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
Sunday, March 1, 2009
15:09 - Now let's not be a poor sport
http://www.engadget.com/2009/02/26/the-blackberry-storm-ad-that-might-have-been/#con

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JMH sends this unreleased-therefore-viral ad for the BlackBerry Storm. You know, the thing that was supposed to blow away the iPhone and all its underwhelmed users.

About as mature—and as convincing—as that BuyMusic.com ad from right after the iTunes Music Store opened, the one with Tommy Lee snatching up the then-iconic iTunes guitar and smashing it to bits. Oh, sure, it's clever and all. It's a good ad. iPhone-haters surely find it cathartic. But like the Verizon phones that lamely try to claim things like "Touch does more!" before an audience that will only believe it if it's never seen an iPhone up close before, this one wouldn't have convinced anyone who wasn't already in the BlackBerry camp. iPhone users would just be irritated at the implication that they weren't as happy as they'd thought they were, and that what their cherished digital companion really needed wasn't apps, or a price drop, or better cell service, but to be smashed. That's not a sentiment that wins a lot of currency among the kind of people who buy Apple products.

Especially once it became clear just what a catastrophe the Storm turned out to be, which was made all the worse by the unreasonable expectations that its extant ad campaign had laid down for it.

Aside from all that, though, I wonder if maybe the reason they didn't go with this ad was simply that Infiniti used almost exactly the same gimmick for a recent string of ads...

Thursday, February 26, 2009
10:16 - Overpriced at free?
http://www.appscout.com/2009/02/why_ihate_itunes.php

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iTunes is what, eight years old now? Boy, I remember what a stir it caused when it was first unveiled, back when Diamond Rios and CD-sized Creative Nomads walked the earth and the iPod had not yet been conceived. Remember the world of palette-laden front-end-type MP3-playing jukebox apps into which it leaped fully formed? Remember Audion and Winamp?

Remember how big a thrill it was to discover ID3 tagging—how now your songs can all be addressed by drilling down by album, artist, genre, or any of a number of other searchable and indexable fields? Remember how it first seemed bizarre and wrong that a folder full of anonymous ripped MP3 files (with names like "Track 01.mp3", "Track 02.mp3", and so on) would not necessarily play in order in iTunes—only to then discover what it was to put a CD into the drive, have the track names all arrive automatically via a CDDB lookup, and see a screen full of immaculately transcoded MP3 files populate your database with track numbers and release dates and a million other little searchable criteria already embedded?

The iPod was originally marketed as "iTunes to Go", cashing in on iTunes' solid reputation of ease-of-use. And it's the intuitiveness of the iPod interface that surely was behind the bulk of its original market penetration. There were a few detractors of both the iPod and iTunes interface experiences, and there were pretenders (like MusicMatch and Amarok and the like) that banked on richness of features and flashiness of interface to win converts; but in general that iPod/iTunes ecosystem became the bedrock of the UI story that Apple told its increasing market base in subsequent years, as killer features like the iTunes Music Store and videos and the iPhone arrived.

It all seems so long ago now—perhaps because it is. iTunes is coming up on a decade in our collective consciousness now; it's no longer the plucky newcomer or the underdog with the vision, but rather the status quo with its cumbersome set of matched luggage. Small wonder, then, to see that there are those who revile it (at least in its Windows incarnation):

iTunes is one of those programs people point to when they talk about how Apple really knows how to make software easy to use. I don't see the connection. iTunes is complicated, and after a year or so with it, I'm still not sure I'm using it right.

Even pretty obvious stuff doesn't work like I'd expect. I can sort the main list by any of the columns, but only one level of sort. I might want to sort by artist and then by song, for example, but I can't.

Whoops, iTunes has stopped responding again. Have to kill the process and restart it. iTunes does that now and then.

It's also a badly-threaded program, as evidenced by how I can't do much of anything while it syncs with my iPod, which it does way too often. There's probably a way in the menus to control when it syncs, but I'm dumbfounded every time I go into the menus. They're completely inscrutable. ("Deauthorize Audible Account"? I don't have an Audible account.)

Hmmm... iTunes is locking up every time it syncs. I have to go into Task Manager and kill off iTunesHelper.exe, and that seems to help. Another day in the life of an iTunes user.

Pretty much all his complaints have to do with instability issues, rather than design issues, it has to be noted. All things considered, I'd rather have the former than the latter. Bugs can be fixed. Unpopular design is less easy to address, especially when you're trying to please lots of disparate types of customers, from those who hop between BitTorrent and HandBrake and VLC to those who still buy CDs and like the one-button ripping and automatic album-art downloading to those who just want a place to dock their iPhones. So long as author Larry Seltzer is complaining chiefly about how iTunes occasionally borks up on his Windows box (and honestly, I have to wonder just how much of that can be laid at iTunes' feet anyway, given how hard it is for any application to retain any kind of service-level integrity on a well-run-in workhorse Windows machine), then I have to think iTunes' design ethos has held up well, even considering all the iterations and agglomerations it's undergone in the past few years.

I'm not saying iTunes is perfect; certainly by this stage in its life it could stand a rework, perhaps not to the degree that iMovie sustained in its '08 franchise reboot, but at least an exercise or two in addressing the complexity that has crept up on it. Maybe it needs to be rewritten from the ground-up as a cross-platform app that's decoupled from QuickTime, so as to play more nicely on Windows, or at least to be less likely to lead itself into performance and dependency ratholes. Maybe it needs to be rethought as some kind of lightweight shell around a more capable engine that handles all the sharing and downloading and purchasing and syncing duties—something to get rid of the need for any user to deal with an "iTunesHelper.exe" lurking malevolently in the background.

Or maybe Apple just needs to force itself to stop coming up with exciting new view modes that seem designed to do little more than keep us from losing interest. There comes a point when one has to realize that the lack of an album-cover grid view or gee-whiz Cover Flow browser is not what's costing new customers; it's a perceived (or real) lack of stability and assurance that your music will always just be there—that it will always, well, just work. To quote Seltzer:

But overall, the single most aggravating thing for me is the calendar issue. You're supposed to be able to sync your Outlook calendar and contacts to your iPod. Contacts works great. Calendars has never worked. I know I'm doing it correctly, but no calendar data.
I know this isn't why I bought my iPod, and in the big picture it's not a big deal, but it's another reason I think I got ripped off by Apple.

It may not be a big deal, but it was big enough to spur him to write this article. That means Apple may well have become guilty of overreaching. Too damn many features. Too many promises. Too many opportunities to fail. Or, at least, enough so that a person who put his music into a free app thinks he's been ripped off.

DRM-free music is the biggest big idea in iTunes since the iPod; it puts to shame all the interface doohickeys that have made me admittedly a lot less passionate about iTunes since it first burst onto the scene eight years ago. That's the kind of thing that wins Apple new adherents. The fact that they're leading the way with it ought to go to show that they're not interested in any kind of platform lock-in, as writers like Seltzer clearly suspect. But there's enough of a perception that they are that any evolutionary steps that increase iTunes' complexity and instability in favor of supposedly appealing to more customers just puts more customers on edge rather than winning them over. At some point it's the installed base you have to pander to, not the dwindling subset of the market that isn't yet in your fold. Apple of all people should know this, since they've so assiduously avoided unattractive markets like netbooks and budget PCs. They know there are some compass directions marked with dragons.

In order to retain its position and its reputation, Apple has to make people still feel like they're getting a bargain even if they have to pay for iTunes—and getting it for free has to seem like the best damn feature it offers.

Monday, February 23, 2009
16:23 - PODS IN SPACE
http://www.flickr.com/photos/bill_d/2334716119/

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Taken from the vantage point of the International Space Station. Friggin' awesome.


Via Lance.


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© Brian Tiemann