Rent the entire country of Liechtenstein for $70,000 a night#

The principality of Liechtenstein has decided to make itself available to private clients, from $70,000 a night, complete with customised street signs and temporary currency. […]

The price tag includes accommodation for 150 people, although the 35,000 inhabitants would remain.

Fitbit Low Battery Notifier#

A few days ago I commented on Twitter about the Fitbit's excellent battery life, and, to make the point, linked to a screenshot of the repeating OmniFocus task I created to remind me to charge the device.

Soon after publishing that tweet, Tim Roberts, Fitbit VP, pointed me to the Fitbit Low Battery Notifier, which "send[s] you an e-mail and/or text message to your phone when your Fitbit tracker's battery is low." Brilliant.

I wasn't aware that the battery information was sent to the computer OTA like the other data it records throughout the day, but Tim confirmed it was. This, together with the notifier, means that the Fitbit is off my person only when I get a text telling me it needs to be charged.

(Relatedly, the Fitbit is fantastic, and infinitely better than the WakeMate.)

Solarized

April 12, 2011

Late last week one of my best friends sent me a link to Solarized, and said: "I'm sure you probably will get way into the fact that someone cared THIS MUCH." He's so right. This is the kind of thing that gets me really excited.

Solarized is a sixteen color palette (eight monotones, eight accent colors) designed for use with terminal and gui applications. It has several unique properties. I designed this color scheme with both precise CIELAB lightness relationships and a refined set of hues based on fixed color wheel relationships. It has been tested extensively in real world use on color calibrated displays (as well as uncalibrated/intentionally miscalibrated displays) and in a variety of lighting conditions.

Last year I asked if an optimal color scheme for my eyes could be determined; I received a few emails in response to that, but mostly from people wanting me to write a follow-up piece if I got a definitive answer. I never did. Relatedly, I've asked similar questions on Twitter a few times, usually to limited response.

People seem to be pretty cagey with their preferences when it comes to this sort of thing; either that, or--and I think this is more likely--they're just embarrassed to admit they use black text on a white background. (I can't imagine using such a scheme for long stints spent reading or writing; it's just too damn contrasty, and too damn bright. Yes, I realize this very site is black on white, but we aren't talking about me! ;)

Anyway, back to Solarized. It's hard to overstate the amount of thought and effort that's gone into this project, which includes packages for a large number of popular text editors, photo-manipulation programs, etc. Also, not only are light and dark color schemes provided, but they retain the "same selective contrast relationships and overall feel when switching between" them. I love this!

In addition, an importable color palette for Mac OS X's Color Picker is provided, which means using these color schemes in any of the many "writing" apps we all seem to bounce around in these days (e.g., Notational Velocity, nvALT, WriteRoom, etc.) is a breeze. Indeed, you just have to look at the values chart (shown on the project page, or in the README.md supplied with the various packages)--which includes Lab, hex and RGB values--and the relational rules defined at the bottom of the project page, and you're in business.

Clearly, your mileage may vary with respect to the actual colors used (I quite like them myself), but I don't think there's any denying that generally the palette is low strain and easy to read. I definitely am going to give these two schemes some serious use, and bet that I'll stick with them for quite a while.

Thanks for all of your hard work on this Evan. It's much appreciated.

(For those interested, Mark Story graciously ported Solarized to TextMate.)

Amazon soon to offer ad-supported Kindles#

Starting next month Amazon will offer the Wi-Fi-only Kindle for $114 (what an odd number), which is 18% off the usual price of $139. The rub is that this cheaper model will be subsidized by ads (or, rather, "special offers and sponsored screensavers").

It's hard to see why anyone would go for this. The savings aren't terribly significant--just $25--and it seems to me the annoyance factor potentially could be pretty high. (It appears the ads will run only on the screensaver and at the bottom of the home screen, which means the reading experience won't be interrupted. See examples here.) My guess is that many will buy this model by mistake, or not fully understanding what it is, and the whole experience will leave a bad taste in their mouths. Perhaps Amazon should offer the option to turn off the ads for $25.

One wonders if the day is coming when not only the device itself is free (as some are predicting), but when the books are free too. Magazines are just vessels for advertisements, which is why I've been receiving Rolling Stone for "free" for over a decade now. (I got a lifetime subscription, including infinite address changes, for just $100.) Books however, are not.

As far as I know, books have never had ads of any sort, and I've no idea what ad/page number ratio would be required in order to make such a tradeoff financially feasible, but if it's anything less frequent than one ad for every 25 pages, I'd probably be OK with it. Is this something I want? Probably not.

I read books--LOTS of them--usually in an effort to escape into difficult concepts and research, something that could be tough if every 10 pages I'm forced to look at an ad for a Chevy truck. That said, I've become so adept at not seeing ads in every other consumption channel I find myself in each day, that I'm sure I could get used to ignoring them on the Kindle as well.

Rules from a user to software developers#

A good list, to which I'd add USE YOUR SOFTWARE. I realize this may sound a bit ridiculous, but I can't tell you how often I fire up an app for the first time and within seconds think, "Has anyone ever actually used this damn thing?!" It's beyond frustrating when the tiniest deviation from how, for example, my dad or girlfriend might use an app, causes it to crash.

If within the first few minutes I've come up with 20 different ways to make tasks x/y/z faster, more efficient, less annoying, etc., then you probably haven't used your software enough.

Invariably, bugs, missing features, etc. are a part of every release, but that's no excuse for the big errors, the ones that make your app impossible to use.

Don't give your RSS reader, Twitter client, etc. to your buddies to test. Give it to me. Tell me to kick the crap out of it. Tell me to break it. It needs to be broken, and this can be done only with real-world use.

The sleepless elite#

While it's unclear if all short sleepers are high achievers, they do have more time in the day to do things, and keep finding more interesting things to do than sleep, often doing several things at once. […]

A few studies have suggested that some short sleepers may have hypomania, a mild form of mania with racing thoughts and few inhibitions. "These people talk fast. They never stop […]"

"There is some sort of psychological and physiological energy to them that we don't understand."

Ahem. (Via Dave Kellam.)

Blogging is no longer a technology#

Blogging has become a state of mind, not a technology. The reason there's always a new blog platform every year or two is that each recapitulates the phylogeny of the others. Simplicity first! Then feature creep. Then full-fledged CMS. Website builders want a richly featured CMS but bloggers want simplicity.

If Back to the Future II's hoverboard was created and sold#

Make sure to hold onto MATTEL HOVERRAIL (sold separately) while using MATTEL HOVERBOARD. Letting go of MATTEL HOVERRAIL will automatically shut off MATTEL HOVERBOARD.

MATTEL HOVERBOARD will ONLY hover if placed above a MATTEL HOVERMATT (sold separately). MATTEL HOVERMATT MUST be placed on an open, level surface big enough to accommodate MATTEL HOVERMATT'S 5' x 8' dimensions.

(The last picture is great.)

Wither polymaths?#

So is [the demise of polymaths] a problem to worry about, or not? After all, specialization has resulted in marvelous things that no one in 1800 could have dreamed of. The one potential problem is that creativity so often comes by joining concepts from two or more different areas-so if everyone only knows one area, this creative combination might never happen.

(I've always loved that word, "polymath.")

The best computer is the one you have with you#

I'm not generating sales presentations or writing books on my iPhone (although, neither is strictly impossible), but I can quickly and easily do more things with this phone than any computer I've ever used. This phone that stays on all day long, continuously connected to the internet, and fits in my pocket.

Relatedly, a few months ago I said: "Long bet: The iPhone 9 will be your only computer."

"Bookmark" tweets from within Twitter's iOS apps

April 08, 2011

A few days ago I tweeted the following: "Twitter, please, either let us Instapaper *tweets* with the official clients, or give us private favorites."

It's odd to me that Twitter doesn't offer a way to privately "bookmark" tweets. I want that sort of functionality because I don't always care to reply to someone right away, or want to hold off on retweeting something until some future date. (Twittelator, for example, lets you Instapaper tweets; in fact, it also lets you save tweets to the app itself.)

Karan Varindani replied to my tweet with a great idea: choose "Mail Tweet" and send it to your Instapaper email address. (You can find your address here.) I created a contact named "IP," and gave it my Instapaper email address; the tweet-saving process now takes just seven taps.

It's a simple stopgap that I can't believe I didn't think of myself.

WhatFont#

An awesome bookmarklet from Chengyin Liu that tells you, when you hover over a particular block of text, what font is being used for that text. (Via swissmiss.)

John C.H. Grabill's photos of western frontier life (circa 1887-1892)#

Between 1887 and 1892, John C.H. Grabill sent 188 photographs to the Library of Congress for copyright protection. Grabill is known as a western photographer, documenting many aspects of frontier life -- hunting, mining, western town landscapes and white settlers' relationships with Native Americans. Most of his work is centered on Deadwood in the late 1880s and 1890s. He is most often cited for his photographs in the aftermath of the Wounded Knee Massacre on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

You have to see these.

nvALT 2.0#

What likely is the most used app on my Mac just got better. A lot better.

Thoughts on the Mr. Reader iPad app

April 05, 2011

Mr. Reader--yet another feed reader for the iPad--has been making the rounds lately as us info-junkie dorks can't help but to latch on to what we hope will be the "new hotness" for delivering our drug.

Frankly, since Reeder came out (for iPad, iPhone and Mac), I just haven't looked at anything else. No matter what anyone said about whatever app, I just kind of ignored it, on the assumption (almost always correctly) that it couldn't be better than Reeder.

All of that said, for whatever reason I decided to give Mr. Reader a shot (probably because it actually lets you manage feeds, something Reeder is sorely lacking), and believe it or not, I kind of like it. I think Reeder looks better (I mean, come on, it's just beautiful) and its animations make more sense, but Mr. Reader holds its own.

Unlike many 1.0 feed readers, Mr. Reader gets a lot of stuff right, like support for various caching/display options with respect to images, the ability to sort items by ascending or descending publication date, support for a large number of third party services, etc., but of course it gets a few things wrong as well.

Yes, I realize that some of these niggles are personal to me (and maybe no one else), but hey, you kind of expect that by now don't you?

  • Instead of wrapping to the next line, item titles get truncated after a certain width; I think I'd rather the excerpt be shorter and the full title shown. (This is especially annoying when a thumbnail image is shown to the right of the item.)
  • Doesn't hide feeds that don't have unread items; thus, if you don't use folders, or have a ton of feeds in a particular folder, then you're required to do a lot of unnecessary scrolling in an effort to reach those feeds with unread items.
  • Can't interact with the app while it's syncing.
  • Seems to crash a lot for me, especially when sending stuff to Instapaper or Read It Later (which is terribly annoying, because I use both apps a hundred times a day).
  • Sending to either Instapaper or Read It Later (and, I'm assuming, other services I don't use) requires ‘confirmation' every time. I understand why this is offered with Instapaper (i.e., so you can add additional info), but I'd rather it just send everything right away, without requiring any further input from me.
  • While you can assign feeds to folders, it's unclear to me whether removing from a folder, a feed assigned to multiple folders, fully deletes the feed or simply removes it from the folder (the intended action).
  • I'm not a big fan of the name or the icon. (I don't like the name "Reeder" either--it just makes people think you can't spell when you write about it--but its icons are fantastic).
  • I like that you can get to the services menu (e.g., Instapaper, Read It Later, etc.) without having to jump into an item, but it's clunky and takes up a fair amount of real estate. (Reeder is a bit more elegant in this regard.)
  • It comes with three themes, but only one really is usable for me ("Paris at Night"); the other two have a border image that I just don't care for.
  • No way to collapse away certain of the ‘selectors' in the root view (or with respect to the icons that appear next to each item). For example, I never want to see "Shared items," "Starred items" or "Tags"; it would be nice if we could hide those.

On balance, I think it's a solid release, especially for this category of app, which inevitably generates a lot of criticism from us ‘power' users, because it's something we use all day, every day. The developer appears to be rather responsive, so I'm expecting great things in the future, and am sure that most of the app's larger issues (most notably, instability) will be attended to in short order.

While I'm going to stick with Reeder for the time being (it currently is the better app, and is available on all the platforms I go between each day), it's exciting to know that it's finally seeing some legitimate competition.

Relatedly, Justin Williams loves Mr. Reader, and Ben Brooks hates it. And so it goes. (I should note that, unless I'm misunderstanding him, I think Ben's wrong where he says, "[the] interface… doesn't allow you to scroll through the news items, instead you see a headline and excerpt and then you can click mark all as read." Within the "item view" you can scroll between whatever other items are in scope, just like any other feed reader.)