[OLD] Agile Tortoise Blog

I moved this blog off Tumblr. See the new blog for all archives and new posts.

Dec 22

Nov 30

Terminology review at FindMySoft

George Norman of FindMySoft:

This app has it all: plenty of functionality, great looks, it’s easy to use, and it’s offered at an affordable price. It is a must have for anyone who needs to have a dictionary at their fingertips.

Nov 29

Aliens, Ghosts and Linear Thinking

My wife is quite smart and keeps handy a number of small games and diversions for the kids to entertain them when we have to wait somewhere – i.e., at a restaurant.

One of these games is called Story Cubes – a set of picture dice that you roll then take turns assembling into tall tales. Our 10 year olds are very imaginative and silly, but play this game in much the same way as you would expect any English speaking adult to play, lining up the dice from left to right as they add to the story.

Our four year old has not yet been subjected to the rigorous structure of written language and it was incredible fun to watch him play this game the other night. Here is one of his stories:

Story Cubes

From memory, this story read, “The alien chased the ghost and the smiley face locked them up with the key for a long time in the jail.”

Compare that to the picture and see if it makes sense to you. Now try again reading from right to left. That’s better.

Our four year old is left handed (so am I). I have no idea if that’s related to why he tends to do things right to left, but my amateur theorizing suggests there is a correlation.

There are interesting things to think about in how he identified some of the icons (we see an abacus, he sees a jail – we see a clock, he sees “time”), but the part that fascinated me, is the way he placed the cube representing the prepositional phrase “with the key” out of the linear order. This was very natural to him and it makes total sense. The prepositional phrase modifies the “lock”.

If you ever find yourself locked into thinking about things in a linear fashion, spend some time around children. It will broaden your perspective.

Nov 15
“With a readable book-like interface and offline access, Terminology outnumbers Apple’s dictionary features with definitions, synonyms and antonyms, word relations, browsing history and favorite words.” My Must-Have iPad Apps, 2011 Edition

Oct 28

Cutting out the Middleman: Digital Publications, Ads and TV

Cutting out the Middleman: Digital Publications, Ads and TV

Daniel Jalkut has some interesting follow up to Marco Arment’s thoughts on digital publishing and advertising:

Is there something wrong with paying $5 for a digital copy of a magazine only to be subjected to ads? I don’t know. It may be necessary. It may be fair. But it felt wrong to Marco, and it feels wrong to me.

I think, at least partially, the psychology of this problem is based in how the disintermediation is perceived. In the printed magazine model, we have had the choice to pay $5 to the newsstand to purchase a copy of a magazine, which is full of ads. We have also been able to enter a subscription agreement with the publisher of the magazines we want to read regularly, and in return for agreeing to buy every issue we get a significantly reduced price, maybe $1-2/issue – but still get all the ads.

In the case where you purchase off the newsstand, the “feeling” is that your $5 went to the newsstand/bookstore/etc. You stood there and handed your $5 to someone that doesn’t represent the publisher of the magazine. Obviously, in reality a portion of that money goes to the publisher, but it doesn’t “feel” like you are paying it to The New Yorker (or whomever) directly.

By cutting out the newsstand and purchasing a subscription, you do feel like you are giving the money directly to the publisher, but it’s a significantly reduced price, so the ads still “feel” OK.

When you go the App store and buy The New Yorker, however, you feel like you are giving that full amount to the publisher. There is no middleman, so I think that is the root of the sense of injustice felt by Marco and Daniel. Of course Apple is a middleman and takes 30% – but that doesn’t seem as tangible in the digital realm. An intelligent buyer expects that if they “cut out the middleman”, they should expect to be getting a better deal – instead if seems like you have cut out the middleman, and are still paying the same price. That’s how the subscription model worked. You cut out the Newsstand, and got the publication for $1 instead of $5.

What’s interesting about this to me is that I think we will be facing the same issue in the TV marketplace. Consider John Gruber’s take on a potential Apple TV:

Why not the same thing for TV channels? We’re seeing the beginnings of this, with iPhone and iPad apps like [HBO Go], Watch ESPN, and the aforementioned Bloomberg TV+. Letting each TV network do their own app allows them the flexibility that writing software provides. News networks can combined their written and video news into an integrated layout. Networks with contractual obligations to cable operators, like HBO and ESPN, can write code that requires users to log in to verify their status as an eligible subscriber.

I agree that this is the direction things are going to head, but I wonder what happens when you cut out the middleman, and ABC wants to charge me directly to watch ad-laden shows? In this case, the current middleman is the cable/satellite provider. I think I’m going to “feel” the same way Marco and Daniel (and myself) feel about the ads in the digital magazine. I cut out the middleman, but where’s the benefit?

Clearly, not all of these “feelings” are based on rational decision-making, but it is what it is.

Oct 26

Oct 19

Pencils vs. Pens


Several people I have great respect for have been sharing their favorite pens lately. Which has sparked my latent curiosity regarding why someone would prefer a pen to a pencil.

I only use pens when the task at hand requires permanency – ie, to write a check. I find pens an inferior way to transcribe thoughts of any kind to paper. I think this is probably because the majority of the writing I do on paper is rather free-form. I am a doodler and visual thinker, so I tend to take notes in a very non-linear fashion and often am doing sketching intermingled with my notes. UI mockups, model diagrams, etc.

Pencils are the clear winner for this type of interaction with paper. Not surprisingly, I also do all this note taking in unlined artists’ sketchbooks. The richly textured paper interacts with the pencil lead in a pleasing way.

I would theorize that people who prefer pens tend to be people who do more pure text writing on paper, and would also tend to be the types to use lined notepads. Any truth in this assertion?

At any rate, I started this because I also wanted to share my weapon of choice. The Pentel Twist-Erase 0.9. It has a slightly larger diameter than many mechanical pencils, which suits my large hand, the twist out eraser is high-quality and genuinely useful, unlike those on most competitors. And the 0.9 lead is a must. If you are a person who has sworn off mechanical pencils because of the constantly breaking leads, you probably haven’t used a 0.9.

Oct 18

Oct 17

Oct 13

"Indie" now a reality

I started Agile Tortoise, Inc. in late 2006. For the past five years, I’ve devoted roughly half my work time to it, doing client development projects and developing my own apps. I’ve also had an amicable relationship with a consulting services firm, wherein I devoted ~20 hours a week to their projects for a fair wage. This arrangement provided a reliable stream of work for times when my direct client projects were slow, and gave me access to a good set of employment benefits (i.e., health insurance) at a reasonable cost.

This consulting gig, however, has increasingly seemed like a burden to me. I like the people I worked with, but the work – doing modifications and enhancements to Microsoft’s ERP platform software – could be quite tedious at times and my heart wasn’t in it. It was also preventing me from spending time on the projects I really enjoy, both my own apps and a large and growing Rails app in the education market.

As of today, I have left that gig and am now devoted to Agile Tortoise, Inc. full time. So, I can truly call myself an independent. It feels great, like I just shed a tremendous weight. I look forward to producing lots of great things in my new found time.

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