The roots of fear#

The evolutionary primacy of the brain's fear circuitry makes it more powerful than the brain's reasoning faculties. The amygdala sprouts a profusion of connections to higher brain regions—neurons that carry one-way traffic from amygdala to neocortex. Few connections run from the cortex to the amygdala, however. That allows the amygdala to override the products of the logical, thoughtful cortex, but not vice versa. So although it is sometimes possible to think yourself out of fear ("I know that dark shape in the alley is just a trash can"), it takes great effort and persistence. Instead, fear tends to overrule reason, as the amygdala hobbles our logic and reasoning circuits.

Skate (or how I relapsed and reverted to age 13)

January 09, 2008

Skate is, without a doubt, one of the most amazing games I've ever played, and certainly the greatest skateboarding game of all time. In fact, playing it while back home a couple of weeks ago compelled me to finally pull the trigger on an Xbox 360 Elite.1

As I've discussed briefly here before, I haven't really owned a console since ~1998,2 mostly because of my addictive personality, perfectionism, general competitiveness, and preternatural gaming skills which demand that I be great at the games I play.  ;)

Allow me to elaborate. Though I don't talk about them much here, video games used to be a pretty big part of my life (like every kid growing up in the 80s/90s I suppose), and it's always been too easy for me to get wrapped up in being the very best at any game that catches my interest (umm, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, 19XX, any and every racing game, Killer Instinct, anyone?). Fully cognizant of this predisposition, over the last many years I have usually resisted altogether the temptation and desire to play video games, lest other attention-demanding interests suffer.

To put it quite simply, gamer regret kind of consumed me at some point a few years ago, and if I wasn't learning or producing something, I felt I was wasting time.

Alright, enough with the defense of my video game dry spell, let's get back to Skate. This game just works, mostly because it totally rethinks the control scheme (i.e., most everything is accomplished through the "flicking" of one joystick, combined with the movement of the other), and in a way that is as analogous to real skateboarding as anything I've ever seen, which is all the more impressive in light of the fact that the controller has nothing to do with your legs and/or feet.

There is definitely a steep learning curve, but once you're on the other side of it, the possibilities are endless, and the technical control you have over the skater is mind-blowing. It's nothing short of brilliant. When you bust, you're OK with it, because you know that you, not the game, screwed up. It's hard to put that sentiment into words, but trust that it's a neat feeling.

As I said to a friend not long after getting the hang of the game, I may actually use it to create movies of tricks I could do as a teenager3 (you know, to show to whomever I can convince to feign interest in them). Speaking of movies, the replay/movie-making system is fantastic, and the control you have over the replay video really lets you dissect the physics of the game, which are about as spot-on as you could want (though, admittedly, the falls could be much more realistic, but I guess that's kind of a moot point).

If you've ever had any real-life interest in skateboarding and have a predilection for video games, you almost have to buy Skate.

Oh, before I forget, I have to mention that the best part about me picking up an Xbox is that the girlfriend is really excited about yet another demand on my time! Poor thing, she really has no idea the volume of this can of worms.

  1. Wondering why I didn't get a PS3? First of all, I couldn't care less about the whole Blu-ray/HD-DVD debate (I've never bought a regular DVD, and am certainly not going to start down that path now; I find it odd that it's 2008 and people still consume media through expensive plastic discs), so the fact that Blu-ray (Sony's baby) has effectively "won," makes zero difference to me. Second, there is no Xbox LIVE equivalent on the PS3. Third, Xbox has a larger selection of games that I want to play (though I will surely long for Gran Turismo 5 when it ships). Fourth, the downloadable games available through Xbox LIVE Arcade are awesome. And finally, I like that I can rent HD movies through the Xbox; this, together with Amazon unbox (which doesn't currently have HD movies) on the TiVo, is a pretty nice combination.   

  2. As a "compromise," I allowed myself to keep up with all of the handheld "consoles" (i.e., every iteration of the Nintendo Game Boy and DS, and the Sony PSP), plus the random computer game every now and again. So yeah, I haven't been completely divorced from gaming all these years.   

  3. I still skate from time to time, but it's nothing like what it was for me from ages 5-20, when I had zero fear, nothing to lose, and something to prove (e.g., that I could land a varial kickflip up four stairs, etc.).   

Wifi donation alarm clock#

[E]verytime you hit the snooze button, the alarm clock will donate a specified amount of your real money to a non-profit you hate.

The untold story of how the iPhone blew up the wireless industry#

Internally, the project was known as P2, short for Purple 2 (the abandoned iPod phone was called Purple 1). Teams were split up and scattered across Apple's Cupertino, California, campus. Whenever Apple executives traveled to Cingular, they registered as employees of Infineon, the company Apple was using to make the phone's transmitter. Even the iPhone's hardware and software teams were kept apart: Hardware engineers worked on circuitry that was loaded with fake software, while software engineers worked off circuit boards sitting in wooden boxes. By January 2007, when Jobs announced the iPhone at Macworld, only 30 or so of the most senior people on the project had seen it.

The Google Enigma#

Google’s protean appearance is not a reflection of its core business. Rather, it stems from the vast number of complements to its core business. Complements are, to put it simply, any products or services that tend be consumed together. [...] For Google, literally everything that happens on the Internet is a complement to its main business. The more things that people and companies do online, the more ads they see and the more money Google makes.

Algorithmic inelegance#

Life is a collection of kludges taped together by chance and filtered by selection for functionality; it all works magnificently well, but if you look under the hood you are simultaneously appalled by the sheer inelegance of the molecular gemisch and impressed with the accumulation of complexity.


If a fly were software, it's software that has been patched and patched, and patches have been put on patches, until almost all vestiges of the original code have been obscured in the tweaks. It's the antithesis of planning and design—it's ad hoc co-option and opportunistic incorporation of chance enhancements. It's evolution.

Gmail for BlackBerry now "talks" to the OS

January 06, 2008

I'm not quite sure when it happened,1 but the Gmail BlackBerry client now interfaces directly with the device. In other words, the BlackBerry knows when I receive an e-mail through the Gmail client. In fact, after you install the client, you're given Gmail-centric options in the profile settings (e.g., you can define a particular tone for messages received through the client, etc.).

The client works so well that it hasn't even crossed my mind to setup the BlackBerry e-mail client to receive my Gmail e-mail (I go back-and-forth on the need/desire to have my non-work e-mail pushed). If you'd like, it will even add a "Sent from Gmail for mobile" signature to the bottom of e-mails sent through the client (unfortunately, however, the language currently can't be changed).

Other things worth mentioning are its overall speed, the lightning-fast auto-completion of contacts in the to/cc/bcc fields (it works just like regular Gmail!), the pre-fetching of e-mails in anticipation of your opening them, and its general robustness.

If I have to complain about something, it would be the seemingly will-nilly background polling for new e-mail. There are no options to specify with regard to how often the client will check for new e-mail, and I can't figure out its apparently random schedule. There's a manual solution to this (i.e., just click "refresh"), but I'd prefer a frequency I can modify. Also, support for contact groups would be nice.

I think it's safe to say that Rui is onto something:

As far as I can tell, despite [Google] regularly churning out standard MIDP versions of their apps for other phones, there are actually more Google applications for the Blackberry than for any other mobile device. And I don’t mean icons with shortcuts to the browser, I mean actual running code.

Which is, in my mind, doubly interesting when you consider that Android is, for all practical intents and purposes, a Java platform (you code in Java, even if the end result doesn’t run in a “normal” Java VM).

So yeah, they might just be using the Blackberry (definitely the best Java-based platform out there right now) as a prototype/playground of sorts. (emphasis mine).

  1. Surely sometime between when I picked up the iPhone and when we parted ways (and I re-entered BlackBerry heaven).   

Goonies collectible figures#

Officially-licensed action figures from one of my favorite movies of all time. Characters available: Sloth, Data, Chunk, Mouth, and Mikey.

The airport security follies#

At every concourse checkpoint you’ll see a bin or barrel brimming with contraband containers taken from passengers for having exceeded the [three-ounce] volume limit. Now, the assumption has to be that the materials in those containers are potentially hazardous. If not, why were they seized in the first place? But if so, why are they dumped unceremoniously into the trash? They are not quarantined or handed over to the bomb squad; they are simply thrown away. The agency seems to be saying that it knows these things are harmless. But it’s going to steal them anyway, and either you accept it or you don’t fly.

A great read.

Twitter Stats#

Basically, the script pulls down all your tweets and stores them in an csv file. It then runs some statistics on the csv file and then copies the resulting stats to the OS X clipboard to paste into each table within Numbers.

The Nerd Handbook#

Save the "outcast" and socially-awkward descriptors, this long and very thoughtful piece does a great job of dissecting me and explaining why I do some things a certain way. If you know me personally, you'll probably get a kick out of reading it. I actually called up the girlfriend and had her read it out loud while I was on the phone with her; her constant laughing (to fight the sadness?), and quips of "yep," "oh, dear," "very true," "oh, justin," and "wow," said it all.

The iPhone and I have parted ways

December 22, 2007

The wonderful honeymoon came and went, and a couple of weeks ago it was time for the iPhone and I to sign the divorce papers (hey, we were together for almost six months, a record for a phone and I). Don't get me wrong, I loved her, dearly, and will forever cherish the bright future she showed me, but even in light of all the pretty and polish, she just didn't fit in as well as I would have liked.

This little rant is by no means an indictment of the iPhone; it is the phone for the majority of the population,1 and will be for the foreseeable future.2 Furthermore, I appreciate — more than just about anyone — what the iPhone has done for the mobile world. However, as it stands right now, it just gets in my way more than it should, and given that I go through phones like most people go through a gallon of milk, I didn't see the point in waiting any longer to move onto something else3 (though we all know I'll be back).

Corporate e-mail

I'm an IP attorney. IP attorneys e-mail. A lot. Like every other large entity, my firm uses Microsoft Exchange for its e-mail, and while I could "do" work e-mail on the iPhone, it was kludgy, annoying, and generally impractical.

For one thing, e-mail was not "pushed" to me.4 To check it, I had to launch MobileSafari and head to the Outlook Web Access page (IMAP wasn't an option). Could I get my e-mail through OWA? Yes. Could I respond to e-mail through OWA? Yes. But, the entire process was unbearably slow (and user-hostile), not least because there was no mobile implementation of the site — you always got the same page (i.e., same markup, same size) no matter your browser or connectivity.

Moreover, the message body area was a fixed size, which meant that if I needed to read an e-mail containing a sentence(s) that spanned more than the width of the message body area, I had to either zoom in and use a magnifying glass, or zoom out and scroll back and forth. It couldn't have been more aggravating.

Is any of this Apple's fault? Of course not. Do I expect Microsoft to create an iPhone-only interface? Of course not. Would it be nice? Maybe, but the core problems would persist, namely e-mail would still not be pushed, and contact lookup (if you needed to add someone to a reply or a new message) would likely still be so annoying as to be unusable, or at least unpleasant.

Yes, I'm well aware of the recent opening at Apple for an Exchange engineer, and this looks very promising (i.e., I think it's safe to assume that any support would be baked into MobileMail, which would be great); however, I just don't see whatever comes of it wooing me away from the BlackBerry.

General day-to-day use

I enjoyed using the iPhone, don't get me wrong, but as far as day-in, day-out operations went, it just wasn't for me.

Before getting into this section, let's go back a few months and look at something I wrote just a few days after I got the iPhone (I apologize for quoting so liberally, even if from myself, but I feel it's warranted):

I’ll likely get rid of my iPhone sometime in the next few months; just like every mobile phone and PDA (remember those!?!) I’ve ever owned, I’m guessing I’ll tire of it rather quickly and soon be on the hunt for the next best thing []. However, the difference this time around, and for the foreseeable future, is that there will be no hunt — the next best thing is going to be the next iteration of the iPhone. Can any of us go back to a pre-iPhone phone after playing with this thing for a few days? Everything else is kind of laughable at this point and I think it’s going to be at least a couple of years before the iPhone begins to see any legitimate competition.

The best part about Apple making mobile phones is that I no longer have to scour the earth looking for the “new hotness” and then hoping that it’s unlocked, uses GSM, and costs less than $1000. The worst part about Apple making mobile phones is that I’ll now be the rule instead of the exception (and I think part of me kind of enjoyed being the exception).

A lot of what I said there still holds true; that is, the iPhone still makes almost every other device look silly when it comes to sheer sexiness and the ability to get people to imagine what's possible going forward. If you want to argue that, I'd like to hear from you. Furthermore, its interface and the (usually slick) handing off between applications (e.g., when you get a phone call while browsing or listening to music) is always going to invite a "wow" from its users. That said, it isn't yet as useful as some other devices.

I kind of hate to say it, but one of the things that annoyed me most was the touchscreen. Sure, everyone wants to get behind this technology and herald it as the holy grail of device interaction, but for some things it just doesn't work. I think the only things I truly enjoyed doing with the touchscreen were cycling between photos, zooming in and out of them, and zooming in and out of sections of a web site; realize that the first two things I mentioned were only ever done when showing the iPhone to someone who hadn't yet played with one. It annoyed me in almost every other context (you know, like making a phone call).

Take, for example, scrolling in MobileSafari. If I was reading an article that required me to scroll, there was no way to simply page down. Instead, I had to start scrolling and pay close attention to where I stopped reading so as to not lose my spot and scroll past it.

Typing with the touchscreen was OK, and infinitely better than I thought it would be before I actually used it, but I didn't particularly like using it. In fact, I didn't much like it at all. It was totally usable, but never felt quite right (even in the face of me trying hard to convince myself that it did).

Sadly, there probably won't be a non-touchscreen iPhone for a long while, if ever, because the interface has proven to be so popular. Indeed, there may even be a BlackBerry "touch" on the horizon (not to mention the countless others who have followed the iPhone's lead).

Another thing that I found terribly annoying after just a few days was the lack of copy/paste. After having used a few BlackBerry devices, I came to rely on this quite a bit, and missed it dearly in the iPhone.

Finally, the last day-to-day thing I'll mention is the speakerphone, which was essentially useless given its lack of volume. It's very rare that I hold a phone up to my ear — I'm either in my car using whatever Bluetooth headset I bought that week, or I'm at a desk using the speakerphone. The iPhone required me to always remember to bring my Bluetooth headset to and from the car, lest I be made to actually hold the iPhone while talking.

There are surely other niggling things that started to grate on me after a while (e.g., couldn't use headphones without an adapter, couldn't SMS to multiple people, couldn't voice-dial (especially egregious in light of RIM's tagless voice-dialing) etc.), but I digress.

What will I miss most?

Tabbed browsing, without a doubt. MobileSafari wasn't perfect, but one thing it got right was tabs (even if switching between them always seemed to take more time than it should). It was so nice to have the same few sites I always have open on my desktop, open on my mobile phone (i.e., Gmail, Google Reader, Vitalist, and Twitter). And the best part? Session restoration. When MobileSafari crashed, as it was prone to do, it relaunched itself and brought me right back to where I was, tabs and all.

I'll also greatly miss the idea of having OS X in my pocket.

Will I buy the next iPhone?

What do you think? Have I ever not bought the latest and greatest mobile device? Ever? To be honest though, I may not buy the next-gen model if the only real changes are under the hood (e.g., 3G, bigger flash drive, etc.). The fact is, I'd really like to see a hardware keyboard, but something tells me that this, like a proper two-button mouse from Apple,5 is a pipe dream.

OK, enough talk about the iPhone; all I'm thinking about right now (and indeed all I've talked about for the last year and a half) is the "ultra-portable" MacBook (Pro), hopefully to be announced at MacWorld in less than a month. I. Can't. Wait.

  1. It appears that Apple will soon announce sales of 5 million iPhones. Umm, Wow.   

  2. Indeed, if, over the course of the next year, you hear someone tout another device as an "iPhone killer," realize that they probably have no idea what they're talking about (let's not forget the countless "iPod killers" that never amounted to a hill of beans).   

  3. I picked up the BlackBerry 8320 ("curve"), and as you're probably expecting me to say, it's wonderful. Really, really nice.   

  4. Can I live without "push" e-mail? Probably, but in reality, my profession sometimes demands that e-mails work like IMs, not to mention that I've come to rely on/expect the immediacy (which, on balance, is probably not a good thing).   

  5. See Apple Mighty(?) Mouse.   

Mozilla launches Weave#

As the Web continues to evolve and more of our lives move online, we believe that Web browsers like Firefox can and should do more to broker rich experiences while increasing user control over their data and personal information.

One important area for exploration is the blending of the desktop and the Web through deeper integration of the browser with online services. We’re now launching a new project within Mozilla Labs to formally explore this integration. This project will be known as Weave and it will focus on finding ways to enhance the Firefox user experience, increase user control over personal information, and provide new opportunities for developers to build innovative online experiences.