g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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James Lileks
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As the Apple Turns
Entropicana
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Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
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Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Thursday, December 21, 2006
22:39 - The Apple Store of Crap
http://www.sheilaomalley.com/archives/007382.html

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Literally. That's what this sounds like. Charmin, having evolved several generations beyond the halcyon days of Mr. Whipple, has apparently set up a Disneyland of Doodie in Times Square.

There are Pictures. (And YouTube videos.) Otherwise I'd never believe this story for a minute.

But I do believe this:

Watching that (or, rather, being unwillingly subjected to that) I suddenly despised the entire human race.

I knew those bears were going to turn out to be trouble.

UPDATE: I guess at least we're lucky they didn't make them cats, because then they'd have names like "Charmin Mao".

Wednesday, December 20, 2006
17:47 - For the naif who has everything
http://thoughtout.biz/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=42

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Who knew that the MagSafe connector and its quick-release functionality was a bug, rather than a feature?


With MagStay™ Pro you will no longer have an unintentionally disconnecting MagSafe power connector while using your laptop on your lap or other casual positions, including your laptop bag while charging. Works with Magsafe Airline Power Adapter too.


Too bad they didn't call it "MagUnsafe".

Or the site "notverywell.thoughtout.biz".

(Via Chris.)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006
21:31 - All that glitters is not good UI design

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It's hugely irritating, this: I can't use Google Earth 4.x. I'm still stuck on 3.x.

Why? Not for any technical reason. No; it's purely a matter of user interface. It used to be, if not good, at least passable. Now, it's a pain in the ass. And there's no indication that they're open to the idea of going back to the way it was.

Here's how the controls used to work, in the 3.x version:



They're centered in the bottom of the viewport, with directional panning buttons in the middle, and vertical spring-loaded sliders on both sides for tilt and zoom adjustments. Other controls are there too, such as rotation (via buttons) and shortcuts that turn it around so north is up and the tilt is made vertical.

While not terribly elegant, this setup has this in its favor: the controls are right where your mouse and your eyeballs already are. You're focused right on the bottom middle of the viewport, right where the image is the largest and clearest, right "underneath" you. It's where you're clicking and dragging in the viewport to move the content around. It's only a few pixels away to move your mouse to the controls you need to use. And—most importantly—the controls are adjacent to the area of the screen where you have the most fine-grained control over the content. Small movements pan and zoom the landscape a comparatively small amount down there at the bottom, so if you miss the controls and click in the viewport, it doesn't punish you unduly for it by moving your view more than a little bit.

Well, in Google Earth 4, they've decided to do something different:



See that? The controls are now up in the upper right corner. Sure, the unified control widget looks cooler than the old buttons used to, and it has this trick shrinking-and-growing thing it does so it gets out of the way of your view, and it's overlaid on the image so you can see behind it; its chief advantage is that neither the control cluster nor the broad horizontal strip it used to be on obscures the content, and this allows the viewport to become that much larger and more expansive, like you're really looking down on the Earth. (You can also hide the sidebar now, and if you maximize the full-screen viewport on a 30-inch monitor, it's really something to behold.)

Beyond that, the rotation control is kinda cool; you drag the compass ring now rather than clicking on buttons, which has the dual effect of being more direct and tactile and conveying to you what direction you're looking, incorporating the functionality of the little compass floater from the previous version.

But that's where the advantages end. It's waaaay too easy for control widget designers to get too clever, and that's exactly what they've done here: they've created a widget that makes for great screenshots, but is a disaster for usability.

Let's start with the minor things first. The zoom control is still a vertical slider, which is at least intuitive; but I, and likely anyone with a scroll-wheel mouse, is used to just using the mouse wheel to zoom in and out—it's much more direct that way, and the slider and its anchor buttons are only useful for very fine-grained control that the mouse wheel can't focus on enough. More problematic is the tilt control, which now—for some reason—is a horizontal slider, where you have to drag left to tilt to vertical and right to tilt horizontal. Of course! How intuitive! Not only that, but the slider is too small to quickly grab and drag, not when it's all the way up in the upper right corner of the screen. And that brings me to the really major problems.

Whereas the middle bottom of the viewport is the least sensitive and the most controllable content area, the upper right corner is the most sensitive and the least controllable. You have to reach aaaaaaaall the way up into the corner of the screen to manipulate your view now; and on a large monitor, which ostensibly all these screen-space maximizing changes are meant to take advantage of, that can mean a huge mouse movement, one that's by its nature uncontrolled and wild. So you reach up into the far right corner of the screen to drag the controls, and then you have to slow down and zero in on the tiny little buttons and sliders. This is the kind of thing Apple specifically designed the original Mac's desktop layout to avoid: by keeping icons close to menus and menus close to content, large sweeping mouse movements were avoided and one's work could be kept intricately controlled.

And then suppose you miss. What then? Well, now you're not clicking in a city-block-sized patch of terrain and dragging it a few hundred virtual feet to the side; now, you're dragging the sky, and a slight movement will cause the whole planet to rotate by hundreds of miles. Coming from the 3.x metaphor, where your mind doesn't have to shift out of the small-movements-small-results gear, trying to adjust to this behavior of 4.x throws your brain into a constant state of distraction, because now you're focusing on not mucking up your view by using the controls, rather than just using the controls and seeing what you want to see.

It's so tedious and booby-trap-ridden, using the new control widget, that I find I have to use modifier key combinations (Shift+scroll for tilt, Command+scroll for rotate, etc) to control the view rather than the actual widgets. By any measure, that's a failure.

That's not all that's annoying about Google Earth 4.x. It's also slow, choppy, and prone to freezing up for many seconds at a time. Whereas 3.x is almost always smooth and responsive on my Dual 2.0 GHz G5, 4.x feels like it's running on a machine about half as fast, and it hasn't improved from the early betas until now. Google is of course notorious for keeping things in "Beta" forever, but there's every indication that the way things are now—choppy and stuttery and ridden with this awful user interface—is the way the final version will be.

It has the following going for it: 1) It can "burst" out multiple placemark items that are close together; 2) it has support for those 3D SketchUp objects, which gradually will turn cities into realistic skylines; and 3) it's less likely to crash in odd but consistent places (such as the Alaska Highway on the Yukon side of the Yukon/Alaska border, and the area of Highway 101 north of San Francisco, to name a couple of areas that I couldn't possibly have any reason to want to look at repeatedly).

But you know: I can live with a few crashes, if it means I don't have to put up with the interface decisions they've made in Google Earth 4.x.


18:12 - I think I just gave myself brain cancer
http://www.somethingawful.com/index.php?a=4333

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Somebody better not ever try to harness the awesome power of the Something Awful forum goons, because a mad tale of man's hubris lies in store.



Doesn't this stuff look like the makings of a postmodern art exhibition poised to win many, many awards?


09:05 - Seven Habits of Highly Annoying Non-Mac People

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1. Referring to "Mac" as though it's the company name, and "Apple" as though it's the computer brand. "Mac makes nice computers. I'd get an Apple if only there were more games for it."

2. Capitalizing "MAC", as though it's an acronym. Though it's true that there is such a thing as a MAC address in networking, I associate this one with the same sort of people who turn "WEB" into an acronym. "FTP didn't work, so I downloaded it off the WEB using my MAC."

3. Gratuitous, even intentional misspellings of product names. Whether it's "I-Pod", "Itunes", or even relatively minor things like "Mac Mini" or "iPod Shuffle" (the second words of these brands should be lower-case), it feels sort of like an intentional psychological rebellion against the company's capricious marketing sensibilities, which I can understand. But it's also about as mature as saying "Micro$oft" or "Windoze".

(I don't so much take issue with people who pronounce "OS X" as "Oh Ess Ecks" rather than "Oh Ess Ten"; even dyed-in-the-wool Mac people are starting to consider having the same version number hard-wired into the product name for the past six years to be somewhat ridiculous. Not that that's an unusual practice in the UNIX world...)

4. Completely misconstruing the DRM restrictions on iTunes music. Tech journalists the world over seem to make it almost a point of pride to remain ignorant of the terms of Apple's DRM. It's amazing to me, considering how many people own iPods and therefore must have some inkling of what they can and can't do with them, that so many well-paid pundits don't seem to grasp that iTunes does not restrict your ability to burn purchased tracks to CD or store them on multiple iPods, or that being able to copy them to an infinite number of hard drives is not exactly a reasonable thing to demand of the record labels, or that the DRM is enforced at the computer level (within the installed QuickTime architecture) rather than on a per-hard-drive basis anyway. In some cases, where people talk about avoiding iTunes music because of "Big Brother" peeking over your shoulder (not true—once you've unlocked your computer you never have to make another transaction with iTunes as long as you live, and your music remains playable) or because iTunes AAC files are unreasonably restricted (I'd love to know if there's anything people might legitimately want to do with their music that they can't do in the iTunes model), it amounts to good old-fashioned FUD.

5. Assuming that the state of the Mac today is the same as it was in 1997 or 1986. No, you don't have to reboot all the time, nor do you have to set "preferred memory sizes" on your applications, nor does a Mac cost $7000 without the monitor. It can even display color!

6. Making moronic comments about the mouse.

"Name me one thing you can do on your PC that I can't do on my Mac!"
"Right-click?"

Now, it's certainly fair to criticize the fact that the freaking mouse pointer scoots off into the corner of the screen every damn time I pick it up. But making fun of the way Apple has approached the concept of multiple buttons makes about as much sense as mocking Windows for having too many drivers.

7. Assuming that Apple fans will get worked up into a purchasing lather over even an unsourced rumor about a product that'd be about six years late to market. This reminded me of nothing so much as that exchange from that one Venture Brothers episode:
Monarch: Hank... what would you say if I told you that your mother was someone you've met before?
Hank: What?
Monarch: And what if I told you that your father is not your real father? Hank... Hank! I am your real father!
Hank: No way. No way, that's not true!
Monarch: Psych! Hahaha, you were all, "Oh, daddy, you're my daddy!" You are so gullible, what is that like?!?

I mean, yeah, real grown-up there, guy. If Apple's going to come up with something exciting enough for us to get all dribbly over it, it'll be a surprise. That's why Macworld comes so close to Christmas.

Monday, December 18, 2006
22:45 - What moves us

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This is what inspires Aziz to blog. (And earns him kudos at that. Congratulations!)

As for me? Stuff like this. This and Google Earth. And this. Which probably links to more stuff. And so it goes.

Seriously. If I ever drop off the face of the earth or turn into one of those brains in jars everyone's always talking about, that's why.

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© Brian Tiemann