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
Tal G in Jerusalem
Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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Thursday, March 4, 2010
07:08 - My :hover class is full of eels

(top)
A lot of people have been talking excitedly about how the iPhone/iPad paradigm has brought about the apogee of Flash's penetration into the web for basic site structure and navigation. What with the imminent ubiquity of HTML 5 and CSS 3, and the video delivery and animation effects they herald, and what with major media sites backing away from Flash content in order to cater to mobile users, it's been quite fashionable lately to claim that Flash is soon to be relegated to the web pages of history alongside clickable imagemaps and the blink tag. What's more, the same people are eagerly expecting that the iPad will usher in a shining new era of post-Flash web design, one where all the best and newest features are vibrantly supported and every site looks and works great.

But I'm not so sure. Apple claims that the iPad's web experience will be the "best" you can get. And Flash aside, it's probably not far from it: intuitive tactile interaction, smooth zooming, pleasantly antialiased text, and cutting-edge HTML/CSS support.

But my question is: what about mouseover effects?

A lot of the web these days depends on a mouse pointer's ability to hover over an interface element, whether to activate a navigational element or to provide visual feedback. Menu systems the world over pop open submenus when you roll over them. Links glow different colors (and telegraph their destinations in the status bar). Content panes slide open; contextual menus pop up. And while there are plenty of evil uses for hover effects (those horrible popup ads with embedded videos that come up with you mouse over a certain word, for example), for the most part it's not obnoxious or invasive—especially to developers—because it's not based on any proprietary technology: just perfectly standard, broadly supported HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. (Plus it's useful.)

Whole libraries have been developed to help build page elements that depend on you having not only the ability to click on a link, but to hover over it too. JQuery and Prototype and the like (libraries that are in such widespread use that Google hosts them on high-speed code servers to ensure every site will be able to access them quickly and load them before subsequent locally hosted libs) are specifically designed just to make it easy to do stuff like that, and in a well-understood, de-facto-standard manner. But how do things like the MooTools ImageMenu or this popup image viewer work if you can't tell the browser where your pointer is without actually registering a click?

(I'm not saying there aren't solutions available. But Apple sure doesn't seem interested in going down that road, which is probably for the best. And not just because it's—heh—patented.)

I seem to remember going through this once before: the 3rd generation iPod.



You remember the one: the first one with a Dock Connector, the first one with rounded edges... and the first (and only) one with a row of indistinguishable round control buttons that responded to a touch by interpreting it as a button press.

I seem to recall, though my mind might be playing tricks on me, that the subsequent generation of iPod ditched these buttons in favor of the integrated "click wheel" largely because Apple realized that the buttons were a user-experience nightmare. You could no longer control your iPod blindly, by groping for its sides and finding the raised edges of the distinctly-shaped buttons you wanted and pressing them only when you were good and ready. Now, not only could you not tell which button your fingertips were fumbling over, just the act of fumbling over it caused the button—whichever it was—to be pressed.

That was one of the main reasons why I was so skeptical of the rumors of a full-length touchscreen iPod, back in the days before the iPod touch and iPhone. How on earth could you replicate the classic dial interface of the iPod on a smooth, featureless touchscreen where to touch is to click? How do you expect to run your fingertip around in a circle without any physical guides? It was hard enough since the physical rotary wheel of the 1st-gen iPod was replaced with the capacitive, static one of the 2nd-gen, making it that much harder to rotate without the help of stiction between your fingertip and the dial surface. What kind of sense would a full touchscreen make?

Of course, what I failed to intuit was that Apple was prepared to design an entirely new UI for their touchscreen devices, one that's uniquely suited to a 100% soft interface layer and that integrates natural gestures like pinching and flicking rather than clinging to the rotary gesture that had by then become a legacy. But it also meant the days of using your iPod without looking at the screen were over.

I worry that Apple's about to discover the same kind of thing with the iPad's web experience. An awful lot of the web depends on hover effects for basic navigation, and the iPad won't only not present the "best" web experience on the market, it'll present a fundamentally crippled one, one where many sites—sites that have "done everything right" in the eyes of the style nerds, sites that use strict standards-compliant XHTML and totally separate the style from the scripting from the structure, sites that not only eschew proprietary technologies but themselves advocate against them and in favor of industry-standard, semantic JavaScript/CSS-based UI elements—won't work.

People have put up with these limitations on the iPhone till now because they intuitively recognize it as a limited platform; Mobile Safari is awesome, but only in an "it's amazing the bear dances at all" kind of way. Nobody would choose Mobile Safari over any desktop web browser for serious surfing. But Apple's billing the iPad as every bit the equal of a desktop web experience; and it's going to be subject to every one of the iPhone's browser's limitations except size. I don't know if everyone is quite prepared for the ramifications of that.

I can imagine Flash losing popularity and eventually being used only in the rare and specialized instances where you still find things like Java applets and custom plugins, and for indispensable (but also iPad-phobic) resources like Homestar Runner. But I'm not prepared to believe that every site that's savvy enough to build a nice user experience around hover effects is going to happily rebuild it without those features just to make it easy for iPhone/iPad (and other touchscreen device) users. Surely that's every bit as bad as asking people to forgo transparency-supporting PNGs because 10% of the web still uses IE6.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010
08:30 - Governing best by governing least
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/01/AR2010030103452.html

(top)
Wuh-oh. Looks like the USPS is reading the writing on the wall, and announcing some big changes in the era of FedEx and email... but it doesn't sound like much of a reason to celebrate.

The Postal Service experienced a 13 percent drop in mail volume last fiscal year, more than double any previous decline, and lost $3.8 billion. The projections anticipate steeper drops in mail volume and revenue over the next 10 years, and mounting labor costs only complicate the agency's path to firm fiscal footing.

In an effort to offset some of the losses, Potter seeks more flexibility in the coming year to set delivery schedules, prices and labor costs. The changes could mean an end to Saturday deliveries, longer delivery times for letters and packages, higher postage-stamp prices that exceed the rate of inflation, and the potential for future layoffs.

So in order to keep the doors open, they're going to... eliminate Saturday deliveries and rapid, cheap first-class letter service.

You know how they say that one of the few things it's worth having a pervasive federal government for, along with the military and tax collection, is mail delivery? For some reason I don't feel great about seeing the Post Office slashing its only competitive advantage against private carriers. Sure, first-class delivery operates at a loss; that's got to be obvious. But if what this means is that I'm going to have to start FedExing in my bills, that's going to suck a great deal.

Maybe the Internet age means that the great bulk of mail that people exchange nowadays—statements and bill payments included—is better done online anyway, and even personal letters are now more and more superseded by email, leaving only stacks of spam as the gross tonnage of what fills up those little white jeeps on the rounds. (If that's what pays the way for the real stuff, that's even more depressing.) Still, there will always be a demand—nay, a requirement—that there be a cheap, fast way to drop a piece of paper in the box and for a pittance be assured that it will get anywhere in this vast country. Despite all the USPS' failings, it'd be a horrible shame to see that one great benefit disappear.

Via Dean.


07:46 - Porsche pulls an Apple
http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/02/geneva-auto-show-porsche-918-spyder-plug-

(top)
Well, well. A true surprise at Geneva that nobody was expecting.

This must be what they were talking about when they said Porsche in the post-Wiedeking era would be getting back to its pre-Panamera, pre-Cayenne roots: the 918 Spyder.



Yeah. That's more like it.

Oh wait:



Yeah, no exhausts, because it's a HYBRID. A 500-hp hybrid, no less.

What is it? A plug-in hybrid that Porsche says is capable of lapping the “Nordschleife of Nürburgring in less than 7:30 minutes, faster than even the Porsche Carrera GT.” What’s more, Porsche says fuel economy should be somewhere around 78 miles per gallon. How does it do it? The 918 Spyder concept is powered by a 500-horsepower gasoline V-8 and electric motors on the front and rear axle (the two electric motors make a combined 160 kilowatts of power, or the equivalent of 218 horsepower). Total power output is 718 horsepower. Porsche is not saying whether the 918 Spyder concept will go into production, but don’t bet against it. The technology is just too promising, the styling too delectable.

Wait a sec, hang on here:



Oh wait IT DOES HAVE EXHAUSTS. Criminy.

Hybrid and flappy paddles, yeah, granted. But that styling... yow. That right there is everything that made the Carrera GT cool, but amped up and made even more sexy. Porsche designers don't get the kind of name recognition that the Ian Callums and Chris Bangles of the world do; but someone really deserves to get noted for this one.

And if Porsche has recognized the error of its ways in making SUVs and luxury sedans instead of thoroughbred sports/supercars, then a paddle-shifted hybrid with dorky plastic discs on the wheels that you have to take off to clean when they gunk up with brake dust may just be a compromise I can learn to live with.

Jalopnik says:

Combined with the Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid and the Ferrari 599 Hybrid, it's becoming clear that the era of oil-swilling supercars is drawing to a close and faux eco-friendly supercars are taking over. We're kind of ok with that. While we don't fell the need to lie to the world with a bunch of powertrain technology no one understands, if this means our hobby - driving fast - returns to social acceptability, then maybe this is a good thing.

This is much the same conclusion that Top Gear reached regarding the Honda FCX Clarity: just because the bulk of cars will probably one day run on alternative power sources, that doesn't mean the internal combustion engine will die, nor the concept of the supercar or high-speed driving. In fact, just as the automobile did not make the horse extinct, but rather rescued it from an industrial life of manual labor and turned it into something recreational and well-loved, that's what we can expect for sports cars in the future too. In the most optimistic of all outcomes, we'll have our fire-breathing V-12s, and no greeniacs will bother complaining because even they will realize how small an impact a few well-maintained enthusiasts' playthings make in the scheme of things.

Hell, they might even relax some regulations on those cars, if the economics are such that using fully green-compliant tech for the everyday 90% of traffic on the road is the easier choice anyway. Wouldn't that be a surreal turn?

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