A brief history of money#

Kublai Khan was ahead of his time: He recognized that what matters about money is not what it looks like, or even what it’s backed by, but whether people believe in it enough to use it. Today, that concept is the foundation of all modern monetary systems, which are built on nothing more than governments’ support of and people’s faith in them. Money is, in other words, a complete abstraction—one that we are all intimately familiar with but whose growing complexity defies our comprehension.

Solar, my new go-to weather app#

I’ve been using this app for the last couple of weeks and showing it off to anyone who pretends to be the slightest bit interested in me showing them another weather app. (I’m lying, I show it to them whether they feign interest or not.)

I think it presents the weather in an incredibly pretty, but still useful way, and the “slide up to view the 24-hour forecast” feature is just plain fun.

(Via Ben Brooks.)

Think twice before buying from undefeated.com

August 11, 2012

If for whatever reason you’re thinking about buying something from Undefeated, you should know that they don’t accept returns, for any reason. I learned that the hard way this week when a pair of shoes I ordered turned out to be a half-size too large, as the below exchange illustrates.

Me: Hey guys, got the shoes, but they’re a little too big. Can I exchange them for a size 9 (if you have them in stock)? Either way—exchange or return—please let me know what I should do next.

Undefeated: Size 9 is out of stock and cannot be switched out. We do not process returns, and if you wish to make an exchange, you will have to it for an item or items up to the value of the item you purchased.

Me: To be clear, you’re telling me I can’t return the shoes for a refund? I emailed you guys with the size issue just 30 minutes after the shoes were delivered. The right shoe was worn for maybe 30 seconds, indoors, and on carpet. The left shoe never came out of the box.

Undefeated: Per our FAQ and terms of use page…

Me: You might want to make that more clear to new customers. I’m not in the habit of checking FAQs and terms-of-use on established shopping sites, as I think the only place I’ve bought from in the last decade that doesn’t accept returns is eBay (and even there it’s often an option). I lost $142.43, and you lost a customer.

(Related: If any of you wants a pair of Adidas ZX500 OGs in a US 9.5, please let me know. They’re out of stock most everywhere.)

Fiddle Sticks#

I keep schedules. I achieve deadlines. I have a calendar I obey. I have a task list that lights my path. I’m an adult with responsibilities, but fiddling will always be a priority. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of my favorite things all started with fiddling.

Kevin Slavin on how algorithms shape our world#

We are running through the United States with dynamite and rock saws so that an algorithm can close the deal three microseconds faster, all for a communications framework that no human will ever know; that's a kind of manifest destiny.

Angels & Demons#

On June 4, 1989, the bodies of Jo, Michelle and Christe were found floating in Tampa Bay. This is the story of the murders, their aftermath, and the handful of people who kept faith amid the unthinkable.

A gripping true-crime story that I couldn’t stop reading ... for almost four straight hours.

The Audition#

Mike Tetreault has spent an entire year preparing obsessively for this moment. He’s put in 20-hour workdays, practiced endlessly, and shut down his personal ?life. Now the percussionist has 10 minutes to impress a Boston Symphony Orchestra selection committee. A single mistake and it’s over. ?A flawless performance and he could join one of the world’s most renowned orchestras.

Live video of brown bears catching salmon in a river#

You are watching exclusive LIVE footage from Alaska’s Brooks River in Katmai National Park. Every year over a hundred Brown Bears descend on a mile long stretch of Brooks River to feast on the largest Sockeye Salmon run in the world.

Man Cold#

I can’t even begin to tell you how true this is for Sarah and I. When it comes to being sick, I’m pretty much the worst.

IFTTT recipe to log tweets to a Dropbox file#

Tweet backup recipe: This logs all your tweets to an ifttt/twitter/twitter.txt file in your Dropbox.

I’ve been using Tweet Nest for as long as I can remember, and it’s great, but it does require you to provide it a MySQL database, and is probably overkill for most people, including me.

This IFTTT recipe is nearly perfect in that its output is simply a plain text file, which is infinitely searchable and future-proof. Even if you moved to a new system in the future, that new system would simply have to be able to append to a plain text file; it wouldn’t even matter if the structure of the data was slightly different, as it would be searchable regardless.

(Remember, as with all of this stuff, you’re limited to Twitter’s 3200-tweet API limit, so the sooner you start archiving your tweets, the better.)

My unencrypted sync hell ... and my salvation

June 24, 2012

Over the last couple of years I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about task-management applications (I’m notorious for having bounced around frequently between OmniFocus, Things, and The Hit List), and the ways in which their data is synced across instances of their apps.

While each of the “big three” task-management apps for the Mac now provides a native OTA sync service, none of these services encrypts your data at the point of storage. Sure, the communications between your devices and their sync server may be secure, but the data itself isn’t. I find this kind of unbelievable, and frankly, a bit odd, as I think most users of these services would be willing to sacrifice a little speed for a lot of security. (If you spend any time on these apps’ support sites, you’ll see that all of them say they may offer this sort of thing in the future, but it’s most certainly not a priority.)

A while ago I settled, finally, on OmniFocus, despite its Mac app being kind of a visual abomination. While I probably still prefer The Hit List overall, I’m not confident in its future development, and Things really is too simplistic for what I need these days.

I use OmniFocus a lot. Probably more than 99% of users out there, actually. And, because of my particular job, all day long I deal with nothing but highly-confidential and highly-sensitive information. It’s not an option for me to leave this data sitting unencrypted on some machine over which I have no control.

The way I see it, I have three options.

Local WiFi sync

This is what I was using until a few months ago, and it works well. I kept the canonical database on my main machine (a MacBook Pro), against which I synced OmniFocus running on an iPhone, an iPad, and a MacBook Air (work). Obviously, by having kept all of the databases “local” to me (and not on a remote server out of my control), it was a relatively secure setup.

I don’t think I ever had a problem with it, except it could be a bit bothersome. By definition, it required the syncing devices to be on the same local network and running OmniFocus at the same time. As you can imagine, this could be incredibly annoying, especially when, for example, I wanted to get something from my phone to my work machine, as I’d have to go through two levels of syncing, and I’d have to actually remember to do it.

(The Hit List doesn’t support local WiFi sync at all, and it seems like Things may eventually deprecate the feature. Huh?)

Be cryptic

Another option is to be very, very cryptic, but this of course adds another layer of abstraction onto what is, for me, an already almost-impossible-to-manage list of stuff. It’s not an option for me.

Third-party, encrypted-everwhere WebDAV

OmniFocus’ saving grace when it comes to secure sync is the ability to use your own WebDAV server, whereby, via HTTPS, you can ensure that communications between your device(s) and the WebDAV server are secure. The final piece of the puzzle is using a WebDAV service that encrypts your data at the storage site and doesn’t have access to the key—if you lose the key, you lose your data.

There are a few of these services out there, and after a little research I settled on CloudSafe. While I could have gotten away with their free plan (because I’m using, quite literally, less than 5MB of data), I opted for the $3/month plan because I want to support their service.

Setup was a total breeze, and in the few months that I’ve been using it I’ve yet to have a single issue.

Ah, my tasks, synced between four devices automagically and without thought, encrypted every step of the way. Feels good.

All laptop screens in Apple's stores are set to the exact same angle to encourage customers to adjust them#

I’m sorry, but after every one and their brother linked to this—and praised it as some sort of brilliant marketing ploy—I’m calling bullshit on it.

If you were anal and a perfectionist—like me and and those who run Apple’s retail operations—or you simply took a little pride in your store, wouldn’t you, every morning before the stores opened, make sure the screens of your products all looked the same? Of course you would. OK, so, nothing terribly interesting there.

Can we all agree too that no matter what angle a laptop screen is at when a customer approaches it, that person will move the screen so she can see it better, because of preference, stature, lighting, etc.? Who starts playing around with a laptop they’re thinking about buying and doesn’t adjust the screen?

So, what’s the damn story here?! Even if all of this is true and actually does makes some sort of difference, doesn’t all of that go out the window completely after the first customer adjusts the screen to something other than 70°?

(I know you guys have quotas and have to get your page views and everything, but come on.)

BRAVEN 600 Portable Bluetooth Speaker#

I’ve had this thing for just a couple of days, but I can already say I’m loving it. I’ve been really impressed by the design, the build quality (so nice), the sound, and the ease of setup—for $150, it’s a sweet, sweet piece of kit, and I’m probably going to go ahead and order another one.