10 posts categorized "Product Reviews"

Seattle single malt

Just finished a tour of the Westland distillery in SODO in Seattle.

This new outfit is committed to producing only single malt whiskey, from malted barley (same as beer). No corn, no rye.

Seattle single malt

Scotch is my favorite spirit so of course I had to check this out.

The product I sampled and purchased is called "Deacon Seat American Single Malt Whiskey."

It's good! It won't replace Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Ardbeg, or any other single malt from the Scottish island of Islay anytime soon, but it definitely has a scotch profile. And that from being aged only two years. Joss, who led the tour, suggested that's because the casks in which the Westland whiskey was aged are new wood.

They will have a peaty whiskey available soon, using malt imported from Scotland. I'm looking forward to that.

They are a "craft distillery" under Washington law, meaning they have some restrictions on how much they can produce, and on where they can source. I take it most of the barley comes from Washington state.

Part of what made the tour fun was that there were two fellows from Sun Valley who produce spirits in Idaho, Tennessee, and California. They make gins, vodkas and bourbons, but no single malts. I think they are researching. I overheard them sharing production calculations as we wandered through the Westland distillery.

The more people making single malt, the better! Ditto English session ales.

Flickr lite

Probably stating the obvious, but Flickr should consider releasing a streamlined version of its new iPhone app to make it more appealing to average users.

"Flickr lite" would do little more than offer filters. Photos would be stored in some default manner that you couldn't fiddle with on the app; those who wanted to do so would have to go to the web.

I drink your milkshakeHere's the gambit: the social aspect of Flickr lite should be all Twitter. So Yahoo and Twitter would need to make some deal.

I think it could work, based on how compelling Twitter cards are. Flickr photos are right in the Twitter card. Have you noticed how many fewer Instagram photos you see now if you are a Twitter-but-not-Instagram user? Now that it takes a click to see an Instagram photo, I generally bypass it.

As for power Flickr users who like the robust feature set of the new Flickr app - let them keep it, but rename it "Flickr pro." It might be the first "pro" app offered for free.

Now here's the audacious part: Flickr lite and Flickr pro would both let users, from the app, license their photos in three ways: (1) not at all; (2) under a CC license; or (3) for a set royalty fee, payments to be processed through PayPal.

Setting up Flickr to permit celebrities to control or even profit from their own image-making - that would be wholly antithetical to the regressive Facebook mission and could drive the cool kids over to Flickr.

Photo: Luigi Guarino / Flickr.

Do not go gentle into update hype

The following is a parody. Click here for the text of the famous Dylan Thomas poem, "Do not go gentle into that good night," as well as for an audio recording of Dylan Thomas reading it.

Do not go gentle into update hype,
Smart users should burn at the bait and switch;
Rage, rage against the dying of user rights.

Though users in the end know new is right,
Some releases fork crummy features, bitch.
Do not go gentle into update hype.

Well-meaning, earnest devs, crying how bright
Their apps might dance on a platform of the open type,
Rage, rage against the dying of user rights.

Wild devs who sang the Twitter API in flight,
And learned, too late, Costolo threw them in the ditch,
Do not go gentle into update hype.

Grave bankers, near death, who see with selfish sight
UGC monetized to make them rich,
Press, press the making of the update hype.

And you, Tim Cook, there on the sacred height,
Curse, bless, me now with Apple Maps, I pray.
Do not go gentle into update hype.
Rage, rage against the dying of user rights.

Apple map

Image: Sean MacEntee / Flickr.

Flickr's Instagram

No question but that there are tradeoffs, in the choice of how to take and where to post your photos.

I see that Blogger has remade itself, offering iterations of flipboard, snaphot, and other popular UI concepts. On the dashboard side, the new Blogger appears to make it easy to pull pictures from othe Google properties, Picasa and Google Plus. If I were using Blogger to blog, that might make Google photo products more compelling.

Toy car on roughed up ravenna blvdMost of the photos I use for blogging I find on Flickr. Flickr is not the easiest application to navigate; it always seems to require 2 or 3 more steps to accomplish something than you think it should. But there is a rich inventory in Flickr tagged with creative commons licenses. And, having learned (learning) the ropes for that purpose, it's more natural to put my own shots on Flickr.

And now I find a useful Flickr app for my android phone.

The Flickr mobile app is not as elegant or intuitive as Instagram. And it's not ubiquitous - it's not available for my iPhone. But the Flickr android app has filters, imitating Instagram (or the prior app Instagram successfully imitated!), and the process of capturing and posting a photo from your phone only takes 1 or 2 more steps (rather than 2 or 3) than it seems it should. Because it's acceptably useful as a substitute for Instagram, in terms of functionality for capturing and posting a picture, it's actually way better than Instagram, for me. That's because it has the added benefit of simultaneously loading my photos into Flickr, the storage service and blogging treasure trove.

Picture: toy car crossing roughed up Ravenna Boulevard, posted with the Flickr app's "Berline" filter.

Sparkbuy, Laptop-Specific Shopping Site

Blogger and entrepreneur Dan Shapiro has a new startup that's all about making it easier to shop for the perfect laptop. It's called Sparkbuy and a beta version, accessible by invite codes, launched yesterday.

John Cook and Greg Huang each posted the news yesterday, here and here respectively. John also posted some invite codes with his story. I have some invite codes to give out, too; email me or leave a comment if you'd like one of mine.

I played with Sparkbuy yesterday and I very much like how everything is click, drag & drop and slide-oriented.

Have a look at the left column in the screenshot below. When I pulled "Long battery" from the list of twenty or so features into the the top of my "Your Prioirites" list, the order of the laptops profiled immediately changed. You can add, eliminate and re-order the features in the "Your Priorities" list. Sometimes your tweaks cause the laptops profiled to change, sometimes they do not.


What's more, you can click on a feature you've prioritized to reveal a slide bar that lets you get more granular with the given specification. The popup in the screenshot illustrates this. I clicked on "Fast" and as I dragged the slide to the right, the popup told me how many laptops were being progressively eliminated from those profiled. I really like that feature.

I don't know hardware well enough to know if Dan's company is hitting on all the right criteria, nor if its database is comprehensive enough. But I love the user experience and will certainly use this site before I buy another laptop. And I'll likely put off buying a new TV until Sparkbuy begins to index those - that seems to be the electronics category planned next.

Update 2:40 pm PT: As I mentioned, I don't know laptops that well. But someone who does, who is a world-class UI expert to boot, emailed me a critique after trying the Sparkbuy beta himself. With permission, I am pasting his emailed thoughts here:

"It's kind of interesting, though I think it could be improved by displaying the value sliders for each attribute so you you don't have to slide them out. (Travel sites typically show you the flight times that you can tweak while looking at the results and filter real time.) I'd also add the ability to sort the list by name, price, etc. and finally add a search feature for the results, so that you don't have to page through.

"I'd also add a Processor category (their "Speed" rating is meaningless to me) and offer Android and Linux OS options (especially for the tablets).

"Also the database seems to not be fully current as Dell's new Inspiron Duo didn't show up."

"Montage" from Microsoft's Fuse Labs

Here's a screen shot of a kind of Flipbook I put together last night, on the subject of startups, using a new tool called "Montage" from Microsoft's Fuse Labs.

Picture 3

And here's a link to the live Montage-Startups site. Presumably the live site should look considerably different, as the different feeds pulled into the site are updated.

I haven't put this publishing/curation tool quite nearly through the paces it deserves, but already I like it. My first impression is it won't default into mass media or consumption the same way other tools do. (I suppose, long term, how Montage fares in this respect will depend on Bing's developing priorities.)

Right now the tool lets you pull RSS feeds, Twitter searches, and news and images found by a search term you specify. Oh, and maps and video and "text," but I haven't tried those fields yet. If Microsoft uses its influence with Facebook to access pictures, updates, fan pages and other feeds, I can imagine many Facebook users would consider shifting attention to this more personalized, scrapbook-like activity.

My iPad Test Run

Knowledge worker that I am (yes, that newsmagazine phrase dates me; I think that phrase predates "metrosexual"), I don't travel without either (A) a laptop in my party, or (B) the certainty of 24/7 freely accessible networks wherever I may alight.

But I am now on a virtual rugged adventure. 

With the expectation of only a modest hotel "business center" that sometimes gets crowded as my backup at the other end, I'm traveling with an iPhone, a real cell phone and an iPad. I'm testing whether the iPad will substitute for the laptop. 

Here are my misgivings so far:

(1) I lose access to mail that is other than very current (can't use mail as a transactional archive--but, that's just like the iPhone).

(2) I already miss Word. The word processor on the iPad translated a very nicely formatted document into ALL CAPS THROUGHOUT.

(3) Redlining gets lost, too, and I have to ask colleagues to send me PDFs to see color-coded doc comparisons.

My brother works for HP, and I'm hoping I don't end up looking like a sucker if/when they debut a slate that runs all the office stuff I use in the office.

But portability is the privileged point here. That, and battery life. (I carry an iPhone recharge cord wherever I go.)

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