Speaking of memes…

The Draw Batgirl meme hit Livejournal yesterday, after having started on Monday with a set of sketches by Andi Watson. A few others pitched in, and then yesterday it hit a fever pitch. The final tally is still growing, but right now it’s something over 500 original drawings of Batgirl, most with their own unique character designs, and almost all executed between yesterday afternoon and this morning.

As Jeffrey Rowland says, sometimes the inter net is okay.

Beaten by three years

I was puzzled by a recent notice in the Boston Globe about a tour by the Cornell Glee Club, called “one of the nation’s oldest examples of that collegiate phenomenon, the glee club…” Surely, I thought, they couldn’t predate the Virginia Glee Club, founded in 1871 (as the Cabell House Men)? My bemusement turned to outrage when I Googled the group and noted they had secured gleeclub.com as a domain name… then to resigned concession when I learned that they were indeed the senior of my vocal alma mater—by three years, having been founded in 1868 as the Orpheus Glee Club. Alas, missed by three years. And alas, I’ll be out of the country when they arrive in Boston on Monday.

Friday Random 10

Thanks to Zalm for cluing me into the existence of this meme. Normally I avoid memes but this one fits my blog nicely. (Instructions; speculation on the origin of the meme.)

  1. “Banana Co,” Radiohead
  2. “The Last of the Famous International Playboys,” Morrissey
  3. “Mr. Grieves,” Pixies
  4. “Billy Boy,” Miles Davis
  5. Cardoso: Requiem, 2. Kyrie, The Tallis Scholars
  6. “It Happened in Monterey,” Frank Sinatra
  7. “Sprout and the Bean,” Joanna Newsom
  8. “Vacation,” the Go Gos
  9. “Breathless,” Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
  10. “Five String Serenade,” Mazzy Star

Not too bad. With all the 80s crap music I’m listening to right now for my Scary 80s mix (volumes 5 and 6, forthcoming), I could have gotten far worse tracks than “Vacation” showing up.

Boycott Sony at SXSW, with your help

Hi folks–an unusual request here. I put my name in the hat over at TechCrunch for a free pass to the South by Southwest Interactive Conference (SXSWi) in March and was selected as one of the finalists, largely on the strength of this blog. Michael Arrington, the author of TechCrunch, is going to give away the pass based on the results of a poll on his site.

I’d like to go to the conference to ask difficult questions about DRM and the rights of customers at every panel. So I’m asking for your help. Between now and midnight tonight (sorry for the short notice–just saw the poll today!), please go and put in a vote for me.

“Poppycock”: the administration’s wiretapping rationale

Hooblogger Joshua at WaxWorks provides a pointer into the most entertaining quote from constitutional scholar Lawrence Tribe’s response to a request from Rep. John Conyers regarding the legality of the Bush administration’s wiretapping its own citizens. The relevant part of Tribe’s opinion:

If [Supreme Court case] Hamdi [v. Rumsfeld] treated the AUMF as an “explicit congressional authorization” … for imprisoning an enemy combatant despite AUMF’s failure to mention “detention” or “imprisonment” in so many words, the argument goes, the AUMF must be read to impliedly authorize the far less severe intrusion of merely eavesdropping on our terrorist enemies, and on members of organizations that indirectly support them. … Surely, then, now that Al Qaeda has launched a war against us, and now that Congress has responded with the functional equivalent of a declaration of war in the AUMF, even the entirely innocent American citizen in Chicago or Cleveland whose phone conversation with a member of an Al Qaeda-supportive organization happens to be ensnared by the eavesdropping being undertaken by the NSA cannot be heard to complain that no statute specifically authorized the Executive to capture her telephone communications and e-mails as such…

The technical legal term for that, I believe, is poppycock.

…The inescapable conclusion is that the AUMF did not implicitly authorize what the FISA expressly prohibited. It follows that the presidential program of surveillance at issue here is a violation of the separation of powers—as grave an abuse of executive authority as I can recall ever having studied.

The further this administration goes into defending the indefensible, the worse the case becomes. I am starting to concur with Tin Man that we may want to start thinking about the appropriate constitutional response for such gross malfeasance.

Stupid products: The Complete New Yorker

Periodically in the battle against customer-hostile software products, my energy flags. Then another product comes along that flagrantly traduces the bounds of decency, and I am reenergized. Today’s case in point: the Complete New Yorker. Boing Boing captures part of the problem with the product: its design on multiple DVDs makes it difficult to access content in any way but a straightforward chronology.

This is poor product design. One supposes that if the developers had actually thought about how customers might like to use a complete archive of some of the finest short writing of the 20th century, they would have identified the following use cases:

  1. Read whole issues in publication order
  2. Search for and read specific article
  3. Serendipitously flip through part (but not all) of the archive to see what catches your eye
  4. Search for information on topic spanning multiple years, e.g. automotive industry, Soviet Union and Russia, international terrorism)
  5. Read all items by a given contributor (e.g. James Thurber)

But the team inexplicably failed to anticipate the latter two uses of their product, which are not only completely predictable needs but also arguably represent the bulk of the value of an electronic collection. (Otherwise one might as well truck down to the local library and read the original issues in hardcover collections, the way we did back in the 1960s, or on microfilm the way we did in the 1970s and 1980s.)

Or, worse, they anticipated the customer requirement but ignored it, or argued that it wasn’t important. Which is essentially what the original complainant, Mister Jalopy, found out when he listened to a call in show with the project’s manager, Ed Klaris, also special counsel for the magazine:

…it was a decision… based on the product we decided to come out with, which was DVD’s. We wanted people to have similar experiences, instead of… and the experience we wanted them to have was this one, although I know it can be frustrating to go disc to disc, the way I viewed it is, when you are in a disc you can set your program to look just within that disc and there’s 500 issues in there. Oftentimes, you can spend an eternity just on a single disc…

In my business we call that a technology driven decision, rather than a customer driven decision. We also (at least the more enlightened of us) call it awfully damned condescending. “We know the experience we want you to have, so we’re going to close off all the other experiences you might think you want.” Codswallop.

And then to go over the top and reserve in the license agreement your right to eavesdrop on the private reading of your customers? And to share it with third parties? Oh, that’s more than merely adding insult to injury, and Mister Jalopy does a fine job of elaborating why in his post. And this isn’t even to mention the fact that the supposedly complete collection omits nine issues, eight of which come from 1989, the year of the fall of Communism.

Bottom line: I think I’ll skip it and recommend that others do the same. Perhaps those who own the beast will do the due diligence on what level of spying is actually performed by this product and give us an update. I am available for consulting for anyone who would care to try the experiment.

My experience ordering iPhoto books from Apple

Yesterday in passing during the keynote I alluded to Apple’s need to improve its process for ordering iPhoto books. (If you don’t know what an iPhoto book is, check out the information on Apple’s site.) I realized that I never told the story of my own experience getting one of these books made—partly because I didn’t want to tip off the recipient to what I was doing. Hopefully my experience will help others who are considering giving these books as gifts.

First, the concept: my sister and I had kicked around the idea of making something for our parents this year, but with her still in grad school many of our ideas were too labor intensive. Finally we hit on something that was achievable by Christmas: she would filch photos from my parents’ albums while she was at their house for Thanksgiving, scan them, and mail them to me on a CD. I would compose a book in iPhoto from the best of them and have it made in time to have it under the tree at Christmas. No problem, right?

Heh. It turns out I failed to anticipate two things: hidden criteria on image resolution that would prevent the book from being published, and the time it took for Apple’s printing services to notify me of problems.

First point: unless your images are 2 megapixels or more, they won’t be printed as a large-size image in an iPhoto book. You can get away with printing some lower res images in smaller layouts, like a four to six photo per page layout, but not as a single large image. iPhoto will warn you if there is a resolution problem on your page by flagging the page with an exclamation point icon. Unfortunately, it doesn’t advise you that Apple’s print service will refuse to print the book if one of the photos fails the resolution test, and doesn’t prevent you from submitting the book with exclamation points.

I included a lower-res photo that was the only image I had of my mother’s grandmother in the first draft of my book and submitted the book with no warning other than the exclamation point. I then hit the road for a week. When I returned home, a week before Christmas, I checked the order status site and was startled to see my order had been cancelled. I had no email notification that there was a problem.

With visions of no Christmas present for my parents dancing in my head, I tried calling Apple’s support line, who referred me to an online form. I submitted a question asking why my book had been rejected. I then deduced that the exclamation point page was the problem, substituted another photo, and resubmitted the book. The next day I got an email indicating that a book order had been cancelled, but providing no order number.

At this point I had a headache from dealing with the problem. I submitted another question asking for clarification on which order had been cancelled, verified that the second book was still processing via the online status page, and waited. Two days later, I got another email, indicating that it was the first order that had been cancelled. It still gave me no specific guidance that it was an image resolution problem, but at least I had enough information now to rest assured that my book was going to ship.

And fortunately it did. It was a beautiful book and was a real hit with my parents. But the process of creating it contributed significantly to my pre-holiday stress.

Final advice to anyone planning to order an iPhoto book: take those exclamation points seriously, give yourself six weeks before you need the book in case any problems arise, and make sure you specify in any support requests to Apple that you want them to reference your order number in any replies.

I plan to order another book once I get iPhoto 6 so I can get some of my favorite photos collected in a portfolio and will report on the process for that book when I put it together.

Apple web site updates

The first mention of the new products is the .Mac page on iLife ’06. The Apple Store is updated too, with the tag line: What’s an Intel chip doing in a Mac? A whole lot more than it ever did in a PC. And finally, the MacBook Pro and iMac product pages (you’ll probably need to refresh the latter). Interesting that the MacBookPro still features only a single FireWire 400 port. At least it has one. Also interesting: no modem. The Apple USB Modem is offered as a $49 option. Now that you mention it, I haven’t actually had a dialup service in 3 years, so maybe I won’t worry about the lack of modem.

Hardware updates: iMac, MacBook Pro

Then there’s the third interpretation of the silent upgrades to Mac Minis: that there will be no refresh of the current hardware for a while. iMacs in Intel but no Mac Minis yet. All of a sudden the price point of the Mini–now 2-3x slower than a base iMac at half to 3/4s the price–doesn’t make sense.

However, the new Macbook Pro sure as hell makes sense. “Fastest notebook ever”–4-5 x faster than existing PowerBooks using the Intel duo Core processors — two processors in a single chip. Thinner than the current 17″, 15.4 LCD, built in iSight. I’ll miss the PowerBook moniker, but after all it’s lasted for 15 years now. And, as Steve points out, Apple is kind of done with the whole Power name, having given the PowerPC the big heave-ho. It also comes with an Apple Remote–meaning that Front Row is spreading…

Magnetically attached power adapter–I guess they’ve learned something from all the broken adapters on PowerBooks over the last three-four years.

$1999 price point. 512 MB RAM and 80 GB hard drive–you’ll still probably need to add more RAM unless univeral Mac OS X is more efficient there, which I doubt. Shipping in February, taking orders today. I’m personally having difficulty not pulling out my credit card.

Aside: Apple embrace of RSS continues

With the new photocasting capability of the just announced iPhoto update from Apple, which uses RSS as a medium for photo subscriptions, Apple has turned a corner, and so has RSS. I think the day of the monolithic aggregator may be coming to an end. The direction is now toward contextual RSS: feeds of information showing up in applications where they make the most sense. There is no question that iTunes provides a superior experience for subscribing to podcasts–with clear, built-in controls for managing playback and machinery in the form of smart playlists for organizing content.

The other side: Apple is now clearly committed to using RSS as a sharing technology across the Internet, and providing innovative new user experiences for RSS usage. Today’s announcement is in some ways a bigger deal than the iTunes podcasting support. There Apple was hopping on a phenomenon that someone else had created. Today it’s using RSS and the podcasting phenomenon to enrich the sharing experience for its customers.

There’s just one sour note–the out-of-box ability to publish an RSS feed of your own photos from iPhoto requires a paid .Mac subscription. But the same has always been true for the out-of-box ability to publish your own photos to the Web, and it hasn’t stopped innovative developers from creating plugins to allow publishing to arbitrary destinations. And the content that gets published to .Mac is just plain RSS. While I’ll be interested to see what extensions got plopped on this time, this is still really positive.

Update: Even more positive, since you can use iMovie to create video podcasts.

Product updates: Mac OS X 10.4.4, widgets, iLife, etc.

Okay, Mac OS X 10.4.4 is coming out today, as are some new widgets, including a new Address Book widget (good, cause the last one blew). New iLife: “music, movies, photos, blogs.” iPhoto update improves speed (good), raises limit on max photos in library to 250,000. Improved quality in both hardcover and softcover iPhoto books. Hopefully they’re improving the order expediting as well–there’s a story in that. Photocasting! Someone called it–sharing photos over the Internet like Podcasting. Sounds a little like the model for the late lamented PhotoPeer. Hope it allows proper RSS this time.

Aside: it will be good to have Wynton Marsalis as the poster child for the iPod instead of Eminem.

Last minute Macworld keynote handicapping

The odds makers have already spoken about the likely products to be announced during today’s keynote. I’m going to speak up with some slightly contrarian predictions.

First, what the consensus has right: the FrontRow “media center” concept, with its 10-foot UI and remote, will be extended beyond its current home on the iMac to the Mac Mini. It’s almost certain that we’re due for another revision of iLife. And the evidence seems pretty good that we’ll see something called iWeb, though I doubt a web page editor is going to knock anyone’s socks off in 2006. I also think that Kevin Rose’s prediction of a point increment for Mac OS X, to 10.4.4, is pretty likely. I also agree with ZDNet that an announcement of 10.5 aka Leopard is extremely unlikely today. Macworld is simply the wrong audience for new OS previews—that’s the one thing Apple could talk about at WWDC to drive a mid-year bump in demand for its products.

Next, where I part with the rumormongers: I think it’s extremely unlikely that any pro class machines, either G5s or PowerBooks, will move to the Intel platform. I think that the odds are in fact rather long that Apple will move up its Intel migration timeline from its original mid-year delivery timeline, but the Mac Mini is the most likely first delivery vehicle. But here’s the rub: why is Apple silently bumping the specs on existing Mac Mini orders if a new version is to be announced today? My bet: yes, an Intel Mac Mini, and maybe even Intel based iBooks, will be announced—but availability will be a good eight weeks from today.

Boy, all this tea leaf reading is fun. It’ll also be interesting to see exactly how wrong I am in a little over four hours when the “one more thing” is unveiled.

Finally, one last wildcard to hedge my bets: one possible reason that 1.5GHz G4 chips are showing up in Mac Minis is that the platform that they normally would power is about to move to a different architecture. The only machine in Apple’s lineup currently using 1.5 GHz G4s is the lowest-end PowerBook. Is it possible that Apple might be hedging their bets and announcing one pro and one consumer machine on the Intel platform simultaneously? Or is Apple just moving proactively to work through its chip inventory or meet final contractual goals with IBM?