Teach, don’t apologize

Christopher Mims, in a piece for Quartz headlined “Why Steve Jobs wouldn’t have apologized for Apple Maps, and Tim Cook shouldn’t either,” has a very different take than mine on Tim Cook’s letter.

If Jobs were alive today, Apple would probably have remained silent on the maps issue or held a similar press conference – and one very different in tone from Cook’s letter. Jobs would have explained to the public that mapping is a uniquely difficult problem, and that the only way to build your own maps database from the ground up – one that could ultimately lead to a product superior to, or at least usefully different from Google maps – is to put it out in the wild and have millions of real users test it.

I like to imagine a world in which this corporate-communications tactic would have worked. Trying to get the general public on your side by educating them about something is a very, very difficult thing to do. Ask Al Gore. Figure out how to teach people about something they don’t want to understand and you’ll save the world.

The romantic Mr. Bloomberg

“You’d get a six-pack of beer, a pizza, and you’d sit outside; it was really romantic.”

That’s the second-richest man in New York, Michael Bloomberg, telling The Times about when he used to take dates for romantic rides on the Staten Island Ferry. Why does this delight me so much?

An apology from Apple

This is the way to handle public-relations disasters. In particular, this customer-oriented paragraph, which suggests customers use alternatives from three of Apple’s biggest competitors:

While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web apps.

Now they have to actually fix the problem.

Update: Although Neven Mrgan makes an excellent point on Twitter:

Make Wikipedia easier to read

The conventional wisdom among designers is that blocks of text are easiest to read when each line is about 45–75 characters long. Shorter than that, and your eye has to move back and forth too often (before long, you’ll start skipping lines); much longer, and you’ll have a hard time focusing on the text or knowing how far along you are.

Because Wikipedia by default has a fluid layout, meaning the page takes up as much width as your browser window gives it, it can quickly exceed the ideal length on larger monitors. Fortunately, you can fix this yourself with one small setting.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Go to My preferences on Wikipedia. You’ll be asked to log in if you aren’t already. Create an account if you have to.
  2. Choose the Appearance tab. Click “Custom CSS.”
  3. Edit the Custom CSS page using the Edit tab at the top right.
  4. Paste this code: #bodyContent { max-width: 800px; }
  5. Click “Save page.”

That’s it. Go read an article and make your browser window really wide to test it out.

Delicious etymology

Pasta is a rich source of colorful Italian loan words. Orin Hargraves, on the blog of the Macmillan Dictionary:

Take campanelle, for instance. These cone-shaped pasta shapes with a frilly edge look a little like a bell and a little like a flower. In fact they look like a bellflower, which in English is also called campanula. The word in Italian means “little bells.” The Latin ancestor of campanelle also gives us campanology (the art of bell-ringing), and campanile (a bell tower).

Love the little quiz at the end. It’s connections like the one between linguine and linguist (the root word lingua, meaning “tongue”) that make me want to run off and be an etymologist.