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Preview: Ryan Tate

Ryan Tate

“He’s no dummy. We got in this conversation, it was kind of entertaining.” -Steve Jobs (13:45) Main gig: Wired (senior writer, business) Book: The 20% Doctrine (Harper Business, Apr. 2012) Software: Typingpool (a Ruby app for easy audio transcri


Goodbye, David Bunnell

Fri, 21 Oct 2016 10:17:05 -0700

I am quoted in Owen Thomas’ San Francisco Chronicle obituary for David Bunnell, a pioneering tech publisher who, along with his son Aaron, gave me my first journalism job at long-gone Upside magazine. He also stared PC Magazine, PC World, and Macworld; working at a pioneering early PC maker called MITS in New Mexico, he edited articles for company’s Computer Notes publication by Bill Gates and Paul Allen about their new company Microsoft’s version of the BASIC programming language. You can find other obituaries from Harry McCracken and Karen Wickre. Below are my own scattered thoughts upon learning of David’s passing.Subject: Re: David BunnellFrom: Ryan Tate Date: Thu, 20 Oct 2016 13:24:50 -0400To: “Thomas, Owen” <>I had not. This news is devastating, and not just on a personal level,  but on a professional one as well, because it comes at a time when the technology sector needs more than ever the sort of humbling, irreverent, technically sharp journalism and satire that David pioneered. I saw all  of his work, especially at Upside, where I worked for David and his  late, remarkable son Aaron, as paving the way for to critical voices  against technological overreach and for publications like Valleywag and The Intercept, which extended the work he helped begin to cut through the zealous optimism and confidence games of Silicon Valley and thus help distinguish true innovation from banal corruption.What was most brilliant about David, in my eyes, was that he always saw the essential humanity of the Valley, and the nitty gritty implications of technological change for ordinary people, even at times when the prevailing wisdom said that technology floated above, and apart from, mundane human struggles and foibles. This is someone who relentlessly tried to use computers and other innovations to improve the lives of the poor, who gave his own time and energy to help those less fortunate than himself, who was happy to speak the truth about large corporations, who was skilled at mocking self-important executives, and who fundamentally always wanted to bring the personal computing back to where it started o the ideals of a countercultural movement intended to empower those at the margins.On a personal level, David=’s work was a part of my life long before I met him. I subscribed to Macworld as a teenager and later, in college, was delighted to discover the cheeky online tech industry column he had commissioned from Tish Williams, who wrote Upside's “Daily Tish.”When I entered business journalism after college, the tech boom was in full swing, and the Bay Area was overflowing with reporter jobs, but I didn’t consider applying anywhere but at Upside, where I had been freelancing for David’s son Aaron. When Aaron, all of 26, passed away, David helped pull the rest of us through the emotional devastation, and he did his best to shield us from the industry collapse the followed shortly thereafter. Long after Upside folded up shop, I would see David around Berkeley, and he would talk about his latest ventures, which involved innovations in health. He had my wife and over for dinner; another time we dined together at a local barbecue spot after finding we were both, by chance, enjoying an evening alone at the bar. Though I avoided the topic, I always sensed that Aaron’s loss was an emotional blow from which David never fully recovered. And yet in a way he became warmer, and more alive, in the wake of that tragedy, especially after he had been away a good long while from the Silicon Valley hustle.I will always be deeply grateful to David Bunnell, a man as loving as he was smart and as critical as he was awe-struck, who saw the potential of technology even as he recognized the emptiness of tech as an ends unto itself. As we are sucked ever more completely into electric screens and the global tangle of wires and radios that network them together,  I hope the rest of us learn to keep the world in[...]

Introducing Typingpool, My Software for Easy Audio Transcription

Thu, 20 Dec 2012 09:42:00 -0800

Today I’m releasing Typingpool, software that makes audio transcriptions easier and cheaper. Typingpool chops your audio into small bits and routes them to the labor marketplace Mechanical Turk, where workers transcribe the bits in parallel. This produces transcripts much faster than any lone transcriber for as little one-eighth what you pay a transcription service. Better still, workers keep 91 percent of the money you spend. At the end of the process you have an interactive transcript that can be opened in your web browser, with audio embedded every paragraph or so. Having audio right next to the corresponding text greatly eases double-checking and correction. No conventional transcript is this interactive or easy to fact check. You use Typingpool through a series of command-line programs, distributed as a Ruby gem. For the non-geek, Typingpool can be a pain to install, and if you’ve never used command-line programs it will take extra effort to learn. But if you create many transcripts Typingpool can save you a great deal of time and money. And while you have to pay the workers who handle your audio on Mechanical Turk, Typingpool is completely free. Typingpool runs on Mac OS X and Linux. Background Typingpool builds on techniques outlined by Andy Baio in a popular 2008 blog post, which showed how audio could be divided and uploaded to Mechanical Turk for “cheap, easy audio transcription.” I used Andy’s techniques to quickly transcribe hours and hours of interviews conducted for my book on side projects, The 20% Doctrine. (Thanks to my editor Debbie Stier for pointing me at Mechanical Turk!) Unlike the process in Andy’s post, the process I settled on is highly automated. Andy’s process works great for occasional transcription jobs, whereas mine is designed for people who frequently need to make transcripts. Instead of manually editing my audio, laboriously creating Excel spreadsheets, and copy/pasting text into a transcript as Andy did, I outsourced these tasks to software. Instead of clicking around on the Mechanical Turk website, I sent it jobs automatically, through the API. To automate, I ended up writing a whole library of Ruby code, after simpler approaches failed. This code became Typingpool. I’ve been using and developing it since Feb. 2011. How it works Here’s the high level view: You point Typingpool at some audio files. Typingpool converts the files to mp3 format, merges them together, and chops them into 1-minute chunks (adjustable). Then you tell Typingpool how much you want to pay to transcribe each chunk and which template you want to use to create worker assignments (several templates are included, all customizable). Typingpool uploads your audio and assignments to Amazon’s servers, where they are immediately made available to workers. As assignments are returned, you can use Typingpool to approve or reject each one. As you approve more and more assignments, your transcript grows until it is complete. You can cancel a transcription job at any time. You can provide a list of unusual words in the audio so transcribers are more accurate. You can re-assign chunks that have expired or been rejected. You can set deadlines for how long each worker may take on assignment, when assignments are pulled from Mechanical Turk, and how long you have to review an assignment before it is auto-approved. You interact with Typingpool through a collection of command-line programs: tp-make, tp-assign, tp-review, and tp-finish. You may sometimes need to use the program tp-collect. Another program, tp-config, is used only when installing Typingpool. A simple config file controls defaults (it’s at ~/.typingpool and in YAML format) and a cache file keeps network connections to a minimum. Output The final output of Typingpool is a folder on your computer containing a transcript file. The transcript file is HTML – a web page you can open in your browser – with audio chunks embedded alongside each associated transcript chunk. The project folder also includes support[...]

My favorite fall meal (so far)

Sun, 11 Nov 2012 19:37:00 -0800

I’ve made the below meal twice so far this fall and it’s fantastically autumnal. Also, fairly forgiving to prepare. I basically stumbled across the main course flipping through one of my go-to cookbooks after aimlessly picking up a handsome chunk of pork shoulder from the butcher. Words like “with Cider and Cream” tend to jump out at me. Shoulder of Pork with Cider and Cream American Cookery, James Beard.Online recipe (photo) Basting seems to be out of fashion right now, but it really works here; you’ll be able to taste the apple cider in the finished roast, and the juice that doesn’t stick to the meat or (blackened) to the pan will end up flavoring the cream gravy. The apple flavor compliments the nutmeg/ginger/salt rub very well. Notes: You’ll notice the recipe is technically for a “leg of pork;” Beard says later in the chapter to treat shoulder “in the same fashion as leg of pork.” My copy of the cookbook (1972) calls for an internal temp of 165. You’ll notice the one on the website calls for an internal temp of 145. Between you and I, an internal temp of 130 when removing from the oven is probably ideal, assuming high quality meat (if the meat is cheap/factory farmed, go to 145). You’ll get an extra 5-10 degrees in the center after resting. The recipe calls for a ~10 pound roast, a whole shoulder or leg. I used a partial shoulder about half that weight each time. That ran about $40 at my fancy schmancy butcher, but you’ll obviously get a lot of mileage out of that much meat. He does a thing where you flame the roast with applejack. I forgot to do this the first time and honestly I’m not sure it made any difference at all. The second time  I forgot to remove my insta-read thermometers before flaming so now they look like this. Anyway, don’t go out and buy a bottle of applejack for this recipe. If you do a half recipe you’ll likely end up with some blackened apple cider on the bottom of your pan (there are fewer fat drippings to absorb heat and keep the cider from steaming and reducing). Don’t panic, everything is fine. The black bits will stick and stay out of the drippings you use for the gravy, and you can get them off with some Bon Ami or Comet after an overnight soak. (To minimize this, go heavier on the basting, and baste more frequently, early in the cooking, to cool off the bottom of the pan.) Notice how the gravy involves pan juices, heavy cream, butter, and egg yolks? To pour on your fat laden shoulder roast? Ha ha, delicious heart disease. Anyway, you can skip the whole last part of the gravy recipe, where you stir in the yolk(s) and remaining cream. I did this on accident the first time and frankly I thought the gravy was better. It’s, uh, just a little heavy with the yolks and extra cream in there. If you do a half roast (5 lbs), don’t forget to cut the gravy recipe in half too!  Buttermilk mashed potatoesThe Zuni Cafe Cookbook, Judy Rodgers.Online recipe  This is one of the top two or three standout recipes in this fantastic cookbook, along with the famous Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad, the sublime rosemary roast potatoes, and the wonderful polenta, hanger steak, short ribs, oxtail, and brasato recipes (among others!) You should buy this cookbook! “The Practice of Salting Early” section alone is worth the cover price. If you are a meat eater, it will change your life. Or should, at least. Notes: The online recipe lists milk and cream/half-and-half. Do milk or cream or half-and-half, 2-3 tablespoons total. Rodgers recommends that the milk/cream/half-and-half (but not the buttermilk) be hot when mixing in. I achieve this by putting it in a pan set on the stovetop (not a burner) as the roast cooks in the oven. You’ll want to add an extra tablespoon or so if you do it this way in case it reduces. Rodgers recommends the butter be just melted. You can microwave or do as with the milk in the bullet abo[...]

"It’s a brutal blend of fascism, corporatism, capitalism, and Stalinism brought together in a..."

Sat, 10 Nov 2012 17:31:32 -0800

“It’s a brutal blend of fascism, corporatism, capitalism, and Stalinism brought together in a very special place. And we made that happen. We unleashed our corporations. We exported our jobs, and we chose not to export our values. We wanted it to be that we way; if we did not want it to be that way we would do something. We would at least know. But we do not. Our silence is our consent.”

- Mike Daisey, Jan. 20 2011; Berkeley, California.

"In so much of technology, what matters is interoperability and compatibility… Building and..."

Thu, 11 Oct 2012 11:13:35 -0700

““In so much of technology, what matters is interoperability and compatibility… Building and extending on top of existing knowledge and infrastructure is how 99% of all improvement gets done.””

- Linus Torvalds Answers Your Questions - Slashdot. Reminds me of this Joel Spolsky quote: "Please, don’t make things any worse, let’s just keep making what we already have still work.“

Expenses for a 1973 wedding from my former professor Steven...

Fri, 05 Oct 2012 21:41:23 -0700


Expenses for a 1973 wedding from my former professor Steven Rubio, who writes, “She saved money by making her own wedding dress (and my wedding shirt).”

"Eventually, the ebook versions of my review may cost more than the operating system."

Thu, 20 Sep 2012 17:00:11 -0700

“Eventually, the ebook versions of my review may cost more than the operating system.”

- Preeminent Mac OS X reviewer John Siracusa on the curious relationship between technologies and stories about those technologies, Hypercritical podcast, episode 78, 18th minute (via siracusasaidso). I wonder how much of Apple’s market cap is attributable to the storytelling abilities of Steve Jobs.

“When the woman saw herself represented visually on the...

Mon, 17 Sep 2012 13:26:17 -0700


“When the woman saw herself represented visually on the wall behind her usual puesto the morning after Dobler struck, she began attempting to wash it off.” -Intersections

"We need to focus on humans, on how humans care about doing programming or operating the application..."

Sat, 31 Mar 2012 13:51:43 -0700

“We need to focus on humans, on how humans care about doing programming or operating the application of the machines. We are the masters. They are the slaves… For the time being anyway, until the age of Terminator.”

- Yukihiro Matsumoto, inventor of the Ruby programming language, enemy of robot collaborators.

emilygould: The Saddest Shelf In The Library Fuck that!...

Tue, 07 Feb 2012 22:37:00 -0800



The Saddest Shelf In The Library

Fuck that! “Philip and Alex’s Guide To Web Publishing” changed my life. You can read it here, though it’s been heavily revised since the original (per Philip Greenpun’s very practical philosophy of what a book should be), so anyone with a library this cool should check out a copy (and then somehow transport yourself to 1998, if at all possible, for context).

In all seriousness, Greenspun set a bar and a vision for long-form web writing that has been sadly marginalized. There’s something very touching, 13 years on, about the “Philip and Alex’s” chapters in which he argues for the web as an accessible form of education. This is a book that can remind those of us writing online what the hell we’re working toward.  

Rainz :-(

Wed, 05 Oct 2011 14:39:10 -0700


Rainz :-(

"For all the talk of “bubbles” and crazy valuations, I think most overlook something very..."

Wed, 05 Oct 2011 10:03:00 -0700

“For all the talk of “bubbles” and crazy valuations, I think most overlook something very fundamental: technology continues to permeate all of our lives in ways we couldn’t imagine just yesterday.”

- TechCrunch writer turned venture capitalist MG Siegler, using in 2011 a bubble rationalization that would have sounded just as accurate in 1999, when he was in high school, or in 1845, when 30 little TechCrunches were published on paper.

"By 1845 a full railway mania was raging. By the summer new schemes were being floated at the rate of..."

Wed, 05 Oct 2011 09:54:00 -0700

By 1845 a full railway mania was raging. By the summer new schemes were being floated at the rate of more than a dozen a week. Scrip was sold by alley men, and the stock exchange resembled a country fair… Schemes for direct lines connecting little-known towns to other little-known towns became a craze, launched more with an eye to garnering investment than actual profits… “We see nine or ten proposals for nearly the same line, all at a premium, when it is well known that only one CAN succeed,” said The Economist.

Trouble began in October 1845, when scrip ceased to pay a premium and shares in established railways began to fall.

- W. Brian Arthur comparing the first dot com collapse to the railway mania of the 19th century, in a paper I fact checked for the March 2002 edition of Business 2.0. At one point in 1845, some 30 different railway investment publications were in circulation. Sound familiar?

When everyone else calls you a “hopeless alcoholic”...

Sun, 21 Aug 2011 20:31:07 -0700


When everyone else calls you a “hopeless alcoholic” or whatever, Grüner Vet has your back. Eight million quietly desperate Austrians can’t be wrong!

Ashton Kutcher’s special “Social Issue” of...

Wed, 17 Aug 2011 16:34:46 -0700


Ashton Kutcher’s special “Social Issue” of Details seems to have a certain theme.

"[Page view statistics] are, in particular, helpful as a counterweight to the kind of complacency..."

Tue, 16 Aug 2011 08:35:25 -0700

“[Page view statistics] are, in particular, helpful as a counterweight to the kind of complacency that all too easily sets in at major news organizations, where you assume that what DC insiders consider good work is also what readers care about.”

- Paul Krugman weighs in on the benefits of being at least slightly obsessed with pageviews. Now someone needs to ask the economist to turn his Nobel prize winning mind on pageview bonuses. (CoughFelixCough)

richardturley: There will be many MANY 9/11 covers in the...

Thu, 04 Aug 2011 09:34:21 -0700



There will be many MANY 9/11 covers in the coming weeks. I’m certain that this will not be the best one of those. But, I’m a sucker for aerial photography so I’m easily sold on this one…

These are the issues that posturing editors like to make big grand statements with enormous single topic zeitgeist-capturing feature wells - photo essays, first persons, graphics, essays by eminent thinkers, artist commission photography, covers and imagery, crowd sourced content.. the whole shebang. The pressure to perform and make stand-out issues is intense as magazines compete for the imaginary ‘who did the best 9/11 coverage’ awards. I’m already finding it all a bit tiring…

As Dan Frommer writes this morning, it’s a breathtaking cover. All the more impressive because it’s so easy to get trapped in cliché when visualizing this topic. (This makes me wonder if I should be paying more attention to Bloomberg Businessweek.)

"He was a Nobel Laureate in economics, and generally is portrayed by his commentary as a..."

Mon, 18 Jul 2011 22:48:30 -0700

“He was a Nobel Laureate in economics, and generally is portrayed by his commentary as a macroeconomist sympathetic to Keynesian views”

- Wikipedia entry on Josiah Barlet. Oh, sorry, whoops, wrong link

Death To McDonald's Programming Books

Thu, 07 Jul 2011 10:51:52 -0700

(image) Gruber:

Hot off the O’Reilly presses: Matt Neuburg’s 834-page iOS programming tome.

Oh boy: An obese time suck whose reference section will probably be obsolete by the time FedEx drops it off on my doorstep.

Is it still 1991? Do we still need every class and function call documented because gopher is slow on our 1200 baud modems? Are our lives less busy than they were then? Has the number of technologies we need to read about gone down? Are languages developing less quickly?

I’m sure Neuberg has some stellar writing in this thing; his Frontier: The Definitive Guide was the third programming book I ever owned and was immensely helpful. I remember being grateful that someone cared enough to write such a thorough book about such a small platform. I’m also sure that many people will get a lot of value out of this. It may prove to be the definitive iOS guide.

But how long is it going to take to teach technical publishers – and readers – that brevity is a feature, not a bug? If O'Reilly were to cut this book to a quarter of its size it would make it exponentially more useful. Ditto for the Rails book (Pragmatic), Learning Jquery (Packt), and the JavaScript Rhino (O'Reilly).

Paper and bandwidth are cheap, but reader time is valuable.

If you want to “get a solid grounding in all the fundamentals of Cocoa Touch,” you need something that will nestle snugly your skull, not rapidly distend it. Besides, valuing quality over quantity is what made the iOS platform successful in the first place, isn’t it?


'San Francisco is becoming Silicon Valley' -- but keeps bleeding itself

Wed, 06 Jul 2011 19:36:00 -0700

There are many reasons the payroll tax break San Francisco extended to Twitter was horrid public policy; here’s just one: San Francisco is a high cost, high service city in the mold of New York.  It’s a premium product, albeit not as premium as Gotham – the transit and nightlife are inferior, for example, and it’s not dense enough. But then SF’s payroll tax rate is less than half that of New York’s personal income tax. You get what you pay for. San Francisco, then, should not be trying to compete on cost with dreary suburbs like San Bruno, where Twitter threatened to relocate. Doing so just leaves less money to maintain the services that make SF unique (to say nothing of improving them). And it's a losing game besides. There will always be a cheaper location than SF.  It’s especially bizarre that San Francisco supervisors caved to Twitter and handed over a $22 million tax break at the precise moment the city’s cosmopolitan advantages are finally pushing it past the unremarkable cities clustered around Stanford University. Here’s Y Combinator partner Harjeet Taggar in 7x7 magazine yesterday: San Francisco is becoming Silicon Valley. The city used to be seen as not part of the Valley. But Twitter, Zynga, Square, and our most successful companies from YC — Airbnb and Dropbox — are all there. The biggest problem I’m seeing our graduates having is the problem of hiring. The main demographic they seek is engineers in their 20s and those guys want to live in San Francisco. The majority of YC grads head to the city now. Why do engineers want to live in San Francisco?  Well, the startup geeks at Hacker News say they like “not driving – I work at Dolores Labs and live 5’ away.” They also like “having options when I don’t feel like working. I can walk to the park where beautiful girls do non-programming things like laughing while blowing bubbles! I can go get a beer and watch a movie. I can walk and grab a quick bite at taqueria cancun. I can go to a club. I just love the energy and excitement here.” For the record, payroll taxes like those dodged by Twitter are what pay for parks with beautiful girls, mass transit to avoid driving, etc. Then there’s this, also from Taggar: Besides, in my opinion, if you have a social product, it’s really important to live amongst your users. For example, if I were building an app to target bartenders to help them build their own brands, I would want to be in San Francisco, not the Valley.“ Being closer to users and customers; exploiting the rise of urban-centric mobile tech;  attracting young talent; proximity to a diverse array of non-tech experiences – these also happen to be the very things said to be combusting New York’s ”exploding“ tech scene. A similar cluster of urban advantages is also apparently making UBS come back to New York from Connecticuit (”the best and brightest young bankers want to live in Manhattan or Brooklyn“). Just for the record again: When the economic meltdown sent its budget into a tailspin, New York’s business savvy Republican mayor knew exactly what to do. And it didn’t involve issuing a crony capitalism groupon to a lavishly overfunded "business” with no plan for generating revenue. Bloomberg maintained the quality of his offering. New York didn’t get on its knees and neither should San Francisco. [Montgomery St. SF photo via Thomas Hawk/Flickr; Mission hip[...]