Services that you get free and pay later

Restaurants, residential power, water and gas, medical treatment (particularly in emergencies), manicures, pedicures, haircuts, (some) public transportation, (some) prostitutes…

Makes me wonder what the underlying thread is among all of these services. Any others to add?

It surprises me that so many transactions happen through simply trust. I’ve also seen some of these situations become awkward, like when a disheveled person gets asked to show that they have the money in advance. What’s the advantage of conducting services this way? Would paying for a meal at a sit-down restaurant in advance be so weird? Can or does this translate into the web world somehow?

Things people in Seattle apparently like

I’ve now lived in Seattle for one year, so I thought I’d write up a little list of things I have learned about Seattle in my short time here.

Things people in Seattle apparently like:

  • Knee-high boots
  • Roundabouts
  • Not knowing how to properly use roundabouts
  • Subarus
  • Outdoor activities (camping, hiking, climbing, kayaking)
  • Nice sunglasses (which seems odd, given the weather)
  • Complaining about their not-that-terrible weather
  • Not carrying umbrellas
  • Making it known to you that they don’t carry umbrellas
  • Galoshes (which seems contradictory, given the umbrella thing)
  • Fighting gentrification that has already happened
  • Having a selection of 23 craft beers, even though they’re all the same variety
  • Using turn lanes to merge into traffic
  • Condos!
  • Mediocre coffee

Feel free to add more in the comments!

Magnetbox is nine years old today, and then some

And here’s hoping you haven’t been following me this whole time. I thought about doing a nice retrospective like Jason, but I don’t save much of anything for nearly ten years, let alone digital files that anyone can still open. For a nostalgic trip, we’ll have to visit the Wayback Machine.


This, and all the linkblogging I was doing before I owned the domain of Magnetbox was done by hand, because that was the way we liked it. Now get off of my lawn.

But do you know what’s even more awesome? By doing this half-assed retrospective, I found through Wayback links which actually worked (which are rare this far back) something I thought I had lost forever:


Yes, this my friends, is my online journal which I stopped in the year 2000 after getting tired of doing it for three years. Ugh, I’m a fucking nerd. If you click the screenshot into the Wayback Machine and go aaaall the way down to the bottom you will see my first entry, from March 21, 1997:

“Work. Watched TV.”

Get out your Twitter patents kids, because I was doing pointless small updates no one cared about 11 years ago! By hand, in HTML table rows! Yow. Anyways, let’s move on.


This was my old-timey western theme. It was meant to be mirrored by a futuristic design that you could switch to, but that never got made.


This was a rather stark departure, but every few years a get a burning itch to redesign my site, and this was done in the matter of a few hours.


This is what you’re currently looking at, which is a complete theme which I made to coincide with moving over to WordPress from Blogger. This design has received some pretty amazing response, but if you can’t tell by my track record, I will soon tire of it, and I promised to give it away when I’m done with it.

This may be sooner than later, because now that I’ve got a mini-blog over on Tumblr (The Triumph of Bullshit) and a micro-blog (again!) over at Twitter, I’ve been mulling about how to redesign and recombine everything into one big happy family. Stay tuned.

Anyways, thanks for visiting.

Drawing conclusions about technology and what’s cool

Two recent finds on the Web made an instant connection in my mind, because it contained three things that interest me: technology adoptions, what’s cool, and drawing conclusions that may not exist. Take the New York Times’ excellent Timeline of Technology adoption and the equally excellent Timeline of Cool, put them together, and start making crazy observations!


For example, I found it interesting that at the two times that the automobile had its largest jumps in adoption rates, surrealism and pop art were popular. Notice the juxtaposition of the air conditioner and Woodstock? (Was the clothes dryer responsible for the rise of soul music?) How the popularity of film noir and crime fiction went up as radio adoption exploded? Feel free to make your own crazy theories in the comments.

Things I have learned from mostly linkblogging for more than 10 years

There needs to be a quick, easy, standard way to denote the difference between “this is something I am clipping from the page I am linking to” and “this is me talking”, and potentially being able to save and display both separately. This goes for you too,

There needs to be a way to automatically save the referring site that you got the link from. None of this manual (via) crap. If the concept of reblogging only works in a walled garden (Reblog, Tumblr, etc) at least offer some fields so I can enter it myself if I so choose.

Everyone should treat different types of posts differently. Tumblr does a nice job with it’s given set but perhaps its full potential hasn’t been entirely played out in the templates people have made so far, and action streams are a nice first step but it sequesters those feeds into the sidebar. It makes sense that a video post and a photo post and an audio post look different, but why is there only one type of text post? Why is a Tweet handled in the same way as a 2,000-word essay? Where is the book or movie review type? Jason has done this kind of stuff for years, and had to manage entire multiple blogs just to do it. Why can’t I take a feed, create a new post template specifically for it, and plug the feed into it? And if I can, why is it so difficult? launches

After months of design and development in my (ahem) “free time”, I’m happy to say has launched publicly.

I’d just like to say thanks to all the people who have had to hear me talk about this incessantly, the people who got random questions and problems thrown at them, and people who helped out otherwise with testing and ideas and suggestions.

There is also a new blog that you’ll be able to keep track of, because I’ll be trying my hardest not to muddy this space, and keep the conversation going over there. (And yes, I will be updating the design of that blog later.)

The wisdom of clouds

For the last few months I’ve been working on a new project in my spare time, which is called The (what I consider a) clever play on words revolves around two things: weather and people.

What is the idea? I could bore you with buzzwords such as aggregation, prediction markets, and the wisdom of the crowds, but the real point is to take advantage of these types of things in order to give you simple and accurate weather in a way that you can both use day to day, and also provide a way to make it a more interactive and interesting experience.

  • Firstly, the site will combine as many possible sources of weather forecasts as possible. No one source is ever right all the time, so the idea is that if you aggregate them together, you don’t need to check several sources and you get a safer, more accurate forecast. If you also track all of these sources and check their accuracy over time, you’ll be able to actually see which ones are more accurate than the others.
  • Secondly, you can predict the weather yourself. When you make prediction for a particular time and place, the site will go check all of its data sources and record what really happened, and give you a score based on how right you were. It could turn out that a random person is a better predictor of the weather than a professional meteorologist or organization. That person could even be you. Since the site will be tracking the accuracy of all of this, you’ll be able to see who is more right, and follow them.
  • Thirdly (is that even a word?) the site will give you information on the real reason you check the weather: to find out what you should wear. As people submit what they are wearing, it goes into the aggregation of what everyone is wearing in order to suggest to other people what they should wear.

Will this all work? Who knows, but it only took me two months to make, and I wanted to find out. For now, I’ve been keeping track of like-minded posts on and thrown a few screenshots up on Flickr, but the site is slated to launch at the beginning of November. If you’d like a sneak peek, just send me an e-mail, because there won’t be any lame super secret beta site with invites to pass out on Techcrunch… it will just launch and that will be it.

News at a glance

I’ve been really interested lately in designing things to digest at a glance. Seeing that my 9-to-5 is in dealing with news, I am particularly interested in that aspect, so while I think things like Dashboard and Net Usage Index and Henchman’s Helper and Google Analytics are all interesting, the thing that has caught my eye more than any of those was this photo from the early-mid 1900’s of the a newspaper’s storefront window.

I found it very interesting to compare that scene with today’s newspapers and web sites. In the storefront window scenario, they only give you what you really need to know, and in a way that you can digest it all in a glance and move on. There are two elements per news item that are scaled accordingly: the headline is huge, and the deck is smaller and gives you just enough information to give a little context or update. Today’s newspapers and web sites are so crammed with titles and links and leads and boxes and ads, you are basically forced to skim and scan as a way to handle the amount of text thrown at you. Even the bastion of simplicity that is Google has a news page with a completely jumbled mess of links, photos, titles, decks, sources, etc.

One exercise I wanted to try was to design a news page that was made for the person that wanted to know what was going on in the world, but had very little time to do it; something similar to that storefront window that you could randomly pass by and learn what’s going on. So what I’ve done is taken the Google News RSS feed, cut it up, reordered it by the number of related articles it has in Google’s system, and redisplayed them in large blocks. This is no groundbreaking feat of ingenuity or design, but I think it does the job of telling you what the most important things are out there in the least amount of time:

The News at a Glance
(This looks completely wrong in IE for now until I fix it.)

What do you think?

Future Shock victims

Here is an excerpt from Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler about victims of future shock (a personal perception of “too much change in too short a period of time”) that I found super interesting, mostly because of the corollaries to particular people and industries today:

An unknowing victim of future shock, The Denier sets himself up for personal catastrophe. His strategy for coping increases the likelihood that when he is finally forced to adapt, his encounter with change will come in the form of a single massive life crisis, rather than a sequence of manageable probems.

A second strategy of the future shock victim is specialism. The Specialist doesn’t block out all novel ideas or information. Instead, he energetically attempts to keep pace with change – but only in a specific narrow sector of life. Thus we witness the spectacle of the physician or financier who makes use of all the latest innovations in his profession, but remains rigidly closed to any suggestion for social, political, or economic innovation. The more universities undergo paroxysms of protest, the more ghettos go up in flames, the less he wants to know about them, and the more closely he narrows the slit through which he sees the world.

Superficially, he copes well. But he, too, is running the odds against himself. He may awake one morning to find his specialty obsolete or else transformed beyond recognition by events exploding outside his field of vision.

A third common response to future shock is obsessive reversion to previously successful adaptive routines that are now irrelevant and inappropriate. The Reversionist sticks to his previously programmed decisions and habits with dogmatic desperation. The more change threatens from without, the more meticulously he repeats past modes of action. His social outlook is regressive. Shocked by the arrival of the future, he offers hysterical support for the not-so-status quo, or he demands, in one masked form or another, a return to the glories of yesteryear.

Finally, we have the Super-Simplifier. With old heroes and institutions toppling, with strikes, riots, and demonstrations stabbing at his consciousness, he seeks a single neat equation that will explain all the complex novelties threatening to engulf him. Grasping erratically at this idea or that, he becomes a temporary true believer.

The Super-Simplifier, groping desperately, invests every idea he comes across with universal relevance – often to the embarrassment of its author. Alas, no idea, not even mine or thine, is omni-insightful. But for the Super-Simplifier nothing less than total relevance suffices. Maximization of profits explains America. The Communist conspiracy explains race riots. Participatory democracy is the answer. Permissiveness (or Dr. Spock) are the root of all evil.

Although it may be ironic that this may be super-simplifying, I find it interesting that I can quickly think of lots of specific people or entire industries that embody each of these characteristics almost fully. Feel free to use the comments space to make your own connections. And if you haven’t read the book, I highly suggest it.

Symmetrical earbuds

Soon after I Twittered about my frustration with earbud headphones, I started thinking about how they might be improved. My main frustration with earbuds is that it seems like every time I pick them up from a table or my pockets, the earbud that I put in my left hand is never the left earbud, and I have to switch them around (which exacerbates the second problem of the cord being twisted.) I wondered if there was a way to make symmetrical earbuds that need no left/right designation, and came up with this idea:


The idea is that there is a weight on an axle in the earbud, which, when snapped backwards with a small rotational flick of the wrist as you put them towards your ears, bumps the speakers into proper forward position for each ear. Now both earbuds work in either ear, and are set by the act of simply moving them towards your ears.

What do you think? I’d love to hear any other ideas you have that addresses the problem. Also, if you have any ideas as to how to solve the cord tangle problem send those along as well. If I come with something, I will post it later.

Some blog about some stuff.