Macworld: The Last Round-up


Today, Macworld magazine announced they’re shuttering their print version and laying off most of the staff. They had a round of layoffs awhile back, but this more devastating change almost feels like the death of the entire magazine.

I worked at Macworld magazine as a reviews editor back when Apple seemed heavily focused on cranking out new versions of iPods. The hottest startup around was Flickr. Evernote was just a Mac desktop app (with only hopes and dreams of growing into 30 other apps; pare it down already, guys). Getting a job at Macworld fulfilled a small-but-big-to-me dream of mine since childhood. I’d always wanted to work at a magazine, but I didn’t think it would happen because most of the magazines in the world have always been centered in New York. I chose to move to the West Coast out of college, and the few magazine gigs I interviewed for in Los Angeles and San Francisco were at boring trade publications. Thank God I never got the job at that motorcycle magazine on Wilshire Boulevard. I don’t even like motorcycles.

Macworld was part of a family of IDG tech publications, some of which I also interviewed at over the years. I probably would’ve enjoyed the video game magazine gigs if I would have gotten them, but they realized I wasn’t hardcore enough of a gamer. They seemed to value raw youthful enthusiasm over editing skills, which to my mind is not a wise way to hire people. But I understand why they sometimes hire that way: These jobs pay horribly.

I know it may be hard for people who haven’t worked in publishing to believe this, but the salaries at both newspapers and magazines are sometimes below the poverty line. Back in the first dot-com era, I worked as a copy editor at a small San Francisco newspaper with a starting salary of $33K per year. It went up from there because they could see that I was moderately talented and useful, but the truth is there were (and still are) so many people with English degrees who want these jobs that publishing companies can get away with paying a pittance. While it feels practically criminal to be paid so little, there’s no denying that almost every single print publisher is now paying for these past employment crimes. They’re dying quickly. It’s not at all unexpected, and it’s not entirely bad.

Even though I didn’t make much money at Macworld, I loved working there. I’ve been an Apple enthusiast since booting up my first computer, the Apple LC II (the “pizza box” Mac).  To be given the opportunity to think and write and edit Mac-related hardware and software reviews was right up my alley. Heck, I was a long-time subscriber. More to the point, to be able to work there at that particular time, as Apple was ascendant and running full-steam, really made the job feel important to me. I still vividly remember sitting in the audience when Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone. I remember thinking how amazing it was to see a fully realized pocket-sized computer spring seemingly out of nothing. A new standard and a giant leap forward for everyone who carried a phone — which was almost everyone. I also remember wondering how in the hell I would ever be able to afford one on the salary I was making. (I ultimately left Macworld when I asked for a raise and was told maybe next year.)

What stood out to me about Macworld — and which probably wasn’t at all apparent to the casual observer — is that they were one of the first publications (that I know of) to really embrace a web-first publishing strategy. Instead of publishing a monthly magazine and later copying and pasting all that content on a poorly designed website, Macworld’s editors championed the idea of publishing quickly to the web whenever possible. They treated the print magazine with the same loving care they always did (it was beautifully laid out), but they wisely capitalized on the strength of SEO-friendly Apple news — and perhaps more important, rumor. They nailed down the way to put out both a monthly publication for very long-time subscribers while attracting new readers who desperately wanted news and reviews about nearly every product before spending their hard-earned money. Putting it all together at the end of the month as a print publication after the fact probably sounds like a “duh” strategy now, but it wasn’t at the time. If they had never pioneered their web approach (which was replicated at some other IDG publications), I think today’s announcement would have been more final. The whole publication would probably be dead.

But will they be able to continue to offer the caliber of content they always have? Not likely. I worked with some very smart and talented people at Macworld, and if they’ve all been laid off with this round of firings (and it appears they have) I just don’t see how they can continue to offer the same level of unbiased, informative, in-depth reviews. It’s basically been demoted to blog status.

But I’m still rooting for Macworld. Just as I’m still rooting for the San Francisco Chronicle, where they somehow trusted me to help lay out sections of the newspaper as I struggled to learn Quark Express. And that legal newspaper that paid me so little but gave me the chance to physically paste-up a newspaper and drink beer in the newsroom. Thank you, Macworld, for showing me how to think carefully about how I present opinions to the public that also affect the livelihood of independent software developers. It’s helped me as a community manager. Thank you for trusting me to create an in-depth, six-page, round-up review. Most important: Thank you for giving me the beat of “Internet applications.” Researching those quietly thriving Internet start-ups basck in 2007 (I was always rooting for you Six Apart and Pownce) is what ultimately led me to new and interesting work.

I feel like I’ve been fortunate to straddle some massive technological changes in American culture — and to have always (somehow, perhaps inexplicably) come out better for it. I’ve had cool jobs with cushy perks and expense accounts, but I’ve also been able to participate in a long-standing publishing culture and learn from some intensely interesting people who care passionately about putting out quality writing and editing. Magazine people. I love ‘em.

As Jason Snell, the nimble and experienced leader at Macworld puts it in his fare-thee-well post, “It was a great ride. But I should’ve stepped off years ago. So here I go.”

Someone hire these people. They’re infinitely more qualified than a Stanford grad who’s play-acting at his first job as Chief Product Evangelist for an iPhone app. And they’re itching for a new challenge.

Dog Bites Man Story (Starring Me)

I was involved in a seriously strange event the other night in Golden Gate Park. Two pit bulls attacked a homeless guy. I happened to be walking by at the time. I heard a woman screaming for help in the park, so I naturally ran toward her. She ran to me, grabbed me, and told me her friend was being attacked by dogs and begged me to help. She was practically out of her mind. I called 911 and told them what was happening and where we were while I ran toward the sounds of a man screaming and dogs barking.

I’ll be honest. I did not in any way want to wade into battle with two pit bulls, but I felt like I had to do something. As I approached what was clearly a homeless camp around a picnic table, I could see that a man was on the ground on the other side of the picnic table and two big pit bulls, one white and one black, were attacking him. He was screaming in fear and pain. I looked around for some kind of weapon or stick or something to defend myself from the dogs. There was a bicycle there, so I grabbed that and used it as a shield between me and the dogs and moved them away from the guy on the ground. The dogs looked to me as the new person to attack and I spent the next minutes fending them off with the bike. Luckily, the response time of the SF police was impressive. I saw two policemen shining flashlights at me. I waived them toward me. They shouted at me: “Get out of there.”

Unfortunately, this is where the story doesn’t get better for me. When the cops show up in a dark, foggy park and you are part of some kind of weirdness, you basically have to do what they say. They are the ones with guns. They don’t know the situation so I don’t blame them for doing what they do. I retreated toward them (hands up, without the bike), and the two pit bulls went for me. I dodged. I darted. I spun around. I did everything I could, but the white pit bull gave me a pretty good bite in the leg.


After that, the cops took over, swinging their giant flashlights at the dogs to defend themselves. An ambulance showed up and took the man to the hospital. Animal control showed up but couldn’t capture the dogs. The police shot one dog. The dog that bit me ran away. Those are the facts from an eyewitness — me. I tweeted about it. Of course I paid attention to Twitter and local news outlets and blogs. That’s just the kind of guy I am. I used to work at local newspapers and magazines, so it’s kind of in my blood. Plus, if you’re involved in something that is in any way newsworthy, you’re going to want to see how it’s reported in the local news.

In some ways I’m disappointed with how something like this is reported. I don’t expect news outlets or bloggers to get it right. It’s not a big story. It’s a one-day story for the local news (literally dog bites man). But boy a lot of it was wrong. The San Francisco Chronicle (and everyone else subsequently reported) that the second man bitten refused medical attention. Not really. I asked for help, but the paramedic told me to drive myself to the hospital. I guess that’s the state of healthcare these days. They simply wouldn’t treat me on the scene. To be fair, this detail is what the police told the reporter, so I don’t fault them for it.

The SF Weekly blog reported that the second man bitten was the owner of the dogs. I am certainly not the owner of two pit bulls. No one at the scene knew who the owners of the dogs were. Let’s be honest: The owners of those dogs are probably other homeless people. The park has plenty of (frankly sometimes dangerous) people camping in it, and some of them now have dangerous dogs. This story also suggested that the police are suspicious that I’m the owner of the dogs but wouldn’t say so. Thanks for making me the bad guy.

In this NBC News story, I’m portrayed as a homeless friend of the guy that was attacked:

“The owner of Frisco and Cleo went to get groceries at that hour and left his dogs with a friend in the park, according to police and witnesses. When the owner came back, his dog bit him, too, but not as badly. Both men in the park are homeless.”

ABC News parroted the other stories already online (most of these stories probably just grabbed the details from the Chronicle report, which was the first one to appear online). This story also paints me as being the owner of the dogs:

“A second man tried to help and he was also bitten. Police believe the man who jumped in to help may have been the dog owner.”

Who got it right?  The SF Examiner actually got most of it right. And, they even added interesting information about the history of the dog that bit me. Cleo apparently has recently been in custody by Animal Control. Great follow through. They missed a few details, but it’s pretty close to correct — which is actually sort of amazing for a tiny event like this. They published their story after all the others and had the benefit of more information.

I would like to congratulate the San Jose Mercury News and Bay City News service (through the Contra Costa Times). They are the only ones who reported this small-time story successfully. They only put in the facts they knew and didn’t speculate about the rest.

The moral of this story: The only ones who didn’t report untruths? Newspapers. Like, the old-school kind that aren’t super-savvy with their Internet presence. We all know newspapers are dying, and let’s admit it — some of us secretly laugh at them for seeming so behind the times. But consider what dies with them: accuracy, prudence, and follow-up.

++++ UPDATE Cleo the pit bull was on a 10-day watch at Animal Control. Cleo had had a rabies shot when she was incarcerated four weeks before this event (seriously; I’m not joking). The only way for Cleo to be tested for rabies would have been to euthanize her, but Animal Control didn’t want to do that. Thankfully, I recovered with antibiotics and had no rabies. Which is great because rabies is fatal.



I didn’t get rabies and die. Saw a group of homeless men cooking over an open fire (which is wholly illegal in the park) at that same location a few weeks later.  Back to normal.

Spatchcockian in Scope


I’m not much for holidays. Anyone who knows me isn’t surprised when I say that. I’m a classic curmudgeon. This New Yorker cartoon sums me up when it comes to holidays.

mr. humbug

And yet… I can’t deny that I love turkey. And some (although most certainly not all) Thanksgiving side dishes. The holiday that’s devoted to culinary excess? Yes, go ahead and count me in because I would regret not having the opportunity of hunkering over a kitchen sink and tearing off the salt-and-peppered skin of a turkey wing with my teeth. But spare me the traditional family gathering. It’s boring and cliched. I’m sorry, but it’s too often true.

I know that tradition is an important thing, but frankly America has some pretty boring holiday traditions. So sometimes I try to branch out and do something more interesting. A few years back, I went on a hike in a dried-out riverbed in Austin with the lovely Molly on Thanksgiving Day. We had our dinner on a rock. And found geocaches. Excellent Thanksgiving.


This year, I didn’t go on a hike or do anything all that interesting. I played a whole lot of Battlefield 4. But I couldn’t resist cooking a turkey. My no-nonsense approach to Thanksgiving deserved a no-nonsense turkey, so I decided to spatchcock it. If you’re not familiar with that slightly racy term, it basically means cutting the backbone out of a turkey and flattening it out so it will cook in a fraction of the time of a fully trussed and stuffed bird. In fact, you can cook it in about an hour.

Why, I wondered, is there no turkey spatchcocking recipe on Instructables? I was flummoxed and made it my mission to add one. Voila: Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey in One Hour with the Spatchcock Method. I also made some superb Stuffin’ Muffins that one of my co-workers came up with. It was delicious and way easier than cooking a traditional turkey. And I had my moment at the kitchen sink with the other half of the chicken wing.


Shark Hunt


“Let’s go hunting for sharks,” said our boss. Okay, sure. Why not. “To the Farallones Islands.”

The occasion was celebrating 1 million visitors to Instructables in one day — the day before Halloween. We all wanted to go out on a boat, and nobody had ever been to the Farallones Islands, but we knew that soon enough the weather in San Francisco would turn to a whole lot of wind and rain. So we didn’t dilly dally. We just rented a fishing boat (and its crew) for the following week.


Little did we know that the wind and rain would get here before then. But we didn’t care. We wanted a little adventure, and being out in the Pacific Ocean with rain and swells sounded like it was just dangerous enough for our crowd.


We brought a few bags of food for lunch. Someone brought a cooler of booze and started making Dark and Stormies (rum and ginger beer).  Someone (me) stayed away from the morning cocktails. Four people lost their lunch. No one saw a shark, but we did see a porpoise. Everyone had a great time. Even the people who threw up.



When Will My Novel Have a Playlist?


Playlists for books. You heard me right. Seems like a natural idea to me. If you’re a writer of books – an author of either fiction or nonfiction – would you want your book to come with suggested songs or sound compositions? I don’t see why not.

I envision a future in which authors (and smart marketers) bundle playlists of songs that set moods for chapters, add a deeper level of meaning, or that simply match the historical period being written about. That period novel set in the 1930s that mentions a song being played during the dance scene in the story? Let’s put that song directly in your digital book. Maybe as an author you would like to set the mood and readerly pace of your Elizabethan novel, while simultaneously indulging your love of Dead Can Dance. Worried that your WWII biography of Hilter won’t stand out from the crowd? Your “Going to Hell with Hitler” playlist will.

Furthermore, the success (well, 1990′s success) of CDs like Bach for Book Lovers suggests that a fair amount of readers like to listen to music while they’re exploring worlds in their minds. I know of no statistics on this topic, but it’s fair to assume that peaceful, wordless, ambient music (classical included) is what people like to listen to while they’re reading. What a boon to ambient musicians this could be, the creation of an entirely new marketplace. New Age soundscapers have surely been waiting a long time for their own technology-aided Renaissance. In fact, it’s not too hard to imagine a future job of “book composer.” I wouldn’t mind being one of those.

What fun for an author, this extra plane of meaning could be. Curating the soundtrack of your characters’ lives opens up a sensory channel for authors that’s never really existed before. It could enhance the highest literature with new levels of meaning, and it could make that dusty old Bible a lot more enjoyable to struggle through. Maybe some authors would prefer to include a playlist of the music they listened to while they were writing their book. That’s the kind of behind-the-scenes content that real fans go cuckoo nutso over.

In a way, e-books inevitably seem to be a candidate for this kind of “DVD extras” treatment. I welcome it, so someone please get right on it. While I’m not sure I would want all of the behind the scenes info for a book — spare me the “Writer’s Edit” of your 800-page Roman à clef — I certainly wouldn’t pass up some great background music.






Skateboarding Across San Francisco

That sounds huge, doesn’t it? When I say that it’s 7 miles, you’ll probably think that is huge. But, in the grand scheme of things, if you rode your bike 7 miles it wouldn’t feel like a marathon. And if you went on a 7-mile hike, you’d probably realize halfway through that you were going to ace this hike. But set off on a 7-mile skateboard run, and suddenly it sounds impressive.

I had been threatening to invite/force Henry to do this with me for a few weeks. I kept goading him into agreeing that skateboarding across San Francisco would be fun. And bad-ass. And monumental. And brag-worthy. Of course, he dreaded it. He complained about it ahead of time. He tried to make some other kind of deal with me instead. But I wasn’t having it. We were locked in.

In preparation, we pulled some wheels off of his skateboard and installed them on a better deck. I’m still using the same board I bought for $30 in 1997 (if I remember the year correctly). It’s cheap and lightweight and not at all cool. It’s perfect. Rolls like a dream. Once we tuned up, we hopped on the N Judah train and rode it to the ocean.

San Francisco is lousy with hills, but as cyclists know, there is a relatively flat-ish route you can follow. Travel along the bottom of Golden Gate Park, take a breezy shot through the Panhandle, bank your way through The Wiggle, and settle into a nice urban landscape as you traverse your way through SOMA until you make it to Embarcadero.

We noticed all kinds of insane people and saw some gritty street scenes, and that was part of the point. I wanted Henry to see San Francisco from a skateboarder’s perspective. Not from his private-school point of view. The mere act of skateboarding through most urban terrain is technically illegal, and you’re never sure if the people you’re scooting by welcome you as a fellow citizen out getting some exercise or see you as a nuisance — to some people you’re not that far removed from a homeless person.

It took about 3 or 4 hours to get across the city, including a stop for lunch. At the end of the day, I felt like I did when I was 17 and would spend a Saturday out riding my skateboard. Tired, fulfilled, but not exhausted. Just the right amount of adventure, with plenty to brag about.

And that was the real point of this trip: To give Henry something to brag about. When school starts back up, you can bet he’ll be telling everyone how he rode across the entire city. I expect he’ll remember this adventure for the rest of his life. The weekend after our trip, he asked if we could fly up to Portland and skate across that city. The same kid who bitched and moaned about the prospect of skating across San Francisco was suddenly ready to tackle a much larger map.

I think I might have learned something from this trip: Sometimes you have to engineer teachable moments to your children. And sometimes it actually works.

The Long Tail of the Favorites

Another month, another Instructables Build Day.

The people I work with in the Instructables Lab drop what they’re doing the last Friday of every month and make something. Not that they don’t make stuff all the time, but the last Friday is the day everyone makes stuff together instead of toiling away at regular work. It’s a little intimidating because many of them are incredibly talented at wiring up electrical thingies that flash lights and make noises, up-cycling trash to become unique household items, or making full-fledged robots. I can do none of these things. I am, however, excellent at washing dishes and not so shabby at cooking. So that’s where I pitch in.

Last month, I was super thrilled that my L’il Pomme Anna recipe was well received (33,000 views, 452 favorites, and counting!). I followed that up with the ridiculously silly Deep Fried Mac & Cheese for our “Fried Day” which was devoted to frying anything and everything in peanut oil.


This month, I think I may have hit my stride. Three successful Instructables in a row.

I came up with Hash Brown Egg Baskets. I’ve seen a few recipes out there that kind of play with the idea of making baskets out of various foods, and I thought that hash browns and eggs were a perfect complement. I’ve been kind of stuck on potato recipes lately, and I’ve been stuck on the idea of using muffin tins to reshape food into single-serve portions that look pretty on a plate.


The few recipes out there I found that dealt with molding hash browns or potatoes into shapes all seemed to be disappointing to the people who tried them, and I think I figured out why — they all seemed to be using frozen hash browns. Those things are full of preservatives and flavorings that I can only imagine would turn to paste if you subjected them to anything but frying in very hot oil. To combat that kind of watery mush, I turned to a thing I often have on hand, leftover baked potatoes. I’ve long used leftover baked potatoes to make hash browns because they are easy to work with, are already cooked and just need to be crisped, and my son likes them. Plus, they’re crazy cheap. They’re unadulterated potatoes and nothing else. What could be better? Enough of the water content in the potato gets steamed right out when you bake them to make them just right for making crispy hash browns.

The recipe appears to be doing crazy well. In fact, I think it will surpass the first one quickly and appears to be the most favorited of the week or month or something. I think it’s successful in part because it was included in the Instructables email newsletter, but also because I think people dig the idea of making something like this. This kind of recipe — with pretty pictures helping it along — is probably a winner on the social-media “favorite” front. But will they actually make them? That’s a tough question to answer, although the comments may end up answering that question. My first recipe (the pomme Annas) actually did get a number of people reporting back that they made it and that it actually worked as a recipe.

My theory on Pinterest and other favorite-heavy communities is that people often click the heart button because they want to come back to it or be reminded of it. They are in some way saying, “I want to do this later or look at this again later at some point, so I’m going to bookmark it.” But they never come back. Or rarely do. Call it the Long Tail of the Favorites — an unending list of favorite things that you hope to enjoy again later but that stretches ever further into the past as you like and love more and more stuff. Or call it the Second Run of Internet Content; social-media-savvy content that passed its expiration date and needs to uncovered by a new generation of likers and favoriters and given new SEO life by reblogging, repinning… and maybe even actually making.

In any event, I called it delicious.

Maker Faire: I Go for the Art of It


Each year the Maker Faire surprises me. I think it will essentially be the same thing as last year, but I always find something that jumps out at me as wildly creative and inventive.

Which is not to say that all of the exhibits are winners. Occasionally, I’ll amble up to a table with a hand-drawn poster board sign inviting me to build something out of pipe cleaners — or something similarly outdated. There are a few exhibits that have clearly been trotted out to every Burning Man and Stanford-sponsored science kids’ camp in the last decade. But I’m usually pleasantly surprised, and this year was no different.

This year what stuck with me the most was tape art. If you’ve never thought of masking tape as an artistic medium, the folks who created Tapigami have found a way to transform ribbons of paper and glue into flowers as pretty as cake icing and tribal village sculptures that cluster together under clothes-hanger covered skies. They’ll happily rip off a new piece of one-sided tape and show you how to bend, fold, and crease your way into the art form. They taught me a few tricks to help with architecting formless tape into structures that can stand up to the relentless force of gravity. It’s gorgeous and unexpected and wonderful.

I’m surrounded by science nerds in San Francisco, but art and literature and music are the things that inspire me, and based on the photos I took that were worth keeping, it’s clear that’s what I gravitated toward. One understated booth that impressed me in a big way was the California College of the Arts table (near our own Autodesk cluster of booths). They exhibited student work centered around building egg-like structures. They are constructed of wood, string, and weird plastic-like materials, some of which were even cast from molds. It seemed like the perfect way to get art and design students thinking about how to use 3D modeling software for both art and architecture. It made me want to go to art school.

Working Hard(ly)

Another reason my job is great. I can take 5 minutes out of my day to make silly videos. Like this one: 

My Ongoing Rdio Churn

I’m a music nerd. I’ve tried just about every music service out there, and none of them really works for me. If Apple follows through on the song-streaming service that has been rumored to be in the works seemingly forever, then perhaps I will finally get what I need. Or perhaps not because I’m pretty fickle. (Even if Apple does create a streaming service, will it have any kind of friend or social component? They proved with Ping that they’re not good at social, so what’s to think they could nail it with a streaming service.)

Of all the streaming services, the only one that comes close to fitting my needs is Rdio. And yet… I always find it lacking. I think I have churned — subscribed and unsubscribed and subscribed again — four times now with Rdio. Maybe more. I keep coming back, and I’m back at it again this month.

Here’s why I want to love Rdio: 

  • They have the best design, IMHO. Design matters to me. A lot. And they keep innovating on their many apps and listening options. 
  • They have a reasonably deep catalogue of music.
  • I can play it on my Sonos at home (for an extra fee).
  • I mostly like the way I can view my friends’ music collections. Their social details seem to be the best in my cursory comparison with other services (e.g., Spotify).

But here’s why I may churn (yet again!) and unsubscribe after one month (yet again!):

  • I’ve seen some bugginess here and there. Their help links on mobile, if I remember correctly, used to push me to a signed-in view, so I couldn’t actually read the help documentation. This may have since changed. Little things like that are to be expected from startups, so not the end of the world. 
  • They don’t have a deep enough catalogue of music. While it’s impressive, when I compiled my April 2013 playlist — which I took directly from a playlist of purchased songs on iTunes — I couldn’t find 5 out of the 21 songs on Rdio. That means over 20% of the songs I went looking for weren’t on Rdio. I understand that they are always adding more, but that’s an abysmal percentage for a music nerd completist like myself. 
  • I have to pay extra to play Rdio on my Sonos. I totally get it. They need to have tiered subscriptions, but it’s a drag for any consumer to have to pay extra for something they know they won’t use all that often but nevertheless want the option to be there. 
  • The sad truth is that I don’t end up getting a lot of great recommendations for new music from my friends. Some of them have great taste in music, but I’m not feeling the gee-whiz-where-has-this-music-nerd’s-playlists-been-all-my-life discovery that I always want. And I’m not certain anyone really looks to me for music suggestions, either. Maybe music taste isn’t as share-able online as we  expect it to be (for some unexplainable reason).
  • Most important: I fear they will lose the battle to Spotify. The Spotify folks are pretty great at building excitement by roping in artists for live Spotify events. They’ve got branding muscle and advertising dollars to flex that muscle. The battle isn’t won yet, but sometimes the better product loses in these battles (e.g., VHS vs. Beta).

But I don’t want to sound too harsh. I still think Rdio is the best service out there. It just doesn’t satisfy my need for discovery. Then again, I think that my relentless focus on discovery may only be truly satisfied by human DJs. The kind you can still  only find on old-school radio.