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Hi! My name is Cédric Bozzi, I make websites and iOS apps, and this is my blog about technology (mostly a Twitter archive, really).

 

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1 December 2008

“Goodbye Pownce, Hello Six Apart”

We’ll be closing down the main Pownce website two weeks from today, December 15th. Since we’d like for you to have access to all your Pownce messages, we’ve added an export function. Visit pownce.com/settings/export/ to generate your export file. You can then import your posts to other blogging services such as Vox, TypePad, or WordPress.

I don’t understand what’s going on with the Silicon Valley these days. It used to be that you bought a social site for the community, and tolerated the start-up’s founders for a while before driving them to quit; now they only buy the brains behind the product, and can’t wait to get rid of the users — that makes no sense to me.

I can only hope that Six Apart’s offer was so low that Pownce’s investors had to say “okay, we won’t get any offer better than that, but for the price we’d rather nuke the user base and just let you absorb the engineers.” (Note that I haven’t seen anyone bragging about the price yet.)

But it doesn’t make that much sense, either, as I don’t see what need Six Apart would have for Pownce’s engineers. No offense meant, but it doesn’t strike me that they designed revolutionary technology, or that they had to find ways to deal with tremendous scaling issues, or that Six Apart was in dire need of engineering talent.

 

We’re bittersweet about shutting down the service but we believe we’ll come back with something much better in 2009.

You don’t seriously expect that, after you’ve cut your users’ platform from under their feet (with two weeks of notice) and sent them back to Twitter (who would be well-inspired to whip up an import script for Pownce’s backups in the next 48 hours… even though they don’t really need that), they’re going to come back on Vox when you release a new service?

2 December

You don’t close a blog any more than you rip out your driving license when your car’s tank is empty.

“Twitter’s bad news is a bad business”

The dominant narrative of Twitter is the rise of Twitter, the latest force to displace the mainstream media and roil the world’s information economy. Too bad the real story of the company is one of top-to-bottom incompetence.

I’ll go ahead and say it: I’m going to miss Valleywag.

It was a feature invented at another forgotten startup, spun off into its own venture. The programmer who came up with the idea for Twitter, Jack Dorsey, was named CEO, while Twitter’s better-known backer, Ev Williams, a Webhead who struck it rich by selling Blogger to Google five years ago, dithered about how much he wanted to be involved. […]

With no real hope of making money on its own, Twitter’s best hope is a buyout. But its executives have handled that poorly, too. Dorsey botched talks with Yahoo and then Facebook; he didn’t even tell his own board of directors he was talking to Facebook about a proposed $500 million acquisition. After that, he was fired as CEO and replaced by Williams, but stayed on as chairman, a nominal job which doesn’t require his presence at the Twitter office. One prominent Silicon Valley investor is fuming that Dorsey is still on the payroll at all.

Ooh, that makes sense.

3 December

Safari suddenly, systematically takes 100% CPU with no windows open. Rebooted, cleaned up Library folders, no improvement. Wuh?

Very Secret Screensaver

Another of those very cool ideas that make you wish screensavers were still useful. Would look good on a Mac mini hooked to your widescreen TV.

I don’t know why they felt the need to distribute in a .app that installs the screensaver, but somehow it feels a little appropriate for the subject matter. (It’s also the first screensaver I see with a “Delete” button in the System Preferences options panel, and that’s very cool.)

.Tel Them Where to Find You

A .tel domain name links to the contact information of businesses, organizations and individuals. Information can include telephone numbers; links to Web sites, including a Facebook or MySpace page; e-mail addresses; instant messaging names, and, if you wish, identities for virtual games like Xbox Live or Second Life. […]

Because the data is stored in the DNS, rather than on a server, when a person updates a phone number or address using their .tel account, it is automatically updated in the address books of their friends who have their .tel information stored on a smartphone or other mobile device.

Wow, that’s clever.

It’s not like there aren’t already lots of services that try to be the reference point for your contact information — Facebook probably being the most successful for consumer-level use — but the idea of subverting DNS domain registration to make Telnic look like the one and only official, reliable place to store your information is a fantastic coup.

I particularly love how they want you to believe that, just because it’s loosely linked to a DNS whois database, the information will magically be updated in everyone’s address books whenever you change it. I finally managed to find out on the website, in annoying slideshow videos, that Telnic offered plug-ins for Outlook, Blackberry and Windows Mobile. Don’t expect .tel domains to ever be handled by Gmail or the iPhone address book, for instance (well, unless your contacts willing to give Telnic their Google or MobileMe password, I guess).

And I said “loosely” because you’re supposed to have control over who’s able to access which bit of your information, which means that most of your contact info is actually not in the whois database, but only in the registrar’s proprietary database. Which just happens to look like it’s been legitimized by the fact that it’s connected to a top-level domain name.

The initial registration period is open only to businesses and organizations with trademarked names that want to secure the related .tel address for a fee of about $400 a year (that’s what DomainMonster charges, but prices will vary by registrar). A “land rush” period, in which anyone can buy domain names for around $150 a year, begins Feb. 3. After March 24, domain names will be available for around $20 a year.

For the record, I don’t think it’s going to be widely adopted, and I don’t think anyone should buy a .tel domain; the reason I’m impressed by Telnic’s cleverness is that it will work commercially — I’m pretty sure they’re gonna manage to get a very nice treasure chest from this idea.

Look at how they’re already getting free, unquestioning fluff pieces in the New York Times. It’s not coincidence that the article happens to reference Second Life; this is yet another success story for tech PR.

4 December

Windows Live

The new Windows Live home page, and profile pages, are now reportedly available for all users today and, well…

Well, most of the functionality is there, but the interface is way too cumbersome for the profiles to breathe and live — which is essential in a social network, especially one that places the contacts’ news feed front and center on the home page (which is where it should be).

Incorporating the Messenger avatars and status updates is clever, and a good start (as is importing a bunch of external RSS feeds, à la Friendfeed), but “Wave 3” of Windows Live is definitely not going to replace Facebook… yet.

Considering how much of an improvement this is over the previous version, though, I’m looking forward to Wave 4. Will the designers find out about Ajax?

9 December

Accepted into the Daytum beta, and it’s so different from what I want it to be I’m going to spend the day wanting to make my own version.

Actually, I could just as well spend the day developing it and it would be done, but I don’t feel like creating yet another new website.

Nerdsz

A pretty cool way to keep an eye on those Twitter users you’re vaguely interested in, but not to the point of actually following them. I had an “open in tabs” bookmark folder in Safari, but it made the browser lag to open all those tabs; this lets you group users very easily and display them all in a single page. I’m going to unfollow a bunch of people today.

No registration or anything, you can create as many bookmarked groups as you like by just adding user names to the URL. As long as the site is open.

I was gonna try adding Google Connect & Facebook Connect to my blog, but I like neither of their implementations.

10 December

Schneier on Security: Audit

Most security against crime comes from audit. Of course we use locks and alarms, but we don’t wear bulletproof vests. The police provide for our safety by investigating crimes after the fact and prosecuting the guilty: that’s audit.

More time = shorter letter

If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.

Not to cheapen or abuse the thought of Pascal, Cicero or Nietzsche, but yes, this should also apply to your Twitter posts.

11 December

SMS Text Messaging in GMail/GTalk

US-only, of course, but:

On the receiving end, when you get a text message from Gmail on your phone, it will come from a number in the 406 area code. You can reply to this text on your phone just like you’d reply to any other text. The reply gets routed back to our Gmail servers and shows up in your friend’s Gmail chat window. Each of your friends’ messages will come from a different 406 number so you can reply to any message and it will get back to the right person. Messages from the same person will always come from the same number, so you can even bookmark it in your phone.

Wow, nice.

Griffin Clarifi

As soon as I read about it, I wanted it: an iPhone case that included a cleverly-designed macro lens? Sold! (Online, through the Apple Store.)

First things first, the case itself: well-designed, it hugs the phone very neatly, and the soft plastic that protects all four corners feels like it would really absorb shocks (I’m not paid to do this so, no, I didn’t actually try to drop my iPhone on the ground). It’s just the right thickness, holds in place very well, and feels just fine to the touch; as a bonus, I don’t have a white iPhone anymore.

Aside from the case itself, there’s also a “screen protector” that’s just a thin plastic film that protects from scratches (which are hardly a problem on the iPhone) but not from breaking. And it’s pretty much impossible to set up, because the case’s edges hug the screen so tight that there’s no way you can slide the phone into them without scraping off the film. Fortunately, it sticks there magically, without glue, so there’s no residue from when I gave up and removed it.

Regardless of the macro lens, the Clarifi is in the very top tier of iPhone cases: it looks and feels great, with the perfect blend of design, functionality and protection — that is, for a case that doesn’t cover the screen. If you’re really afraid of breaking your iPhone, chances are you’ll want one of those ugly transparent shells; I’m not sure why more cases don’t include a hard screen cover, but maybe there’s a good reason.

 

On to photography, then. To be honest, I kind of expected better. To be honest, that was a bit stupid of me. The iPhone’s camera is pretty mediocre in the first place, and just adding a small plastic lens on top of it isn’t going to make miracles.

The thing is that the macro lens… well, it isn’t macro, actually. Flipping it on or off doesn’t change the picture dramatically in the viewfinder, so I was a little disappointed for the first few hours: it isn’t designed to let you use close-up portraits of ants in your address book, but just so that you can take pictures of objects from ten inches away — and so that you can read barcodes on your iPhone.

The mechanism is simple as can be, which is just as well, because that means it might not break with age: the close-up lens slides over the camera with almost no resistance, yet feels quite sturdily attached to the case. The drawback being that it will easily slide by itself in your pocket, but you’ll quickly pick up the habit of just checking the lens’s position with your index finger every time you take a picture; it’s not a big deal.

 

I can’t say much about barcode reading, because the application I downloaded seems to be crap and I can’t be bothered to try another (it’s not like I’ve ever wished I could scan a barcode with my phone), but here’s a simple before and after that shows what a difference the lens makes (and gives you an idea of how close to your subject the camera has to be):

 

That was for the practical uses; for the creative types, here’s a couple of pictures I’ve taken (the last is filtered through the CameraBag application, which I would take this opportunity to recommend again if the stupid thing didn’t consistently get the orientation of my photos wrong):

Not exactly high art, but if you’ve got an iPhone you know how impossible it would be to get those pictures without the Clarifi case. And if you like to document your life at all, chances are you’re regularly left wishing you could take those kinds of pictures.

 

In conclusion: if you feel like having an iPhone case at all, and you’ve been known to use the camera once in a while, then there isn’t much reason to buy any other case than the Clarifi (unless you’re so paranoid you want one of those ugly full-on cases, but it’s a bit criminal). If you’re peculiar about keeping your iPhone as naked as Apple made it, though, I’m not sure the macro lens makes enough of a difference to be worth the small esthetic compromise.

As for me, I’m keeping it. It does complement CameraBag nicely.

Tagging iPhone contacts with the “Company” field

I’m not sure I need to tag my contacts, and if you do need it you might already have figured it out by yourself, but it’s just a tip that might be useful.

17 December

Jobs to skip Macworld keynote as Apple backs out

“Phil is giving the keynote because this will be Apple’s last year at the show,” Dowling said. “It doesn’t make sense for us to make a major investment in a trade show we will no longer be attending.”

Geez, does Jobs hate events he doesn’t have control over, or what?

I’m half expecting Apple to announce a big new product two weeks before or after they keynote, as a final affront to IDG.

iPhone : Le Conseil de la concurrence casse l’exclusivité d’Orange

Parmi les parties concernées, on notera quand même que la firme à la pomme n’a pas forcément défendu avec beaucoup de hargne le modèle d’exclusivité qui le liait à Orange. Le point 192 explique : « En tout état de cause, le Conseil retient qu’Apple elle-même explique qu’elle ne souhaite plus accorder d’exclusivités : “les droits spéciaux accordés à certains opérateurs, dont celui liant Orange à Apple pour l’iPhone en France, sont donc résiduels mais ne correspondent pas à un modèle absolu et nécessaire pour Apple, qui bien au contraire, désire ne plus en accorder de nouveaux dans la configuration actuelle”. »

Pan, dans les dents. Il y aura un jour où les pratiques commerciales autistiques d’Apple lui reviendront de plein fouet dans la figure.

Apple Expo Paris shutting down

The similarities here are not lost on us. The Apple Expo in Paris was able to continue for a little bit after Apple pulled out, but ultimately, it had to be put down. The same thing essentially happened to the now-defunct Macworld New York (previously Macworld Boston) conference that used to happen every summer before it got reduced to a single yearly gathering in San Francisco. While IDG claims that it plans to keep the Macworld Expo going at least through 2010 (and hopefully longer), the 800-pound gorilla in the room is the sad realization that such a thing may not happen for long.

18 December

Mac OS X Netbook Compatibility Chart

Ooh.

And I love that the chart is ugly as sin.

19 December

Tweetie (iPhone)

I’ve always thought there couldn’t be any good reason for Twitterific to have such laggy scrolling, and for other iPhone applications to be so convoluted (actually, I’m not quite a fan of Twitterific’s interface either); well, here’s a small guy showing everyone how it’s done.

The interface is simple, everything is where it should be yet every single functionality you can need is there — the interface design is just perfectly prioritized (except for theme switching being buried in the iPhone’s Settings app, which is alway annoying).

Perfectly worth the price. (Well, you could be using Twitter’s mobile web interface, but it’s not nearly as full-featured.)

20 December

Twitter name squatters lose

Almost like the domain game of 1995, I grabbed some of the best Twitter usernames, because I could see value in their use in the future. […]

Last night, “celtics” was pulled from me. You moved my account to “bc fan news“. I’m running a fan account with news on the Boston ‘Celtics’. […] In prior weeks, I lost ’stanford’ and ‘bostoncollege’. Why not give them [The Boston Celtics] the username ‘bostonceltics’ instead? Why was my ‘celtics’ one swiped? Why was anyone’s username swiped?

I had no idea that the terms of service (what? did you read them?) included that Twitter reserves “the right to reclaim usernames on behalf of businesses or individuals that hold legal claim or trademark on those usernames,” and I think that’s great. It makes Twitter look pretty ridiculous when Britney’s account has to be “therealbritney,” to use the most famous example — if you just know that she has a page, but don’t know its name, the only way you can find it is a Google search, and that’s just not right.

Sure, it’s a little troublesome that the decision process is completely opaque and we have to assume they decide who’s the “rightful” owner of a user name based on the highest bidder, but what can you expect? This is a private business; they’re not going to ask the World Intellectual Property Organization to arbitrate disputes.

26 December

Gotten an old wifi router that doesn’t let me set a key; how hard is it for people to detect a non-SSID-broadcasting access point?

30 December

I love/hate the idea that music producers have to test their music on crappy speakers the same way we develop for MSIE.

Dropbox & Leap sitting in a tree

Whenever I try a new or updated GTD/storage app (such as Evernote or Yojimbo), I always think longigly of how well OS X’s Finder could do everything I need if it only had a few additional functionalities (such as tagging, or easier, less modal search — I hate how searching in the Finder transforms the current window into a Spotlight window, instead of just performing the search where you are). The thing is, I always forget about non-free accessories such as Leap, which is just what I need: a Yojimbo-like interface to the Finder.

And the idea of coupling it with Dropbox is great: you get Leap’s browsing, searching and tagging interface; direct access to all your contents with any OS X application; transparent synchronization across as many computers as you need (including PCs); and a nice web interface with an optimized iPhone version I didn’t know existed.

The only question is how secure it really is, but that’s just the same as Evernote (or Yojimbo with MobileMe synchronization, for that matter): you can just keep your sensitive information out of the Dropbox folder, or encrypt it.

Dropbox provides 2GB of storage for free, and my current Yojimbo library is 300MB, so I’m gonna give this a test drive right away.

31 December

Goddamnit, there aren’t two icons with the exact same shade of gray. How hard is it to sample a screenshot with the eyedropper? Do all developers really have to use crappy, uncalibrated no-brand monitors?

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