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REM

If there’s an upside to the particularly weird weather at this particularly weird time of year (when the nights are too cool to go without a doona but the mornings are too warm to go with) it’s the fucked up dreams you have when you’re overheating.

Take, for instance, the evil sentient (and locomotive) tree as the villain in my dream this morning. Like a vicious Ent, it would stop at nothing to secure the world’s water supply for itself… including the water stored in living organisms like yours truly. It’s not every day you get to fight a talking tree, even if you do get your ass handed to you.


Product naming

Yaron over at Project Aardvark is fishing around for product names, which is always a fun venture. I’ve long been divided on this one —right now being sick to death of MultiWord, MidCapitalized, JamTogetherItis— and find most of today’s fashion nomenclature to be what the Spanish call ‘el terrible’.

For Mac programmers there’s only one real hard-and-fast rule for your product: never ever ever put an ‘i’ at the front of its name. Fod god’s sake, it’s been done to death. I had my parents ask me a few weeks ago, on seeing an advertisement for Telstra’s new i-mode, if this was “an Apple thing”. Nope, sorry, we have parking meters called iPark too, haven’t you noticed?

Don’t drop an ‘X’ at the end, either, please, god, I’m watching you. For Windows programmers the “give it the name of your target OS release” trend isn’t as prevalent as it once was, which is comforting, but I guess this has been superseded by appending random combinations of letters, go figure.

Look around you into the world of ‘real’ products: Extra doesn’t give you any clues that it’s sugar-free, nor that it’s gum. Cap’n Crunch isn’t the name of a cereal, it’s the name of a fun character created specifically to hawk cereal. Nesquik doesn’t tell you anything about milkshakes. Vegemite doesn’t give you a damn clue that it’s some kind of yeast extract… though if you’re familiar with Promite or Marmite you might be getting the hint.

Names don’t build brands. Brands build names.

If you have a decent product, your product will do well even if it has an unfortunate name. Try to steer clear of offensive names, obviously —L’il Hitler Chemical Showers won’t make you any friends— but Project Aardvark could probably keep its amusing codename as a release name and I don’t doubt that the Spolsky Hype Machine® would make it wildly successful.

Trying to secure a ‘meaningful’ or ‘descriptive’ name will get you nowhere. They aren’t just boring, they’re already taken. You don’t have to look too far to see the Phoenix → Firebird → Firefox debacle, and Phoenix was a good name! So unless you have the kind of financial muscle that allowed Apple to take GarageBand and iWork from their previous trademark holders, you just better settle on something different.


Try before you buy

One of Mark Hurst’s recent posts protests the prevalence of mobile phones that make a lot of noise when you turn them off, noting that the situations in which you’re turning your phone off most commonly (theaters, hospitals, courtrooms, bed) are the ones you least want to cause a musical fuss. Snip:

So: please test your new cell phone before you buy it. If we all stop buying idiotic phones, the invisible hand of the market will backslap the lamebrain who invented the “turning off” song.

Problem is, at least in this country, you can’t try before you buy. The phone in the store is a dummy that only gives you the vaguest idea of its size and shape, the online demo gives you an incomplete and totally contrived impression of the phone’s interface, and the feature checklist… well, it’s a checklist. Checklists aren’t just a mediocre and deceptive way to market a product, they got no soul, they don’t tell a story, and they never list “Plays annoying jingle on shutdown” as a feature.

I remain completely astounded as to how this practice continues. It benefits the store operators only marginally (they don’t need to sacrifice any phones for display stock, nor keep them charged, nor know anything beyond the magic checklist when the customer asks why it takes seven keystrokes to get to the address book) and it completely robs the customer of an informed decision. The fact that I go to browse the store to see what’s available then leave the store to investigate the phones more thoroughly means no chance of signing me up on the spot. Never. More than one vendor has lost sales from me for this exact reason; I end up going elsewhere to buy the exact same phone after doing my research online. Don’t make me leave the store! Let me play with the real thing, give me access to real product reviews from sites like MobileBurn, don’t bullshit me, don’t bullshit me, don’t bullshit me.

The only people the in-store–dummy practice benefits are the designers of phones with great checklists and lousy interfaces. You wanted broken, you got it.


Gordon gone wild

(via BoingBoing) Nina Gordon’s cover of Straight Outta Compton is about as cute as I can possibly imagine an NWA song becoming, and worth your time, but more impressive is the huge selection of tracks she’s set up for download on her site.

We’re talking a lot of full-length tracks —free, legal, and up for the taking— particularly singles from her Veruca Salt days, and ninety-second samples from her latest album. The whole thing makes me want to go out and buy the album right now; artists just aren’t cool like this these days, and they need to be, else they’ll drown in a sea of disaffected malcontents they used to call fans. It’s good to see it happen, and it gives me a few tracks from American Thighs to listen to which, for some reason, I never bought. Methinks I will.


Macintel

I never really expected to see the news that Apple is switching to x86 processors. Even with the “credible” rumor mill shit happening around here lately, I just tagged along with the assumption plastered all over the developer lists that Apple had coerced Intel to produce PowerPC chips. Wishful thinking on the dev crowd’s behalf, since they’re positively steaming over their hand-tweaked AltiVec hoozits and various dependencies on big-endianness, but something else occurred to me since the news broke:

Non-geeks don’t give a fuck about what processor architecture is inside their box.

CISC, RISC, IBM, AMD, Motorola, Intel, whatever… Ma and Pa Burkett don’t know and don’t care, and chances are they were never really filled in on all that Megahertz Myth business either. Well, I guess now they don’t have to be. And if Apple can squeeze better performance and more reliable production from a chip company, so be it.

For the longest time, the biggest argument against x86 has been the simple fact that Apple makes its money on hardware, and making OS X available to all those folks lolling about with their $300 Dells would be suicide. That theory still stands, but since Apple will be employing some nasty lockout tech, OS X still won’t be running on anything but Apple hardware… at least until it’s hacked. Even so, without considerable driver support for all that back-alley generic hardware bullshit that goes into beige boxes these days, OS X won’t play too nicely on anything that isn’t a Mac.

I guess now we wait for the Osborne Effect to kick in. (Hint: don’t tell the normal humans)


The one and only Sith post

Having seen Episode 3 twice now, I feel that I am finally in a position to make my statements then put it to bed. It wasn’t a bad movie, it was an explosion-filled action blockbuster; the final piece of a decades-old space opera, that’s all. Throw in some bare breasts and maybe Vin Diesel and you’d have yourself the typical Hollywood fare. The noticeable cut in C3PO’s screen time left me positively refreshed.

That aside, the abridged script is a good laugh (credit to Jess for sending it to me). People like to tear the latest Star Wars films to shreds, forgetting that the original trilogy was just as bad in every way. I always thought Lucas had done a great job emulating that badness… down to the godawful clock wipes he still uses between scenes. Rose-colored glasses are a real bitch, and I hate to tell people that the movies they loved so much in their childhood weren’t that good, but hey: I can’t pretend that the Dark Crystal is anything great, but I won’t deny that it’s still a very special film to me.

My only enduring complaint of the whole prequel trilogy has been Ewan McGregor’s accent. I know that American producers think they can hire some dude from the British Isles to fill the role of “British Guy” and it’ll all be peachy, but Alec Guiness’ Kenobi always amused me in ways McGregor hasn’t been able to replicate… he had a particular way of speaking about him. Play this little clip from A New Hope in your head:

Vader
I’ve been waiting for you, Obi-Wan. We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master.
Kenobi
Only a master of evil, Darth.

I mean come on! Nobody could pull off pronouncing ‘evil’ that way but he. Ah, memories.


This one’s for you

The phone rings. Crap. It’s still dark out, and it’s a Saturday morning; who the hell calls at 6:15 on a Saturday morning? Who calls at 6:15 on any morning?

No number on the caller ID. I only know three people with legitimately private numbers, and there’s no way in hell they’re up this early; it’s gotta be a wrong number. A wrong number on the east coast, I’ll bet. Or east coast telemarketers. Part of me wishes mobile phone numbers were prefixed on a state-by-state basis instead of company-by-company so the east coast knuckleheads could figure out a three hour time difference when they see one. Probably wouldn’t help. Jackasses. How many times have I been woken up by some assclown from Assclown & Company’s head office in Sydney who figured business hours were just universal? It’s Saturday though… Assclown & Co. tend to shut down on the weekend. Jackasses.

“Hello?”

“Clarko!”

OK, not a wrong number. Sounds like Dave though, and Dave doesn’t have the longevity to have been out all night like this. Working nine to five has taken all the party right outta that boy; why would he be up at a time like this? Reminds me of that time Scotty called me up at six AM telling me to get dressed because we were going on a road trip. Heh, those were the days… rolling down the coast listening to Clapton, trying to figure out which of the Dunsborough bakeries was ‘the famous one’, spearing fish, hitting on country girls, taking advantage of the ‘no speed limit’ zones. Ahhh.

Shit, it’s Scotty.

“Scotty? What the fuck? It’s like, six in the…”

“Clarko!” He hums to himself for a second. “You’re a good egg, mate”

I scrunch up my face and let a little burst of air through my nostrils; not sure whether it’s laughter or tears that I’m stifling. It’s too early for this shit. I try to figure out the time difference between here and London… it’s gotta be just after ten on a friday night for him. He’s drunk, or stoned, or both. Either way, what he isn’t doing is going out to some dive London bar with his roommates, so he’s sitting in his room getting homesick and calling his friends. At least I was half right about the whole ‘jackass calling from another time zone’ thing. Poor Scotty.

“You’re a good egg, Clarko. Good egg”

He chuckles for a second and starts singing along to something playing on the radio in the background. It’s not ringing any bells, but since I don’t listen to the radio much these days I’m probably out of the loop. Then again, he’s in London. Wasn’t that annoying frog ringtone at the top of their charts a while back? Londoners. God save them.

“I can make any woman mine ‘cause I… look good in leather”

I’ve still never heard this song, but I know what he’s doing. He started singing this song to me after photos of me in my leather jacket started surfacing from the world trip. It’s a fucking jacket! The northern hemisphere is cold as shit! I don’t need to be hassled for wearing cowhide to stay warm in bullshit-freezing towns like Seattle. Sub-zero temperatures are not funny. Thank god there aren’t any songs about woolen gloves, I’d never hear the end of it.

Scotty takes his phone and holds it close to the radio. ‘Put on my poker face when I walk the street because I look good in leather…’

Jesus.

“Ah, you’re a good egg, Clarko. You look good in leather”

“Thanks, Chan”

“Anyway mate, have a good one”

“OK, I’m gonna go back to sleep now”

“Cool, cheers mate. Goodnight”

“Goodnight Chan”

“Oh, and Clarko?”

“Yeah?”

“Update your fucking web page”

Sigh.


Wow. Double wow

Say hello to my new favorite iPhoto add-on: Keyword Assistant. I’ve bitched about iPhoto’s keyword assignment interface in the past, and the fact that it became significantly weirder (although prettier) in iPhoto 5: its biggest problem is that it just doesn’t scale. And considering my (really, really anal) habit of tagging the buggery out of my photos, a useful and keyboard-friendly facelift like Keyboard Assistant is a dream come true.

The premise is simple: a no-bullshit floating window with a text field, into which you type whatever keywords spring to mind about the currently selected photo. Hit Enter and the keyword is assigned to the photo. As an added bonus, and this is great interface thinking, as soon as you’ve hit Enter the old text is selected… allowing you to type right over it in assigning a new one. You can type them one at a time, hitting Enter as you go, or you can comma-delimit them and assign them to the photo all at once. By the same token, you can remove keywords one at a time by typing them in and hitting Option-Enter (the Assign button changes to a Remove button), or wipe the slate clean with Control-Command-Delete. I love it.

If that weren’t enough, the text field auto-completes from your iPhoto keyword corpus or (optionally) from your Address Book as you go. This is ridiculously fast in comparison to the ‘hunt through a gigantic list of checkboxes’ method of old, and much appreciated. Add the (clever) shortcuts to cycle through your photos without taking your fingers off the keyboard, even when working in an edit window, and you have yourself a winner. Ken Ferry, my hat is off to you.


Safari On Acid

If you got excited about Apple open-sourcing WebKit, and loved the idea of playing around with some of the improvements that have been made since the Tiger branch was released without having to wait for the next publicly available version (well, you know… to see it pass Acid2, that’s the only reason you really wanted it, right?) but can’t be assed with the CVS/build/run business, you now have an easier option.

Boyd Waters has done all the heavy lifting for you by releasing SafariOnAcid, a quick‘n’dirty solution to everybody’s problems. Download. Launch. Gasp. That is all.

Update

Better yet, go get nightly builds of WebKit at your convenience!


Thank you Apple

For a while there we figured that, since iTunes 4.9’s podcast browsing would be handled inside the Music Store, we poor schlubs in non-iTMS countries would have to go without.

You did the right thing. Roll on.


Last Man Standing

If you live down under, chances are you’ve already heard of Last Man Standing, a kind of Australian Sex and the City… for blokes.

The bar for Australian comedy-cum-drama* was set pretty high a few years ago by the Secret Life of Us, so the newcomer has some big shoes to fill, even if one isn’t exactly warranted in putting the two side by side. Last Man Standing’s focus —the day-to-day misadventures of a bunch of straight, white, single, twentysomething middle-class males— is obviously a little narrower than Secret Life’s… but the perils of working in an industry that isn’t exactly flooded with local product ensure the comparison. And believe me, comparisons will be made. I caught the pilot a few weeks back, and though I came away feeling it needed a lot of work, I figured it was worth a second look.

It was. Monday nights have just become my one night of TV-induced sloth per week, as subsequent episodes have shown some fresh, funny writing; and given their 9:40PM start time, they’re allowed to take the kind of liberties with language and sexual content the prime-timers can’t (putting it in perspective: as much as I love Lost, the fact that nobody swears actually gets under my skin. A man is blown to shreds with dynamite and all anyone can say is that it was “messed up”? Fuck!). It’s very decent, check it out.

*If I hear you say ‘dramedy’ I will fucking kill you.