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This is The 38th Signal, a weblog about design, coding, design, experience, design, constraints, cookware, and so much more. Established 2007 in Angola.

Kindle bursts into flames posted by RJ Nov 23, 2007


Yesterday, a lot of bad people took one look at a bad product, Amazon's Kindle, and decided they didn't like it. Why? Because it looked crappy, has an ugly screen, is covered in buttons, and costs a lot of money. But they were premature - they'd never actually touched a kindle; never felt the sweet caress of it's bulky keyboard against their skin; never stared longingly into that beautiful black and white low-res digital paper display. Without actually having used it, without walking a mile with Kindle in your shoes, so to speak, you really have no right to judge. What you need to understand is, when it comes to what you want, you don't know shit.

Trust us - you want this thing.

Many products that look bad are actually great, and it's unfair of you, the petty user, to complain about them before shelling out the ~$400 it requires to test them. Remember the Zune? Everyone said, "What a piece of crap! It doesn't look anything like an iPod! Why would I want to use that?" And then a few of you actually bought one, started "squirting" songs with your friends, and you realized that you were wrong. You realized this was something you could really get into - that what your iPod was lacking was the color brown (as in 'poop') and the ability to share songs with a plethora of restrictions across certain types of wifi networks. You realized you were wrong, and you humbled yourselves before the feet of Bill Gates.

Similarly, we'd like to see you humble yourself at the feet of Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, personal inventor of the Kindle. He also invested a lot of money in our company, and called me this morning asking me to calm you idiots down. Sir Bezowith spent 3 years of his life and countless sleepless nights building the epic glory that is Amazon Kindle. He worked really hard, all right? And he deserves a break.

One of our highest company values here is not judging things prematurely. We never give our opinions on things we don't understand, like Cookware for instance, and certainly never complain about things we haven't tried. We try our best to be inclusive and insightful, never polemic. We'd certainly never ban comments by bloggers from a parody blog.

I'm calling on you, the user, to show the same sort of discretion and good will towards our financier and not bash the Kindle. Please, all of you, think good and hard this Holiday season about whether or not you might be able to spend $400 on something you don't need in order to give a more unbiased, enlightened (en-kindled, if you will) opinion. Then, please come post back on our blog about how much you like the Kindle. It'll make Bezos happy, and might get us a bonus or invited to a party with Bono or at least a good cigar. And that's what I call a good user experience.


Ask 38thSignal: Can I build a web business if I'm a jock with no skills? posted by RJ Oct 24, 2007


Johnny Jock asks:
Is there any hope for business majors with no technical aptitude in the online entrepreneur world? Or would you say that things like the ability to program or send properly formatted email or even spell "slashdot" are an absolute must?

Sadly Johnny, the answer is yes, or maybe no, since you asked the question both ways: the four year degree you earned by watching movies, drinking, and "fooling around" with cheerleaders isn't going to get you anywhere when it comes to the internet. All of us geeks remember guys like you, and we hated you and all the fun you were having, so we specifically designed the internet to keep you out.

However, if you're really persistent, and if you introduce me to a few of those cheerleaders, I might be able to let you in on a little secret. There's a backdoor to the internet. Here's how you get in.

Step 1: Hide your jock past and total ignorance

The first step in harnessing the power of the internet is not to let it know about your past. This is not the place to brag about your bench press or how many times you've "done it" - those things will only earn the wrathful scorn of the internet's minions. You're going to need to re-invent yourself for a while. You're going to need a new persona.

Start by memorizing a few computer releated terms. Learn what a gigahertz is, and how it's used in battle against witches. Learn the difference between JavaScript and PHP, and which you should take to cure a hang over. Finally, memorize the names of as many design patterns as you can, starting with the Singleton pattern, the Factory pattern, and the Model-View-Control-Her pattern.

Step 2: Befriend a programmer

The second step is to find a programmer friend and ask then to help teach you. If you don't already have one, and you probably don't, start posting agreeable opinions on needlessly polemic websites run by other web companies. Just agree with whoever posted, saying more or less the same thing they said, but change the words around a little, like this:

Web-company blogger: We think it's important that people not learn that most web-applications are free these days, because otherwise they won't pay us.

You: I think that's a really great idea. You guys are very inspirational. If someone learned, for example, that most web-applications are free, they wouldn't pay you, and I think you've shown quite well why that would be bad.

Once you've got a few people agreeing with you, get their email addresses and start making friends.

If this doesn't work, move to silicon valley (that's in California) and start hanging out in the bars. If there's one thing geeks like, it's hanging out with other geeks and pretending they're not geeks by doing their hanging in bars. Look for the pale, unshaven guy sitting by himself but pretending he's with the people next to him. Sit down and mutter a few of your memorized programmer phrases, complain about your roommate, and you'll have a friend in no time.

Now that you've earned some geek-cred, start by telling your potential friend you're thinking about learning how to program and that you've got some books you're going to read. Whether you actually have the books is irrelevant - you're only saying this to make your friend think he's not taking on a full-time project by helping you, and you wouldn't read the books if you had them.

Next, find a few web-tutorials and give them a try. When you get confused and it doesn't work (and you will and it won't), email your friend and ask for help. Repeat this a few times, and then start throwing in the occasional instant message to get help in real time. After a few weeks of that, fly to wherever your friend lives for "business" and offer to meet for dinner. Pick the most expensive restaurant and make sure you tell them you'll pay as a thank you for all their helpful help.

If at any point during this process your programmer friend gets wise to your incredible ignorance, apologize for wasting his time and find a new friend. Repeat the cycle until you can get someone - anyone - out to dinner.

Step 3: Bait-and-switch

When you finally do get your friend back out to dinner, start ordering drinks fast. Make sure you've had at least 3 rounds before the food comes, and make sure they don't order anything big enough to absorb anything. Now, when he or she is good and drunk, announce to your friend that you have a brilliant idea for a web company, and try to get them excited. Next, declare that over the past few weeks and with their help you've realized that you're more of a "business" guy, with a head for people and profit, but not so much programming. Get your friend to sign a contract for 40% (or even 30%, depending on their liver) of your new business's shares in return for doing all the work.

Pick a name with no vowels, make sure the logo has a reflection in it, slap "beta" onto your homepage, and you're ready to go.

Step 4: Keep the programmer happy

The only way to keep this going long enough to get an actual application is to keep your friend happy, and unfortunately that's going to cost time and money. Invest heavily in alcohol and video games, and force your cool (and cute) friends to hang out with him. Remember: the journey of a thousand miles didn't build rome in a day, and you're here to say "freedom" to your enemies.

Step 5: You're done!

Congratulations! You're a business guy doing nothing, leaching off the brilliance and success of your web-able friend. Welcome to the world of web entrepreneurship! Tech Crunch will probably cover you soon.


How opinionated companies clean up while you're blabbing on the web posted by Tony Oct 22, 2007


Distraction can be a painful thing.

Remember the hubbub when some company talked about what some other company was doing and we all posted comments about the first company on the second company's blog?

The Web stood still.

Companies that lead need to be able to distract everyone into talking about them instead of getting actual work done. That way they can clean up in the market while everyone is commenting on opinionated blog posts.

You may not like the comments or opinions we put up on our blog here, but when you sit here and comment on them instead of doing productive work, we win.

Opinions sometimes make people angry. They cause strife and polarize the community. That's great, since it gets conversation going, and that conversation happens on our site, and our advertising is right there.

So when you see 500 "I totally agree" comments on our posts, they may look like spam to you, but they look like gold to us.

Abraham Lincoln's Best Advice posted by Tony Oct 16, 2007


"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."


The Dictatorial Philosophy of North Korea's Dear Leader Kim Jong-il posted by Justin Sep 28, 2007


This profile of Dear Leader Kim Jong-il briefly summarizes his dictatorial philosophy on running North Korea:
  • Listen to what the people want. Nuclear weapons and a state-run economy.
  • Hire good people. “Our chief concern is obtaining top-of-the-line physicists and technicians.” It pays off: North Korea has maintained a 100% retention rate for over a decade.
  • No meetings, ever. “I find them stupefying and useless. Besides, so far, I’ve never been wrong.”
  • No liberal education. “I’ve always thought this was baloney. It doesn’t take a college degree to realize North Korea is perfect.”
  • Forget the figures. “We consistently outperform last year without even trying. Our economy has been expanding at a high double-digit rate since the fifties!”
  • Occasionally, give people “a very gentle nudge”. Usually, the imprisonment or execution of a family member is sufficient.
  • He doesn’t reply to any UN Resolutions. “I’m not that talkative outside party rallies. Besides, my silence generally just increases the size of my aid package.”
  • Put speed over perfection: “It doesn’t matter that my missiles can’t make it more than a couple hundred miles. Crashing them into the Pacific creates as much buzz as Southern China.”
  • “Don’t screw up by doing things that let people realize South Korea is right across the border.”

Hey, you! Wake up! Or else! posted by Brad Sep 27, 2007


Sleepers. Customers who signed up for free accounts, but never upgraded. In fact, their accounts have gone completely idle. You had them briefly ensnared, visions of dollar signs dancing in your head. But, for some reason, they didn't need or like your product. And they jumped ship.

Those bastards.

We have been thinking about how to wake these idiots up, how to snap them out of their drug-induced stupors. Why try to win a new customer -- someone with no preconceptions, someone who might actually like your product -- when you can annoy the folks who have decided your services simply aren't worthwhile? You don't deserve to be treated like this. After all, you have expensive toys to buy, don't you?

It's time to get even. Harangue these people. Shout in their ears. Harass and annoy them. Punish them for trusting you with their contact info, but not their money.

That's right, baby. Spam them into the next time zone.

Spam reminds these people that you're in the driver's seat, that you're not afraid to bring out the big guns. It says, "Fork over the dough, fools, or our relationship is gonna be nothing but a slow tango through a vat of marketing slime! We've got all the time in the world, and an SMTP server to match! Let's dance!"

If they still don't respond, pull a fast bait and switch. Tell 'em you'll cut the price for a little while. Then, two months down the road, they'll be right back where they started -- thinking you're product sucks -- but they'll be paying you, too. Now that's customer service.

So that's how it's done, kids. Profit at all costs. Your customers don't know what they like, so take what's yours: their inboxes, or their money.


I'll Buy!!! I'll Buy!!! Please don't hurt me... posted by Tony Sep 24, 2007


The internet is full of people that, for whatever arbitrary reason, don't want your product. That's unacceptable. They can't be trusted to know how to spend their money. They need education. They need direction. And if that doesn't work, they need a little "help" making the decision to buy.

There's always one more reason not to buy, like "It's not in the budget", or "Your product is terrible", but you know best about your product, not them. Objections like "I really don't ever need to do what your product helps people do" are uninformed at best. The proposition is always clear: "Make something I want, and I'll give you my money for it". There's always that one more thing to do before customers will part with their money. Maybe they have some interesting points, but you can't sit and wait for that money to come to you, you've got a business to run.

That's why we've taken to contracting with an outside agency, The Vito Gambrese Family, to help us educate customers about the value of our products. Tony "Knuckles" Cinzetti has done wonders for our customer loyalty. The technique: Get a few key objectors "on the bandwagon" and the rest seem to fall in line. Listen to these customer endorsements:
  • This product is great. I'd never even think of being disloyal to the company ever again.
  • I love this product *wimper*. It hurts me to think of not buying another one every week *sniff*
  • Not the knees... oh god, please, not the knees...
So, let that be a lesson. There's a whole world of potential customers out there with a ton of reasons not to buy. Perhaps you just need the right kind of persuasion.

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In loving parody of the 37signals weblog Signal vs Noise.