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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12/27/2004 -   1/2/2004
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12/13/2004 - 12/19/2004
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11/29/2004 -  12/5/2004
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12/29/2003 -   1/4/2004
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12/30/2002 -   1/5/2003
12/23/2002 - 12/29/2002
12/16/2002 - 12/22/2002
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11/25/2002 -  12/1/2002
11/18/2002 - 11/24/2002
11/11/2002 - 11/17/2002
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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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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
21:31 - All that glitters is not good UI design

(top)
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

(top)
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

(top)
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

(top)
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.

Sunday, December 17, 2006
22:28 - Simpsons did it!
http://daringfireball.net/linked/2006/december#sun-17-xplayer_whatever

(top)
How much you want to bet that Microsoft was all set to call the Zune the "X-Player", right up until Steve said this? And then they had to change it?

Yeah, I know: facetious. But the thought did cross my mind.

UPDATE: Evariste has a theory:

ActiveX, DirectX, XNA, .docx, Xbox, ...Microsoft loves the letter X to the Xtreem.. I think they thought "we'll tie it in with Xbox and call it Xune, as in iTunes". Then they worried people might not know how to pronounce it, so "Xune" becomes "Zune".

That hadn't even occurred to me, but it makes perfect sense.


21:00 - See what you wanna see
http://littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog/?entry=23695_Bonaduce_vs._Idiot#comments

(top)
I don't know why everybody at LGF thinks that this video represents a "smackdown" by Danny Bonaduce of this John Connor character over the 9/11 conspiracy theory. While applauding his gallantry in apologizing in advance to the lady next to him for the language he's about to use, and his forthrightness in cussing out the guy for accosting him during his meal with his inane on-camera interrogation, they seem to be mystified that the "Resistance Manifesto" site he fronts is proud to display this video.

Well, it's no mystery. To them, it's proof positive that anyone who doesn't believe 9/11 was an inside job is a foul-mouthed, confrontational imbecile who will swear at you and threaten you and demand obeisance for those in power rather than reading proffered books purveying "alternative" information. This video might be cathartic to someone wishing to see one of the conspiracy types verbally abused by proxy; but unfortunately it wasn't done with any finality or rhetorical skill. The closest it came to making a point was over the nature of the First Amendment, and on those grounds it was only really trudging through the mud of a fake-out side issue.

Granted, Bonaduce wasn't likely to have a litany of facts in front of him with which to refute the list of names Connor threw at him; certainly I'd never heard of them before. And he couldn't have been expected to have his arguments marshaled before him for easy deployment; he was just sitting there eating lunch, and Connor was specifically out to interview people using questions and barbs he'd been rehearsing all day.

But if I were confronted in a situation like this, the one thing I'd have to fall back on is asking the guy whether he can recite the First Amendment from memory, and whether he can explain how it applies to the situation at hand.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Neither of us being Congress, then, the "free speech" argument does not apply. Now let's discuss "missile pods" and "pancake effects" and "conservation of momentum" and other such obscure minutiae. Let's go.

Friday, December 15, 2006
23:50 - Make with the nice-nice

(top)
In my mail just now:

Dear Brian,

Thank you for purchasing the South Park Season 10A and 10B from the iTunes Store. We know that the decision to split South Park Season 10A into two parts created some confusion for our customers.

We strive to create a perfect experience, so please accept this code good for seven $1.99 music videos or TV shows of your choice. Redeem the code below by clicking on the following link.

. . .

We sincerely thank you for being an iTunes customer and we value your continued business.

Sincerely,

Kate Wormington
Sr. Manager, Customer Experience
iTunes Store

It did indeed create confusion. I bought the "season pass" at the beginning of the season, and for seven episodes I got an e-mail when each one was ready for download, a couple of days after it aired on Comedy Central. It was an up-front $10.99 charge (I believe) for episodes that would magically show up in my iTunes as they became available, like podcasts.

But then the season cut short on TV, and so did the iTunes releases. That's when we found out that for reasons still unclear, Trey and Matt decided to do Season 10 in two chunks, their Comedy Central premieres separated by a few months. And when the Season 10B episodes started being released, they appeared on iTunes for à la carte purchasing, without generating season-pass e-mails or popping automatically into our download queues. It made sense, I guess, considering that low low price; and there was a fair amount of grousing in the review pages on the South Park Season 10 download page in iTunes, which (much to Apple's chagrin, I'm sure) also serves as a discussion forum of sorts. People complained that the "season pass" was only for half a season, which they felt was a bait-and-switch; and other people pointed out that they'd paid for seven episodes and got seven episodes, so what's to complain about? It was apparently even mentioned at the outset that it would only be for half the season, but that fact seemed to slip past a lot of people, including me; still, the weird splitting of the season on Comedy Central probably was nobody's idea of business-as-usual, including iTunes'. So when they didn't offer the season pass again for the second batch of episodes, a lot of people—like me—bought those episodes under our own steam.

But apparently that confusion's worth real moh-nay to people, because now they're passing out these coupons worth the price of what the season pass for Season 10B would have been. Seven free episodes of whatever. I'll bank 'em for later, and I'll be sure to use 'em.

Because hey—free stuff is free stuff. As far as I'm concerned, this gesture wasn't necessary. But that's perfectionism and eagerness-to-please for you. Or at least appeasement.

Maybe next I should annex the Sudetenland or something.

UPDATE:


Well, shoot! I knew there was a catch...


22:05 - i don't Phone, but maybe u do
http://money.cnn.com/2006/12/15/technology/pluggedin_mehta_iphone.fortune/index.htm?

(top)
I guess we'll know on Monday, but I'm not going to be losing any sleep over the weekend about the possibilities for the iPhone.

But this speculative article (via Lance) has some interesting meaty bits:

Or Apple could pursue a path similar to the one forged by traditional wireless phone makers, and sell its iPhone through the carriers - an option that probably doesn't appeal to Jobs, but gives him an opportunity to reach the largest possible number of U.S. consumers. But no matter how Apple decides to enter the wireless phone market, it is sure to change the status quo.

Here's why: Today, phone companies heavily subsidize handsets in exchange for long-term commitments from customers. That Nokia (Charts) phone you got for free from Cingular obviously cost the phone company something - probably hundreds of dollars - to buy from Nokia. Cingular, in the meantime, can make all kinds of demands of Nokia: It can ask for special packaging, prominent logo placement, etc.

This system drives Nokia and other wireless device makers crazy. First, it devalues the phone: Here you have what is essentially a handheld computer with more processing power than the first PCs, and consumers expect to get it for free. It also means the device maker has less control over how it can market and merchandise its products, a pretty unique position in the world of consumer electronics: Imagine if Dell couldn't sell laptops and desktops directly to consumers but instead had to sell them through Comcast, AT&T (Charts) or other broadband providers.

This is where Apple comes in - and why Nokia, Motorola (Charts), Samsung and LG might be secretly rooting for the iPhone to be a minor hit. Apple seems uniquely positioned to convince consumers to pay a premium - not demand a discount - for wirelessly connected devices, thus changing the economics of the wireless industry. Put another way: If a consumer is willing to pay $250 for an iPod Nano, why wouldn't she pay even more for a Nano that can make phone calls?

I don't know a thing about the economics of the cellphone industry, but I'm fully prepared to believe that it's as dysfunctional as the article suggests. It sure would be funny if Apple managed to pull off a play this complex; honestly, it would be pretty uncharacteristic, because most of their biggest successes—the iPod the biggest example of which—have been faintly offbeat, even tone-deaf things they introduced to skepticism and yawns, only to somehow catch on like fire in hay once they got some steam worked up. It was never some widely speculated strategy that some analyst came up with and that Apple brilliantly executed to the letter of the script. If there ever was a script, it was read from the safety of a vault deep under the Cupertino campus, and nobody knew what the lines would be until after they'd been performed.

I still think the coolest possibility is a WiFi-connected iPod that exists as a conduit to the iTunes Store, which would suck all the wind out of the Zune's sails. But that's not exactly "not what I expected at all", is it?


09:33 - Merry Christmas to me

(top)
The floor refinishing is done!

Before:



After:



Huh? Huhh?

Thursday, December 14, 2006
22:31 - You just winged him; you made him into a Unitarian
http://www.politicalcortex.com/story/2006/11/28/132922/70

(top)
What the hell's this? Payback for Carmageddon?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006
00:14 - HALP US AL GOAR

(top)
This is bizarre. It's like 61 degrees out there right now. And it's midnight. This is August-type weather.

Then again, it was in the mid-30s a couple weeks ago...


18:16 - Better than washer-vs-dryer races

(top)
It's a race to the bottom! Who can piss off more customers first: Microsoft or Sony?

At this point it looks like it's Sony by a tankful. Which is impressive, because they're taking on the Astroturf masters.

UPDATE: I'm pretty sure this is a worrisome trend, really. Zipatoni, the marketing firm behind this thing, is apparently an old hand at these "fake viral" campaigns; and just the other day I actually saw an ad for Ziddio, a company that bills itself (in a semi-tongue-in-cheek manner) as being able to make viral videos for you and get them injected into the bloodstream of the body politic. "Activating consumers" indeed.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that as we watch both Sony and Microsoft fall all over themselves trying to pose as "hip" youth characters, with the inevitable result that they're found out within hours—the "Mac" character in the PC/Mac ads is exactly what they're trying to emulate, and does it convincingly: not by rapping and l33t-speaking, but by being polite and well-spoken in casual attire. Talk about counterintuitive.

...Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, no, I am not being paid by Apple. Some word-of-mouth advertising is spontaneous.

UPDATE: Hey, Microsoft actually seems to have learned something about how to respond to populist broadsides in good humor. Now, I don't think the point made is all that compelling; but fair's fair, and it is actually rather funny.

UPDATE: So's this, though I feel like it shouldn't be. (Via Marcus.)

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© Brian Tiemann