Protect, Secure, and Network Yourself with My New Book

I’ve just released A Practical Guide to Networking, Privacy, and Security in iOS 11, the latest version of a book about those three topics that I’ve been updating for about seven years in a couple of different versions. 

My intent is to give you everything you need to manage networking—Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular, Personal Hotspot, AirPlay, AirDrop, and more—as well as all the ins and outs of what Apple does with your private data and how it controls and restricts access by third-party apps and Web sites to you while you use an iPhone or iPad. I also explain how to pick good passwords, turn on two-factor authentication, use passcodes and Touch ID, and find your missing iPhone or iPad. 

It's a reference work—you probably won't want to read it end to end! But whenever you have a question about any of these topics, it’s there to refer to you. You can purchase it directly from me via the link below, and you get a DRM-free ebook in three different formats, so you can read it anywhere you want on any device. The price includes any updates to this iOS 11 edition. 

Read more about the book here, including a downloadable excerpt and table of contents.

If you purchased any previous edition, you’re entitled to a low-cost upgrade; contact me if you didn’t receive email or other notification. If you’d like this book in print, you can purchase a print-on-demand edition via Amazon.

Take Control of Slack Basics! First Chapters Free

Read Chapter 1, Introducing Slack, and Chapter 2, Getting Started with Slack, at TidBITS, free.

I've been using Slack for a year, and fell in love with it right away. It's part of my flow of communication with publications with which I work and part of the social fabric I share with fellow nerds on a podcast network and other writers. Slack is group chat with searchable history, plus a lot more.

This love led me to write Take Control of Slack Basics, a book that arose from my interest in understanding the details of Slack, which has a very nice Web app and well-designed native apps for all major platforms. I kept learning new tricks and discovering them, and thought that I could pull this all together for people whose workplaces, social groups, academic institutions, or other organizations had decided to use Slack—and they felt lost or undertrained in making the most of it. (By the way: This book was written independently of Slack, which didn't influence or endorse its contents.)

This book is for people who want to use Slack better, want to get started in Slack and aren't sure it's for them or their group, or have been told at work that they will use Slack and want to get up to speed.

One of the most important things about Slack is keeping it quiet. It's got a lot of features to help notify you of messages and conversations, but it also increasingly has options that keep it less talky, including a "do not disturb" mode introduced towards the end of 2015.

You can read the first two chapters of my book free at TidBITS, the publishers of the Take Control series. I've finished writing the book, and we're working through technical edits (checking details) and regular editing, and syndicating the remaining 10 chapters to TidBITS subscribing members. (Members get syndicated book chapters plus discounts on all sorts of Mac and iPhone/iPad-related products.)

I'll make an announcement when the book ships in a few weeks, but, for now, you can read the first two chapters!

Here's the full table of contents:

Chapter 1, Introducing Slack
Chapter 2, Getting Started with Slack
Chapter 3, Master the Interface
Chapter 4, Post Basic Messages
Chapter 5, Go Beyond Basic Messages
Chapter 6, Work with Channels
Chapter 7, Message Directly
Chapter 8, Configure Notifications
Chapter 9, Search Effectively
Chapter 10, Manage Bots and Integrations
Chapter 11, Be Productive in Slack
Chapter 12, Start a Team

There's No Back in the Amazon Store, Only Front

I visited the Amazon Store today, its first permanent bricks-and-mortar rollout. The store falls under the purview of a former Amazon co-worker from back in the day who I admired very much. It's really a lovely place. It seems to have captured a lot of the charm of what Barnes & Noble used to be like, before they lost their way, with a very strong whiff of Seattle and a sense of appreciation of the book as a form. That, even with Kindles, Fires, an Echo, and much more centrally located and throughout the store. This is a book bookstore that happens to have some electronic gear and electronic aids.

Prices are omitted almost everywhere. I spotted a handful on electronics. Books have no prices on the shelf tags. There are omnipresent Kindles to look up the price, but it's odd to my eye that even though the books are heavily discounted off list, one has to look at the book to find the list price and then ask or look up the retail price in the store. It's inconvenient, but it bypasses having SKU (stock-keeping unit) tags on the books. (Having used Amazon for fulfillment of a book I published, they insist on every book being tagged, even though books have UPC codes on them.)

I couldn't put my finger on what it was about the store that seemed off until after I left. It was this:

The entire store feels like the front part of a bookstore. There is no back crammed with spine-out books and remainders and weird stuff—and even used books in various conditions.

The back of the bookstore is the Amazon ecommerce operation. Amazon is self-showrooming.

Amazon Store

A Kickstarter Failure, But Books Available Immediately

The crowdfunding campaign to produce a second anthology of work from The Magazine failed to fund: we reached about 60% of the target, but I believe getting people on board was trickier this time for a variety of reasons, including that we are about to halt regular issues of the publication.

However, we have a couple hundred copies remaining of our Year One hardcover anthology that were printed in April of this year. It's a great collection of about 25 stories across a huge range of topics. It's cloth-covered book with a dust jacket, and a full-color interior. We'd still like to create a second anthology, and selling down our inventory of the first-year collection would go a long way to letting us figure out that plan.

The cost is just $25 including shipping within the US, and it ships immediately (via Amazon fulfillment). That's the price offered in our first Kickstarter, and a discount off the cover price. (We're working out international shipping now.)

I'll write a full post-mortem about this campaign in the near future. More lessons learned, but not bad ones at all.

The Magazine is making a book (again) and shutting down (what?!)

My labor of love the last two years has been The Magazine, first as its hired hand and then, in May 2013, as its owner. The sad truth has been that, while profitable from week one, the publication has had a declining subscription base since February 2013. It started at such a high level that we could handle a decline for a long time, but despite every effort — including our first-year anthology crowdfunded a bit under a year ago — we couldn't replace departing subscribers with new ones fast enough. We're a general-interest magazine that appeals to people who like technology, and that makes it very hard to market. "Pivoting" to a different editorial focus would have lost subscribers even faster. (Ads wouldn't work; we simply don't churn out enough content for that model. I wrote this a year ago and it's still true.)

So we lasted as long as we could while turning a buck so that I could make an increasingly smaller portion of my living from it, while enjoying the heck out of working with so many great writers and publishing stories about so many people and things, historical and present, geeky and sweet, sad and hilarious. It's been great.

Our last subscription issue will be December 17, 2014, after which we will discontinue and refund subscription on a pro-rated basis and may produce some ebooks or special projects thereafter.

Working cover of our Year Two anthology

Working cover of our Year Two anthology

But in the meantime, we're going to go out with a bang by producing another beautiful offset hardcover book drawn from our second year in publication, which we're celebrating today. Funding this Year Two book means we can pay all the writers reprint fees and get their work and the stories of people they tell out to a bigger audience, too.

Help us make this book by backing it and get a gorgeous hardcover book. You can even pledge at a patron or angel level and get signed copies — I and all the contributors will sign those editions.

We're also giving away the digital editions of the Year One book to help raise awareness of this new project, and we're pledging — if funded — to give away the digital editions of this new collection as well!

(Addendum: My friend Jeff Carlson wrote some kind words and filled in a few blanks that I forget about sometimes even though I run this darned thing.)


Art Prints from the Book Campaign

I've put up for sale art prints that we offered as part of our Kickstarter campaign last year. We have a few left of both the cover print by Amy Crehore (with no type on it, just her painting) and of Olivia Warnecke's moths and butterfly illustration. Both are printed on archival paper in limited editions. Amy's is additionally signed and numbered. You can purchase from our Tugboat Yards page.

Amy Crehore's cover painting

Olivia Warnecke's painting.

Every Book Is Its Own Hardware

After reading about an ebook-only library, the only branch in the county system that serves San Antonio, Texas, I wrote a long essay that reflects a couple of decades of thinking about books, libraries, and going digital. Right now, the copyright and licensing regime for ebooks is very poor for libraries, and thus for their patrons, even though the utility and ease are extremely. People are reading more than ever and more unique books are being published than at any time in human history by probably a factor of three or four, if not a full order of magnitude.

And yet—publishing clinging to physical models in a digital world is holding back readers as buyers and readers as library patrons. Established publishers have every reason to fear the creative destruction underway. But they have to embrace it. They have no alternative. And the current model doesn't work well at all for libraries.

When you have a library full of printed books, every book is a self-contained apparatus: every printed book contains the hardware and data necessary to allow human wetware and our operating system to interact with it. One needs no intermediary for the contents of the book. Each book stands alone.

Read the whole thing.


The True Story of the Amazon Door-Desk

Several years ago, I said I would no longer publicly comment about my time in 1996–1997 as's catalog manager. Why? Because my knowledge and memory were so out of date, and I did not keep a journal during that period. It would be silly for me to provide commentary about a company that I had only been with during a period of explosive growth—now no more recently than 14 years ago.

However, an essay in today's Wall Street Journal called "Jeff Bezos of Amazon: Birth of a Salesman," compels me to comment on one aspect of the pervading myth of Amazon's creation and early years. You can read elsewhere about the truth behind other parts of the creation myth, especially in Robert Spector's fine and exhaustive look at Amazon's early years, Get Big Fast.

The part that got me was the door-as-desk myth, which has been cited since Amazon's founding as a way in which the company confounded standard business practice and was frugal during its very early startup days. This is a complete crock, and I would suspect that no one associated with the company, including Jeff, ever necessarily put forth a cost savings for these ersatz desks.

The door-desks were full-sized solid-core doors with four-by-four posts cut for each corner, and attached using metal brackets. You'll find accounts across the Internet that these were four-by-sixes, two-by-fours, or hollow-core doors. At least back in the day, I saw many of these desks made, and I can testify to their composition. (The hollow-core doors wouldn't have supported the weight—they would have cracked in places under the strain.)

In the very early days of the company, I'm sure the doors made more sense. They had very little room or time, and were trying to husband cash. Doors have a large surface area relative to most desks, and Amazon was in a garage and then a couple of industrial/warehouse spaces before they split the warehouse (down south of the viaduct) and the offices (in what was then identified as the core of heroin district of Seattle, right near Pike Place Market) before I joined.

I had met Jeff Bezos through mutual friends in 1995, when I was already running a Web development firm, hosting several companies, in downtown Seattle. He and I got along quite well, and I was always encouraging. My business was already profitable and growing, but I knew from the early days I didn't have the kind of entrepreneurial drive to embrace the risk—and sell myself—to turn the firm into something huge. I was looking for successful-boutique scale, and more or less achieved that.

I had lunch with Jeff in October 1996 when I was a bit in the doldrums about what I was going to do next with the business. He invited me to join Amazon, which I did. But what I remember most was, after lunch, walking into his office in the Columbia Building, and seeing a rack of blue colored shirts, his trademark at the time, and the door-as-desk. I laughed. I looked at the threadbare carpet and spartan furnishings, and said, "Investors must love this." He gave me his patented laugh.

When I joined the company, I saw the door-desks being built all the time. They hired people to build them. Back in 1998, a year after I left, Jeff told the Seattle Times:

"These desks serve as a symbol of frugality and a way of thinking. It's very important at to make sure that we're spending money on things that matter to customers," said Bezos, 34. "There is a culture of self-reliance. (With the low-tech desks) . . . we can save a lot of money."

The doors were expensive, built to an arbitrary height, heavy, difficult to move, and horrible for body health because of the bad ergonomics. That's when I started having to see an acupuncturist for carpal tunnel and related problems. And also note that these were exterior doors: moving a exterior door through an interior door frame with legs permanently attached is a tricky task. At the time, a slightly smaller desk (or even a sturdy banquet table) would have cost 1/3 to 1/2 the amount and worked far better.

The myth was in place: the door-desk was part of the story about Amazon's creation, and it was part of what every visitor to the company's headquarters saw. It spoke of a particular ethos about spending and intent. And I will note that Jeff and company were extremely, but not unreasonably, tight with spending. Money wasn't spent on stupid things, either by executives or staff.  (Later, the company probably wasted billions on setting up and closing down warehouses that weren't right for them until they figured out the formula for where they should be located and run.)

Jeff was and is a brilliant marketer. The marketing and perception of the door-desks was much more important than their actual savings to the company.

My Latest Book in Print: Five-Star Apps

Hey, I wrote a book! Hey, I suffered for months to make it reality! Hey, it's reality!! It's in print! Crazy. Buy a copy (compare at online booksellers)!Five-Star Apps ($20 retail, about $13.50 online) has nearly 200 reviews of the best and most useful and most fun iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch apps that I examined. Reviews are supplemented with screenshots, since it's often hard to know what a program looks like in real use since you can't get demo versions (only "lite" programs). Five-Star Apps book cover You can follow links at to buy the book!