A simple shoot-em-up game where you take down enemy crafts by typing out the words floating next to them. It's a lot more fun than it sounds.


The premise is simple: provide a platform where anyone can easily upload a photograph with two straightforward tags to provide context: Location and Year. If enough people upload enough photographs in enough places, together we will weave together a photographic history of the world (or at least any place covered by Google Maps).

The new non-touch Kindle

September 30, 2011

I've owned all of the Kindle models over the years and can say with some confidence that I probably use mine more than you or anyone you know. (See my long-winded review of the Kindle 3.) It's gotten to the point now that whenever I come across an article longer than a ~page I send it over to the Kindle (else it goes to Instapaper), which is nice for a couple of reasons: 1) I prefer to read long-form content on the Kindle; and 2) I can highlight passages in articles, which makes it really easy for me to go back and figure out what I want to quote if I decide to blog the article, as I've previously explained.

It's no surprise then that as soon as Amazon announced the new Kindles earlier this week I ordered one, and was happily reading books on it the following day.

Why didn't you get the touch model?

To be frank, I just don't see the point. It seems to me that the magic of touch is kind of lost on slow-to-refresh e-ink. Touch is all about the perception of real-time manipulation; today that illusion is simply impossible to pull off with e-ink. (I don't think infrared touch on an e-ink display will ever approximate the experience currently possible with capacitive LED displays.)

Relatedly, I don't want smudges all over my screen. E-ink screens aren't backlit, and so any oil/dirt shows with normal use. Ever since the first-gen model I've gone out of my way to keep the screen spotless; touch isn't enough to make me want to forgo a clean screen.

Along the same lines, I don't like the next-page finger motion required by touch; with the non-touch model, my thumb never really moves as I hold the device--I simply apply a bit more pressure when I want to go to the next page. Moreover, on a non-touch device my fingers never get in the way of the content. (See also Lukas Mathis making the case for physical page-turn buttons on the touch model.)

Yes, the touch model has more storage, but that's a non-issue. Trust me, 2GB is a ton of a space for a device like this. In all these years I've never once thought about storage space on my Kindles.

Yes, the touch model has twice the battery capacity, but that too is a non-issue. As John Gruber notes, the battery lives of Kindles are measured in months. The non-touch model gets one month of battery life; the touch model gets two months. Unless you plan on being stranded on a remote island sometime soon, I just don't see how this metric matters much.

Finally, yes, the touch model has the option of 3G connectivity. I had 3G on previous Kindles, but never used it. Ever. I send articles to the Kindle via the @free.kindle.com address1 and am always within range of Wi-Fi when I do that because I'm using either a browser bookmarklet or Mr. Reader's2 Kindlebility integration. Furthermore, I always have 8–12 books on my Kindle, and so I've never been away from Wi-Fi and felt like I needed to download a book right that instant.

They'll sell a ton of the touch models (mostly, I suspect, to those that don't have prior experience with e-ink), but I think they maybe could have gotten away with not having this model in the line-up at all.

Why didn't you order a Kindle Fire?

Apps, apps, apps. I spend 99.9% of my iPad 2 time within five apps, and these apps aren't available on Amazon's (Android-based) platform and won't be for a long time, if ever. I've said this a million times: it's going to take some incredibly compelling hardware and software to get me off of iOS. (And once the retina-display iPad 3 comes out? Forget about it.)

Note that I'm not at all saying the Kindle Fire won't be a huge success. It will be. I'm simply saying that I'm probably not shifting away from iOS any time soon.

Versus the Kindle 3

Apart from the obvious physical differences, there really isn't much to discuss here. Clearly the biggest difference from the previous model is the lack of a keyboard. This is a good thing, and something I've been asking for for a very long time. Is the virtual keyboard experience great? No, it's kind of terrible actually, but I don't care because I'll almost never use it. I used it during the initial setup to punch in my Wi-Fi information, but going forward I likely will use it only to create new collections, something I expect to do maybe twice a year. As far as I'm concerned, the removal of the keyboard is a (huge) net win.

Another big physical difference is weight. The Kindle 3 is 8.5/8.7(3G) ounces and the new Kindle is 5.98 ounces--a reduction of 30%! Given that the Kindle 3 is great for multi-hour, one-handed reading sessions, you can just imagine that the new model almost becomes invisible. We are fast approaching the point where it really does feel like you're holding a small stack of paper. It's great. (This is another ding on the touch models, which weigh in at 7.5/7.8(3G) ounces.)

As I've pointed out in previous reviews, the refresh rate of the screen isn't that important, because after just a bit of use you get used to the delay, and from that point on you simply don't notice it. You read. That said, with respect to refresh speed, I can't detect any real difference between this screen and the one on the Kindle 3. There may be a difference (I've read that the new model is supposed to refresh faster), but side-by-side I just can't see it.

One odd thing I did notice when playing with both devices today was that "page turns" on the Kindle 3 always flashed the entire screen (including the non-text border surrounding the content); on the new Kindle the entire screen is flashed every sixth page turn. This does make the transitions slightly less jarring, but again, the flashing (no matter how egregious), is something you won't notice after a while.

The "readability" of the display on the new model is better, but only slightly. I don't know if it's just better contrast or what, but the new screen definitely looks cleaner and crisper when put next to the old model. I have a feeling though that if I were to look at the screens an hour apart I probably couldn't tell a difference.

My main niggle with the new Kindle has to do with the page-turn buttons. They have the same basic design as those on the Kindle 3 (i.e., they're flush with the side and top of the device and have a short travel height), but are noticeably smaller and thinner (due in part to the smaller bezel on the new model). As you might suspect, their smaller size makes them feel a bit more fragile than I'd like. They have a nice action to them, but I almost wish they required a bit more pressure to activate. (I have to assume that they require so little pressure because of the lightness of the device.)

As with the Kindle 3, the five-way controller feels very solid. That said, I think it should have been placed in the bottom-right corner of the device (as on the Kindle 3), instead of in the center. (Sorry lefties!) 99% of the time I'm holding the device with my right hand and pressing the next-page button with my thumb; on the Kindle 3 I could just jump down to the controller with my thumb (without having to use my left hand at all), but on the latest model I have to hold the device with my left hand while I press the controller with my right thumb.

  1. From Amazon: "In general, send personal documents to your "name"@free.kindle.com address to wirelessly transfer personal documents to your Kindle over Wi-Fi as well as to the e-mail address associated with your Amazon.com account at no charge. If you are not able to connect your Kindle via Wi-Fi, send your documents to your "name"@kindle.com address. The files will be sent to your Kindle over Wi-Fi if available. If Wi-Fi is not available, the files will be sent via 3G for a small fee."  

  2. By the way, if you're still using Reeder on the iPad and haven't given Mr. Reader a try, I suggest you check it out. Once I started using it I never went back.  

Prolific v1.1

September 27, 2011

I've just updated Prolific, my WordPress plugin that calculates a blog-wide word count each time a new post is published. This new version is slightly more efficient than the 1.0 I released five years ago.


What tiny thing in Lion makes you smile or has caught you off guard?#

There's some good stuff here. Relatedly, and I mentioned this on Twitter the other day, I've had almost zero trouble with Lion. Apart from that terribly annoying bug where the mouse pointer disappears and then reappears on the other side of the screen, I just haven't seen any of the issues others are whining about.

"From Dust to Edge"#

"From Dust to Edge" is the documentation of a long journey in the efforts of making a blade out of homemade steel. My interest in blades started with the legendary Japanese katana and as a result of wanting to learn more about how they were made I ended up becoming a bladesmith. I combined the traditional Japanese techniques and the current knowledge of the Western smith in this pictorial representation.

This is just incredible, and I encourage you to give it a read even if you think you've zero interest in this sort of thing. It's hard not to appreciate a true craftsman explaining every step of his craft.

(Via an email from Willie Jackson.)

Misconceptions about evolution#

Unfortunately, many people have persistent misconceptions about evolution. Some are simple misunderstandings--ideas that develop in the course of learning about evolution, possibly from school experiences and/or the media. Other misconceptions may stem from purposeful attempts to misrepresent evolution and undermine the public's understanding of this topic.

Browse the lists below to learn about common misconceptions regarding evolution, as well as clarifications of these misconceptions.

An awesome resource. Go ahead, (re)learn something.

Vintage photos turned into "3D" scenes using camera mapping#

I feel like I've seen a similar technique before (and maybe even linked to it), but can't for the life of me remember where. In any event, it's mind-blowing, and I look forward to it being applied to some of history's most iconic photos.

(In the comments, the artist says it takes him about three days to turn a single photo into one of these 3D scenes.)

(Via Curiosity Counts.)

Flight Card iPhone app#

Flight Card is a flight tracking application, incredibly beautiful, simple and intuitive. Just search for your flight by number or route, track it and share its status with your family and friends.

This is one of the best-looking apps I've ever seen. Wow. I probably don't fly enough to warrant the $5 sticker price, but damn, I almost want to buy it anyway. (Yeah, yeah, you know I will. Whatever.)

(Via Ben Brooks.)

Control Spotify with a Griffin PowerMate

September 13, 2011

Update: Please see this post, where I extend the below idea a bit further and provide AppleScripts that enable your PowerMate to control iTunes or Spotify, depending on which app is currently playing, or was last paused.

First off, if you don't already use a PowerMate, then, well, you're really missing out. Just trust me on this one.

Three years ago I described how I use a PowerMate for system-wide control of iTunes, namely next-track, play/pause and system volume. Quite a bit has changed since then. At the time that post was published I was using Sizzling Keys to interpret the key sequences I was having the PowerMate send. A few months later I stopped using Sizzling Keys when I realized I could accomplish the same thing with FastScripts (and some AppleScript), and earlier this year I did away with FastScripts and set everything up in Keyboard Maestro.

Another major change is that I now get the majority of my music via Spotify, despite its "starring" issue. One thing I was adamant about maintaining through the iTunes-to-Spotify transition was the ability to control all things music via the PowerMate. Fortunately, getting this working ended up being much easier than I thought it would, mainly because of the latest PowerMate software.

I can't remember exactly why I upgraded the PowerMate software1, but I did, and apparently this version, 3.x, came out almost a year ago. (Who knew?!) The big addition for me was that you now could use AppleScript "directly," instead of having to route key commands to, for example, FastScripts, which ultimately would execute your script. (Another great new feature is that you now can use modifier keys to define new triggers based on the base PowerMate controls. I do this for a 30-second skip, described below.)

This powerful addition to the PowerMate software, coupled with the fact that Spotify too is AppleScript'able, meant that shifting these controls from iTunes to Spotify would be a breeze, and that everything could be accomplished without using third-party software (which, if you've been following along, would have been Keyboard Maestro).

What's more, after digging around Spotify's AppleScript dictionary, it quickly became apparent that controlling it would be exactly like controlling iTunes, which was not only super simple, but something I'd worked out years ago.

Armed with the above information, all I needed to do was create three "global" triggers and associate with each of them an AppleScript that accomplished the intended action. (Note that system volume up/down are the default global actions for the rotate left/right triggers, so there was nothing to do there.)

"Press" action (to play/pause):

tell application "Spotify" to playpause

"Long Press" action (to advance to the next track):

tell application "Spotify" to next track

"CMD+Press" action (to skip forward 30 seconds in the current track; I previously discussed this trick):

tell application "Spotify" to set player position to (player position + 30)

That's it! I now have complete PowerMate control over Spotify, no matter the application that is front-most on my desktop.

  1. Note that if you have trouble with your PowerMate after upgrading the software (from 2.x to 3.x), be sure to remove PowerMate.prefPane from /Library/PreferencePanes/. I was losing my mind trying to figure out why my stuff wasn't working, and it was only dumb luck that I remembered the software used to be implemented via a prefPane. 

The arrogance of tech#

Dave Winer:

Wouldn't it be nice if somehow these guys got the message that they are making products for customers and while they may have a good idea every once in a while, that they must be positive, not negative? You can't take features away. And to the rest of us it brings home the idea that these guys desperately need real competition so they don't feel they have the luxury of pontificating to us about what we do and don't need.

Another 50 famous academics and scientists talk about god#

You may remember that a few weeks ago I linked to a video by Dr. Jonathan Pararajasingham, that spliced together 50 leading academics‘ and scientists' thoughts on the divine; this video is the second part of the compilation and includes the opinions of 50 more intellectuals.

Both videos are a must-watch.