Cat in a box

Four odes to Amazon Prime

I have a somewhat irrational “thing” for Amazon Prime. So much so that I’m a little surprised that I have such an affinity for what is in some ways simply the act of prepaying for shipping. But that’s understating what Amazon Prime is.

Prime is a fine example of physical computing. I click a button on my computer. Electrons fly all over the place. Database records are created, messages are sent. Pedestrian. But at some point a TV comes off a shelf and is loaded on a truck. Less than forty-eight hours later, it appears on my porch. Maybe not as nifty as an Arduino robot that mixes drinks, but just as physical and slightly more practical.

Prime is what Amazon should have patented (if they could have waited). “Method for buying something with one click” isn’t so impressive sounding. “Method for integrating e-commerce, logistics, and shipping systems so that things magically appear at my house at my whimsy”, now that’s a good title for a patent.

Amazon Prime has a transformative effect on how I consume. There are all sorts of things that I just kind of languish without because I never remember to buy them when I’m at the right store. If it’s not food, I buy it on Amazon now.

Today I decided I should buy more undershirts. Five minutes later, they’re on their way to my house. Because I’m paying a fixed rate for shipping every year, I don’t worry about batching up my shopping. I just go buy things when I realize I need them. Potentially costly, yes. But now I’ll have a proper supply of undershirts.

Prime, coupled with Amazon’s recommendations, is eerily effective. Years and years ago, when I started using Amazon, the first thing I added to my wish list was first three seasons of Bosom Buddies on VHS (yes, that long ago). Amazon promptly recommend I look into other movies feature men dressed as women (good call, I find this amusing) and serious movies with Tom Hanks (not as amusing).
Fast forward ten years, and Amazon gives me humorous, but much more useful, recommendations. I bought three things I’d been meaning to pick up but had forgotten about due to recommendations. I’m a little surprised the streak ended at three. I’m sure there are legions┬álazy people like myself improving those recommendations right this moment.


Prime makes all sorts of transactions much more fluid for me. I spend less time in shopping centers and have a pretty great choice of products; in exchange, money departs my bank account more fluidly. When economists talk of the incredible complexity of markets, free market acolytes proclaim that truly free markets can route around inefficiences, and globalizationists trumpet the benefits of low-friction trade, they’re talking about Amazon Prime. It’s a service that could only exist in our current age of networks, connectedness, and impatience.

Instapaper is wonderful

I have loved Instapaper ever since I became aware of it. It fits perfectly into my workflow. There’s tons of stuff I want to read, but not just yet. Instapaper gives you a little bookmarklet to save these jewels for later when you’ve got more time to slow down and read a longer piece.

When the accompanying iPhone app came out, I fell in love again. Instapaper is perfect for filling your interstitial time, which is something I often find myself when I fish my iPhone out of my pocket. Also, you have to check out the tilt-scrolling feature; every reading app should implement it.

The love affair grew stronger recently. The newest version of the iPhone app came out boasting great improvements to the interaction design and new functionality that makes it an even better tool for occupying the time where you would otherwise find yourself day-dreaming[1].

Firstly: a sort of light-weight feed reading mechanism. It’s not for every site out there; there’s a curated list of sites you can consume in this way. I went with The Economist, but noticed things like Wikipedia Featured, Wired, The New Yorker, and popular stories posted to Instapaper. Great idea.

Next: folders. I’ve used it to organize my reading list into topics so that I can quickly go to whatever matches my mood or energy level. This functionality is present in the web app too, and Marco’s done a great job of making it really easy to set things up just the way you want.

Finally: shared favorites. Peek into what other people have marked as great reading. Maybe it’s a cliche “social feature”, but I’m excited to see curated reading lists from my wonderful friends.

In conclusion: Marco Ament is awesome, start using Instapaper and leave your username in the comments so I can read your stuff.

fn1. For example, wondering why butterscotch is so awesome.

Awesome people, hacker spaces, double basses, dictionary

Brian Oberkirch is a big fan of people who are doing awesome stuff on the web. Me too! I’d add to his list: Ryan Tomayko, Greg Borenstein, Garrett Dimon, _why the lucky stiff, Jeremy Keith, Robert Hodgin, J. Chris Anderson, and Christian Neukirchen. My list, like his, is incomplete, so make your own!

A hacker’s space in Kansas is renting an underground bunker to house their activities. Recommended joke: those guys wouldn’t know a hacker’s space from a hole in the ground.

This image and story makes me want my double bass really badly. Don’t miss the story; it’s fantastic.

Pro-tip: go ahead and add refactoring to your system dictionary. You won’t thank yourself later, but you won’t curse the machine either.

Generative Van Halen

I saw this last week (really!), but it appears the “blogger embargo” was broken on Sunday, so here goes.

“Microsoft Research released an app”:http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/redmond/projects/songsmith/ that lets you sing along to a drumbeat and then it generates music to match your singing. Many moons ago, an acappella version of “Runnin’ with the devil” made it’s way on to the internet. Some brilliant joker used the former on the latter and you get: something that’s just not quite right. It’s especially interesting how the software tries very hard to accommodate David Lee Roth’s off-beat entrances.

In my opinion, the “DLR soundboard”:http://www.thetyser.com/ and the “Roth Alarm”:http://rothalarm.ytmnd.com/ are even better uses of the source material.

The Creative Big Bang

That John Gruber, he’s good with the words. From Bang:

Consider the Big Bang. One moment there was nothing, except for everything condensed into a single infinitely dense point. Then, one minuscule sliver of a second later: the universe. Nothing was yet formed, all the true work of forming stars and galaxies remained ahead, but the framework, the laws of physics, were set, and the rest was thereafter inevitable.

This is what everyone contemplating a new creative endeavor craves: that in the moment it turns real, to get it right. To frame it in such a way that the very act of framing propels the project toward an inexorable destiny.

That’s a really beautiful way to capture the process of turning an idea into something people see, hear, use or laugh at.