Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Pesuade xor Discover"

Paul Graham considers the following issue: When writing, the plain truth (as you see it) will often be offensive to people. You can try and avoid this, but it doing so means being less concise, because you have to add disclaimers and write more indirectly. Is this worth it?

Maybe not. Maybe I'm excessively attached to conciseness. I write code the same way I write essays, making pass after pass looking for anything I can cut. But I have a legitimate reason for doing this. You don't know what the ideas are until you get them down to the fewest words. The danger of the second paragraph is not merely that it's longer. It's that you start to lie to yourself. The ideas start to get mixed together with the spin you've added to get them past the readers' misconceptions. [4]

That's not even the worst danger. I think the goal of an essay should be to discover surprising things. That's my goal, at least. And most surprising means most different from what people currently believe. So writing to persuade and writing to discover are diametrically opposed. The more your conclusions disagree with readers' present beliefs, the more effort you'll have to expend on selling your ideas rather than having them. As you accelerate, this drag increases, till eventually you reach a point where 100% of your energy is devoted to overcoming it and you can't go any faster.
(my emphasis).

I fully agree about the dangers there. I think it's important to treat writing as a means to figure out your view and that only at the very end should you be concerned with issues to do with communicating it to others. I think that to do otherwise is to limit yourself - a kind of premature optimisation, and from what I know of other's writing I think they most people get into those concerns far too early - either right at the start or early on in the process. This also seems to be the way writing is taught.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Don't purchase any music from

[update: 15.10.09: four and a half weeks after I originally purchased the music they finally managed to make the download available to me.]
[update: 4.10.09: over three weeks since I purchased the music and I still can't access it. I've had more correspondence with Bleep: twice they've wrongly said the problem was fixed when in fact nothing had changed. Then they said there was a bug in their system. They refunded me the money then. But since I still own the copy I purchased from them, it'd be throwing my money away to go purchase it elsewhere, so I'm still effectively prevented from being able to listen to the music until they get their act together. And refunding me the money doesn't address all the wasted time and frustration I've had to go through. It was a week ago when they told me about the bug in their system, and I haven't heard from them since. If they had any decent customer service, they could easily find an alternative way to get the music to me].

I was really keen to get the Autechre album "Draft 7.30" but I couldn't find it at the shops. When I got home and looked on the internet I discovered, through the music publisher's (Warp Records) site, that you could buy it online as MP3s at

So I purchase it and went to download it. Because my internet connection at home is flaky, the download failed and failed four more times. Each time i was only able to get a tiny fragment of the entire file before it failed - the most it ever got on an attempt was 2.75MB. I went to try again and found that the download link was disabled. It didn't actually say why, but I presume this was an anti-piracy measure.

I didn't see any mention of a limit to the number of times you can download it. Maybe there was in the fine-print of the terms and conditions, but there was certainly nothing made obvious about it, and nothing mentioning it on the download page. I never saw anything there saying how many download attempts I had left, or saying that now I'd used up the number of attempts. The download button just stopped being clickable (I tried other browsers to see if it was some problem at my end, but it wasn't). There was no explanation at all.

If this is an anti-piracy measure, then it should stop people after five successful downloads. I wasn't able download the music once, I just had five quickly-failed attempts.

But then why is there a limit at all? If someone can download it once, then if they wanted to give copies to their friends they could still easily do that. If someone gave out or published their Bleep login details, so anyone could just log into the account and download the music, then this would also allow anyone to purchase more music on their credit card, so that's hardly going to happen.

So I don't see any point to a download limit anyway. All think it does is send out a message to a legitimate purchaser that does not trust them.

I then used their feedback form to send them a message explaining the situation. They say they'll try to get back to you within one working day. I bought the music on a Saturday, so that means I'd have to wait till around Tuesday morning (their time). I think this is pretty slack. Online stores are always open. If the store can take your money anytime, 24/7, then it seems a bit slack for them to only deal with customers' problems on week days.

The next day I sent them a rather more annoyed message. It's ridiculous that you can hand over money for something and be prevented from actually obtaining it. It's crazy that it is far easier to pirate music than to buy a legitimate copy.

It's now Wednesday -- four days after I purchase the music and sent them my first message explaining the problem -- and I still haven't gotten any response at all. After being screwed around like this, my advice is: don't buy music from I certainly won't be.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

How long till we can buy everything with our phones?

When will we be able to pay for everything with our mobile phones?

I'd love to be able to do that. The store person would tell you the cost, that'd flash up on your phone's screen, you could accept it and it'd all be done. You'd get an electronic recipt, and you could automatically feed the purchase into whatever software you like to keep track of your expenses, which could streamline the process of budgeting.

The potential benefits are pretty obvious, and I know there must be a lot of people working on this kind of thing, so I'm wondering what sorts of barriers there are to getting it out there. It might involve technical issues, though I suspect it might have more to do with things like cost and business models. And given that, how long might it take until the technology is out there?

Monday, September 07, 2009

Three recent 'personal transportation' inventions


A compact electric bike that can be folded up quite small. Looks like they're intending to sell them in 2010. website here

Being ridden

Being folded up

The Enicycle

A Segway-like electric unicycle - and despite what that sounds like, it actually seems quite functional.

The Contortionist

Dominic Hargreave's concept bike that can be folded up so it's not much bigger than one of its wheels

(though the process of folding it up seems a bit involved).

Here's why stuff in this space is of interest to me. So much of how we live, or can live, whether in cities, the suburbs or the countryside, is defined by the transport options available to us.

I think in cities, in particular, it could be great to have a form of transport that was quick -- something more in the scale of buses, trains, cabs and bikes, than on the scale of walking -- yet was much more ad-hoc like walking, in that you could just pick up and go, when you wanted (no waiting for it, no having to go to the place to get it), and you can go pretty directly to where you want to go (unlike a train), and once you're there there's nothing to do (no having to lock up a bike) or no big thing to lug around.

I don't think any of these things here are idea in this regard, but they're heading in that direction.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009