Archive for February, 2007

marsellus wallace

February 27th, 2007


Nifty piece of typographical theater by Jarratt Moody available for viewing here. He tells me he did it in After Effects; I had no idea After Effects was capable of this kind of coolness.

~jeff

fatal flaws

February 24th, 2007


Apple now has three new rounded-rectangle shaped, media-related products:

  • Mac Mini
  • Apple TV
  • Airport Extreme

The small, compact form factor of each screams “put me next to your TV”. But what’s exasperating about these products is that by themselves, they all have serious, fatal flaws, and even if you put them together, they don’t make any sense.

I’m big on modularization, and always have been; as a kid, I bought all five of the Constructicons for no other reason than so I could build “Devastator”. Devastator turned out to be pretty flimsy shit, arms and legs falling off all the time — but the basic idea is sound, from both a functionality and a marketing perspective.

Sell smaller units that do one simple thing, and embed each with the emergent ability to combine with other products to do “more”, and you create a greater value surrounding your product line as a whole. There’s a reason Pokemon is still around after a decade, and it’s this: people have a deep seated need to collect ’em all. That’s why it’s so disappointing to me that even by combining these products, I still couldn’t get the media center I want.

Let me describe what I want, and maybe you want it too: my perfect media center is a perfectly quiet, small box that sits next to the TV. It’s not a full-on computer, as I don’t want another computer to manage. Instead, it’s instant-on, and it’s got a big fat hard drive, a remote, and the ability to play any music or video I can buy or scrape off the Internet. All my music files and all my video files can reside safely upon it, and I’m no more than three clicks away from playback of any of it via standard definition TV, HDTV, or my stereo.

That’s what I want, and that’s what my friends want, and right now, my homebrewed Xbox Media Center is filling that need nicely. Lots of people report good luck with MythTV setups as well*.

But both those projects require time, effort, and no small amount of luck, and with the genuine success of the iTunes Store Apple is uniquely suited to kick-ass in market. And yet to my mind, they still haven’t delivered what consumers want. Bear witness:

Product Pros Fatal Flaws
Mac Mini Plays any audio or video file via SD (Standard Definition) TV or HDTV. Somewhat clunky “Front Row” interface; not enough hard drive to act as central media archive.
AppleTV Instant-on; elegant interface. Only plays certain types of media; only hooks up to HDTV; not enough hard drive to act as central archive.
AirPort Extreme Allows for unlimited hard drive expansion via USB “AirPort Disk” mode; provides fast 802.11n wireless networking for rest of house.

No playback of any media; no AirTunes.

Notice how the pros are scattered throughout the three products? Isn’t it odd that Apple’s higher-end networking product lacks features the low-end “AirPort Express” model has? And can you imagine how cumbersome a “solution” involving all these gizmos would be?

For the sake of argument, you could keep your media files on the Airport Extreme, and play them the AppleTV or the Mac Mini — but in each playback scenario, there’s a tradeoff (elegance of playback v. codec support), not to mention you’ve also just shelled out another $100-200 for a big fat USB archive drive to hang off the back of your Airport Express like a bloated tick.

It reeks of inelegance. It’s not “Apple” at all; Apple historically provides the whole widget, or at least smaller widgets that click together with some semblance of sense. This shit is all over the place.

~jeff

* I don’t know a single person (besides technology columnists) that actually have and use a Microsoft Media Center. Granted, I don’t know a lot of people, but often the people I do know are huge nerds who by default would be fairly likely to own one. And they still don’t.

netflix weekend roundup

February 22nd, 2007

Farce!

Farce of the Penguins

I’ll admit it, I’ve been very excited about this movie for a long time. Written, directed and starring Bob Sagat, (note: if you haven’t seen “the aristocrats” stop reading this, and go rent it. Now.) It is a retelling of “March of the Penguins.” Narrated by Samuel L “mothafucka” Jackson and also featuring Lewis Black, it sounded to me like the perfect comedy. However, the reviews were almost unanimously horrible, calling it all sorts of mean things.

Although it wasn’t the work of comic genius I was hoping for, I was genuinely entertained, and would recommend it to anyone who has a pretty clear idea of what they are in for. Featuring a post-ironic awareness of how ridiculous the whole thing is (Sammy the narrator routinely gets into fights with the penguins), Bob Sagat manages to put together a decent joke. It’s just one of those ideas that sounds better than it works out to be. Kinda like the Sarah Silverman TV show, versus her fantastic movie.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Featuring a very sullen Tommy Lee Jones, this was a slow, albeit gorgeous journey through rural Mexico, all while hauling his decaying friend home for burial (really, his third burial. Hence the title.) Although it gets tossed around a bit too much for it’s own good, “Quixotic” is the perfect way to describe this movie.

It even has a donkey.

School for Scoundrels

Bad Santa teaches Napoleon Dynamite to stop being a push-over in order to get the girl.

Extras: Season 1: Disc 1

I’m going to admit something right here, and I don’t expect you to like it. I’m not nuts about Ricky Gervais. I know it’s heresy. I know he’s a comic genius. I know “The Office” is the best show ever. I’ve tried to get into it, a few times, but never been smitten with it. I’ve just constantly found it too cruel, too grating, too uncomfortable. I even love the American version of the “The Office,” but the British original has just never done it for me.

So, as partially an attempt to redeem myself, I rented “Extras.” I can learn to love Ricky, like everyone else. I just know it!

I thought it was OK. That’s it, just OK. Kate Winslet got a good chuckle out of me rehearsing dirty phone sex in a nun habit, but I never found it laugh out loud funny, and Ben Stiller did my least favorite Ben Stiller character, which is the yelling, angry, petulant asshole. Think I’ll pass on disc two.

What’d you watch lately?

macFUSE

February 21st, 2007


I held off on writing about macFUSE when it was first released on Google Code because it seemed to be in somewhat of an unfinished state — it hadn’t been packaged up in a handy OS X .pkg, and there was a couple rough edges here and there, so I decided the best thing to do is hold off. But this afternoon they rev’d to 0.2.1, and I got intrigued by the sshFS plug-in, so I installed it; and boy is it neat.

In a nutshell — anywhere you can ssh into, you can mount as a network share in the Finder. And sure, the SpotlightFS beachballed my finder, but Spotlight on my system has never worked that great; in any case the sshFS seems rock solid. Give it a try… and thanks again, Google.

~jeff

so a guy walks into a comedy club

February 20th, 2007


Radar Magazine is running a fantastic article on joke stealing, counting down all the usual suspects: Denis Leary stealing from Bill Hicks, Dane Cook stealing from Louis C.K., and Robin Williams stealing from, well, everybody. A fascinating peek inside the always surprisingly unfun world of stand-up comedy.

~jeff

meritline.com

February 15th, 2007


No matter what Joel Johnson says about people like me, I love me some gizmos — but I’m usually flat broke, so I’ve developed a system I call the Constant Reward Strategy™ (self-help book forthcoming Q3 2007 in HarperCollins paperback). This strategy involves always having some ultra-cheap piece of electronics in the mail winding its way to my house.

To this end, the friendly folks at meritline.com have been a really enabling force; the prices can’t be beat and even the slowest shipping only takes three days or so. Highly recommended.

ADDENDUM: Evan rightly points out NewEgg — how could I forget about them — and I might as well plug Think Geek while I’m shamelessly plugging. Neither of them beat meritline for sheer “cheepnis” though.

~jeff

sometimes I think you want to fail

February 11th, 2007


OK: Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton are unelectable, and their presence on any ticket in 2008 will drive the country right into the highly-electable President John McCain’s hands. This pains me greatly to say, but it’s true; outside of the fictional universe of “24”, America is not ready for an partially African-American president with a scary name, and Hilary Clinton is wholly despised by nearly all potential Republican swing voters and vaguely disliked by many Democrats as well.

And as cool as Obama is (I mean, c’mon: he smokes!), and as, um, perfectly acceptable a president as Hilary probably would be*, these are not the candidates to put up right now. This is not the time. Hatred of the current administration only gets the voter so far, but time and time again, it’s been proven that the real problem getting your guy elected is voter apathy. Voters need to either really like their candidate or really hate the other guy, and I’m afraid too many mid-western voters would really hate the idea of President Obama or Madame President Clinton. I’m deathly afraid the Democrats might be getting a little too cocky, under the misconception that the American people hate Bush just that much.

Because — ok — here’s the thing: I need the Democrats to win this one. I FUCKING NEED IT. I need to feel good about my country again. I need this stupid fucking war to be over, and maybe we don’t start a brand new war for, say, four to eight years. I need to stop seeing pictures like this. I’m all for progressive directions in policy and politics, I’m all for breaking the boring hegemony of the White Christian United States President** — but this seems to me to be a very dangerous time, and we’ve got to get the car out of the ditch before we get to drive down that particular road.

~jeff

*…can you feel the Hilary excitement? Catch it. Catch the fucking fever. But, seriously, any opportunity to see Bill again, I’m all for. He’s like America’s favorite fun uncle — a little drunk, a little horny, but everyone has a a good time when he’s around. Hey, can we elect him again, maybe? Under a pseudonym if we need to, perhaps something clever, like “Crill Blinton”.

**in fact, don’t tell anyone, but I voted for Nader in 2000, solely to show support for the idea of a viable third-party candidate; and irresponsibly promiscous lefty voters like me may have, in fact, gotten us into this mess… so what do I know, about anything, really.

opensearch

February 10th, 2007


NOTE: I’ve discontinued the ldopa.net Firefox plug-in (which, BTW, was a pain in the ass to make; I swear Firefox plug-ins are based on the same technology as “Sherlock” plug-ins from Mac OS 9) in favor of a nifty OpenSearch implementation. Users of Firefox or Internet Explorer 7 should have their search boxes light up when visiting an ldopa.net page, and subsequently get the option to add ldopa.net to their search options.

I don’t know why you’d want to add it, but there you go, anyhow.

~jeff

ignorance is strength.

February 8th, 2007

War is Peace.

Well, Dubya’s at it again. Whenever given the choice, he’ll opt for corporate warfare over human welfare, and his primary method is to silence all opposition irrespective of its rightness. His certainty is sure indication of his contempt for the truth.

In this case, he wants to eliminate public broadcasting. That’s right, the people who brought you Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, and the Electric Company, because they teach people to read, must go. This follows his attack on NASA where the administration changed the mandate of NASA so that it is officially no longer concerned with the health of the Earth. It follows his attack on the US school system — terrible though it is — by slashing funding to the poorest districts.

The Republican goal in this country is to eliminate all thought. If you’re anything but a corporate-funded billionaire, it’s in your interest to stop these people. If you are a corporate-funded billionaire, well, hi there, thanks for reading our blog, and could I have a million dollars? It’s only .05% of what you’ve got and I’ve got some causes I’d like to fund.

Fortunately, there’s something, however small, that we can do. MoveOn is having a petition signing so you can show your disapproval to your congressfolk.

(If this works, maybe NPR could grow a second testicle and give us some punchier news. I’m lucky enough to get some Pacifica Radio programming where I live. If you don’t know what they are, check it out.)

roll vs. SAN

February 6th, 2007

The HYBRID RPG

As some loyal L-Dopa readers have surmised, I’m a game designer. As such, I keep an eye out on what others are doing with the medium. For several years now “Matthew/C++” has been writing what he calls the HYBRID RPG. But to call in a “role-playing game” is to grossly underestimate the scale of the endeavor. What Matthew/C++ is working on is a System of the World in the philosophical sense. And he is doing it with some of the language of 80s role-playing games.

Below, find one of my favorite sentences.

In Champions/Hero rpg, END (0, ½) USUALLY APPLIES TO MUTANTS AND means that person starts @ 0, which is NOT a value of 0, but meaning default, THEN if the character is a mutant, but he must be a mutant in order for him to have the or/and be @ ½, which is what his mutant power level will by @ after his IQ is reduced after his IQ is increased by +1 advantage, meaning his C2 will double or increase by factor of 2x, which is then reduced to ½ advantage or ½ limitation from his 2nd 0 END, which is his NEW PL after having his PL increased due to his LS or Life Span decreased, such for a character such as the MU Spiderman, allowing him to increase his PL or Power Level @ C2 by factor of 2x with advantage of +1, which @ C2 for IQ is increased to which must be decreased to have mutant power(s), the more he decreases his IQ, the more power(s) he gets, and NOTE that he already starts with a larger LS or Life Span than an average adult male human, allowing him to decrease his LS to human levels, which in turn will increase his PL, and since his PL is, also, greater than average adult male human, his PL will increase even more, with his LS decreased: this all can be reversed to apply for PL (rather than LS) @ C2 of ½ its original value @ -1 limitation, which will increase LS by a factor of 2x which is +1 advantage, to increase LS @ C2 by factor of 2 by advantage of +1, which is NOT usually done, since mutants usually crave power(s) rather than longevity or/and longer life span: this is NOT the rule itself, but a little background information on what I’m about to say after my next comment, which will also serve as a little extra background information on what I’ll say later, in a brief moment, after this brief commentary to serve as a little background information on what I’ll say later so that it’s NOT taken out of context.

What I find most fascinating about this is how totally earnest it is. He’s trying to model the universe (one, significantly, without women*) using the language of computer science and, I think, physics. It is a view unhindered by communication, so we can’t understand it (I presume). It is a glimpse into someone else’s mind, their symbolic system. We all have these but we translate it into symbols that we share so that we can simplify enough to share. Matthew/C++ has no such concern with HYBRID. This is his symbolic system, compromised only insofar as that it uses letters, words, and numbers that we know.

* “… {(0,0) END} is a human, usually a male human, at least in this rpg HYBRID, since women are too complicated to make in my rpg, since creating women in my rpg requires politically incorrect math …”

jobs on music

February 6th, 2007


This piece by Steve Jobs is a fascinating and frank look inside the big business of selling DRM (Digital Rights Managed) music. In it, he admits that DRM is an encumbrance and maintains that Apple would sell unrestricted music files if only the record companies would agree to it — a reasonable stance. I found this part fascinating:

…a key provision of our agreements with the music companies is that if our DRM system is compromised and their music becomes playable on unauthorized devices, we have only a small number of weeks to fix the problem or they can withdraw their entire music catalog from our iTunes store.

Wow. I do find it disappointing that he doesn’t mention DRM in the context of video, and why that would be any different (it wouldn’t) but still: this is like GM saying they’d ditch gasoline engines, if they could.

~jeff

xml charts

February 4th, 2007


Gorgeous XML/PHP chart generation tool available here; available as a freebie (with restrictions) or as a licensed download. If you’re writing code for the web that has to generate charts of any sort, take a look.

~jeff

vonage savings

February 4th, 2007


From the informative pop-under ad here, we learn:

  • CLAIM: We could save “50% or more” by using Vonage.
  • ALSO: We could save “up to 50%” by using Vonage.
  • NOTE: 0% is less than 50%.
  • THEREFORE: We could literally save any amount whatsoever, or nothing at all, by using Vonage.
  • BUT: Even this non-claim of maybe-savings is mitigated by fine print at the bottom.

…the active disdain phone companies have for their customers is palpable and it shines through every single thing they do.

~jeff

phone guy

February 2nd, 2007


I had a boss once who was just like Phone Guy.

NOTE: Don’t be like Phone Guy.

~jeff

paper and drm

February 1st, 2007


True story: I used to work at a big, dreary Western Massachusetts publishing company, and after a couple years, I was laid off, because the company was — and presumably still is — losing money hand over fist. They were (and presumably still are) having trouble competing as an information provider in the age of Google. I remember during my time there, the executive staff spent a lot of time fretting and ruminating about the idea of “protected PDFs”. Their idea was that they could send out these magic protected PDFs, and only the people they wanted to be able to print the PDF would be able to print them. Their biggest fear was the office copier — and it’s not an entirely irrational or unreasonable fear, as the picture I took above proves that this does, in fact, happen. Schools are some cheap bastards.

Now, aside from the fact that PDF’s aren’t very secure, the very idea itself of “protected information” strikes me as inherently flawed. Information, they say, wants to be free, and the print industry is having a real hard time with this. The print industry knows paper and ink, and little else. If you work in the print industry, my three pieces of advice are:

  • Stop thinking if you just protect your product the right way, no one will steal it, because no matter what you do: people will steal it. People will steal it with copiers and scanners and digital cameras. People will steal it with pencils and index cards. There is an army of well-organized, collaborative folks waiting to open up your information, and only one of them has to be able to do it for you to lose.
  • Open up your information, or open some rich subset of your information — and get it indexed by Google and everybody else, as soon as you can. Far worse than having your information copied here and there is having your information unavailable or unknown to your customers.
  • Start thinking about how you can start a dialog with your users and customers. Get them involved in your products, give them a stake, and start an actual community around your products — because in the very near future, that community will be your product.

~jeff