Toolbogged

Oh, hey guys — I just invent­ed a new word.

tool­bogged /ˈtulˌbɒgged/
(v. intr; past par­tici­ple of tool­bog)

To become so con­sumed by the process of research­ing and select­ing gear (often soft­ware) for a giv­en task that one nev­er actu­al­ly com­pletes the task itself

I’ve been com­plete­ly tool­bogged try­ing to auto­mate fix­ing the date and time on hun­dreds of RAW files from vaca­tion last fall… that I nev­er even sort­ed the pics them­selves!1

  1. Based on a true sto­ry, sad­ly.

On wishing for boredom

This is not a post about Steve Jobs. I read enough of them in the days and weeks after his death. I read in these a lot of what I already knew and learned some new stuff for sure, but one Steve quote stood out to me in Wired’s obit­u­ary:

I’m a big believ­er in bore­dom,” he told me. Bore­dom allows one to indulge in curios­i­ty, he explained, and “out of curios­i­ty comes every­thing.”

I’m not sure if I’d head this quote from him before, but it put into words some­thing that has been trou­bling me for some time: I haven’t been bored in years.

The first time I noticed this was in the mid-2000s, and  I only real­ized part of it, and I saw it through the lens of my Inter­net usage, par­tic­u­lar­ly RSS. Even today, as the cool kids have moved on to fol­low­ing Twit­ter feeds (real­ly, talk about a step back­wards) of web­sites and blogs they find inter­est­ing, I’m still a huge fan of the no-bullshit, user-in-control, decen­tral­ized pow­er of RSS.1

What occurred to me back then was that hav­ing posts pushed to me dai­ly gave me more read­ing mate­r­i­al than I need­ed. And since I could nev­er get all the way through the unread glut of posts from blogs I’d sub­scribed to, my need to ever go for­ag­ing for inter­est­ing things to read basi­cal­ly dis­ap­peared. RSS gave me tons of serendip­i­ty (thank you, linkblogs!)… and at the same time, prac­ti­cal­ly none at all. I miss the old days — some would say the bad old days — when I’d get my online enter­tain­ment and ran­dom bits of enlight­en­ment by brows­ing aim­less­ly from link to link, being per­son­al­ly point­ed to inter­est­ing things by friends on AIM, fol­low­ing lat­est links post­ed to proto-blogs like Pix­el­sur­geon, and… I don’t know, how­ev­er else we found cool shit back then.

The sec­ond time I felt this effect of this was at some point over the last few years, but this time in a more gen­er­al sense. This time it was big­ger than RSS; this time it was about every­thing in my life.

I real­ized I have far too many options for enter­tain­ment. There are two rea­sons for this: mas­sive dig­i­tal stor­age devices and the fact that, being employed gives me an actu­al enter­tain­ment bud­get for pur­chas­ing paid media and fan­cy devices on which to expe­ri­ence it. Between a pile of unread books and bunch of e‑books; more unwatched movies, sea­sons of old TV shows and ani­me series than I can name; and games galore that I’ll nev­er fin­ish (thank you Nin­ten­do Wii and DS, Android phone and a still-kickin’ Atari 2600), I’m pret­ty much set for… for­ev­er.2 Even if I don’t seek out any­thing new, it’ll be years and years before I get through all of this. And it’s not like I can just ignore new releas­es and stuff I become aware of in the mean­time!

I might be able to enjoy this world o’ plen­ty, if I could for­get about what life was like when I was grow­ing up, before we had the com­put­ing pow­er, stor­age and net­work capac­i­ty to expe­ri­ence all the dig­i­tal rich­es of more enter­tain­ment than we’ll ever need. I spent so much time being bored grow­ing up, aim­less­ly think­ing and day­dream­ing and such. This was before my first com­put­er; I had tons of books and had prob­a­bly read almost all of them, made good use of the pub­lic library, played with toys, action fig­ures and stuff a whole lot and still found time to be bored and day­dream because it seemed like I had run out of things to do.

If you live a sim­i­lar­ly full, media-rich and employed first-world life, and can still ever find your­self so lux­u­ri­ous­ly bored, how do you man­age? And can you teach me?

  1. Google Read­er, please don’t die.
  2. I did­n’t men­tion music here, because the way I con­sume music is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. I still clear­ly have more than I “need,” but I don’t feel the same sort of pres­sure to get through it all, thanks to shuf­fle mode.

Steve Jobs on unintended uses of tools

A choice quote from an all-around inter­est­ing inter­view:

The point is that tools are always going to be used for cer­tain things we don’t find per­son­al­ly pleas­ing. And it’s ulti­mate­ly the wis­dom of peo­ple, not the tools them­selves, that is going to deter­mine whether or not these things are used in pos­i­tive, pro­duc­tive ways.

–Steve Jobs, 1985

Google+, the best Multiply.com clone ever

First, a word of dis­clo­sure: I worked for Mul­ti­ply for near­ly four years. This means I know what I’m talk­ing about. I also no longer have any finan­cial inter­est in their suc­cess. This means I’m prob­a­bly not that biased. Oh, and I only wrote this because I felt like it. This means nobody asked me to.

I had the good for­tune of receiv­ing an ear­ly invite to join Google’s vaunt­ed, Facebook-killing, world-saving, next-generation-social-network Google+. There’s a lot of shiny new­ness to be excit­ed about; Google seems to have brought a few new inter­est­ing ideas to the table vis-à-vis shar­ing and com­mu­ni­cat­ing. They also seem poised to intro­duce the mass­es to a few good ideas for pri­va­cy.

In terms of pri­va­cy options, Google+ lets you:

  1. …sep­a­rate your con­tacts into dis­tinct “friends,” “fam­i­ly,” etc. buck­ets
  2. …share con­tent pri­vate­ly with each of these groups
  3. …fil­ter your view when con­sum­ing con­tent post­ed by each of these groups
  4. …use this ‘extend­ed net­work’ con­cept to share beyond your direct con­tacts, but still less than the entire world

They’re also rather old ideas.

I joined Mul­ti­ply in late 2005 as a mar­ket­ing copywriter/company blog writer/customer ser­vice person/wearer-of-other-hats, and by that point, Mul­ti­ply had already fig­ured out a solu­tion to the prob­lem of shar­ing con­tent pri­vate­ly among all the groups of peo­ple you know. In fact, by then they had been at it for about two years. See the fea­tures list­ed above? They were all at the core of the prod­uct.

Not impressed? It’s impor­tant to remem­ber what the social net­work­ing land­scape looked like back then:

  • Peo­ple had already fig­ured out that Friend­ster was kind of garbage.
  • Peo­ple had­n’t yet fig­ured out that MySpace was com­plete garbage. It was huge­ly pop­u­lar by mid-2000s stan­dards, but many times small­er than the Face­book of today.
  • Face­book (okay, “thefacebook.com”) was open to users at a bunch of col­leges, but out­side of that, was­n’t real­ly a big deal.
  • Twit­ter (“twt­tr”) did­n’t exist.

Oh yeah, and here’s what pri­va­cy looked like:

  • Friend­ster: Who the fuck remem­bers?
  • MySpace: Gave you the option of mak­ing your pro­file entire­ly pub­lic to the world or entire­ly pri­vate to your con­tacts… all of your con­tacts.
  • Face­book: Your pro­file was avail­able to all of your con­tacts, and every­one else in your “net­work” (which at the time meant every­one who went to your col­lege). You could­n’t make any­thing pub­lic.
  • Seri­ous­ly, you guys… Twit­ter did­n’t exist.

Okay, so we’ve estab­lished that pri­va­cy was­n’t much of a con­sid­er­a­tion in ser­vices of the day. But maybe it is today…?

All the Google+ pri­va­cy fea­tures you love — here’s how Mul­ti­ply did ’em:

1. …sep­a­rate your con­tacts into dis­tinct “friends,” “fam­i­ly,” etc. buck­ets

Google+ today gives you the option of putting your friends and fam­i­ly into neat lit­tle buck­ets (they call them “cir­cles”). Mul­ti­ply made you do it. When adding a new con­tact or invit­ing some­one to join you on Mul­ti­ply, you’d have to pick a “real world” rela­tion­ship type. There were dozens to choose from (friend, cousin, neigh­bor, boyfriend, work super­vi­sor, etc.). There was also “online bud­dy,” which was for con­nec­tions to peo­ple you did­n’t know very well. Online bud­dies would be kept slight­ly at a dis­tance, kind of like “acquain­tances” on Google+.

2. …allows you to share con­tent pri­vate­ly with each of these groups

Hav­ing these rela­tion­ship types on record let you share every­thing in friend/family/professional buck­ets like Google+ does now with cir­cles (oh, but minus the pro­fes­sion­als). You could share pri­vate­ly with one or more of these groups, giv­ing you essen­tial­ly dif­fer­ent net­works under a sin­gle account. It bog­gles my mind that even today, some peo­ple have mul­ti­ple Face­book accounts just for the sake of keep­ing their worlds sep­a­rate.

3. …fil­ters your view of con­tent post­ed by these dif­fer­ent groups

You’d most­ly be con­sum­ing con­tent on Mul­ti­ply through a tool that went through a few names (“Mes­sage Board,” “Explore Page”) but ulti­mate­ly became known — some­what unfor­tu­nate­ly — as the “Inbox.” What was this like? Think of the Face­book “News Feed,” only a few times bet­ter… and a few years ear­li­er. On Mul­ti­ply you could use the Inbox to view the lat­est posts and con­tent from your con­tacts. On MySpace and Face­book, you’d be bounc­ing from pro­file to pro­file to see what was new with your friends — great for page view met­rics, crap­py for user expe­ri­ence. :-) The Inbox also let you eas­i­ly fil­ter your view to include con­tent and updates from many of your con­tacts’ con­tacts, and option­al­ly (and to a less­er degree), your con­tacts’ con­tacts’ con­tacts. How far ‘out’ into your net­work you could see depend­ed on the rela­tion­ship types you and your con­tacts had cho­sen.

4. …use this ‘extend­ed net­work’ con­cept to share beyond your direct con­tacts, but still less than the entire world

With this infor­ma­tion, Mul­ti­ply would pro­vide con­text when explor­ing your net­work. Enforced rela­tion­ship types made it clear to your con­tacts just who the oth­er peo­ple you knew were, which pro­vid­ed extra con­text for social inter­ac­tions on Mul­ti­ply. Would­n’t it be nice if when you’re about to meet a new per­son in real life, some­one would tap you on the shoul­der and whis­per in your ear “that’s Alice, your friend Bob’s sis­ter.” You’re damned right it would. You’d see this infor­ma­tion all over Mul­ti­ply, whether con­sum­ing extend­ed net­work posts in your Inbox or read­ing the com­ments on a friend’s post. Google+ can’t do this, because it does­n’t know who these peo­ple are, and Friend/Family/Acquaintances/Following is some­thing Google+ con­sid­ers a pri­vate dis­tinc­tion… which on the oth­er hand makes some sense, due to some com­plex­i­ties of inter­per­son­al rela­tion­ships.

My point is…

But when you hear some­one ask why it took until 2011 to devel­op a sys­tem that allows you to share in a some­what sane sense, kind­ly enlight­en them. I was there, I heard the world cry out for a bet­ter mouse­trap, and I watched the world not beat a path to Mul­ti­ply’s door. If there were a prize for being first, it’d be a plastic-gold turd tro­phy inscribed “LOL.”

I’m not say­ing that every­one should go join Mul­ti­ply. Odds are, nobody you know uses it any­way.

So, con­grats on the splashy beta, Google, but remem­ber: peo­ple say they want pri­va­cy, but just want to be where their friends are. Good luck com­bin­ing the two.

goatse mobile

I had a strange moment of serendip­i­ty ear­li­er this evening.

I was read­ing some RSS feeds and I saw there was a new post to the Flickr tag “first­goatse.” (If the term goatse is new to you, I’m not sure what to say except: don’t blame me when you look it up… now. The above link is safe to view, by the way.)

I felt like I had­n’t seen a ‘first­goatse’ in a while, so I checked it out. The pho­to itself was unre­mark­able, but I was view­ing it on my Nexus S phone and hap­pened to glance away from the screen, at the phone itself. Some­thing clicked in my head, and I thought of a way to breathe new life into the age-old pas­time of show­ing your friends dis­gust­ing images and cap­tur­ing their hor­ri­fied reac­tion for shar­ing on the Inter­net.

HOLY SHIT YOU GUYS WE ALL HAVE SMARTPHONES WITH FRONT-FACING CAMERAS!! (It must be the future!) These tiny pock­et devices are cor­nu­copias of giv­ing: lulz for us, lulz for the Inter­net, and hor­rif­ic, can-ever-forget mem­o­ries for our friends!

Basi­cal­ly, what the best app ever would do is dis­play a hor­rif­ic image of your choice… self-supplied of course, in case your poi­son is more tub­girl, or what­ev­er kids these days show oth­er kids these days. It would also cap­ture the reac­tion of the per­son hold­ing the phone via the front-facing cam­era, at the very moment of expo­sure.

A series of pho­tos lead­ing up to the moment would work nice­ly too. Heck, what about cap­tur­ing a video of the entire reac­tion? For all I know, kids these days are show­ing each oth­er the video equiv­a­lent of that guy bend­ing over and… ugh. For bonus points, it might even com­bine the orig­i­nal and reac­tion videos into one, side-by-side, not that any­one would want to ever view that.

I’m ready to believe that a mobile app like this already exists. It clear­ly, how­ev­er, can’t exist for iPhone, because Apple does­n’t allow that brand of awe­some, and I can’t be both­ered to check the Android Mar­ket (aside from, okay, my quick search for “goatse,” which turned up noth­ing), but this is clear­ly the kind of app that the wold today could use.

Well, there’s a Mac app, but who can fit that in their pock­et?

Hey world — some­body make this!

IT work for no fun and no profit

Hey non-heartless geeks, how do you avoid becom­ing some ran­dom per­son­’s com­put­er guy1?

I was just blind­sided by my friend’s aunt and before I knew it, I was show­ing her how to use her lap­top’s right-click but­ton to delete unwant­ed desk­top short­cuts in Win­dows XP. Then, she want­ed to know how to delete a book­mark from her Inter­net Explor­er bar.

She scared me on the last one, though; through her bro­ken Eng­lish, she seemed to be describ­ing an unwant­ed brows­er tool­bar, and warn­ing sirens went off in my head as I start­ed think­ing I was going to be asked to remove one of those. Then, as she cursed Inter­net Explor­er while it took near­ly a full minute to load, I had to fight the urge to make a quick exit through the win­dow — closed and locked, of course — before I could be asked about remov­ing spy­ware or defrag­ment­ing. I almost sug­gest­ed she just buy a whole new com­put­er, before real­iz­ing that I could just as eas­i­ly be con­script­ed into help­ing with that.

Ugh. It turned out to be sim­ple stuff in the end… but this is how it always starts.

Before I know it, I’m going to be fix­ing her router, before trou­bleshoot­ing her DSL prob­lems, before being roped into advis­ing her on which of the pro­grams that she installed on her com­put­er she no longer needs and can be removed to free up space on her hard dri­ve.2

Proof that there is no god: I look the part.
This is bug #2. Let’s fix this.

  1. Did that term sound sex­ist? I meant only to refer to Nick Burns, my tech sup­port hero.
  2. This is actu­al­ly a true sto­ry.

QR Codes: great, but then what?

I keep a long and ever-growing out­line of blog top­ics I may some­day write about. Most aren’t ful­ly formed, but each at least once struck me as inter­est­ing at some point or anoth­er, so I fig­ured they’re worth keep­ing around.1 (See one real exam­ple to right.)

  • <3 qr-codes
    • bridges the phys­i­cal and the cyber
    • low-tech, lowest-common denom­i­na­tor
    • cam­er­a­phones in every pock­et
    • makes a lot more sense than com­pet­ing tech­nolo­gies, like that microsoft one with the dif­fer­ent col­ors that requires col­or print­ing, etc. this one I could, if so inclined, draw with a pen­cil
    • sad­ly, most of what I use this tech­nol­ogy for is curi­ous­ly decod­ing bar­codes I come across on the web

I add top­ics to my list pret­ty reg­u­lar­ly, but what does­n’t hap­pen very reg­u­lar­ly is some­one read­ing my mind and writ­ing my post for me. Okay, it’s only hap­pened once: about a week ago, and it was geek­ing out on QR Codes.

I’m a bit behind on my RSS read­ing, but when I just came across this boing­bo­ing post, I was quite pleased. In it, guest blog­ger Glenn Fleish­man pret­ty much lays out the case for 2D bar­codes — QR being the most pop­u­lar, good/open-enough for­mat — as a use­ful sort of link between the phys­i­cal world and the dig­i­tal one. It’s an idea I hap­pen to have loved for a few years now, and with Internet-enabled cam­er­a­phones all over the place, one that has the poten­tial2 to cre­ate some ben­e­fit to soci­ety on a large scale.

It should come as lit­tle sur­prise, then, that for as long as I’ve been aware of these codes, I’ve longed to find a use for the tech­nol­o­gy aside from the mun­dane let peo­ple scan your ad to go to your web­site, or send a URL from your com­put­er to your phone. A hand­ful of boing­bo­ing com­menters point­ed out a few real-world exam­ples of ways they have used QR codes: label­ing shared lab equip­ment or get­ting on the VIP list at Tokyo clubs. Inter­est­ing they are; world-changing they’re not.

Of course, there’s also the idea of pro­vid­ing rich­er infor­ma­tion about wine than a sim­ple bot­tle label could dis­play, which I find a step above the oth­ers, and giv­ing extra con­text to muse­um art, which I think gets us even clos­er.

Yet I still think QR Codes have even greater poten­tial… but poten­tial isn’t even half the bat­tle.

  1. Yes, they’re basi­cal­ly brain crack.
  2. Nat­u­ral­ly, the bar­ri­er to adop­tion is con­vinc­ing the aver­age per­son to both­er solv­ing for them­selves a prob­lem — easy URL/text/contact entry on their phone — they did­n’t real­ize they had.