Skip Navigation

Florence

My first impression, walking through this town on the way to our hotel, is that it is at least better organized than Venice… and that has to be a plus. The streets are broad and have a visible length of more than fifty feet, there are cars and Polizia and… uh… army guys on the roads, and there are traffic control devices and open spaces and street signs to help you find your way. It’s a city with an infrastructure I can identify with — a little something that makes me more comfortable than playing “left right left right left right and see where we all end up” in Venice on a Saturday night.

My second impression is that there are an unusual number of Americans around the place. Come to think of it, if you aren’t an old lady and you aren’t wearing a fur coat and you aren’t smoking then you’re probably American. If you’re traveling in a group of more than two, you’re definitely American. You might not know it yet, but you are.

My third impression is… I don’t know. Florence is a beautiful city with some great things going for it: Michelangelo’s David, of course, whom I found to be oddly disproportionate (but hey, whatever, who am I to judge?); Perseus slaying Medusa and a glut of other fancy sculptures depicting great moments in mythological history; the Cathedral of Florence (Il Duomo, the fourth largest cathedral in the world, incredible); and, in a few words: even. more. stuff.

That's all touristy crap, of course, and you’ve heard it all before; which is why I think you’d prefer to see a giant rat paddling down the river Arno like some kind of disfigured sea otter. Seriously, it was two feet long. Shoddy camera work and commentary courtesy of Mike.


Pisa

When people tell you to go somewhere to see a big tourist attraction but make a point of saying “don’t make it a day trip, there’s nothing there”, you tend to listen. Pisa was one of these, and one of the aforementioned ‘minor stops’ remaining in Italy (the other being Pompeii, before those plans were canceled). Thus we made plans to see it, but not spend too much time on it.

With travel time remaining on our Eurail passes, the whole affair was incredibly painless: hop onto a train (without the need to make a booking), hop off an hour and a half later, see the tower, look around for a few minutes, hop back on the train, head back to Florence. Only half a day gone and another Wonder Of The World™ under the belt: I call that efficiency. The tower is precisely what you would’ve expected: a little tower leaning on an angle. If it had never started to lean, Pisa would never have made it onto the map.

I made an official suggestion that they stop fortifying the foundation and just let it fall already, but I doubt anyone was listening. The risk of collapse would increase the value of the tower exponentially with every passing year it remains upright. Everybody would know that it’s gotta fall some time —and some time soon— so the thought of missing out would be too much to bear. Tourists would flood the country, eager to see a marvel of embarrassing engineering before its time is up. And just think how much money the t–shirt vendors could make with “I survived the Tower of Pisa’s collapse” swag. Honestly, you gotta know when to keep your landmarks standing and when to let them hit the ground; just look at what it’s done for New York and the World Trade Center.

What, too soon?


To sheathe or cover

I’ve become a big fan of the word clad lately. Don’t ask me why, and don’t expect this post to actually go anywhere, but I like it. Etymonline tells me it’s a fourteenth century alternate to clothed from the Old English geclæþd (past participle of clæþan, “to clothe”, coming from clað — “cloth”); which fills me with a warm, reassured feeling.

Bikini–clad babes and scantily clad party girls have something to do with this new affinity, I’m sure, but being pegged as a simple pervert is so passé even if there aren’t too many other ways to clad a person. I wouldn’t say I’m t–shirt clad right now —I’d sound like a fucking idiot— but that’s precisely what I am.

T–shirt clad, I mean. Not an idiot. I’m wearing a t–shirt. God damn it.


Pardon me, calling bullshit

Re: John Koetsier’s claim that Apple “backed the wrong horse” in choosing KHTML over Gecko when developing Safari, even after taking the words right out of everyone’s mouths with:

Mozilla/Firefox was fat, slow, and buggy, and therefore had a seriously bad name in the web community. KHTML was slim, fast, and clean… and it was virtually unknown, meaning that there was no baggage for Apple to deal with.

I have to call bullshit.

Regardless of which rendering engine Apple picked, all the things that make Firefox appealing to Mac users over its rivals (extensibility, extensibility, extensibility) would not be in a Gecko Safari. Every part of the browser that you interact with would be Apple's design, and likely identical to the KHTML-based browser you know today. Even then, comparing the 1.0 release dates of Safari and Firefox, it’s clear that choosing Gecko would really have only guaranteed one thing: the Safari team would’ve spent even longer optimizing the code for speed and adding Quartz support. Not a good business decision.

The rendering engine doesn’t give a browser great features and an appealing user interface, it just renders pages.


Misty

Posts like Dan’s make me sad on the inside. Reminiscent. It summons a twinge of regret for time wasted and opportunities missed. For dreams that went unrealized or flat–out abandoned, for relationships neglected. For nights spent in front of the flickering tube.

Posts like Mark’s make me even sadder. I miss him.


Little suggestion #428

Also known as “it’s the little things that make me happy”, it’s time again for more unsolicited advice from consumer to manufacturer! Today’s adventure: faceted music classification. A dream of multiple genre tagging in iTunes, the iPod, and any other music–playing hardware or software on the planet.

It needn’t be fancy. It needn’t be a “feature” with an overblown user interface and too many checkboxes. Just allowing me to comma–delimit the genres in a textbox would be enough (there aren’t any genres that actually use commas, are there?), and it’d add a whole new dimension to the musical experience. OK, that’s exaggeration (whole new dimension. who buys this crap?), but being able to browse in comfort is a big step up. Who needs to remember whether they put Kylie Minogue’s latest number one under Dance or Pop? It’s both.

Suddenly I can label Men at Work’s seminal Down Under as —my god— Reggae and Australiana and (if I had been silly enough to buy Ringo Starr’s cover of the aforementioned classic because iTunes doesn’t stock Men at Work) Live Performance. William Shatner’s Common People, amusing as it is, could be tagged Spoken Word and Rock and Alternative and Cover and Pop. No need to cut corners deciding which category it most fits into; it fits them all, honey, embrace it. None of this silly “Alternative & Punk” bullshit for half my old CDs; I have a lot of Alternative music that isn’t Punk and a lot of Punk music I wouldn’t sully with the hackneyed label ‘Alternative’, so I’ll do as I please and have subgenres out the wazoo.

A little thing like a comma could be enough to, say, reinvigorate ‘genres’ as a useful means of classifying music; it could make “browse by genre” something you actually use. A little thing like a comma could change my whole world.

OK, enough of the hyperbole. I’m making myself gag.


Video ain’t killed nobody

The two biggest excuses I’ve heard from Apple, from fans, and from the media for thinking an iPod Video is not a good idea have been:

  1. (Legal) content is too hard to come by, and too difficult to distribute.
  2. Nobody wants to watch The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King on a 2.5" screen, assuming the battery even lasts that long.

Well, you’re all a bunch of twats.

Tricky licensing deals need not be negotiated with skeptical movie distributors, and people don’t need to wait four days for Dances With Wolves to finish downloading on their 56k modem. Battery life needn’t be a concern, and neither need the size of the screen. Be. A concern.

Four words: music videos, movie trailers. Forget your feature films.

iTunes is already crawling with music vids and trailers —and they’re offering them free— just not for download. Already the mystery and uncertainty surrounding content acquisition and distribution is shot to hell. Here’s an idea: stop streaming the full–length music videos and start bundling them with your music purchase. 99¢ just rose in value. Bung in an option to sync the latest movie trailers to your iPod, free, as they’re released, and Hollywood is suddenly being charged an arm and an additional leg for the primo up–close–and–personal advertising space in the palm of your hand. The videos are short on attention demand, short on download time, short on battery suck, and don’t really need to be watched on a big screen. What are you really missing out on with a two–and–a–half inch representation of Beyonce’s ass? You wanted bigger?


Sweat

It’s good to be sweating again. Sweating in the glorious late heat of March before what is effectively my third winter in a row descends upon us. I missed the better part of this summer because of that whole “world travel” business —freezing my buns off in some very nice, but still incredibly cold, parts of the globe— so it’s nice to be cleaning the house clad only in a pair of board shorts, ducking outside occasionally for a quick dip in the spa.

Yes, I’m back in Australia, and have been for three weeks now. I haven’t finished writing about the trip, of course, and I do plan to finish up my posts on Rome and London before jotting down a few reflective notes on the nature of travel, et cetera et cetera, but the motivation is hard to come by and (honestly) I needed a break from writing about that stuff. Fret not, I haven’t been stuck in Florence for a month — just sidetracked.


Little suggestion #428.1

While I’m at it, I might as well say that I’m dying for faceted Artist and Album fields. These are, of course, a little more difficult to implement because captial–A Artists have an annoying habit of using obscure characters in both their names and their albums, so something as elegant as comma delimitation wouldn’t float.

How many songs of yours “feat” another artist? Right now my count is zero because I make a point of removing the contributory artist and the word “feat”, because I find it distasteful. Plus, I don’t give a damn if Lil John “feats” a song by shouting “WHAT?… OKAY!” from time to time. It’s not my scene, I don’t care. It’s a common phenomenon in Hip Hop music, but there are examples to be found elsewhere for those who don’t partake; the Moulin Rouge soundtrack for example.

David Bowie and Massive Attack, amongst others, collaborate for a few very random tracks in a very random movie soundtrack. Interesting combination, but there’s no way in hell I want to consider “David Bowie and Massive Attack” a unique and independent artist to both David Bowie and Massive Attack respectively. I could be browsing my iPod’s non–existent Bowie collection and then, suddenly, be reminded of his work on the Moulin Rouge soundtrack if faceted artists were allowed. You could say the same of the entire Linkin Park/Jay Z Collision Course thing. Why is “Jay Z and Linkin Park” an artist of its own when the album could be credited to both?

While faceted Artist fields contribute to the musical experience in the same way that faceted genres do (enabling more intuitive browsing), faceted Album fields are less a problem of style and more a concern of storage. In this day of cheap and expansive hard drives, it seems particularly lame to say “I don’t want multiple copies of all those songs that appear on compilations and Best–ofs… use the same file for all of them”, but it’s a legitimate concern. I have tracks whose metadata is different or incomplete on compilation albums, but beautiful and bounteous on the album proper. Tracks that are spelled differently (or hyphenated differently, or missing part of the name though the CD cover would tell you quite explicitly that’s how it’s supposed to be) are still the same track… they should share the same data, and when I update one the other should follow. Nobody likes to be browsing by artist and hear the same song three times because iTunes treats them like they’re unique. Same song, jackass. Buck up.


I are relaxing

Jason is having one, and so is Matt, but apparently I are having a massage.

Heuristics: invisible when they work, annoying when they don’t, and practically impossible to apply to natural language effectively.


iTunes wishlist for metadata lunatics

Prior to the digital music revolution I was a card–carrying member of the “artist–alphabetical, album–chronological” school of CD organizing. Still am, kinda, but since that time (what with quick search and quick sort becoming about as simple as can be in any jukebox software worth its salt) my organizational skills have gone down the crapper. Worse, I don’t build playlists any more: I just can’t. I’m either listening to an album from start to finish, a single track “I just have to listen to right now”, or the whole collection on shuffle.

With this kind of convenience coming to the entire operating system with Spotlight, I imagine that all my intricate file hierarchies and naming conventions are about to come crashing down too… but metadata is still the key. And being anal about my musical metadata, there’s a lot I still consider ‘missing’ from interfaces like iTunes and the iPod.

Faceted everything
First, of course, are the faceted genre, artist, and album fields I gushed about last week. If convenience and utility are to move up a notch, this is a must–have, and useless fluff like redundant Music Store links can wait until later. I know I could build this functionality myself with smart playlists, but why should I? I’d suddenly have a smart playlist for every artist, album, and genre in my library… this is something browsing was supposed to fix in the first place.
‘Mood’ fields
BPM is a lousy indicator of mood. Genre is a lousy indicator of mood. Pretty much everything except ‘mood’ is a lousy indicator of mood. I know we’re dealing with the confines of the ID3 spec, and I’m all about standards compliance, but things need to move forward.
Customizable secondary sort criteria
Not so much a must–have as a wish–I–had. There is absolutely no good way to handle this in the UI without inducing preferencitis, but a little plist editing is never too much for the infinitely picky hard core. I’m a big fan of the hidden preference, a big fan, and I yearn for the ability to order by Artist then Release Date then Album then Track Number. It wouldn’t just replicate my meatspace organizational mantra, it’d alleviate the stress of albums with the same name intermingling.
Release date
The current standard for album chronology is Year of Release. This could be fine–tuned. Amazon has the data. Dump the CDDB.
Lyrics
How often do you forget the name of a song, or even the name of the artist, and end up turning to Google for help with a vague recollection of the chorus line? Too often. There may be a lot of songs with ‘love’ in the title in your music library now, but there are even more with it in the lyrics… wouldn’t you like to find them?
RegEx
Again, there’s no way to put a good interface on this, particularly in a consumer application, but it reeks of geekiness and I love it.
Performers, producers, labels, copyright, publishers, and barcodes
Delicious got a lot of this right with Libary: get all the data you can lay your hands on and make it searchable. Querying ‘Ryan Greene’ should return practically everything ever released on Fat Wreck Chords. A search for Butch Vig should turn up Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage, and more. In an ideal world, it would. More fields. More metadata. More searchable.

What else?


When pop culture attacks

Microsoft Word. Write letterz n shit, yo
Chris
…so I had to submit that weird–ass report today. I kinda wish they’d given us more of a warning than two days, but it went OK.
Dave
Did you submit a word document?
Chris
No, it was plain text. They have a thing about crosschecking out submissions with text on the web. How did they battle plagiarism before Google, anyway?
Dave
No, I meant did you submit a word document. Word as in good. You know… “I had a word time at the party last night”.
Chris
Shut your damn pie hole.