Your Arm’s Too Short To Box With Grrrr

In one of my rare, blatantly-contrairian actions, I committed what most Bears would call a “hate crime” and most Bears will cringe next time they see me.

The sanctum sanctorum of the Bear Community is facial hair. Yes, seriously. Facial Hair.

I don’t recall how long it’s been since I shaved my face completely, really I don’t. The only time I can actually place in time was back in 1996 or so, when on complete whim—just as today—I dug the razor into the bearded area and dispatched with it without a second thought. I know that time was 1996-ish because it served as an inspiration for a character in the novel that I wrote, A Strong Sense of Place.20080229JeffShorn.jpgI know I’d done it at least once or twice between then and now, but I never did understand the big deal. This must be the equivalent of a woman going for a short haircut, or—gasp!—bangs and feeling traumatized by the whole thing.

No trauma here, but there is a small delight in making a change and a small boost in having committed the murder of a beard.

I do remember that whenever I’d shaved it off last time, the outsized men had an outsized reaction. Well, a couple of reactions anyway:

  • they failed to recognize me for a few heartbeats, and when they did, there were involuntary cringes on their faces, sort of like when Gwyneth Paltrow showed up at the Oscars wearing that hideous dress that made her look like she was perpetually hunched forward and also made her breasts look like they just joined AARP
  • I got smiled at and cruised by men (and boys) who previously paid no attention to me

I swear to GoB that these things happened.

You’d think I drowned a kitten just to watch it die.

Come to think of it, that may have been the first time I started to realize how dead-serious the Bears take their body hair.

O, the Gore!

Leap Day

Happy Birthday to Kevin Kreidler. We were inseparable in High School. I was Best Man at his wedding.

He was born on February 29, 1964. Ain’t that a bitch?

Worse still, we have lost each other over the years, and that’s a bigger bitch.

Still, it’s not about me, it’s about Kevin. He’s a 44-year old man who’s only had eleven birthdays.

It’s sort of like dog-years. Well, at least 4/7 (0.57142857) of ‘em.

Earthbound & Timebound For Too Long

Too much Now and far too much Here. Present and accounted for: my mantra for years. For all of the San Francisco Years.

From Here. On This Moment. Faulty sense of offense to the point of atrophic defenses. I’ve gotten rusty at Combat, but unexpectedly better at Building. And I never noticed. Not til Now, which is no different to the Now of each Day.

Calendars play at…well, I don’t quite know. Building a folly for non-existent tomorrows. But follies don’t need reason, all ornament and no cunning. But every Thing, living or not, that ever was or ever will be (unnatural participles notwithstanding) has a reason. The Builders choose.

San Francisco itself is a Folly for many: a place all ornamental and guileless. It swarms with people who chose it for those very reasons and there are people who absorbed it and stopped them dead in their tracks. Motion stopped and therefore Time stopped. Retardation is the padlock and who can work a key anymore?

Escapism is another word for stopping Time; but Time doesn’t exist and by fiat and consequence, neither does History. Those who cannot endure such things and live within them naturally live without them. Without motion forward, without backward pensiveness: a lock on learning (also requiring a Marker in Time: Before and After).

Itinerancy both doesn’t exist and therefore that becomes all that exists when you choose to walk away from imagining. Tragic, frankly, because Imagination has never respected Time nor Place: Imagination is Itinerant, a notion that exists without Time yet still manages to move about in the World that itself choose to create.

Then there are those who don’t move, by choice, and let the world move through them. You are what you eat, and that sort of thing. And did you know that corporeally, all of the molecules and atoms filling out the pattern when you were born have all gone away? Matter flows through the pattern that is You. But that’s Motion, invoking Time and Space? But aren’t you still you? You are not the matter than flushes out the pattern and seeps into and out of. The Pattern is retained, but you remain more or less a Constant.

Of course there’s Then and there’s There, if for no other reasons than we require it for excuses for extraordinary behavior or original thought. Or for vulgar reasons like burying the past or living without consequence or avoiding blame or responsibility.

In the Folly that is San Francisco, sitting in the middle of a Vast Garden, there are no boundaries: it only took me nearly fifteen years to let that in completely, consciously. I have lived with the lack of boundaries—which is really just another way of reinforcing the solipsist’s luxury: human calenders. No boundaries and everything lies flat, colors bleed into one another leaving a brown muck, a quicksand which owns you, retards you. Locks you into Now and Here. Friendships bleed into Sex. Relationships are porous to the point, sometimes of there being more non-existent parts than the fragile, frail scaffolding that holds it up: the Pattern is there, but it’s covered in that muck. And the popular choice in all of this is to believe in diversity but bury it every time in that same muck, silencing those who dare carve out a walled garden where life has color and wonder and safety without sacrificing self or beauty or joy.

The muck overtakes the garden every time. The Folly wins and your Neverland becomes a Never-was.

San Francisco has my love in spite of how it retards some and makes them boorish and ignorant and disrespectful of the very diversity they probably came here for. After the just over a decade of setting aside a fraction of my individuality to appear to be “one of the guys”, the events of the past few years have worn away those walls, wicking away the sunshine and color and wonder and making me feel as alone as I’ve ever felt, for there is no worse loneliness than living behind a pasted-on smile, a vibrant individuality being dulled on purpose. And there is no worse dread than stepping into the muck because that’s where everyone else is, for fear of suffocation and for fear that those things which you hold most precious are the things that the muck-dwellers feed on. Feed on for energy or to simply dismantle anything that dares to be special.

Respect. Boundaries. Time. Space. Candor. Honor. Decency. Empathy. I live—or try to—amidst the interplay and interstices of each of those things. And often I must behave otherwise, if for no other reason that self-preservation. It’s only belief in all those things which animates me and allows real choice in changing the pattern that is me.

I have to: there’s not enough respect from the outside.

iPhone SDK & A Free Agent

Good timing, Apple.

A week short of the release (or announced release) of the iPhone SDK, I’m a free agent. And a pretty damned good Cocoa and UI developer.

Bottom line: my ideas (and products) will be my own.

For being accused over the years as being over-thought, over-wrought, too complex, too demanding, too spineless, too willful, too arcane, too obvious; my worldview can be summed up in a single truth-statement (in my cosm): “Businesses aren’t people.”

Good-bye, Apple. At least for a while, and even then not until I get to work on stuff that I was hired to work on and better immediate management.

Your opinions, folks: have you ever had one of your ‘superiors’ at a job tell you that it’s wrong to ask questions? I did, and disdain-for has followed me since-then.

The First Lie

Being able to type quickly on my iPhone (single-index finger or two-thumbing it) allows me to write down little scraps of thought, word fragments, phrases with both ends open. The kind of bits that die on the vine or end up amplified, living between […]’s. Time is the sifter, I’m just here for the snacks.

The First Lie

The First Lie
Upon telling itself to the World,
Created a New Truth.

Detritus, baby, one pebble at a time; hubris, one peg at a time.

Sometimes The Best Does Win

So finally, finally, finally, HD DVD is dead. Dead dead dead. And good riddance, too, I say. It was (GoB that feels good to use the past tense) an inferior format in almost every way. Even its karma was fucked: Microsoft and others created the HD DVD standard because it was easier on corporations, not better for consumers.

Some info, just in case you didn’t know, or were misinformed by HD DVD desperados:

  • HD DVD stores only 17GB per layer, which means that right out of the gate, the format lacked the capacity for HD movies, resulting in almost all titles being released as double-layer disks, clocking in at 34GB
  • Blu-ray, on the other hand, has 25GB per layer, meaning there is enough space for full titles plus superior audio, both in quality (uncompressed audio is amazing) and quantity (more languages).
  • Blu-ray has moved up to double-layer disks (BD-50), meaning that bit-rates for video can be much higher (meaning better picture), and even better audio with more language choices
  • HD DVD folks used to claim that HD DVD capacity was 51GB in its triple-layer disks, but those disks were prototypes and no existing HD DVD players would be able to play them anyway, so that’s just damned misleading. Or a damned lie.
  • As for future-proofing, there exist 300GB Blu-ray disks in the prototyping phase, but I’m not sure if any existing players will be able to play them. But then again, you don’t see any Blu-ray advocates pimping a 300GB capacity, either

The media has been the same old selfish culprit in not bothering to understand the stakes and the situation. Just like any computer article that includes Rob Enderle as a source isn’t worth the pixels it’s printed on, any time the media trotted out the old “Betamax vs VHS war”, you should have simply ignored it. This war was nothing like Beta vs VHS, except that Sony was involved.

But Sony was never the sole developer of Blu-ray: the credit there belongs to the BDA, a consortium of the following companies:

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Strange, isn’t it, that Universal is a member of BDA and yet it had decided to go HD DVD-only when $150 million suddenly appeared in a plain brown paper back at their doorstep with a free copy of Windows Vista inside? (apocryphal, but Microsoft did kick in the money, supposedly.) Universal is Universally Evil. Of course all of these corporations are in it for themselves and couldn’t give a shit about people (yes, even Apple is included in that list), but Universal upped the hypocrisy to new heights (and by heights, I mean depths) by such statements as “we’re putting the viewing of content in control of the user”, when really, they meant they were removing content from access by iPods and iPhones, making you watch content on a computer and not on a TV, and preventing you from being able to fast-forward through commercials. With such spin, they should be gunning for the Republican primaries.

So yes, Apple is part of the Blu-ray Association, but no Apple hardware includes Blu-ray drives (even though you can buy them from third-parties), and Final Cut Studio, an Apple Pro App for non-linear video editing includes the ability to generate Blu-ray and HD DVD masters. Maybe they were waiting for the dust to settle, or maybe some magic eight-ball settled on a “Not yet” message, I have no idea.

But anyway, maybe this all sounds like more schadenfreude against those who went Red (aka the HD DVD camp), but there are several reasons to celebrate the demise because it rings in some potential improvements for everyone interested in high-defintion titles:

  • All those consumers who’ve been waiting on the sidelines may now commit to high-definition, leading to sale of more players and more titles, bringing the prices down for everyone.
  • No more “least common denominator” disks from Warner Brothers who supported both HD DVD and Blu-ray: to save money, would put the same main title data on both, meaning they’d have to compress the data to fit on a 31GB disk to accommodate HD DVD and now they can use higher bit-rates now that they’re targeting Blu-ray only.
  • AVC (i.e., h.264) seems to be emerging as the standard compression for Blu-ray, and I’ve found that it’s significantly better than VC-1 (i.e., Windows Media), which seemed to be the de facto standard compressor on HD DVD—not surprising, given that Microsoft was in the HD DVD camp and has deeper pockets than God.

For our family’s Secret Santa at Christmas this year, I got the Harry Potter 5-movie special edition on Blu-ray. It looks pretty damned good on my TV; however, the first movie I watched was the fifth one (Order of the Phoenix) and in the first scene, there’s plenty of sky, first a blue sky then a gray, and I could spot in seconds that it was the VC-1 compressor: light blues, light-to-medium grays and all beiges are difficult for any compressor, but VC-1 is terribly noisy, meaning in a light blue sky, you’ll see MUCH darker and MUCH lighter pixels (sometimes groups of pixels), which are different with each frame, making that area look “grainy”. Nerdy, yes, but it can be distracting during scenes in films where you’re supposed to be looking at a serene landscape, for example.

AVC also has some trouble with those same skies, but the noise is far, far less: the darker pixels and lighter pixels are much closer to the true color, and the areas which vary are smaller clusters of pixels and usually square-shaped regions.

Good old MPEG-2 is also one of the compressors used for HD DVD and Blu-ray, just as it is for regular old DVDs, but the bit-rate is much higher (on Blu-ray, it’s usually between 18 and 35 megabits per second and on DVD it’s about 3 to 8 megabits per second).

All of this may seem like minutiae only a geek could love, but overall it does make a huge difference in the experience. And you’d be surprised at how much audio matters: most people think of the audio as an afterthought, but when I switch the audio from standard Dolby Digital 5.1 (compressed) to uncompressed PCM, the entire room opens up broadly and finely, making the content less like watching it and more like experiencing it.

Back to BART

I’ve been driving my car over to Union City for the past dozen or so appointments with my Korean doctor in Union City

Yeah, not very green, not very cheap, either: these days it takes about four gallons of gas, roundtrip. That’s in the neighborhood of $14.00 in gas alone. Add in the $5 fee for the Bay Bridge and we’ll call it $20. BART costs exactly half that, and I get to read or write or sketch or just zone out while getting there. And getting home.

There’s honestly nothing interesting about the East Bay as seen from BART. It emerges in West Oakland, then goes back underground through Oakland, then re-emerges past that and down to Union City. Well, all the way to Fremont, actually, but south of Oakland, it’s really all the same. Sometimes literally.

Oakland Skyline The Oakland skyline only got interesting after those twin mini-towers with the pyramidal rooftops went up ten or fifteen years ago, and like I said everything south of there just looks all the same.

Well, except for the palace of a church sitting way back there up in the Oakland Hills, directly East of the Fruitvale Station. I think the Mormons put that up there: it is awfully, awfully white. Pretty, honestly, but standoffish—like of the Plastics from Mean Girls.

Now, I didn’t say that all of the East Bay is boring [try not to giggle, try not to giggle] just the view from BART. For instance, if you go to Hayward you can see quite easily where the earth jolted in 1989 and shifted the ground a few inches: look down a line of parking meters and see that it’s no longer a line. Oh, and the City of Hayward built a new City Hall building before Loma Prieta guess where? Right on the faultline. And whose fault (groan) is that? No matter, damage done: the building is as far as I know uninhabitable. Oh, and the city does have a Casper Dogs.

Then there’s South Hayward Station, right near where that fucker of a quack of an “Independent Medical Evaluator” asked me:

  • What’s 3 x 3? It took me a couple of seconds to be sure of my answer
  • Spell the word WORLD backwards. Still not sure if I spelled it D-L-R-O-W or D-L-O-R-W
  • Who’s the President of the United States? that one came to me immediately, scowl and all
  • Is the United States currently at war? I said yes, even though I knew it wasn’t really technically a war—Congress made no Declaration—but this guy couldn’t give a shit about listening to anything I had to say, short of short answers—think shyster lawyer cutting off a witness a la “have you stopped beating your spouse?”

And that, gentle readers, was the entirety of a “Concentration Test” which demonstrated that I was fit to debug a giant, complex, not-written-by-me application. Gods Below.

Union City though, is different. Wait, no it’s not. It’s suburban, beige sprawl, replete with fast food joints and unremarkable, usually single-storey office buildings and apartment complexes so unutterably bland that you’d need a map to find your own apartment until you remembered the exact set of turns and stops that gets you home. And that’s just the part of the trip where you’re already inside the complex. My friend Don (see banner pic) was the one who introduced me to the term Condolandia, but he was referring to Redwood Shores. Wait, same thing. Except that the water is East rather than West.

But Dr. Chon is there, and that makes the whole East Bay interesting enough. Well past Enough.

God of Biscuits’ vudu

I’ve written before about the vudu box I obtained through their Evangelist program. Up until a few days ago, nearly all of the content was SD (standard definition, DVD-quality stuff). To inaugurate HD content to their library, they surprised us all by pushing down the first two Bourne movies in HD without telling us, followed by a “Tah Dah!”

It was classy. And an savvy demonstration of the value-add of the internet. I’m pretty damned techie, and even I was taught a bit of something. That was the genius in it: they exploited the internet connectivity by elevating its exploitability. Does that make any sense?

The history of technology can be described, from a certain perspective, as a steady increase in complexity which is best utilized by providing simplicity to humans: to hide the complexity! And the front end, the user-facing end, keeps floating to the top, hiding more and more piled up complexity behind every increasingly abstract and illusory—and realistic! neat trick!—simplicity.

Unless you’re a User Experience expert, you’ll have absolutely no idea how difficult it is to create an illusion and maintain it without fail for a user trying to accomplish a task. And as I’ve said before, vudu is a box and a (very sexy!) remote:

  1. Switch the input source on your HDTV or home theater receiver.
  2. Search, browse, save as favorites
  3. Buy or rent a title
  4. Start watching immediately

It’s as simple as that. Even HD titles start instantly (which makes me suspect that they push down 1% or so of each HD title and store it on its HDD.

That continues to be the one sour note in the whole vudu song: it’s a P2P network, and as such, and with the amount of bandwidth that the box is consuming being opaque, it makes me worry how much traffic is going in and out of the house.

The closed nature of the box—and no, not in the same way that Macs were closed way back when—is a huge disappointment, however: I have no idea how much disk space I have left except to estimate the three HD titles that live permanently on the box. I could guess that each hour is about 1.1 GB or so, so maybe half the disk is already filled.

As I continue to use the vudu box, the more I notice how isolated the box is from the rest of the home theater system.

And now that the Apple TV provides direct movie rentals and streams music and video and photos from my iTunes Library, and connects to flickr and now acts as an AirTunes client…

Well, you can see where this is all going…

Geeks & Designers, Getting What They Want

In the list of things that are important by generalists, this is a thing that doesn’t even come close to appearing. A shampoo discussion among bald men is more important.

But, Apple released Leopard 10.5.2 today, and addressed something that many people bitched about when Leopard came out: the alpha (transparency) component in the Mac OS X menu bar (remember, Winders folks, the Mac menu bar is at the top of the screen, and is, I believe, the single biggest contributor to users’ increase in productivity vs. Windows).

And you know, I was one of the bitchers, too. It just flew in the face of that notion of productivity item, making it less prominent by blending it with the Desktop Picture (that’d be Wallpaper to you Windows folks). I didn’t like that the Desktop Picture created visual noise. Gruber didn’t like that it bollocksed up the idea of properly anti-aliasing the text of each menu title. Many others just didn’t like the change because it was, well, change. You know, the ironic ones.

Before 10.5.2, which arrived yesterday, and in the absence of third-party hacks to return the menu bar to its “beloved” 100% opacity, the menu bar looked like this:

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And now that you have the option to turn translucency on or off, setting it back to pre-Leopard looks like this:

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Now, I never went looking for hacks, nor did I modify my Desktop Picture to have a 20px white band across the top of it: see, when you use white as the background in the area under the menu bar, it “reverts” to appearing solid white, but still doesn’t address Gruber’s issue. Apple restoring proper opacity does result in proper anti-aliasing.

So one of the first things I did was go to that System Preference Pane and turn off translucency:

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I thought I’d feel that little rush of proper design mixed with bittersweet nostalgia. But I didn’t. I went back and thought about it, and the reason that I think—despite the apparent graphical insult and apparent UE injury—the menu bar has been diminishing its importance, instead moving slowly towards a region-of-interest-type user interface. Palettes nearby, contextual menus (which I hate, but they are there), larger displays, etc. This is completely a personal choice, and it seems like everyone would disagree with me, but I went ahead and set the menu bar back to translucent.

If all this sounds anal-retentive, well, it’s this kind of attention to detail that helps make a Mac a Mac: sustain the illusion of context and activity and try your best to get the UI out of the way of a user’s goal: the best UI is the one that never enters the user’s conscious thought, shattering the illusion.

So after wondering what the hell they were thinking, I find myself wondering why I hadn’t thought of that.