technolust strikestech

January 13, 2001
Political Joke of the Moment
"Well, ya know, old Bush is a post turtle [...] When you're driving down a country road, and you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that's a post turtle. You know he didn't get there by himself, he doesn't belong there, he can't get anything done while he's up there, and you just want to help the poor thing down."
--old man, via rec.humor.funny

Quote of the Moment
"When you reach the ripe old age of 27 like I have, and you have the choice between investing time and investing money, you realize you should never go for the time. You can always make more money..."
--Me in a Dream Thursday Night

The other day I got a medium case of technolust for my cow-orkers's Compaq iPaq PocketPC. It's a handheld PDA, much like the Palm V I already have. It has a much better screen than any of the Palms, 320*240 vs 160*160, which is 3 times the number of pixels in the same space. And it's color. My friend was showing me the map app it came with, zoom in and out, like an amazing electronic atlas, I'm not sure if the Palm has enough oomph to do that-- he's also laying out the bucks for a clip-on GPS for it... I've been longing for one of those never-get-lost-while-driving setups for a long while. Of course, it's not quite as slick or small as the Palm.

The trouble with the PocketPC isn't the hardware, of course... it's the way each program has a new interface. PocketPC feels like Windows 3.1 in interface, before the standards were settled, while Palm has some of the elegance of early Mac, circa 1988 or so.

It sounds kind of weird, but changing away from Palm would actually be a bit of a lifestyle change for me. For almost 4 years now, I've been keeping up the KHftCEA on a Palm, a commonplace book (quote journal) / dear diary collection. It's become part of what I am, part of the "extended me". But with this new kisrael.com 'blog, I've had to think about the two should relate, and what the point of the KHftCEA has been. In many ways this 'blog is better: it's updated daily, it's designed to be presentable to people, it can use images, it links to the outside world. And I can get to it to update it at home and at work. Still, having a copy on me always is important, so that's why I'm thinking about changing my PDA.

clock ranttechgeek

April 20, 2001

A few months ago I wanted an alarm clock-radio that had digital tuning, so it would stay locked onto my favorite NPR station without drifting. The Radio Shack model I found tunes well enough and looks attractive, but is actively user hostile in design. Alarm clocks should be usable by sleepy people in the dark. Setting this clock’s alarm and making sure it’s on is a chore even in the daylight. Here’s the control panel:
Strike One: all the buttons are the same size and shape. Eventually I trained my hand to know that top row, second one in from the gap is SLEEP (90 minutes of radio before turning itself off) but come on—it shouldn’t be that hard.

Strike Two: I could not figure out how to set the alarm. It’s as if they worked to make the button labels as unhelpful as possible...not only that, but it’s easier to set the time than the alarm. The rocker switch on the front is labeled both tune up/down and hours/minutes, so obviously it has something to do with it. But none of the other button labels said ‘set’ or ‘alarm’. Now, hitting ‘MODE’ seemed promising, because on the front panel it started flashing ‘SET ON’. Hitting the hour/minutes button did nothing though. This is when I had to download a PDF copy of the manual. It turns out to set the alarm you have to also hold MEMORY/TIME down. Now, since that button on the front does double duty for tuning and time setting, it makes sense that you have to hold down another button or the clock has to be in ‘set mode’. But both? Why is that? A little experimenting reveals the answer—if you hold MEMORY/TIME down and press the front button when not in 'set mode', you change the time. Not the alarm, the time. That means it’s about twice as easy to change the time than to change the alarm. Now, which one do you think people do more often?

My college roomie Brian used to add or subtract hours to the time setting of his alarm clock rather than change the alarm time itself. For years I assumed he did it because of a sense of surreal-ness it added to everything. Now I’m wondering if he had a clock as user hostile as mine.

Strike Three: If there’s one thing an alarm clock should do, it’s wake you up on time. This clock has a little icon on the front panel. When you hit the [ALARM] ON/OFF button, this icon goes on and off. One might assume that this means the alarm is on, or that the alarm is off, accordingly. No. Because, see, if that switch on the left is on [RADIO] OFF, your alarm clock will not wake you up for love nor money. It might display its little alarm icon, lulling you into a false sense of security, but next morning that radio will not play. The stupidity of this design overwhelms me. I can see the half-assed logic (wanting to separate turning the alarm off in the morning from just hitting snooze) but… jeez. Your clock shouldn’t lie to you.

For the exact same manufacturing costs, I could’ve designed a better UI than this. Just making labels less misleading would be a start. (I still don't know what '+5' does.) Changing a few behaviors (making it easier to change the alarm than the time setting, not showing the alarm icon if the alarm is turned off because of the switch) would be even better. Changing a few more electronic readouts could actually make it intuitive!

I hate to sound like a curmudgeon about this thing, but it really is bad. I'll try to justify my rant with this next quote:

Quote of the Moment
"If people were going to use computers all day, everyday, the design of such machines was not solely a technical problem-- it was also an aesthetic one. A lousy interface would mean a lousy life."
--Myron Krueger

News of the Moment
Salon article: Judge rules no webcast of McVeigh's execution. Now I'm against the death penalty. But if you're going to go for it, you should really go for it. Don't try to pretend there's some kind of dignity here. Go full tilt for the bread and circuses. If the people demand revenge in cold blood, give it to them! In full color! And Dolby Stereo! On national tv! Really get that "deterence" message out there!

i-snet, usenet, we all snet for usenet!tech

December 12, 2001

Google just announced that they've expanded their Usenet Archive to go all the way back to 1981! They made a big Announcement with lots of 'Firsts': First mention of Microsoft, the Commodore 64, first post from AOL, first serious spam, etc etc.

So I've been going a little nuts going over my old posts. Here's the first one of mine I could find. (Actually, the searching mechanism seems a little buggy, you can see it by fiddling with the dates, so it's probably not my first first post.)

Ok. Time to prove my true navel-gazing geekdom. Here's a handy chart of all the accounts I used to post, and related info:
account dates # #/day
kisrael@pearl.tufts.edu 28 Apr 1993 -
14 May 1993
9 .56
kisrael@jade.tufts.edu 14 Sep 1993 -
05 Jun 1994
102 .39
kisrael@emerald.tufts.edu 15 Jun 1994 -
27 Feb 1995
139 .54
kisrael@diamond.tufts.edu 23 Mar 1995 -
25 May 1997
486 .62
kisrael@allegro.cs.tufts.edu* 26 May 1997 -
28 Sep 1997
265 2.12
kisrael@allegro.cs.tufts.edu 28 Sep 1997 -
29 Jul 1999
1950 2.9
kisrael@andante.cs.tufts.edu 03 Aug 1999 -
12 Jul 2000
873 2.5
kisrael@andante.eecs.tufts.edu 15 Jul 2000 -
01 Sep 2001
962 2.33
kirkspam@alienbill.com 01 Sep 2001 -
11 Dec 2001
483 4.8
*for some reason this group of posts only shows up when you search for posts before Sep 28 1997

I'm a little alarmed that the average posts per day has doubled lately. It may be a spike, since it's a smaller than average sample, and I posted a lot right after September 11th...

Funny of the Moment
> Actually, I have heard rumors that Howard Stern
> and H Ross Perot are one and the same. (Have we
> ever seen them in the same room, huh? huh?)

No, that's not true: in fact I have them both in my room right now:
        say Hello, Ross:

        Hello! I'd l

That's enough Ross, thank you. Howard?

        This is fucking ridicu

Thank you, Howard.
Kirk "and the truth shall make you free" Israel
--from this 1993 talk.rumors post. Every once in a while I'm worried that I used to be funnier.

yay cliétech

August 13, 2003

Palm of the Moment
So I'm finally retiring the old Palm IIIc. Actually, it's Mo's old IIIc, she generously let me use the one she got when mine when on the fritz. I got the IIIc January 2001, though you can see be jonesing for something new a few days before. Wow...when I got that IIIc, I was still at my dot bomb!

Anyway, the IIIc was always a bit wider and longer than I liked, so I took to decorating its case with stickers, you can see the last rendition here on the left. I liked how the stickers piled up over the years. UPDATE: Heheheheh. I carried this Palm with roughly that group of stickers for months, and only after having that picture posted for 10 hours do I notice the way the Small Soldiers Ogre's boulder turns the TITAN A.E. into "TIT". My inner 12-year-old must've been asleep!

Its replacement is a Sony Clié SJ22. I've kind of warmed up to it now that I see it's styling as a bit iBook-ish, but man, is this thing girly: But anyway. I think it's the cheapest PalmOS PDA out there with a 320x320 screen, which makes the pixels really tiny and the text look really nice. Plus you can read it in daylight, unlike the IIIc. (And the stylus isn't falling out all over the place, unlike my IIIc) It's not perfect as a doodle pad, it tends to jump a bit when reading the pen, but overall I'm secure enough in my manhood to be very happy with it. In fact, it probably is attractive enough that I'm not tempted to subvert it with stickers.

I know it might be odd to write this much about a piece of hardware, but I've had a PalmOS device with me ever since fall of 1997, so it's an important accompanist to my brain...

Invention of the Moment
Call me gadget-happy, but I think I'd really like to get one of those high-tech toilets Wired is writing about.

Prank of the Moment
ZUG has fun with credit card receipt signatures. I liked the surrealness of some of them.

I haven't thought about ZUG in a long time. I love how it informs you that "You're reading ZUG, the world's only comedy site."

quotes ahoytech

September 4, 2004

So I spent a rather long time updating my quote-o-matic viewer, harvesting quotes from kisrael.com all the way from May 17, 2002...309 quotes new, up to 1662 in all. It took a surprisingly long time to weed out all the good quotes, maybe 20 minutes per month. By the end I was definately asking myself "is this worth it?" but a few days ago, after most of it was done anyway, UnavailableName dropped a few quotes he liked that he had found in the old version, so that was encouraging.

Windows Annoyance Rant of the Moment
I wrote this to send into the site ThisIsBroken.com:

This might be more of a gripe, or just a reluctance to shift to a new mental model for search, but the way recent versions of Windows conduct file searches in the sidebar of the current explorer window seems like a huge step backwards from the old way of a seperate finding app...

  1. You lose your place. Often, I'm still interested in keeping the current explorer view open when I hit Ctrl-F to conduct a search, but now my whole window becomes dedicated to this one search task.
  2. Often in NT2K it takes a few seconds for the "Look in" field to be automatically field in with the location of the current Folder. Type in a quick search term, hit return, you get a message "A valid folder name must be entered"
  3. The only way to know if you're looking at a "real folder" or search results is to look at the window caption. And even when the caption indicates "Search Results", it gives you no hint of what you were searching for. (Admittedly, a detailed description could get wordy, but still, having 3 windows that say "Search Results" in the task bar isn't that useful in refinding a specific window.)
  4. To get your normal explorer view again you have to hit an IE like "back" button. This seems like a broken paradigm to me, that viewing a folder is one "task location", viewing search results is another "task location". To my mental model, an explorer view represents a "noun", and a search is more of a "verb", results and all. It's not like search results are really making up a "virtual folder".
  5. When you hit "back" to return to your folder view, the sidebar stays up. But the "Look in" field doesn't get filled in with the new folder location unless you close the sidebar and reopen it. Conversely, if you close the sidebar, your search results remain...it looks just like a regular folder though! Also, the "Look in " field changes, but the main search fields remain filled with the old data, which is useful but inconsistent.
  6. To start a search you either have to know the Ctrl-F mnemonic or use a graphical icon, there doesn't seem to be a regular menu option for it.
  7. If you accidentally hit "Up Folder" instead of "Back", you get taken to a folder view of the Desktop. Why isn't the "Folder Up" option greyed out while conducting a search? It's not like it's an easy way of backing up to the parent folder to redo the current search...that requires all the steps I outline in complaint 5...
  8. Don't get me started on XP's default "File Searching For Dummies" mode. Maybe it's good for novice users, and it can be turned off, but for exerienced users it's just a pain in the butt, and we become amazed that other people who seem otherwise to be pretty bright always use it...or even worse, with the goofy animated assistant.
I suppose my main problem is I don't share the idea I describe in complaint 4, and I really miss the old "hit Ctrl-F to launch a seperate simple find application that keeps your place here" . And maybe it's sightly easier for them to give the options to view details, thumbnails, etc in the results. (Though Photo thumbnails are often very sluggish to load.)

Maybe they were looking for a way of letting someone repeat a carefully constructed search from a different location (hence the inconsistency in complaint 5) but it seems like a poor tradeoff to me.

This app is something I use on a daily basis, and not liking its forced browser model (probably some offshoot of that whole "oh but you can't seperate the browser from the OS!") is a constant low-level thorn in my side.

If anyone knows a way of getting back the old behavior when I hit ctrl-F, I'd love to hear about it. Even some registry setting that causes a Ctrl-F search to open up a new window rather than overtaking the current one would be a HUGE improvement.

So it is a subjective opinion, but I'd say: This Is Broken.

o how size matterstech

December 13, 2004

So I was probably a bit remiss, or at least out of character, in not talking about the latest addition to my consumer electronic life, an InFocus ScreenPlay 4800 video projector. An early holiday gift to myself. It replaced the old 36" Buddha TV, which I sold to Sawers for a song. I went for a bundled deal at CostCo, that came with a seperate screen to project onto, though in retrospect that might've been a mistake, because I didn't fully research it (though it ended up being a solid choice) and the screen it came with, one of those roll-out pulldown jobbies, is too small...they cheaped out and made it so it only rolls down so the whole thing is 16:9 "widescreen" format, but of course a lot of what I do (video games and, more rarely, watching TV) is standard 4:3. So here's what it looks like, you can see for now I often let the picture 'bleed' off of the top and bottom of the screen...

It's probably hard to judge from that photo, but the image is pretty dang big...much bigger than any flat panel or regular TV I could hope to afford, and unlike the TV it replaced, the projector doesn't outweigh me, all for...I dunno, $1200 maybe? Plus the too many cables I let Evil Bastard (who was a great help in the whole shopping and installation process) talk me into.

Also, I decided to buy a stereo receiver rather than juy rigging some frankenstereo. This is what my A/V stack of receiver, DVD, VCR (mostly need because I don't have a cable box) and projector looks like, along side my big comfy chair:

You know, I have mixed feelings about that stereo receiver. It's fancy enough that the volume control is "virtual"...turning the physical knob makes the volume readout change, but it's annoying because you can't just give it a quick twist to turn it all the way down, and in general you have to turn it too much to affect major changes. Also, it gives you the "true" volume reading in dB, which is extra annoying, since that's a negative number that unintuitively looks like it gets smaller as the volume increases. Way too much audiophile wankery for my taste, or for the recycled speakers I'm using with it.

So there are some drawbacks, but if you have a long enough room (you need maybe 12-14 feet from the projector to the screen) that you can make dark you can get a great big picture for relatively cheap. FoSO mentioned that someone they know conducted some tests, and Tyvek (a building material) reflects a big percentage of the light, so you can get a decent picture by stretching Tyvek over a wooden frame. I might try that if I continue to be annoyed by the current screen not making good use of the available wallspace.

So I guess those are three not-too-too expensive electronic luxuries (under $1K for each, if you're frugal) I'd recommend to anyone: a video projector, an car GPS navigation system, and a small laptop for the living room (and a now-dirt-cheap wireless network to run it on.) These are along the neccesities of electronic life, all of which can be had for like $100 each: a palm pilot, a digital camera, and a cellphone.

Product Imitates Imagination of the Moment
Weird...just the other day I was thinking about chastity belts (and how much they might chafe) when I had the idea that the whole "WWJD"/abstinence-only teen movement should make up special chastity panties with a symbolic lock and key imprinted on them. I even came up with the perfect name for them: "Undies for Fundies". It turns out the product basically exists, available at Target at Blue Q Chastity Underwear. (I guess there's a small chance I heard about these earlier and forgot about 'em, but as far as I remember I was really just mentally riffing on old school chastity belts.)


November 27, 2005

Aside of the Moment
You know, it used to seem really cool to be building houses with Cat5 cables running in the walls, but now that wifi is cheap and easy, it doesn't seems that important any more.

For that matter, phone jacks don't mean much to be any more. I don't even know where (or if, though I assume) they are present in my current apartment.

Tricks of the Moment
cute little body hacks from Men's Health, though I'm not sure how much stock I'd put in some of them...

i gaze upon the cellphone options before me, and weeptech

April 25, 2006

My cellphone kind of died the other day, it refused to take a charge, and there was a whiff of smoke around it.

Before settling on bringing it in for repair, or rather replacement, I took a look at the handset offerings from Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint.

Man, cellphone design in this country ain't a vast wasteland, but it's no Garden of Eden either.

No one makes "nice and compact" a priority these days. Even the phones out to make themselves super-thin end up being tall and wide. And then everyphone has to stuff itself so full of gizmos that it ends up fat and bulky...especially with the clamshell design, which is the only type I'll go for. (I'm tempted to go back to my 2001 Samsung but I guess it doesn't do text messaging. But now I appreciate its design; compact screen, and a flip design with a thin cover that merely protects the keypad rather than having the keys embedded in it.)

T-Mobile had the Motorola PEBL... as you can see by the "artsy" timedisplay it seems like they're giving a lot more thought to the aesthetics of it... the appeal for me was the nice rubberized texture of the outer shell. But even with that I'd worry about the strength of the cute little special hinge it has.

But Sprint/Nextel swapped my phone for free, and I couldn't really justify the expense of a new phone...it's not a bad model despite my gripes with it. (Pity that Samsung/Palm hybrid was such crap software-wise.) I had to manually move numbers over, and I lost the video of the Euclid municipal Fireworks that was my "video wallpaper". Oh well.

Oh, and I have one more new grip about the current phone: I can assign custom ringers to individuals in my phonebook, and there's a feature for a distinct ringer "with caller id" vs "no caller id", but no distinct setting for "in phonebook" vs "not in phonebook", which would actually be useful to me, instead I'd have to set the ringer for each phonebook entry seperately.

Am I that much of a UI prima donna, and/or assuming too much that people work the way I do, or are the people who make these things just not all that bright?

Sports Quote of the Moment
"Baseball is the only major sport that appears backwards in a mirror."
--George Carlin

Scariness of the Moment
"Dunkin' Donuts is spreading its wings. The chain is expanding nationwide and plans to triple in size within the next 10 years."
--From this Slate piece about their new Ad campaign. Ugh, maybe Candi is right, this is like a mold. I like the vibe relative to Starbucks, but still... they're frickin' everywhere, popping up in stripmalls and inside regular malls and other places that still seem weird to me.

Gotta give them props for They Might Be Giants tunage though.

a pressing issuetech

December 22, 2006

My latest UI gripe: physical buttons that change their function when you press and hold, versus just pressing. Three case studies as of late: In some cases I can see why the designer does this, sees "press and hold" as a way of reusing buttons, adding functionality without the "clutter" cost or physical cost of extra buttons there. But there's no real iconography or concise language for "press and hold for function X", so it just makes these functions more obscure. (And in the case of Monkey Ball, there's absolutely no excuse. Games are all about reacting to input, providing feedback. If you press every button on a controller looking for a command you think you should be there, you should activate every command, not have to press and hold everything for an indetrminate period like some sort of mad functionality Easter Egg hunt.)

Dumb UI designers: making your life a little worse in a thousand little ways.

the 29 bestest songstechplaylist

April 14, 2007

Game of the Moment
Too make up for the terribly dull and self-indulgent entry below, here's a lovely and addictive flash game: Boomshine... kind of a cross between Missile Command and Maxwell's Demon. The urging on you do of your little boomshine circles to just hold one one...second.........LONGER is amazing.

Ramble of the Moment
I bought the red iPod, which gave a token amount to fighting AIDS in Africa. Also, this image is about half again as big as the real thing.
I finished sorting through and rating my iTunes music collection the other day. Out of the 6400-odd tracks in my collection, there were about 5000 I never wanted to hear in a mix. Of the 1400 I thought were ok, I rated 270 of them as stuff I'd actually be happy to hear when they came up in rotation, and about 30 of those as "great". Thus, my 37-gig collection got reduced to the 5.75 gigs that matter.

(Admittedly, my judgement is biased towards stuff that's good to do geekwork to, so energetic music tends to have an advantage over the slower stuff, and long jazzy or classical bits have very little chance.)

So I decided to grant myself one final birth day indulgence, or reward for sorting through all this, and bought an iPod. I had an iPod a long while back, but didn't really have a spot for it, the car radio adapter was more trouble than it was worth. But now that I've started walking to and from the T station and my work PC doesn't have a reliable sound setup, this one should be more useful.

It's kind of weird that the 8-gig Nano costs the same as a 30-gig iPod video, but still I went for the former. Besides better battery life, and not having internal moving parts, its petite minimalism just resonates for me.

And for your reading pleasure, and since I was on kind of a self-indulgence roll, I thought I'd blow a day on kisrael discussing the 29 bestest songs on my iPod.

Music of Every Damn Moment
The first three I identified as the Best. Songs. Ever. a long while back. They are Deee-Lite's Groove Is In The Heart (which I am morally compelled to dance to every time I hear it, even if just a little), Buildings And Bridges by Ani DiFranco, which is the most beautiful blend of dimestore profundity and musical grace I've ever heard, and It's Your Thing by the The Isley Brothers, the bass and piano that never fails to grab me by the cajones. (There's a bit more R+B in the Top 29: James Brown's I Feel Good and Soul Man by Sam & Dave.)

I've always loved Fever by Peggy Lee, and Shirley Bassey has a similar vamp effect in the Propellerheads' History Repeating.

Lately I've been getting into mashups, Tripper Trouble is dj BC mixing up the Beatles and the Beastie Boys, Groove's a Bitch by dsico is Groove is in the Heart plus She's a Bitch plus Just 1 Kiss, My Other Car Is A Beatle by Jay-R is an even bigger swath of artists. And before there was mashups there were covers and remixes, like Shake Your Thang, which really is how Salt-N-Pepa introduced me to It's Your Thing, and more recently JXL's A Little Less Conversation revived a sleeper Elvis work. Also two by Tom Jones et al.: Burning Down The House and Sexbomb.

Mystery Dance by Elvis Costello is the only song to appear in the Top 29 twice, it's short enough that both the electric and acoustic versions seem worthwhile.

Cake's The Distance always holds a special place in my heart as being my big solo in Tufts' sQ. Then there's a string of modern stuff... Smash Mouth's Diggin' Your Scene and the overplayed but great AllStar, t.A.T.u.'s All The Things She Said, the nostalgic drumline of Gwen Stefani's Hollaback Girl, and the cool retro-western-gogo of Legend Of A Cowgirl by a Imani Coppola

Slowing things down, Holly Cole's cover I've Just Seen A Face is just lovely, and I find Dar Williams' As Cool As I Am, Paul Simon's Tenderness, and Willy Mason's Oxygen can all move me to tears when I'm on the hunt for that kind of catharsis.

Finally, some oddballs: Johnny Cash's Riders In The Sky is just THE cowboy song for me, Maynard Ferguson's Chameleon is the only instrumental to make it here, and Madonna's Hanky Panky (Bare Bottom 12" Mix), with its giant percussion and naughty spanky talk is the best thing to have spun off from the movie Dicky Tracy.

I might be willing to make a mix cd or mp3 set if anyone is interested.

cool programs about a decade latetech

June 19, 2007

Hey kids! Remember the Palm? Would you believe games and utilities are still being made for it?

Alright, I'm a little cynical. But I still think my Palm Z22 has about the best PDA UI out there, so much better designed around the constraints of working with a small screen than the Microsoft Outlook derived crap, or some of the cellphones that don't even pretend to make an effort at usability.

For a long time I've been amusing myself writing things in PocketC, a little computer language that lets you write, compile, and run things on the Palm. Only recently though did I start to notice there's also a Windows-y desktop version that lets you take the same code and make standalone Palm apps, which is a much cooler way to be. So here are two:

bpm -- this is one of the few truly practical Palm programs I've made, despite (or because of) its bare appearance. If you just start tapping in the rhythm of a song or your pulse, it will give you the beats per minute after just a few taps.
5Jive -- I wrote the core of this years ago, on vacation in Florida, based on a Windows game I saw there. Click on a shape, and then to some square it can move to, and when you get five or more in a row they disappear.

I like the winding paths my unoptimized algorithm for 5jive ends up with... I tweaked the timing so it takes about the same amount of time no matter how many steps the shape has to take. Also I'm pleased with the tiny "alienbill.com" I got to fit in a 39x4 grid as a signature.

Links of the Moment
Two neat things on Slate today: 31 photos that changed the world and this link on some UK people enjoying playing with sins against the English language.

iphone youphone weallphone for iphonetech

July 6, 2007

I've already been accused of status symboling / bandwagon-ing, but yesterday I splurged on an iPhone.

I've come up with a few justifications for it. I was thinking about my various gadgets. The iPod Nano is just amazing, it gives me a small tangible thrill, it's so compact and elegant. And that humble Palm Z22 was doing a similar thing, with its lovely curved feel, and super-familiar interface. That Fujitsu lifebook, about as small as a laptop can be and still have a usable traditional keyboard gives me a good buzz.

My other gadgets, not so much. My Canon Elph is compact and takes great pictures, but it's not a delight. Similarly, my waterlogged Katana was never better than decent for me... plus it seemed to need its battery recharged way too frequently. I'm not so thrilled with the iPhone form factor, but it's still pretty slick.

Design wise... well, it's ok. I think glossy black and metal is a bit over-80s, but at least it's not the toilet white that was the old iPod hallmark. Looks a bit like a cigarette case from the back, actually.

Exchange of the Moment
EvilB came over for lunch, and theoretically to drop off some books...:
"So are you going to play some Pac-Man CE?"
"Well I thought if I came over here, I should at least treat you to some two players gaming..."
"No, it's fine, I know how much that Pac Man game resonates for you."
"You're like my dealer! I better watch out or you're going to start charging."
"Yeah, that was my plan with the video games, 'first 9 years are free'."

Article of the Moment
"I talked to a pretty wealthy lawyer in Cambridge, and he won’t go to Starbucks," says Simon. "For him, it’s an expression of his relationship to New England, but also to working people. Like he’s more populist through that."
--from Choosing Our Religion, a Phoenix article on New England's relationship to Dunkin Donuts. I know it's definitely not as good karma as any mom-n-pop place (And I do go to Gail's on Medford St whenever I get the chance) but still.

ui war crimestech

September 1, 2007

Brief update, off to Rockport.

One quick gripe: I can forgive the current version of the iPhone software not supporting receiving and displaying MMS (multimedia messages) but ATT giving me a code I have to type in a web browser. I can even forgive, somehow, the link not being clickable in SMS and opening up in Safari. What I can't forgive, and find to be yet another misdemeanor against humanity, is generating a "pickup code" with characters and a font that's ambiguous. Upper case 'I'? Lower case 'L'? I can't tell, and I wasn't able to pick up my damn message. Do it all caps, or all numbers, or something, but think, people!

Video of the Moment

--Forgot where I saw this... brilliant, though.


April 19, 2008

One idea springing from a greekish outlook is that communication channels should be as permanent as possible... you never know who you might forget to tell about a new email address or phone number, or what old one someone researching how to contact you might find. (And there is a certain delight in finding an old email address on some forgotten website or Usenet posting that gets a response.)

So it's with a heavy heart that I'm dropping "catchall"s for my domains. For over a decade, I've been happy to be able to cavalierly say "anything @ kisrael.com gets to me, so use whatever you like". Dylan is the only one I know who tried playing with that, but in practice it was harder to explain than just giving a normal email address, so I gave it up.

For a long time, I've weathered a storm of spam, since if they tried a "dictionary" style attack, sending to host of random usernames at my domain hoping to get a match, they all went to the same place. More troublesome are those moral-less, scuzzball, vile, scabrous, cowardly greedmonkeys who make their Spam look like it came from my domain, since then I would also get a host of bounces, and even the occasional plaintive handcrafted "please don't send spam here" message. (The scary part of this change is knowing that this will still go on, I just won't see it.)

The problem with this is the number of email aliases I've used. For a while I thought of trying to track spam by using a special address for every site, like if I posted to "msn.com" (not that I would) I would use the address "msn.com@alienbill.com". I never extracted much useful information from doing this (except that newyorkerforum seems to have been harvested by the spammers pretty badly) and now it means there might be some accounts I won't hear from again. (The other problem was talking to people on the phone, when I tried to tell someone from the company "Foobar" that my email address was "Foobar.com at alienbill.com", it would sound like I was confused about how email works.)

So, starting fairly soon, these are the only email usernames that will work for me:


Le Sigh. I hate Spammers so very much.

Game History of the Moment
Making the rounds is some insider information about the planned Sequels to the Hitchhiker's Guide text adventure. There are some objections to the publication of private, in-company email but it's still fascinating to read, and the site includes a semi-playable prototype of the game.

gadget gizmo geekerytech

June 8, 2008

So here's is where I prattle on for an entire entry about a gadget. I'm going to try and justify that by pointing out it also reflects my interest in User Interface. (And maybe even my vested interest in UI at 65 mph)

Hello, Sexy
This past few weeks I've been driving my Aunt and Uncle's Honda Odyssey for moving and hauling (and if you don't commute by car, nothing brings home the gas prices like a trip up to Rockport in a 18 mpg minivan... I swear the price at the roadside place was 3.99 9/10 on the way up and 4.09 9/10 on the way down.) A few times I was caught short, sans GPS, so I used that to justify an upgrade from my beloved Garmin 2610... they're so much cheaper than they used to be, and after having bought other models as presents for my mom and EB over the years, I was aware that they had also gone up in features. (And in my case, features even beyond "has a database that knows that the Big Dig is over")

In general GPSes feel like they've benefit from competition in general, and give the sense that they've really been listening to consumer complaints and suggestions... my new Garmin nüvi 260 (three cheers for umlauts!) shows 4 years of improvements in the following ways: There are a few things I'll miss...I get a feeling my old one had more random retail landmarks in its crufty old database. And it had physical buttons, including "speak" which would cause the voice to talk about the upcoming turn. I liked that, and the way this model prints a text summary of the next turn is probably more useful but less fun.

Mostly, though, they seem to be working to keep the screen uncluttered, so there only readouts on the map are "ETA" and "distance 'til turn". The 2610 had "current time", "time 'til turn" and most importantly "current speed"... I got spoiled by having a digital read out of speed handy, I still think digitally and reading from analog (on a speedometer, or even when looking at a clock) takes a mental cycles to convert.

(heh, just to throw some cold water on this, there are some rumors that the next iPhone will have real GPS... assuming that has the same real time highway traffic data that I think their Google maps already has, that might really be something.)

Anyway, I still think anyone who ever drives anyplace they don't know intimately should get one of these. I've found this cheap at thrice the price... it is to driving what cellphones are to making plans, just bringing up a ton of flexibility and security.
young black guy working at dunkin has a ROXBURY hand tattoo--guess the gangsta aspect weirds me out but hey its my neighborhood now.
all right! t worker says I can transfer my pass to my tap and go card at downtown crossing, no problem.
living and working in Boston proper has its advantages. the number of gorgeous gals in little nothings of sundresses... yow


June 19, 2008

Lately I've been thinking about what makes a professional looking website. Is it some careful balance of style and balance and color, or are there some tricks you can use? I guess the answer I'm coming up with is a little of both.

A related anecdote... at work I was charged with coming up with a rough screen layout for an editing page with collapsible sections. I came up with something as follows:

v Section One
Option One
Option Two
Option Three
Option Four
Option Five
Option Six

> Section Two

> Section Three
(The panels are wired up so you can show/hide the contents.) Anyway, our audience loved the functionality of the page, but didn't like the look and feel. So we asked one of our designers, Adam, if he could suggest some minor changes, here's what he came up with:

  Section One
Option One
Option Two
Option Three
Option Four
Option Five
Option Six

  Section Two

  Section Three
Now technically we haven't gotten feedback for the new look but I suspect they'll love it. The changes are small, rounded corners, a softer color, and making the whole section colored. But it really points out how engineer-y my old thinking was; I had a mental block that said headers are headers, and content (in this case the checkboxes) is content, and never the twain shall meet. But now I can see the elegance of this approach, of treating each chunk as a collapsible block rather than as a series of sections with "appropriate headers". (My design re-used an old trick of mine, of using slashes and the letter "v" in a sans-serif font as arrows, rather than a graphic, but I don't think that's the big deal.)

So, what else makes a professional site? What are the clues, subtle or obvious, that speak "corporate"?

So looking at sites like Ford.com IBM.com, or my friend Tammy's atomicpink (she does design work for hire) and musing they look different than my look, I think it's some of the following: It's weird when you start looking at sites in terms of "why does this site look professional to me?" After a while you start thinking maybe a site IS pretty amateurish, but either they make it work or you're just used to it.

Heh, Celtics parade today. Wasn't there some highschool rule about avoiding wearing green on a Thursday? Oh well!
The meme of calling "synchronize with repository" (prelude to "checking in" code) "stink-ronize with suppository" is spreading at my office

computers i have knownhistorytech

January 19, 2010

This is one of those entries I always feel the need to apologize for... there's nothing geekier and sadder than a nerd listing out hardware he has or had. But still, I realize I'm on the verge of forgetting some of this, and my future self might be interested, especially now as I might switching from a desktop to a laptop as my "main machine", the one that has the "official" copy of C:\data\ ...

Desktop Computers
Atari 800XL, ~1984-1988
Around the time of the Great Crash, some dealers were liquidating Atari stuff to give to the Salvation Army so I got this system. You know, this was a great computer for a kid geek to start with - it played games about as well as a C=64, but its BASIC had a lot more zip to it, in terms of graphics and sounds. (Only the Apple II seemed to be a better hacker maker.) Plus I loved its version of Logo...
Commodore 64, ~1988-1991
But this is the computer I really wanted, mostly because more games seemed to be made for it (at least it had more piracy going on at school.) This was a terrific Christmas hand-me-down for my uncle when he switched to PCs.
"Monk", ~1991-1994
My first PC, senior year of high school. I begged my mom for it, justified by college, but really I saw Wing Commander in a magazine and NEEDED to play it. "Lworks", this odd thing by Lotus, was my main word processor on it. Its design was a cool kind of "pizza box" that fit right under the monitor.
"Monk 2", ~1994-1997
A 486 in a giant tower and with a giant monitor. Mostly I wanted it for games... and it was great for that, at least 'til the dorms got networked and freshmen started kicking my butt with their much faster Pentiums.
"Monk 3", ~1997-1999
An ok "PCs for Everyone"-built Machine. I think Dylan figured out his sexuality thanks to the availability of sites and porn via modem when he was subletting from me.
"Monk 4", ~1999-2002
Toshiba desktop, another "pizzabox" style - man, I forgot this machine was problematic, its USB was never quite up to snuff. Foisted it off on some cousins.
"Monk 5", ~2002-2006
Monk 5 and Monk 6
HP tower. I still like the stickers I put on this one.
"Monk 6", ~2006-2009
An HP microtower. Cute, not a bad machine
"Monk 7", ~2009-now
Pretty much a direct replacement for Monk 6. Both are two small for their own good... Monk 7 every once in a while starts shutting itself off for no reason, and I fix it by dropping it a few inches.
2017 Update: I guess once I started with "Brute" as a Desktop replacement (see below) and then switched to Macs, I gave up having fixed Desktops


Tandy 1100FD, ~1992-1995
Oh man, I loved this. No hard drive, gameboy-type (but somewhat larger) CGA 4-shades-of-spinach screen, but a good keyboard and a hard-wired text editor that was ready to go in seconds. I think this was $500-ish when I persuaded my mom to help me get it for college- I was an early adopter for taking notes in class with this thing, and it did its job well.
"Matic", ~1995-1997
Tufts Connect Logo
Amazing slim laptop made my Mitac, 486- greyscale screen - ran Windows 3.1 like a champ. I shelled out for it (in the $800-1200 range) because I needed to take down diagrams in class- ASCII art on the Tandy wasn't always cutting it. With its trakball I doodled the logo they adapted for the Tufts dorm wiring project. After college I gave it to my mom but stupidly slapped Windows 95 on it, making it well-nigh useless.
Gateway 2000 Handbook, ~1996-2000
I didn't use this much, but for $50 I bought this adorable DOS machine off of Paul - it's kind of the form factor I had wished the Tandy had had. Never thoguht of a use for it though- even though it had a harddrive, I didn't have a way of getting stuff off and on it except maybe a serial cable.
"Eggdevil", ~2004-2005
A great little iBook I got an ebay. It kind of taught me that Mac didn't really work for me, alas. I gave it to Peterman when he helped me get the house ready for sale. The name comes from its egg-color and a devil BSD sticker he put on it. I think I got it back from him at some point, but then it got soda spilled in it.
I still have this Averatec laptop - nice moderate size. The power adapter on it got too wonky, despite my Uncle Bill taking a soldering iron to it... pretty good for DVDs in bed.
Ugh, this was meant to be a straight on replacement for Eggdevil but I cheaped it on Ebay, and got this stinky-ish Franenstein machine (the lid seems to be of a different material than the bottom). I keep getting Macs 'cause I want to get into Garageband music making software but never get around to it. I think this guy doesn't have enough memory to be actually useful, so it sits on a shelf.
Fujitsu Lifebook (x2), 2006-, 2009-
I can't say enough good things about this laptop! Touch screen, netbook-size before "netbook" was a concept, durable... been with me to Japan and Portugal. I actually have two of these now, I bought a spare when I realize I could get a refurbished backup for $250 on Ebay.
OLPC laptop, 2007-...
More of a toy, at least the way I use it, a One Laptop Per Child laptop I bought for the heck (and charity of it)
"24", 2008-2009
Bought a kind of cheap but big Acer laptop as an experiment (I think this was just before laptop prices started getting dragged down.) "24" is named after the Jeff Gordon sticker I had JZ get for me at NASCAR. Currently on loan, not holding up all that well.
"Boilermaker", 2009-2010
A heavy duty Macbook Pro I bought off of JZ... served me well by running WinXP under VMware as a developer machine. Currently on long term loan to a cousin. Named after a redneck car detail I got at the Topsfield fair for it.
"Yoooouk!", 2008-...
Oh boy. This is one of those HP touch ones that I had, and kind of have, high hopes for, but it's never felt 100% reliable and robust- had a bit of virus issue, the power plug seems a bit wonky like it was for "Sliver"... named for a "Yoooouk!" bumper sticker it wears that I got at a Red Sox game.
"Brute", 2010-...
My new purchase, 18.4 behemoth of a machine, meant to let my "main machine" be a laptop, and make living at Amber's make more sense - so it could mark the end of the "Monk" era
Hmm, thinking back from 2017, there was
"The Axehead", 2010-2013
My first at home switch to the Mac side, that weird 11" Macbook Air form factor... diminutive but great and portable, not quite enough HD/SSD space.
IBM Touch Thinkpad, 2011-2012ish
Got this for cheap at Micro Center, and for a while put it with a trackball as a dedicated Centipede MAME machine for my girlfriend
"My Macbook Air", 2013-
My work machine that I bought off them when I left the company. Still going pretty strong.


TI flat thing, 1995-1997
Man, I wish I could find some record of this! It was a cool, flat PDA I bought off someone at Tufts - rubberized grey and maroon, it had holes so it could be placed in a 3 ring binder. I first started jotting down quotes in this thing, but I couldn't connect it to anything.
Palm Pro,1997-1999
the decorated IIIc
Its hard to explain how cool this was. When I first heard about graffiti, and humans having to learn a new way to write, I was skeptical, but man, having a powerful notebook/calendar/todo in my pocket was just astounding.
Palm V,1999-2001
Like the Pro, but slim and trim and awesome.
Rexx, 2001
Heh, the laptop PCMCIA card-sized wonder was a bit too limited for recording notes and quotes, otherwise mighta been an ok PDA.
Palm IIIc, 2001-2003
Like the Pro but color... I kind of liked the minimalism of b+w but the text was so much more readable.
Sony Clié SJ22, 2003-2006
A nice little machine running PalmOS but with a double resolution screen. Nice soft flip case it came with.
PocketPC phone, 2006-2007
Oh dear. What a piece of crap this was. The slide out keyboard was nice but the OS was junk, despite kind of almost delivering on the promise of "an app where I can both doodle and write text" - in other words, why I bought a trackball laptop in 1995. It didn't just "butt-dial", it "sitting on the shelf by itself" dialed.
Palm Z22, 2007
I had forgotten about how much I loved this last gasp of Palm PDAs - it was so comfortable to hold, and cheap and cheerful. It deserved a better fate than to be drowned while kayaking.
iPhone, 2007-2008
I didn't mean to be an early adopter of this, but I was, and haven't regretted it. Even when it didn't have things I took for granted on the Palm, like "add programs" and "copy and paste", from its home screen on down this felt like the Palm, plus music, plus a great browser.
iPhone 3G, 2008-
What can I say - I needed more than 8 Gb for the music I wanted with me.
I remember how annoyed and nervous I was at the old "PDAs are dead, here comes smartphones", before I realized how PDA-ish the smartphones would be. Heck, an iPod touch is a tremendous PDA, and that's just an iPhone minus the phone and camera...

2017 Update: Nothing but iPhones that I've lost track of, which speaks well of how effortless/Palmlike Apple has made the syncing/transition process. A 4 and a 5 and a 6 and an experiment going back to the old form factor with the SE. In 2016 or so I bought a first generation PalmPilot, just for the visceral pleasure of old style stylus graffiti...

Is driving a car out of where it's stuck in the slush and slow Taoist? You have to follow the natural path of where the car wants to go...
"Everyone who had a talent for it lived happily ever after"
--Baron Munchausen. Oh for the days when you could have just a hint of Uma nipple and still get a PG rating...
Rex is going to the vets to get snipped today. I feel a little bad but I guess it's just part of the deal cats and humans made on the species level.
MA FOLKS- don't vote for Republican filibuster today... we don't need a tyranny of the minority party!
"Did you know that the Germans call duct tape "Panzertape"? Germans have cooler names for everything."
Really thinking I should have paid more attention to Processing.js; having access to all javascript in a browser-based sketch is great.
"How are you all enjoying your new lives as biological robots? If the process went smoothly you should not have felt a thing."

on the ipadtech

April 12, 2010

So, being one of those dorky "first day adopters" (though not like, waiting in line or anything) I decided I would try to put my thoughts about the iPad here.

It's... cool, but overrated.

As a laptop replacement, it's not quite there, except for very casual users. The trouble isn't the general browsing; that's a fairly superb experience. Once you get the feel of scrolling and zooming, it's awesome, suddenly you have a screen where the content on the screen can exactly reflect the focus of your mind and eyes.

But then I try to do some semi-advanced things, and run into problems. The iPhone has always annoyed me with its lack of a "ctrl-F" "find matches in page" feature. I can live with that on a handheld browser, but with something with the aspirations that the iPad has, it hurts.

There are more problems for people who are used to multi-tab browsing. I kind of like the thumbnail-based way of dealing with multiple "screens" (even though the iPad is pretty bad with frequently flushing other pages out of memory, so the pages have to have their content reloaded when you come back to them) but while there's a "Open in New Page" feature, there's no "Open in New Background Page" option. That means if you prefer to open interesting links in the background, and then come back to them when you're done with the current page, you have to have your finger ready to jump to the page manager and then hit your current page- hopefully quick enough to not have it lose your page. (Actually, even if you prefer to follow new content and then come back to what you started with, you're at risk for losing your place.)

Also, the lack of Flash hurts more than I expected. I don't really miss it on the iPhone, but on something trying to provide a total browsing experience I miss it.

(The Flash thing is even more interesting with the recent decision of Apple to not allow apps that are made in, say Flash or some other environment, and then have iPhone versions generated. I was full of outrage for a while, and it still seems kind of disgusting. I've read this explanation of it that makes the decision seem slightly less evil, that don't want half-assed multiplatform ports, they want to be the focus of developer's efforts, or nothing. (On the other hand, given how flooded the app store already is...)

The keyboard is so-so. You have to type with the fleshy part of your fingers for starters, and overall I find the layout of the iPhone keyboard more consistent - in particular, having the apostrophe be in a different "mode" is a bit frustrating.

Copy-and-Pasting isn't always consistently supported across apps, and like on the iPhone, sometimes the would-be-helpful "jump to paragraph boundaries" selection feature gets it wrong and it's tough to correct.

A few apps are buggy (Twitterific often loses its scrolling when messing with links embedded in a tweet, and I think I once saw something similar in Safari.)

I guess some of my biggest iPad disappointments kind of fit the model described in The iPad: Where Creativity Goes to Die -- the idea that this is a machine geared for passively consuming content, not creating it. (Actually, maybe that idea came up not as an accusation, but as a defense of the machine's limitations.) My main justification for this expensive toy was an old one: I'm still looking for the perfect doodling device, the one that lets me sketch a cartoon and then upload it to my website. But this machine is only halfway there. I've tried 4 or 5 different sketch apps, but none of them are really pixel centric.

(Maybe I'm just a weirdo in thinking that it's nice to draw in pixels and THEN shrink the image as the last anti-aliasing step; all I know is that when I try to flood fill or otherwise color in these apps, I tend to get kinda blurry messes. There is a chance that I'm thinking about this wrong, in a weird, Mid-90s "Microsoft Paint" kind of way and I should try to get fluent in some kind of vector drawing app instead.)

But even when I have an image I want to post, my options feel limited. Ideally I'd like to just use an Upload form - but with iPad Safari that's disabled -- I'm not really making files. Each app has its own database of my images, and then most will let me transfer it to the photogallery or email it, and one will let me tweet it and another will let me post to Flikr. Bummer! I have to jump through more hoops to get to what I want, but at least half the issue is trying to have more fun with a machine geared at consuming rather than making content. (I have some similar issues when I try to manually copy tweets into my personal blog thing.)

So that's it. In my final analysis, I'd say a netbook plus iPod touch is a better way of spending what an iPad costs. On the other hand, the iPad really does feel like the way of the future, and as more tablet options emerge, my issues with this kind of system might fade away.

(It's also kind of funny how it's not independent of having a real laptop or PC - when you fire it up out of the box refuses to have anything to do with you until you synch it up with iTunes, and woe be upon you if you hadn't previously upgraded iTunes...)

There are some other issues I didn't get into - it's nice that it can use the same conector cable, and its speakers are decent for music, but it would be nice if somehow you could use the same iPhone cradle some times of external speakers depend on.

Here's another review of being hands-on with the thing.
"Do not fear mistakes, there are none."
--Miles Davis
First day, new job- Pearson Education. After a year of consulting-style gigs, so ready to really latch in.
"Another thought to disturb slumber: For an octopus to imprison a human, all it would need is a gate with 3 doorknobs."
"Punk rock was a conspiracy engineered by Gibson and Fender to convince people they didn't have to learn or practice music to buy gear."


June 3, 2010

What with enjoying my new iPad as a doodle tablet and browser, hearing about Android "FroYo" and its tethering/portable wifi hotspot stuff and AT&T coming with new plans, along with the an expected announcement about the next version of the iPhone and its software, I've been thinking about this stuff a bit more than usual as of late.

Initially toying with the idea of switching to Android, I decided to try and enumerate the things I really use my iPhone for, stuff I'd need Android to do about as well or better to justify making the switch... Those were the most crucial things... other bits are That's quite a bit! Seeing that the Palm only really did Todo, Datebook, Memos, a few games, doodling, and the pocket watch bit I feel a bit better about being as enamored of this gadget as I am. All in all it's kind of empowering! (On the other hand there was PocketC on the Palm, which let me do some casual programming wherever I was...)

Admittedly at the moment I'm leaning against switching to Droid, mostly because I'm pretty conservative about learning a new UI, and its taken me a while to find "best of class" apps for all of this stuff on the iPhone.
"It is the final proof of God's omnipotence that he need not exist in order to save us."
--Peter De Vries, "The Mackerel Plaza"
http://www.slate.com/id/2249562/entry/2255493/ - more from the Internet Sabbatical... how anticipation and synchronicity emerge when off that tap of instant gratification.

when can i shut up about the ipadtechramble

December 14, 2010

My brain often has a specific "flare stack", a burn off of (hopefully) extra mental cycles. Like, before and after I bought my car, I was intensely into a few automobile blogs. Lately, though, its been how gosh darn awesome the iPad and iPhone are.

I'm always on the lookout for things that justify or explain this obsession. The link Amber posted the other day on devices as literal extensions of our brains. And that helps explain the iPhone I think -- for example I get a little rush of dopamine when I use the Todo app to keep myself organized or jot a memo to preserve a bit of information or make a datebook entry to nudge me at some future moment. It's not a new phenomenon for me, I got the same thing with the Palm Pilot, but the iPhone absolutely upped the ante with Internet connectivity and general slickness.

So an important part of the "brain extenstion" explanation of the iPhone is the portability/pocketability; if it's going to be part of my mental whole, it needs to be at hand pretty much all the time. (Not ALL the time, much like I'm often (clearly) not engaging all the parts of my brain all the time.) But the iPad doesn't have this excuse: sure it's nice and portable, but no more so than a small laptop. So why does it feel so much better than a laptop, while being a bit less capable in may respects?

Amber's article explains that too, I think...it talks about how people who "talk with their hands" aren't just talking with their hands, they're probably thinking with their hands as well. (For that matter, speaking is more a form of on-the-fly thought assemblage than we usually acknowledge--) The physical body becomes the medium of computation. And iPads allow for a deeper physical communion than a keyboard and mouse or keyboard and touchpad. (And more so than the iPhone, even, since the throughput of the larger screen is that much greater.) A barrier to the closed loops as "gadget as extended nervous system" is knocked away, and the result is an almost tangible sense of pleasure at our newly enhanced and extended brain.

We tend to think of ourselves as beings of pure mindstuff (or soul or what have you) inside a bodily shell, but our bodies are part of us, and iPads tap into that in a way few other products can hope to. And connectivity to the Internet is another part of that... iPad eases the way to the groupmind that is the modern net.

The whole app model reflects this. Frankly, interesting computer applications are few and far between. I look what I install on every new PC I get - browsers, paint programs, text editors, IM, programming environments (even cool ones like Processing) -- it's not very interesting, all the action has moved to the browsers. iDevices get past that though, and suddenly apps are interesting again. I would look askance if a bank or entertainment website insisted I use a special application on my Windows box, but with the iDevice, it just kinda makes sense... and it has to do with how the whole iThing seems to transmorgify into a new device, and so that whole eye/brain/hand/screen loop has a new toy to play with, without the klutzy old keyboard or intermediary, one-removed mouse, or other distracting windows to interfere.

TOMORROW: how Google's CR-48 laptop gets it wrong, wrong, wrong.
My buddy Beau is doing a Salvation Army virtual kettle - I split a few hundred tween Boston + Cleveland- HUGE need these days!
"Brownies in the kitchen!"
"Alright, You talked me into it, I'm off-"
"He twisted your rubber arm, eh?"
"Well, I like Brownies more than I like dignity."
--Pedro, Me, and Jon
http://www.cracked.com/article_18927_6-bizarre-ways-architecture-designed-to-ward-off-ghosts.html - I love stuff like this. Plus: ghost-diagrams!
First few real flakes of snow, near Arlington T stop. Damn.
Are cats impressed by our ability to use lights? When I come home to a dark house are they all "Behold! It is Kirk Dispeller of Dark!"?

nothing but nettech

December 15, 2010

So, as promised (not that it's very intersting): thoughts on the Google Chrome Cr-48.

This is the main review I've read. Conceptually I dig the stark, uber-minimalist no-stickers-whatsoever case, but beside that, this thing seems as boring as possible. To quote the review:
I have to keep reminding myself of the OS' fundamental concept: a Chrome OS notebook is absolutely zero-percent different from any Windows, Mac OS, or Linux notebook running Google Chrome in fullscreen mode.
So, if my disdain for the Cr-48 is shortsighted, it would probably be because I'm downplaying the potential coolness of the Chrome App Store -- is it possible that this could become as intriguing as the Apple App Store? My guess is no... iDevice apps get a boost because they are touchscreen at their heart, and based on what I was saying yesterday, I think that's an important difference that will last even after the novelty has worn off.

So we have a boring, browser-only laptop: the difference is, this laptop is an experiment in Life on the Cloud: none of your files are stored locally, they live on the 'Net.

This seems like yet another attempt to make dumb terminals cool. And that is a misguided effort. To quote that review again:
But without a connection to the Internet, this cutting-edge machine had become little more than a Notebook-Shaped Object. The six or seven open browser tabs in front of me were just ghosts of webapps that joined the choir invisible as soon as they lost contact with their servers.
In other words, you have nothing with you. And not to sounds like a luddite, but people like to own things. Even with ebooks, your books feel like you kind of own them in a physical format. Thanks to DRM this a bit of an illusion, remember the uproar when Amazon "took back" copies of 1984? But there is something to it -- even offline in a tunnel, your titles are there for the reading.

(Similar with movies and shows -- now, through the relatively brief history of audio/visual entertainment, the time we've been "owning" shows is pretty brief - people went out to see "Gone with the Wind", waited at home for "I Love Lucy". In the '80s and '90s they could own a VHS of "Ferris Bueller Days Off", tape "Friends", DVR "Lost", and get a DVD of "Amelie"... with the rise of Netflix, we've regressed a bit, and streaming might become the preferred way of watching movies, but still, I think stuff like Blu-Ray will have a place as people want to own some physical thing.)

I dunno, maybe I'm overplaying the ownership aspect. I agree with Richard Stallman that it might be Careless Computing -- you are REALLY trusting these companies with your stuff. But when I think of the bulky stuff I keep on my main PC -- photos and music, I guess I could see a life depending on a Picassa and/or that long awaited "Cloud iTunes", and it would be livable -- though I think the absolute dependency on a robust connection is foolhardy. You know, for AT+T and other reasons there are many places my iPhone has no 'net connection. And my iPad is offline on the subway, and still fun.

The author of this article, though, would think I Just Don't Get It. John Brownlee writes:
Think of what Chrome OS represents: the bare minimum operating system necessary for tapping into the living ebb of the Internet. Google has polished this window thoroughly. Chrome OS is mindless to administer. The UI is uniform. Legacy support has been thrown out the window. It’s immune to malware. Battery life is extreme. It’s even immune to system failure; if your computer breaks, your operating system corrupts, all you’ve lost is the glass and a frame, and the world it conveys still exists outside it. All you need to do is find another window.
It's kind of a cool idea, but you know? I kind of do the same thing already. All the files I'm concerned with on my laptop, I keep in a folder: C:\data\ -- that's the folder that makes it "my" laptop, that's the directory I backup, and when I upgrade, or if something happened to that laptop, all I would have to do is go to that backup, and suddenly it's "my" machine again.

Brownlee is wicked enthusiastic about the idea of "Nothin' but Net". The most interesting part of his article was quoting Beatrice Warde's broadside:

Stirring words! Brownlee makes a hackish paraphrase of to conclude his piece, substituting "Internet" for "Printing Office". But I thought one of the comments (by "hello") rephrased it in a much more realistic way:

I love the internet, but you need to take it with a grain of salt the size of Pittsburgh.

Anyway, the potential ephemerality of our bits is a big problem for our tech-dependent civilization in general... another commentator wrote:
To put it another way, the archaeological value of a cr-48 is roughly that of a stone knife; it will tell our descendants that we had a culture, but (except what they can glean from the silkscreening on parts) will leave them no direct artifacts of it other than the machine itself. A long-dead computer might harbor something readable on a hard disk; a partially recoverable song, some text, perhaps, possibly more. The cr-48 is a tombstone and nothing more the moment it loses the cloud.
I used to get nightmares about "the giant EMP pulse" that takes down our society, and it still bugs me somewhat -- you kind of hope some not-to-radically-nutso survivalist-minded folks are taking steps to, say, know how to build a primitive by today's standard PC and other things that would have a chance of reading material we insist on making electronic only -- and while they're add it, store some useful technology-and-society-rebooting books as well.

And that note, to make up for a long and boring article, here is an interesting photo of a ship cut in half:


(Maybe my fears about ChromeOS taking off are moot anyway)

i'm stuck on ipad, 'cause ipad's stuck on metech

January 3, 2012

Thanks to work I'm upgrading my iPad to a 2. But I'll miss the stickers on the old guy:

"The main things which seem to me important on their own account, and not merely as means to other things, are knowledge, art, instinctive happiness, and relations of friendship or affection."
--Bertrand Russell
"Don't be both Homer and Odysseus--at least not at the same time."
--Van Webster
"When you make a mistake on the trumpet, make it a big one."
--Bob Demmon
The Rise and Rise of Javascript; I need to get into node.js and underscore.js looks intriguing...
http://kirkdev.blogspot.com/2011/12/osx-vs-windows-redux.html -- UI dev ramble on Win vs OSX modifier keys, fun fun fun!
There's some luck in every good thing that you earn. Gratitude can't be optional.
The iPad has super shitty, well nigh non-existent, bulk image select for deleting, nor anything in solution. #applefail #gimmethe4gigsback

hello from my past self!tech

(1 comment)
July 14, 2012

Having finally figured out electronics recycling in Arlington, I'm getting rid of old devices, including this laptop:

I liked the post-it I had written about some time ago-- apparently my past-self knew my future self all too well...

"Something's wrong
When you regret
Things that haven't happened yet."
--Submarines, "1940" (Amplive Remix)

February 24, 2014rambletech

"Let me explain. For some of us, it is hard to hear 'I love you' - because to us, it suggests you don't know us as well as we'd hoped."
http://www.lostinmobile.com/ - heh, I've loved this little UK-based mobile/gadget blog for a while, and they promoted a longish comment I made (on a previous story about who is "more influential", Steve Jobs vs Bill Gates) into a top level story.
here's the comment:
In some ways it seems unfair, because the jury is still out on Gates, but certainly his foundation is out to make some awesome change.

In terms of "computers to the masses"-- the thing is, maybe there's more a feel of inevitability of what he did? IBM decided to make a "Personal" computer, risking their golden goose of big hardware to make sure they didn't get left behind home computers. (Which, come to think of it, was primarily the Apple II) Gates was savvy enough to catch that train with super clever licensing of someone else's DOS... but someone would have done that if he didn't? Similarly, it seems likely some form of Xerox -> Macintosh WIMP interface would have gained traction in the 90s on PCs even in a Gateless world.

So looking at what Gates did, it was that clever licensing where he could make money selling DOS to PC clone manufacturers... that was the world changing bit, perhaps? This was all in the wake of the Great Video Game Crash of 1983, which provided a window for Home Computers to really take off. But the Apples and Commodores and Atari 8bits (while running rings around PCs in terms of fun, graphics and sound) lacked the gravitas of IBM for business. So it was a combination of the reputation of IBM, Gates clever licensing, and good ol' free market competition on the hardware that pushed to make computers so ubiquitous.

But Jobs did more at the leading edge of technology -- all with a little (lot of) help from his friends. With Woz, the Apple II made the home computer happen. With Xerox, the Macintosh brought WIMP UI to the peoples. Jump forward 2 decades, and he made the next level of touch screen computing on ubiquitously connected devices occur. Jobs led Gates et al on all these things.

From the first world perspective then, Jobs without a doubt - if Gates hadn't existed, someone would have done most of the same stuff, but Jobs changed things with a personal vision and sense of design. (who knows, maybe a world where IBM clones hadn't strangled the market in the 80s and 90s, with a richer variety of products from Amiga and Atari and others, would have been cooler?) From a global perspective, the Gates Foundation will really help more people, with the focus on medicines and education. So is that "influential"? Maybe. Mostly it was one great idea, licensing the software so the hardware could have competition, that made him a ton of money, and that he then turned into helping people.

(Side note, it's interesting thinking of that summary and, say, the launch of Windows 95, and the INSANE amounts of testing of Win 3.1 software they did, and the hacks they put in place, to ensure that no one would have "well my program doesn't work on the new system" as an excuse not to upgrade. That was a consequence of "Microsoft on All Hardware". It's also important to remember how untouchably powerful Microsoft seemed in the late 90s, that they had enough cash to buy anyone who seemed like a threat. Luckily, they never saw the threat the Internet would be...)

April 2, 2017tech

Free Vintage Posters, guess they lapsed ito the public domain- cool stuff

(In response to a Lost In Mobile post about CD Nostalgia

Allegedly Japan still has a big love for the format - https://qz.com/711490/why-japan-has-more-music-stores-than-the-rest-of-the-world/ - though some people on the ground via Quara don't seem to agree.

CDs were the pinnacle of album technology. As a guy who never acquired a taste for albums as more than a somewhat arbitrary collection of songs, I don't miss 'em that much, though after ripping my collection en masse I kept a bunch for years (in 4 massive black binders, with the booklets carefully included too)

Thinking about shuffle - I remember some CD players would offer shuffle, and some of those 3 or 5 disc carousel beasts would even do it across disks, though the wait between songs (clunk, whirrrrrrrr, clunk, spinnnnnn) was silly. Actually in terms of interacting with music, those carousels were weirdly unique, right? With LPs and cassette tapes and most CDs, each album stood alone, you physically got it off the shelf or rack, prepped it, and played - a bit of ritual, especially with vinyl... CD carousels invited a few attempts to optimize, like maybe you'd put in the next CD while the current one was playing (tricky! - sort of like ordering a series of songs on a jukebox) or you'd keep a couple of really loved particular CDs loaded in the other ones at all times, for fast-switching... mostly it was a mess. (Oh and some people had a similar multi-CD player for their car... though the ones where you'd have to go to the trunk/boot to swap seemed a lot weirder and less convenient to me than the traditional single disc reader in the console model.)

CDs also have a special relationship to mixtapes. Some of it was timing in my life, but in general CD to tape mixtapes were more common than tape to tape or LP to tape. Being able to make a custom playlist was empowering. (Hm, actually when I assemble playlist like things now, whether for listening, or even in picking numbers for my street band to play in a show, I much prefer alternating paces. Maybe that preference for back to back diversity and contrast is why whole albums seemed less pleasurable to me.)

Final nostalgia tinted analysis: for a while it was cooler to have a CD player than a tape deck in your car, at least once it was more or less affordable to burn mix CDs. But then when all music was in mp3s on a device, it was better to have a tape player so you could use of those funky adapters, since it took a while for car makers to put in an aux input, or (now) USB port.

Man, had not thought about all this physicality in music for a while - so much of it so particular to rather brief eras!

(and lets not talk about 8-tracks :-D )