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South… then East

Christmas day brought at least one miracle to us there in Whistler: it snowed. For the first time in weeks, we’d been told, there was finally some decent powder on the ground. Cliché as it may be, a white Christmas really is something to behold… and even though it’s cold as hell and an otherwise despicable substance, falling snow is quite pretty. Unfortunately for me, my Christmas weekend didn’t see me tackle too much of the mountain because my lungs gave up on me and decided that the production of phlegm in a color normally reserved for Irish drinking holidays was more important than breathing. Rat bastard lungs. I did manage to catch up on my sleep, though, which I guess is important, and my right ass cheek repaired itself in admirable time.

After Christmas came the descent: the plan being to ride down to Los Angeles as quickly as possible, then across to Las Vegas for New Year’s Eve. But you know what they say about plans… they get fucked. For the entire week leading up to New Year’s the rail system was booked solid, turning the overnight stay we’d planned for Vancouver into a three night stay and turning our New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas into a New Year’s Eve aboard a train, playing poker with our new 78–year–old friends, Will and Pete. Riveting.

Once we hit LA (5.30 AM on January 1, eight hours late) we figured we’d still take a crack at a day trip to Vegas and maybe get to Six Flags as we’d previously planned, but no such luck. Forces were conspiring to turn our holiday into an event–free yawnanza, and we spent two days in LA doing precisely squat. I did, however, score a pair of sunglasses from a bunch of easily amused San Diegans we picked up in our hotel, and we also celebrated the Tit Man’s birthday with Italian cuisine and the Life Aquatic: good movie, very Wes Anderson.

If I had to pick a highlight for the time between Christmas day and now (on a plane to Miami), it’d be a hard draw between the half hour I spent perusing Chapters in Vancouver and the half hour I spent doing the same in Santa Monica’s Barnes & Noble. Book stores: this is what’s fun for me right now. Both are three stories tall, both have their own coffee stores instore, and both have an impressive collection of varied and interesting books on sale. On the one hand, Chapters’ Humor section was muy impresionante and I picked up David Sedaris’ Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim at 30% off, while Barnes and Noble’s Humor section was pretty lame and seemed limited to Peanuts collections and joke books. But on the other hand, Barnes & Noble had a Linguistics section, and Chapters had nothing of the sort. A little too much Chomsky, but given how ridiculously productive the man is I’m not sure any book store’s Linguistics section is less than half his.

The linguistics book I bought, John Lyons’ Linguistic Semantics, an introduction is a pretty dry read, but given how quickly I inhaled my new Sedaris and Dan Brown’s Deception Point on the trip down to LA (more Dan Brown, I know), I figured a dry read is what I need to keep from spending my remaining holiday cash on reading material. Next: Miami.


Sit on it

Oh, and so I can beat Titty to the punch:

Henry Winkler was a row in front of me on our flight from LA to Miami. Henry. Winkler.

Classic.


White and spacious

The CSS white-space property needs a new value to complement normal, pre, and nowrap… it needs a none. In short, we need to be able to ignore white space as well as preserve it. HTML has always, by default, ignored any more than one space between elements… but from time to time that one is just one too many. I’ve run into the problem maybe half a dozen times in the past, and have resorted to editing the source to suit my needs, but the time will come for some projects (or, more accurately, has come) when editing the source just isn’t a possibility… and that single space is flipping the bird right at you.

CSS is supposed to put us in the driver’s seat with regard to presentation without having to edit the source. I can hear the smirks already, and that’s because it’s a long way off in a lot of places (this is one of them), but I’m drawing attention to this single one of the thousands of bitches and moans against CSS because it’s a little one. And the little ones need voices too.

My name is Chris Clark. And I like CSS. Usually.


They’re ours now

Australia has a long and distinguished history of claiming other countries’ celebrities for its own. New Zealander Russell Crowe having attended the prestigious NIDA acting school in Sydney became officially “ours” once the big–ticket roles started rolling in. Romper Stomper? The Sum of Us? Yup, Russell Crowe is true blue, bloody oath. Likewise, Hawaiian–born Nicole Kidman, since wowing us all in the you–bloody–ripper Aussie film BMX Bandits at the age of sixteen, has been “our Nicole” ever since. Hell, even ex–hubby Tom Cruise got a foot in the door just for being married to her.

It goes both ways, of course. Kylie Minogue has been living in England for nigh on two decades, long enough for most of us to have forgotten her ocker roots as Charlene in Neighbours; and even though none of us are prepared to admit it, she becomes less and less “our Kylie” every passing year. Greg ‘the Shark’ Norman is only Australian for as long as he’s on the fairway, and as for Mel Gibson… well, if Mad Max (AKA the Road Warrior) weren’t so infamous I’m not sure anyone would ever have realized. Only school kids have seen him play in Gallipoli, after all.

So to carry on the tradition, we (where by “we” I refer to myself and my expert panel of judges: Titty, Dave, and Mike) have decided to start claiming Commonwealth celebrities willy–nilly for Australia. While in Canada we captured “our Avril” and “our Sarah”, deciding to leave Celine and Brian where they were, and since it’s only a matter of weeks until we hit the UK we have our sights set firmly on Gail Porter, Michael Caine, Kenneth Branagh, and Keira Knightley.

Any suggestions?

Update

Chris has been a bad boy. Chris wrote this entry on a train between Miami and Washington DC without an internet connection, and posted it as soon as he went live again. Consequently, Chris’ lack of actual research into the matters discussed herein means a few facts were uh… wrong. Speaking in the third person makes it seem like Chris is less responsible for his actions than he really is.

Long story short, Russell Crowe didn’t go to NIDA, lazy bastard. Mel Gibson went to NIDA. Good ol’ Mel.


MacWorld San Francisco 2005

Forever remembered as the year Apple finally laid down and went for the low–end market; caving to the ever–vocal “iPod flash” crowd and to the endlessly persistent “headless iMac” mob that has been pestering it for what, six years?

You have to commend them though, they’ve just built two bridges over which the curious but fiscally nervous can become fully–fledged members of the cult of Mac… and they did it all without making it look like a cheap ploy. Bravo.


Miami

Wow, it’s been the better part of a fortnight since we alighted Flight Winkler to Miami —and we’ve since shifted north some 960 miles— but I still haven’t written a damn thing about the place. This is something I must obviously remedy. Starting… now.

Three words: Grand Theft Auto.

Those of you who, like myself, fell into the timesink that was GTA: Vice City, you already know this town. For those of you who have watched Scarface or maybe Bad Boys, you already know this town (although not as intimately, perhaps, as GTA players). Every corner we turned in South Beach was a jaw–dropping experience: “Holy crap, this is the alleyway where the deal with the Haitians turns bad and you take them all out and chase the guy on the motorbike! Holy crap, that's the staircase that leads you to the roof! Look! The Colony Hotel! The beach! The bridges! The island film studio where you shoot your porno film! The tiny peninsula with the lighthouse! Oh wait, there’s no lighthouse, just a barren peninsula… that’s weird”.

Vice City is Miami, Miami is Vice City, let’s move on because I sound like an asshole.

Our time in Florida was made unique to our other North American experiences by one factor: the weather. Finally, a city in which I could spend winter if only we weren’t leaving in two nights. Warm and sunny, just the way I like ‘em. I shudder to think what summer is like in the sunshine state (the word humidity comes to mind) but winter was enough to shake out the chills that Canada had put in our bones.

It was also Orange Bowl week, which was cause for much revelry and the distribution of footballs and anal beads with Oklahoma logos on them, and a reminder of just how much Floridians love their oranges. Its blossom is their state flower, its juice their state beverage, and oranges adorn their license plates and software companies like they’re goin’ out of style. Kind of like kangaroos in Australia… and black swans in Western Australia. Everybody loves a mascot.

The availability of wi–fi at our hostel was a mixed blessing: sure, it was there, but its speed and reliability was a major problem whilst their policy of blocking port 25 made email more fun that I had remembered. A nice place, to be sure, but all too soon we boarded the train outta there. Stay tuned.


Where’s the shades?

Six years ago Apple introduced the Revision C 266 MHz iMac in five fruit flavors —strawberry, blueberry, grape, lime, and tangerine— with the apparent goal being to make the computer more accessible to disillusioned luddites through appealing colorization. Well, that and the cute–factor, but I was never much a fan of Bondi Blue anyway.

Mac minis could look kinda nice with a splash of color.

Five years later, long after retiring that much–cherished gumdrop form factor and riding the wave of success generated by the iPod, Apple introduced the iPod mini to moans and groans from the “too expensive, not enough storage, I expected smaller” crowd (myself included, alas), but otherwise wowing us with two unexpected features: the now–standard clickwheel™ interface and a sudden choice of handsome metallic pastels — pink, blue, green, gold, and silver. After so long with double–shot snow and crystal acrylics the notion of colored aluminium seemed totally foreign. What, we have to choose now?

Scroll forward another year and we’re met with the introduction of the Mac mini: a product that, for all intents and purposes, follows the ‘mini’ mantra perfectly. Physically smaller than its big brother iMac with fewer features, a lower price, an anodized aluminium body, and a white–plastic head, the form factor is undeniably iPod mini; it’s just shorter and fatter, like the batard to a baguette, or the cornet to its trumpet.

One thing is missing though: it’s the thing that made those old–school iMacs so endearing. The thing that makes the iPod mini so cute. The thing that screams “I wasn’t built for professionals, I was built for fun and I have the price tag to prove it”. It’s the color.

Personally, I was surprised that the Mac mini wasn’t released in five colors. It is today what the original iMac was — small, cheap, and simple. A call to potential switchers. Today’s iMac keeps the all–in–one spirit alive with integrated display and speakers, but unlike that most lithe and professional of desktops the Mac mini is where the budget computing is at. It’s what the rest of the rest of us buy when we’re just starting out; taking a chance on a new platform. It’s what I would’ve bought as my first Mac when I made the switch… but in its absence bought an eMac.

So c’mon Apple, make the mini mantra more about the color. There are people out here that’d love to see it, and even while silver remains the most popular coat on the iPod mini, we need a fun and funky Mac around the place. Make with the shades. Make with the love.

Love Chris.


Washington DC

With a little creative license and its proximity to olden–day German settlements kept in mind, one might be forgiven for assuming that the ‘DC’ in Washington DC stood for das kapital, but no; it stands for District of Columbia, which is a nice way of saying “we didn’t want to put our nation’s capital in just any state, so we took a tiny bit of land from the surrounding states and made a tiny tiny tiny ‘district’ to call our own. Also, Columbus was a cool guy. Kudos to him.”

And if there’s one thing that makes DC stand out to tourists like us, it’s the abundance of historical (and totally free) sites (and sights) dotted around the city. One of our first plans was to see Me First and the Gimme Gimmes play at the Black Cat, which bit us in the ass when we found that the show had sold out, but we bounced back. Nothing a sixer of Nasty Ice wouldn’t fix, and nothing a few days traipsing the marvelously architected Washington metroscape wouldn’t make us forget.

DC is fabulous, it’s inspiring, and, unfortunately, it’s the home of George W Bush. But if you ignore that last little fact you’ll probably come away loving the place. The Franklin Roosevelt memorial —which we visited on a whim to see one of the scenes from Deception Point up close— turned out to be fantastic (and, incidentally, somewhere GW clearly doesn’t visit too often); the Washington memorial, the Lincoln memorial, the Jefferson memorial… all great. The assorted war memorials were a little spooky, but that’s something I can live with, and the museums… oh the museums.

The Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum is a playground of awesomeness; a veritable garden of earthly delights. There were portions of that sucker that we ran through without reading a damned thing and we still spent an entire afternoon in the place. I could gladly spent a week moving from exhibit to exhibit reading plaque after plaque after plaque in the Natural History Museum… and I dare say that one day I will. It’s that good.

DC is also home to some pretty great clubs: the keyword being “classy”. Guys, if you aren’t dressed appropriately, you just won’t get in. Dave and Mike had to go buy new shoes… poor bastards. Covers can be expensive, but then again if you’re a tourist and have anything of a silver tongue (I’m not talking about myself, obviously. I refer to Mike) you won’t have any trouble making your way into most of these places for free. A little more luck and you’ll have more than a few of your drinks paid for, too — something women have been exploiting for way too long and I’m glad to see from the other side.

MCCXXIII was a fantastic bar. Fan–tastic, with a particularly delicious business model for Friday nights: manufactured scarcity through free availability of booze.

We’ve all been to pubs and clubs that keep you waiting at the door even when the place is empty —I live across the street from one in Perth— and they do it because it makes the place look busy. For reasons I’m yet to understand about human behavior, a place that looks busy is somewhere you want to be. It may be ridiculous to the guy lined up for an hour to enter an empty pub, but it makes good business sense: people arriving at a bar at 9PM confronted with a two–hour lineup will learn to arrive early. The busier the bar is early, the more money it takes during an otherwise–dull period and the more appealing the place becomes to the late–arriving crowd. Suddenly, after all the regulars have learned that a 9PM arrival equals a two–hour lineup, the bar is choc–a–bloc full by 6.30 in the evening: and that makes it a red hot destination. By making those people line up later, even when the place is empty, they’re manufacturing scarcity; manufacturing urgency. It’s a vicious cycle for the consumer, and a total pain in the ass, but it works.

MCCXXIII’s solution is somewhat more graceful. Between the hours of 5PM and 9PM, your twenty dollar cover charge means you aren’t paying for any drinks. It’s all–you–can–drink, on the house, assuming you can make your way through the twenty–people–deep horde at the bar. The allure of seemingly free booze, rather than the fear of lining up for hours, brings crowds to this bar from 5PM onwards. By nine o’clock, if you’ve been drinking on the house for four hours, you’re ready to go home and free up some room for all those people lined up outside waiting to take your spot. Having scored one of those most highly coveted couch positions (thanks to some friends in the know) we had some excellent service from a very cool barmaid — a woman who eventually stopped asking for drink orders and just brought us fresh gin and tonics every ten minutes. What a girl. With a lass running between the bar and our nook for us, we were free to mingle without the pain of waiting for service at the bar. Again, MCCXXIII is a great place for a Friday night out… even if you do end up stumbling home before midnight.

DC? Nine out of ten — and that’s saying something.


Photon, PhotoToTypePad, and Daikini Software

Being a globe–trotting, train–hopping, busy busy beaver for the last few months means I haven’t exactly been the most productive of bloggers, so I’m yet to update you on the latest happenings at Daikini: we’ve gone crazy, crazy, crazy… like a carpet warehouse or something. To put it simply, things we used to charge money for are now things that we don’t charge money for; PhotoToTypePad and Photon are 100% free.

Yup, free. And while I doubt any of you are planning to look a gift horse in the mouth, I figure our motives might require a little illumination.

A few years back, before Daikini was founded, Jonathan and his wife had a bouncing baby girl. This in itself is nothing unusual —people have kids all the time— and like any good father he wanted to spend as much time with his new daughter as humanly possible… so he quit his job. That was a tad unusual. Very cool, very punk rock, but not entirely sustainable, so he started writing and selling software for extra pocket money… and Daikini Software was born. Rock it forward a little while and you reach the point where I joined in and our new baby Photon was released. Since that time a helluva lot has happened in both our lives, and development on existing (and whiteboarded) apps started to slow down.

Both products continued to sell, but not so well that two developers could afford not to work day jobs, so Jon started to weigh up his options. Hey, I’m a student, I don’t have a wife or a child, and nothing is tying me down but my credit card, so my ‘options’ aren’t that big a deal. Even if Photon had flopped I’d still be happy because I’d get to use Photon… and that’s how I got to know Jon in the first place. The downside to my being a student is that most of my working week is accounted for already, so my contribution to Daikini —particularly during the project and examination rush toward the end of the year— was fast becoming, in a word, pitiful. So, late last year, Jon bit the bullet and returned to the workforce. He loves his new job and he loves the people, which has to be a step up from email and iChat correspondence with me all day, but I digress. With the lead developer now working a full time job and doing the Daddy thing, Daikini Software started looking like it might become a nonentity.

But you already know it doesn’t end like that.

After some discussion, with options ranging so far as me taking a year or more away from university to work at Daikini, we decided to take the easy way out: don’t do anything drastic. But it’s not just the easy way out, it’s also the lazy way out and, for you, the coolest way out. We’ve freewared Photon and PhotoToTypePad and updated them a tad; bringing iPhoto 5 compatibility to both, Blojsom and WordPress support for Photon (for those riding the cutting edge of WordPress 1.5 and/or Mac OS X 10.4 anticipation), and a couple of other doodads here and there. It isn’t the major 1.1 upgrade that we had planned a few months ago, but plans change. Things will continue to move forward, just at a smoother pace. Imagine we moved to Jamaica, and imagine you moved here with us… sipping white rum in your hammock while steel drums chortle melodiously in the distance. That’s what I’m doing. Enjoy the freebies.


On suite

A remarkably content–free review of iLife ‘05 in PC Magazine offers some, uh… interesting insights:

Still pushing its "digital hub" concept, Apple has updated its multimedia software suite, iLife '05, adding more functions and integrating the individual components more tightly than ever before.

Still pushing? That’s a term you’d generally reserve for situations where a company is flogging a dead horse… like Real still pushing its Harmony project. Apple still pushing its digital hub concept is like Boeing still pushing its “powered flight” concept. It’s kinda what they do.

All but iMovie compete well with the best Microsoft Windows has to offer consumers.

What’d be really nice here would be knowing exactly what is being compared to what in this review beyond the vague “best” that Windows has to offer. Considering iLife comes free with new Macs, I would assume that we’re talking a stock Windows XP install… which means iPhoto is competing with Windows Picture and Fax Viewer, iMovie is competing with Windows Movie Maker, iTunes with Windows Media Player, iDVD with… nothing, and GarageBand with… nothing. That really doesn’t bode well for Windows’ best.

Now, I’ll play along for a minute and allow freeware and cheapware to be substituted in here so that Picasa can comfortably replace Windows Picture and Fax Viewer while iTunes (for Windows) does its thing, but I’m still drawing a blank on the competitive Windows alternatives for all those other iLife apps. Last time I checked, Windows Movie Maker sucked —and I mean a lot— and if iMovie isn’t standing up to it I must suspect there’s something very wrong with my copy of WMM; the atrocious state of the cheapware Windows DV editing market was half the reason I switched to Mac in the first place. The barbs against iMovie are even more prevalent in the review’s “bottom line”:

The individual components of iLife ‘05 (with the notable exception of iMovie) are very good to excellent. All components are extremely well integrated and easy to use, even for beginners.

iMovie isn’t very good? For whom? And again, compared to what? This isn’t hyperbole, people, I’d honestly like to know what iMovie is up against in comparatively priced Windows software, and what makes it so darned bad in Michael Kobrin’s eyes.

We like that the components’ interfaces are converging, with the wildly popular iTunes as the model.

I, myself, haven’t noticed any major changes in iLife apps’ interfaces in quite some years. I wouldn’t say they’re “converging” towards anything; iPhoto is the only one that could readily be described as ‘iTunes–like’ and it’s been that way since day one. What’s the dealio?

Most important, any type of file can be dragged from one program to another; this is especially handy in iMovie and iDVD, which now contain media browsers that give you instant access to your iPhoto, iTunes, and iMovie libraries without having to leave the app you're working in.

I’m going to be a nitpicky bastard and say that drag–n–drop and file browser interfaces are about as mutually exclusive as they get. It’s cool that they have both, I’ll admit, but highlighting drag–n–drop as a Most Important Feature in an operating system where we expect it from all our apps, all the time is hardly breathtaking.

Perhaps the only way in which iLife doesn’t act as a suite is that the apps are all launched separately from the Dock in Mac OS X, rather than from a unified suite interface. But given the programs’ ease of use and integration, we don’t feel that’s a drawback.

I’m glad that’s not too much of a drawback, because I’m going to go on record saying that the ‘unified suite interface’ is one of the worst things ever. Worse than MDI. A big call, I know, but I’m a big man and I need a big breakfast; it’s a call I’m willing to make. Imagine a world where you launched an application called “iLife” from your dock before being presented with a screen that says “hey, what were you really aiming to do when you clicked that little bastard?” — horrifying, I know.

I always thought that was the dock’s job: letting you choose which application you’re going to launch when you want to perform a task. Why pray for a middle man? I can count on one hand the number of times I launched Microsoft Word because I wanted to create a new spreadsheet (hint — the number is still zero), and while I know that in some cultures it might be considered convenient to be able to select File > New… > Photo Album in iPhoto from iTunes’ menu bar, it’s just plain ridiculous.

Why not throw in a few menu items for creating new iCal appointments and Address Book cards from GarageBand? Bands need to make appointments and keep track of their contacts, after all. Oh, right… because if I wanted to do something to my address book I’d launch Address Book. Application modality might be confounding to ye olde Windows users from time to time, but the idea that iDVD handles DVD authoring and only DVD authoring is kind of comforting to me. To analog, check out the relative popularity of Firefox and the Mozilla Suite. One does one thing, one does everything… and one of them is doing what the other could never manage to do: kicking Internet Explorer’s ass.

Suite interface. What will they think of next?


Hagerstown

Every once in a while on a trip like this you get to sit back and do nothing for a day. You stop traveling, you stop lugging your backpack around, you stop hopping from tourist attraction to tourist attraction, and you actually relax. In a small town just a few hours out of DC, we had three weeks of just that.

We were given the opportunity to housesit for a few weeks, which translates to being given free accommodation on an otherwise credit card melting holiday, so we jumped at the chance. The only catch —besides being entrusted not to burn the house down, which is kind of a difficult promise to make— was looking after their adorable labradoodle, Jake. I still think the deal weighed heavily in our favor, but just don’t tell that to Dick and Darcy.

All of a sudden we had cable, and DSL, and more than one computer between us. We had beds in separate rooms, a clean and well–stocked kitchen, a fridge that we didn’t need to share with sixty other backpackers, and our very own jacuzzi! We finally had a washer and dryer that didn’t need coins to operate; all the comforts of home… ten thousand miles from it. The only comfort we didn’t have was transport. No car in a city devoid of a metro system means we would’ve been limited to our neighborhood and the nearby supermarket if it weren’t for the kindness of relative strangers. And strangers are suckers for nice Aussie boys like us.

Our first local gal, Allison, daughter of our beneficent homeowners and paralegal secretary, was one such sucker stranger (Hi Al, thanks for reading). She lives in DC, but being in Hagerstown to ensure we got the grand tour of the house, she took us out to a bar in the next town over for proper acquainting. Drinks were had, more strangers introduced, pool was played, and fast friends made. Allison became our weekend gal pal, visiting from DC to take us places (like MCCXXIII), and giggling… a lot. Not really sure whether it’s the accent or our incredulousness at some of the more bizarre strains of the American experience, but you people find us unusually amusing. Allison just happens to be one of those outliers who finds us super–amusing. Our other friendly taxi, Chad, is actually an old friend of Dave’s… so he made a lot of time for us and asked nothing in return. Watching DVDs, going to basketball games, visiting America’s largest WalMart… very cool guy. Though since he and his fiance will be honeymooning in Australia a couple of years from now, they’re probably just making hay while the sun shines. Quid pro quo. Kidding.

As strange as it sounds, Hagerstown would have to be one of the highlights of the trip for me. Not just because the local Krumpe’s Donuts makes the finest donuts on the face of the earth, bar none, but because we got to relax and have fun. New friends. Good times. And a king sized bed in my room. What a town.