice assistant, iTunes Radio, and its Touch ID fingerprint sensor. The company streamlined the operating system to make it work better with the iPhone 4, made some user interface refinements, and included some stability and accessibility improvements.

Nice update overall. The fingerprint scanner really could use some tweaking. I also find it impressive that Apple continues to optimize iOS 7 to work on the oldest iPhone model that supports it, the iPhone 4.

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What should the speed limit be for cars in cities? | TreeHugger →

February 21, 2014 |

What should the speed limit be for cars in cities? | TreeHugger

A simple and intuitive way to understand why lowering the speed limit in our cities is a must:

Speed Limit - Copenhagenize

20 MPH/30 KPH seems to be a good compromise, with the number of deaths being very small and the number of uninjured victims being more significant, unlike with higher speeds where things are reversed. Though of course a low speed limit should be the last thing we count on to save lives; cities should be designed for walking, and the infrastructure should be designed to make things safe for everybody, including pedestrians.

We need to take our cities back.

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Reader Supported for Three Years (And Counting…) | Shawn Blanc →

February 20, 2014 |

To paraphrase his title, 3 years as a proud member (and counting…):

It has been an honor and a privilege to write for you, dear reader, these past three years. Though I don’t know what the next three years hold for this website, I hope — and believe — that my best creative work is still before me.

I know this to be true, without a doubt. Congratulations Shawn on an amazing achievement. The Internet is a much better place with you out there.

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Facebook to Buy WhatsApp for $16+ Billion →

February 20, 2014 |


The move marks the social giant’s biggest acquisition to date, as Facebook paid $16 billion in cash and stock for the company. In addition, the deal includes another $3 billion in restricted stock units for WhatsApp employees, which will vest over a period of time.

Wow. Congratulations to the WhatsApp team, that’s an amazing deal. $16 billion is a huge amount of money, but Mark Zuckerberg has historically been very clever when acquiring other companies, even at prices that seemed insane at the time (think Instagram, for example).

I think this makes sense for Facebook, clearly they’re interested in reaching WhatsApp’s large user base. For me as a user, unfortunately, it means yet another reason not to trust WhatsApp.

The problem is, right now there’s no clear alternative. The most interesting one is Telegram, but even though their goal to protect their users’ privacy is noble and their implementation seems serious, it still smells too much of vaporware to me. They refuse to accept money or show adds, so I’m not clear on how that bodes for its long-term survival. For now, I think it will have to do, but this is obviously a great opportunity for another player to step in. With a serious proposition, they could grab a significant piece of the market.

For a messaging app, being ubiquitous is the ultimate goal of course, which is why WhatsApp has been able to negotiate such a great deal. Being reliable and gaining your users’ trust, though, is just as important. We’ll see how it goes.

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Why Indie Developers Go Insane →

February 13, 2014 |

Jeff Vogel writes a great article on how hard success (and the subsequent fame it brings) can be on most indie developers:

It’s just that indie developers tend to have high visibility, high stress, and small support groups. These factors mean that, when these devs break, you see it, and it’s spectacular. Twitter has only helped to make self-immolation faster, easier, and more public.

I assume (I’ve never quite been in the position myself) that finding yourself in the spotlight all of a sudden must have an absolutely terrifying effect. We’re all hyper-aware of our own shortcomings, and these insecurities are greatly magnified by negative feedback, even if it’s without merit. It’s just how we’re wired. I can easily see how deeply disturbing it must be to be exposed to an overwhelming amount of negative and destructive criticism, especially if it’s the first time it happens to you.

Precisely this is what happened to Vietnamese developer Dong Nguyen these past few weeks. He rose to fame thanks to a little game called Flappy Bird, which skyrocketed to the top of both the App Store and Google Play Store in a matter of days. However, along with the cash, this sudden increase in visibility brought him much unwanted attention and considerably harsh criticism, most of it unwarranted. It is no surprise that Nguyen finally gave in to the pressure and removed his game from the stores entirely:

Dong Nguyen quit. A fortune coming through the door, and he walked away. As I write this, Flappy Bird has been removed from app stores. Think about this. I mean you, personally. Think about what it would take to make you run from a gold mine like this. Really. Think about why someone would do this. This is not about money.

The Internet can be a cruel place sometimes. It doesn’t hurt to remind us every so often that behind all those pixels there’s always a human being.

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Placebo-philes | Anxious Machine →

February 10, 2014 |

Last week, Marco touched on a subject I’ve always found fascinating: how higher-end audio equipment (read: more expensive) doesn’t necessarily sound better after a certain quality threshold has been met. I find it funny because the audiophile world is full of enthusiastic people who swear by their equipment, and couldn’t possibly “compromise” when it comes to their listening experience.

Most of it is nonsense, of course. Why then, do people keep buying thousand-dollar headphones? Well, the main reason behind it is the placebo effect: When you know you spent a fortune on a pair of headphones, you have every incentive to convince yourself that they sound better. Even if they don’t, really. Especially when they don’t. Because the opposite would mean you’re just an idiot who spent his hard-earned cash chasing unicorns. Bad news is, you probably are. Sorry about that.

Oh, don’t take it personally. We all are.

The placebo effect is universal, and the more you think you’re immune to it, the more you will fall under its spell. Robert McGinley has an interesting take on this, which Marco also linked to last week:

I had moments almost as absurd with my headphones, when I heard things inside songs I swore Id never heard before, when I felt as if parts of the music were two dimensional backdrops and then three dimensional shapes would leap out of the picture towards me, or the music would drizzle over my head, or crackle like lightning, or Id swear I could smell the studio where the song had been recorded, or something.

It’s amazing how we convince ourselves of the most ridiculous claims in order to rationalize and justify our decisions. It’s just human nature, I suppose. However, what I particularly like about this issue is that, being a subjective experience, we can actually game the system and use the placebo effect to our benefit:

It’s easy to sneer at the placebo effect, or to feel ashamed of it when you’re its victim. And that’s precisely why I found Felix Salmon’s piece revelatory, because instead of sneering at the placebo effect of fancy wine, its marketing, and its slightly higher prices, he thinks we should take advantage of it. If the placebo effect makes us happy, why not take advantage of that happiness?

Why not, indeed?

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Microsoft, Past and Future →

February 05, 2014 |

John Gruber:

Satya Nadella needs to find Microsoft’s new “a computer on every desk and in every home running Microsoft software”. Here’s my stab at it: _Microsoft services, sending data to and from every networked device in the world_.

I very much agree with his take. The tech world works much like Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection: you adapt or you die.

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Paper, The Opening Sentence In Facebook's 10-Year Plan | Co.Design →

February 04, 2014 |

Paper radically re-imagines what Facebook is on a mobile device as a fluid river of cards featuring news articles, photos, status updates, and more, with no ads to sully the experience (yet). It’s being released next week on February 3rd, just one day before Facebook’s 10-year anniversary, and there’s a reason for that: Paper is the opening sentence in Facebook’s next 10-year plan.

It looks interesting, naming issues aside. I haven’t had a chance to try it yet though (as of today, it’s still not available on Spain’s App Store), so I can’t speak for its usability. Perhaps even more interesting than the app itself is Origami, the design tool they created to build the interface. Pretty clever and, surprisingly, free.

It seems to me that Facebook, for all the things I don’t like about them, have gotten one thing straight: they’re not standing still, and they’re not afraid to try new things. That’s the key for long-time relevance (and survival) in the tech world.

Via Daring Fireball.

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