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
Eric S. Raymond
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Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Saturday, March 17, 2007
11:32 - Yeah, it was a real chick flick

(top)
Well, 300 certainly is a movie that's bound to make a lot of people angry. And not just the Iranians.

I might go so far as to say "all the right people", too, but warily—not only does it treat with subjects that are bound to provoke people with a certain historical view, it also goes sharply against what have become well-established norms in movies for domestic American consumption. For example, up until last night I could have (and often did) challenge people convinced that Hollywood is a right-wing, fascist propaganda machine to point out all those movies it's made lately that glorify war, eugenics, racism, homophobia, vocal outing of traitors, and glorious death in battle alongside a bunch of identical supersoldiers. Yet that's pretty much what 300 does, and wraps it all in an envelope of aggressive rational secularity and a difficult-to-miss mantra of Western-style freedom conquering all. As much as Star Wars: Episode III was the anti-war movement in sci-fi script form, 300 is the movie for the opposite side of the Force, just as heavy-handed, and just as likely to piss of the half of the audience that wasn't already amenable to its message.

Though from the sound of it, that would have been a pretty small "half". I don't see too many highbrow latte-sippers flocking to this one. And though packed full of man-candy (I don't think I've ever seen so many abs in one place before), somehow I doubt they'll be showing this on the We channel anytime soon. Nonetheless, almost all the women who were in attendance jumped up and cheered when the Queen stabbed the dude in the Senate; so for whatever it's worth, this movie seems to be pretty effective at filtering for a certain stratum of society.

Don't get me wrong—I don't think that 300 is some modern incarnation of Triumph of the Will, nor do I think it taps into a bubbling groundswell of American sentiment that would buy tickets for a remake of it. I could just as easily point to Lord of the Rings as an extraordinarily popular set of movies that traded—explicitly or not—on age-old human affinities for pureblood royal breeding and racial conflict as a surrogate for cultural conflict. It doesn't mean Americans secretly want kings descended from demigods leading them into battle against orcs at Dagorlad or Thermopylae; but it does mean they're hungry to see those things on the big screen. Because they're cool. They make for great stories. Especially because we've banished them from the realm of polite conversation in the real world.

But I know what a lot of reviewers will probably be saying; and I'll put a tenner on someone at some point saying "At least the Persian army was diverse."

Thursday, March 15, 2007
10:59 - Hey, they fixed my bug
http://bugs.webkit.org/show_bug.cgi?id=11623

(top)
Or so says someone called "Nobody"...

(Dear God Bugzilla sucks.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007
13:25 - You're mocking me, aren't you?

(top)
A couple of days ago, following a keen tip in Macworld Magazine, I set up the following rule in Mail to trap all those image spams that seem to be eluding both the built-in heuristics and SpamAssassin's gimlet eye:



And for two days now it's worked great, trapping about 100 of these spams per day, reducing my inbox load to almost nothing but real messages.

And it makes perfect sense, too. I mean, who the hell would legitimately want to send me a "multipart/related" attachment, and would not already be someone I know or have corresponded with in the past? Really?

Stop me if you see where this is going.



...Well, just now, just this morning... someone I've never corresponded with sent me a "multipart/related" attachment, out of the blue.

A legitimate one.

Something I was interested in, something addressed to me personally.

Something I would never have seen if I wasn't still combing the Image Spam folder for false positives.

Gyaaahhh!


11:48 - The warmongering Hollywood propaganda machine strikes again
http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1598886,00.html

(top)
Chortle:

All of Tehran was outraged. Everywhere I went yesterday, the talk vibrated with indignation over the film 300 — a movie no one in Iran has seen but everyone seems to know about since it became a major box office surprise in the U.S. As I stood in line for a full hour to buy ajeel, a mixture of dried fruits and nuts traditional to the start of Persian new year festivities, I felt the entire queue, composed of housewives with pet dogs, teenagers, and clerks from a nearby ministry, shake with fury. I hadn't even heard of the film until that morning when a screed about it came on the radio, so I was able to nod darkly with the rest of the shoppers, savoring a moment of public accord so rare in Tehran. Everywhere else I went, from the dentist to the flower shop, Iranians buzzed with resentment at the film's depictions of Persians, adamant that the movie was secretly funded by the U.S. government to prepare Americans for going to war against Iran. "Otherwise why now, if not to turn their people against us?" demanded an elderly lady buying tuberoses. "Yes, truly it is a grave offense," I said, shaking my own bunch of irises.

. . .

Agreeing that 300 is egregious drivel is fairly easy. I'm relatively mellow as Iranian nationalists go, and even I found myself applauding when the government spokesman described the film as fabrication and insult. Iranians view the Achaemenid empire as a particularly noble page in their history and cannot understand why it has been singled out for such shoddy cinematic treatment, as the populace here perceives it, with the Persians in rags and its Great King practically naked. The Achaemenid kings, who built their majestic capital at Persepolis, were exceptionally munificent for their time. They wrote the world's earliest recorded human rights declaration, and were opposed to slavery. Cuneiform plates show that Persepolis was built by paid staff rather than slaves And any Iranian child who has visited Persepolis can tell you that its preserved reliefs depict court dress of velvet robes, and that if anyone was wearing rags around 500 B.C., it wasn't the Persians.

Hey, c'mon, Iran—we make self-hating movies mocking our own history all the time. We're just, y'know, setting an example for you guys! Come be post-modern like us!

'Sfun!

Seriously—I wonder if this is going to become a pitched battle of historical perspectives or something? (Via Chris M.)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007
01:23 - The hills have walls
http://pr.caltech.edu/periodicals/CaltechNews/articles/v41/walls.html

(top)
Hell Alley's flame walls have been painted over? That's, one might say, just wrong.

Personally I'll mourn for the kitchen-cabinet entrance to Hyperspace, the Middle-Earth map in Dabney, and the much more impressive Star Wars immersion experience that a near-classmate of mine painted in the entrance to Tunnel. (The Death Star mentioned in the article, which preceded the hallway mural, was in Cliff's own room—the same one I spent my frosh year in and whose walls I only plastered with Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey and sheets full of half-baked arguments held in silence with my religious roommate.)

Ah, such memories. But did I learn anything? Wish I could say...

Monday, March 12, 2007
03:48 - Quiet mountain town

(top)
Well, I'll be:



South Park is actually a real place. I sure didn't know that.

And now that I think of it, so are most of the place names they mention from time to time, like Kenosha Pass. Funky.

On top of all that, Fairplay is only a few miles down the road from Alma, the highest-elevation incorporated community in the US, at over 10,300 feet. It's sort of a geographical nexus in a lot of ways.

What would I do without Google Earth?

UPDATE: In the "Jakovasaurs" episode, they mention that Fairplay is four miles down the road from South Park. For whatever that's worth...


18:49 - Windows: Now with 50% More Dimensions!

(top)
Now everybody's got their own Quartz clone. Various X managers, Vista... the graphics compositing technology that has made possible things like Exposé and Dashboard is now pretty much universally available to any programmer regardless of platform.

Case in point: Beryl, which has exuberantly 3D-ified answers to everything from Exposé to Spaces, the new multi-desktop solution coming in Leopard. (It's at about 0:36 in the video.)

Meanwhile, Apple keeps doing their same old 2D tricks: Time Machine and Front Row do their thing with simple layering and scaling; and Spaces works by spreading out your virtual desktops across your monitor, shrinking them each to a quarter of your screen; then, because all the windows are still "live", you can drag and drop apps from one desktop onto another, and then zoom back in to the desktop you want to use. It's sure to be a joy to use, but just like Exposé and Time Machine, it makes for lousy screenshots, as you can tell by my not bothering to include any.

Beryl certainly has it over Spaces and Exposé and everything else in Quartz-land, from a pure eye-candy point of view. But is it actually any more usable?

John Gruber linked to Tantek Çelik's three hypotheses on interface design, which are:
  • Human interface cognitive load is proportional to the number of clicks/keystrokes/gestures
  • Human interface cognitive load is proportional to interface latency
  • The usability of an interface is inversely geometrically proportional to its cognitive load

Or, as the article sums it up:

When designing human computer interfaces (including web UIs):
  • Minimize the number of text fields in your interfaces down to the absolute minimum necessary.
  • Minimize the number of click/keystrokes/gestures necessary to accomplish actions in your interface.
  • Make your interface as responsive as possible - minimize the latency of each and every action a user might take in your interface.

And be prepared for both lots of users, and frequent users.

I would add one more to that list, and it would be:
  • Human interface cognitive load is proportional to the number of ways the information you're trying to see can be hidden.

In other words: a window management system that requires you to spin a cube around or rotate around inside a sphere or shuffle through a stack to see all the windows you're working with is a pain in the ass.

They sure do make for nice screenshots, though, huh?

Sure, the eye-candy isn't as fattening if you force yourself to stay within the boundaries of two dimensions. But it means you get to spread things out on a virtual light table and move them around, with everything always in view at all times, and nothing ever obscured by other windows or by any architectural elements. And I think that that's a genuine boon for usability. Far more of one than the dubious benefit of being able to twirl a cube around in three dimensions just because you can.

Sometimes being able to hide a face of your data from view is a good thing; that's why the "Cube" transition actually makes sense for Fast User Switching in OS X—you aren't ever in a position where you want to (or should!) be able to see the contents of more than one user's desktop at once. But if the whole point of the exercise is to let you see everything in your system without anything obscuring anything else (i.e. in a window management system such as Exposé, where you're trying to see all your windows at once), anything that introduces more ways of obscuring your stuff just defeats the purpose.




... The reason I bring this up is that I found myself wondering why it is that everybody—and I mean everybody—seems to run their Windows apps in full-screen maximized mode. All kinds of power users do this, not just novices. I've seen engineers browsing their filesystems, where they'll have a single Explorer window with three files in it taking up an entire 1280x1024 monitor. All the rest of it is just white. Like they're trying to blot out their icon-strewn Desktops, to push them out of mind.

This is particularly bizarre when you're talking about the Web. Maximizing your Web browser means you tend to get this horrible wide-load whitespace-padded unreadable-blocks-of-single-giant-column-text page layout that the designers never intended; and, if a link happens to open a new window, it neatly covers up the previous window, and the user never even knows it happened unless he should happen to look in his taskbar and notice that another tile got created, or at the toolbar and notice that the "Back" button is grayed out.

A friend I posited this to in IM said:

It stems from the fact that (most) operating systems other than MacOS don't really support drag-and-drop in any meaningful way.

Therefore there isn't the incentive to see more than one window at once, since there really is very little you can do that involves using more than one at once.

Users therefore feels that unmaximised windows are wasting screen space - this same philosophy is what causes Windows programs like instant messengers to "dock" to the sides of the screen - they use up as much space as possible.

It is certainly ironic that "Windows" uses "windows" much less effectively than pretty much any other GUI around.

Now, this isn't to say that Mac OS X gets it right all the time either. One example: the Genie effect is just plain annoying in day-to-day computing, and served primarily to show off the capabilities of Quartz in the very first iteration of Mac OS X back in 2001. Simple scaling (which they let people start selecting back in 10.2 or 10.3) is much quicker, much less distracting and weird, and just as effective at showing you where your minimized window icon is going. And the "ripple" effect when you create a new Dashboard widget—conceived as a way to conceal load times—is really irritating after a while, especially because you can't turn it off. (I worry that it might become cargo-cultish, too... someone a generation from now might think the ripple is a feature unto itself, and will make it a blocking process, not concurrent with the widget load time that it's trying to mask.)

But this same friend had this to say:

Just a few hours ago, <Roommate> and I were going through Vista's new sounds.

We played a game. He looked away from the screen, I played a sound, and he had to guess if it was "good/informational" or "bad".

He was over 75% wrong.

Things like the "your battery is about to die" sound are pleasant and jingly.

The "your USB device is now active" sound is BA-BA-BONG!

You'd almost think they did it on purpose.

Oh, and to top it all off, the quietest, subtle-est, least-noticable noise on the entire system is "You have mail".

If you ever get to try Vista, check 'em out. I'm not making this up.

I think that's just hilarious.

I wonder if sound counts as another "dimension" that can potentially add as much to the user's confusion over his data as wondering whether the app window he wants is on the opposite side of the floating cube or inside-out sphere?

But the upshot of all this is that the wherewithal to do super-cool interface designs that are not bound by the limitations of the physical monitor and input devices is now ripe for the implementing by anyone with an API manual. All it takes is for someone to get fed up enough with the existing metaphors and, well, code it up.

What I wonder is: is there anyone out there who's a) willing to put in that kind of thankless design and coding effort, b) has the understanding of the subtle art of interface design that enables him or her to know when to say when and when less is more, and c) hasn't already jumped ship to the Mac?

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© Brian Tiemann