Trappist-1 and the Ultracool 7

Mashable’s Miriam Kramer was quick to temper expectations during the lead up to NASA’s news conference today.

And indeed, it wasn’t aliens. In May, TRAPPIST (The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope) in Chile identified 3 extra-solar planets around an ultracool (technically correct!) star, which NASA’s Spitzer telescope and other earth-based telescopes confirmed while finding 4 more planets. The star—known as 2MASS J23062928−0502285 before earning its Hollywood name, TRAPPIST-1—is about the size of Jupiter 39 light years away in the constellation Aquarius. No, not visible: too dim, too far.

The planets appear to be roughly Earth-sized (careful: that doesn’t mean Earth-like) and three of them are in the so-called Goldilocks zone: the right distance from a star for liquid water to be present. At least conceivably. This narrow band around TRAPPIST-1 is also called the “habitable zone,” which warrants another word of caution; just because a planet is in the habitable zone does not make it habitable. It’s an easy mistake to make (lookin’ at you, Forbes).


As excited as I am? Could care less? Hit me up on Twitter: @prescottindigo.

Idea Hoarding

One of my favorite authors and artists, Austin Kleon, tweeted something this morning which has been sticking with me.
“I have too many ideas” is by far the most humblebraggy question I get asked

Respectfully, I’ve got to disagree. Comedian and writer Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant concedes that “complaining about being too creative is like complaining about being on The New York Times bestseller list too often.” She notes, though, that many writers struggle with an overabundance of fresh ideas, all of which seem promising.

This rings true to me. On the Myers-Briggs, I test as an extreme ‘N’, or intuitive type. (And, yes, I know the efficacy of the Myers-Briggs has come under scrutiny; in this case I find it to be a valuable frame of reference.) As such, I tend to live with a torrent of seemingly promising creative ideas. This becomes a real problem when paired with a limited ability to vet ideas and discard the unworkable ones. A person with that asset/deficit combination (speaking from experience) has to work really hard to develop compensatory strategies to prune the surplus and, most crucially, feel okay letting go of ideas which, given infinite time and resources, could evolve into amazing finished projects.

Photo Credit: Idea, Pimthida on Flickr (Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND License).

Photo Credit: Idea, Pimthida on Flickr (Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND License).

When someone tells me that they feel like they have too many ideas, it’s not bragging: humble or otherwise. What that person is trying to say is that he or she has an easier time coming up with ideas than letting go of them. It seems a lot of people recognize this imbalance in themselves: a Google search for “idea hoarding yields over 700,000 results.” But what to do? To be honest, I don’t have a particularly effective strategy for cultivating the best ideas from an ample supply. Mike Vardy offers a useful four-step for curating a surplus of ideas, which resonates with me as it separates the emotional attachment from the act of culling a large number of ideas into a manageable number of projects.

How do you manage an unwieldy torrent of ideas? Got a novel approach which works well for you? I’m on Twitter @prescottindigo.

Make Today Matter

Carpe diem, friends.


Not keen on the ball that dropped around my next birthday just as I was taking the screenshot!

Not keen on the ball that dropped around my next birthday just as I was taking the screenshot!

Make today matter.

The Netizen’s Duty

I’m wrestling with this one.

Internet advertising feeds content creators, who can then write articles and make videos available for free online. Apple integrated a type of ad blocker in iOS9 which targets Google, thereby starving bloggers, vloggers and writers of the majority of their revenue. In principle, I’m with the small publishers who seem to be caught in the crossfire. But those ads—especially the pop-ups—are so insipid. How to reconcile this? Do I conclude that it’s my civic duty as a patriotic netizen to allocate a portion of my attention to those ads in order to support the publishers? By blocking ads, am I somehow contributing to the demise of the Internet’s long tail? I’m not sure what I think about this.

The Book

Time to come clean about the book!

I have a(n almost) working draft of my first non-fiction book and am now finding myself with very little knowledge of publishing. I started working on it almost a year ago as training materials for a class on LinkedIn for sales which never materialized and little by little it’s come together as a coherent book designed to help sales professionals use social media. I’ve been in stealth mode with this project for awhile now and decided it was time to involve more people, so I attended my first Nonfiction Authors Association meeting yesterday. (Micropitch: it was a productive event. I encourage East Bay non-fiction authors to check it out whether they’re contemplating their first idea or have published multiple works.)

Red pens and rejection letters, here I come!

Red pens and rejection letters, here I come!

One of the topics discussed was the decision whether to publish via a traditional publishing company or to self-publish using Amazon CreateSpace, Barnes & Noble IngramSpark, or one of the many companies which support authors who decide to take the self-publishing path. Having done neither, yet, I’m not in a position to give advice, but the pros and cons of each are pretty well mapped out. Forbes contributor Julia Pimsleur reviews the pros and cons of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing. You earn a much higher percentage (around 70%?) by self-publishing, but you pay a lot of little expenses out of pocket (graphics, book design, editing) and you “only eat what you kill,” so to speak. In other words, if you sell nothing, you earn nothing and you’re still in the hole after initial expenses.

In contrast, traditional publishing pays roughly 15% (read the nine-page, single-space, eight point font contract for details) and can take a lot longer to find a publishing agent, and then land a publisher, and then go through a rigorous editing process, and finally publish. You will face a lot of rejection along the way, and if/when you do come to agreement with a publisher, you’ll find yourself inviting a congress of people into the decision making process. Suddenly you’ll need to share control of the project … something you don’t have to do when your project is a cozy affair between your brain and your laptop. But once published, your book will get a type of visibility which self-published authors must work incredibly hard to gain. Depending on various factors which are still a great mystery to me, your publisher can issue an advance to keep you going while jumping hoops for the publisher polishing your finished work and consistently meeting deadlines.

I’m on the fence. I originally planned to self-publish and see what happens. Now I’ve invested enough time and energy into the project, that I’m pretty sure I’ll explore traditional publishing. I suspect that books on social selling are in enough demand to fare better going the traditional route, but well see. I’m glad to see that self-publishing seems to have lost the stigma it carried in the past, and that authors whose work serves a niche audience seem to have increasingly more options.

Got publishing insights? Care to share your thoughts about the endeavor? Find me on Twitter: @prescottindigo or @SocialSelling60.

‘This.’ Social Network: Why I am a Thissian (

It didn’t take me long to get hooked on This. This., or (Not dot com, just dot cm.) being the new social network. It’s in invite-only Alpha mode right now, which means it’s still devoid of the pop stars, trolls and spammers who have found a home on Twitter. At present it’s a haven for the smart and articulate, a bit like Twitter was in 2007 when I joined.


This. Social Network

This. Social Network

It seems a new social network materializes every month or so, but I think This. could be an up-and-coming, as opposed to the fad networks like with nice features which never seem to get a sizable base (lookin’ at you, App.Net) or the gimmicky platforms like the one where Yo is the only thing you can say.

The people at This. seem to recognize that the success of an app relies more on its community than its technology. Through its Alpha mode, This. seems to be building a base of people who are prone to share interesting content, not unlike Twitter’s first moves to build a user base through events like SXSW which naturally draw smart, interesting people.

I have the sense that a lot of thought went into This.’s minimalist design, seemingly crafted to curate and share online content more than to interact around it. You’re limited to one post per day, each of which must point to a URL. You can write a few words (110 characters) about the URL, credit the author of what you’re sharing and include an auto-generated horizontal slice from any one of the images on that page, but that’s it. No image uploads, no status updates outside of the context of sharing a URL, no responding to other users beyond thanking them for or reposting their content.

Choose wisely. This. allows one post per day.

Choose wisely. This. allows one post per day.

The net impact of this? Less noise? When social media was younger, the need for a more interactive (more 2.0?) web was big. Now there’s no shortage of places to opine online, and the thought of being able to curate interesting content without having to think about who will respond and how is really appealing. The one post a day enforces a little scarcity, requiring Thissians to choose what they post or repost with great care. For me, This. is akin to entering an art museum in a busy city, letting the door close on the honking taxis and souvenir hawkers outside. I’m on Twitter every day, but This. offers a nice counterbalance to the bustle of the larger social networks.

I’m curious if This. will change if and when the social network hits the mainstream. Probably. You’ll have Internet marketers using their post-a-day to drive maximum traffic, celebrities posting ill-considered content and maybe even trolls whose posts are designed solely to infuriate. The hashtag, the vile and wonderful thing it is, will no doubt seep in through some crack and become a permanent fixture on This. as well.

But I suspect This. will always be a quieter place, favoring more contemplative users and pushing the conversations over to Facebook and Twitter. Rather than trying to unseat the major social networks, This. offers a refreshing alternative space, and by pairing nicely with Twitter and Facebook, will likely be around for years to come.


Review: I Spent a Week with Vivaldi as my Default Browser

I promised myself I wouldn’t launch into a diatribe about the inadequacies of the big three browsers, so I’ll summarize, as follows. Chrome, once my go-to for speed and useful extensions, has become a memory-eating beast, whose tentacles seem to occupy every part of my computer’s RAM. Firefox, which also served me well in its earlier years, is lately the king of unexpected behavior, with frequent crashes and inability to cope with scripts written into websites and occasional “whiteouts” in which the contents of all tabs vanish. Internet Explorer lost me forever a long time ago. To IE’s credit, I’ve found the newer versions to be truly an improvement over the last few years, but not without similar problems to Chrome and Firefox.

Okay. Diatribelet over.

On a lark, I tried Vivaldi, the new browser designed by a former CEO of the company which makes the alternative Opera-browser, which seems to have a small, but fervent following. Vivaldi represents a fork in Opera’s development, building on the perceived strengths of an earlier version before certain back-end changes in the Opera browser. As of March 2015, Vivaldi is available as a “technical preview” (think: Beta version with minimal support) signaling the recognition that there are still many bugs to work out but that the product shows promise, both of which I find true. Though I’ve run into a few problems after using Vivaldi for a few days, I’ve generally found it to be generally functional, with some nice features. Promising, but not quite for prime time.

1. Quick command menu. Vivaldi displays all the keyboard shortcuts along with open tabs and bookmarks into a single menu which can be searched or navigated with the arrow keys. I like that the keyboard shortcuts are customizable, as some of them are particularly non-intuitive, notably Ctrl-Q which should quit the currently open application (and don’t tell me otherwise) but in Vivaldi opens the quick command menu.


2. Stackable tabs. I really want to love this feature, but I’m not there yet. By shift-clicking a set of tabs, and right-clicking on one of them, you can choose to consolidate them into a single tab. It’s useful, insofar as you can organize open tabs by topic. You can still navigate to the left (Ctrl-3) or right (Ctrl-4) but there are no other keyboard shortcuts to help you navigate them faster. I feel like the Vivaldi team is onto something here, but until there’s a faster way to create and navigate stacked tabs, it’s not a feature I’ll use.


3. Speed Dial. This feature is still a little quirky in Vivaldi, but it’s much better than Chrome’s very limiting recent tabs feature. Whenever you open a new tab (but not a new window) Vivaldi offers up a visual grid of links to sites you might like to visit. It’s customizable, so you can add or remove sites, create folders which contain multiple sites, or add new pages – confusingly, also called folders – to which you can add more links or folders (the first kind). The default set of links have some easily identifiable visuals, but anything you add doesn’t (yet?) generate images from the page associated with the link.


I could imagine this being pretty useful, and I’m hoping that Vivaldi will fix some of it’s shortcomings. Also, it would be nice to be able to change the background image on the new tab page (though I do like the suspension bridge pic) and navigate between speed dial folders using keyboard shortcuts.

4. Notes. The notes panel is conceptually interesting. I’m a huge Evernote junkie, and will probably continue to use that for anything I want to squirrel away as I browse, but it seems helpful to have a notepad built into the browser. Does this integrate to anything else? I seem to be able to create folders, but I can’t figure out how to create notes inside of a folder, or move a note into folders.


If the developers can (no idea how) find a way to let you upload individual notes to any number of platforms (Evernote, Google Drive, Delicious, etc., etc., etc.) this would be a powerful feature.

5. Laundry list of minor annoyances.

  • Home Page. I really prefer to have a blank home page. Even Speed Dial (which appears on new tabs, but not on the first tab in new browser windows) would suffice.
  • Address Bar Auto-Fill. The auto-fill in the address bar is a bit slow for my liking. I’m a fast typer (typist? Is that still a thing?) and I’m in the habit of typing the first few letters of URLs of sites I visit frequently and pressing Enter to get there fast. I find that I need to give Vivaldi a second or two to give me the suggested site.
  • Google’s passive-aggressive reaction to Vivaldi. Google tells me constantly my browser is out of date. This is mostly okay; I can still use Gmail and Google Drive, though Vivaldi intercepts keyboard inputs which are the same on Google Drive and in the browser, such as Ctrl-vF for find, whereas Chrome will direct your keyboard commands to the controls in Google Drive.
  • Remembering passwords … or not. There’s no global option not to save passwords, so Vivaldi will ask you every single time you visit a new site and enter a password whether or not it should remember it.
  • Browser history and private browsing. The browser history is accessible from the speed dial page, but it seems like I should be able to get at it from the main menu, too. No? Also, Ctrl-H really should open the browser history, not the notes panel. Also, there’s no private/incognito browsing in Vivaldi.
  • Interaction with other apps. If you click on a URL in another app, like TweetDeck, Vivaldi opens the URL (good) but not necessarily to the window in which the URL is loading. It seems to open the most recently-viewed browser window but loads the URL in the browser window which was opened first. Sometimes, too, it seems to hang without opening a URL

In summary, Vivaldi is promising. The thought of having a browser which doesn’t eat up all my memory, is fast, and has some nice features is appealing. The other options have been difficult enough lately that I might keep Vivaldi as my default browser, technical preview or not, for the time being.


Baiting the Ballot Box

You win, you party. You lose, you ponder.

Not a surprise to those who know me: my party is the one pondering after yesterday’s midterm elections. It occurred to me that one of the challenges candidates face at midterms is low voter turnout. This is of particular concern to Democrats, as younger voters are less likely to vote in midterm elections and younger people tend to take more progressive positions and vote for more liberal candidates. Get out the vote initiatives have historically emphasized encouraging more voters to come to the polls to weigh in on the issues which affect them, and providing supports and infrastructure to physically get voters to the polls. But I wonder if political parties might take a less tactical and more strategic approach; push for the ballot measures which are most likely to incite the strongest emotional reactions in those voters who they’d most like to see at the ballots.

Fox News suggested yesterday that ballot measures on hot button issues — marijuana legalization, marriage equality, gun control or lack thereof, abortion rights — might boost turnout. Political scientists Caroline J. Tolbert and Daniel A. Smith examined the mobilizing effects of statewide ballot measures in previous elections and speculate that ballot measures could play a significant role in future presidential elections. I’m not a political junkie, so I can’t say for sure that turnout was higher in states which had ballot measures on emotionally charged issues. (Though my twenty-something Oregon friends did seem uncharacteristically eager to vote on measure 91.) It occurs to me that if a party knows that some specific segment of the population is (a) more likely to vote if there’s a ballot measure on a specific issue and (b) more likely to elect a candidate which is strategically important, then they might bait the ballot box, so to speak, by getting a measure on the ballot almost solely for the purposes of getting that group of people to the polls.

Cynical? Yes. But today I’m a blue Blue, so you’ll forgive.

Baiting the Ballot Box - Ballot Measures and Voter Turnout

The Bait. Flickr CC license, Hartwig HKD, 2011-08-13.

No, the Internet Isn’t the TV Business


Net Neutrality Laptop

USA Today columnist Michael Wolff asserts that nobody is neutral in the net neutrality debate in his piece. Fair enough. He gives a succinct overview of the forces driving the net neutrality debate, but his conclusion seems ignorant of the role the net has played and continues to play in support of free speech worldwide.

Wolff provides a quick rundown of most of the major players and their motives. In short, cable companies are interested in keeping the FCC from regulating broadband as they do telephone service, so that they can selectively charge owners of websites different rates for different faster/slower delivery of their data. Companies whose customers access large amounts of online data don’t want Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, etc. to single them out, either by name (e.g. Netflix) or by category (e.g. providers of video on demand) for higher rates. A third group, which Wolff labels “tech-centric ideologues,” opposes legislation which permits telcos and cable companies to increase rates or decrease levels of service based on the type or source of data, as such legislation would give Internet providers legal grounds to throttle the communications of organizations, people or ideas which run counter to their aims.

The article frames the debate as a battle between large companies whose motives are purely financial, with a recent surge of activism driven by a comedy sketch gone viral. Wolff avoids mentioning the Electronic Frontier Foundation, however, which has played the largest role in promoting net neutrality since long before it entered public awareness. This is where the article falls short. The social implications of having a neutral net are not secondary to the financial motives of the companies involved in the debate. Rather, the current skirmish is one part of an ongoing effort to keep the Internet free of censorship.

The article concludes that “the Internet isn’t about freedom,” and that it’s “fast becoming the TV business.” At best, this statement is jaded; at worst it represents an ignorance of the Internet’s social and economic importance. In two decades, the Internet has become an integral part of our economy, with the largest corporations and the smallest businesses dependent on it for every aspect of their operations. It has also become a critical tool for social change, facilitating the freedoms of speech and assembly which have enabled protest movements to transpire in parts of the world which have never known democracy. To allow those entrusted to manage such a critical part of our infrastructure to arbitrarily limit access to it – whether they are corporations motivated by a fiduciary responsibility to shareholders or an autocratic government driven to quash dissent – has long-term ramifications for our economy and our individual liberties, and a scope far greater than the present spat between cable companies and Internet video providers.

Your thoughts? Find me at @prescottindigo.


Annoying Chrome Thumbnails

I don’t like the way Google Chrome’s new tab page displays the eight most visited sites as a 4×2 grid of thumbnail images. They’re not small; my laptop screen renders each about an inch wide, sharing the websites I visit most often with anyone over my shoulder, every time I open a new browser window. A little privacy would be nice, as I use my computer for work and home. Mostly it troubles me, though, because one of the pages is the New York Times, which Chrome screen grabbed on a day when a serial murderer was featured prominently. Now his very-recognizable face smiles at me every time I open a new tab.

Shoulder surfers ❤ Google Chrome thumbnails ... but Totoro doesn't.

Shoulder surfers ❤ Google Chrome thumbnails, but Totoro isn’t a big fan.

Problem is, there’s no easy way to prevent Chrome from automatically displaying thumbnails of the most often visited sites on the new tab page. You can click a barely-visible X in the upper right of each thumbnail to keep it from appearing (psychopath vanquished) but Google just replaces it with the next most-often visited site. Not to mention, to the degree that this forced feature is useful, now one of my sites simply won’t appear on the new page, as opposed to having Chrome take a new screengrab. (Though with the vivid imagery of devastation in Gaza, I don’t know that a recent clip would be any less unsettling.)

Apparently, you used to be able to perform a bit of back alley brain surgery on Chrome, disabling the Instant Extended API in chrome://flags. If you visit that page (Chrome only) Google posts a huge warning against modifying the browser’s settings in this way, but it’s moot at this point because they’ve removed the ability to switch this feature off using flags.

There is a Chrome extension called Empty New Tab Page. Easy enough: you install it and get a blank page white as Montana snow every time you open a new tab.

Montana snow, GlacierNPS, Flickr CC license, 2011-05-04.

Montana snow (right). Flickr CC license, GlacierNPS, 2011-05-04.


For me it’s a bit overkill, though; I like the way I’ve otherwise set up Chrome new tab page, and I kind of miss my theme. I’m hoping that some future Google Chrome update gives a bit more nuanced control over this feature. Until then, I might consider switching to Firefox, but it really does seem slower than Chrome. IE’s lost me forever. I haven’t tried Opera recently … maybe that’s worth a look.

Anyone out there have a clean fix? A fresh perspective? Tasty spam? You know where to find me.

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