Bitsplitting.org http://bitsplitting.org Chasing the impossible with Daniel Jalkut Wed, 28 May 2014 00:43:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 File A Bug http://bitsplitting.org/2014/05/27/file-a-bug/ http://bitsplitting.org/2014/05/27/file-a-bug/#comments Wed, 28 May 2014 00:31:15 +0000 http://bitsplitting.org/?p=597 My friend Marco Arment laments that of the 15 bugs he’s filed since 2009, eight have been marked as duplicates, and seven have received no significant response.

Since 2009, I’ve reported 161 bugs. It’s much harder for me to do a stone-cold analysis of the results of my efforts. Yes, I’ve “wasted some time,” but often in the process of doing so I have also gained a deeper understanding of the problems I was reporting.

Having filed 161 bugs over six years, I can guarantee you that I’ve had far more bugs ignored or filed as duplicate than Marco has. I’ve had my share of bugs for which I’ve had to send back a sternly worded note to the bug screeners, implying in as polite a language as I could muster that they were not doing their jobs well.

I’ve also burdened Apple with a good number of false alarms: bug reports that I filed hastily only to discover were actually my own problem. Sometimes these were reported with confident, dismissive words that I later felt like eating. Sometimes I am not a great bug reporter.

And sometimes I am a great bug reporter. I’ve received notes of personal thanks on Twitter, via email, and in person at conferences such as WWDC. Engineers at Apple have said things such as “I wish all bug reports were as good as yours,” and “your bug report spelled out exactly how to fix the bug, so that’s exactly what we did.” I can’t remember a major OS X release when at least one of my reported bugs was not addressed during the beta release period, before the software ever saw the light of day. If we stretch the timeline back to 2008, I’ve even had the unexpected honor of being credited in a security update for what I thought was a simple networking bug.

I’ve had my share of frustrations with Apple’s bug reporting system, but I’m a developer. I can take it. I’m used to rejection. 9 times out of 10 when we developers press Cmd-R in Xcode to “Build and Run” our projects, they don’t even make it past the compile phase. But we keep trying. Why? Because we know how great it feels when we finally get something to work. We don’t need to be constantly reassured that we’re great, that our input matters, or that our concerns have been heard. Would it be nice? Sure. But so would Objective-C namespaces and a pony.

If we developers want Apple’s platforms to work as well as they can, the sad and short truth of the matter is we have to report bugs. If you’ve only reported 15 bugs over 6 years, as Marco has, I’m afraid to say that you haven’t done enough. To stand a statistical chance of either helping the cause or of being gratified by a personalized response, you’ll have to step it up, grin and bear the frustration and continue to press “Build and Run” on the Apple Bug Reporter and see what comes out the other end.

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What Have You Been Working On? http://bitsplitting.org/2014/05/25/what-have-you-been-working-on/ http://bitsplitting.org/2014/05/25/what-have-you-been-working-on/#comments Sun, 25 May 2014 04:49:59 +0000 http://bitsplitting.org/?p=589 In one week a huge number of Apple nerds will convene in San Francisco for the Worldwide Developer Conference and related festivities. As I did last year, I’ll be traveling for the event but whooping it up outside the walls of the official conference.

Around WWDC time, whether I’m attending or not, I always find myself taking stock of recent achievements. As my own worst critic, this usually isn’t very pleasant. Some of this introspection is rooted in the historic, vain hope that some of my work might one day be recognized by Apple in the form of an Apple Design Award. It’s not uncommon for developers to ramp up work schedules in January or so, in the hopes of putting the finishing touches on, and shipping, a major release in time to be considered for the prestigious honor. By the time WWDC comes along, you are either happy with what you have to show, or, well, you’re normal.

The truth is I have never expected to win an Apple Design Award, but I have often used it as as a kind of productivity hack: “Let’s see what I can get done by WWDC.” Until a few years ago, Apple required developers to nominate themselves for the award, so engaging in the process was a way of bringing into focus what kinds of achievements one might like to make by a specific deadline. These days, Apple simply selects from the vast selection of App Store titles (though I’m sure that private lobbying can’t hurt), so there isn’t as much of a concrete sense that one’s work is in the effort of qualifying for an award.

But even without an overt application process or a vague sense of possibly winning an award, I still find myself taking stock of recent achievements. Why? Because in San Francisco next week, five to ten thousand Mac and iOS nerds will be plucked from their usual, typically introverted lifestyles and given the opportunity to socialize with one another. And I will be among, and one of those nerds. When people who don’t know each other at all make uncomfortable small talk, the question of choice is often “What do you do?” For us nerds who know even a tiny bit about one another, it’s the more precise “What have you been working on?”

And that’s the kicker. What have I been working on? The answer is never any of the things that an outsider might admire and celebrate: a best-of-class blog editing app, a popular podcast or two, a job board, raising two beautiful children, or trying to be a good husband. Those are all things I have worked on, and continue to work on. And I’m proud of them. But in the context of this question, posed at a professional conference where I’m taking stock of what I’ve done and what I plan to do, none of these qualifies as what I feel I’ve been working on.

Because what I’m really working on is never ready to share. What I’m really working on may never ship. What I’m really working on is what gets me out of bed every morning, willing to bang my head in vain for hours in the hopes of chipping away at this monumental task that seems impossible and amazing, but maybe more the former than the latter. And when and if this thing does finally see the light of day, I will celebrate for a moment before quickly relegating it to the list of boring things I’ve already done, and set my sights on something else.

So when someone asks me again next week what I’ve been working on, I’ll be hard-pressed to think of anything interesting. I’ll hem and haw and reflect upon the year’s dubious achievements before muttering, “Oh, just the same old stuff. What have you been working on?”

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Core Intuition Jobs http://bitsplitting.org/2014/02/22/core-intuition-jobs/ http://bitsplitting.org/2014/02/22/core-intuition-jobs/#comments Sun, 23 Feb 2014 01:45:24 +0000 http://bitsplitting.org/?p=570 On Wednesday, my podcasting colleague Manton Reece and I launched a new site: Core Intuition Jobs.

I’ve been in the Cocoa business for a long time. I started to learn the frameworks at Apple in the early 2000s, and got more serious after leaving Apple and building up Red Sweater Software as a consulting business and then as a direct-sale software business. When I started looking for Cocoa jobs on my own around 2004, there was no go-to place to search, so I resorted to a series of Craigslist RSS feed searches, tuned to each of the major markets in the US where I anticipated jobs would show up. That was a real drag.

Ten years later, I am no longer in the market for jobs. But after all this time in the community, working as a developer, blogger, podcaster, and occasional speaker, I’ve gained enough of a reputation that other people ask me where to find the jobs. To make matters worse, employers also ask me where to find the talent. The terrible thing is after all these years the situation is not much different than it was in 2004. There are a heck of a lot more jobs, and there is a heck of a lot more talent, but neither knows how to efficiently find the other.

Core Intuition Jobs aims to solve this problem by becoming the go-to source for both employers and job-seekers in the Cocoa development market. Other sites like StackOverflow Careers take a stab at solving the problem, but they suffer from a problem in that they are too large, and serve too many different needs to be uniquely valuable to a niche market such as ours.

I was talking with my wife in the car today about the value of niche job listing sites, and she shared an insight that seems obvious in hindsight: job sites are like dating sites. Matchmakers. If you’re looking for a romantic partner, you’d like to think you’re choosing a service that is teeming with suitable partners, or at least happens by some circumstance or other to be used only by other people who have a higher than average chance of clicking with you. This explains the preponderance of specialized dating services such as Salon Personals (for “smart” people), JDate (for Jewish people), or Silver Singles (for “mature” people).

If you’re looking for a partner, the last thing you need is a single database of every unmatched person in the world. Questions of religion, sexuality, musical taste, politics, and affinity for long walks on the beach may help to narrow the overwhelmingly large field, but some of these categories are significant enough to people that they warrant organizing at a higher level.

Most employers who are seeking Cocoa developers, and most developers seeking Cocoa jobs, are frankly inflexible about one sticking point: the match must involve one Cocoa expert providing a Mac or iOS solution to one company. That’s it. Android, ASP.NET, Java, jQuery, PHP, Ruby on Rails, and so on need not apply.

Well, we launched Core Intuition Jobs on Wednesday and by my estimation it is already the go-to source for pairing Cocoa employers with Cocoa developers. Take a look and see the impressive list of companies with openings in North America, Australia, the UK, Germany, as well as a handful of “anywhere” listings. The calibre of the companies on the site is also staggeringly great. This is no run-of-the-mill list of Cocoa jobs, which is a good thing, because we have no run-of-the-mill audience of developers.

Apart from the number and quality of employers who have responded so quickly by listing positions, I’ve been thrilled by the response from developers who, regardless of whether they are actively seeking, see the jobs board as a gift from us to them. This is incredibly charming because we do see it as a gift, but we also see it as a business venture. We got tired of telling people, often friends, that we had no good advice for how to find or a fill a job.

At some point we took a step back and realized that we’re being asked from both sides, and with our unique position as the hosts of a popular developer-oriented podcast, we have the ability to fill this niche quite nicely. We can give the gift of connecting developers and employers who, up to now, have had no common meeting place to discover one another. In return, we expect to build the job board into a sustainable business that complements our indie software businesses and the podcast.

We are selling 30-day listings on the site at an introductory price of $100. After February 25 (Tuesday) the standard price of $200 goes into effect. Buoyed by the positive reaction over the first few days, we’re hard at work adding new features, particularly to facilitate better tracking of new listings by job-seekers, and considering options for employers who want to maintain a consistent presence on the board.

We’ve already made one improvement with the addition of an RSS feed, so you can keep on top of every new listing we add. We’ll also be building similar notifications into the @coreintjobs Twitter and ADN accounts.

It’s a big world out there, filled with many potential career partners. We’re doing our part to bring passionate Cocoa developers together with companies that are looking to shine on Mac and iOS. In 2014, there is finally a go-to source for Cocoa job listings, and Manton and I happen to run it.

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Threes Scoring http://bitsplitting.org/2014/02/11/threes-scoring/ http://bitsplitting.org/2014/02/11/threes-scoring/#comments Tue, 11 Feb 2014 21:46:37 +0000 http://bitsplitting.org/?p=565 I mentioned in my previous post about Threes that the game is seductive because it’s easy to do well as a beginner, but much harder to do “really well”. I also pointed out that looking at the Game Center leaderboard might give you an idea of how well you’re actually doing.

As much as I enjoy the game, there is a weakness in the way they neglect to connect you with your score as you play. I have found that after playing a relatively long game, I am very unlikely to have a good sense of how well I’m doing. You never learn you score until after you’ve lost and the final tally is made.

I was chatting with Manton Reece about the game and realized I didn’t even understand precisely how it was scored. I knew that the longer you played, and thus the more tiles you combine, the higher the score. And I knew that the scores seemed to get exponentially higher the longer you play. That is to say, if you combine 20 tiles you will have far more than twice the points you would have gotten by combining 10 tiles.

In short: the score goes through the roof quickly, and somebody on the Game Center leaderboard with a much higher score than you may not have survived all that much longer than you did.

Here’s my highest scoring game to date:

Skitched 20140211 160008

So how is it scored? The 2s and 1s are worthless, and the rest of the tiles are each valued based on the number of times it has combined with a pair. Specifically, the score is 3^N where N is the number of times it doubled since it was 3. For any face value “x”, the score is 3^(log₂(x/3)+1). So “3″ is worth 3 points, “6″ is worth 9, “384″ is worth 6,561, and if you’re so lucky as to combine a given tile 11 times, the “6144″ face value will earn you a whopping 531,441 points.

Here’s a handy chart, based on a WolframAlpha equation I hacked together:

Face Value: 3 6 12 24 48 96 192 384 768 1536 3072 6144
Point Value: 3 9 27 81 243 729 2187 6561 19,683 59,049 177,147 531,441

So if you’re looking at a board with two 192 tiles on the verge of merging, the mere act of combining them will net you 2,187 points. As the game progresses, assuming you’re able to hold on to your high value tiles as you fend off the endless stream of smaller tiles, it’s easy to see how your score can balloon and ultimately catch up to the probably much higher scores you see on the leaderboard.

(If you want to read more about Threes scoring and also some general advice on gameplay, check out this article on Touch Arcade).

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Addicted To Threes http://bitsplitting.org/2014/02/10/addicted-to-threes/ http://bitsplitting.org/2014/02/10/addicted-to-threes/#comments Tue, 11 Feb 2014 01:47:38 +0000 http://bitsplitting.org/?p=555 While the rest of the world frets about the loss of Flappy Bird, some of us have become unexpectedly dependent upon a dazzling numerical puzzle game from Sirvo LLC called Threes.

I learned about the game through my friend Marco Arment, who gave a ringing endorsement of the game when he said it “doesn’t suck.” He’s right, in many, many ways. I was moved by his assessment to download and play the game. I’m glad I did, and I’m also devastated that I did.

It turns out Threes is a better game than I quite know how to comprehend. I want to play it again, and again, and again. It’s dangerous.

What is the secret sauce of Threes, and games like it? I’m not sure, but I have some impressions. If I were designing a game and I wanted to hope for anything near the irresistibility of Threes, these are the lessons I’d be taking from it:

  1. It’s easy to learn. The game has a brilliant interactive training mode that guides you through the simple rules that govern the game. Even a game with simple rules will be put aside if it takes more than a minute or two to learn, so luring folks in with a tutorial is a good call.
  2. It’s easy to “do well”. From the moment you start playing Threes you will find yourself making immediate, almost constant progress. The format of the game has smaller number tiles combining with one another from the very start, giving a fast-paced sense of progress that should thrill even novice players.
  3. It’s much harder to “do really well”. Once you’re hooked, you’ll find yourself trying to figure out what it was about your choices in one game that made you do so much better than you did in another game. And if, like me, you’re not some kind of cosmic genius, you’ll be intrigued to figure out what that is. I’ve been balancing my play between “having a good time” and “struggling to understand.” Sometimes the two do overlap. I’ve developed some techniques that seem to be effective, but on the whole I recognize there is a lot of room to grow. There is a lot to understand.
  4. It’s easy to get a reality check. Here’s a real kicker. If i were playing Threes in the privacy of my home without the benefit of Apple’s Game Center to let me know just how well my proud accomplishments stack up to friends and strangers, I’d be feeling pretty good. There’s even a chance that, without the knowledge of just how well other people are doing, I might reach a point where I convinced myself I had the game figured out. A quick glance at the high scores of my friends lets me know that I’ve figured out how to be relatively competent at the game (current high score: 9,132), but nowhere near as lucky and/or skilled as some friends and many strangers.

I’m sure these four points are the tip of the iceberg, but they are what stand out to me. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the game is well-designed and adopts an honest business model (no ads or scammy upsells). The target audience for Threes is probably dramatically smaller than the audience of Flappy Bird, but especially for nerds or folks who just love a good numerical puzzle, Threes is a great value and an example of how great iOS games can be.

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Can’t Take That Away http://bitsplitting.org/2014/01/24/cant-take-that-away/ http://bitsplitting.org/2014/01/24/cant-take-that-away/#comments Sat, 25 Jan 2014 02:29:17 +0000 http://bitsplitting.org/?p=544 I was surprised how much I enjoyed all the pro-Mac celebration today, marking the 30th anniversary of its debut.

Apple’s home page is dedicated to the Mac, and links to an extremely extensive special feature outlining, year-by-year, some significant uses of the Mac, by significant people, as well as the major shifts in design and functionality that the computer has seen.

As a long-time Mac user and developer — I started working for Apple at 18, went indie at 26, and am 38 now, still working on Macs — I was touched by the amount of pride Apple exudes today in celebrating the triumph of the Mac. Especially over the the past several years, as many people have shifted their attention to mobile devices based on iOS and Android, it’s easy to forget that the Mac is still an amazing device and that the hardware and software both continue to improve every year.

Topping off a great day, news came out of Cupertino that Apple has posted giant posters on campus, upon which are printed the names of “every employee who has ever worked for Apple.” Holy cow, my pride overflows. What a grand, yet humble gesture. My old friend Dan Curtis Johnson confirmed that I had made the cut:

In close proximity, both Dan Jalkut and Ellen Hancock. Such a faraway time, the long-long ago.

It was long-enough ago, that some people still called me Dan.

I learned so much at Apple, and had many profound experiences that shaped the way I see the world both technically and otherwise. I was hired a year or two before Steve Jobs came back, and one of my first joys at Apple was adding my own name to the “About Box” for the Memory Control, which I had taken charge of. And because I could, I also added the names of some friends. I was a little immature. When Steve came back, one of his company-wide edicts was that the names of individuals must be removed from about boxes. I had to commit the source code that wiped my own identity off the faces of the products I had worked on.

Steve’s explanation was something along the lines that it was unfair to put the names of a few in about boxes because it was a disservice to all the other employees who were not listed. He insisted that each of them was as important to the success of the company as the people who were listed. Of course he was right, but it didn’t feel great at the time.

It’s hard not to think of Steve when I read about this perfect gesture of gratitude to all the employees who helped, directly or indirectly, in making the Mac a success. The Mac is his baby, and it’s grown to be not only strong and robust, but in some respects unassailable, thanks to the hard work of the tens of thousands of people whose names are on those posters.

I started at Apple while I was still in college, barely having glimpsed the professional world outside of the company. I learned a lot in school, but I learned much, much more at Apple. My time there completely shaped not only the way I develop software but the reasons I develop software. Fundamentally: to serve and delight the people who use it.

I often think back wistfully, wondering what would have happened if I stayed at the company. I might have gone on to do important, admirable work, or I might have become one of those (rare) old slackers at Apple who doesn’t earn his or her keep. Either way, my name would have been on one of those posters today. And either way, it would have been well-earned. People often say the great thing about education is that nobody can take it away from you. The same is true of working for Apple, and the company’s gestures today strongly underscore that fact.

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A Billion Dollars Worth Of Work http://bitsplitting.org/2014/01/23/a-billion-dollars-worth-of-work/ http://bitsplitting.org/2014/01/23/a-billion-dollars-worth-of-work/#comments Thu, 23 Jan 2014 06:26:42 +0000 http://bitsplitting.org/?p=542 John Gruber shared a link about Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and her new “billionaire” status. He cites Bloomberg’s David de Jong quoting author David Kirkpatrick: “Did she do a billion dollars worth of work?”

I thought Gruber’s criticism of the statement was fair, and thought-provoking:

Would Kirkpatrick have asked this of a man? And if he had, would Bloomberg have run the quote?

It’s probably true that women such as Sandberg are subjected to a greater, unfair amount of speculation regarding the appropriateness of the rewards for their work.

In my opinion, that’s how Gruber’s link should have ended. But he added:

I searched Google for the phrase “Did he do a billion dollars worth of work?” and the only hit was this tweet from Jezebel editor-in-chief Jessica Coen, retweeting this tweet from Alex Leo pointing out the absurd gender bias in this article.

The implication, by my reading, is that the lack of Google results for the searched phrase: “did he do a billion dollars worth of work?” is evidence of a gender bias against women who have earned a billion dollars.

My problem with this line of reasoning is that the naturally contrasting search: “did she do a billion dollars worth of work?” also yields nearly no results. The vast majority, if not all of the results for that search are related to news from the past day related to this issue.

I don’t doubt that people are more critical and dismissive of a woman who has earned herself a billion dollars, but Gruber’s search example doesn’t support the claim. I wonder if there is a search that would support the claim? On Twitter, Gruber pointed out that there are fewer female than male billionaires. So perhaps it’s insufficient to measure disdain for female earnings by searching on the scale of billions? A paraphrased search on the scale of millions yields zero results, and zero for men as well. So “nobody” is complaining about the worthiness of folks, male or female, who earn a million dollars.

I agree with Gruber’s premise, but his own evidence doesn’t support it. I would rather see flimsy evidence omitted from an argument I agree with, because it offers a weakness for naysayers to attack.

Alex Serriere, on Twitter, offers a simplified search that does support Gruber’s premise, albeit indirectly:

@danielpunkass @gruber I think these searches sort of prove the point: “did he do enough” 347k results, “did she do enough” 1.9m results.

Of course I concede that none of this is scientific, but as far as off-the-cuff Google searches go, I find Alex’s results far more compelling and supportive of the argument at hand.

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Restart Your Day Job http://bitsplitting.org/2014/01/21/restart-your-day-job/ http://bitsplitting.org/2014/01/21/restart-your-day-job/#comments Tue, 21 Jan 2014 05:16:12 +0000 http://bitsplitting.org/?p=538 This timing could not be more perfect. As Matt Gemmell exits the professional software business, my old friend Duncan Davidson returns to it. For the first time in many years, he’s taken a full-time job as a software engineer, working for Wunderlist.

Duncan has a rich history in software development. From his time at Sun, he is the man behind Apache Tomcat and Ant, two Java tools that even I, a person who is mostly oblivious to Java, am familiar with. (As it turns out, I even use Ant in the build process for MarsEdit. That’s a story for another day.) Duncan also made a name for himself within the Cocoa community by writing one of the earliest Cocoa development guidebooks.

But Duncan is also a photographer, and a damned good one at that. I was impressed when, years ago, he put his considerable software abilities aside to focus on that lifelong passion. My first memories of this shift are seeing him roam the halls of Apple’s WWDC conference, not as an attendee but as a paid professional photographer. He went on to photograph for various O’Reilly Media conferences, and to this day he is the the main stage photographer for the illustrious TED Conference.

That’s an important detail to note in Duncan’s story: by returning his focus to the craft of software engineering, he will not be giving up his passion for photography. Professionally, he will continue to work with TED, and privately, I’ll be damned if you ever find him without a camera at close hand.

Duncan had the guts, many years ago, to give up software engineering to pursue photography. That has worked out very well for him. Now, he’s showing he has also has the guts to return to what he left behind. As a “new developer” in 2014, I’m sure there are things for him to learn from his teammates at Wunderlist. But I’m also sure there are many things for him to teach. I look forward to seeing where Duncan’s passions for software and photography take him next.

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Quit Your Day Job http://bitsplitting.org/2014/01/20/quit-your-day-job/ http://bitsplitting.org/2014/01/20/quit-your-day-job/#comments Tue, 21 Jan 2014 02:07:15 +0000 http://bitsplitting.org/?p=526 My friend Matt Gemmell has long been known as a prolific Mac developer, public speaker, and selfless contributor of open source code to the Mac community. He’s also a writer. He’s shared his thoughts on subjects ranging from coding well to living well, and in a recent post he makes the broad proclamation that he will give up the profession of programming to become a full-time writer. Making Changes:

Maybe it’s foolish, and from a commercial point of view it certainly looks that way, but I must try. As of this moment, I’m no longer developing software, either for myself or for others. I’m writing full-time.

Folks who read about this daring change of course will likely have one of two reactions: to support him unconditionally, or to condemn him as a fool. Count me among the supporters.

Most people who mutter the disgusting, deplorable phrase: “don’t quit your day job,” do so from a position of ignorance, of envy, or of both. “Quitting one’s day job,” so to speak, is the starting point for any major change in one’s career, and most of us could stand to do a lot more quitting and a lot less settling.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I quit my career of programming and threw all my energy into being a professional musician, interface designer, or … who knows what? I am at once afraid I would be an utter failure in another field, and worried that I might miss my beloved programming too much. But that’s not to say the day won’t come when I lay down my IDE and move on to another life pursuit.

Congratulations to Matt on making a difficult, important decision. Best of luck to him in his new career as a writer.

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Apple’s Nest http://bitsplitting.org/2014/01/19/apples-nest/ http://bitsplitting.org/2014/01/19/apples-nest/#comments Mon, 20 Jan 2014 02:22:12 +0000 http://bitsplitting.org/?p=512 Google is acquiring Nest Labs, and since the news broke, most of the analysis I’ve seen has to do with why Nest might be worth $3 Billion to Google, and whether or not it’s a blow to Apple that Google bought the company before they could.

I agree with the folks who point out that $3 Billion is a hefty price tag for a small company that only sells home thermostats and smoke detectors. But I also agree with the folks who argue that the potential upside for Google could be huge. On the latest episode of The Talk Show, John Gruber and John Moltz cover many potential wins for Google: a proven consumer product expert in Tony Fadell, tens if not hundreds of talented engineers, and perhaps most importantly a team with a knack for delivering casual infometric devices to the masses.

For years, Google’s successful tack has been first inserting itself between users and their data, and then figuring how to best capitalize on that relationship. This approach pans out proportionally to the total number of users and to the amount and diversity of data being intermediated. As Google’s knowledge of people and their data grows, it empowers them to provide increasingly clever life solutions. It also empowers them to help themselves to what advertisers will pay for access to this very large, very well understood user base.

The products might seem to offer little to Google, but it’s easy to imagine how Nest’s knowledge could strengthen Google’s other services. For Maps? “Raise the thermostat in my home to 68F when I am 1 mile away from arriving at home.” Or for Gmail and Google Voice? “Do not disturb … unless there is an emergency at home.” It also seems reasonable to assume that Nest’s two shipping products are the tip of the iceberg and that Tony Fadell and his team have a long list of ideas for how their product line should expand in the future.

What does it mean for Apple that Google acquired Nest? Not much. Unlike Google, Apple has made a habit of staying out of the relationship between users and their data. Sometimes to a fault! For most of Apple’s products, knowing anything about the specific data that users are working with is at best an afterthought and more often a degree of involvement that the company has made a point of avoiding. What are your emails about? Apple doesn’t want to know. What kind of writing are you doing in Pages? Not interested. What are your favorite mapping POIs? They barely know where anything is, let alone whether you’ve been there or not. This is Apple’s flaw and it’s great, great asset: they care much, much more about the kinds of things than the specific things that people use their products to work with. Google is more interested in raw, specific data, while Apple is more obsessed with generalized ideas about data.

On that point, one reason I wouldn’t expect Apple to acquire a company like Nest is that the products are far too specific, far too niche. Apple doesn’t make very many specific things anymore. They make general tools and leave it to customers how they should best be used. In fact, over the past 10 to 15 years, Apple’s products are increasingly generalized, and more suitable to a wide range of uses (and customers) as the products become more refined.

Apple used to sell a countless variety of Mac models which are now more or less reduced to MacBooks, iMacs, Mac Minis, and the Mac Pro. Apple used to sell iPods for playing music, QuickTakes for taking pictures, and printers for … printing. Now they sell devices that double as music players, devices that double as cameras, and devices that extend the capabilities of 3rd party printers.

Apple’s Airport Express could be sold as a standalone Wi-Fi printer adaptor. Have a USB-based printer? Just plug it in to the Apple AirPrinter device and now it’s a Wi-Fi-connected printer. It could also be sold as a Wi-Fi music adaptor. Have a pair of powered speakers? Just plug it in to the Apple AirPlayer and let your tunes fly. But no, it’s sold as a Wi-Fi base station. A base station that happens to offer many features that are generally useful to a household with network-connectable devices.

In many respects Apple’s Airport Express is like Nest’s thermostat: a small form factor with built-in WiFi and considerable smarts. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the next version of the Airport Express featured a touch screen for interaction and feedback? During AirPlay broadcast of music to connected speakers the on-board display could show the album artwork, artist, and song title, as well as a convenient UI for skipping or favoriting a song. While printing documents it would reflect up-to-the-moment job status and offer a big, fat “Stop” button for canceling an unnecessary printout. And when it wasn’t doing anything in particular? It could show generally helpful information such as the current time, local weather, etc.

Given Apple’s history of expanding the functionality of the Airport Express, I wouldn’t outright reject the possibility that they might add a temperature sensor or smoke detector to the device itself. Or better yet, what if they announced a standard Bluetooth LE protocol for in-home instruments from any manufacturer to integrate seamlessly with Apple’s $99 Airport Express? That would be pretty great, and maybe at that point it would finally be time to come up with a better name for Apple’s Nest.

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Letterpress Rules http://bitsplitting.org/2014/01/10/letterpress-rules/ http://bitsplitting.org/2014/01/10/letterpress-rules/#comments Fri, 10 Jan 2014 15:47:09 +0000 http://bitsplitting.org/?p=502 My friend Brent Simmons shared his personal rules for the popular competitive word-forming game, Letterpress.

In a nutshell Brent’s rules are to always pass the first turn after a victory, and to avoid playing suffix or prefix variations of an opponent’s last word.

I strongly agree with passing the first turn after victory. The first play offers a strong advantage in the game and if you rematch in victory and play the first word then you give yourself an unsportsmanlike advantage.

The second rule however is too fiddly for my taste. I feel that there would be too little overlap in agreement on rules for this to be reasonably expected to be adhered to. It was actually my initial objection to the game when I first played it over a year ago. I agreed with Brent’s sentiment but thought the game itself should somehow enforce it. Since then I have learned to be at peace with the fact that if I play “BEMUSED,” I had better be prepared for my opponent to play “MUSED” if it suits her.

I have found however that there can be an impedance mismatch when an opponent has dramatically different “rules” of his own. For example I once played an excruciatingly long game with somebody. I was having a good time, and struggling to win. After 30 or 40 turns of what I saw as “end game,” he sent me a message on Twitter along the lines “Do you think I should end this thing?” What?! Of course you should end this thing. It’s a competitive game! But it turned out that one of his objectives was to string games along whenever possible.

Not surprisingly, because I’m kind of a stickler for rules, I have a few to add to Brent’s. I don’t expect my opponents to necessarily adhere to them, but I find them to be the most sportsmanlike way of playing the game:

  • First, to repeat Brent’s advice: Always pass the first turn when rematching after a victory.
  • No word reference or other “cheats.” I don’t view trying every damned word combination to see if it flies to be cheating, but using an automated tool is not cool. The germ of forming the words you play should come from within your own head.
  • Bogus words are fine, as long as Letterpress accepts them. I’ve played bad enough words that I’ve apologized to my opponent, but the game is the game. It is assumed that all players will play “bogus” words when advantageous, so roll with it.
  • Always win with the smallest advantage possible. A perfect game of Letterpress for me is a 13-12 victory. Because there are no advantages to a huge victory, apart from gloating or possibly making an opponent feel inferior, the goal of the game for me is to win, but to win graciously. Sometimes I go to a little extra work to find a low-enough scoring word that still puts me over the top. (When I’m lucky enough to win, that is!)
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