Great Podcasts

It’s been a couple of years since I wrote about my favorite podcasts, but a recent discussion with Jonathan has nudged me to document my current recommendations.

My Top Five Six

(in no order…)

Radiolab

Radiolab focuses on a single “Big IDea” per episode, using the medium of sound to the fullest extent possible. It is indescribable, so I will simply say that if you subscribe to nothing else on this list, you must experience Radiolab.

The International Spy Museum’s Spycast

How can you beat a show hosted by a man with over three decades of experience in espionage made up of interviews with “ex-spies, intelligence experts, and espionage scholars.” It is a truly fascinating glimpse into the shadows.

This American Life

Most people reading this have likely been listening to This American Life for a while, but just in case you haven’t experienced what is quite possibly one of the best shows to ever ride the radio waves, I list it here.

The History of Rome

Being the history geek that I am, I love this series, which traces “the history of the Roman Empire, beginning with Aeneas’s arrival in Italy and ending (someday) with the exile of Romulus Augustulus, last Emperor of the Western Roman Empire.”

In Our Time

This BBC podcast covers an amazing array of topics under the banner of discussing “the history of ideas”. Isaac Newton, the samurai, genetics and the philosophy behind Communism are a small sampling of the topics you can hear each week.

The Moth

The Moth is a series of storytelling events held in several cities around the US, from which they take some of the funniest and most poignant to place on the podcast.

More Awesome Podcasts

You should get these too. They may not be in my top five, but the fact that I listen to them still speaks highly of their value – I’m pretty brutal about cutting out shows that aren’t amazing.

The Engines of Our Ingenuity

John Lienhard’s stories and perspective on the history of our technology and its impact on culture are inviting and informative. It’s a nice short podcast, every episode of which teaches me something.

NPR: Sports with Frank Deford

While I like to watch some sports (football and boxing for the most part), Frank Deford can hook me no matter which sport or aspect of the business of sports he decides to talk about. He is an amazing story-teller who truly cares about the subject and the people who play.

On the Media

Yet another NPR show that fills my iPod. If you care in the least about how the media works nd its impact on those of us who consume it, you need to listen to the show. On the Media ‘explores how the media “sausage” is made, casts an incisive eye on fluctuations in the marketplace of ideas, and examines threats to the freedom of information and expression in America and abroad. For one hour a week, the show tries to lift the veil from the process of “making media,” especially news media, because it’s through that lens that we literally see the world and the world sees us.’

The ATX Web Show

While this is a bit of a niche, Dave Rupert and friends put together a great show highlighting the Web design and development community here in town. It’s a great way to keep up with the future.

60 Second Psych & 60 Second Science

Exactly as their names imply, each of these podcasts come in bite-sized chunks, ready to make you smarter and help you understand how things truly work in the world at large and the world in our brain.

12 Byzantine Rulers

Lars Brownworth’s love of the subject is clear from the first minute and will quickly attract anyone interested in history. As noted on the site, Mr. Brownworth’s “passion for Byzantine history has taken him on travels from the furthest reaches of the Byzantine Empire right into Constantinople, (present day Istanbul) the very heart of Byzantium. He has traveled and studied Byzantine history extensively and produced this lecture series giving us an overview of Byzantine history as seen through 12 of its greatest rulers.”

Norman Centuries

Another great history podcast from Lars Brownworth, starts with the humble beginnings of the Normans traces the path of the Normans over the two centuries that they “launched a series of extraordinary conquests, transforming Anglo-Saxon England into Great Britain, setting up a powerful Crusader state in Antioch, and turning Palermo into the dazzling cultural and economic capital of the western Mediterranean”.

What am I Missing

What are your favorite podcasts?

Features, Quality, Time

The idea that there are three simple levers that define a feature or a product is passive-aggressive professional absurdity. There are myriad levers the team can adjust, but to understand them you need to understand the people who are actually building the software.

Michael Lopp a.k.a. Rands from Bits, Features, and Truth

If you haven’t picked up his book Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager yet, you should.

My Must Have OS X Apps for Business

Application Icons - Copyright their respective owners

While I’m in the process of changing machines I’m going to document many of the apps and plugins that are on my “Must Have” list. I love a fresh start and given my proclivity for demo software and beta apps it’s positively refreshing to start with a clean Applications folder.

I’ve also collected my System Tweaks for OS X if you’re interested.

Productivity Apps

OmniGraffle

I plan to write a post with all of my must-have UX components, which will include many OG resources, so I won’t go into those here.

Microsoft Office

I use Pages, Numbers and Keynote on my personal machine, but their integration and support of the de facto workplace standard just aren’t good enough, so Microsoft Office is the suite of the day for work. Specifically, I use:

  • Word
  • Excel
  • PowerPoint
  • Entourage – Mail.app’s support for Exchange is pretty decent, but the calendar integration is sorely lacking when you want to book a room or see your coworkers’ availability,
  • Entourage 2008 for Mac Web Services Edition – a free update to the Entourage client which adds some very useful functionality

Design and Development Applications

Adobe’s Creative Suite is indispensable. I spend a lot of my creative time in Photoshop and Illustrator, while others swear by Fireworks. I’ve tried many of the smaller, independent image editors, but I’m accustomed to the power and features of these pro tools.

Coda is one of many Web development applications that I’ve tried since switching to the Mac. While I used TextMate for a few years, Coda has replaced it with a combination of efficiency and beauty. It feels much more oriented to front-end development and flow than the spartan TextMate, and feels “right” to me. The built-in support for multiple sites, FTP, terminal, Subversion, preview capabilities and code snippets integrate with the code editor beautifully for a great experience. The only thing that it lacks from my point of view is code-folding, which is quite likely the most-requested feature, so I hope they’ll add it in the next release. For me, the benefits easily outweigh that one negative.

Versions is a beautiful and easy to use Subversion client, which says a lot as most SVN clients, even on OS X are convoluted and not much of a step-up from doing everything at the command line. While I have used the command line in the past, I really like having a graphical UI for interacting with version control.

MAMP stands for Mac, Apache, MySQL, PHP. It’s a self-contained install of those server technologies that I’ve found easier to configure and run than the native OS X installs. That said, I haven’t tried the pre-installed versions since 10.4, so it’s possible that my use of this app is purely out of habit.

General Utilities

LaunchBar is quite possibly the most used utility on my system. The app speeds the launching of other applications. With a simple keyboard shortcut, I open LaunchBar type a couple of letters and hit Enter to launch an application, start or stop music, find a file or even run a quick calculation (without the calculator app). It also has a setting that will keep track of multiple clipboard items, so I don’t have to run a dedicated utility for that functionality.

Evernote is my note-taking application of choice as it quickly and quietly syncs content between computers, the Web and my iPhone, guaranteeing access to information where and when I need it. The fact that I can easily add photos is killer, especially as Evernote will index the text inside the photos so it’s searchable.

Adium is a great instant messaging client that unifies the various networks, ensuring that I can communicate with anyone that I need to regardless if they are on AIM, Yahoo!, MSN or Jabber.

Things is one of countless to-do and GTD applications available for the Mac, but for me, it stands above the rest. I love its structure and the ability toe create projects, which can be grouped into areas. Additionally, being able to assign dates – both specific and general (“Someday”) – allows me to get ideas out of my head without being oppressed by an overwhelming task list.

Dropbox syncs files between computers, both Macs and PCs as well as my iPhone and does it seamlessly. Dropbox is elegant, powerful and amazingly enough, it’s free unless you need a very large amount of space. Many apps that lack their own ability to sync information can use Dropbox to add information sharing. For example, I use Dropbox to store my Things database, ensuring that both my work and home computers have the same list of tasks, without my needing to do anything extra to keep each up to date.

If you sign up, please use this referral link as we’ll both get an extra 250mb of space for free.

Skitch is one of the many screen capture apps released in the last year or two. It’s a great app that just works, making it easy to take a snapshot of part of the screen and annotate it if I need. Additionally, it makes it easy to upload the capture to online services, which is how I typically add interesting bits to my Web Detritus set on Flickr.

1Password is one of those applications that causes me to wonder how I worked without it. It is the best password manager I have ever worked with, hands-down. 1Password guarantees that I can use very complex passwords without risk of forgetting them, nor worry that they’re sitting around for someone to steal.

Browsers

In addition to Safari, I install Google Chrome and Firefox, which are currently battling for supremacy in my daily workflow.

Fluid is another browser I use regularly, though it has a key difference. Instead of acting as a general Web browser, it turns Web sites into desktop applications, complete with icons in the Applications folder and on your dock. My most common use for this is for Google Reader, but I have also tapped it for Web-based mail and to-do lists.

And More…

For Preference Panes, please see my post about System Tweaks for OS X.

Back in 2006, I wrote Software for a Switcher.

What are the Apps You Can’t Live Without?

Please expand this list by adding your recommendations in the comments.

OS X System Tweaks

As I’m switching to a new machine, this is the ideal time for me to list all of the tweaks and changes I make to OS X and various core apps.

System Enhancements and Plugins

  • FunctionFlip “individually controls your MacBook or MacBook Pro’s function keys, turning special keys back to regular F-keys, or vice-versa. FunctionFlip is a preference pane; you’ll find it in the “Other” category in System Preferences.”
    These are the settings I flip for the newer model MackBook Pro:

    • F8 for quick Spaces access
    • F9, F10 and F11 – To provide quick access to Expose functionality
    • F12 – To PRovide quick access to Dashboard
    • Set it to start at login
  • KeyRemap4MacBook
  • Growl is a must-have for every Mac.. It provides a platform for programs to notify you of activity.
    • Start at login
  • iStat Menus
    • The Blaqua skin with the Fire skin color
    • Disable checking for updates at startup, relying instead on checking every 24 hours
    • I monitor the CPU, combining multiple CPUs into a single graph
    • I monitor Memory
    • I disable monitoring of other stats
    • I enable Date & Time, using it as a replacement for the system time stamp in the top right because I like the compressed calendar layout
  • Witch Thanks to Flip for the link (The Developer appears to have disappeared altogether, so there isn’t a site to link to)
    • Set it to ignore the LastFm.app
    • Set it to “Ignore Windows that identify themselves as floating windows (tool bars etc.)”

Overlay Drawers for Dock Stacks are a nice touch, but do not provide anything beyond aesthetic pleasure
SymbolicLinker simplifies the creation of symlinks.

Preferences and Settings

  • Disable Bluetooth I don’t use any Bluetooth devices, so there’s no need to drain the battery and chew up processing power for it. I also take it out of the menu bar to reduce clutter.
  • Pair a Remote The Apple remote that used to come free with Macs can be really useful, to the point that I keep mine with the laptop wherever I go. You never know when a presentation will bust out in the street.
  • Sound Effects – I go with Submarine as I like it a bit better. Exciting huh?
  • Universal Access – I enable access for assistive devices, which provides hooks for a couple of other 3rd party tools.

The Dock

  • Enable Dock Magnification – I like to enable a subtle magnification, so the currently indicated icon has a bit more prominence.
  • Enable Automatic Hiding and Showing of the Dock – I don’t like the Dock cluttering the screen and using up pixels when I don’t need it.

Spaces

  • Enable Spaces – I like to use four spaces to separate different types of activities. Additionally I select the box to show Spaces in the menu bar for easy access via Mouse.
  • Disable Switching Spaces Shortcuts – I don’t typically switch to a space, more often I switch to an app which happens to be in a space, so the shortcuts aren’t useful for me and occasionally conflict with application short cuts. I leave the activation shortcut (F8) as it is.

Keyboard

  • I bump up the default key repeat rate a notch
  • I do not check the “Use all F1, F2 , etc. keys as standard function keys” as I install FunctionFlip which provides the granularity to select which action is taken for each key. See below for detail on my settings.
  • Check Illuminate Keyboard in low light conditions and set it to turn off after a minute of inactivity.
  • I change the Full Keyboard Access to “All Controls” as it makes it easier to navigate through some applications without the mouse.

Finder

  • Customize the Tool Bar
    • I add the Path button to the left of the display options
    • Enable Use Small Size Icons
  • Enable the display of Hard disks on the desktop
  • Disable the display of iDisk in the sidebar
  • Select “Show all filename extensions”
  • Modify the search behavior so that Search defaults to searching the current folder instead of the entire machine

Could Google Quick Search Replace Quicksilver?

Nicholas Jitkoff, who created one of my most used Mac utilities, Quicksilver, now works for Google, which has just released Google Quick Search. I and many other devoted users lamented Nick’s decision to stop development on his popular app. Now we know why he took that step and more importantly have hope that something better than Quicksilver is on the horizon. Lifehacker has provided a nice writeup of the current capabilities, but if you’re in the mood to just grab it and give it a whirl, you can download it on Google Code.

Google Quick Search already contains a lot of the QS functionality, but uses Spotlight for its indexing, which should provide a significant increase in search speed while reducing the processor requirements. Hopefully, by offloading the search indexing to Spotlight, privacy advocates don’t need to worry about Google synchronizing the index of every file to their servers, but I haven’t seen word one way or the other as of yet.

Google Quick Search is young, but promising, and I truly hope it will pick up the Quicksilver banner and advance it.

Creating and Remembering Complex Passwords

My buddy Christian recently asked me about my personal password creation algorithm, which is something I’ve mentioned a few times (including once or twice at a Refresh Austin meeting). After doing a quick walk through with Christian over IM, it seemed appropriate for me to write it up in a more legible format so others can benefit.

The Concept

It all comes down to this: you want a memorable, but complex password to use on the Web. Ideally it isn’t the same on every site you access to ensure that one compromised Web site doesn’t leave every one of your other accounts open to nefarious evildoers.

Short & Sweet

This post is longer than I anticipated, so here’s the bit-sized version.

KindofBlue
Start with a memorable phrase.
kind0fBlu3
Strip spaces, substitute a few characters (‘e’ becomes 3) and play with letter case. You will use this base to create the same foundation for each site’s password.
akind0fBlu3n
Use part of the domain to modify the base, creating a unique password. This example uses the first and last letter from www.amazon.com. Ignore subdomains (‘www’) altogether. Every site will use this same pattern (first and last letter, no subdomain) to fill out it’s password.
22-akind0fBlu3n?
Add some complexity. In this case we add a number (’22’) and a dash at the beginning and a question mark at the end. This becomes a part of the base for all passwords, just like the initial phrase.
22-mkind0fBlu3t?
22-fkind0fBlu3k?
22-akind0fBlu3e?
Examples from different domains: www.microsoft.com, www.facebook.com and store.apple.com.

I recommend you read the full post as I give other examples and provide a couple of usage tips throughout.

Details

There are a few simple steps to achieve these goals.

Start With a Phrase

For this first example, we’ll use the title of a seminal jazz album, Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue“.

Formatting and Substitutions

Let’s begin by removing the the spaces as most login systems won’t accept them in your passwords. We now have KindofBlue. Next, we’ll do some simple substitutions of numbers for letters (the capital “O” in “of” becomes a zero and the ‘e’ in “Blue” becomes a three) and play with capitalization, which results in kind0fBlu3. This isn’t that complex, and the number-for-letter substitutions is easily recognized (and broken), but it should be easy for you to remember.

Making it Unique per Site

This is where it gets more interesting and more secure – we’re going to take a bit of the Web site to use in our password. In this example, let’s take the first letter and last letters of the domain and insert ‘em at the beginning and the end of our password. So for www.amazon.com the password is akind0fBlu3n. For the Apple Store (http://store.apple.com/us) it is akind0fBlu3e. You’ll notice that while they are similar (the only difference is the last letter), they are different, so if someone learns your Amazon password, they can’t get into your Apple account unless they deduce the overall pattern.

Ignore Subdomains

You should only use the main part of the URL (amazon.com, apple.com). Ignore subdomains (“www.”, “store.”) as you will likely only have one account on a domain, but the domain may have several subdomains. This keeps life much more simple for you.

Rounding it Off

I like to add a couple of extra touches to make my password a bit more complex and to make it more difficult for someone to recognize that there could be a human-readable pattern. Continuing with our example, we’ll add a number (22) and a dash at the beginning and a question mark at the end, which generates 22-akind0fBlu3n? for Amazon. These latest additions don’t change from domain to domain, so you don’t need to memorize a bunch of different patterns. For example, the password for Microsoft’s site would be 22-mkind0fBlu3t?.

A note: Some login systems don’t allow punctuation, so it’s handy to stick it at the end or at a specific spot. For a domain that won’t let me use the dash or question mark, I know to delete the third character and the last character of my normal pattern resulting in 22akind0fBlu3n for Amazon.

Additional Examples

The sample I used above is pretty simple, and easy to recognize as a word or phrase. A better pattern would be to use a sentence or phrase and take the first few letters of each word as your base and/or shortening words. Sticking to our musical theme, here are a couple of ideas:

“Dance Me to the End of Love” by Leonard Cohen

We could take the first two letters of each word: dametothenoflo which with some substitution and additions becomes 9+adam3tothenofl0n! for Amazon and 9+mdam3tothenofl0t! for Microsoft.

“Little Red Corvette” by Prince

We can get a bit more creative here and substitute “Lil” for “Little” and only use the first three letters of “Corvette”: LilRedCor. As before, finishing out the pattern could result in 00=aLilredcorn! for Amazon.

Other Variants

Of course you don’t have to choose the first and last letters from the domain, you could choose the second and third (assuming the domain is longer than two letters) or you could take the first letter and put it at the end and take the last letter and put it at the beginning.

A Couple of Notes

Credit

I didn’t come up with the idea, and I no longer recall where I first learned of it, so while I have adopted it wholeheartedly, someone smarter than me deserves credit for it.

Security

This is not foolproof and I am not a security expert. Following this pattern means your password is not truly random and someone who has access to your account on one system and is clever enough, could determine how it works and get into other systems. That said, it is at least more secure than not using a system like this.

I recommend creating and using a few of these patterns to reduce the risk that breaking one will allow somebody to access every account you have on the Web. For truly important sites (your bank account, anywhere that stores your credit card numbers), you should go with a random password generator paired with a secure password manager, like my personal favorite 1Password (Mac only, I’m afraid).

Your Ideas

So, how can we improve this practice and how do we ensure that this is something that non-technical people can use to be a bit safer online?

Twitter's Hidden Benefit

Twitter makes it easy for me to keep up with my dear friends here in town and those flung about the globe. I can stay on top of ever-moving trends, learning about them in minutes if not seconds. Twitter connects me when I’m ready to be connected and allows me to reach out when I feel the need. Those capabilities alone makes it an invaluable part of my day, but there’s an unsung benefit to embracing Twitter: memory improvement. Specifically improving my ability to remember people I’ve met.

In my day-to-day life, I’m involved in projects and groups of different sizes and to different degrees. I do my damnedest to remember names, faces and details about the people I meet, but that’s not an easy task by any stretch. Refresh Austin alone has over 400 members and I’ve met a sizable portion of ‘em. Add the other amazing colleagues and friends I’ve met through events like SXSW Interactive and the Geek Austin parties and it quickly becomes overwhelming to remember, and more importantly quickly recall a name when I bump into someone that I’ve met once or twice.

Twitter changed that with a constant stream of updates.

Each tweet contains a face, a name and something that was of at least slight interest to that person. Those components reinforce the neural pathways associated with each person in my cranium, making it easier to remember them later. I may have to take one more mental hop to unite the real world face and name for those people who adopt an avatar and/or a nickname within Twitter, but that’s still a lot more than I had five years ago.

Twitter reinforces my real-world connections with those relationships that are the most tenuous as a byproduct of my having fun using it.

Now that is cool.

Looking for me on Twitter? I’m @BaldMan.

SXSW Accelerator

The folks at SXSW are starting a new program this year dubbed Accelerator. It’s aimed at up and coming, under-the-radar companies, allowing them “to present their latest products and services to industry experts, early-adopters, bloggers, mainstream media reporters, and leaders of the venture capital community.”

If you recall how Twitter catapulted onto the scene a couple of years back, you know what this type of exposure could do for your product or service.

Categories

  • Online Music-Related Technologies
  • Online Video-Related Technologies
  • Social Networking Applications
  • Innovative Web Technologies.

You can enter up to five products/services across the categories as long as they were launched since March 16, 2008 or are scheduled for release within no later than three months after March 16, 2009

Winners of each category “can receive two badges for the 2010 SXSW Interactive event, a write-up in the April issue of SXSWorld magazine, plus additional prizes yet to be announced.”

There’s a $100 non-refundable application fee, though finalists will receive two passes to the SXSW Interactive Festival and those who do not qualify will be allowed to register for SXSWi at the early bird rate ($375).

A lot more info can be found at on the site and you can contact Chris Valentine at (512) 699-3467.

If you have friends that you think might be interested, please let them know about it. The SXSW crew want to see the best of what’s happening out there.

If you or a friend decide to register, I would appreciate it if you would let Chris know that you heard about it from me.

Meanwhile, Back at the Tech Ranch

If you’re a bootstrapper, creating a pre-seed or seed-stage company, or thinking about starting something cool, check out Tech Ranch Austin, “a community of vibrant tech start-ups housed under one roof, and surrounded by the people, processes and materials needed to drive business success.”

Kevin Koym and Jonas Lamis have done a lot for our tech community and it’s exciting to see them take the future by the horns. Given their plans for the future this looks like a great opportunity for Austin entrepreneurs and geeks across the board.

This is another powerful example of smart folks coming together to create the next wave of technologies, without the needless walls that so often hamper innovation and energy.

I love this town.

Friends, Beer and NDAs

This is a “warm blanket” agreement with which, by requesting your agreement to it, I am helping myself sleep at night by placing a small amount of formality on the sharing of The Idea. I believe The Idea will only improve as a result of having solicited your honest and clear feedback.

FriendDA written by Rands

Rands shares a great idea for sharing great ideas – the FriendDA While this is a natural inclination amongst good friends, sometimes it’s nice to stress the importance of confidentiality of the information. Often times the conversation starts off with “don’t tell anyone about this, but I have this idea…” The FriendDA provides a shorthand for referencing a quick agreement of confidentiality among friends without getting too formal and it serves as a nice reminder that the idea’s originator trusts you and your opinion but wants to keep it quiet for now.

You don’t need to sign it, you reference it when you start the discussion, preferably with a pint in hand.

Quick « » in OS X

I accidentally inserted a double left angle quote («) this morning, which lead me to discover that OS X provides a handy way to insert it and of course it’s match, the double right angle quote (»). This may not sound like much, but given how often I use these characters (especially ») in my wire frames and other docs, these shortcuts will noticeably improve my efficiency.

Here are the keyboard shortcuts to use in OS X:
Double Left Angle Quote («) – ALT \ (hold the ALT key and press the backward slash key)
Double Right Angle Quote (») – ALT SHIFT \ (hold the ALT and SHIFT keys, then press the backward slash key)

Note 1: this doesn’t insert the HTML equivalent of either character (« and » respectively), it inserts the actual character as if you were to cut and paste it from the character palette.

Note 2: the ALT and OPTION keys are equivalent. so if you don’t have an ALT key, use OPTION instead.

Thoughts on A Complete Experience

I recently posted a quote from Steve Ballmer discussing a key difference between Apple and Microsoft, which I titled A Complete Experience. Having spent a bit more time thinking about it, I thought I would capture some of those thoughts here. This is basically a brain-dump, so it is by no means comprehensive, or for that matter a fluid discussion.

For Ballmer to claim that Microsoft is committed to choice doesn’t match their past business practices. I’d love to see them truly commit to changes that support real user choice and a better end-to-end experience. The subtle knock of Apple (a “narrow” experience) is to be expected, though again it stretches the truth.

OS X, Apple’s computer operating system is not as broad as Windows in terms of configurations and options (six versions of Vista to choose from – two for OS X, one of which is targeted for servers – no confusion there), but that’s a very good thing for the people who buy and use computers. Windows provides every possible configuration option just in case one person out of 10,000 may want it. That’s pretty cool, except for the fact that it often clutters the experience for the other 9,999 folks.

Apple has gone the other route, making a vast majority of decisions for the users – focusing on normal people instead of edge cases. Power users can dive into the command line and utilize the full power of the BSD subsystem. They both have to strike a balance, but have chosen vastly different ways to do it. I’ve come to love Apple’s way of doing it.

If the experience were truly “narrow”, you wouldn’t have the wide swath of user types – students, lawyers, parents, kids, entrepreneurs and hard core developers. That last one is important – many dedicated techies who write programs and Web applications that millions of people use day in and day out switched to the Mac. These are the people most likely to tweak their system, to be that one out of 10,000. They chose the focused end-to-end experience over the bucket of options.

The experience is so much smoother on the Mac and my levels of frustration are amazingly low when I work on my computer. Hell, frustration doesn’t tend to crop up very often. I should say that my level of contentment and the occurrences of elation are rather high compared to any other product or service that I use on a regular basis.

A Complete Experience

In the competition between PCs and Macs, we outsell Apple 30-to-1. But there is no doubt that Apple is thriving. Why? Because they are good at providing an experience that is narrow but complete, while our commitment to choice often comes with some compromises to the end-to-end experience.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

The quote is from a memo that Mr. Ballmer sent to Microsoft employees this past July outlining the company’s strategy for 2009. Aside from the not-so-subtle “narrow” swipe, it’s a concise summation of why so many of us have switched to Apple products (not just the computer) after years, if not decades using PCs running Windows.

The experience matters.

Burning Chrome

Google Chrome Comic

Google Chrome Comic

Google plans to release a new browser soon, based on Webkit, but with a new JavaScript engine, which is expected to be significantly faster than most browsers and will be sandboxed to ensure that a crash in one tab doesn’t take out the rest of the browser.

In addition to the blog post, they’ve created an introduction to the browser in comic book form.

While there are a lot of questions about it and some interesting discussion points, I am curious to see how, or if it changes the way we design and develop Web apps. It will also be interesting to see how they design the interface and flows within the browser, having stated that one major goal is to streamline and simplify the UI. The beta Windows version is to be released today, with Mac and Linux versions coming soon.

I am also very curious about the privacy implications inherent in this release. Google has reached a point where they have an insane level of information about the interests (Google search, AdSense), browsing habits (Google Analytics, DoubleClick), events (Google Calendar), personal and business plans and finances (Google Apps) and personal connections (gMail, gTalk) of nearly everyone who uses the Web. While I love their motto of “Do No Evil”, I can’t bring myself to trust that it will always hold true, whether by internal decisions, or by outside pressure from stock holders or governments (wow, now I’m starting to sound like the other Alex Jones).

I will definitely test the browser, and I look forward to the concepts they are introducing. A shakeup in the market will be useful, even if it reignites the browser wars, and causes consternation amongst those of us who build Web apps and sites. We’re pushing forward, which is a good thing, but we need to temper our excitement (or annoyance) with the impact this will have on the Web and be wary of what we as consumers and users trade for the new browser.

SproutCore: Apple's Flanking Move?

SproutCore LogoI wasn’t all that familiar with Sproutcore, Apple’s JavaScript framework prior to reading this article, but after thinking the arguments over, I think Apple has been flanking the other players in the application marketplace (both online and desktop) for a while. The article Cocoa for Windows + Flash Killer = SproutCore provides some very good reasons for Apple’s moves onto Windows with Safari and other apps; I highly recommend you read it if you’re the least bit interested in development on the Web, the iPhone and/or Rich Internet Applications (RIAs).

Being based on open web standards and being open source itself means SproutCore will enable developers to develop cross platform applications without being tied to either a plugin architecture or its vendor.

Sitting on top of web standards will also make it easy for Apple and the community to push SproutCore ahead without worrying about incompatible changes to the underlying layers of Windows, a significant problem for the old Yellow Box or some new Cocoa analog. SproutCore also lives in a well known security context, preventing worries about unknown holes being opened up by a new runtime layer.

Daniel Eran Dilger – Roughly Drafted

These developments are exciting for oru industry, but also for the world as a whole – a solid platform that can be as portable and accessible as the Web, yet have the power of the desktop has long been sought. We may finally have it in our grasp.

The Beatles, Radiohead and Our Musical Tastes

Michelle has posted a great wrap up of Tim Westergren’s speech at Pandora’s Get Together here in Austin. Pandora sent me a number of reminders about the event, but I chose not to go, which is a shame because it sounds like it was fun.

Michelle’s post reminds me of the Ultimate Music Recommendation Smackdown panel I attended the last day of SXSWi ’07, which added a lot of interesting pieces to my understanding of music consumption on the Net as well as how the comparisons and matches are made. The most interesting takeaway from that panel was the fact that four of the five services (Pandora, Last.Fm, iLike and I believe Bryght (site may be down)) had to add filters to their systems after discovering that their services were recommending The Beatles and Radiohead for almost every other song or artist. “We see you like Hank Williams, we think you would like Creep from Radiohead”.

That’s pretty damn interesting if you think about it. People are naturally ranking Radiohead at a level of interest as high, or higher as The Beatles by their natural listening habits. Some of this should be attributed to the average age of people using their services, which I assume skews to the younger side, but that’s still a major point when you think about the popularity of the two bands, and the legacy of Radiohead.

The other interesting point I took away from that point of the conversation is the fact that in order for those two connections to be made listeners included the two artists amongst a wide variety of bands and genres. A quick view of my own listening habits and those of many of my friends provides some reinforcement, but I can’t wait to see the types of connections being formed world-wide. It would be amazing to have a “map” or some other form of visual analytics of these musical connections.

Thanks for sharing the experience Michelle!

Politics and Open Source

Whurley has created a poll to gather feedback on the question of who would be an ideal candidate for those of us who rely upon and value source software. As he says, “Assume for a moment that a knowledge of open source is prerequisite (or integral) in solving issues like patent reform. Who would you vote for? In other words, who would be the best candidate for the open source community?” I should have posted this sooner, but I’ve been distracted.

opensville

A quick note, Whurley picked the top candidates from each party, prior to Mitt Romney dropping out.

Secure Passwords and Your iPhone

1Password Icon1Password, an amazingly useful password manager for the Mac has just released a beta version which provides the ability to auto-fill and submit your passwords on the iPhone. This is a massive improvement for anyone who uses even slightly secure passwords, but gets frustrated when inputting them via the on-screen keyboard.

The info is stored using 448-bit Blowfish encryption on the iPhone itself, and requires that you input a master password on the phone, so there isn’t any communication with external devices. So, now you have the ability to use secure passwords sans frustration, for all of your accounts, knowing that your passwords will stay secure.

If you don’t have a Mac, I’m afraid you are out of luck. But, if you do have a Mac, you need to download 1Password, it is a great program, that makes my life much much easier every day – seriously. The addition of the iPhone autofill bookmarklet has now made the program invaluable.

Print to PDF on Windows Without Acrobat

I recently needed to produce a PDF on my XP box at work, but as I didn’t have Adobe Acrobat Professional installed I had to do some digging. Luckily it didn’t take too long to find a convenient solution. Even better, I found an easy and free solution: doPDF. This utility installs itself as a virtual printer, providing the ability to create PDFs by selecting the plugin as the printer of choice in any program, in the same manner as Acrobat’s”Print as PDF” functionality.

It does exactly what it says on the site, even on a 64 bit install of XP.

For folks using OS X – the functionality is baked into your computer!