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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12/30/2002 -   1/5/2003
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10/28/2002 -  11/3/2002
10/21/2002 - 10/27/2002
10/14/2002 - 10/20/2002
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  5/6/2002 -  5/12/2002
 4/29/2002 -   5/5/2002
 4/22/2002 -  4/28/2002
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 3/25/2002 -  3/31/2002
 3/18/2002 -  3/24/2002
 3/11/2002 -  3/17/2002
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 2/25/2002 -   3/3/2002
 2/18/2002 -  2/24/2002
 2/11/2002 -  2/17/2002
  2/4/2002 -  2/10/2002
 1/28/2002 -   2/3/2002
 1/21/2002 -  1/27/2002
 1/14/2002 -  1/20/2002
  1/7/2002 -  1/13/2002
12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Friday, June 12, 2009
05:42 - Back to the Futurama
http://www.hitfix.com/articles/2009-6-9-new-futurama-coming-in-2010

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"Good news, everyone!"

Comedy Central has given new life to Matt Groening and David X. Cohen's "Futurama," ordering new episodes of the animated cult favorite.

The cable network announced on Tuesday (June 9) that it has ordered 26 new "Futurama" episodes, a remarkable achievement for a show that hasn't aired an original episode since August of 2003.

Comedy Central acquired rights to the 72 "Futurama" episodes back in 2006 and has been regularly airing the series, which aired as part of FOX's Sunday animation block from 1999 to 2003, since early 2008. The network then moved forward on the extra-long "Futurama" adventures "Bender's Big Score," "The Beast with a Billion Backs," "Bender's Game" and "Into the Wild Green Yonder," which achieved enough success, particularly in DVD sales, to spur Comedy Central and 20th Century Fox TV to action on this new order.

"We are excited to continue our relationship with Matt, David and 20th Century Fox TV and to be able to offer Comedy Central viewers the first opportunity to see new episodes of 'Futurama,'" says David Bernath, senior vice president, programming. "As evidenced by the strong performance of the extended length epics, there remains a deep and passionate fan base for this intelligent and very funny show that matches perfectly with our audience. It's fantastic that we can add brand-new installments of Leela, Fry and Bender's adventures to our existing library."

I was okay with Futurama ending where it did; right at the top of its game, firing on all cylinders, and with the fans all wanting more. That's far preferable to seeing it languish in a suspended-animation (heh) limbo like what The Simpsons has become, trapped under the weight of its canon and its baggage of injokes and character history. Futurama only lasted four seasons, which is plenty to flesh out a universe, but not enough to lard it up with so much backstory you can't tell anything new.

Plus The Devil's Hands are Idle Playthings was an outstanding episode to end it on: cameos from characters from all four seasons, witty dialogue thick and heavy, well-choreographed musical sequences with deucedly clever lyrics, an occasion where Fry actually gets to show that he's grown personally over the past four years and is capable of achieving greatness (as opposed to Homer Simpson, who's gotten more and more infantile and impotent as time's gone on)—and an ending sequence hinting that his futile pursuit of Leela all this time might finally bear some honest fruit.

But I don't mind so much if they're going to continue it, either. I'm certainly not going to fight it. It might mean the storyline (non-serial though it is) will have to wrestle with itself in the same way Battlestar Galactica did, having to hurry to pad out a season with filler episodes once it found itself with an unexpected new season's worth of time to kill before the story-arc tie-up it had been zeroing in on. Futurama might be no more graceful at resetting Fry and Leela's romance to sustainable-comic-misadventures level than the Wachowski Brothers were at making two more Matrix movies with tension and conflict after ending the first one with an apparent declaration that Neo was invincible.

Even so. If they're doing this, it means there's hope for humanity yet; it's not just the Family Guy contingent that can compel a restart of a cancelled series' engine on the strength of DVD sales and Internet forums. This time the geeks rule.

"We're thrilled 'Futurama' is coming back," Groening says in the statement. "We now have only 25,766 episodes to make before we catch up with Bender and Fry in the year 3000."

Adds Cohen, "We're excited and amazed that the show is coming back, perhaps due to some sort of mysterious time loop. We look forward to working with Comedy Central and 20th Television to make this the best iteration of the loop yet!"

Just don't do that thing with the dog again. You bastards.

Thursday, June 11, 2009
11:01 - Form Enslaving Function
http://www.apple.com/macbookpro/design.html

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Oftentimes there's a very fine line between the design decisions Apple makes being genuinely functional—and therefore elegant—the way the company's fans like to believe they are, and being stubbornly stylish for the sake of style alone, defying attempts to justify them on functional grounds.

The little features they point out as points of pride on the new laptops are prime examples:

There’s a story behind each part. Take the thumbscoop, for example. It’s the indentation that allows you to open the display. If the scoop is too deep, you put too much pressure on the display to open it. If it’s too shallow, you struggle to open the display. It may seem incidental, but if the thumbscoop is well designed, it makes the difference between a bad experience and a good one. The challenge of the thumbscoop was to create a crisply machined scoop that was still comfortable to use. The designers at Apple worked on hundreds of versions of the thumbscoop — even examining them under an electron microscope — to get it right.


Then there’s the sleep indicator light. An indicator is functional only when it’s indicating something. Look to the right of the thumbscoop. You see nothing. Until you close the display and your MacBook Pro goes to sleep. Then an LED glow appears from inside the enclosure. How? During the CNC process, a machine first thins out the aluminum. Then a laser drill creates small perforations for the LED light to shine through. These holes are so tiny that the aluminum appears seamless when the light is off.

Very cool. And if you watch the video, you see what they're talking about—it's a joy to see such things in action. You can really feel why they feel so strongly about the things they do; once they've had a vision of how good something can look and/or work, it's hard to accept a compromise that means saying "no".

But look at this again: An indicator is functional only when it’s indicating something.

Um. Think about that for a second. Sounds like common sense at first. But it's not. At least not in this context.

The sleep indicator is indicating something, even when the laptop is awake. By being off, it's indicating the state of the machine. If you can't see it at all, it's telling you less than it is if you can see it, because you don't know it's there to indicate anything.

Why am I reminded of Hotblack Desiato's stuntship?

"Every time you try to operate on of these weird black controls that are labelled in black on a black background, a little black light lights up black to let you know you've done it."

These laptops tell you nothing about the sleep state unless they're asleep. There's no visible indicator or even a label to show you were to look for one if it's not asleep. It can be argued that if the machine is open and running, it's obvious that it's awake; but then it's not obvious whether, if it's open and the screen is off, it's powered off or the screen has simply gone to sleep. Same if the screen is closed and it's hooked up to an external monitor. There are a variety of conditions where it's not giving you all the information; it's not a comprehensive indicator.

And that's very Apple: they know the fundamentals of utilitarian design, and then get carried away with stylishly novel user interface flourishes. They make deliberate decisions to simplify even an already simple concept—a sleep indicator—to remove utility in the interest of visual coolness. I'm sure this is not accidental; it's all very deeply ingrained into their moo.

Yet I'm not prepared to say that their devotion to form over function is so pervasive as to cause a problem. They're also aware of where the boundaries are beyond which they'd in fact be hindering usability in the interest of style. This indicator light is a pretty minor thing. And it does cover the bulk of use cases anyone would be interested in.

But it's not a perfect solution. And their invocation of what sounds like an industrial-design axiom misrepresents their motivations.

But hey: that's showbiz, baby.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009
06:47 - Bungled Safari

(top)
This does not thrill me:



Okay, I get that Apple has responded to widespread criticism of the new inconspicuous progress bar in the Safari 4 betas by releasing the final product with this weird button-bar thing that provides a much bigger click target for stopping page loads than the little "X" icon that they were toying with. That's great.

What isn't great is that this solution doesn't do anything to make the "refresh" button any easier to get to; it's still a teeny little hieroglyphic tucked away in the right end of the location bar, hardly giving the impression of being a clickable control at all:



Gone forever, apparently, is the old full-size reload button that I'd come to appreciate, not least for its ability to be placed arbitrarily in the toolbar using the "Customize Toolbar" function endemic to OS X apps. Now it's hard-wired into the location bar, and in a stupid way.

But that's not the worst part. The worst part is that the blue progress bar that fills up the address field from left to right—as we've been accustomed for so long—is still, and seemingly forever, gone. Apple doesn't seem to want us seeing an activity indicator that shows actual progress anymore; they'll give us a little spinner, sure, but no more progress bar. And never mind that Safari on the iPhone still has the blue progress bar; now it's just there to mock us on the desktop, who now have to pretend it's 1995 again with the functional equivalent of the Pulsing Breathing Blue N in the upper right corner of our Netscape window.

But that's okay; they'll probably helpfully get rid of the progress bar in Safari for iPhone OS 3.0.

Feh. This is not an auspicious day in the world of Safari. Sure, the 4.0 enhancements are nice, and I already can't get along without the Top Ten screen. But it's at the expense of too much, and pointlessly so. Besides, in watching the Schillnote coverage from Monday, we're all to understand that Safari will be so much the better in Snow Leopard, because now it'll be sandboxed such that all plugins will crash in their own little areas and not destabilize the browser itself.

That's nice; but funnily enough, I don't think I ever remember Safari crashing, whether because of Flash or no.

Since installing Safari 4.0 yesterday, it's crashed twice. Abruptly, right in the middle of work. Both times it helpfully told me that "this may have been caused by the Flash plugin."

Swell.

UPDATE: Oh, and that's not all! I have since discovered that Safari no longer lets you open Flash files by dragging them into an open browser window! Now, if you drag one in, it kicks it into a Finder window instead of opening it natively.

Well that's just super. Do you guys know how many Flash files I have to open daily in order to accomplish certain administrative tasks I do? Enough that I've written whole AppleScript programs to facilitate it. And now they won't even work! Fantastic job, guys.

What else do people use to open .swf files, anyway? QuickTime Player briefly did it, like in the Jaguar days, but they put a stop to that years ago. I could at least always count on Safari, even if it didn't open them with predictable dimensions or allow you to screenshot it natively or anything; because whatever else a browser might be, you at least could always trust that it would understand how to open and render Flash files. But not no more. Now what do I have to use? Firefox?


Monday, June 8, 2009
20:19 - Don't touch that—that's a load-bearing poster!
http://cribcandy.com/rugs/4eafb5e4f1a1d3b85aa4d426bc51ef1e&pageoffset=0

(top)
Aww yeah. Now that's how to decorate.



Via Mark.


10:58 - No leopard like Snow Leopard
http://www.macworld.com/article/140897/2009/06/keynote.html

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Snow Leopard (aka Mac OS X 10.6) sounds freaking awesome, for one reason above all others: native Exchange support. That's a whole third-party app market shivved in the kidneys (I guess it wasn't good things that were afoot after all); yet I'm not that inclined to shed too many tears. Reverse-engineered Exchange support tacked on to an OS that has no inclination to play with it is simply not fun. If OS X will now be a full-fledged Exchange client, with functionality as well polished as they claim, it sounds like it'll be the best Exchange experience that can be had.

What this makes me chuckle, though, is the thought that if in the remainder of this keynote they spend time denigrating the Palm Pre in favor of the new iPhone platform, it'll send a hell of a mixed message if they monkey with iTunes to lock out the Pre from masquerading as an iPod in order to sync its music. Because that's got to be what Apple's doing in order to interoperate with Exchange: reverse-engineering the protocol. Or are they licensing the API? If the latter, it's odd that it's taken them this long to do something that's above-board and has so much obvious potential utility for business users. I always assumed the only reason Apple hadn't built in Exchange support into the system services was that they couldn't do so without Microsoft's begrudged blessing. But if they're playing nicely now, well... everybody wins, right? Should behoove Microsoft to want to get in on this lucrative new Mac software market...

So all this for $29? I'm sold. ...Well, except that it's apparently Intel-only. Which I guess means my six-year-old G5, doughty soldier that it remains, is entering its long-anticipated final lap of usefulness. That's rather a depressing thought. This machine has been a trooper. As has the PowerPC. We hardly knew ye.

More to come, I am quite sure.

UPDATE: The new iPhone stuff is just too damn fun; you get the feeling they're only just now starting to discover what's possible. Now you can find your lost iPhone via GPS and MobileMe? Hello future! Now put that feature on my keys.

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© Brian Tiemann