Archive for December, 2006

the interactive conversation interface

December 26th, 2006

One of the most interesting software titles of produced during the 1990’s “CD-Rom era” of computing was the “You Don’t Know Jack” series of games. Set up like a game show, with a sardonic and surprisingly real host, the game was a hoot to play with a friend and a showcase for how much audio could be stuffed on a CD.

The truly impressive aspect of the games was the seamless interaction with the host; it always seemed eerily real. Jellyvision, the company who made the YDKJ games, lays out some of their hard-earned secrets in the “Jack Principles of the Interactive Conversation Interface“. It’s packed with really insightful HCI (Human Computer Interface) maxims, and should be studied by anybody making software that people have to interact with.

Also good news: the You Don’t Know Jack guys have created a web version of their game, “The Daily Dis or Dat“. It’s short, it’s punchy, it changes every day, and it’s just as much fun now as it was back in 1999.


ambient addition

December 26th, 2006

Damn, the MIT media lab people do such cool work — “Ambient Addition” is Noah Vawter’s thesis experiment with sound; it’s a iPod-sized device that records and loops the sounds of the world around the listener. Watch the video, it’s like a much more useful Bhudda Machine, a gizmo which (much like the Thingamagoop) I always liked in theory but not in practice.


xbox media center

December 26th, 2006

This weekend I finally got around to soft-modding my original Xbox to run the XBox Media Center media player. I used:

  • a borrowed copy of MechAssault
  • a 32 MB USB memory stick
  • a USB to XBox cable
  • Action Replay software
  • the excellent how-to listed here

…and while it’s touted as a 30-minute how-to, it really took more like two hours. But the end result was well worth it; it’s an incredibly slick, well designed piece of software. I can playback music, pictures and video right from the Xbox hard drive, or even better, I can stream it off of any machine in the house — you edit the menus via XML. There’s even a Mac OS X remote control widget. I’m really stunned that no one has put out this kind of box as a product — network attached storage with video-out and a remote. Throw a torrent client on the box and you’ve got the full “solution”. Cough.

Google Video has a nifty “Tech Talk” by Micheal Steil, one of the XBox Linux developers whose low-level hacking work has made this possible. It’s a fascinating look at the game of cat and mouse the hacker community has played with Microsoft for the past three years in order to get all this stuff working.


won’t someone think of the children?

December 26th, 2006


[TIMMY, a 15-year-old boy with green hair wearing headphones and carrying a skateboard rocks and bops his way down the hallway of his house, a Billy Idol sneer on his face. He arrives at the door of his room, which has a large DO NOT ENTER sign on it. He opens the door and sees his MOM sitting on the bed, a worried expression on her face.]

TIMMY: MO-OM! Can’t I have any privacy around this house? What are you doing in here?

MOM: Timmy, we have to talk.

TIMMY: About wha— (He notices the small, white, paper-wrapped stick in his mother’s hands) That’s not mine!

MOM: Timmy, this is serious business. Who got you into this — this thing?

TIMMY: No one! I’m not gonna fink on my friends! I’m no stoolie!

MOM: [Stands and walks over to Timmy] Timmy, you just said “Fink”. I know what you’ve been doing. What is this, Timmy? [She holds up the stick in front of Timmy’s face]

TIMMY: It’s… it’s a marijuana cigarette!

MOM: Timmy, this isn’t just a harmless marijuana cigarette. This is greasepaint. You’ve been Vaudevilling with your friends, haven’t you?

TIMMY: No, I….

MOM: You just said “fink”, Timmy.


MOM: I know how it is with you kids. It starts with a baudy rhyme, then it’s a little softshoe number, and before you know it, you’re seduced by all the glamour — the hot lights, the cool juleps, the fancy ladies.

TIMMY: [Now looking at his feet] Yeah, mom. It’s true. I’m sorry. I’ll throw out the greasepaint.

MOM: Timmy, sorry’s not good enough. Do you have anything else you’d like to tell me about?

TIMMY: [Suddenly a panicked look in his eyes as he glances at the hatbox on top of his boom box] No!

MOM: [Looks where he’s looking] No? [She walks over to the hat box, opens it and looks inside. She takes out…] A porkpie hat, Timmy? Is that what this is?

TIMMY: [Grabs the hat away from MOM, then runs out the door, tears streaming down his face.]

[CUT TO: a street corner. TIMMY, dressed in a striped jacket and wearing his porkpie hat, is doing a shuffling, awkward dance while the rain washes the eyeliner down his face. He has a straw top hat on the ground with a nickel in it in front of him as he sings,] Mmmmy little buttercup! Has the sweetest smiiiiile…


JB + Po -> Au

December 26th, 2006


Has anyone else been following the Litvinenko story with as great interest as I have?

And did those same individuals enjoy Casino Royale as much as I did?

It seems that Daniel Craig, who played James Bond in the recent incarnation of Casino Royale (the highest grossing Bond film yet) and a Vatican assassin in Elizabeth, is on the list for playing Alexander Litvinenko in a movie based on the assassinated spy’s book, Blowing Up Russia.

I’m looking forward to that one, yes I am.

happy holidays 2006

December 25th, 2006

Happy holidays for 2006 — and if you had a crummy 2006, here’s to hoping 2007 will be better. (Clink!) Also, please enjoy the holiday animations my Multimedia students have prepared for their last project of 2006; no matter what faith you follow, you have to give it up for the ‘Shreddin’ Santa’.

~jeff a.k.a. “Mr. Hobbs”

ho ho hodgman

December 21st, 2006

As payback for taking a mild yearlong beating as “the PC” in Apple’s television ads, Apple has worked some sort of backroom publishing deal where they give away sell at a profit John Hodgman’s Book The Areas of My Expertise free via iTunes. I have no idea on what kind of backroom deal it was — for that kind of insight, you’d have to ask a former professional literary agent. Also no news yet if Apple will reward Justin Long with a downloadable season pass for the first two seasons showcasing his exemplary work on “Ed“.

I’ve read the book a while ago, but I listened to the first two hours last night during driving around for a whirlwind Christmas shopping extravaganza. Hodgman performs his work admirably and amiably; the book gains from Hodgman’s personable yet slightly aloof delivery. And it’s free, so seriously, grab it. More unwanted advice: if you’re looking for last minute gift suggestions, I got my dad a Black & Decker Electromate 400, my mom a Brita filter & replacement filters, and my brother a Philips DVD648 DVD/DivX player.

UPDATE: Matthias writes and we are powerless but to take note and obey: the audiobook is no longer a freebie. C’mon, Apple, Kwanzaa is still going strong!


speculative review: night at the museum

December 18th, 2006

Night at the Museum” looks like it very well might be the worst movie that either Ben Stiller or Robin Williams have ever done, and that’s really saying something. How could it have been written by Dangle and Travis Junior?


wild i’d speculation

December 16th, 2006

So Gizmodo is claiming Apple’s iPhone will be announced this Monday, Dec. 18th; Digg’s inebriate-in-chief Kevin Rose spilled what he knew a couple weeks ago with, and I quote, “It’s small as shit, it’s got two batteries, and it’ll be $249 for 4 GB and $449 for 8 GB. urp.” CNET, in a bid to be first at something — even if it’s “first to be super wrong” — has already proclaimed the iPhone a flop, and eWeek has suggested that actually the second iPhone is the one to wait for; so according to eWeek, you should wait to buy the second imaginary phone, the one that will be released after the first imaginary phone.

It’s important to take a second and remember that these guys dress up, wear ties, and get paid for this.

Barring the Big Gigantic Why™ of why Apple would choose to cannibalize the very last week of 2006 holiday sales to pre-announce hardware that directly competes with their primary holiday product (the iPod nano), it’s still fun to engage in wild-eyed speculation; and if CNN can do it, so can I. Here’s three of my personal, unfounded, eyes-closed, hand-waving theories, listed in decreasing order of pure, unfettered alpha-consumer desirability:

  • Theory #1: The iPhone is a sexy little iPod nano style mini cell phone, like Motorola’s ROKR, but not as asstastic. Syncs with the Mac OS X Address Book, iCal, and does instant messaging and SMS. Hooks into your Mac laptop via Bluetooth and provides an E-Z, mom-friendly persistent internet connection via the cell phone connection. Users can buy songs, TV shows and games directly from the iTunes Media Store, and users can pay for minutes via their existing iTMS account. Gee-whiz feature: speech recognition software allows the user to pick songs from their music library by just saying the names of the songs out loud (which will cut down on iPod-related traffic accidents!).
  • Theory #2: The iPhone is an iPod add-on via the dock connector — a wifi VoIP module that turns your existing 5G iPod or iPod nano into a VoIP phone like the totally nifty Netgear and Belkin Skype phones. Apple and/or a phone company partner will run a gateway service that allows the VoIP service to call out to land lines. Gee-whiz feature: the gateway service routes your land-line calls and instant messages out to your iPod and vice-versa.
  • Theory #3: The iPhone is a software product like iChat that does VoIP and calls out to landlines via the Apple + partner gateway service. Cross-platform voice calls for Mac & PC, free for now, but upgraded version coming with Leopard 10.5. There’s precedent: they tried to pull this with iChat AV in Tiger, and although I don’t think any Panther users shelled out just for iChat AV, it’s possible they’re going to try this again. Unfortunately for Apple, Skype already exists, but the telecommunications market is a huge, huge market, so it’s more than likely that Jobs wants in. Gee-whiz feature: built-in answering machine software for VoIP calls notifies you of VoIP calls you missed while you were away.

…or, even more likely, I’m wrong. We’ll see on Monday (or not); until then, squirrel away $250-450 dollars, and post your pet theories in the comments area below.


the worst case of false advertising since “the neverending story part II”

December 14th, 2006



microsoft vista review

December 13th, 2006

When Bill Gates requested his programming team create the first version of Microsoft Windows, he offered the simple instruction: “Make it just like a Mac”. It’s hard not to imagine the same phrase being bandied about at Microsoft H.Q. during the development of Microsoft‘s new operating system, Windows Vista. Vista is the successor to Windows XP, the PC operating system used by over 400 million people daily. Business Week estimates that over the last five years, Vista has cost Microsoft over ten billion dollars to develop, a figure close to the cost of the Manhattan Project. And speaking of potentially dangerous bombs: what did ten billion dollars get Microsoft?

Well, Vista is neither a bomb nor the bomb; instead, it’s a purely evolutionary upgrade that tidies up a lot of what was seriously old and crusty about Windows XP. But after a couple weeks with Vista, the most striking change I’ve noticed are the much improved “Mac OS X” style graphics. Microsoft calls the shiny new Vista interface “Aero Glass”, and while it is appreciably more elegant than previous versions of Windows — with nifty fading and 3-D effects on the graphics on-screen — the new interface also requires a relatively modern graphics card, so factor in the price of a new video card into the price of the operating system if your PC’s graphic card is more than a year or two old.

The previously all-but-useless Windows Search has become genuinely useful in Microsoft Vista; simply typing a search phrase into the start bar will produce a quick list of relevant search results. Also improved are the bundled Windows email and web applications, Windows Mail (a.k.a. Son of Outlook Express) and Internet Explorer. Both applications have been significantly polished up since their last versions, with spam filtering and browser tabs respectively. However, with free and arguably superior alternatives available like Firefox and Thunderbird, these bundled applications are not compelling reasons to upgrade.

Another dubiously useful addition is the addition of “gadgets” to the operating system. Vista’s “gadgets” are tiny programs that hang out on your desktop and fulfill a small but dedicated function, acting as a calculator, or a desk clock. mac
Mac OS X users already have this stuff with “Dashboard”, but if you’re a PC user hungry for this kind of functionality, both Yahoo and Google offer their own spin on this idea via their own free products, including the wonderful “Google Desktop”.

Vista’s tendency to bug the user again and again regarding nearly every little thing — online and off — will drive you crazy. Install a program and get a warning. Visit a website and get a warning. Plug in a printer, get a warning. This is “cover your ass” security, in place only because if the user is asked every time something could potentially harm their computer, then it’s not technically Vista’s fault when something bad happens. What I suspect will actually happen is that most users will be overwhelmed by the sheer number of times they are requested to allow a change, and either turn the feature off or simply start allowing or disallowing everything as a rule. That’s what my parents would do, anyway; but in fairness, my parents are under the impression that if they click the wrong button, their computer will start a small fire.

Those wishing to “borrow” a friend’s copy of Microsoft Vista will be in for a surprise, as Vista checks in with Microsoft every so often to make sure that your personal license is legit. If it finds that a user has “borrowed” their copy, or has “borrowed” it upon too many computers, the software will cripple itself and limit the user’s ability to use the Internet. This feature is being touted by Microsoft as something called “Windows Genuine Advantage”. The only one with the advantage is Microsoft, which certainly has a problem with piracy — I suspect every PC in China uses the same Windows XP serial number — but I also bet that more than anything, this feature will simply drive customers and businesses to explore open-source Linux alternatives like Ubuntu and OpenSUSE, free operating systems which are powerful, user-friendly and completely free.

Did I mention free?

In the end, it doesn’t matter how good, bad, or simply over-hyped Vista is, because every PC user will be getting a copy next time they buy a new computer. This is the biggest market advantage that Microsoft enjoys — eventually you’ll want a newer, faster PC, and when you bring it home, it will already have Vista installed. If you’re a die-hard Windows fanatic, you’re already excited about Vista; others might simply want to hold off on the expense until Vista comes bundled along with their next PC, and in the meantime, fill in the gaps with existing (and free!) third-party products.

Or, buy a Mac.

wii love it

December 13th, 2006


Oh man, is it possible that I’m the first ldopan to play with the Wii?

(Ed. — it looks that way. Dammit! ~jeff)


It is awesome.

It’s really easy to learn to play and fun right away. The Wiimotes (or Wiinises, as my host preferred to call them) are comfortable to use, and seems like they would be comfortable for most-sized hands to feverishly grip for 10+ hours. The speaker in each Wiinis is utilized well. Because the speaker is in each controller, you get individualized feedback for when it’s your turn and if you’ve achieved the proper motion for the game you’re playing. The sound from the Wiinis also integrates well with the more-backgroundy sound from the TV, making your sound experience subtle and useful at the same time.

To start, you create a Mii (I know, painfully cute) with enough control over the look and size of the cartoonish features that you can make a really specific and personal guy. Apparently these Miis can mingle over some kind of internets people keep telling me about.

It comes with Tennis, Baseball, Golf, Bowling, and Boxing, with three additional training supplements for each. I didn’t try any Boxing or the non-training Golf game since apparently they’re more complicated and difficult, but I was able to recreate my suckage in sports with incredible accuracy with the others. Yet it was still incredibly fun. It was so intuitive and came out with results that seemed pretty reasonably realistic (while remaining cute and cartoonish) to the point where I was actually wondering to myself if I could use it to train and avoid the embarrassing mistakes I make in baseball in private, enough to join a real team. Then I remembered being good at these sports entails actual muscles when you’re not playing on the Wii.

The action is smooth and the controller is responsive. The buttons are pretty simple, though a first-time user might not realize that while A is the big button on top, B is a trigger underneath. There are helpful (i.e., soon-to-become-annoying) diagrams it shows you on screen when you’ve mixed something up. The Wiinises have both infrared and internal proprioception, so it is generally faithful to your motion with few errors.

The paper lamp in my friend’s living room has sadly suffered some of the collateral damage we’ve all been hearing about, so enjoy the totally new gaming experience (TM) with care.

poor lamp

the internet at its finest

December 13th, 2006


This is the controversy that Jon Land should have a hand in. Tragically, comments are closed, but the ones there represent the finest of Internet culture. Oddly, I mean that entirely nonsarcastically.

Duchamp would be so proud!

(Thanks to Rachie!)


December 13th, 2006


Until we have the nifty rounded corners of CSS3 compliant browsers, web designers will have to resort to CSS skullduggery to get nicely rounded corners. Cornershop is a lovely interface for clear instructions on how to make your own rounded corner boxes, without a whole lot of foolish shenanigans and rigmarole.


December 13th, 2006

To complete the self-disclosure trifecta of and, I suggest, which is:

Mortified is a comic excavation of teen angst artifacts (journals, poems, letters, lyrics, home movies, schoolwork) as shared by their original authors.

…make sure you watch at least a little of “I Hate Drake“; by the end, you’ll probably hate Drake too.