Monday, May 27, 2013

Get a vacuum bottle

A high-quality reusable vacuum-insulated bottle* costs about as much as 5 lattes at Starbucks, and will last you for decades; you'll probably lose it before it breaks. If you're a typical middle-class American coffee or tea drinker, keeping a portable 16-oz bottle in your day bag will reduce your consumption of disposable paper cups a hundredfold.

Equally importantly, it will improve your drinking experience in three ways: it will keep your hands cool; it will keep your drink hot; it will allow you to carry your drink around without worrying about spillage.

If you're the type of person who brews a pot of coffee in the morning, then, without a vacuum bottle, you're stuck with either lukewarm coffee by midday, or a profligate waste of energy to keep the pot heated. Instead, you can get a large vacuum bottle and fill it from your pot in the morning. It will literally keep the contents piping hot all day long. In fact, I have sometimes filled a bottle in the morning and had warm, drinkable coffee still left over the next morning.

All this may seem kind of underwhelming and obvious, but it is striking how few adults I know carry a thermally insulated bottle. I mean, just go to a coffee shop and look around.

Somehow "thermos" has become associated with childhood lunchboxes and camping. But it shouldn't be. I say this as someone who only recently converted to bottle-carrying, after wasting countless paper cups over the years, frequently cursing when hot coffee splashes up through the hole in the lid as I'm walking. Get a vacuum bottle today! It's awesome!

* a.k.a. "thermos" although that is a semi-genericized brand name, like "kleenex".

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Ars on the YouTube-on-Windows-Phone fracas

Disclaimer: I used to work for Google, although not on YouTube. This post reflects only my personal opinions.

So many crocodile tears from Microsoft, and a shallow, silly writeup from Peter Bright, who is reliably pro-Microsoft but lately has been treading perilously close to shill territory.

Please, imagine how Microsoft would behave (indeed, has behaved in the past) were the shoe on the other foot. Imagine that any Microsoft competitor implemented an app for their platform which allowed Zune or Xbox content to be streamed in full fidelity outside of Microsoft's control.

Bright's analysis of the current behavior of the YouTube mobile site is neither here nor there. An app operating outside Google's control cannot be responsive to future changes Google makes to the YouTube user experience. Perhaps Bright has never heard of building a compelling product first, and profitably monetizing it later — also known as the business strategy of every successful consumer Internet service?

Now, leaving aside what Microsoft would do, or what makes business sense for Google, what policy is in keeping with the spirit of the Internet? The Internet is an internetwork — a network of networks — and historically it has been considered impolite to direct significant load to other people's networks without some form of reciprocal exchange, whether that's money, peering, or some other resource. Streaming videos off someone's service in your app is like hotlinking images off someone's web server in your web page, only a thousand times more bandwidth-intensive. (Since streaming video is more complex than HTTP-over-TCP, it's also greedier with non-bandwidth computational resources too.) Google gives away so much stuff gratis that now people apparently expect them to give away everything forever. But unilaterally giving away everything forever has never been a sustainable basis for internetworking.

Microsoft knows this perfectly well; as a smart man once said in a different context: "Who can afford to do professional work for nothing?"