Welcome to The Pickle Theory

If everything worked as planned, you are reading these lines on a new domain name, and if you’re not reading these lines inside an RSS reader, you’ve probably noticed the new look, too.

Welcome to The Pickle Theory.

Let’s start with some administrative notes:

  • The domain name is now pickletheory.com. You’ll still get here if you type in the old address, so previously saved bookmarks should work just fine.

  • Accordingly, the RSS feed is now at feed.pickletheory.com. Subscribers to the old feed should be redirected automatically without having to worry about any of this, but if you do experience any hiccups, switching to the new one should help. Apologies for the inconvenience.

  • The site now has a dedicated Twitter account at @pickletheory, which will auto-tweet newly published articles.

  • There’s a new weekly newsletter for those who prefer to receive updates to their inbox. You can sign-up here.

The Name

Here’s “the story” behind this very unconfusing name as it currently appears on the new about page:

The Pickle Theory is a hedge against a change of mind or taste.

The toxic combination of perfectionism and indecisiveness has led this site to several different directions over its short lifespan. Seeing as it already went through more drastic changes than it should, I wanted to protect myself from myself or any future pivots by choosing a name I could relate to today and in the long haul.

But how can one protect against change when we all know change is inevitable? And that what you write about today may not be what you write about in two years? That not only your interests and priorities are bound to change with time, but that your personality — you — might as well?

Life takes you to places you could never expect to be, and it might in time alter things that you hold high and take pride in: opinion, philosophy, belief.

So I had to pick a constant. I figured that no matter who I am in three, five, or ten years, pickles are something that I’ll always enjoy. A radio guy or a businessman; writing about technology or Chivalric romance; rich or broke; it doesn’t matter. The pickle will always be there for me.

And this is The Pickle Theory. It’s the cold realization that, after all, our most durable characteristics may also be our most frivolous1.

I’ve talked with fellow writers about this, and they all said they liked “The Typist”. It’s a good name, with “a sort of allure to it,” as one of them put it. But the truth is I knew from day one it was temporary, and for many reasons. It implies singularity and author-focus, and is a tad bit too romantic. I’ve been sitting on this decision for a while now, but I wanted to couple it with the unveiling of my name so this weblog doesn’t become a diary about itself.

The Design

Unlike previous redesigns, this one isn’t a mere facelift: it’s almost 40 hours of typography research, sketches, fonts, color schemes, CSS, and PHP. Every element you see has been modified, line by line. Don’t worry, I’m not going to document each one of them.

One thing I do want to talk about though is the typography: Earlier this year, I had decided to change the main typeface from the very humanist Ideal Sans to a less pretentious, plainer one. I went with Proxima Nova, the deservedly acclaimed font by Mark Simonson.

With this overhaul, I’ve gone even further within the geometric sans-serifs family, to Avenir. Avenir isn’t available on non-Apple devices, so those devices will be served with Segoe UI. Titles are set in Tablet Gothic.

Making a geometric typeface readable is quite a challenge. I’ve spent much of my time adjusting line-heights and margins, but most of the attention went to characters per line (CPL), so even though the body text is bigger than it was before, the content area has been narrowed. This means less words per line, and hopefully less eye travel and neck strain.

But I think the biggest practical improvement is the new mobile design: Over 47% of this site’s visitors in the last 3 months were on a mobile device, and the previous version — while responsive — didn’t treat this segment too well. The fonts are now bigger, the layout tighter, and there are three breakpoints instead of one, which will ensure proper typography for both smartphone and tablet users.

Many of you have kindly taken out of their time to preview this design and give feedback, and it proved immensely helpful. Thank you. There isn’t enough space between these lines to express my gratitude.

If you see anything out of place, or have any suggestions, let me know on Twitter or send an email.

Also get in touch if you want to take the 1-year over on the next redesign..

  1. But really, I was just getting sick of trying to come up with a name. ↩︎︎
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My Name

I’ve been writing this weblog (in its current incarnation) anonymously since December 2013.

Not a lot will change now that I’m writing under my real name, but I guess an explanation is appropriate for those who’ve been following this site during the past few months and who might have noticed some narrative holes in certain pieces.

So let me explain. There are two notable radio stations that cover news here in Israel. Both are public, and together they compete for (and hold) the lion’s share of talk radio listenership. I work as the lead news anchor for one of them.

I was appointed to this role by the station’s then-new CEO2 in September of 2012. At the time, I was hosting a one-hour weekly show, studying for a bachelor’s degree in business administration, and pretty much settled with the idea that my future wasn’t in journalism. The offer presented to me was one that I couldn’t refuse, and so I took it.

I was younger (22) and even more inexperienced at the time, so the credit given to me was… well, huge. The transition was accompanied by some media attention, but more importantly it came with a journalistic responsibility that warranted thoughtfulness and diligence.

I feel fortunate and privileged, not only for the opportunity, but also — perhaps more so — for the environment it took place in. I was surrounded by smart, experienced, and supportive people who offered genuine advice that I really can’t put a price on.

Anonymity, to me, was primarily a hedge against unforeseen conflicts or developments. If stripped of its original context, I think Donald Rumsfeld’s controversial “Known Unknowns” can help explain some of my motivation behind the decision to start out anonymously:

There are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

There were things I knew that I knew, like the fact I wanted to write, mainly about technology. There were things I knew that I didn’t know, like whether writing a weblog as a hobby in my spare time would be in significant conflict with working as a news-anchor for a public media outlet. I didn’t see anything wrong with it to start with, but again, considering my age, I assumed there were more things I didn’t know than things I could possibly know; so I decided to take a hedge. Then, along the way, there were things that I didn’t know that I didn’t know.

I’ve been writing here for a little under a year and I have a better idea of what kind of writer I am. I’ve also learned a great deal about what type of journalist I am, in my two years here at the station. I still have a lot to learn in both areas. But as things stand now — with many unknowns out of the way — I don’t see a reason to keep maintaining my anonymity. It was annoying and counterproductive. The hedge is no longer worth its premium. And so here I am.

What’s Next?

Except for an upcoming design overhaul and a name change, I don’t foresee any major changes. I will continue to impose certain limitations on the scope of topics I write about, but since this was the case from day one, I don’t think the typical reader will notice a difference in style or content before and after this announcement.

Thank you for reading.

  1. Who’s someone I respect on so many different levels and go to for all sorts of advice. My bosses were made aware of this weblog’s existence since its inception. ↩︎
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August 14, 2014

Why It’s Hard to Catch Your Own Typos

Typos are mostly a solved problem in our day and age, but the psychological explanation in this WIRED article is interesting nevertheless:

Generalization is the hallmark of all higher-level brain functions. It’s similar to how our brains build maps of familiar places, compiling the sights, smells, and feel of a route. That mental map frees your brain up to think about other things. […] We can become blind to details because our brain is operating on instinct. By the time you proof read your own work, your brain already knows the destination.

This explains why your readers are more likely to pick up on your errors. Even if you are using words and concepts that they are also familiar with, their brains are on this journey for the first time, so they are paying more attention to the details along the way and not anticipating the final destination.

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August 14, 2014

Bathymetric Wood Charts by “Below the Boat”

I’m not big on art, but I totally see myself buying a couple of these when my future home is ready. The hard part will be choosing which ones to get. Below the Boat is a Bellingham-based, husband-wife company. The charts are “designed in the United States, crafted in a family-owned shop overseas, and imported”:

Starting with a bathymetric chart (the underwater equivalent of a topographic map), the contours are laser-cut into sheets of Baltic birch and glued together to create a powerful visual depth. Select layers are hand-colored blue so it’s easy to discern land from water, major byways are etched into the land, then the whole thing’s framed in a custom, solid-wood frame and protected seamlessly with a sheet of durable, ultra-transparent Plexiglas.

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August 13, 2014

Robin Williams and Suicide Porn

Vaughan Bell, on Mind Hacks:

One of the first things I do in the morning is check the front pages of the daily papers and on the day following Robin Williams’ death, rarely have I been so disappointed in the British press. […]

It seems counter-intuitive to many, that a media description of suicide could actually increase the risk for suicide, but it is a genuine risk and people die through what is sometimes called suicide contagion or copycat suicide.

Sometimes I wonder if the extent to which this stuff frustrates me is disproportionate.

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Adblock & Collective Punishment

In an interview for The Next Web, the guy behind @evleaks and serial tech leaker Evan Blass explains the motives behind his decision to retire:

I also started a website, and it’s actually done somewhat respectably, but with all the leaks going out on Twitter anyway, people have little incentive to visit, and most of my tech-savvy-heavy audience seem to be pretty heavy ad-block users, as well. It all adds up to an unsustainable living, and with a progressively worsening disease [Ed; Blass was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis], I need to make sure I can prepare myself better for the future, financially.

I think the fact “evleaks” was born on Twitter and continued to be Twitter-first even after the website went live was the dominant factor in Blass’s (financial) failure. That’s a discussion for a different day though.

Adblock is one of the first extensions I install upon getting a new computer. And I’m not alone: A report published by PageFair last August showed the percentage of visitors using ad-blocking tools to be as high as 23% and growing at 43% a year. The numbers for technology websites should be even higher.

I’ve been contemplating this for a while, and I should have done it from day one, but from now on I will use Adblock in “blacklist” mode: This means the extension will be enabled only for specific domains that I add. For me these are mainly news websites: The local ones here are plagued with ads.

The truth is, most of the websites I enjoy reading are written by independent individuals. A non-negligible number of them are relatively unestablished and rely on advertising to offset some of the expenses or justify their time commitment. Coincidentally, none of them use the sketchy strategies of big, traditional websites, and most of them have only one little ad placed in unintrusive areas. I’ve previously whitelisted a handful of websites, but I don’t want to rely on my memory anymore. If I’m annoyed enough, I’ll bear the 30 seconds it takes to add a website to the blacklist.

Yes, the web is full of bad practices and Adblock successfully deals with some of them, but to use it indiscriminately is to automatically punish the minority of honest publishers. And guess who’s more likely to close shop because of such sanctions? I mean, not everyone are as venerable as The New York Times to get on this new big thing called native advertising.

When I hear people randomly saying “I don’t want any ads” as some sort of a blanket policy, I wonder whether they would be willing to sustain alternative models.

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Four Years in Apple’s Ecosystem: An Expenses Report

By late 2009, when carriers and official retailers began selling the iPhone here in Israel, I was already an owner: My father had gotten me the original model a few months after it came out in 2007. I can get reminiscential here, but there’s a lot to cover in this piece as it is. I’ll only say that like many others, I never imagined the iPhone would become such an elementary object in my life. As of today, I own an iPhone 5S, a first-gen iPad mini, and a beefed-up 13’’ MacBook Pro (2013 model).

My first iTunes receipt dates back to July 7, 2010. Apple’s App Store launched in July 2008, so I can think of two reasons for why I’ve only bought my first app two years later:

  1. I’m pretty sure that like the iPhone, Apple’s App Store became available in Israel only at a later date. No matter how I phrased my search queries though, I couldn’t corroborate this, so I might be misremembering.
  2. Since getting my first iPhone, I’ve left iOS for two, separate and brief periods: The first time was to try a phone with a real, physical keyboard. Remember those? Anyway, it was the less-than-horrible Nokia N97. Later, in mid-2010, I wanted to find out what the Blackberry craze was all about — fittingly, after the craze had already died — so I got myself a BlackBerry Bold. If you haven’t closed this page yet, things only get better from here..

The primary goal behind this compilation was to become more familiar with Apple’s Numbers, to satisfy my growing interest in statistics, and learn more about data visualization. See, my lifelong mission is to one day become half as good as Horace Dediu. I guess it doesn’t hurt to also have my Apple related expenses in check, but that’s just collateral mental damage.

I know for a fact that even with this statistically meaningless set of data, I’ve done some mistakes and missed some key points, so I’m happy to hear from you (via email or Twitter) and improve it after it’s published. I am aware this data is anecdotal by nature. I’m also aware that becoming half as awesome as Horace is quite a challenge.

Behind The Scenes

  • I’m not a statistician, but I’ve tried my best to balance between too little and too much filtering, and to control for the right variables. The following metadata were given to each purchase:
    • Date: From July 7, 2010 until July 3, 2014
    • Category: Productivity1, Games, Content, Music
    • Price: USD and NIS (local currency in Israel)
    • Type: iOS, OS X, Music & Content
    • Special: For in-app purchases and gifts
    • USD/NIS exchange rate at time of purchase (where applies)
    • Installed: Yes, No (iOS only)
    • Of Installed, used weekly: Yes, No (iOS only)
    • Store: Apple App Store, Paypal, or Other
  • Where it made sense, Music & Content were excluded. The same goes for gifts, which — for example — shouldn’t be counted when usage metrics are plotted.
  • To my surprise, there was no easy way to export all iTunes & App Store purchases to a spreadsheet. So yes, I’ve gone through 90 e-mail receipts that contained 126 purchases, adding the above metadata to each individual purchase.

  • Like many non-US customers, I actually end up paying more for each purchase that I make. This is because Apple does not (and perhaps cannot) adjust for the constantly fluctuating exchange rates. I ignored this fact to keep things comparable and tidy, but mainly for my own sanity.

  • All numbers current through July 3, 2014.

  • Where I specify app prices, the amount listed is the one I’ve paid and not necessarily the current price.

  • I’ve owned every iPhone since the original came out. Looking at the first app purchase for iPad, I can confidently say that my first iPad (an iPad 2) was purchased on the 25th of July, 2011. I got my first MacBook on November 5, 2013.

  • Added August 10, 2014: The iTunes Store for music and movies launched in Israel on December 2, 2012.

  • This post may render awkwardly in your RSS reader. If that’s the case, click here to read it on the website.

  • The Numbers

    Since July 7, 2010, I’ve spent a total of $740 on 126 purchases. Of those purchases, 14 were In-App purchases (IAPs) and 4 were gifts. You can see a sharp increase in expenses that starts the day I bought my first MacBook.

    Running Total of All Purchases

    Here’s a purchase-by-purchase chart:

    App Purchases Timeline
    Continue Reading

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    July 25, 2014

    Brain Crack

    Hello Internet, a podcast by YouTube star CGP Grey and Brady Haran, is climbing rather quickly on my favorites list. Check it out if you’re interested in web culture. In episode #16, CGP shares the concept of “brain crack”, coined by vlogging pioneer Ze Frank. I found the original video from 2006 on YouTube, and here’s a mildly edited transcription of CGP explaining what it is:

    [41:36] This is from Ze Frank from ages ago, and his best episode is this episode where he talks about the notion of brain crack, and it’s a very useful thing to think about: The idea is that what can happen sometimes if you make things is that, you have an idea… and what can happen is over time, if you don’t actually work on that thing, you start to think about how good it will be, as opposed to thinking about “How am I going to get this thing done?” As time goes on, your kind of abstract notion of how good this thing will be becomes very large, and very outsized [sic] anything that could possibly happen.

    I suffer from brain cracks very often, particularly with ambitious or longer essays. One good example is “The Future of Information”, a piece I plotted in my head for a very long time. By the time I began writing it, my expectations and perception of the idea had become so grandiose that I couldn’t possibly be satisfied, no matter how many times I re-wrote it or edited my text.

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    July 18, 2014

    The Price (and Cost) of Cheeseburgers

    The average cheeseburger price in the US is $4.49, but what is the cost of one? Mark Bittman explains the difference between the two and the implications in this interesting New York Times column: (via Khoi Vinh)

    Almost everything produced has externalities. Wind turbines, for example, kill birds, make noise and may spin off ice. But cheeseburgers are the coal of the food world, with externalities in spades; in fact it’s unlikely that producers of cheeseburgers bear the full cost of any aspect of making them. If we acknowledge how much burgers really cost us we might either consume fewer, or force producers to pick up more of the charges or — ideally — both.

    Our calculation of the external costs of burgers ranges from 68 cents to $2.90 per burger, including only costs that are relatively easy to calculate.

    Related archive item: “The American Grocery Bill” — notice the inverse correlation in the chart I’ve put together in that piece. It was partly inspired from a show I had watched on the Discovery channel: The change in food expenses and that in healthcare spending were plotted on the same graph, which resulted in an almost perfect “X” shape — one down, the other up.

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    July 18, 2014

    “Explore Your Creativity” Promotion in the Mac App Store

    Some good apps running at 50% off right now in the Mac App Store. Among them is Pixelmator, which I own and think is a real steal at $16 if you need a good photo editing app. I’ve also got the trial version of the acclaimed text-editor Ulysses (currently $21.99), and while Byword does the job just fine for me, I’m tempted to pull the trigger.

    Here are the other participating apps:

    I’ve read many praises of Scrivener and Slugline, too.

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    July 17, 2014

    Google Launches Official Analytics App for iOS

    I’ve tried many Google Analytics apps over the years, and all of them, including the paid ones, came with one or more deal breakers: Lack of elementary features, bugs and crashes due to poor maintenance, or/and horrible usability. I’ve only been playing with it for an hour so, but Google’s just-released app looks very promising.

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    July 16, 2014

    ‘All Art to Me Is About Problem Solving’

    A great Esquire interview with director Steven Soderbergh:

    I think about art a lot only in two contexts. One is narrative. That we’re a species that’s wired to tell stories. We need stories. It’s how we make sense of things. It’s how we learn. When we look at what’s going on in the world and we see the immense level of conflict that seems to always be happening — you can always trace it back to competing narratives.

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    July 14, 2014

    Lessons on Meditation

    Ian Welsh has been meditating intensely for the last two months. Intensely as in five hours a day on average, and as much as ten (!) hours on some days. I’ve had a lot of colleagues and friends invite me to try meditation over the years, but Welsh’s remarks make it sound attractive (and scary) for the first time:

    Meditation has a “woo” reputation, an idea that it’s peaceful and serene and lovely. Now maybe that’s where you’re aiming to get, but meditation is a tool, a process, and it is hard bloody work and often unpleasant.

    Meditation gives you a good hard look at your mental habit and fixations, and you probably won’t like what you see.

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    I Am the Cheat

    According to a recent Business Insider survey, 86% of iPhone owners use a case, with almost 60% of them citing damage protection. Of those who don’t, 50% say “cases are too bulky”. Nick Heer explains why he’s among the minority in a short post titled “I Am the 14%”:

    Avoiding bulkiness isn’t an aesthetic decision, it’s a practical one. I don’t wear super skinny jeans by any means, but adding thickness and weight is unwelcome.

    Here’s a true story about technology, and idiocy: Sometime in 2012, my childhood friend “Ed” started working as a marketing agent for a company1 that claimed to sell “the world’s strongest, easiest and fastest-to-apply drop and scratch protection system for the iPhone”.

    Back then I had a cheap silicon case laying in my car that I’d only use rarely. Like Nick, I thought the premium for the insurance that cases provided was too high — aesthetic, comfort, and weight-wise. I refused to trade these off.

    Ed had a very effective marketing technique: With the almost unnoticeable sticker-set applied to his iPhone, he’d approach pretty much anyone with the same device, and ask them what they think would happen if he dropped — or worse, threw — his own iPhone intentionally. Regardless of the answer, he’d then proceed to do just that, from about a head’s height, with a haughty smile on his face.

    By the time he’d pick the iPhone back up — totally unharmed — little to no marketing would be needed, and the awed spectator was ready to shell an amount equivalent to 60 American dollars. I’d also be in awe.

    I mean, I’d also be in awe hadn’t I watched Ed do this dozens and dozens of times already. On every. Possible. Occasion.

    I guess it got to me that night at a wedding party we both attended. After I heard his phone drop for what seemed like the 57th time, I went up to Ed and thought I’d play a joke between two good friends:

    “You know it has got nothing to do with those silly stickers right? I’m gonna prove it to you now. Here.”

    When I picked up my caseless iPhone, the screen was shattered to pieces. Little and small.

    I’ve purchased and (unintentionally!) dropped a few iPhones since then. The first thing I do upon receiving one is go to Ed to get a new sticker-set. It adds little to no weight, is almost invisible to the naked eye, and provides better protection than many bulkier solutions. It almost feels like cheating.

    But isn’t that what good technology always does?

    1. I don’t feel overly comfortabe sharing the company’s name in the body text. If you’re curious, get in touch. There’s a clear disclosure policy on the about page, but just to be sure: I have no affiliation with this company. In fact, after publishing this piece “Ed” has told me they no longer operate here in Israel. ↩︎
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    July 10, 2014

    Pinboard Turns Five

    I’m not a Pinboard user. I find the RSS-Pocket-Evernote trio that I set up in January to work just fine. But reading Maciej Cegłowski’s fifth-anniversary post has left me wanting to* has made me become a paid user just for the sake of it. Cegłowski shares numbers and stats transparently, something I always look for, but this time I dig the writing as much as the numbers:

    Avoiding burnout is difficult to write about, because the basic premise is obnoxious. Burnout is a rich man’s game. Rice farmers don’t get burned out and spend long afternoons thinking about whether to switch to sorghum. Most people don’t have the luxury of thinking about their lives in those terms. But at the rarefied socioeconomic heights of computerland, it’s true that if you run a popular project by yourself for a long time, there’s a high risk that it will wear you out.

    More than anything though, I like Cegłowski’s levelheaded attitude towards entrepreneurship: He’s building a business in the age of startups. A useful service in the age of sexy, meaningless apps. He’s going for revenue in a time when everyone seems to be after snap acquisitions and fantastic exits. He has clients, not users.

    It’s a little ironic, but in many ways, Pinboard (as a web enterprise) is an oddity. And an exhilarating one at that, if I may.

    *I’ve purchased a Pinboard account hours after publishing this piece.

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