The Un-Apple Store.


Today, iOS developer Ross Kimes tweeted the following wish list for the January Apple event:

My wish list for Apple’s media event this month (in this order): 1. Rewritten iTunes 2. iBooks for Mac 3. Unified App Store on Mac

Everything Ross mentions would be great. The more I thought about his list, the more I became annoyed at the state of the Apple app store(s) - namely how convoluted the process for managing apps, content, and system updates is for users. That is to say, the stores represent a very un-Apple experience. The problem really isn’t the actual stores, but rather the numerous avenues Apple users must take in order to administer their content. Consider someone who owns a Mac running Lion and an iDevice. Presumably, the user has music, videos, podcasts, Mac apps, iOS apps, electronic books from the iBookstore, and more.

On the iDevice, the user has the iTunes app to buy music, videos, or other entertainment content, the App Store to buy apps, and the iBookstore to buy books. It is fairly straightforward. Now when the user wants to manage their content on the Mac, things get ugly.

Music, videos, podcasts, books, and iOS apps are all managed in iTunes. That same content can be purchased in the iTunes Store - also located in the iTunes app - with the exception of books. There is no iBookstore for Mac and no way to read books purchased from the iBookstore. Users can only manage the books that go onto the iDevice. To manage and purchase desktop software, users can use the optional and separate Mac App Store. The Mac operating system, Lion, is now even offered through the Mac App Store, yet other optional system software like iTunes is not. So the operating system as a whole can be managed in the Mac App Store, but certain individual components rely on Software Update from the Apple menu. Strangely, users can even update Lion using the same option.

As you can see, things on the Mac side include a bloated iTunes, no iBookstore, and multiple and inconsistent ways to manage and update desktop software. These problems go to the heart of Ross’s list. To match consistency with iOS, Apple should offer music, videos, podcasts, or other entertainment items in iTunes, electronic books in an iBookstore for Mac, and all apps in a unified Mac App Store with consistent update behavior.

It seems at odds for a company like Apple, that has marketed itself with slogans like “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” and “It just works”, to produce such a poor user experience. In a followup tweet, Ross suggested a potential reason:

The biggest problem with fixing it is having to support iTunes for Windows.

I agree with Ross here. Since there is no Mac operating system, app store, or the like on Windows, everything else gets thrown in iTunes so users can still manage their iDevices without a Mac. Really, with the advent of iCloud, iTunes really should transition to a counterpart of its iOS app, where content is the focus, instead of also serving as a tool to manage devices.

I do think that Apple is in a transitional period where they are trying to bring iOS principles back to the Mac. This results in an unrefined and mixed desktop experience - where legacy elements coexist with new unified elements. Currently, it appears things weren’t thought out well or, at best, sacrifices were made to ship a product. In either case, the result is completely opposite of that which Apple users expect. Hopefully, the issues that Ross raises will be addressed sooner than later.

Code Year

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Awesome initiative from Codecademy that encourages people to learn programming in 2012. Upon signing up (for free), users are emailed a free interactive lesson every week. I’ve tried a few lessons from Codecademy and they are really well done. Even the most inexperienced programmer will feel comfortable getting started. Users can even track progress and share with friends. If you have ever wanted to learn programming and just never knew where to start, look no further than Code Year.

It's Even Worse Than It Looks

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Scott Neuman, NPR:

A Gallup poll published earlier this month found that just 11 percent of Americans approve of Congress’ performance. A whopping 86 percent gave a thumbs-down. That’s the lowest rating since Gallup started taking the public pulse on this issue in 1974. A similar poll conducted by The Associated Press registered a 12 percent approval rating, and a CBS/New York Times poll in October placed Congress’ approval rating at 9 percent.

Think about how staggeringly bad this reflects on Congress. In any company, if only 11% of shareholders approved of corporate leadership, you can rest assured they would be expediently removed from power. Yet in America, the public keeps re-electing the same people and expecting different outcomes. Perhaps 2012 will be the year in which incumbents are fired - regardless of party. Color me skeptical.

“There have been plenty of times when the rhetorical heat has been high, sometimes higher than now,” Feller says. “What’s most amazing today is not fiery words, but the inability to do necessary business.”

Rhetoric is what makes politics in America. Polarizing, and often shocking words have always been used to create a partisan divide. In a two-party system, each must resort to such tactics to gain strong bases. In the past, though, leaders would set differences aside, compromise, and try to get the very best deal (from their perspective) for the American people. Now it seems that compromise is refused in favor of obstructionism. Only when the public yells loud enough do politicians relent and do their job. This last- minute addiction will eventually sever our faith in the democratic process - if it hasn’t already.

Women in Oklahoma.


A pretty disturbing summary by Holly Wall, news editor of This Land Press.

Some absurd realities: Oklahoma currently ranks #49 in the U.S. for number of women serving in state legislature (12.8%). Since statehood, only twelve women have held state-level executive positions (between 1914 and 1981 there were none). Only two women have represented Oklahoma in the U.S. Congress (two Representatives and no Senators).

On the flip side concerning women, Oklahoma ranks #1 in incarcerated women, #1 in child abuse deaths, #5 in teen pregnancies, #9 in women murdered by men, #41 in women’s employment & earnings, and #42 in women’s overall health.

It isn’t hard to draw the conclusion that without fair representation, women’s issues are of small importance in Oklahoma. Sad.

The more I think about it, this is bullshit. The smartest people I have ever known are women - starting with my wife. If I am ever blessed with a daughter, she will be raised knowing that having a penis is not a requirement to empower change, to represent their own interests, or to lead people.

Kindle Fire Improving

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David Pogue:

And sure enough. Tuesday evening, Amazon released a free software update for the Kindle Fire that, if you ask me, should be called the Polish Update (that’s “polish” as in car wax, not Warsaw). Its primary purpose is to fix all of those jerky, balky, miscalculated-momentum issues. The update will be automatically delivered to your Kindle Fire.

Sure enough: the home screen “carousel,” a rotating shelf that holds all of your books, magazines and movies, now stops on a dime when you want it to. It takes only one tap to open something instead of several frustrating ones. When you do tap something, it opens faster and more fluidly. Page turns are smoother, especially in magazines.

This is great news for people interested in the Kindle Fire. There are, however, issues that remain.

There are still some things Amazon should fix. For example, magazine reading is still an exercise in frustration; far too often, the row of page-navigation thumbnails still thrusts itself on top of what you’re trying to read. Other problems may not be so simple to fix: for example, the on/off switch is on the bottom edge, where the Kindle’s weight naturally falls when you’re reading.

While I am an iPad user and have no need for a Fire, my experience with the Kindle e-reader leaves me confident that Amazon will meticulously address any remaining software problems. Having owned every model of Kindle, I also believe the Fire will likely follow the same hardware evolution. That is to say that Amazon hardware is initially imperfect and, frankly, pretty shitty. However, further iterations have shown that Amazon listens to their customers and eventually gets it right. If you are ensconced in the Amazon ecosystem, you should be pleased that they are serious about improving the Fire.

Even though the Fire burns at the opposite end of the candle (see what I did there?)  than does the iPad, I have a feeling it will be the most successful and longstanding competitor for Apple. Speeds-and-feeds aside, I think the sole reason will be trust. Customers trust Apple. Customers trust Amazon.

Visualizing Tornado Warnings

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Patrick Marsh:

One of the most frequently asked maps is for all plot of all the tornado warnings. Here are the tornado warnings issued by year. Each warning was color-filled red with an alpha value of 0.1. Thus, it would take 10 overlaps for the color to display as true red. Thus, the colors are shaded from light pink (no overlaps) to red (at least 10 overlaps). 1 October 2007 the tornado warnings transitioned from county-based warnings to storm-based warnings.

As you can see, the number of warnings increased up through the start of storm-based warnings. After that time period, the number of warnings increased, but the overlap has decreased. One thing that is very apparent is that the number of warnings across the southeast United States has certainly been on the increase…

Pretty cool data mining/visualization efforts from Patrick. Check out his other graphics for tornado warnings by county warning areas, counties warned for tornadoes by county warning areas, tornado warning frequency, and tornado emergencies. If you’re not following Patrick, shame on you.

Racing Towards a Cliff

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Amy Gardner and Matt DeLong, reporting for The Washington Post:

Gingrich suggested the president could send federal law enforcement authorities to arrest judges who make controversial rulings in order to compel them to justify their decisions before congressional hearings.


Judicial experts, including conservatives, are questioning the constitutionality of Gingrich’s stance. The Constitution specifically grants federal judges life terms with good behavior, many of Gingrich’s critics note, and provides only for impeachment as the way to remove bad judges. To do so by other means, they say, is an encroachment on judicial independence and an affront to the separation of powers doctrine that underlies the entire document.

“Overall, he’s racing towards a cliff,” said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of the nonpartisan Justice at Stake campaign, which advocates for an independent judiciary. “It may be expedient to appeal to specific voters in primaries or caucuses, but it’s a constitutional disaster. Americans want courts that can uphold their rights and not be accountable to politicians. When you get to the point where you’re talking about impeaching judges over decisions or abolishing courts or calling them before Congress, it’s getting very far away from the American political mainstream.”

Ironically, Newt Gingrich claims that his motivation is to “reassert the Constitution”. The truth is that his stance is a direct affront to the ideals therein. Do these candidates listen to what comes out of their mouths? More importantly, are voters listening?

Richard Nieva, reporting for Fortune:

The author discussed potential plans for expanding the already 630-page book in the future. One possibility is doing an extensively annotated version. Another is writing an addendum that addresses the period surrounding Jobs' death. Fleshing out the details seems like a logical next step, since Isaacson believes the Apple CEO’s story will be told for decades or a century to come. “This is the first or second draft,” he said, referring to his book’s role in documenting Jobs’ life. “It’s not the final draft.”

I guess as the old adage about Apple goes, I shouldn’t have bought Rev A.

Even if this expands, I don’t see the overall quality improving. Most of my complaints with the biography have already been succinctly described by John Siracusa on his Hypercritical podcast. In short, I thought the book was an inspiring tale told in an uninspired voice. As time goes on, the initial rushed and unpolished release of the biography, combined with this news, reeks of nothing more than a money grab from Walter Isaacson and his publisher.

Ralph Hall Speaks Out on Climate Change

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Ralph Hall:

I mean everything that’s been spent knocking and pushing global warming. I’m really more fearful of freezing. And I don’t have any science to prove that. But we have a lot of science that tells us they’re not basing it on real scientific facts.

For someone who is openly discrediting the majority of climate scientists as for-profit, unethical hacks, there sure are a lot of “I think”, “I can’t say”, “I don’t have any proof”, and “I believe” statements. By the way, Ralph Hall is an 88-year old lawyer from Texas. Oh yeah, he also serves as Chair of the House of Representatives Science Committee.

Keith Blount, Founder of Literature & Latte:

It’s still early days, though – we are about to embark on the design process proper, and all we can say in terms of a release date is that our iPad and iPhone versions will be out some time in 2012.

This is exciting news. Scrivener provides an amazing research and writing environment. I recently used it to write my Ph.D. general exam paper - and yes, I was still able to compile it in LaTeX (I’ll post my workflow soon). I cannot wait to see this on iOS.