The Bridge to the Everything Store: An Epilogue

Damages were paid today to many, many people in the aftermath of the Apple iBooks price fixing case. Paid, specifically, to iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon customers, those whom the government determined to have been harmed by Apple’s collusion with the publishing industry to keep ebook prices high.

$400 million was awarded to customers. About twenty-five of those 400 million were given to me in the form of Amazon credit. Credit I could not use, of course, because a little over a year ago Amazon exiled me for “excessive returns.” I had made several heartfelt entreaties in those days, but was each time denied. I was banished.

Being legally owed today’s settlement credit, but unable to do anything with it, I decided to ask Amazon what should be done. I suggested they might just cut me a check, and if not, I would next ask if they could simply award it to my wife (who got a way bigger credit than me, but whatever). Of course, I also suggested that they might just reinstate me.

Here’s part of the response I got back.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 3.25.04 PM

And that was that. All my sins forgiven, and even an apology given to me for “any inconvenience.”

I am once again welcome to roam the virtual aisles of the Everything Store. Wiser, more cautious, but welcome.

Perhaps this has something to do with the political climate. Perhaps Jeff Bezos, who loathes Donald Trump, wishes as Hillary Clinton does to build bridges, not walls. Or perhaps this was Amazon being in a celebratory mood over their moral victory over the behemoth Apple. Whatever the reason, it’s good to be back.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some heavy Wish List maintenance to attend to.

Hold On to Your Kindle (Exiled from the Everything Store, Part IV)

Here is the deal for an Amazon refugee in terms of the Kindle. (The story behind that is here, then part 2, and part 3.)
I continue to have access to any Kindle content I’d already purchased, which is substantial, and I have a lot of books still to get to.

I continue to be able to purchase Kindle content on my existing devices. I happen not to own an actual Kindle e-ink reader now, and do all my reading on my LG G3, though I might like to have a real Kindle e-reader again at some point. But.

What I can not do is register a new Kindle e-reader to my account, meaning that there’s no reason for me to ever buy a Kindle device because I wouldn’t be able to activate it and get my stuff onto it. Or, at least, that’s what I’ve been told.

I sold the Kindle I used to have when Amazon kicked me out, because I assumed I wouldn’t be able to buy any new books on it. Wrong move.

So if you ever get the boot from Amazon, hold onto your Kindle. You can’t get another one. Well, I guess you can acquire one, but you can’t do anything with it.

And may whatever god you believe in have mercy on your soul.

Amazon Threw Out My Stuff: Exiled from the Everything Store, Part III

And I'm done.

The saga of shame and betrayal that was my exile from Amazon took an uglier turn, as the company went from refusing to serve me as a customer, which they are well within their rights to do, to denying me my own property and even disposing of it.

You see, on top of being an avid Amazon buyer, I was also an active Amazon seller. I’ve been selling my used stuff on Amazon for as long as they allowed people to do so: CDs, books, cases, accessories, phones, laptops, everything. My rating was very high, and it was great for both me and Amazon. I got to make money on my old stuff, and they made money off of every transaction (more than they ought to, frankly — and here’s where you should be selling phones, by the way).

But when they closed my customer account, they closed my seller account as well.

Amazon offers the use of its own fulfillment centers for third-party sellers like me. The seller sends their merchandise to Amazon, and then it can be sold as part of Amazon Prime, and customers can get their free shipping and quick turnaround. It costs the seller a little more, but it can be worth it for the raw convenience of sending everything to Amazon at once, and having them deal with getting it to customers.

At the time that Amazon closed my customer account, I had eight or nine items still in Amazon fulfillment. Nothing valuable; a book, a couple of cases, a charging dock, headphone pads, stuff like that, which probably added up to about $50 worth of stuff, or so I guessed.

In order to get one’s stuff back, one is supposed to log in, and fill out a request to have it shipped back to you. But Amazon had shut down my account, which meant I couldn’t log in and make such a request.

Eventually, I got an email from Amazon’s seller program saying that I needed to specifically request to have my stuff returned or they’d dispose of it. I sent many, many emails and replies to various Amazon emails (many of which were to no-reply addresses, but most were not) to make clear the problem: You shut down my account and barred me from logging in, and therefore, I can’t log in to make my request. Please just send me my stuff to my address (which I provided, severally).

I never got a response that made sense. It was always some form response telling me the same thing over and over again: We won’t re-open your account, and please log in and request your stuff before we destroy it. It was maddening.

Finally, I got someone on the phone in seller services, and took part in what was one of the most absurd conversations I’ve ever had. (This agent was perfectly nice and even sympathetic, I should say.)

First, she couldn’t even find my account’s merchandise listed anywhere because my account had been closed, which shut it off from her view. I expressed how insane it was that Amazon was going to destroy my property without giving me any recourse to retrieve it first. It was a kind of theft, I felt. The agent said that somewhere in the finest of print were clauses about Amazon having the right to dispose of inventory if an account is closed or something, though she agreed that this was nuts and no one could be expected to know that.

Then she successfully tracked my missing inventory through the case numbers in the (many) emails, and listed off what there had been, which she said would have added up to about $35 in sales if all had been sold. I suggested that Amazon could at least compensate me for the items they were getting rid of without my permission. Then she rattled off all the seller fees that Amazon charges, including some I’d never heard of, and said at the end I’d be theoretically “owed” about $8. But, she told me, to even go through the process of transferring any money to me, it would cost Amazon about $10. The long and the short of it was that Amazon was getting rid of my stuff and there was absolutely nothing to be done about it.

She even suggested that under some ways of tallying it all up, I might owe Amazon 40 cents. “How will you be paying for that today?” she joked. Ha ha.

I believe personally that Amazon didn’t give me enough of a chance when they closed my customer account, though I also maintain that they had every right to do so. I am not entitled to do business with them, and they are not obliged to do business with me if they don’t think I’m a good customer. But it’s something else entirely for me to have entrusted my own property to them, and for them to block me from accessing it and then destroying it – particularly when my record as a seller was exemplary.

It wasn’t much stuff, of course. Odds and ends that are of no real value to me beyond what I could sell them for, so I’m not “harmed” by this. But I do think Amazon is behaving abysmally in this situation, because it’s simply not their stuff to do with as they please, it’s mine.

After my call with the agent, I was sent yet another email, one asking me to rate the conversation, and indicate whether they had “solved my problem.”

I clicked “No.” What do you think I got?

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 7.08.42 PM

So shall it ever be.

Once again, I’m not having comments on this post because I don’t feel like moderating them. Comments on the original post are still open. 

Exiled from the Everything Store, Ctd.

Much to my surprise, folks have been far more interested in my banishment from Amazon than I expected, and my post has generated enough discussion and debate that I thought I ought to clear up a few small points that I didn’t directly address, if for no other reason than some folks are making assumptions about this and that. Whatever, it’s not a big deal, but it can’t hurt to clear up some things.
I did not intend to imply at all that I thought Amazon was in the wrong for closing my account. The post was meant to express my sense of alienation at the sudden turn of events, not a rant against Amazon. I mean, I’m not happy about it of course, and I wish they’d given me a warning before this happened, but it’s a business that they’re free to run as they choose. I operated under what I understood to be their rules, maximizing for myself what they allowed. And they didn’t like it, and they kicked me out. Shapow. That’s their right. I didn’t think I was doing anything unethical, though I have no problem with people who think that I was. I also don’t at all begrudge Amazon for doing what they did. I do not at all feel “entitled” to do business with anyone.

And as I mentioned, there was no warning. But, curiously, they did send me an email early on that I can only paraphrase as, “We see you returned a bunch of things, is everything okay?” To which I said, again paraphrasing, “Yes. Is everything okay on your end?” To which they replied, paraphrasing, “Yes.” I suppose now that their check-in was intended as a veiled warning, but it sure didn’t translate that way to me.

There’s been some noise in the comments about my hurting third-party sellers by returning their merchandise. If it helps, and whatever if it doesn’t, the only third-party devices I returned were those that were damaged on receipt or simply the wrong item. Two HTC One M8’s in a row arrived damaged, and the third was the wrong color.

Also, I think some people thought I was doing this in order to procure review units, to, like, write reviews. I mean, I do write reviews (well, more essays and reflections), but no, this was to find the right phone for me. That’s all.

And this isn’t a clarification, but some new data: I saw that there was a sale on a Kindle book I was interested in, and I assumed I couldn’t buy it. But on a lark, (remember I still have access to all the digital things I’ve bought), I tried, for shits and giggles, to buy it from the Kindle app on my phone. And it worked! I bought it! I have it now! I don’t know if that will last, say, past the expiration date of the credit card I have on file, since I won’t be able to update it since I can’t log in to my account anymore. But it’s a little something, I guess. And I guess my pre-order of Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves will still go through. Maybe.

Oh, and I’m not having comments on this post because I don’t feel like moderating them. Comments on the original are still open.

Update, June 2: Nope, I can’t buy Kindle books, and I can’t get Seveneves from Kindle. Bought it on Google Play instead.

The Best Way to Buy and Sell Phones: Swappa

Let’s say you want to sell your used phone. Most ads you hear on podcasts will tell you to use Gazelle, and that’s fine. But you won’t get as much money for your device as you would if you sold it yourself.
Let’s say you want to buy a used phone, either an older phone you can get for cheap or a newer device for less than something fresh from the manufacturer (or carrier store). You could go to eBay, but that’s very noisy and can be kind of shady.

You could go to Amazon, of course, for either of these things. I can’t, but you could.

But if you don’t want to go the route of Amazon or eBay or Gazelle, I think the best way to go is through a website I found called Swappa.

swappa_seal_200x176The idea behind Swappa is dead simple. People who want a device buy it directly from the person selling it. Swappa sets up a sales template for each item, asks for certain information about your device, and has you post pictures (along with an identifying code so a buyer can be sure the images are legitimate). The usual drill.

The cool thing is that there’s no worrying about what huge percentage a company like eBay or Amazon will take out of the sale. If you’re a buyer, you don’t have to worry about the markup. Swappa charges an extra $10 on top of every sale, and that’s it. The end. If the seller sets a price of $200 for their device, Swappa adds $10, and displays a price of $210 for the buyer. That’s it. Since these are usually fairly expensive items, Swappa presumes that sellers pay their own shipping, which of course can simply be factored into the price they’ve come up with.

And it’s remarkable what better deals you can get as a buyer, and how much simpler and fairer it is for sellers. I’ve bought and sold a number of devices on Swappa as I’ve gone through my great journey of phone-trials, and it’s been excellent every time. My only issue has been when a phone arrived with a single dead pixel, and I was able to come to a very fair agreement with the seller. Because you’re dealing with a single human being with no corporate barriers between you, you can make things work on a case-by-case basis.

Typical Swappa listing

It’s easy to find exactly what you want. You can browse by carrier or manufacturer of course, but you can also get very granular. If you are only interested in, say, a mint condition or better Moto X, unlocked, with a white back, a red front, and 64 gigabytes of storage, it’s easy to specify that with a few clicks. You can even subscribe to your wished-for item and get alerted every time a new one comes on the site. Yes, I have found browsing this site a little addictive.

(There’s another part of the site called the Boneyard, which I haven’t used, which is specifically for phones that might have some kind of problem, either straight-up broken or simply having a problem with the carrier. I can’t speak to it from experience.)

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So how do you know you can trust these sellers? Swappa of course has its own rating system, where buyers rate sellers on the usual criteria. But you can also link your Swappa account to your eBay seller account so that a buyer can see how trustworthy you’ve been on eBay. In other words, you get to bring your online-seller resume with you to Swappa. PayPal, the only means of paying for things on Swappa, has built-in buyer protections, and Swappa support pounces to address any issues that might arise. It’s been great, and almost entirely worry-free.

Even if I weren’t banished from Amazon, I’d be using Swappa for all my used device transactions (and new ones, for that matter, for often brand new items are for sale). It’s simpler, it’s fairer, and it’s just a little more human.

Exiled from the Everything Store

Ha, banishment! be merciful, say ‘death;’ For exile hath more terror in his look, Much more than death: do not say ‘banishment.’

Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene III


What if one day you heard from some nameless representative at Microsoft, and they told you that you were no longer allowed to use any of their products or services? No more Office, no more Windows, and for that matter no Xbox or Minecraft. Or what if Google forbade you from using any of its services? It gets tougher, doesn’t it? Not only would you have to use a different search engine, but no more Gmail, no YouTube, no Google Maps, no Hangouts, oh, and don’t plan on buying an Android phone.

Even taking this out of the realm of the purely-digital, you can imagine how many walls you’d run into if, say, you were prohibited from using products made by Proctor & Gamble, or consuming anything made by Kraft or the Coca-Cola company. You’d find yourself constantly having to rejigger your thinking, and rule out items and services you’d never had to give a second thought to. Kraft foods, Google services, and all the rest, they were always just there.

Over the past few months, readers of this blog (all seven of you) will know that I’ve been experimenting with smartphones, on a long and emotional quest to find The Perfect Device for me. I would buy a phone, try it out for a bit, and if it didn’t suit, send it on its way. Sometimes this meant selling again on eBay or Swappa or some such. But quite often, it involved buying devices from Amazon (either new, direct from Amazon itself, or from third party sellers on the site). And as you probably know, Amazon has a lenient and simple return policy – one of the many reasons I’ve been a delightedly happy Amazon customer since its beginnings in the 1990s – and I made liberal use of it. I would buy a phone off Amazon, give it a go, and when it didn’t work out, neatly send it back within the allotted return window for my refund.

I did this several times.

And you know that when you have a new phone, you want to protect it, right? Especially if you might return it. So I’d often buy cases for my trial devices, sometimes more than one in order to try a couple out and see what suited me. The ones I didn’t use, I’d return. If I returned the phone for which the cases were purchased, well, of course the cases would go back too.

Again, I would always return things in the condition I got them, and always within Amazon’s return window. No lines were being crossed that I knew of. Though I used to joke, “I bet the folks at Amazon’s returns department have a picture of me hanging up with a bullseye on it.” Ha ha.

A couple of months ago, I got an email from Amazon customer service telling me that they were closing my account, that I would no longer be able to make purchases from the site or purchase digital content. The reason: excessive returns. I had been exiled from Amazon.

It was dizzying at first. There was the internal flagellation I put myself through (Why couldn’t you just pick one phone and be done with it???), and the embarrassment I felt (My wife will leave me over this). But the most striking feeling was that of alienation, of feeling lost.

I buy everything off of Amazon. Since it first came into being, I found excuses to buy from them over any other outlet. The reasons should be obvious: price, selection, customer service, speed and price of shipping, etc. Over the years those things have only gotten spectacularly better, from having the most books of anyone to having the most of everything of anyone. My wife and I have a Prime account, of course, because why wouldn’t we? My Amazon wishlist is a sacred space for me, where I keep a carefully curated list of the things for which I pine.

I am also a Kindle aficionado. I have had just about every model since the second generation, and even owned the first Kindle Fire, and I kind of liked it! I own a glut of Kindle books that I’ve yet to even begin reading, and at the time of my exile, I had just gotten a Kindle Voyage.

But now, I can’t shop on Amazon, not for phones, books, movies, music, gifts for my family, anything. I can’t get free two-day shipping. I can’t get hassle-free returns. I can’t maintain my special little wishlist. I can’t buy Kindle books, and I can’t buy Amazon MP3s (which are usually priced better than Google Play or iTunes, of course). I can’t stream Prime movies or shows. A powerful, robust hub of not just my online life, but my life, was now inaccessible. Like I said, it was dizzying.

I tried to make my case to anyone at Amazon who would listen: I’d promise not to return any more items, I’d agree to have my account specially monitored, I’d go on a temporary probationary period so they could see me on my best behavior. I wrote emails to countless Amazon addresses, I called on the phone, I chatted online with representatives, and I even emailed Jeff Bezos himself.

Here’s part of the response I got to that email. I’m removing the person’s name:

I’m […] of’s Executive Customer Relations team. Jeff Bezos received your e-mail and asked me to respond on his behalf. [ … ] The decision to close your account is a final decision, and won’t be considering further requests to reinstate it.

I realize you’re upset, and I regret we’ve been unable to address your concerns to your satisfaction. However, we’ll not be able to offer any additional insight or action on these matters, and any further inquiries on this matter won’t receive a response.

We appreciate your understanding.

Regards, […]

And so there it is. I am exiled from the Everything Store.

In the grand scheme of problems one could have, this is certainly no crisis. But Amazon is one of those companies, like Google or Kraft, that entwines itself into your life to such a degree that you rely on it like it was a utility, like it was air. It’s one thing to decide to wean oneself off of a given company’s service, like deciding to avoid using Google or Facebook if you don’t like their stances on privacy, for example. But to be kicked out, to have the door slammed in your face, is quite another.

Now, to be clear, Amazon hasn’t taken anything from me. The Kindle books I own, for example, I continue to have access to. The same goes for music and movie content I’ve bought through them. Their system is smart enough, I suppose, to allow me the use of the things I rightfully own without allowing me to do literally anything else. But given the fact that I (finally) settled on a big-screened Nexus 6 for my phone, and given that I could never again purchase a new Kindle book, I quickly sold my Kindle Voyage. Why bother keeping it?

There are countless alternatives to what Amazon offers. Stuff can be bought anywhere. Alas, it means looking in lots of different places for stuff instead of defaulting to one site, and no shopping site is nearly as easy to use or as, well, familiar with me. But I adjust.

I buy books over Google Play, for now anyway. I’m looking at the latest e-reader offerings from Kobo with some interest, but it’s a very grudging interest. (I could consider a Nook…kidding! I’m kidding. That’s ridiculous.) The selection will be lower, the price will be higher, the long-term viability will be questionable. But once again, I’m not really wanting for anything. It’s not really that big a deal.

But I can’t help it. As stupid as it sounds, my feelings are hurt. This seemingly-benign juggernaut of the digital age has shunned me for an infraction I wasn’t even aware I’d committed. The rest of the world will go about their online lives, breathing the air of Amazon, taking for granted that it will always be there. As they should, as it is supposed to be. But I’ll be that one guy at the party who’s allergic to everything he’s offered. No, thank you, but I’m not allowed to have any. (Come to think of it, I often am literally that guy.) Whatever services or products Amazon might offer up, I’ll be that one guy who doesn’t get to play. And it feels crappy.

But it’s also fine. It is disorienting, certainly, and I’m still working on getting all my digital bearings. I try to remember what Friar Laurence says to Romeo as the young lover panics and tantrums over his banishment from Verona.

Be patient, for the world is broad and wide.

And so it is. Goodbye, Amazon. I’ll be moving on, now. Jeff, if you change your mind, you know how to contact me.

And hey, Kobo folks, I’d love to take a look at a review unit. I promise I’ll return it.

UPDATE May 9:I’ve got a new post with some clarified points and a little tiny itty bitty smidge of decent news.

UPDATE: Lee Cutrone’s artistic rendition of me outside Amazon HQ:


Original unmodified header image from

2014’s Paradigm Shifts in Tech

Technology is all about change, and rapid change at that. But even with the pace of technological development being dizzyingly fast, there are still larger paradigms, grander assumptions and codes of conventional wisdom, that are more or less static. In 2014, though, a lot of those paradigms shifted, and many of our preconceptions and understandings were altered, enlightened, or totally overturned. Here’s a short list of some of those paradigm shifts in tech in 2014.

Microsoft the Scrappy Upstart


In another age, Microsoft was the Borg, the unstoppable and loathed behemoth that destroyed all in its path. Then, sometime in the middle-to-late twenty-aughts, it became the ridiculous giant, releasing silly products, failing to even approach the hipness caché of its once-defeated rival Apple, and headed by a boorish clown prince. Zunes? Windows Vista? The Kin smartphone? Windows 8? “Scroogled”? Each risible in its own way.

And then Microsoft got a new boss, and Satya Nadella’s ascent immediately changed the public perception of the company, especially among the tech punditocracy. The products still weren’t fantastic (Windows 8.1, Surface Pro 3), but the company began to emphasize its role as a service provider, ubiquitous not in terms of desktop machines, but in terms of the various services through which all manner of machines and OSes did their work. Think OneNote, Office 360 on iPad and Android, Azure, and OneDrive. The tide had turned, and now as Google and Apple (and Facebook and Amazon) battled for supremacy, Microsoft would simply work with anyone.

To get a strong sense of the change in attitude toward Microsoft, listen to prime-Apple-blogger John Gruber’s interview of Microsoft beat reporter Ed Bott on The Talk Show early this year, recorded at a Microsoft conference, at which Gruber was featured as a marquee user of Microsoft services. Gruber and Bott were full of hope and admiration for the old Borg, which would have been unthinkable even five years ago. It is a new day indeed.

“I Was into Big Phones Before it Was Cool”


When Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Note in 2011, it was ridiculed for being absurdly huge, as though anyone who bought one should be embarrassed about it. Today, the original Galaxy Note would be considered “medium sized” compared to today’s flagship phones, almost all of which have displays over 5 inches. Meanwhile, even larger phablets are objects of high desire and status, such as the Galaxy Note 4 and the iPhone 6 Plus. “Mini” phones (the 4.7-inch HTC One Mini, for example) are those with displays bigger than the biggest displays offered by Apple as recently as 2013, which topped out at 4 inches.

No longer silly, phablets are now considered high-productivity machines, the mark of a busy, engaged technophile, and are perceived to be eating well into the tablet market. (They’re still too big for me, but even I could be turned.) Big phones are now just phones.

Podcast Inception

At some point in 2014, it was decided that everyone in tech must have a podcast. If you worked for a tech site, you had a podcast (like me!). If you worked at a tech company, you had a podcast. If you’d just lost your tech job, your new tech job was to have a podcast. And on those podcasts, they woud have as guests and co-hosts who also had podcasts, because, of course, everyone had a podcast. On those podcasts, they would talk to their fellow podcasts hosts about podcasts, making podcasts, the future of podcasts, the monetization of podcasts, and podcast apps.

I predict that sometime in the middle of 2015, there will be a Podcast Singularity which will swallow up all tech podcasts into an infinitely dense pundit which will consider how this will affect the podcast industry, and will be sponsored by Squarespace.

Amazon’s Weird Hardware

Amazon was on a roll. The Kindle had proven itself to be an excellent piece of hardware years ago, and solidified this position with the magnificent Paperwhite in 2012. In 2013, its Fire tablets had become genuinely high-quality devices that were well-suited to most of the things anyone would want a tablet for, with strong builds, good performance, and beautiful screens. It seemed like Amazon was a serious hardware company now.

Then it released the Fire Phone, and everyone got a queasy feeling in their stomachs. A half-baked, gimmicky device that was incredibly overpriced, it landed with a thud, and Amazon continues to slash its price to clear out its inventory. (People really like the Kindle Voyage, I should note, and the Fire TV has been much better received as a set-top box, though my own experience with the Fire TV Stick was very poor.)

And then they awkwardly previewed the Amazon Echo, the weird cylinder that caters to the dumb informational needs of a creepy family, and the head-scratching turned to scalp-scraping. Amazon’s status as a serious hardware maker was no longer a given.

The Revolution Will Not Be Tablet-Optimized


The iPad was going to be the PC for everyone. Most people would not even bother with a computer with a monitor and a keyboard, they’d just get a tablet, and that’d be it. PCs would be for professionals in specific situations that required a lot of power and peripherals. For the rest of humanity, it would be tablets all the way down.

Of course, now we know that in 2014, tablet growth has slowed, and few people use their tablets as their primary computing device. Instead, they’re causual devices for reading, browsing, and watching video. Despite the niche cases heralded in Apple’s “Verse” ads, on the whole, tablets have become the kick-back magazines of the gadget world.

That’s fine! I’ve written before that iPads/tablets are “zen devices of choice,” the computer you use when you don’t have to be using a computer, unlike smartphones and PCs which are “required” for work and day-to-day business.

The shift this year is the realization that tablets are (probably) not going to take over the PC landscape, especially as phones get bigger, and laptops get cheaper and sleeker. Could there be any better argument against an iPad-as-PC-replacement than Apple’s own 11″ MacBook Air? Even Microsoft, which once positioned its Surface machines as iPad replacements now markets them as MacBook competitors. Why? Because tablets just don’t matter that much, they’re more for fun, and the Surface is for serious business.

Forcing the tablet to be a PC has proven so far to be awkward and hacky, and PCs themselves are better than ever. The iPad revolution may never be. Which, again, is fine, but in 2014, we realized it.

(And relatedly, e-readers aren’t dead!)

The Souring of Twitter


Twitter hasn’t always made the best decisions, and sometimes even its staunchest defenders have had to wonder what the company really wants to make of its crucial service. But to my mind, in 2014 the overall feeling toward Twitter has tipped from reluctant embrace to general disapproval. It’s gotten worse on privacy, it’s been MIA or unhelpful in handling abuse and harassment, and it’s began to seriously monkey with what makes Twitter Twitter. And more and more, I read pieces about once-avid Twitterers saying just how miserable the torrent of negativity makes people feel. Once the underdog to Facebook that all those in the know called home, it now looks like a hapless, heartless, clueless company that has no idea how good of a thing it has.

You Have Died of Ethics in Games Journalism


Tech has always been a boy’s club, but in 2014, a lot of the industry decided it shouldn’t be anymore. As more and more instances of harassment, abuse, sexism, and overt misogyny were exposed – in the wider tech industry and in gaming particularly – the more people stood up to declare the status quo unacceptable. A wider embrace of inclusiveness and encouragement of women in tech emerged, along with, of course, a counter-reaction of hatred and attacks from those who liked things as they were.

2014 forced the tech universe to confront some very, very ugly things about itself. But it will likely prove a net win, as more of us work to fix it than don’t.

(I have this shirt with the above image, and it’s here.)

Google’s Glass Jaw

In 2013, Google Glass was the future, the way all things tech would soon be. In 2014, no one wears them, a consumer version seems to remain a fuzzy concept, and even those who were breathlessly enthusiastic about it have felt their novelty wane. The tech punditocracy is now waking up from its Google Glass hangover, and they’re all a little embarrassed.

Now, of course, we’re all excited about watches. It remains to be seen what we feel like the next morning.

Amazon Puts the Eye of Sauron in Your House

Amazon just announced a weird cylindrical thing called Echo that you talk to in your house. Here’s their awkward ad.

Here are some of my knee-jerk responses to this.

On the device:

In the short term, it looks ridiculous. A big fat cylinder that resembles an air purifier or an ashtray that does what your smartphone already does, which is always with you. The very fact that you use your smartphone to set it up and tinker with it spells out how redundant this seems. Yes, there are kids who don’t have smartphones (one hopes) who might like to talk to the Echo, but it doesn’t seem to me to justify a standalone device.

In the long term, I get it. This a step toward the Star Trek Enterprise-computer, the personification of our homes. This is certainly where things are headed, and it remains an open question as to whether the computing power of that entity will be in our pockets, on our wrists, or in a standalone device.

At first blush, I don’t immediately see any reason for almost anyone to buy this. But soon we’ll all be using something like it. Amazon wants to have its Eye-and-Mouth-of-Sauron in your house before Siri or Android get there.

(By the way, I asked my 4-year-old boy to name the Siri-like Google Now voice on my phone, and he immediately said, “Hershey!” Perfect, right?)

On the ad:

It’s terrible. It’s like a parody of an ad for an embarrassing product. SNL’s “The Love Toilet” seemed more sincere and practical. I can’t believe how 1950s this family is. Dad makes the decisions, wants the news, asks questions about mountains. Mom cooks and doesn’t understand the technology. And dad also seems like kind of a condescending jerk.

All in all, strange, strange times, my friends. Or, as Chris Hutton said on Twitter, “Amazon: first company to sell you the mics they use to listen to you.”

Amazon Embraces the E-reader’s Niche Status with a Premium Kindle

Last week I wrote about the recent spate of predictions about the coming demise of the dedicated e-reader, and I predicted that rather than go away, the e-reader would probably embrace its niche status in two ways. I wrote:

…[E]-readers are not doomed, but … they’re going to cease to be an explosive category of mass market technology. Instead, I think we’ll see them continue to be honed and improved for a slightly niche market of frequent book consumers. And since they don’t require frequent upgrades on par with phones, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see two general categories of e-reader devices:

1. Free or nearly-free commodity e-readers that Amazon may just give away to Prime subscribers, for example, because they encourage e-book purchasing, and

2. High-end “luxury” e-readers (like the [Kindle] Paperwhite) with advanced, ever-more-readable e-ink screens, improved lighting, and premium builds.

Well mere days later it looks like I’m at least half right. Yesterday Amazon announced a new line of Kindles to join the Paperwhite: a standard “Kindle 5” updated with touch controls instead of buttons, and more to the point, the Kindle Voyage, which is, well, a high-end luxury e-reader with an advanced, ever-more-readable e-ink screen, improved lighting, and a premium build. Gizmodo is saying “damn, it’s beautiful,” and The Verge is calling it “shockingly good.” Even Marco Armentdoes not hate it on site.

It’s got touch controls and haptic “buttons” for page turns, it has a glass display that sits flush with the bezel, the back is made of magnesium instead of plastic, and it’s still lighter and thinner than the Paperwhite. Amazon itself describes it as “passionately crafted for readers.” It’s going for $200, and it really is just as I suggested, a true premium Kindle e-reader for the relatively small number of people who really care about this sort of thing (like me — birthday coming up!).

So while I already got #2 of my predictions right, #1 hasn’t yet come true. If anything, Amazon made the Kindle harder to get by raising the base model price by $10. Seems to me they could have kept on selling the “Kindle 4” for a lot longer, and at ever lower prices. Any reason this couldn’t be made available for, say, $40?

It’s still very possible that a free or almost-free Kindle is in the cards, but perhaps it doesn’t need to be. If you own a tablet or a smartphone, you already have the “free Kindle” in the form of the Kindle app. Maybe that’s as far as they’ll ever go.

Okay can I have a Kindle Voyage now please?