Tag Archives: europe

Core Intuition 248

This week on Core Intuition, Daniel and I talked about recent Apple news:

Daniel and Manton react to the European Union’s €13B retroactive tax demand to Apple, talk about the impact of tax laws on indies and small companies, and weigh in on Apple’s purported AI and machine learning triumphs. Finally they catch up on their ambitions to be more productive as the busy summer transitions to fall.

I wondered whether Apple is so obsessed with privacy that they are blinded to what is possible with more computation and extensibility in the cloud. I judge their efforts not only by the remarkable work the Siri team has done, and by what Google and Amazon are building, but also by Apple’s own gold standard: the Knowledge Navigator video from 1987. That vision is too ambitious for one company to develop all the pieces for. We eventually need a more open Siri platform to get us there.

A diverse community through writing

I read a lot of weblogs. RSS is a great way to keep up with sites that update infrequently, or that aren’t popular enough to bubble up on Twitter with dozens of retweets. But the Mac and iOS community has grown so much over the years. I know there are many new writers who haven’t been on my radar yet.

Brent Simmons has posted a great list of tech blogs by women that I’m going through now. There should be something there for anyone interested in development or design:

“I made a list of some blogs I already knew about, and then I asked my friends for more, and they totally came through.”

The list grew to include over 50 blogs as suggestions arrived to Brent via Twitter. I’ve already subscribed to a bunch and look forward to discovering even more.

One of my favorite new blogs is the travel blog complement to Natasha The Robot, which made Brent’s list. Natasha was recently hired at Basecamp, runs the This Week in Swift newsletter, and writes on her new blog about working remotely. From a post about taking her laptop to restaurants in Europe:

“The nice thing about this is that I get a really cool and inspiring office for a few hours – each cafe or restaurant has it’s own vibe, people, music and I don’t feel rushed internally knowing that I need to go back to my apartment or coworking space to actually work.”

When I quit my day job this year, it was partly so we could travel more without worrying too much about my work schedule, outside of when the kids are in school. In fact, just days after I finished writing my two weeks notice blog posts, we went to Europe and started a private family blog about the trip. So I’ve been inspired by Natasha’s blog as she shares her experience working in different cities.

And that’s a theme you’ll find in many of the developer-oriented blogs on Brent’s list. Wanting to get better, learning something new, and then sharing it with everyone else. Take this advice from Becky Hansmeyer, who wrote a daily series of posts about what she learned building her iPhone app, one post each day while she waited for her app to be approved by Apple. From day 4, on design and color:

“I think the biggest thing I learned in choosing colors and fonts for my app is not to get too hung up in making comparisons to other apps. I spent a lot of time looking at my favorite apps like Overcast and Tweetbot and thinking about the decisions the developers made, and as a result I wound up feeling like I had to make those same decisions. But that was stupid because my app is my own and is also designed for a much smaller market.”

Or this quote from Kristina Thai, who wrote a post about preparing to give a talk for the first time:

“My presentation didn’t flow, it was jagged and very rough around the edges, but I kept at it, made some changes and it got better. And better. And even better. And then I practiced it in front of a couple of friends who gave me even more feedback until I was ready.”

Kristina also gave a talk called Become a Better Engineer Through Writing. You can get a sense of the talk by downloading the slides. It covers the value to programmers in keeping a private journal, why you might write tutorials for your site, and makes a strong case for blogging.

Blogging isn’t difficult, but it’s still not yet as easy as tweeting. By creating a blog, you’re making a statement that you care about something. As I go through Brent’s list of bloggers, that’s what I’m looking for: what does the author care about, and what can I learn from or be inspired by in their writing? Because the more diverse our RSS subscriptions are — the more varied the opinions in what we read and share with others — the closer it gets us to a strong, healthy community.


Nothing lasts on the internet. I could write on my weblog for years and the next day get hit by a bus. The domain expires, the posts are lost, and it doesn’t matter if I had 10 readers or 10,000; it’s as if it never happened.

I love real books. I keep flirting with attempts to catalog our bookshelves over the years. My daughter offered to help once, excited through the first hundred books before she realized the rest would take all day and lost interest.

Some people say “good riddance” to the cheap printed book, but I don’t agree. Recently in our house I found a paperback of an old favorite, Tigana, which I had bought while traveling in Europe. Inside the cover I had written “Oxford, 1999”. I flipped through the pages and out fell a wine label that I hadn’t seen in 13 years. It was from a bottle of wine my wife and I had in Greece, sitting on the sand of an island beach the night I proposed.

I had kept it back then because I knew years later it would matter — a memory fused into a piece of paper, waiting. That trip was a story told in events like that one, in personal journals, and through email to family. The digital parts of the story didn’t last; the email is gone.

Write on Twitter and it vanishes from the internet after 3200 more such posts, unlinked and unfindable. But write the same on a scrap of paper tucked into a book and it will be rediscovered again years later.

A self-published novel in PDF on your web site is a ticking time bomb, waiting for your hosting bill to go unpaid. But print 10 copies and give it to 10 friends and it lasts forever.

The only way to preserve something is to make multiple copies and distribute them. The problem with digital is that it makes it just as easy to accidentally delete or lose copies as it is to create them. Evolving file formats and storage devices require constant supervision and maintenance, pushing files up each technology bump from floppies to CDs to Zip disks to DVDs to hard drives. It never ends.

We need to solve this. It’s something Dave Winer has written about. It’s something anyone with a large collection of writing online probably thinks about. How do we preserve the culture and art and stories of our time when the preferred media is so fragile?


A great name to go along with “a big idea from Mike Lee”:http://mur.mu.rs/?p=1:

“If you’ve been to a conference, you’ve probably thought, as I have, how nice it would be if everyday life could be like that—being surrounded by peers, able to get help solving a hard problem, then get accolades for doing so. There is a gestalt to sitting face to face with a group you just don’t get over the wire. With Appsterdam, our community is not just a nice idea, but a nice place.”

I would love to visit Europe again. It’s been too long.

Honeymoon world tour

“Via Daring Fireball”:http://daringfireball.net/linked/2010/09/12/lanyrd, I’m loving “this blog and idea”:http://sparkabout.net/ from newlyweds Simon Willison and Natalie Downe, who are traveling the world on a working honeymoon:

“We’ve been in Morocco now for just over a month. We launched Lanyrd from a rented apartment in Casablanca, and we’re writing this update from a Riad in Marrakech. So far, travelling and working on a startup have complemented each other surprisingly well.”

In 1999, Traci and I took a similar but shorter 2-month vacation to Europe where we both worked remotely. This was before wi-fi, so much of the destination planning centered around pay-by-the-hour internet cafes or reliable hotel phone lines for dial-up. Lots of backpacking, cheap rooms, and trains and boats between 6 countries. We were constantly broke and our accommodations varied between the crummy (freezing showers at a hostel) to the beautiful (freezing showers with a Mediterranean view), but those were easily some of the best weeks of my life. At the end of the trip we got engaged and came back to America to get married and have kids and never leave our neighborhood again.

Someday we’ll go back.

MacBook Air and Europe trip

The MacBook Air is the first Apple product to come along in years that I don’t want to buy. It looks great, the multi-touch trackpad is cool and unexpected, and I like Remote Disk. But it’s just not significantly different than a MacBook to me, and I don’t travel enough to make the thinness or weight really matter. To “upgrade” from a regular MacBook to an Air just seems wasteful.

The “new Apple” has been doing a great job of eliminating duplicates in their product line (only one tower, only one of each size of iPod). If the Air had an 11-inch or 12-inch screen it would be a much easier sell because it becomes clear why the product exists: buy this if you want something small.

For two months in 1999, my wife and I travelled through Europe with only a backpack each and a PowerBook 520c to share between us. That machine was very small (just a 9.5-inch screen), yet she did contract work for Apple on it and I coded and released new versions of Mac software, dialed up to the net via modem from hotel rooms and hostels in the days before wi-fi. It was much heavier than an Air but for traveling light it was still a great choice.

It feels like Apple missed an opportunity at Macworld yesterday. I’m not particularly disappointed, though, since I wasn’t one of those hoping for a sub-notebook.

Foreign sales market

From time to time on the “MacSB list”:http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/macsb people ask about the value of localization and what percentage of sales come from foreign customers. Since day 1 of “Wii Transfer”:http://www.riverfold.com/ I’ve always been surprised at how many sales are from Europe. At times it felt as if over half of sales were outside the United States, so I finally ran the numbers to know for sure.

My homegrown customer database doesn’t actually include the physical address, so I grabbed the last 500 sales from PayPal and wrote a quick script to group the countries. Here’s the chart:

Wii Transfer countries chart

The United States represents just over half. If you add up the other English-speaking countries, it hits 70%. Still, this is a purely English-only piece of software. I’ve resisted the push to localize until I feel the codebase is better prepared for it, and the UI more stable.

At “VitalSource”:http://www.vitalsource.com/ last year I wrote a custom Rails web app to manage localization resources for both the Mac and Windows products and deal with the outsource translators, and the takeaway from that experience was definitely to go slowly. It’s easy to end up with a foreign language version that makes compromises and is potentially less useful to customers than the English version. Depending on the size of the product, localization could take weeks or months, time that might be better spent adding features.

Back to the real stats. Why are the foreign numbers so high? I think the weak dollar combined with an already relatively inexpensive price makes Wii Transfer even more of an impulse buy in Europe.

Yahoo Mail reset

I have used Yahoo for almost a decade. It wasn’t long ago that I pointed to Yahoo and Google as great successes — sites based on the idea that a simple, functional interface is what users want rather than some fancy Flash application or graphics-heavy site.

But as of today I will avoid yahoo.com like the plague.

Late yesterday I logged into Yahoo Mail and almost dropped to the floor in shock. Instead of seeing my email, a message stared back at me stating that I had not logged in for at least 4 months. My account was disabled and all my mail was deleted! Unbelievable. I regularly log into other sections of Yahoo (the calendar, for example), and it never occurred to me that they would pull something like this on their customers.

Reading over the Terms of Service, all I could find was a vague statement that Yahoo “reserves the right to log off accounts that are inactive for an extended period of time.” First of all, my account was not inactive, since I regularly log in with my Yahoo ID and do other non-email things, and secondly, I hardly consider 4 months an “extended” period of time. I usually use Yahoo Mail when out of town, so it might be months between trips without my PowerBook.

So why do I care? While traveling in Europe a few years ago, I used Yahoo Mail frequently, at Internet cafes, hotels, and hostels. Much of my communication with people back home went through Yahoo’s servers. It’s all gone now.

(Yes, I should have gotten the important stuff off of Yahoo Mail before now, but they don’t make that easy.)

In the unlikely event that someone working at Yahoo is reading this, hook me up with someone in the data center that can pull backups for me. I need that email back!