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Pruning

When you make big, huge, crazy adjustments to your working life you tend to put thoughts like “how will this affect my free time?” to the back of your brain. “Hey, this is work, work and play are mutually exclusive, right?”

When I ditched the full–time work thing for the part–time work thing and combined it with a full–time study thing, I half–expected everything to magically work out for me. The early mornings wouldn’t mess with my late nights, the hours would magically balance, and my daily web quota (consumption and production) would still be met. For a while, it did; trading a 38 hour working week for a 38 hour study week and a 20 hour working week balanced. At the time it wasn’t apparent how it had balanced, but I was happy with the fact that it had.

Then Fiona got back from Vietnam.

As it turns out, being an attentive boyfriend actually does require time out of your day (who’d’ve thought?) and while Fiona was busy slugging it out with the Viet Kong I’d managed to use that extra time to keep myself afloat. No handholding, no kisses, no dinner, no movies, no sex. I was tired and lonely and missing her desperately; but damnit I was productive. Now she’s back; and between ‘worky work’, ‘study work’, ‘sexy work‘, and ‘the internet’ you can guess what was cut. If this is what happens when geeks get girlfriends (potential Fox series — “When Geeks Get Girlfriends!”) I can only imagine what happens to all the guys who get married, or have kids. Christ.

Desperate for answers, I looked inward to my soul, and remembered the golden rule: your consumption of goodies on the world wide web is inversely proportional to your production of said goodies. It’s not a strong correlation, heavens no, but it is a correlation nonetheless. Reading takes time away from writing sure, but even worse, crapfiltration takes time away from reading takes time away from writing. To free up some time, I’ve resolved to prune my NetNewsWire subscriptions list… quality over quantity. Just like the good ol’ days when you only read what was in your bookmarks because they were all you could bear to check up on every 40 minutes… manually.

Result of prune: 112 subscriptions reduced to 66. That’s a 41% reduction of sites that caught my eye once upon a time but failed to deliver in the long run… the kind of site that will pop up on any number of linklogs (of which I am subscribed to 11) should they prove interesting in the future. Social aggregation… it’s awesome.


favicon.ico

Take a look up to your browser’s address bar, if you will, and you’ll see (to the left of the http://…) an icon. It’s a simple little affair —just the escape key logo I use everywhere else— whose sole occupation in life is to identify my site. It’s branding, pure and simple.

When Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 5.0 debuted in June 1998, these ‘favicons’ were a brand new feature and were defined as 16×16 pixel Windows icon resources with a color depth of 8 bits. Drop the favicon.ico in your domain’s root directory and the browser would sniff it out, or you could point the browser in the right direction with a little linky love. This still holds true today, but with the advent of Windows XP came a few more than eight bits to play with. XP icons are a full 32 bits —alpha transparency and all— so the world of favicons was opened up to a new dimension where ugly binary transparency wasn’t the only option.

Of course, as with all things, support isn’t fantastic…

Many of the major “modern” browsers (on “modern” operating systems) display the icons differently

If you’re using a Windows browser pre–XP, favicons should be displayed in accordance with the icon’s 8–bit resource; 256 colors, including binary transparency. With XP browsers, the 32–bit resource is honored and you get full alpha support… unless you’re using Mozilla. For reasons beyond my understanding, Mozilla disregards the 32–bit resource and displays the 8. Not a big deal.

Mac OS X is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. It doesn’t “get” 32–bit Windows icons. If you’re using OmniWeb, Camino, or Mozilla, you’ll get the 8–bit representation. If you’re using Safari, you get the 32–bit resource without alpha support; that’s right… you get screwed–up haloing and a damned ugly icon in your address bar. Firefox (and here’s the kicker) supports 32–bit icons properly; viewing this site in Firefox will yield an attractive, antialiased favicon, and is the only browser on Mac OS X (to my knowledge) to do so.

Where do we go from here? Well, for starters, Mac OS X could throw in some proper native support of 32–bit Windows .ico files; at the moment even Preview doesn’t display them properly. From there, support would (hopefully) trickle down to the other browsers. Mozilla should (on all platforms) drink whatever kool–aid Firefox is drinking, and Safari should (in the mean time) stop trying to display icon resources in a fuckity–uppity way. Of course, all this assumes that .ico is the right format for favicons at all… what’s wrong with PNG?

Oh… right.

Update

Reader Shad Itschner has pointed out that the Mozilla 1.7 beta for Mac OS X carries the same favicon support as Firefox. This is good.

Update Deux

Safari 2.0 (on Mac OS X 10.4 ‘Tiger’) addresses the bug half-heartedly.


MP3 “Virus”… whoopee

To memory, viruses have been an unfortunate reality of personal computing since day one — hell, probably the day before day one. Yes, viruses. They’re programs, applications, executable code; and for decades they’ve existed on every computer platform. The only difference between a virus and any other application is that the virus was made to be a pain in the ass by its author. The rest of the time, applications are just pains in the ass by mistake.

Of course, this is a very generalized definition of the term ‘virus’. Ask your local security jockey for a rundown and he’ll no doubt expound the many differences between viruses, malware, phages, worms, trojan horses, mockingbirds, and whatever else they have hidden up their proverbial sleeves; but for average Joe Schmoe, a virus is any application that messes with your computer in a destructive and deceitful manner. It’s anything written with malicious intent.

Let’s check out a working example:

  1. Open Mac OS X’s built–in AppleScript editor in /Applications/AppleScript/Script Editor.
  2. Type the following:

    tell application "Finder"
        delete entire contents of folder "Library" in home
        empty trash
    end tell
  3. Save As… “Super–fun awesome game” with the file format “Application”.
  4. Try to convince nearby dumbasses to run it on their machine.

Congratulations: your first virus. Pretty nasty, too; double–click that baby and all of your email, all of your addresses, all of your application preferences, and all of your keychain passwords are poof!… gone. Those jerks down at the club who’ve been saying there are no viruses for Mac OS X look like real jerks now, huh? They probably had it coming, too.

Well, not exactly.

See, this doesn’t exactly qualify as a virus. For one, it doesn’t self–replicate by embedding itself in other applications. For two, it doesn’t run in the background without you knowing about it. For three, it doesn’t touch anything outside your Home folder. And for four, it doesn’t infect other computers via email, network, or infected disks. Why? It can’t. Without the permissions, without the swiss cheese security, and without the distribution channels… it’s a toothless tiger.

What does all this have to do with Intego’s little “virus”? Well… everything. Their “proof–of–concept” MP3 “trojan horse” (note the use of air–quotes) is harmless, and can hardly be made any more dangerous than the ridiculous AppleScript “virus” I wrote not four paragraphs ago. The difference here is that the line between “AppleScript application that any user would think twice about running” and “MP3 file packaged in a .sitx file that most users might not think twice about opening once they’d unstuffed it” is a little blurred. It greases the wheel for the social engineering side of the viral transaction; it makes the gullible more easily gulled.

And that’s precisely what this is all about: social engineering. Mac OS X is secure enough to withstand the kind of wholly–automated attack that every Windows virus goes with, so the onus is on user stupidity. And frankly, it’s depending on the kind of user stupidity that allows hackers to invade a computer because the password is “password”. Not the kind of thing to start us quaking in our boots.

When somebody comes up with a Mac OS X virus that downloads, installs, and runs without my knowledge or consent, I’ll be impressed. When somebody comes up with a Mac OS X virus that does that and forwards itself to everybody in my address book, I’ll be concerned. When somebody comes up with a Mac OS X virus that does all that and fucks my hard drive in such a manner that I can no longer boot my machine… I’ll be pissed off. Until then, happy computing.


Discs of data

Back in 1991 my parents shelled out what was probably a month’s wages between them for a brand new CD player. It was our first step into a brave new digital era —a Pioneer PD–M450 multi–play compact disc player— and it was cool as hell. It took six discs at a time loaded into an odd–looking “shuttle”, where the discs were set face down and slotted into the machine. Thirteen years later, after a few thousand CDs and a few million tracks, it still runs; and it’s still the primary CD player in the house. At the time I would’ve much preferred a computer to a CD player… but I digress.

What’s unique about this player (aside from the button labeled “Random”, whereas every other CD player in existence uses the term “Shuffle”) is the face–down loading and the shuttle. From a user’s perspective this is a massive pain in the ass; to change a single disc you must stop the music and eject all the discs, then pull CDs out of their little compartments, one by one, and flip them over to inspect which disc it is you might be replacing. There’s no “quick glance” way of checking which discs are loaded already, and there’s no quick way to change discs once you’ve decided which to swap out, but from the technology’s perspective this is the best way to handle it. Why? Longevity.

Using a shuttle ensures our grubby fingers are never inside the CD player. We touch the CDs, we touch the shuttle, we touch the buttons on the front of the player, but we’re never inside it. Thus, the insides are not exposed to danger, dust, or dirt; and given the market for things like VHS head cleaners, CD laser lens cleaners, and DVD laser lens cleaners, this can only be a good thing. Loading the CDs in to the shuttle face down means one simple thing: the data side of the disc is face up. With the data face up, the laser that reads the data is obviously facing down… making it that much less of a dust receptacle.

By comparison, the DVD player my parents bought four years ago for $800 (after Mum won $1000 on the radio and we bullied her into buying a DVD player) recently shat itself. It was a Sony, a reputable brand by all accounts, but in the last few months it started rejecting discs left and right… skipping scenes and sometimes “freezing” unexpectedly. There is nothing wrong with the DVDs it rejects (they play admirably in both my Macs and in anybody else’s DVD player) but it rejects them all the same. After a while it stopped being able to recognize that there was even a disc in the tray, and the “lens cleaner” DVD we bought (basically a DVD with a little brush stuck on it… weird) wouldn’t play either. It was officially fucked. Last week it was replaced with a no–name brand DVD player my mother picked up from the supermarket for $80. This is where technology goes… stupid fucking computer laws.

In a world where consumer electronics are increasingly disposable, where I don’t even bother with “protective covers” for my phone or my iPod because I know I’ll have a new one within the next two years, longevity isn’t the kind of thing you find “built in” anymore. Maybe the 1991 datestamp on this story is an indicator of “old school” production values, maybe not, but the ass–pain–inducing usability issues inherent in the PD–M450’s design have actually had a net positive effect for everyone using it. It’s yet to require replacement, it’s never needed servicing, and it’s lasted longer than the average family pet. I’m not sure there’s a lesson to be learned there… but it’s an interesting way of thinking about the tradeoffs made during the industrial design process.


Untitled

a year later and I still can’t believe you’re gone

DMG for Panther

Community Service Announcement

Despite being titled “DMG for Panther”, it bears mentioning that this article is still relevant to Mac OS X 10.4 (that is, Tiger). Enjoy.

Six months ago I wrote a little tutorial by the name of DMG whose aim was to provide insight into how one might go about creating a Mac OS X disk image with a custom background applied. It was a little convoluted, sure, but it worked.

Things have changed.

Mac OS X 10.3 —otherwise known as Panther— has been released in the interim, introducing several changes to the way DMG customization needs to be handled. For the most part, things have been made easier. Pixture Studio’s IconSizeEnabler is no longer supported, which is a damn shame, but it’s something we’ll just have to accept. I’ve also received a number of questions and suggestions regarding DMG, so I figure it’s high time for a rewrite. Let’s go.

  1. Fire up ‘Disk Utility’, found in /Applications/Utilities/ and hit “New Image” on the toolbar. If you aren’t a fan of toolbars, this can also be done from the menu bar, in Images → New → Blank Image…

    A sheet or dialog will pop up, asking for input. The text you enter under “Save As:” will dictate what the final mounted volume is named, so name it properly. The .dmg file can be renamed, sure, but the title of the mounted volume cannot; so name it properly. It’s “Great Application 3.2”, not “grt_app_v3.2”. Where you save it doesn’t matter so much, but I’ve always been fond of the desktop, so let’s go with Desktop.

    As for the other options, let’s take a look:

    Size

    Even though the final .dmg file will be shrink–wrapped so that it only occupies as much space as its contents, the mounted image will occupy as much space as you tell it to. Although it isn’t common, this could cause a bit of a problem for people with very low disk space; so choose a size that is enough to fit everything you want, but not much larger. If your application (or photo collection, or log files, or porn archive) amounts to 44MB, don’t pick the 100MB option… go to ‘Custom…’ and punch in ‘50’.

    But remember: as with all disks, the actual formatted size is smaller than advertised. A brand–new 1MB DMG will only hold about 900KB of data, a 10MB DMG will hold about 9.8MB, and a 100MB DMG about 90MB. Caveat emptor.

    Encryption

    Encryption is really only useful if you want to password–protect the contents of an image (duh), so we’ll only touch on it briefly. If you choose AES–128 you’ll be prompted for a password to bestow upon the DMG. AES–128 is the same encryption standard Apple uses for FileVault… so it’s important that you don’t forget the freakin’ password. Every time somebody tries to mount that disk image, they’ll be prompted for the password. Simple. Secure. Affordable.

    Format

    You’ll want to stick with “read/write disk image” for now, I assure you. For the purposes of simple archiving or web distribution, sparse disk images aren’t really suitable… so stick with what’s best.

  2. Now that we’ve created an appropriately–named disk image and the volume has been mounted on the desktop, you can fill it with the goodies you need to fill it with and move on… it’s time to make with the customizing. But before we do, there are a few things to consider (note that “considering things” requires a full step):

    • The default state of new windows in Panther is ‘with sidebar’… which is cool because it allows people to drag–n–drop your application into their applications folder from right there in the window (assuming you’re distributing applications in this DMG). The downside to this is that people can (and will) access the final mounted volume via their sidebar in their normal Finder window… meaning you can’t rely on a solid, predictable window size. Welcome to the world wide web; adjust your background image file accordingly.

    • Never, under any circumstances, customize a folder with “All windows” selected in your view options. I’m surprised I actually got email on this, but if “All windows” is selected you’ll end up customizing the background, icon size, and orientation of (you guessed it) all your Finder windows. Well, at least the ones who don’t have an overriding predefined “This window only” setting.

      Finder view options…

      Not only this, but since “All windows” is a local setting, it won’t be transferred to another computer when you distribute the DMG. When they mount the volume, their “All windows” settings will take control… which is probably a pretty bland display of white backgrounds with arranged–by–name file icons. Always make sure the View Options window is set to alter “This window only.”

    With those in mind, it’s safe to start customizing.

  3. After opening the “View Options” inspector for the volume you’re working on (command–j, or View → Show View Options) and making sure you’re working with the view options for this window only, you can customize the layout and appearance of the volume to your heart’s content. You want labels on the right? Go for it. Snap to grid? Do it. Pink background color? Hell yeah. Background image? Well… that’s the tricky part (and, oddly enough, probably the whole reason you’re reading this guide).

    Background image files (and other resources you might want to use) obviously have to occupy the disk image they’re applied to. If you were to specify the background image as, say… ~/Pictures/Nude/J-Lo.jpg and then send the DMG to your buddy in the next cube, the DMG would look in his ~/Pictures folder; where it probably wouldn’t find the /Nude/J-Lo.jpg it was looking for. The result will be no background image at all; this is bad. To put those all–important image files into the DMG without cluttering it up, we need to hide them. Or better yet: throw them all into a folder that will be hidden.

    In fact, throwing them into a hidden folder is about a billion times better than hiding the file itself because you can always navigate to that folder with “Go to Folder…” (Shift–Command–G) and change things at a later date. You can edit, swap, add to, or delete files from a hidden folder without having to hide and unhide individual files over and over and over again. Timesaver. Cheers to Chris Kiss for suggesting this one.

    Now, hiding the folder (like hiding a file) really hasn’t changed since last time, so I’ll be quick about it:

    SetFile

    If you have the Apple Developer Tools installed, there’s a fun little utility in there that can make things completely invisible; that is: completely hidden from the Finder. Opening up a Terminal window, it goes a little something like this: /Developer/Tools/SetFile -a V /Volumes/YOUR_VOLUME/HIDDEN_FOLDER …where YOUR_VOLUME and HIDDEN_FOLDER are, obviously, the names of your mounted volume and folder–you–want–hidden.

    Once you’ve done this, you might notice that the folder isn’t actually hidden. Fear not: the Finder just hasn’t realized that the folder is hidden. To rectify the situation, you can either Force Quit and relaunch the Finder (Command–Option–Escape, always a favorite), or unmount and remount your volume. Easy.

    dot file

    Of course, if you want an even easier way to do things which, as a bonus, doesn’t require the Developer Tools to be installed, there are always dotfiles.

    In Unix systems, files prefixed with a dot (a period, a full–stop, etc) are invisible to the cursory ls; you need to flag it with the ol’ ls -a to see it. In Mac OS X, the Finder honors the dotfile convention by hiding them from view. This is good. To make a new folder in which to stash your background image files, pop open the Terminal and type mkdir /Volumes/YOUR_VOLUME/.HIDDEN_FOLDER …where (again) YOUR_VOLUME is your volume’s name, and .HIDDEN_FOLDER is whatever you feel like naming the new folder (but with a dot in front of it).

    Now that you have this new invisible folder, you’ll be wanting to put things inside of it. Hit Command–Shift–G (or Go → Go to Folder… in the Finder’s menu bar) and type in the path of your hidden folder: /Volumes/YOUR_VOLUME/.HIDDEN_FOLDER …the folder will pop open, as if by magic.

  4. Now that you have your DMG and a hidden folder inside of it, you need to set the DMG background using the image file which is inside the hidden folder. Popping open the View Options dialog and selecting ‘Picture’ from the list of possible backgrounds, you can now hit the ‘Select…’ button; giving you a standard Open dialog.

    Since the file you want to open is is a hidden folder that the Finder (and thus the open dialog, which navigates your hard drive using the Finder) can’t see, this Open dialog is pretty–much useless to you; but never fear. With our old friend Command–Shift–G, you can have your ‘Go to’ dialog and eat it too, giving it the ol’ /Volumes/YOUR_VOLUME/.HIDDEN_FOLDER treatment at your leisure. Now that you’re inside the hidden folder, you can pick and choose whatever file you want for your precious background image. And you’re done.

  5. With your background customized, your icons arranged, and any other customizations you fancy out of the way, it’s time to make this DMG happen. If you were a foolish person, you’d probably just eject the volume and be on your merry way… distributing that very DMG to anyone and everyone who asked for it. But you aren’t a foolish person, because you know there are two things wrong here:

    1. It isn’t compressed at all… it’s still whatever size you specified at the very beginning of this tutorial, even if you specified 40MB for a DMG containing 2MB of files.
    2. It’s still read/write… so people could alter your DMG and re–release it somewhere. Bastards.

    They key is simple: go back to Disk Utility. There, in the left column, is a list of the DMG files that you’ve created. If you haven’t ejected your volume, it’ll be listed right under the file; but for now that doesn’t matter. Eject it, don’t eject it, I don’t care.

    1. Click your .dmg file in the left column; in other words, select it.
    2. Go up to the menu bar, and choose Images → Convert…
    3. In the dialog that pops up, put in a new name (this just changes the name of the .dmg file, not the title of the mounted volume, as discussed in step one), and change the image format to ‘compressed’.
    4. Hit ‘Save’… voilà.
  6. There is no step six. You’re done.

The image is now customized, compressed, read–only, and ready for distribution. You fought the good fight, and the world is safe again… but for how long?


Little bits

It’s raining outside. Raining. I’m not sure how, but it would seem that the Weather Witch has forgotten what city this is. It really isn’t supposed to rain at all.

PulpFiction looks interesting, and would appear to succeed with the Apple–Mail–like interface where Shrook v1.x failed. The bevy of features on display is well worth investigating… but the proof, as they say, will be in the pudding. Per–feed custom stylesheets (and templates!) will be a big deal, and I mean big, to a lot of people. It deals with the ol’ faceless feed issue with the least negative impact — by putting the customization in the hands of the user. Still, average–Joe–end–user doesn’t know or care enough about the nuances of WebKit, HTML, and CSS to write his own styles, so expect bloggers to post templates and CSS files to their blogs with the tagline “Customize my feeds in PulpFiction!”. Looking forward to May 15.

Likewise, NetNewsWire’s future is looking bright; and I’ll be keen to see what comes of this increased competition in the newsreader space. More than that, I’d like to see NetNewsWire make a go of the iTunes–like/Finder–like interface and succeed where Shrook v2.0 failed (and also deal with its current case of preference–itis), but I’m not sure that will happen. No tentative release date for the NNW upgrade, but since it’s a freebie, Erik will have to be patient for my money: wait until Pulp and Wire have duked it out proper before you lay down your credit card.

Ross Noble is a comic genius. I rarely have time for stand–up comics, given their propensity for being tragically unfunny, but Fiona dragged me to Noble’s show last night and I laughed for two solid hours. Maybe it’s the format —perhaps improv just doesn’t translate too well to television— but watching him live, standing four feet away from me, almost killed me. Front row kicks ass, and the experience makes me wish I’d gone to see Dave Hughes when he was in town; even on television Hughes is great, so I can only imagine what he’d be like live.

Quicksilver was much appreciated when it first came out, but since the LaunchBar v4 betas started popping up, I haven’t touched it. It had a lot of cool features for its time, and it’s free, but the interface is painful and I’ve already paid for LaunchBar anyway. The only thing Quicksilver does that I wish LaunchBar would do is let me switch users from the keyboard.

Proteus v4 is shaping up to be something worth buying… if I hadn’t bought Proteus back at v2. I’m still confused as to why Justin keeps upping the major version number when even some of the most basic features of IM are still absent —without group chat and without file transfer, this shouldn’t even be a 1.0 product— but the update is appreciated nonetheless. I’m actually using IM again.

Just this weeked I learned an important lesson about leaving assignments to the last minute; it ain’t cool. All throughout high school (and all throughout college, incidentally) I breezed through assignments the night before they were due; sometimes the morning they were due. It never caused me any problems and I, stupidly, came to believe that I didn’t need to study; that I didn’t need to do anything about assignments until the moment they were due. The weekend taught me differently. Operant conditioning at its finest.

  1. Subject doesn’t attempt his three separate assignments until Friday the 16th, though he knows all assignments are due on Monday the 19th.
  2. Subject starts assignment one on Friday the 16th, at 10:00PM.
  3. Subject doesn’t finish assignment one until 6:00AM on Monday the 19th, and has had very little sleep all weekend.
  4. Subject loses marks for those other assignments he didn’t get to doing.
  5. Subject learns not to pull that shit again in the future.

We’ll see if the lesson sticks.


Old school

A few days ago Dave asked us to flood him with our precious eyesores… our ‘first steps’, as it were, into the world of web design. While most of my really old stuff, circa 1998, is long gone (I wasn’t one for archiving things when I changed the design), I had a quick dig through my hard drive and came up with some gems. I have, for posterity of course, placed them online for my embarrassment.

the Miranda Kerr portfolio

This was my first website… ever. Not this particular design of this particular website, but the claim holds true.

Back in 1997, a beautiful young girl by the name of Miranda Kerr won the annual Dolly Magazine model competition. This in itself is nothing particularly remarkable; girls win that competition every year, score themselves a couple of magazine covers and a nice modeling contract, then fade into relative obscurity. What was remarkable was Miranda’s age: she was 13 when she won. There was a big media hubbub about child porn and girls growing up too fast, and I (aged 13) suddenly had a big crush on arguably the most beautiful 13–year–old in the country.

Women are always that little bit hotter when they’re the same age as you, aren’t they?

Not so long after watching this media circus unfold on TV, I decided to search the web for any pages dedicated to Ms Kerr. Since I didn’t have internet access, I rode over to my best friend’s place (who had recently scored internet access because his Mother worked at a library) and looked her up. Nothing. No–thing. Nada. I was devastated… the only things even on the internet in those days were fan pages and porn, right? So I vowed to build a web page worthy of Miranda Kerr… just as soon as I got the internet.

That Christmas, one of the ‘presents the whole family can enjoy’ was… you guessed it… internet access. I was stoked. It was all web surfing and IRC from that day forward… until I discovered free web hosting. With a hosting account in one hand and a pirate copy of Namo Webeditor in the other, I started ‘coding’ my first web page: the Miranda Kerr portfolio. This was early 1998.

Some time later, after ditching Namo for Dreamweaver (version 2!), I redesigned the web page to something approximating what you see now… in all its javascript popup and flash–navigation glory. The coding is terrible, the accessibility is worse, the usability is nightmarish and, well… it pretty much sucks.

She’s still a beautiful girl, no doubt about that, but damned if I’m not embarrassed by this show of devotion to a total stranger.

BORN THAT WAY Online

‘born that way’ (which must be either all caps or all lowercase, never properly capitalized) was my punk rock band when I was in high school. Man, we sucked. Our website sucked even more, but we were one of the only bands in Perth with a presence on the internet. Quite unfortunately, when you’re a punk rock band, people start using words like “sellout” and “fags” when you do something so un–punk as have a web page, so we took it as an opportunity to act like conceited assholes. As you might have guessed, we weren’t very popular in the ultra–cliquey Perth scene.

The original version of the site was green text on a black background, with the name of the band in massive, bevelled, neon–glowed text across the top. The typeface was ‘Big Truck’, as I recall. Sooner or later, it became apparent that I must redesign. The ‘99 version of the page was more of the javascript goodness I came to love when I was building the Miranda Kerr portfolio, so the entire site was built to fit a 640 × 480 popup window. The 2000 redesign, which is the one you’ll see there at the above link, was quite similar to the ‘99 design; same aesthetic, same stick–figure drawings at the bottom of every page, same background, still 640 × 480… but now that scrolling was no longer considered hazardous, I’d stopped using the popup windows.

Drop–down navigation was very popular though, as you might be able to tell… if you’re using Internet Explorer. If you aren’t using Internet Explorer that’s too bad! Whatever crazy javascript I’d stolen for the job doesn’t work in anything else, even today. Fun fun fun.

Make Some Noise!

My old pal Scotty, in his benevolence, directed an Anglican church my way when they asked him who to call to create a “postcard site” for them; a site whose sole function was to provide information about an upcoming event of theirs. Apparently, they were throwing some free percussion classes, which clearly needed marketing.

The brains behind the operation decided to distribute flyers with nothing but a picture of a drum on them, along with the phrase “make some noise!” and the URL of the website. The information that actually mattered, like what in the hell this flyer was advertising, would be found on the site. Brilliant scheme. In any event, it wasn’t a great deal of effort to help out a charity case (y’know… using Dreamweaver ‘n all) and I scored a six pack for my troubles. Awesome.

My past obsession with form mail is quite intriguing; I guess I just didn't want anybody to know my email address, despite the fact that they (and every spambot with half a brain) could find it in the source if they really wanted. Form mail sucks, of course; being too much of a barrier to entry for some people, and enabling far too many people to mail you anonymously. Likewise, the popup windows and the drop–down menus… terrible. We all learned the hard way, didn’t we?

There were other sites; some better, some worse than those above. Some that I worked in conjunction with other people, some that were products of school assignments; but in having ditched the archives, or having formatted computers without backups, or having just not cared, they are lost to the world. Sooner or later I’m going to have to make all my old decaf designs active again. All eighty–eight billion of them.


Kill Bill 2 notes

Rockin’.


Round trip

  1. Skip over Dan Benjamin’s “Interference” when it pops up in your newsreader on the 23rd; you’ve never had any AirPort trouble, and aren’t even sure what software version it is that you’re running. Besides, these software update problems only happen to other people.
  2. Wait three to four days for the word association between “airport update” and “trouble” to dissipate.
  3. Run Software Update.
  4. Note the appearance of AirPort and Bluetooth updates and install them.
  5. Note that nothing particularly noteworthy occurs.
  6. Next morning, note that signal strength is actually sitting on zero bars when you’re in the kitchen or at the dinner table, as opposed to the usual two bars.
  7. When you get to UWA, note incredible difficulty at getting online with the University Wi–Fi.
  8. Remember skipping over something about that AirPort update a few days ago.
  9. Pop open NetNewsWire and search for “airport”
  10. Scowl at NNW’s search function —lacking live searching and lacking a ‘Next’ button— for returning only the first result it finds… not what you were looking for.
  11. Search for “airport software 3.4” instead.
  12. Bingo.
  13. Realize that since you’re at Uni (and can’t get a connection right now) you can’t visit HiveLogic to read Dan’s article… and the excerpt isn’t particularly helpful.
  14. Go home.
  15. Read Dan’s piece, and the two linked pieces, at home on your own Wi–Fi; which still works despite the weak signal.
  16. Roll your AirPort software back to 3.31 with the help of the aforementioned article(s).
  17. Scowl at Apple for whatever “improvements” were made during this update.
  18. Get back to work.
  19. Run Software Update.
  20. Note the appearance of AirPort Software 3.4.1 …a quietly revised update that, since installed, has caused none of the same problems as 3.4.
  21. Consider the fact that you should’ve checked for updates before the rollback rigmarole.
  22. Scowl at self.

iTunes 4.5, and I’m cranky

The usual channels are abuzz with happy reviews of iTunes 4.5… and for the most part they’re right on the money. Lossless encoding is a nice addition, WMA conversion (although Windows–only) is welcome, wishlists and playlist sharing look good, free downloads are a nice trap, and I’m sure somebody will find radio charts useful… but I find myself annoyed by most of the other new features introduced. Y’know, the ones that actually relate to me and my music when I’m listening to it. Let me elaborate.

When we’re importing CDs, we can now join tracks so that the ‘arty’ songs that require a zero–gap between them can do just that… by being one big track. Handy for eliminating the ability to isolate single tracks, or the ability to shuffle tracks, or the ability to listen to more than one different artist for an hour.

Here’s a better idea.

Get the computer (and the iPod) to start reading the next track before the current one finishes, and eliminate the gap altogether. This isn’t a crossfade, it isn’t a special effect, it’s what we like to call “working the way we expect it to work”. When we want zero gaps between songs, we shouldn’t have to rip entire albums as a single track, it should Just Work™.

There’s a new sheriff in town whose sole aim is to clog up your playlists… link buttons.

Then there are the iTMS links in your music library: huzzah. Step back and looking at it sanely for a second… there’s a button next to the track name, artist name, composer name, and album name of every track in your library. Four buttons on every line, for several thousand lines… and they all do the same thing.

Clicking the Track–link–button searches the iTMS for the track information, artist information, composer information, and album information of that single track… taking you to the Store so you can buy it again. Clicking the Album link does the same, thereby returning precisely the same results as clicking on the track link. The Artist link performs the same search, but will take you to the artist’s biography and discography instead, and clicking the Composer link will take you to the artist’s bio as well, even if (say…) the composer and the performer aren’t the same person. Confused? Great.

Now, unfortunately for everyone, everywhere, ever; the only way to remove these link buttons is to turn them off in preferences, and it’s an all–or–nothing affair. There is, of course, an easier solution. One that…

  1. doesn’t clog up the interface so much,
  2. is infinitely more customizable, and
  3. doesn’t add new preferences in places they shouldn’t be.

So once again, in the grand tradition of giving UI advice to people who are much better paid than I am, here’s my suggestion: get the linky buttons out of the artist/album/track/composer columns and into their own column. A single column that can be dragged and arranged any way you like it, and even hidden via the view options. Simple. No duplication of links, no clogging up of application preferences for what is clearly a view preference, and a little flexibility as to where the link goes. Bam.

iTunes’ print pane versus a mockup “standard” print pane

Then there’s the Print pane… and you’re wondering what in the hell could be wrong with this feature. Well, there’s nothing wrong with it, exactly, but I have an even better idea: use a standard Print pane. Integrate the print–theme options into a normal, everyday, everybody–know–what–it–looks–like print pane, and there’ll never be a complaint of “how do I choose a non–default printer to print to?” or “how do I export it as a PDF?”, because they already know. It’s familiar, and it’s exactly what we expect to see in Mac OS X when we hit ‘Print’. iTunes may be Carbon, but it’s no longer a Mac OS 9–compatible application… so let’s get real about using Mac OS X interface widgets.

Party Shuffle is an unbelievably stupid feature: it’s a randomized playlist with a unique interface; and when I say “unique”, I mean it in the way that your crazy Aunt May is unique. Maybe “eccentric” would be a better way to describe it. And her. So what does this unique new feature do for us?

  1. Lets us play the contents of our music library, or any predefined playlist, at random.
  2. Allows us to display only a certain number of upcoming (and recently played) tracks in the window at any one time.
  3. Greys out the already–played tracks.
  4. Puts a big blue bar over the currently playing track.
  5. Allows us to reorder or remove upcoming tracks as we please.
  6. Has a “Play higher rated tracks more often” feature.

Now, discounting the fact that ‘Shuffle’ is a standard feature of every MP3 player in the world, the fact that the little loudspeaker icon already tells us which track is currently playing, and the fact that tracks in ordinary playlists can already be reorganized and removed at will; we’re left with the “limited tracks on screen” thing and the “play higher rated tracks more often” thing in the list of ‘new stuff’ introduced by Party Shuffle. On the other hand, if they’d just added rating bias and the ability to reorder upcoming tracks in Smart playlists, we’d be set all the same.

I’m starting to get a headache.

I like to believe that all of this crap is the product of iTunes’ head interface engineer coming down with the flu; that things will be fixed right up again in the next release, but I’ve always been fond of impossible fantasies. In truth, this is all the product of a particularly potent case of feature creep, as Sven pointed out earlier. As the version numbers tick by, there are fewer and fewer possible features to add to iTunes… so they invent ridiculous ones. Things cannot get better from here. This is why great people quit while they’re ahead.

But hey — at least multiple users can run iTunes at once now, right?