Beyond “Highlight”: Paying for Promotion on Facebook

Facebook is testing a new feature that lets users “highlight” their important posts, making them more likely (but not guaranteed) to appear in their friends’ feeds. This is a fantastic idea. I can’t begin to count how many of my status updates have failed to get even a single comment or like. The only possible explanation is that people aren’t seeing them; this new feature would fix that.

Highlighting is a premium service; this price list includes some additional options that I’m sure they’re working on:

Description Price
Highlighting Your post is more likely to appear in your friends’ feeds and to stay visible longer. $2 / post
Super Highlighting Your post is guaranteed to appear in all your friends’ feeds. Friends who have not yet liked or commented on your post will be presented with a popup window inviting them to do so. $3 / post
Ultra Highlighting All the benefits of super highlighting, plus Facebook will send each of your friends an email and text message notifying them of your post. $4 / post
Mega Highlighting All the benefits of ultra highlighting, plus Facebook will send each of your friends a series of reminder email and text messages until they comment on or like your post. $5 / post
Imaginary Friends™ Facebook will create a fictitious “friend” for you who will post flattering comments and likes to your status updates, photos, and links at random intervals. $6 / Imaginary Friend™ / month; 10% discount on orders of more than 4.
Imaginary Friend™ Wall Posts One of your Imaginary Friends™ will post a message of your choosing to your wall. Popular selections include “You look great! Have you lost weight?” or “I know you don’t want anyone to know it’s your birthday, but HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!”. $4 / post; only available to people who have at least one Imaginary Friend™.

If you highlight a lot of posts, this could get a little costly. I looked at my own timeline to figure out how much I’ll wind up spending on this feature. I started by circling the updates that are so important that they practically cry out to be highlighted:

A very boring Facebook timeline, with some updates marked for highlighting.
An excerpt from my Facebook timeline. The circled posts are the ones that I’d highlight.

Only about a dozen of the updates I post each day are super-important, and I think I could probably get by with just the basic highlighting. So for just $24 / day — about what I spend on my daily half-dozen coffees at Starbucks — I can make sure my friends are somewhat less likely to miss my most significant news. Thank you, Facebook; this is just what I (and my friends) needed.

I’m going to be moving this blog to a new server, probably around May 26. If you use an RSS reader, have the site bookmarked, or come in through a static html link (like a blogroll), , or if you do NOT have a account, then you shouldn’t notice any difference. But this blog will no longer be available through the reader, nor will it be sent via mail to people who signed up using accounts after the move, so if that applies to you, please switch to one of the other methods. Please, please switch. This blog will be a sad and lonely place if you don’t come with me. But, you know, no pressure.

What I Use My Time Machine For, Now That The Novelty Has Worn Off

Like many people, I get a number of free products to review. Sadly, that number is zero, so when I decided I wanted to try the Acme Chrono-Jump Personal Time Travel Device, I knew I’d have to buy one myself.

When the Chrono-Jump arrived (a year and a half ago or last Tuesday, depending on how you count), I did all the things you’d expect: I dropped in on famous historic events, took a peek at what’s in store for the future (I won’t reveal any specifics, but you might want to stock up on those little plastic thingies they put in pizza boxes to keep the cheese from getting stuck to the lid), and even tried to change a few things from my past. Each trip sent me into a nightmarish spiral of attempts to correct whatever horrible mistake I’d made the previous time around, more or less like every time-travel story you’ve ever read or seen on TV. (Are butterflies attracted to time machines, or what? I’ve never stepped on one while living in the present, but for some reason they’re always getting underfoot in the past). So I got a little burned out.

I was going to write a negative review and take it back to the store, but the warranty had expired, so I decided to look for smaller-scale, safer, more practical applications. I’m glad I did. Here are some of the things I use my time machine for today:

1. Any time I forget something, I just pop back in time, call my younger self on the phone and ask where I parked my car, or when I last saw my next-door neighbor alive, or whatever else it is I’ve forgotten. The only problem might be that it can be a little annoying; any time I sign up for a new website, for example, five or six older versions of me show up asking for the password. Also, sometimes I forget how long it’s been since I remembered the thing I’ve forgotten.

2. I use it to make better choices at restaurants. I just wait until all the entrees have arrived and then go back in time and order the one that looks best. I am, of course, very careful to always order last, so that people who know what I’m doing don’t copy my order and create one of those annoying time paradoxes.

3. I hooked the time machine into my alarm clock, so now instead of a snooze button, I have a “go back four hours and get more sleep” button. It’s amazing.

4. Before I had the Chrono-Jump, if I wanted a baked potato, I’d have to either wait an hour for it to cook, or microwave it and deal with that awful microwaved-potato skin, or try to figure out one of those hybrid oven / microwave potato-cooking recipes. But now I’ve hooked the time machine into my oven, so I can just put the potato in and set the timer to start cooking an hour ago.

So there you have it. I wouldn’t recommend the Chrono-Jump to someone who’s looking to have adventures or change their past, but it’s the best alarm clock I’ve ever had. Four stars out of five.

Customer Review: The Acme EZ-Jump Personal Teleportation Device

My drive to work is 32 miles each way and involves practically every freeway in the greater Los Angeles area. That wouldn’t be so bad if it lots of other people didn’t also drive on those freeways — but they do. I hate my commute, so when suggested I might be interested in the Acme EZ-Jump Personal Teleportation Device, I ordered it right away.

This bumper sticker is one of many available accessories.

It arrived three days later via UPS (which seems like an odd way to ship a teleportation device, but whatever). The box contained the base unit (a plexiglass booth approximately the size of a refrigerator) and an instruction manual. The manual is 47 pages long: 3 pages of legal disclaimers in tiny print, 1 page of technical specifications, 37 pages of safety warnings in large print, 2 pages of operating instructions, a 1-page list of authorized service centers, and 3 pages of ads for EZ-Jump accessories (my favorites are the “Honk if you didn’t see me on the road today because I teleported” t-shirt and the “My other car is a teleportation device” bumper sticker). I skipped over most of the tech specs and safety warnings, which in retrospect may have been a mistake.

In theory, the initial setup is pretty simple: just move the base unit to an out-of-the-way corner, plug it into the wall, download the EZ-Jump app to your phone, then register with their online service, MyEZJump. But the base unit is unwieldy and difficult to move, and it turns out that the app is only available for iPhones and for Android versions 4.0 and later. My phone runs Android 3.2.2 and doesn’t support 4.0 yet, but I was eventually able to find a compatible, unofficial, user-contributed version on the Android app market.

The EZ-Jump’s maximum range is 50 miles; you can only teleport within a 50-mile radius of your base unit. Once you’ve set up the device, you can use the phone app to teleport from anywhere (within range) to your base unit; you can also teleport from your base unit to locations (within range) that are registered with MyEzJump. You can use the phone app to find publicly registered locations, although at this point, there aren’t many of them. Most are repair centers (and, really, what are the odds that you’d need a repair and still be able to teleport to the repair center?), and there aren’t any within range of my house. Fortunately, you can also register your own locations.

My next step was to register my office as a location. I drove to work, hit the “register this location” button on the app, and then drove home at the end of the day. The next morning, I left the car at home and teleported to work. Easy-peasy. Or so I thought. When I tried to teleport home, nothing happened. It turns out that the initial trip had overloaded an electrical circuit, which cut power to both the EZ-Jump and to my Crock-pot, ruining the stew I’d left simmering for dinner that night.

I upgraded my home electrical wiring, and it’s been mostly smooth sailing since then. The biggest adjustment for me has been that I can’t really run errands “on the way home” any more. Well, that and the thing with my left hand — the retractable claws are cool, but if I had it all to do over again, I probably wouldn’t teleport on Bring Your Cat To Work Day.

No Time to Read? Try the New Kindle Spark

I love my classic Kindle; its convenience and simplicity make it the perfect entry-level e-reader. But let’s face it — the Kindle has limitations. With my busy lifestyle, I need a device that does more than simply facilitate the reading of books. That’s why I was so excited to hear about the new Kindle Spark.

The new Kindle Spark

The Spark is the newest member of the Kindle Fire product line; like the Fire, it features a color touchscreen that provides access to books, magazines, movies, videos, games, and other apps. But the Spark has one feature that sets it apart from all other e-readers: summaries on demand. Traditional e-readers download books for you to read; the Kindle Spark downloads books, reads them, and describes them to you. The Spark can summarize any content instantly, using proprietary on-the-fly summarization technology designed by SparkNotes in partnership with (leaked internal documents show that Amazon chose SparkNotes over CliffsNotes because “Kindle Spark is a much better name than Kindle Cliff“).  Here are some common scenarios in which the Kindle Spark really shines:

  • You enjoy the first hundred or so pages of Atlas Shrugged, but as you read further, you find the characters increasingly difficult to relate to and the speechifying somewhat tedious. Just hit the “Summarize” button to see how the story turns out.
  • You decide to watch The Seven Samurai because you’ve heard it’s a cinematic masterpiece — but after 10-15 minutes of white subtitles against an almost-white background, you decide you just can’t take three more hours of this. Hit “Summarize”, and the Kindle Spark will instantly convert the film into a movie trailer of whatever duration you want (90 seconds if you don’t specify a length).
  • You want to keep up with your friends, but you just don’t have the time. Bring up the Facebook app, hit “summarize”, and the Kindle Spark will produce a report similar to this one:
    Photos Stories Links
    Children 3 5 0
    Pets (including Internet cats) 8 1 6
    Vacation 15 3 0
    Politics (including political comics) 0 1 4
    Comics (non-political) 0 0 6
    Non-sequiturs that may or may not be song lyrics 0 9 0
    Food 3 3 0
  • You don’t want your friends to know that you get all your news from the tabloid headlines you read while waiting in line at the supermarket. Subscribe to as many newspapers and magazines as you want, then hit “Summarize” to receive a highly-condensed version of each periodical as it’s published. A planned software upgrade will include the option to post 1-3 summaries of randomly selected articles to your blog, Facebook, or Twitter account each day. Each summary will include a reference to the original periodical (“Just saw this on The Economist today”) and a link to the original article.

At $219, the Kindle Spark isn’t exactly a stocking stuffer, but it does make a great gift for someone who loves to read but never seems to find the time to actually read anything.

Need more last-minute gift ideas? For the cat-lover on your list, consider the CatSofa or the Squeaker 3000 Robotic Toy Mouse.

To the Manufacturers of the Squeaker 3000 Robotic Toy Mouse

Recently, I purchased a Squeaker 3000 Robotic Toy Mouse for my cats, Holly and Thunder. They’re big fans of other items in your product line, especially the Squeaker Catnip Toy Mouse, the Squeaker Laser Toy Mouse, and of course the classic Squeaker Squeaky Mouse, so I decided they might also like the robotic version. For the most part, they’ve enjoyed playing with the Squeaker 3000; however, the product has some serious flaws. The following is my evaluation of some of its key high and low points.
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A First Look at GM’s Prototype Facebook Interface

Facebook updates while driving to work

When I heard that General Motors was testing a new feature that allows drivers to post Facebook status messages while driving, I couldn’t wait to try it out. So I called GM, explained that I have a blog with almost a dozen regular readers, and asked if they’d let me try the system out for a few days in exchange for some free publicity. Naturally, they jumped at this opportunity and offered me a 48-hour test drive.

Tuesday, after work: I stop by the dealership to pick up my vehicle, a Chevy Impala with the prototype social networking software installed. After programming in my login information (a tedious process, but one that only needs to be done once) and getting a brief tutorial on how to use the system, I’m all set. As soon as I pull out of the dealership, I dictate my first (admittedly unimaginative) update: “Hi! This is my first Facebook update from my car”.

My first Facebook update using the automotive interface.
Continue reading “A First Look at GM’s Prototype Facebook Interface”

Sofa, Cat Toy, or Work of Art? The CatSofa is All Three

Thank you for your interest in CatSofa, the world’s only claw-friendly living room furniture.

How It Works

The CatSofa is an upholstered sofa with a twist — instead of a single layer of upholstery, the CatSofa features twelve layers of fabric in different, coordinating colors. When your cat scratches the sofa, she exposes hidden layers of upholstery, creating a stunning work of art. The more your cat scratches, the more attractive your sofa becomes!
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