MotU #3: How many coins in the jar?

Stuff you knew you needed to know

About 10 years after the term was coined, are podcasts entering a golden age? Certainly, intelligent content is no longer the preserve of the BBC. 99% Invisible has been impressing for a while, but this season’s mega-hit is Serial – a real-life crime documentary where Twin Peaks meets the Wire. Do try it. Apps are getting better too – Overcast calls out to be trialled with its clever smart speed feature
 
Amazon appears to be getting into travel. Skift reports that the retailer-phone-maker-cloud-computing giant has approached hoteliers about listing on Amazon Travel. Does their brand and expertise stretch that far? 
 
Under Steve Jobs, Apple didn’t do societal stuff. Tim Cook has changed that enormously. The company finally started charity donations and campaigns for workplace equality (see also Cook’s beautiful coming out essay). This year, for World AIDS day, they’re promoting special (RED) editions of apps. It’s very impressive. The peerless Monument Valley special edition is a must.

… and stuff you didn’t

Passwords are our private diaries. Memorable and unguessable by necessity, they become a safe haven for our personal in-jokes and unspoken fantasies. The Secret Life of Passwords delves into what they say about us. 
 
App of the week. Remember Draw Something? If you liked the smash hit Pictionary-style drawing/guessing game, then check out Draw Type – it’s a keyboard add-on for iPhone that takes Emojis one stage further by letting you draw cute (or unsavoury) images for sending by SMS or WhatsApp. 
 
Can the internet count coins as well as a bank machine? An experiment at Stanford University is testing the wisdom of crowds by inviting all-comers to guess the value of coins in this jar. Make your guess by Dec 8.

MotU #2: Edison and the brass balls

Stuff you knew you needed to know

Hotel California has been found in Cupertino. Sir Jony Ive revealed that the design team at Apple is a suitably minimalist 18 people. And no-one has ever left. That tight-knit crew just unveiled Apple Watch kit – the tool for making apps for next year’s wearable wonder. Two new UI concepts to note: Glances and Actionable Notifications.

Hoodie-fan Mark Zuckerberg has been cracking the whip at Facebook. After successfully (but not without friction) spinning off Messenger into a separate app, he’s rumoured to be working on Facebook for work and has also just released a separate Groups app. This is very on-trend and reflects the move to single-purpose apps. Making an app for your company? Beware the false idol of the ‘one stop shop’.

 

Monetising content has long been a thorny problem. Startups like Millipay are focusing on micropayments for publishers whereas Google is testing Contributor – a paid service that replaces ads with thank you messages. 

… and stuff you didn’t

25 years ago, an artist installed an encrypted sculpture called Kryptos outside the CIA’s headquarters. It contained four encoded puzzles designed to challenge the spooks eating their lunch. Three of these brain teasers have longed been cracked, but the fourth has withstood all-comers. The artist this week revealed a clue that might finally uncover its hidden secrets. Cryptography is arguably the most important science of this century, and I recommend Simon Singh’s book as a readable primer.

Alongside managing distraction mentioned last week, another theme I expect to return to regularly is accessing creativity. John Cleese is (not?) surprisingly a champion of this, and this week told a wonderful anecdote about the prolifically inventive Thomas Edison,

“[Edison] thought that he got his best inventions when he was on the verge of falling asleep, and he used to sit in a chair holding ball bearings in his hands, with a brass bowl under his hands, so that when he fell asleep he’d drop the ball bearings and the noise would wake him up, and in that way he could spend quite a long period of time in that twilight area between being very tired and actually falling asleep, and that’s when he said he got most of his ideas”

Mails of the Unexpected

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Stuff you knew you needed to know

Twitter released the most awkward strategy statement in interweb history to widespread snorting.

Reach the largest daily audience in the world by connecting everyone to their world via our information sharing and distribution platform products and be one of the top revenue generating Internet companies in the world.

Surely the sweating fruit of an overlong meeting, it waddles in at 220 characters and ambitiously contains the word ‘world’ three times. As Jon Gruber points out, if any company should be able to fit its strategy into a single tweet, it’s Twitter.

Generate your own Twitter Strategy Statement here

The reinvention of Microsoft continues apace. Things that would have been previously undoable are blinking into the Redmond daylight. Office for iOS is now (sort of) free and whilst the Microsoft Band may not be as tasteful as the Apple Watch, it is here.

And what’s up with Amazon? The Fire phone appears to have been a damp squiband the new Kindle disappeared off my wishlist after this review. Their new “Siri in a can” Echo device feels like a solution in search of a problem. Imagine the faff of moving it from room to room when you already have a phone with you.

… and stuff you didn’t

Managing distraction is something I expect to return to regularly. I think history will characterise this era as when we struggled to balance the sudden, wonderful access to everything with finding the protected calm we need to process thoughts.

That’s why the Hemingwrite is both brilliant and contrary. A typewriter with a simple screen, it reimagines the word processors of the 1980s and creates a distraction-free writing environment. The kicker is that it does have internet access, but only for Dropbox and Google Drive backup.

Spot when a salesman is playing you. Be aware of the feel, felt, found sales technique. I understand that you don’t want to click that link, but I showed someone yesterday – and he loved it!

Simplifying things. I love the anecdote that design isn’t finished when there’s nothing left to add, but when there’s nothing left to take away. This calculator app is beautifully minimalist and even manages to remove the ‘equals’ button.