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Gathering dust

Digging through ~/Documents, I recently turned up a(n exceedingly) short review of a book I bought one day on my lunch break, almost five years ago.

The review was written pre-blogging, so it clearly wasn’t intended for you guys, and though I can’t imagine who it would’ve been intended for it seems like it’d be a laff to post it here now anyhow.

If you bought this book at any time during the last five years, I apologize for not posting this sooner. I could’ve warned you.

www.layout — Don’t judge a book by its cover

Even when the book’s cover is very pretty.I’m frequently tempted by books, especially design books. They look like they know something I don’t. Unfortunately for www.layout (and for my sixty bucks) that was not the case. I’d never picked up a book in the Design Directories series before, so lets just say that when I saw the words “effective design and layout for the world wide web” printed on the front cover, I was expecting a book that had something to do with effective design and layout for the world wide web. Lesson learned.

If you’ve been using the internet for longer than three months, and you don’t need to visit Webopaedia to look up “multimedia”, “world wide web”, or “HTML” then you’re already too advanced for this book. Sorry. Next time I’m tempted by a shiny hardcover on the racks at Dymocks, I’ll check first to see if it’s going to teach me something, or show me something worthwhile, rather than talking at length about nothing in particular and becoming and embarrassing dust collector on my bookshelf.

Rejected Title
www.bandwagon, an introduction to Microsoft Frontpage for people who heard that the internet was the next big thing.
High Points
On the back cover there are five (5) rock-solid tips for good page design.
Low Points
Inside the book there are eighty-one (81) pages of appalling gobshite, written on an eighth-grade level for design newbies.
Saving Grace
One hundred (100) pages of decent-looking designs, snapped right from the world wide web and printed here for your viewing pleasure!


The internets have gone eerily silent with the good girls and boys of San Francisco hitting the hay early; a good night’s sleep before a big day. I only have one wish for Mac OS X 10.5, and it’s the same wish I had for 10.4:


No, not the language —it already has that— but the quality of refinement that certain parts of OS X have begun to lack in recent years. Apple’s mad dash forward to newer, bigger, and better features has caused great hunks of the OS to fall behind. In a nutshell: to rot.

I’ve said the same of iLife, but I’ll say it on the record for Mac OS X: what they need is a ‘maintenance’ release, a major revision showing some restraint in the NEW! WOW! department that puts a lot of effort into the it’s high time we fixed this hack/bug/inconsistency and made our mamas proud that we did the very best we could do department.

I know, I know, everybody at Apple is already doing the very best they can do in the time available to them. I’m just saying, on a gigantic project with a regular release cycle (this is particularly pertinent to iLife with its strictly annual cycle, but applies to OS X too) “the time available to them” sometimes isn’t enough. ‘Better’ may be the enemy of ‘done’, but I think we’ve already established that they’re never really ‘done’ with the OS. So let’s make it better while we’re at it.

With the wishlist out of the way, I have only one prediction for WWDC; and it’s not even a prediction of what Steve will unveil at his keynote: the headline du jour in industry magazines and across Mac news websites will be “Apple Changes Its Spots With Leopard”.

Lousy puns. Tech journos just can’t help themselves.


Sure, it’s been two days since the keynote. I’ma share my thoughts anyway, mostly on Mac OS X 10.5 ‘Leopard’. There’s been a little buzz around the web about Steve Jobs’ lackluster performance in the keynote this year, as though he’s losing it. He let three VPs from around the company carry most of the presentations, he fumbled his words, he looked a little sick. A little thin, actually, but people are getting all Chicken Little and wondering what will become of Apple if The Steve really does lose it, or retires, or worse.

Me, I would very much doubt it if Jobs hasn’t already started grooming a replacement. It could be anyone, but my money’s on Scott Forstall. He’s Vice President of Platform Experience, he’s young, charismatic, and funny. Phil Schiller’s presentation on the Mac Pro was a bit rigid, a bit nervous… standard Schiller. He does a good job of it, but it doesn’t look like he likes being on stage. Forstall, by comparison, was cool as a cucumber. I’m not necessarily forecasting the CEO position for him. Hell, I don’t know enough about Apple’s business dealings to even know if Forstall would be a candidate for CEO, but he makes a hell of a poster boy. He should be involved in keynotes more often.

Together, Jobs and Forstall walked us through their ‘Top Ten’ new features for 10.5. Several of them weren’t even ready for demo, and the ‘Top Secret’ to-be-announced features are clearly in the same boat, but what was there was impressive nonetheless. On preview alone, I’m orders of magnitude more impressed with Leopard than I was with Tiger.

64-bit application support
Not a ‘feature’ than many of us in the end-user space will give a damn about for a looong time, but good to know it’s there. Better that it’s there seamlessly, fully compatible with 32-bit code. When the day comes that we’re all running 64-bit processors and are actually using software that needs it, nobody will notice.
Core Animation
Very neat. Like Cocoa Bindings, Core Data, and their brethren, just another technology that will enable developers to produce better software, faster.
The Complete Package
Boot Camp, Photo Booth, and Front Row present for everyone. Nice for those of us with external iSights who weren’t allowed to download Photo Booth when it started shipping on Intel Macs. I’m starting to believe Schiller’s line about dual-boot being Apple’s Windows solution, and that virtualization won’t be a feature, but I’m skeptical. They say they’re not doing everything right before they do it.
Remote slideshows and presentations are pretty cool, and backdrop/photo booth effects are fun and a little tacky, but display sharing?! Holy shit. A million family support geeks’ lives are about to get easier.
The system-wide ToDo server is a very cool idea, but everything else about the Mail preview perturbs me. Stationery? Great, more (no doubt standards-ignorant) HTML email. Thank god for hidden preferences that force plain text display by default. A notes mailbox is pretty cool, so long as it plays nice with IMAP servers (I worry that it won’t), and RSS is a gimme. Next.
Not previewed in the keynote, and clearly not ready for prime time given that it lacks even a video demo on the Leopard iCal preview page, but it looks exciting as hell. Meeting auto-schedule sounds like a dream, dropboxes (WebDAV, no doubt) are something I already make great use of, and multi-author shared calendars are long overdue. Good to see their CalDAV calendar server software is open source, too.
Network searching, Boolean queries, and ‘quick look’ previews all sound great, if they’re presented well to the user. Better performance on application searches —doubling as an app launcher— starts to make it interesting, and instant display of recent documents tips it. A beefier Spotlight won’t make die-hard Quicksilver users switch, but it’ll be good for the rest of us. I wonder about their ‘improved UI’, though. Particularly when they haven’t even released screenshots. Either it hasn’t been done, or they’ve done something particularly amazing and really are concerned about Microsoft stealing their stuff. I tend towards the former.
I may actually use web clippings. As it stands, the only reason I have Dashboard enabled at all is the iCal Events widget, but the button they’ve added to Safari to show off the web clippings looks ridiculously out of place. Watch the video on the Dashboard preview page: a single black toolbar button. In Safari. Sigh. Every new feature must have its fifteen pixels of fame, and the OS just keeps getting more and more cluttered for it.
The whole interaction model for virtual desktops always confused the shit out of me, so I’ve stayed away from them; I can’t imagine a bit of Apple flair and animation is going to change that. Some people can’t live without virtual desktops, but I’ve never been one of them.
Time Machine
Undoubtedly the big ticket feature of the preview, and maybe of the whole release. Automated nightly backups to an external drive are obviously important, but the external drive is the part most people are going to be without. Shit, I have an external drive and the backup software to exploit it, and I still don’t do it properly. Once a month or so I just drag my FileVault disk image onto the drive. A blunt instrument, and no doubt Time Machine will change that for me, but I can’t help but wonder about the interface.

The outer-space retrieval interface is fun, if not a bit tacky, but why all the animation and waiting when you’re auto-seeking the last file change? Do I really need to wait ten seconds for forty days’ worth of unchanged windows to fly by? It’s going to get tedious after the third file I restore. Really tedious. What happens when my main hard disk crashes and I replace it with a blank one? Is the backup bootable? Will the backup disk have bootable software I can use to restore everything? Or do I need to use the Leopard install DVD?

The backup technology is great, though not ground-breaking, and the retrieval technology looks impressive, but the end user experience may not be as good as it should be. The people using Time Machine to retrieve lost files or restore entire operating systems are freaked out. They’re in the worst possible mood because they’ve lost data! Don’t screw them around with fancy Core-Animation-generated starscapes, give them their data!

Universal Access
The first thing I did when this was announced was ask Joe Clark if he’d been writing any letters to Apple regarding their mediocre effort at VoiceOver in 10.4. He hasn’t, but somebody must have. New VoiceOver with better navigation? Support for refreshable Braille displays? Stereo audible positional cues? Closed captioning in QuickTime? It’s quite an upgrade.

Even as a perfectly able-bodied computer user I appreciate the Universal Access technologies in Mac OS X. Anyone can. Screen magnification at the push of a button, screen flashing with alert sounds, full keyboard access — these are things I use daily. And though I’ll not be using a Braille display any time soon (prohibitively expensive, and I also don’t read Braille), nor will I be using VoiceOver (or even text-to-speech) for more than exploratory purposes, captioning is something anyone can use. I wonder if there are (or will be) any decent tools for adding captions to your QuickTime movies, though.

Purely on speculation, my interest is piqued by the audio cues. The Leopard Accessibility preview page doesn’t reveal too much on the matter, but they’ve got my attention. It seems to me that, like screen flashing, stereo-spatial audio alerts could be the kind of thing everyone can benefit from. I can’t believe screen flashing isn’t enabled by default; if your speaker volume is down or you’re in a crowded café, it’s invaluable. A tiny nicety that I enable on every Mac I use. Anything else even close to that is a bonus for everyone.

So yeah, I’m looking forward to Leopard, how about you? Roll on Spring 2007.


One would assume that this is a breach of NDA for somebody attending WWDC, but Techpedia has some Leopard screenshots up (via Digg).

Of note:

  1. The Help menu in iChat’s menu bar (and so, one might assume, in all apps’ menu bars) drops down to a search box not unlike Spotlight’s, colored ‘Help Button Purple’.
  2. Photo Booth would appear to be able to capture animated GIFs now.
  3. Preview’s toolbar sports the unpopular capsule buttons first introduced in Tiger Mail.
  4. Spaces isn’t limited to four virtual desktops… it’s fully customizable.
  5. An administrator may define a group of users in the System Preferences’ Accounts pane for broad-brush account management.
  6. Admins can enable a guest account that requires no authentication to log in, whose profile and home directory are destroyed on logout.
  7. Dock folders are finally spring-loaded.
  8. Finder contextual menus now feature the Clean Up and Arrange items formerly found only in the View menu, as well as the ability to create a disk image from any directory and burn it.
  9. Finder grid spacing is now user-definable in the View Options palette.

Surrender to the alphabet

Seth’s entry on shuffling yesterday reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to share for some months now: I’ve given up on the concept of the music shuffle.


  1. Like Seth, I had a lot of good music that was going unheard.
  2. I had a lot of crap building up in the invisible corners of the juke that really didn’t deserve to be there.
  3. Albums are surprisingly good, heard end-to-end.
  4. Albums are surprisingly bad, given any lone track out of context and jammed up against something incongruous.

Now, to be perfectly honest, I don’t have a problem with shuffle in short bursts. It’s fun, it’s random, give chance a chance, etc, but it’s not a long term strategy for music enjoyment. Not for me, anyway. I like to think of myself as a ruthless MP3 dictator, bearing down on the musical citizens of iTunes with a single, inviolable mandate: be worthwhile. I don’t care whether you’re folk, or punk, or metal, or pop, or country, or soul; I just care that you’re doing your job… and your job is to bring me pleasure. That’s what music is for. So, in an effort to rout out the dead weight —the flabby middle of my music library— I decided I had to listen to it all. End to end, to weed out the junk and revitalize the old favorites.

This is something I’d tried and failed a year ago when I first got the nano. I listened chronologically, but grew tired of the 70’s before they were half over; I listened by genre, and inevitably put myself ‘out of the mood’ for Genre X after a few hours of listening; and then listened by artist, only to find myself similarly bored of said artist after their fourth album in a row. I gave up and went back to shuffling.

But it turns out I’d been doing it all wrong; you need to listen Album Alphabetically. Suddenly there’s a mix of genres and artists and periods. Random enough to be interesting, but predetermined enough that you can guarantee full coverage. In doing so, I’ve panned another gigabyte of music previously deemed acceptable —most of it borrowed, on the wishlist no longer— and refamiliarized myself with dozens of albums I’ve not heard in years.

Such is the curse of abundance. Sometimes you forget how good you have it, so you need to go back over it all to refresh your memory.


(via Language Log) Linguistic hip hop from SFU. Pure, nerd, gold.

You down wit S O V?
yeah, you me know
from the CP to the DP I flow
know this, though, I make no apology for my zeal
from etymology to phonology
it’s a quality that consumes all o me constantly
like a blank sentence, solemnly

We’ll do the same with the plosives
We’ll burn through the glides like we’re corrosive
but I’m heartfelt and emotive, listening to your vowels
when we’re through with gentle ones we’re movin on to howls
hooting like owls cause I’m a linguistic freak
“oh you’re a linguist, eh? how many languages do you speak?”

Drink of the month

Stir over ice in a tumbler. I’m told it’s called a Dr Pepper, although it differs in some respects from the said same cocktail described at Wikipedia.

In any event, it’s delicious (if you like regular Dr Pepper) and comes highly recommended. Unless your incredibly dense, uncoordinated bartender decides to freepour, resulting in a lopsided mix tasting almost exclusively of Amaretto. Two thumbs up, forty thousand brain cells down.