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The MacBook Air's Emotional Specs

The MacBook Air is selling well, Ars Technica reports, with many stores reporting stock shortages and long lead times.

As Railsdaddy David Heinemeier Hansson mentions, this probably comes as a surprise to geeks all over the blogosphere, who were largely focused on the shortcomings of the tech specs - the relatively slow processor, shortage of ports, etc, and not focusing enough on the design and feel of it. Whether it takes 20 minutes or 30 minutes to convert a movie to iPod format is largely irrelevant, what is more noticeable (and therefore more important) is the general feeling of delight (or despair) one feels when using any device. Remember the awe people experienced when flicking images back and forth on the iPhone? Similar experiences abound on the MacBook Air - the feeling of not feeling like you're carrying a laptop, the feeling of not feeling like there's a computer under your keyboard - these are the specs, emotional specs, if you will, that are causing people to buy MacBooks Air. Indeed, the MacBook Air is just another in the long list of examples that prove that Apple is destroying the competition when it comes to emotional specs.

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Microhoo: Microsoft Offers $44.6B to Acquire Yahoo

Yesterday I was meaning to write about Amazon's $300 million acquisition of Audible, a match made in heaven, but today comes news that Microsoft is offering $45 billion for Yahoo, which pretty much eclipses the relatively straightforward Amazon/Audible deal.

There were no shortage of rumors regarding a MSFT/YHOO merger/acquisition in 2007, but no formal proposal was actually ever made public and Yahoo came out and said that a deal didn't make sense on account of the potential upside of the restructuring and strategic initiatives set for 2007. As Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer states, a year has passed and the competitive landscape still hasn't changed. Indeed, Project Panama has done little to improve Yahoo's situation in the advertising space and search seems to be in the place that it's been in a while - an ever more distant #2 to Google. Perhaps even more indicative of Yahoo's true status, however, was this week's announcement of plans to layoff 1,000 employees.

In the eyes of most consumers, both Microsoft and Yahoo provide second-rate products. In the operating system space, especially with the lukewarm reception Vista received, Microsoft only has their incumbency to stand on. In the internet space, MSN is to Yahoo what Yahoo is to Google, if that. Yahoo does have some great properties, but they aren't the cash cows that search and advertising are, and receive both media and internal attention according. The growth opportunities of the workhorse properties, however unglamorous, are still growth opportunities and still have yet to be harnessed and perhaps this deal is the only way that these properties will get attention.

The deal makes sense to me from a competitive perspective, but does it make sense internally? Can these two behemoths really merge operations and culture well enough to come out a stronger entity? Or will their internal focus distract them so much that Google will be able to distance itself even more from Microhoo? I don't know enough about the internals of Yahoo or Microsoft, but I know that the success of this merger will depend on a few factors, including the compatibility between the cultures and structures of both companies and the appropriate handling of redundant properties.

In the end, I look forward to this deal going through. I think it will revitalize both companies, which appear to have been operating at less-than-full capacity over the past few years. In this sense, although fewer competitors in a market tend to decrease competition in that market, I think we'll see the opposite here. Though there's a very subtle feeling out there that since both are so behind the competition, both Microsoft and Yahoo are about to, or should, give up. This acquisition will give the resulting entity a much better leg to stand on against the competition.

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Fixing Broken Windows

The "broken windows" theory comes from a 1982 Atlantic Monthly article on strategies to reduce vandalism.

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it's unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.

Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.

My theme for January (and possibly February as well) is to fix broken windows (or as GTD puts it, open loops). That is, to clean up all the half-finished miscellanea in my life. This ranges across everything from finishing books I've started to cleaning out that last box from my move six months ago to ongoing things such as not letting dishes, garbage, and laundry pile up for too long. Having broken windows not only draws energy, but also subconsciously let's you know that it's okay to not finish what you've started. Starting with a clean slate is a necessary condition for success in any new endeavors. In addition, the tiny successes brought by fixing broken windows create a positive feedback loop and it helps you complete even larger projects.

For the transition period, I think it's probably a better idea to save New Years' Resolutions until March. Take the first couple of months of the year to patch up anything left outstanding from the previous year(s) and start fresh, even if you are a few months late. I'd love to hear what other people think about this approach, so if you've had experience doing something like this, drop me a line in the comments or via email.

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AJAX Web Browser?

When I first saw the headline that the Opera Browser is headed to the iPhone (later confirmed as false), I joking thought that Opera would be releasing a JavaScript web browser that ran in Safari. On second thought, I realized that a JavaScript browser could be used to bypass proxies by requesting pages from the server and passing them to the client via AJAX.

A quick Google search reveals one JavaScript browser called Accent JavaScript Browser, but it was released in 2001 and says it only runs in IE. A quick test of the browser in Firefox on the Mac shows that it doesn't work too well and that the buttons are only a proxy for the client-side JS functions. I also found another "browser", but I couldn't get this one to work in Safari or Firefox.

So far I'm 0/2 on working AJAX browsers. If a working one did exist, would it even be possible to use it for bypassing proxies? I have no need for this functionality, I just thought that it could be a pretty neat loophole.

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Quotes of the Day ("Laziness" and "Salivating")

Saw these come across my RSS reader today and just had to share.

“Whenever there is a hard job to be done I assign it to a lazy man; he is sure to find an easy way of doing it.” -Walter Chrysler

[via Signal vs. Noise]

I personally prefer being called "selective" instead of "lazy", but I don't feel like justifying that just now ;-)

When a new Mac Pro that Apple advertises as “the fastest Mac ever” doesn’t make the cut for the Macworld Expo keynote, even the more jaded among us start salivating.

[via Justin Blanton]

I couldn't have said better myself. I'm not as big a rumor monger as I used to be (you could say I'm too "selective" to keep up with the 95% of pure speculation that exists out there), but Justin sure nailed it. The new Mac Pro is simply awesome, but I doubt I would ever buy one because I don't need it. For most people, these are just nice to look at and dream of owning for no good reason. That said, Apple has trumped CES for the second year in a row. Last year it was the iPhone at the keynote and this year it was a stealth update to the Mac Pro. Does this say more about Apple's Reality Distortion Field or about the sorry state of consumer electronics? Is a high-end workstation really more exciting than pretty much everything at CES? The fanboy in me wants to say the latter but I really think it's the former. In any case, I think Gizmodo has the right idea: these Mac Pros are just the tip of the iceberg.

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Eulogy for CompUSA

Word came last Friday that all CompUSA stores will be closing. While some have some horror stories about their experiences at CompUSA, I've never had any bad experiences. Looking back, however, CompUSA was the place where I had my first experiences with Macs.

The only place to really play with Macs back in 2001 was at CompUSA. At the time, there were few Apple Stores and the only one in South Florida was at The Falls, about an hour drive from me. So CompUSA was the first place I laid hands on an iMac, the G4 Cube, and others. It was the first time I played with OS X - I was amazed with it even though it was in it's terrible Public Beta/10.0 stage. I bought my first Mac at CompUSA - a 700 MHz G3 iBook, and my first iPod - an open-box 1st Generation 10gb iPod. Since then, Apple Stores have sprung up and I've only made smaller purchases at CompUSA, a memory card here, a hard drive there. I have memories dating back even further - I remember buying a 4mb stick of RAM and a 14.4 modem for our 386.

Despite being one of the recent contributors to CompUSA's demise, it will still be sad to see it go. I have a MicroCenter fairly close by, but Best Buy and Circuit City don't have anything on our dear old CompUSA.

Goodbye.

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Notes from Joburg

I'm leaving South Africa today after a week-long business trip to Johannesburg and I've finally had some time to collect my thoughts. In no particular order:

  • Security is a big deal here. All residences from middle class up are surrounded by 8 foot fences upon which are electric fences. Signs announcing "armed response" are all over the place. Radio advertisements for homes note electric fences as attributes of a home as matter-of-factly as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms.
  • I posted about Vusi Mahlasela recently but I didn't appreciate his lyrics (the ones in English anyway) until visiting Soweto (the South Western Township where blacks were forced to live during apartheid) and reading about the anti-apartheid struggle.
  • Soweto was not quite the ghetto I pictured. I did see the tiny 100 sq ft homes and tin shacks (comparable to Brazilian favelas) I was expecting, but I also saw larger homes with BMWs and Mercedes parked in front of them. There is much more social stratification in this so-called slum than the names used to describe it suggest.
  • The weight of an empty Coke can is so deeply ingrained that I keep thinking there's soda left in the heavier SA cans when there's not.
  • Before my plane left the US, flight attendants sprayed the plane. I still haven't found the reason behind this.
  • The 16 hour flight here wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Whether my fatigue was due to jet lag or waking up at 6:30 every day is debatable. Regardless, the 7 hour time difference makes any sort of discussion with people back in the US extremely difficult. SA is almost a full business day ahead of New York and since things start winding down at 4:30 here, it makes any overlap in work hours miniscule if not nonexistent.
  • My iPhone gets no service here. When I took my Treo to Spain last winter, I was able to roam there with no problem. A possible explanation might be that international roaming was disabled when I switched to the iPhone but something more nefarious might be at work.

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Perhaps The Most Ironic Post Title You'll Read All Day

Nick Bradbury on blog post titles:

As people subscribe to more feeds, the more they stop reading every unread item and instead just skim the titles looking for something that interests them. If you use boring titles for your posts, skimmers like myself are likely to skip right over them.

Ever since I did my media fast experiment, my Google Reader unread count has floated somewhere between 875 and >1000. Since I switched to more selective reading, I use List View instead of Expanded View and post titles more than anything push me to actually read an item. Another thing to be careful about - titles that are too news-y. If your post title reads, "XYZ Corp Announces ABC", then you need to go back to the writing board, so to speak. For one, a title like that often sums up enough of the entire post to suffice. In addition, a post title like that screams "Press Release regurgitation" and suggests that more of the same basic information that I probably read before. In this case, even "Thoughts on XYZ's ABC Announcement" is slightly better because it signals that you put more thought into the post than simply picking original-sounding synonyms to cover up the fact that not much, if anything, was added.

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Between Twitter and Blog

For the sake of this blog, I'm in dire need of an interface to this blog that is far more lightweight than the standard WordPress web interface. It's relatively easy to feed my tweets into my blog, but that's not what I'm looking for here. Tweets are far too casual to warrant a standard blog post, but blog posts are too cumbersome for some fleeting, yet not-so-informal thoughts. My goal is to find something like John Gruber's Linked List or Justin Blanton's Bits. Any thoughts?

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Turned To Crap

Paul Stamatiou on his thoughts on the state of the blogosphere:

The larger tech sites/blogs have “turned to crap” to quote an older friend in the field. Everyone’s got an agenda and a quota to fulfill; there aren’t too many “free spirits” when it comes to tech writing, which is why sites like John Gruber’s Daring Fireball receive so much acclaim.

His thoughts pretty much echo mine, and though I've mentioned in passing how much I hate the larger tech sites, this quote does a great job of summing up what I've been meaning to explicitly say for a while. The scale has been tipping to quantity over quality for a while now and shows no signs of stopping.

Some sample stats: Google Reader says that Engadget has averaged 40 posts/day. When I started the media fast experiment, all my feeds were read. It's been a week since that started and that amounts to roughly 280 posts. The current Engadget unread count is 272. That I've found 3% of those posts worthy of my attention is telling. In contrast, Daring Fireball averages 10 posts per day and I've read all of them without hesitation.

The "throw it at the wall and see what sticks" approach was fine when I didn't realize how much time was wasting looking at things I wasn't reading nor cared to read. Now things have changed. The large tech blogs have gone the way of mainstream media in their attempt to increase eyeballs. I am avid fan of a handful of TV shows, but you'll never find me sitting on the couch channel flipping; the chances I'll find something worthy of watching are so slim it's not even worth it. The quantity over quality approach doesn't work on me for mainstream media and I've come to realize it isn't going to work in the blogosphere either.

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