Free Kindles for All! You Heard it Here Second...Or Third

John Gruber links to this post, in which Kevin Kelly speculates about the Kindle's steady price decline:
Since then I've mentioned this forecast to all kinds of folks. In August, 2010 I had the chance to point it out to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. He merely smiled and said, "Oh, you noticed that!" And then smiled again.
This fits well with the theory that Amazon isn't in the e-reader business to profit on hardware. They're in it to marry people to Amazon.com. Profit margins on hardware rarely match the margins on software, and e-books are much more like software than they are like hardware (hardback/paperbacks in this case).

This also puts an interesting twist on a comment I heard Steve Jobs make on Charlie Rose years ago. When asked about whether Apple would move into the e-book business, Jobs answered that the entire publishing industry is flawed from the top because people don't read (or buy books) nearly as much as they listen to (and buy) music. His speculation was that there wouldn't be enough volume in the business to make it worth pursuing.

Turtle Calls

If you'd told me last Friday that I was going to spend more than three minutes of my weekend listening to a man call strangers while pretending to be a turtle, I'd have said you're insane.  Now, it appears that I'm the crazy one.

From the website:

"I am the first and best company for your turtlecall needs - the copycats may be cheaper but they barely even sound like real turtles."

Indeed!

One Less Problem to Solve this Week

Nets Katz is smarter than you, and he knows it.  (photo: IU)
Let's start off our week feeling stupid together, shall we?

IU mathematician credited with solving one of combinatorial geometry's most challenging problems

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A mathematician in the Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences is being credited with resolving a 65-year-old problem in combinatorial geometry that sought to determine the minimum number of distinct distances between any finite set of points in a plane.
I know that math is hard, but the idea that any person or group of people would hammer away on a single problem for 65 years is staggering.  How do you show your work for that?  Or does the professor just accept your final answer since you're the first one ever to get it right?
The work by IU Department of Mathematics Professor Nets Hawk Katz, with Larry Guth of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., achieved what many thought was unachievable: Solving Paul Erdös' 1946 Distinct Distances Problem.
First things first:  if "Nets Hawk Katz" isn't the most bad-ass name in mathematical history, I'd like to see what is.  And if there's ever a real-world use for "combinatorial geometry" maybe it's to create a machine that spits out names like Nets's.
"If someone hands you some distinct set of points, you can figure out what is the set of differences. The problem is to determine what the minimum possible set of distances is," Katz said. "What we did is to show that no matter how you place the N points, the number of distances is at least a constant times N/log N."
No, Nets, if someone hands you some distinct set of points, you can figure all that out.  If someone hands it to me, the last thing I'm going to do is divide it by the log of itself.  And you should know that, because it took you all this time to think of it.  What chance do I have?  And what is this "N" anyway?

The Friday Shirk Retort

Every Friday, Twisted Sifter provides 20 links to funny things.  I will try to condense it to 10 or so links each week...

Poor garbage placement

Dude scares ducks. Hilarity ensues (now playing to your right)

You like stairs? I got some stairs for ya

Whoever folded these shirts deserves a raise or some more Ritalin

An entertaining office message board battle

This dude takes pictures of shelves then puts the images into a frame back on the same shelf. then takes another pic and puts it into a frame…

Incentives Matter

First of all, here's how to cook a perfect poached egg.  Now you know.

Second, isn't there something a little strange about the sales pitch at the end of the abovelinked page?
Introducing the latest from Dalton-Ruhlman tools. The spoon, about 13 inches long and 2.5 inches wide, is $27—we're trying to keep costs as low as possible but we have very little capital and so can only produce in small numbers; I apologize. The spoon is really solid, will last forever, and there's nothing like it out there that we could find. If we can get some volume going, prices will go down!
That last sentence is a really odd vortex of self-defeating self-referentiality, no? It seems to be saying "we know it's expensive now, but by paying more for it, you will help ensure that future purchasers pay less!" It's one thing to appeal to someone's vanity and promise that they'll be on the cutting edge of perforated spoon technology, or tell them "you'll look back on your purchase with a smug sense of pride, knowing that you had it first, and you effectively subsidized subsequent shoppers" but the author doesn't seem to be saying any of this. Rather, he seems to be hoping you won't see the tragic flaw in his logic.

Time Well-Wasted

"The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time."

-Bertrand Russell

Chipotle

I love everything about Chipotle.  Their food, of course.  Their stores, their philosophy, their history, etc.  They just seem to get everything right.

For example, this sort of thing strikes me as the future of advertising.  Click a link, watch a video, get a printable coupon.

Pros:

Viral - such a simple concept, so easy to share, so easy to participate.

Unintrusive - you get the link from a friend via e-mail, or see that they liked it on Facebook, and you either click it or you don't.  No lost time for you, no disruptions.

Informative - you are forced to watch a very straight-forward video promoting a new TV show.  Or read something in another window while the video plays on mute.  Your choice.

Persistent - you were interested enough to click a link, you probably watched a video, you printed - and retrieved from your printer - a coupon (which itself has ad copy all over it), you will keep track of that piece of paper and probably re-read it a few times between now and the time you redeem it.  Bonus points if the whole thing actually gets you into a Chipotle or gets you to watch the TV show.  For the near future, either one will remind you of the other.

Cheap! - Chipotle is still probably net positive on every transaction that these coupons create.  The only scenario I can see where they lose something is where someone orders two of their lowest-margin burritos and two cups of water and uses a lot of lemons and Cholula sauce.  Like, a whole bottle.

Measurable - the nature of the campaign means they can track everything, even (I assume) your particular order and tie it back to your Facebook profile when they enter the (I assume) unique claim code on your coupon at the POS.

Cons:

[I fail to see any.  But maybe I'm missing something.]

Joan Jett of Arc

I've been listening to Clem Snide the past few days in the car.  This morning, Joan Jett of Arc came on.

I've never understood this song, but it's always filled me with an inexplicable, sentimental longing for something.  Never anything in particular, usually some vague sense of a lost time and place that I'd love to get back to.

The delivery of this particular lyric (2:50 below, but don't just skip ahead or you'll ruin the mood) is always the most strangely evocative to me.  Is there a word for something that's both lugubrious and hopeful?  That's the word I need here.
And the train tracks
Like stitches skidding bicycle tires


Eef, if you happen to have a Google Alert set up for "Clem Snide" (who doesn't?), and you find yourself reading this, I'd love to know what you had in mind when you wrote this.  My e-mail address is over there on the right.

Major in the Universe

Pitch-perfect, and it's worth clicking the link to read the hover-over text.

On Making People to Do Things

A recent story at Engadget reminds me of an older one at the NYTimes.  First, the news:

The five-person SF Bay Area startup has embedded custom 915MHz radios and MEMS accelerometers in a variety of tiny transmitters which you can mount to household objects -- like a water bottle, bicycle, or the toothbrush above -- which report back to the receiver with your actions and thereby increase your score. Brush your teeth on time, take your vitamins, or exercise repeatedly within a couple hundred feet of the receiver, and you'll eventually level up. 
I like it.  As this NYTimes article from last year makes plain, it is almost impossible to get people to do things you want them to do for the sake of their health, unless they have a really good reason to do it. In short, the article is about an experimental program wherein people can win money for taking their medicine. The three most powerful paragraphs, in my opinion, are these:

Your Move, South Dakota

I knew it couldn't be long before Texas fought back against South Dakota's efforts to steal the Lone Star State's second amendment superiority.

Texas Poised to Pass Bill Allowing Guns on Campus
More than half the members of the Texas House have signed on as co-authors of a measure directing universities to allow concealed handguns. The Senate passed a similar bill in 2009 and is expected to do so again. Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who sometimes packs a pistol when he jogs [emphasis mine], has said he's in favor of the idea.
The article highlights an idea that seems right to me, but maybe this only reveals my bias:

Inferring the News

Here is today's roundup of the News According to Google Trends:

1.  I had to Google this myself, but apparently he's one of those guys who's so good at playing a sport (in this case, basketball), that people will pay him to do it.  And now, evidently, the people of Cleveland, OH, will pay to watch him do it.

2.  Why today?  I'd think people are always interested in unclaimed funds.

3-4.  A cricket match probably.  Does this side-by-side comparison reveal that South Africans prefer abbreviations?

5.  Fascinating.  A Google search reveals that "Corrlinks is a great service to use to communicate with friends and family that have unfortunately been incarcerated in prison..."  No word on whether there's a great service for communicating with the fortunately incarcerated.  You know, like convicted criminals.

6.  A Spring sale on waxing services somewhere?

7.  American Idol is still on the air, apparently.

8.  Snow delays?

9.  I found this linked headline reassuring, since I was asking the same question:  "Watch Jessica Lucas First Talk Show Interview on George Lopez: Who is She?"

10.  If I'd stayed up to watch Modern Family last night, I guess I'd understand.

On Whiskey

"Don’t you drink? I notice you speak slightingly of the bottle. I have drunk since I was fifteen and few things have given me more pleasure. When you work hard all day with your head and know you must work again the next day what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whisky?"

- Ernest Hemingway

Baseball

Before I die, I just might come to enjoy this sport despite what happens on the field for nine boring innings at a time.


“It’s like I’m the valet,” said Ron Guidry, known around the Yankees as Gator for his Louisiana roots. “Actually, I am the valet.” 
When Berra arrived on Tuesday afternoon from New Jersey for his three-to four-week stay, Guidry, as always, was waiting for him at Tampa International Airport. Since Berra forgave George Steinbrenner in 1999 for firing him as the manager in 1985 through a subordinate and ended a 14-year boycott of the team, Guidry has been his faithful friend and loyal shepherd. 
Guidry had a custom-made cap to certify his proud standing. The inscription reads, “Driving Mr. Yogi.”

Who Rules New Haven?

Speaking of fashion, this comes from an e-mail I recently received, advertising GANT's Spring/Summer 2011 collection:
GANT Spring/Summer 2011, dubbed “The Gangs of New Haven” was inspired by the Connecticut town’s unusual mix of gritty industry and ivy-covered cloisters. Says designer Christopher Bastin,”I imagined a clandestine gang of guys, enforcing the rules of proper style, helping virgins in despair and all that. Tough guys who like a good OCBD (oxford cloth button-down.)” We’re intimidated.
Judging from this video, though, the target audience is more likely to be the ivy-covered cloister-dwellers than the industrious folks who prune said ivy or mop the floors of said cloisters.

Pray for Mojo

There's nothing funny about this article, but I just can't read the words "helper monkey" without thinking of this scene from The Simpsons:





From the article:
But then his sister was invited to a school assembly and the topic? Helping Hands Helper Monkeys. The organization helps people with spinal cord injuries by giving them monkey [sic] to help with everyday tasks.

Sartoreality vs. the Sartorially Unreal

"I went looking for soul... And I bought some style"
- Bono

My knowledge of fashion, and my efforts to look decent, begin and end with this:  Fit is Everything.  I'm colorblind, so I don't venture out into many different palettes, and I prize comfort and simplicity over almost everything else, so my wardrobe is built around five or six very basic components that can safely be mixed and matched in almost any combination.

When Johnny Depp swaggers out onto Letterman's stage, pausing mid-way so everyone can soak him in, all I can think is "who has that kind of time?"  And Depp is an extremely cool guy by any possible measure.  He wears his look well.  But really: the layers, the scarf(s), the conspicuous and complicated wristwatch, the chain swinging from his hip to his back pocket...the boots, the hat.  It's all just so much.

All of the above notwithstanding, I check in on The Sartorialist periodically, just to see what I'm missing.  Usually, my basic assumptions are confirmed:  High Fashion is Weird.  I mean, really:

This is his collection of "the best of" Marc Jacobs' recent show.

And even the stuff that isn't completely bizarre is still daft.

Now, lest you think this whole post has been an utter waste of your precious time, I will get to my point.  I found the following movie trailer surprisingly intriguing, and I will probably add it to my queue.

An Open Letter to Tyler Cowen

Dr. Cowen,

I'm quite certain that "someone is making fun of me on the internet" is among the very last thoughts that would ever cross your mind, but you seem to read everything that gets written (or, at least enough to know it's not worth reading further), so I figure there's a non-zero chance that you stumble across my blog eventually.

Before you do so, and take offense, I wanted to set the record straight: "Grandiloquent Bloviator" is a sarcastic reference only to my own writing style and a tacit acknowledgement that everything I blog about is almost completely superfluous. Likewise, the sub-head "Like Tyler Cowen for the C-students" is intended not as a jab at you or an implication that you bloviate grandiloquently. Just the opposite: it's an admission that my (2.76 GPA) mind can only dream of understanding the things you do, yet I find that I'm drawn to the same ideas and am fascinated by the subjects that you blog about.

I'm glad to have that off my chest. And for the record, I'm blogging here:

All the best,


-Trey

New iPhone

Did I scoop The New York Times last week?

Was I one of the people "briefed on Apple’s plans who requested anonymity because the plans are confidential"?  I'm not at liberty to say.

Maybe now John Gruber will start listening to me!

First World Problems

"I wish I weren't so full, because that looks delicious."

- a friend, who will remain nameless, circa 2010

Pennant

John Gruber links to a fascinating new app for iPads:  Pennant contains historical data on every MLB game played by every team from 1952 to 2010.  Since I actively avoid opportunities to watch or think about baseball, this was of little interest to me at first; but the innovative and beautiful data presentation makes it almost worth $5 to me.  Almost.

Given that AK's position vis-à-vis baseball is precisely the opposite of mine, and her love of data visualization is even more intense, I wouldn't be shocked if she buys an iPad just to have this app.

The Beatles

New documentary, coming soon from the year 3126:

The Best Way to Cool your Coffee

Now you know.  Bottom line: stirring with a spoon is best, unless you have a cup and saucer, in which case:
If you want an even faster way to cool a cup of coffee, here's a tip from my Granddad Parker: forget the spoon and saucer your coffee. In other words, pour the top part of it from the cup into a saucer, and then back again a few times. The large and constantly changing surface area during this process will cause extremely rapid evaporation of those high-energy outliers, much faster than stirring. Saucering was very common up through the Great Depression, which is one of the reasons older coffee sets always included saucers. You also get deep-ish saucers at many restaurants as a holdover from this practice, although I doubt many people do it any more.  
I think "looking like a ridiculous holdover from the Grapes of Wrath days" is probably the reason most people don't "saucer" anymore.

Of course, if you're like me and you order it with "THREE! not two, not four...THREE!" ice cubes, you won't have this problem to begin with.  And, believe me, after you've done this two or three times in a row, the girl behind the counter will remember you.

Math Doodles

I remember seeing this awhile ago, and it just popped up again at NotCot.org.  Since I wasn't blogging then, but I am now, I feel I have to share it.  Right?



It is absolutely worth five minutes of your precious time.

DISCLAIMER:  There will be no actual math involved, at least not for you.

Evolution?

I'm no scientist (obviously), but this strikes me as an argument against evolution:





The video shows what happens when one person draws a line, another person traces that line, then another person traces the tracing...etc. for 500 rounds.  The results diverge from "line" surprisingly quickly, and the latter iterations look more like a map of the UK than a set of the points whose coordinates satisfy a given linear equation.

I guess David's trying to say that the video demonstrates "things change over time" and since evolution means, in part, that "things change over time" this video demonstrates evolution; ipso facto, QED.  David had 140 characters in which to make his point, so I'm not going to penalize him for lack of nuance.  But one of the central tenets of Darwinian evolution is that changes advance species toward fitter versions of themselves, or new species altogether.  In either case, the advances are self-evidently functional improvements.  

This video merely shows how quickly and wildly an object can degenerate when its change relies on imperfect inputs.  And in the case of the people tracing these lines, its seems, mild retardation comes into play too.

Jason Kottke pointed me to this video.

A Cure for Sinus Infections?

American Drink has a recipe for Horseradish-Infused Vodka.
It makes terrific Bloody Marys of course, but it's also a kick in the pants straight. Apart from zinging your tongue, horseradish really gets into your sinuses. 
I wouldn't put it in a neti pot, but it might be worth a shot on a cold winter night.

I Lost on Jeopardy

This just in: computers are really smart.

Is it just me, or is Alex Trebek aging really well?



As this article notes, the computer has the significant advantage of being able to "push the button" a lot faster than a human...isn't there a way of equalizing this with a mechanical "finger" or something?  I won't say it's "cheating," but it certainly doesn't go very far to prove the kinds of things that I assume IBM is trying to prove.

Also, I wonder whether Watson would've been able to answer the question at 2:45 if Trebek hadn't misread the title of the book.

Inferring the News

I like to check Google Trends every morning, and if I haven't already read a bunch of other stuff I like to infer what's going on in the news based on the Hot Searches.  Today was a sad day:


I didn't know his name until now, but Len "Uncle Leo" Lesser has passed away.  He was, depending on the point of the episode at which you tuned in, either "an Adonis" with "beautiful features and lovely skin," or "bald and paunchy" with "all kinds of sounds emanating from [his] body twenty-four hours a day."

He will be missed.

In unrelated, but even bigger news, I infer that Phillies tickets went on sale today.  And some people became aware of a place called "Bahrain."

Ferrari

According to an old adage, there are two kinds of racers:  cheaters and losers.

But who knew you could "cheat" when you're just selling run-of-the-mill street-legal supercars too?
Perhaps the 360 Modena press car that was two seconds faster to 100mph than the customer car we also tested. You allow some leeway for "factory fresh" machines, but this thing was ludicrously quick and sounded more like Schumacher's weekend wheels than a street car. Ferrari will never admit that its press cars are tuned, but has the gall to turn up at any of the big European magazines' end-of-year-shindig-tests with two cars. One for straight line work, the other for handling exercises. Because that's what happens when you buy a 458: they deliver two for just those eventualities. 
Jalopnik has the full story here, and it's a fascinating look under the...er, hood of Ferarri's PR machine (caution: swears).

Password Nightmares

Yesterday's Ars Technica report on a recent high-profile series of site hacks can be condensed to one simple lesson: real security starts with password security.

By exploiting a handful of well-known vulnerabilities in IT security firm HBGary's infrastructure, hacker collective Anonymous gained access to a database of username/password combinations. This database was easily deciphered using readily available tools; and because a couple members of HBGary's senior management used simple passwords (in this case six lowercase letters combined with two numbers) across multiple accounts, the hackers were able to access a massive amount of critical company data, deface and destabilize numerous digital assets, and generally cause mayhem according to their every whim.

How much damage was done? It's probably too soon to say for sure, but the opening paragraphs of the story offer a hint:
It has been an embarrassing week for security firm HBGary and its HBGary Federal offshoot. HBGary Federal CEO Aaron Barr thought he had unmasked the hacker hordes of Anonymous and was preparing to name and shame those responsible for co-ordinating the group's actions, including the denial-of-service attacks that hit MasterCard, Visa, and other perceived enemies of WikiLeaks late last year. 
When Barr told one of those he believed to be an Anonymous ringleader about his forthcoming exposé, the Anonymous response was swift and humiliating. HBGary's servers were broken into, its e-mails pillaged and published to the world, its data destroyed, and its website defaced. As an added bonus, a second site owned and operated by Greg Hoglund, owner of HBGary, was taken offline and the user registration database published.
The entire story is worth reading, and is written in fairly accessible language. One need not be a nerd to follow along and glean some important lessons from it. However, since at least two of my three readers won't take the time to digest the whole thing, I will offer this free advice:

If you are a typical user (i.e., not a systems administrator or otherwise involved in managing, developing, or overseeing a piece of technology), there's one thing you're probably not doing in order to stay safe on the web. And you need to start doing it today: use a different, complicated password for every account that you have. When I tell people this, their eyes pop out and they gasp. But it's not as hard to accomplish as it may seem. There are fairly simple techniques you can use to produce very complicated passwords, and by adding a couple extra characters according to a system you devise, you can make them different for every account. Even better, there are tools (I use and recommend 1Password with DropBox) to automate all this so you never have to worry about it again.

If you do nothing else online today, do this: determine the five or ten most vulnerable accounts you have, like your bank and brokerage accounts, your amazon.com account, your e-mail accounts, Facebook, etc. Now, change your password for each of these to something complicated but memorable. And if you want to get started with something like 1Password, e-mail me. This is what I do, and I'm always happy to help.

Shazam

This story reminds me of a similar one I read in the days of Pandora's infancy.  According to this article, things haven't changed much since then, when musicians and music-minded people got about $10/hr. to sift through stacks and stacks of CDs, applying categories from the Music Genome to each song/artist/album, etc.

I want to think that things have changed so substantially in the past few years that Shazam can just automagically feed their beast every song that comes along.  Turns out, though, they still have to use a considerable amount of brute force:
Mr. Slomovitz, a music industry veteran, spends his days tracking down hot new artists — but not for a big record label. Instead, he works for Shazam, maker of the application of the same name that can figure out what song is playing in a bar, a clothing boutique or a TV commercial.

"It's like a scavenger hunt in real time," said Mr. Slomovitz, 42. "It never stops."

Mr. Slomovitz's job is one of the more unusual in the new digital music era, as he and the dozen or so other "music sourcers" at Shazam try to ensure that any songs the app's users might want to identify are ready and waiting in the company's database.

Lend + Kindle = Lendle

Now you can lend and borrow books for the Kindle.  I realize I'm in a small minority here, but for me this is the second of three necessary, but not sufficient, precursors to my committing to the Kindle platform.  The third, of course, is the ability to buy and sell "used" Kindle books.  Still, this is a good start:
Once you sign up for Lendle, you'll be asked to tell us what Kindle books you own. Simply search for the books you own using the search field in the upper-right by entering their title or author, find your books in the results, and click the "I Own It" button.
If a fellow Lendler requests a book you own, you'll get a notification asking if you want to lend it. When you lend a book, the borrower will have it for 14 days, and then it will be automatically returned to your Kindle.
As I've mentioned elsewhere, I'm not crazy enough about e-reading that I'm going to shift all of my paper-reading to my iPad or a Kindle.  And, since the stuff I seem to read is either in the public domain or available used for between $0.01 and $3.99 through amazon.com, it will be awhile before I feel like I can justify paying more to have content locked into on particular platform.

Ultimately, it would be nice if we could add another option too:  the ability to redeem your physical books for e-books.  I realize the existence of libraries complicates this considerably, but surely someone can figure out a way around this.

Whiskey Smash

I think this is the drink AK served last fall, which I've been trying to replicate ever since.  She dubbed hers a sidecar, and her recipe had triple sec, but when I picture this recipe in my mind, the flavor it produces seems identical to what she achieved.

Plan B

I love the tone of the Nokia Plan B website...it reads like a the inverse (or is it contrapositive?) of a ransom note.
If you elect us to a majority in the Nokia Board of Directors we will pursue the following agenda(!)
Sure, Nokia's CEO has made some mis-steps, and of course a strategic partnership with Microsoft seems ill-advised, but does that mean the shareholders should hand the board over to nine people who currently describe themselves with no more specificity than to say they are "young Nokia shareholders" who have "worked with Nokia in different capacities in the past"?  I mean, I used to have an 8390.  Does that mean I "worked with Nokia in the past"?