3 Uses for iPhone Screenshots

For all the iPhone users out there: You probably know you can take a snapshot of whatever you see on your screen:

  1. Briefly press the top and front buttons at the same time.
  2. The screen will flash white and you’ll hear a “snapshot” sound.
  3. A picture of your screen is now in your iPhone “Photos”.

I’ve found it extremely helpful to make screenshots, and I do it all the time. Here are a few reasons:

Remember an Interesting Part of a Podcast

If I’m driving and hear something I like in a podcast, I make a quick screenshot of the playback screen. When I get back to my computer, I can return to that spot in the podcast and take notes.


Save a Point on a Map

Sometimes I want to “bookmark” a location on the map before looking up something else. A screenshot is a fast way to do this.


Save a Website Address Without Interrupting Your Reading

Sometimes when I’m reading in Google Reader, I want to save the location of an article to read later. (I don’t want to leave Google Reader immediately because it has to entirely reload when I return.)

If you hold your finger on a link for a few seconds, a menu will popup with the address of the link. Sometimes I simply save a screenshot of the link, then hit Cancel and go back to my reading. Later I read the items I saved in my screenshots.


Screenshots can help you practice “ubiquitous capture” — capturing all notes, thoughts, and ideas, as they come to you, so you don’t have to keep them in your head.

Do We Need a New Internet?

The New York Times recently asked, Do We Need a New Internet?

…there is a growing belief among engineers and security experts that Internet security and privacy have become so maddeningly elusive that the only way to fix the problem is to start over.

A new Internet might have more security, less anonymity.

As a new and more secure network becomes widely adopted, the current Internet might end up as the bad neighborhood of cyberspace. You would enter at your own risk and keep an eye over your shoulder while you were there.

Stanford’s Clean Slate Project intends to “reinvent the Internet” to “overcome fundamental architectural limitations,” including security.

I’ve previously asked, Is the Internet broken? One place it might be broken is in the ability for parents to protect their children, and interested people to protect themselves, from pornography.

If the university most associated with the invention of our current Internet is willing to reexamine its underpinnings and reinvent it, more incremental changes like CP80 or Larry Lessig’s H2M seem worthy of consideration.

Of course, anonymity can be a virtue. Anonymity allows seekers to learn about a new religion in a low-pressure way or protestors in Iran to orchestrate protests.

The tech-savvy, often libertarian-leaning people you find at Slashdot.org tend to dismiss proposals like CP80, considering them antithetical to the nature of the Internet. I like that one Slashdot user offered a thoughtful counterproposal: “The people who want a ‘cleaned kid friendly Internet’ can establish an alternate port where such a thing would be delivered….” (read more)

I think Bill Cosby’s adage applies: “I brought you in this world, and I can take you out.” We built the Internet. If it’s not suiting us well, we can change it. I think the Internet has already been a great tool for good, and will continue to be, but I don’t mind considering proposals that might improve it.

When Society Stops Rewarding Industry, We See Galtism

Following up on what motivates us to work and create, I want to point out a few cases of “Galtism” in current events.

(As background, John Galt is a character in Atlas Shrugged who leaves society when it stops rewarding his ingenuity and hard work.)

First, a letter from Jake DeSantis, an executive vice president at A.I.G. who resigned after the company reneged on its bonus contracts after it became politically unpopular:

As most of us have done nothing wrong, guilt is not a motivation to surrender our earnings. We have worked 12 long months under these contracts and now deserve to be paid as promised. None of us should be cheated of our payments any more than a plumber should be cheated after he has fixed the pipes but a careless electrician causes a fire that burns down the house. (Jake DeSantis, “Dear A.I.G., I Quit”, Ny Times, March 24, 2009.)

Second, some musings on “what happens when government regulation makes it more expensive to bill for medical services than providers receive”:

More and more of my fellow doctors are turning away Medicare patients because of the diminished reimbursements and the growing delay in payments. I’ve had several new Medicare patients come to my office in the last few months with multiple diseases and long lists of medications simply because their longtime provider — who they liked — abruptly stopped taking Medicare.

This scenario is not academic. The health systems in Canada and the UK have shortages of doctors, especially specialists…which is why it takes months to get testing and diagnosis even for serious illnesses.

Among P.J. O’Rourke’s well-known lines is “If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s free.” The full speech is worth reading:

Freedom is not empowerment…. Anybody can grab a gun and be empowered. It’s not entitlement. An entitlement is what people on welfare get, and how free are they? It’s not an endlessly expanding list of rights — the “right” to education, the “right” to health care, the “right” to food and housing. That’s not freedom, that’s dependency. Those aren’t rights, those are the rations of slavery — hay and a barn for human cattle.

There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you…please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences. (P.J. O’Rourke, “The Liberty Manifesto”, May 6, 1993.)

What Motivates Us to Work and Create

I recently read Mind the Gap, an essay by Paul Graham on wealth, industry, and incentives. It’s almost 5 years old now, but it seems timely as our nation appears to be on a road toward socialism.

Wealth is not money. Money is just a convenient way of trading one form of wealth for another. Wealth is the underlying stuff—the goods and services we buy….

Where does wealth come from? People make it. This was easier to grasp when most people lived on farms, and made many of the things they wanted with their own hands. Then you could see in the house, the herds, and the granary the wealth that each family created. It was obvious then too that the wealth of the world was not a fixed quantity that had to be shared out, like slices of a pie. If you wanted more wealth, you could make it.

This is just as true today, though few of us create wealth directly for ourselves…. Mostly we create wealth for other people in exchange for money, which we then trade for the forms of wealth we want.

If you suppress variations in income, whether by stealing private fortunes, as feudal rulers used to do, or by taxing them away, as some modern governments have done, the result always seems to be the same. Society as a whole ends up poorer.

You need rich people in your society not so much because in spending their money they create jobs, but because of what they have to do to get rich. I’m not talking about the trickle-down effect here. I’m not saying that if you let Henry Ford get rich, he’ll hire you as a waiter at his next party. I’m saying that he’ll make you a tractor to replace your horse. (Emphasis added.)

Similar ideas can be found in a monologue from Francisco d’Anconia, the wealthy mine owner in Ayn Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged.

“Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men’s stupidity, but your talent to their reason; it demands that you buy, not the shoddiest they offer, but the best that your money can find. And when men live by trade—with reason, not force, as their final arbiter—it is the best product that wins, the best performance, the man of best judgment and highest ability—and the degree of a man’s productiveness is the degree of his reward.

“…you will see the rise of men of the double standard—the men who live by force, yet count on those who live by trade to create the value of their looted money—the men who are the hitchhikers of virtue. In a moral society, these are the criminals, and the statutes are written to protect you against them. But when a society establishes criminals-by-right and looters-by-law—men who use force to seize the wealth of disarmed victims—then money becomes its creators’ avenger.

“When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion—when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing—when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors—when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you—when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice—you may know that your society is doomed.

“If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose—because it contains all the others—the fact that they were the people who created the phrase ‘to make money.’ No other language or nation had ever used these words before; men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity—to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created….” (Ayn Rand. Atlas Shrugged. pp. 411-14. Emphasis added.)

More Important to Teach Principles than Facts

This week I read The Leader in Me, Stephen Covey’s new book about teaching the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People to elementary school students. Schools in North Carolina, Alabama, Illinois, Guatemala, Singapore, and elsewhere have successfully incorporated 7 Habits into their curriculum.

As an outsider to education, what most interested me were the chapter on teaching effectiveness principles in the home (chapter 10) and the following thoughts on curriculum.

Parents, teachers, and business leaders recognize that simple transmission of facts is no longer a sufficient education, as it may have been many years ago. This is what makes teaching effectiveness principles so attractive. Principles and habits transcend facts.

While factual information remains a key factor for survival in today’s world, it is no longer sufficient. With the massive spread of the internet and other digital resources, facts that at one time were closely guarded trade secrets and only available from the top universities can now be accessed in most every nook and cranny on the globe at the click of a mouse. As a result, many of the so-called elite professions that once required extensive schooling are today being passed on to computers or to people at far lower education levels and wages across the planet. Factual knowledge alone is thus no longer the great differentiator between those who succeed and those who do not. (Stephen R. Covey. The Leader in Me. p. 7)

What’s needed, in Mr. Covey’s opinion, is a greater emphasis on “meta” skills such as being proactive, setting goals, resolving conflicts, and listening well. (I previously wrote about “intellectual self-sufficiency”, which I believe is one of these meta skills that is larger than other academic skills.)

Perhaps we could teach better by teaching less:

“It is time to recognize that the major flaw in the de facto curriculum of American public schools is not that schools do not do enough, but that they attempt to do too much. Even though American students have fewer school days each year than their Asian and European counterparts, they are expected to learn far more curriculum content. Confronted with a curriculum that is ‘a mile long and one-half inch deep,’ teachers have become preoccupied with ‘coverage.’ They feel unable to teach for student mastery of knowledge and skills because of the race to cover content. One of the most meaningful steps a school can take to promote significant improvement is to develop a process for identifying significant curriculum content, eliminating non-essential material, and providing teachers with time to teach the significant curriculum.” (Richard DuFour and Robert Eaker. Professional Learning Community. p. 165. Quoted in The Leader in Me. pp. 197-198.)

“U.S. mathematics textbooks address 175 percent as many topics as do German textbooks and 350 percent as many topics as do Japanese textbooks. The science textbooks used in the United States cover more than nine times as many topics as do German textbooks and more than four times as many topics as do Japanese textbooks. Yet German and Japanese students significantly outperform U.S. students in mathematics and science.” (Robert J. Marzano. What Works in Schools. pp. 26-28. Quoted in The Leader in Me. p. 198.)

I’m not saying these are magic answers for education, or even that they’re new, but I thought they were interesting. As the internet makes it easier to connect with people and access any information, I see wisdom in learning and teaching better personal effectiveness skills.

Eric Hoffer said, “It is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”

The Language That’s Magic

One of my pet peeves is a request in the form of an incomplete “if” statement, e.g. “If you could get me that report by 2:00 PM.” Maybe it’s just me, but the programmer in me thinks that “if” clauses are always followed by “then” statements.

This made Steven Pinker’s talk on language and thought very interesting to me. Why do we speak like this?

Language as a social interaction has to satisfy two conditions: You have to convey the actual content. You want to express the bribe, the command, the promise, the solicitation, and so on. But you also have to negotiate and maintain the kind of relationship you have with the other person. The solution, I think, is that we use language at two levels: The literal form signals the safest relationship for the listener, whereas the implicated content–the reading between the lines that we count on the listener to perform–allows the listener to derive the interpretation which is most relevant in context….

The simplest example of this is in the polite request. If you express your request as a conditional–“if you could open the window, that would be great”–even though the content is an imperative, the fact that you’re not using the imperative voice means that you’re not acting as if you’re in a relationship of dominance where you could presuppose the compliance of the other person. (Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought, 14:06-15:10.)

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Truman Madsen has a similar thought on the language husbands and wives use with each other:

Now, a woman who is a woman delights in being thought a woman. She is “romance conscious,” and in the deeper sense love-anxious most of the time. The language she understands includes a lot of little (and in the opinion of many husbands, disgustingly trivial) things…the tender touch, the kiss good-by, the kiss hello. A morning of robust yard work is not as eloquent to her as the quiet smoothing of little hurdles, the gallantry of an open door, helping her with a chair or a coat and these mean a hundred times more to her feelings of response than the salary you bring home. Having an eye for the new dress or even the old one, saying the word, however inept or inadequate, about this salad or that gravy, remembering and repeating utterly trivial sentiments and events which no grownup man can remember unless he wants to, no woman can forget even if she tries.

Universally, woman is made rich by the man who knows that these touches mean everything. This language speaks to her being. She will respond to it and give.

Now, turn to the man. A man who is a man delights in being thought a man. He is “authority conscious.” The language he understands includes a lot of little things, the language of her listening even to his nonsense, the language of biting her tongue instead of lashing with it when his decisions are finally made, the uninterrupted phone call, the restraining of curiosity, the controlling of the disposition to inquisition. (A wife who insists on knowing nothing will eventually have everything, but the wife who insists on knowing everything will eventually have nothing.) The man understands the language of flexibility in a wife who respects his final decisions (even the decision of not to decide), or even so trivial a matter as when we leave the party. The man comprehends the exhilaration of a woman who, when his delays bring him home late, offers a brighter welcome instead of a dismal doghouse.

Universally, a man is responsive to these little matters which mean everything to him. He will rise to them and give in kind.

It is easy to say that we should prize other languages. If a man brings home the bacon and doesn’t complain at the wife’s food, and shows sympathy for her lot, then why all this emphasis on the romantic sizzle? “If I don’t like your cooking, I’ll say so; otherwise you are doing fine,” said one. On the other hand, if the wife works day and night to tend his kids, to keep his home, and put up with him, then why all the childish emphasis on the authority sizzle? Does a woman have to pander to this desire of a man to have the last word?

Well, it may be strange, as some cynics say (a weird kind of insecurity which mature people ignore), it may even seem ridiculous. But the cost is so little and the results so vast that it is tragic to work against the grain. You can’t speak without speaking a language. And this language is magic. Why not master it and speak it? (Truman Madsen, Four Essays on Love, pp. 56-58.)

Some Collective Intelligence Can’t Be Reduced to Thumbs-Ups and Star Ratings

In a podcast this week, I learned about Sermo, a private social network where doctors can share knowledge with each other. Seems like a good idea — let doctors submit and “rate” treatments for various diseases, Web 2.0-style*, like Digg or YouTube. (This is for fellow doctors only, not like WebMD.)

I suggested Sermo to my father (an ophthalmologist), but he was skeptical. He said each patient is different and many situations are unique. Sometimes patient comfort or reducing risk are more important than treating the disease. Sometimes “subjective” elements like fear or hearsay affect which treatments a patient will accept. How can these complexities be reduced to a simple, Web 2.0 “vote”?

Overview of Sermo
Overview of Sermo

That’s not to say doctors aren’t taking advantage of the Internet. My father subscribes to the American Glaucoma Society’s emailing list and has found it helpful. He said glaucoma specialists from around the world share stories and experiences. When a doctor tells a story he can share more detail, and the listening doctors can interpret and apply the story to their own patients. The collective intelligence in these stories can’t be reduced to a simple thumbs up/thumbs down vote or a star rating. (That’s not to say that this is Sermo’s model — I don’t know — or that my father won’t still try it.)

The book Made to Stick explains the importance of story-telling for transmitting information. A Xerox repairmen told his co-workers, over a game of cribbage and in precise detail, how he and his partner spent 4 hours repairing a photocopier that gave them a misleading “E053” error message. Here’s why:

Why do people talk shop? Part of the reason is simply Humanity 101–we want to talk to other people about the things that we have in common. Xerox repairmen work with photocopiers, so they talk about them. But that’s not the only factor at play here. For example, the storyteller above could have shared the general arc of the story without the details. “I had a real bear of a problem today–it took me four hours to get to the bottom of it. I’m glad that one’s over.” Or he could have leapt straight to the punch line: “After hours of hassle, I traced the problem back to a measly burned-out dicorotron. How was your morning?”

Instead, he tells a story that’s much more interesting to his lunch partners. It has built-in drama–a misleading code leads two men on a wild goose chase until they uncover, through lots of work and thought, that the problem is simpler than they initially thought. Why is this story format more interesting? Because it allows his lunch partners to play along. He’s giving them enough information so that they can mentally test out how they would have handled the situation. The people in the room who weren’t aware of the misleading E053 code have now had their “E053 schema” fixed. Before, there was only one way to respond to an E053 code. Now, repairmen know how to be aware of the “misleading E053” scenario.

In other words, this story is part entertainment and part instruction. Shop talk conveys important clues about how to respond to the world. It teaches nurses not to have blind faith in heart monitors. It teaches copy repairmen to beware of the misleading E053 code. (Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. pp. 207-208, my emphasis.)

* I’m using Web 2.0 in the classical sense, the way Tim O’Reilly defined it to mean the aggregation of collective intelligence, not the popular connotation of brightly colored websites with rounded corners.

For Better Performance, More Awareness

Among important cognitive skills is “learning to see ‘nonjudgmentally’–that is, to see what is happening rather than merely noticing how well or how badly it is happening,” according to The Inner Game of Tennis. I read it earlier this month. The author, Tim Gallwey, is a long-time tennis coach who teaches the importance of developing cognitive skills for improving in tennis or any other activity.

When you hit a bad forehand and curse yourself, the part of you doing the cursing is “Self 1” and the part of you who hit the shot is “Self 2.”

The key to better tennis–or better anything–lies in improving the relationship between the conscious teller, Self 1, and the natural capabilities of Self 2. (p. 10)

Soon after reading the book, a talk by Kathy Sierra was queued on my iPod and she happened to mention The Inner Game of Tennis. She said, to become a better performer, tell the dumber part of your brain (who Tim would call Self 1) to “shut up.” Cut out the noise and the “chatter.”

Back to Tim:

No matter what a person’s complaint when he has a lesson with me, I have found that the most beneficial first step is to encourage him to see and feel what he is doing–that is, to increase his awareness of what actually is. (p. 25)

…a great deal of technique can be learned naturally by simply paying close attention to one’s body, racket and ball while playing. (p. 54)

The process is an incredibly simple one. The important thing is to experience it. Don’t intellectualize it. See what it feels like to ask yourself to do something and let it happen without any conscious trying. For most people it is a surprising experience, and the results speak for themselves. (p. 80)

It would be useful to all tennis players to undergo some “sensitivity training” with their bodies. The easiest way to get such training is simply to focus your attention on your body during practice. (p. 89)

Luann Udell has found it helpful to use a Wii Fitness Board in her physical rehabilitation (Wii-habilitation). The Wii system gives her immediate feedback on her balance, improving her proprioception. (Proprioception was a new word for me. It refers to our sense of the position of our body. For example, through proprioception we know the location of our tennis racket even when it’s behind us on a backswing.)

President of the United States, Teacher-in-Chief

I’m hopeful about the potential for President Obama to be Teacher-in-Chief.

I did not vote for President Obama. I strongly dislike much of his agenda, including the expansion of abortion rights, the “creation” of jobs by government fiat, and the expansion of government to which he alluded in his Inaugural Address.

However, President Obama’s apparent popularity affords him the opportunity to be “Teacher-in-Chief.” The Presidency of the United States is a great platform from which to teach. I think it’s been squandered by presidents who think that they must do something, when it may be enough to teach something.

If President Obama uses this opportunity–the popularity he’s built–to teach correct principles, he’ll do far more good than could be done through any new government program. As long as he has listening supporters, he should teach economics, personal finance, debt-avoidance, self-reliance, service, industry, and more.

For example, I liked this from his Inaugural Address:

Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those that prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

Not this:

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward.

We don’t need a president who pretends he can give us what we need. We need a president who will inspire us to work for those things ourselves. I believe this may be within President Obama’s power. Don’t waste it, Mr. President.

(For an interesting read, see Chris Knudsen’s thoughts on President Obama.)

How to Save Voicemail Forever on Your Mac

With a combo of free Mac applications, you can record and save voicemails from your mobile phone.

You’ll need to install the following Mac applications:

skype Skype. You’ll use Skype to make a call to your mobile phone and listen to your voicemail. Though the app is free, you’ll need to buy Skype Credit to make a “Skype Out” call to your mobile phone.


audacity Audacity. You’ll use this free application to record your phone call.


soundflowerbed Soundflower and Soundflowerbed. This free system extension will connect Skype to Audacity. It’s like a laundry chute for audio; you can direct audio from any application to another. It does this by adding a pseudo “device” to your list of audio devices in System Preferences.


  1. Open Audacity, then Audacity Preferences. In the Audio I/O section, change the Recording device to Core Audio: Soundflower (2ch). audacity_preferences
  2. Open Skype, then Skype Preferences. Under the Audio tab, change Audio Output to Soundflower (2ch).
  3. Open Soundflowerbed in your menu bar, then under Soundflower (2ch), select Built-in Output. Soundflowerbed allows you to monitor the audio passing through Soundflower, like having a window into the laundry shoot to watch clothes that fall past.
  4. Back in Audacity, click the Record button to begin recording.


  5. In Skype, make a call to your cell phone. When your greeting begins playing, press the sequence of keys that accesses your voicemail (probably the asterisk key followed by your password.) Listen to your voicemail as you normally would. Then hang up. skype_phonecall
  6. Switch back to Audacity and click the Stop button. You should see the zig-zaggy waveform of the message you just recorded.
  7. Click the Audacity cursor directly before your message. (You can find out where this is by using the Play and Stop buttons.) From the Edit menu, choose Select then Track Start to Cursor. Push the Delete key on your keyboard. This will remove extraneous audio before your message. audacity_before
  8. Click the Audacity cursor directly after your message. From the Edit menu, choose Select then Cursor to Track End. Push the Delete key. This will remove extraneous audio after your message. audacity_after
  9. Choose Export from the File menu and save your voicemail. You can email it to a friend or save it in iTunes. audacity_export