Monthly Archives: April 2011

The inevitable arc of any ‘controversial’ tech story

By now, you’ve heard about the fact that your iPhone has been caching its location data file for months, leaving a nifty but, for some, troubling series of virtual breadcrumbs showing the phone’s movement over time.

I tend to agree with Gruber and other cooler heads that this is half-intentional, half-mistake. The intentional point is the short-term caching of location data to serve apps that use it. The mistake is in not flushing the data after it’s been used. Apparently, this is the way Android handles similar location information.

My guess: watch for an update real soon now.

Until then, marvel at the way these kinds of stories almost always play out:

  • The original story is reported, in this case with nuance and a downloadable app to pull your own data and display it.
  • Blogs pick it up and spin accordingly. Many Apple-centric sites report it with some perspective. Others freak out.
  • A midwestern former-comedian-turned-senator demands answers.
  • A subsequent post points out that answers to the senator’s questions already exist.
  • Local television news joins the freakout. “YOUR PHONE IS SPYING ON YOU! DETAILS AT 11.”

What’s next? I don’t watch it, but I imagine that The Today Show will devote a sizable chunk of the show to it this morning. NPR will wring its hands. Consumer Reports will be sure to issue a news release saying that they still don’t recommend the iPhone. And Steve Ballmer will tell some interviewer willing to listen that he knew all along that “the iPhone is a flawed approach to smartphones.”

Okay. Now I’m exaggerating. But the point stands.

It’s a story. No question. And there are legitimate inquiries to be made about why Apple doesn’t flush out the data more frequently (or at all) and what, exactly, it’s being used for (there are many plausible guesses that are quite benign, but, so far, Apple hasn’t spoken up and cleared the air).

But by the time it gets to the ears of the general public, it’s become something much larger and, honestly, much more alarming and inaccurate.

Dear Amazon: Love the “Lending Library.” Now let me give my e-books to the local library.

One of the many bookcases at Baltimore's Book Thing, a free book exchange. Photo by Knile, cc at flickr.

Amazon announced today that, later this year, 11,000 libraries across the United States will be participating in the Kindle Lending Library, which will allow library patrons to borrow Kindle books.

Great idea, and long overdue.

But I want more. Or, if we’re getting technical about it, less.

I want to be able to donate my “used” Kindle editions to my local library. I’ve read most of them exactly one time. My wife and daughter could technically read them as well, using my login, but that’s as far as it goes.

With physical books, it’s simpler. Several times a year, I fill up the trunk of the Element with anything I’ve already read and won’t be holding onto for reference and take them to Baltimore’s Book Thing, an amazing and free book exchange where a sign near the exit encourages visitors to “Be Greedy” with their armloads of books.

And, yet, somehow the shelves are never empty. Because there’s an ongoing inbound supply of books.

Why not transition this model to e-books as well? I should be able to transfer my license to a public library. Why not? I give my paper books away all the time.

Now that’s how to help a new user

A quick work-related link this morning.

The new Patch iPhone app was released on iTunes this morning. I think there’s a lot to like there — especially if you’re in one of the 800+ (and growing) towns with its own Patch.

One well-designed small feature struck me immediately after I’d loaded the app: The simple help overlay that appeared on first launch. At a glance, if I had any question about how to use the app, it was answered visually and easily.

Nice touch.


This is a link to the most useful post I’ve read in ages.

Ostensibly, it’s about how Mark Wahlberg “cut some corners” to make his magnificent “The Fighter” movie. But it’s really about how to focus on what you’re trying to accomplish, and whether the methods to get there you’ve been told are the right ones really are the right ones.

It ties in with another great question to ask: What problem are you solving? The goal was to make the fights seem real. Not to make them look good. To seem real. Focusing on that changes the requirements.

And that leads to another good question you should always come back to: Is there an easier way? The HBO fight crew is made up of experts at filming fights. They don’t need to be taught how to make it look real. They’re used to capturing a fight in one take — and that’s without knowing what will happen beforehand. Shooting this way is a piece of cake for them.

And maybe the most important question: What’s the opportunity cost? The whole film had a shooting calendar of 33 days. Filming it the HBO way means the movie gets made. A longer, pricier approach might have doomed the film and prevented it from ever being shot in the first place.

Most of us aren’t filming fight scenes. But the way Wahlberg and his team challenged assumptions and questioned traditional “best practices” is something that can be applied to all kinds of arenas, not just boxing ones.