Life is a Mystery

29 September 2009 . Comments Off on Apple rejects political advocacy

Apple rejects political advocacy

Today I learned that an app called iSinglePayer has been rejected by Apple. Apple seems to want to avoid approving iPhone apps that take a stand on hot political issues. Or maybe it wants to avoid politics altogether? “Activism, we’ve got an app… oh, wait, no we don’t!”

I am so frustrated with Apple’s App Store insanity I could burst. I’m one of the awful people who likes to push Macs on all my (very patient) friends. I own stock in the company. But their misguided and almost random policing of the App Store has me seriously worried about the cocoon they seem to live in.

Moreover, I think this is going to hurt the iPhone enormously. I spent the summer learning to program the iPhone (even though I don’t own one and won’t any time soon). This Fall I began to talk with some Democratic Party folk here in Minnesota (we call it the DFL here) about building an iPhone app to help us manage our caucuses, or maybe more generally to allow us to complete surveys from our national Vote Builder tool. I find the news about iSinglePayer directly chilling. Do I really want to spend weeks of my time developing an app that Apple may well reject as too political?

How many other potential app authors are letting their ideas cool off on a back burner because they have gotten the impression that the road to the App Store is arbitrary or worse?

The only reason Apple is winning the smartphone wars right now is because all the other companies are even worse and more restrictive. Still, that hardly makes me feel better. I hope the FCC or someone with some leverage takes note and stops this kind of nuttiness. It seems sadly clear that left to its own devices, Apple will only dig a deeper hole.


17 September 2009 . Comments Off on Designing Obama

Designing Obama

Sigh. This is one I can’t pass up.

The Design Director of the Obama campaign, Scott Thomas, has collaborated with artists and designers to create Designing Obama, a chronicle of the art from the historic campaign. Get the inside story on how design was used by the campaign, and scope out the pieces, created unofficially, by grassroots supporters.

16 September 2009 . Comments Off on Screenagers


Maybe just because they are Austrian and oh-so Viennese, maybe because they break all the rules for web design, maybe because the whole damn thing is in Flash, which usually I hate, maybe because the video is just hilarious… I don’t know what it is, but I love the Screenagers web site. Go ahead, take a look!


(hat tip to NotCot)

16 September 2009 . Comments Off on Non-commercial?


I love Creative Commons and I enjoy using Flickr to find images that are available with Creative Commons licenses. I usually use a “BY-NC license, “by attribution” and “non-commercial”. But what do I mean by non-commercial? What do other mean when they specify non-commercial? Recently I realized that I was being paid a couple hundred dollars to give a presentation and used “NC” images in the slides for that presentation. I was being paid, is that “commercial”? I decided that I didn’t think my individual (paid) presentation constituted commercial use, but others might disagree.

All that thinking about non-commercial and what it means made me very ready for a report the Creative Commons recently released documenting a survey of CC users. They asked both creators and consumers what non-commercial means to them. This is a dense read, but very interesting work.

The empirical findings suggest that creators and users approach the question of noncommercial use similarly and that overall, online U.S. creators and users are more alike than different in their understanding of noncommercial use. Both creators and users generally consider uses that earn users money or involve online advertising to be commercial, while uses by organizations, by individuals, or for charitable purposes are less commercial but not decidedly noncommercial. Similarly, uses by for-profit companies are typically considered more commercial. Perceptions of the many use cases studied suggest that with the exception of uses that earn users money or involve advertising – at least until specific case scenarios are presented that disrupt those generalized views of commerciality – there is more uncertainty than clarity around whether specific uses of online content are commercial or noncommercial.


16 September 2009 . Comments Off on FFR: Waze

FFR: Waze

If I ever get an iPhone, I’d like to drive around with Waze open on it! Maybe I can convince Mary to give it a try.


15 September 2009 . Comments Off on Constrained music

Constrained music

Those who have heard me get on a soapbox know that one I return to again and again is the theme that creativity is born of constraints. Many people think that rich resources make you creative or innovative. Sometimes. But I think more often it is scarcity and boundaries that provide the tension necessary to focus and create, to rise above the mediocre. This applies to everything from web design to airlines, newspapers, entrepreneurship, even politics.

This evening I stumbled upon another example, the Record Club create by Beck. Beck gives the Record Club, himself and a few friends, 24 hours in the studio to recreate an album. They pick the album when they start, they don’t try to do anything profound, just cover each of the songs, seeing what emerges along the way. The constrains are severe, the results are wonderful.

Kevin Purdy at Lifehacker observes:

Writer of things creative and productive Merlin Mann provides examples for, and neatly sums up, how creative constraints can paradoxically free you. In the case of so many Big Serious Projects (or BSPs, for this post’s sake), setting up a personal constraint scheme — 12 songs in one day, 140 characters or less, 20 minutes of no-distraction coding before lunch every day — is simply a way to trick a big part of your brain into thinking that your BSP isn’t actually that big, or serious.

Take a deep breath. Now, dig in!


14 September 2009 . Comments Off on Data liberation

Data liberation

Google announced today that its Data Liberation Front will work to make sure customers can get the data they put into Google’s cloud back out again. That sounds good, I hope they stick to it!

13 September 2009 . Comments Off on Two rallys

Two rallys

Yesterday Alex and I went to support President Obama’s call for healthcare reform at the Target Center in Minneapolis. We got a couple day’s warning of this event, and the Target Center is a huge venue, so I didn’t worry much about getting in. Sure enough, though it was great to be there, this rally didn’t have nearly the fire and sense of community that attended the campaign rally last June. I’ve put a set of pictures up, if you want a look.


When I got home, though, I learned that 9/12 was the date of a huge rally in DC by opponents of the administration. I realized that part of the purpose of Obama’s quick visit to Minneapolis was to make sure that the administration caught a part of the news cycle. Sure enough, today’s online New York Times featured these juxtaposed headlines…


Well done, White House.

But not nearly enough to satisfy me. The President made a point of stating his support for a “public option” at yesterday’s rally. This statement got one of the largest rounds of applause of the event. Obama twice tried to move on, but had to wait for the cheering to die down. But today’s Star Tribune featured schizophrenic coverage stating on the front page that Obama reiterated support for the public option while inside running an NYT article noting that the Obama administration was letting the public option go.

I don’t know what to believe. But I do know that this playing of both sides of the fence leaves me with very little hope for how this will all play out. If we lose the public option but keep individual mandates, then I think the plan may be enough of a disaster to work for its defeat. I noted that Obama didn’t even mention individual mandates yesterday, so lets hope we don’t end up with that doomed scenario.

I’m looking for leadership on this one, I don’t think I’m seeing it.

9 September 2009 . 1 Comment

Lunch box

School started yesterday and that got me thinking about lunch. How do you handle lunchtime? In Austria lunch is the big meal of the day and dinner is small and snackish. I love that. But here in the USofA it is hard to pull off that kind of schedule. Lunch is often away from home, at school, at work. Eating out (or eating school lunch) is one way to handle this meal, but that can be expensive and not-so-nutricious. The New York Times published a story on Bento Boxes that was full of interesting ideas.

Nathaniel has become very creative in the kitchen, devouring the Betty Crocker cookbook, making lunches and dinners all last week, and wondering when he’ll have time to cook during the school year. He also loves things Japanese, like sushi (well, some sushi). Maybe making bento boxes is an idea that would work for him?


2 September 2009 . Comments Off on Gmail problems

Gmail problems

Yesterday Gmail experienced a major outage. I couldn’t get to my mail for over an hour and a half, it was not pretty. Mary found that the Luther Seminary “corporate” Gmail was down as well. Yikes!

Within a few hours Google had posted a very informative mea culpa on their Gmail blog. It was remarkable in its directness (yes, we had a big problem, we apologize) and in its informativeness (here’s what went wrong, here’s what we learned).

I remember trying to convince the technical staff at the libraries, back when I ran that tech shop, that direct communication with our customers (our librarians and even patrons) after failures would be helpful. I was tired of messages that just said things like “catalog server down” and “catalog server back up”. We were depending on these services and I thought our customers deserved to know what had gone wrong and what we learned. It was like pulling teeth to even get such reports distributed on a timely basis internally, something we did eventually accomplish.

It is great to see a company as big as Google putting a priority on communicating with customers. This message was probably too technical for most and not detailed enough for the rest, but it does convey clearly that Google recognized the problem and was working to see it never recurs. That is a reassuring message for those of us depending on Gmail, and a great model for those of us that run mission critical services.

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Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 /