Several years ago, when Safari got built-in RSS, I was thrilled. Finally RSS became useful to me and I’ve been using it — and Safari — ever since. Recently, though, that has changed.
It’s no great secret that I’m an idiot. I prove it on a regular basis, including yesterday, when in an effort to save $250, I ended up spending close to $400.
Consumer electronics companies seem hellbent on replacing the remote control, the mouse and the keyboard. Touch screens, speech, motion detection and other methods of inferring a user’s desires are all the rage. Too bad most of them make life harder.
As I was preparing to go to sleep, I really wanted to listen to some music as I read and, inevitably, fell asleep with my book crashing to the floor next to me. What I didn’t want, though, was for my iPhone to play music all night and wear the battery down by morning.
First things first. I spent most of the day relaxing in the Lufthansa lounge in Frankfurt, enjoying the free drinks (yes, Germans do drink beer at 8 a.m.) free sausages (yes, you can eat too many sausages in one day), and the free shower.
I really, really shouldn’t be awake right now. Although it’s a bit after lunch at home, it’s near 1 a.m. here in Jakarta and I need to be ready in seven hours to give an all-day workshop.
But, what am I going to do? Let down you, my loyal audience? All four of you are dying, I know, to hear about my adventures so far. Luckily for you, I’m awake enough — and stupid enough — to have both the energy and the adventures for this post.
An interesting start
I decided to forgo driving myself to the airport Saturday, and instead hired Washington Flyer to drive me there. My driver, who’s name I failed to get, was Malaysian, and told me that he had just come from a family party to take me to the airport. He was friendly and in good spirits, so I asked him what the party was for. “My brother in law died,” he answered.
Not sure if that was indeed an even worth celebrating, I asked the driver where he was from and other such niceties. That turned into a 45-minute monolog about his arranged marriage, including the four women he turned voted off the island because they weren’t pretty enough. His parents, nearly exasperated, demanded he find a bride before returning to the United States. Apparently he succeeded, because he now has two boys. He said he won’t be picking out their brides for them, but he added that they’d better only marry once. “No divorces!” he shouted, as we pulled up to the United terminal.
The flight from Dulles to L.A. was uneventful, which I think is always a plus when defying the laws of gravity. That’s not to say the 18-hour flight from L.A. to Bangkok was full of surprises. Indeed, it, too, was mostly uneventful. I was, however, startled several times by the gentleman a few seats over with a severe case of sleep apnea and what appeared to be pneumonia. Given his condition, and the copious snoring he emitted, I was surprised to see he was chewing gum — I would think that would be choking concern. Actually, my observation’s not quite correct. The gum was resting precariously on his lower lip, as if trying to decide whether or not to leap for freedom. I did not notice whether or not the gum’s escape was successful.
Real estate deal
The third leg of the trip, from Bangkok to Jakarta, was a 3-hour joy ride compared to the 22 hours I had thus far spent in a giant aluminum tube. I played some Orbital, read some New Yorker, and flipped through the in-flight magazine. It was there I noticed an ad for spacious beach-front property. It looked amazing. And priced at 3 million baht, it had better be, I thought. Then I grabbed my iPhone and did the exchange rate. What? $120,000 for a beach? Holy crap! Honey, sell the house. We’re moving to Thailand.
Traveling with stupid
I’m not used to carrying around a lot of cash. That’s for two reasons. First, I don’t have any. Second, I too often rely on my cards for purchases. It’s a habit I need to break. Especially after today.
Upon arriving in Jakarta, we were steered to the on-arrival visa station. For starters, I didn’t even realize that’s what it was. I thought it was a money-changing station. OK, I thought. I’ll get some rupiah. So, I stand in line. Eventually, I realize I need to pay $10 for an Indonesian visa. No problem, I thought. Then I looked in my wallet.
What kind of moron travels 12,000 miles — to the other side of the planet!! — with $4 in cash? I mean, really? Could I be more of a dumb ass?
Hey, no worries, I think. The luggage carts around here all have MasterCard ads on them. I can just use my card.
So, I go to the window and show my card. The man shakes his head. “Oh shit,” I thought. Either I need to hit up a fellow passenger for $6, or I’m about to get my ass shipped back stateside. Just as my stomach was about to hit the floor, the man pointed across the hallway. “Over there. Credit card.” I glanced over and saw an identical booth, but that one accepts plastic. Thank God.
As I waited to clear immigration — and waited, and waited — I began to find incredible amusement in the advertisements adorning the area. The first one that caught my attention was a sign offering billboard advertising space. The image was of an idyllic beach. The text? “We’ve got space.”
I really, really hope the intention was not to erect billboards on the Indonesian beaches.
Oh, Indonesia, really know how to make a guest feel comfortable. Actually, the really funny part of the sign were the six guys pictured who had apparently been caught trafficking drugs and put to death. Ok, that’s not funny, but what is funny is that the sign blacked out their eyes.
There was one more sign that cracked me up. Well, not a sign, exactly, but a sticked. On the window of one of the airport security office was a large sticker proclaiming “Y2K Ready!” Yes, and just in time, too.
Traveling with stupid, part II
I was met outside customs by a nice fellow from the hotel. He escorted me to a taxi — a shiny black Mercedes — and off we went. I had taken off my long-sleeve shirt and was sitting there in my white t-shirt as we skimmed the surface roads along ramshackle huts of corrugated metal, wide canals, and your usual assortment of safe and unsafe vehicles. I felt incredibly Western and not in an especially appealing way.
I set my iPhone next to me and thought, “don’t forget it in the taxi.” (This is what’s known as foreshadowing.)
We scurried along the highway and into the city. From a high overpass, I got a view of the incredible, sprawling metropolis that is Jakarta. The air was hazy and the land was a mix of trash heaps, fragile huts and buildings in various stages of construction or decay.
Eventually we made it to the hotel where guards checked the vehicle and raised the entry gate. Oh, right, I thought. Danger lurks here, doesn’t it?
Then I hopped out, handed the driver some rupiah (I had stopped at an ATM at the airport after clearing customs), and marched into the hotel.
After checking in, I made my way to my room only to discover my keys hadn’t been properly programmed. So, I trudged back downstairs to have the problem fixed. As I stood there, my drive came rushing through the lobby. He had discovered my iPhone in the back seat and had brought it back to me. I was stunned. Not only by my stupidity, but by his kindness. I thanked him profusely and he quickly withdrew back to the hot, humid air.
With all the reports of an Apple tablet, I’ve found myself thinking more and more about what it might be and how it might work. Last night, pathetic as this might sound, I even had a dream about it.
I should clarify… my dream wasn’t of the unicorns and rainbows and angels sort. I didn’t dream about the joy of owning an Apple tablet. Rather, my brain seemed to be trying to figure out what Apple would do with a tablet. It’s my belief that Apple under Steve Jobs generally tries to solve computing/media problems through elegant design, instead of just coming up with cool (and sometimes lame) products. For example, Apple’s routers are all about making them super easy to set up. Sure, other routers work just fine (often with more features and a lower price), but Apple’s routers are pretty and easy to use. Same with Apple TV. Same with the iPhone, iTunes, iPhoto and more. (The Apple speakers are a glaring exception.)
In fact, Apple often doesn’t create the best products in their class, when comparing features and price. But, they create the best experience and they solve problems by making it easy to do what you want. And in that regard, their products are the best.
Honestly, I can’t think of much. For the most part, I like how quickly the iPhone responds and it is sized appropriately for what are essentially personal functions — phone calls, listening to music, watching short pieces of video, playing casual games. But, I can’t multitask. And, the iPhone is a terrible text input device. The MacBook takes longer and is a bit less convenient for simple tasks, but I can work on my MacBook in ways that the iPhone is simply incapable of (writing long bits of text; editing audio/video, etc.). A bigger/faster iPhone could close that gap, I suppose. Perhaps that is what the tablet would be.
At 10 inches, a tablet could still serve as a personal device, but one that creates a bigger social barrier than the iPhone does. Watching videos on that screen might be nice, but it’s also far more antisocial than the iPhone. What, my wife and daughter and I are all going to watch different movies on our tablets on the couch? I don’t think so.
Playing games is somewhere in between. Sure, I like to play games on my iPhone, but I prefer playing games with other people.
Reading, though, is still a personal endeavor. So is working on a document. And both could benefit from the larger screen. So, a tablet could be useful for reading text, especially if it was as fast to respond as my iPhone is. I could totally pull a tablet out of my bag for reading the latest New Yorker while waiting at the dentist’s office. Is that enough? Perhaps only when you consider the larger ecosystem.
If Apple incorporates .me, iWork and iLife, and takes full advantage of the media ecosystem Apple has built, it could work. Furthermore, if that ecosystem were to be expanded to include more text, be that novels, graphic novels, comic books, textbooks, repair manuals, cookbooks and more, and could allow access to one’s content from anywhere (think the recent LaLa acquisition plus “Back to my Mac.”) I think that’s one of the possible killer features. Whereas the Kindle is really just about text (with some lousy graphics) from Amazon, Apple’s tablet could serve up any text-and-graphic-based material from any source. For example, I could see having complete access to one’s iPhoto library and then using the tablet to create slideshows on the fly. Or access to my home media library.
To accomplish this, the table would require:
- an incredible high-resolution display for video and text
- mobile internet connectivity
- a simple interface
- a long battery life
- unparalleled thinness and lightness
- a modicum of Flash-based storage
Several things it would not require:
- a removable battery (Apple has already shunned this concept)
- an input device
- optical media
- ports, other than mini-USB
The mini-USB port would take care of charging the device. Everything else would be wireless. Heck, even the charging could be wireless, if they employed conductive recharging technologies.
The interface is the most interesting aspect of such a device. Apple’s not likely to include a keyboard or any other input device. But what if they did something totally radical? What if they used eye tracking? This is already in wide use as an observation tool for studying usability. Could it be used here, too? Just wild speculation, but it could be pretty cool.
But, here’s the thing: my iPhone and laptop are both capable of doing those things now. And that gets me back to the core issue: what would the Apple tablet solve for me? I don’t know, but I’m excited to see what Apple can imagine that I can’t.
At the Online News Association’s annual conference last week in San Francisco, I showed a few cool tools journalists might find uses for.
The first tool I showed was Swivel. This is a great and easy tool for taking data and creating interactive graphics from them. Here’s an example:
Swivel is free, though if you want to keep the data private, you have to pony up some cash.
- Download the app
- Create an AudioBoo account
- Use the app to record audio
- Snap a photo to go with the audio
- Title the audio and tag it with keywords
- Publish the clip
Here’s an example of the embedded audio player:
Those were the two main tools, but we had some extra time, so I offered two bonus tools.
The first bonus tool wasn’t really a tool, so much as just something too damn cool not to show. Specifically, Yelp!’s secret “Monocle” augmented reality tool. Basically, it works by layering information over a live camera image. Here, watch this YouTube video to better explain it:
And here’s the last one: regular expressions, also known as grep, or pattern-matching search.
Basically, this is a method of search or find-and-replace that uses wild cards and variables. Say, for example, you have a list of names, like this:
- Jefferson, Thomas
- Washington, George
- Adams, John
- Franklin, Benjamin
- Lincoln, Abraham
- Hancock, John
- Jay, John
And, you want to change the order of each name to make it first name, space, last name. That is, instead of “Jefferson, Thomas” you want “Thomas Jefferson.”
Without grep/regular expressions, you’d have to cut/paste a bunch of names or retype them. (Or, you could find the comma and replace it with a tab, copy the lines to an Excel spreadsheet, change the orders of the columns, then copy the lines back to a text editor and then find/replace the tabs with spaces.) But, there’s a far easier way.
and replace with this:
So, how does that work? Simple. The period is a wild card for any character. The asterisk means “repeat.” So .* means “any character followed by any character, followed by any character, etc.” Because .* is followed by a comma and a space, that first set will find all the characters until it reaches a comma and space. And the parenthesis assigns that text string to a variable. So, it will find “Jefferson” and assign it the variable “1.” (The first set of parentheses gets the variable “1,” the second set of parentheses gets “2” and so on.)
After the space, another .* will find the remainder of the line and, thanks to the parenthesis, assign it the variable “2.”
Finally, it replaces what it finds with the value of “2,” followed by a space, followed by the variable “1.”
See? Yeah, I know it’s kind of obtuse. But, play with it and check out this awesome grep reference site.