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Fallow

Oh, hi. I’ve been working on other projects in other places. Changes are due here soon, perhaps.

High Fidelitied

I spent some time at @bookmansflag on Sunday, relaxing with a coffee and some browsing of the shelves. On a whim I picked up volume 7 of the Walking Dead and took it to the counter with a couple of other books. What followed was a scene that combines the best of High Fidelity, Clerks and the Comic Book Guy, but with just the enthusiasm for stuff they like and none of the judgmental bits. It made me laugh, and it made me happy.

Dude cashier 1: (holding up the book) Are you … reading the … Whole thing?

Me, casually: No, I mean, I just thought I’d pick it up. 

Dude cashiers 1 and 2 together, ahgast: Duuuude. You have to start at the beginning. 

2: Seriously, it’s SO GOOD

1: Sooo GOOD, dude. (Fanning through the pages, showing some to #2) See, it’s the one…

2: That ends with the…

1: The this…?

1 and 2, looking at the final page: Ooooooh, d00000d!

2: You can not read this. Not YET

I left with the book and guidance on how to pick up the first several volumes, and I promised that I would not, under any circumstances, read ahead, entirely happy with this chance encounter with enthusiastic fans of their store’s product. Thanks, guys! 

Went and got an iPhone

For a while there back in 2010 I kept waiting on the promises (by which I mean rumors) that the iPhone would soon-anyday-now-for-real be coming to Verizon. (whose signal is quite a bit better than the alternatives in my mountain town, and I get a company discount, too) But the time came I was tired of waiting, so I eventually pulled the trigger and went for a Droid X. And I liked it, and it worked very well for a while, and I spent quit a bit of time tuning applications and integrating it into my Mac desktop and workflow.

But along the way it started to get unstable. It wasn’t uncommon for it to hard-freeze while in the car dock, or if I locked it while using the camera app. It seemed to slow down, too, taking increasing (and increasingly frustrating) long times to do things that a phone should just do, like make calls.

Also, I dropped it three months ago and the rightmost fifth of the screen went dark. Do you know how much stuff, important stuff, is over there? The clock, scroll bars, send and submit buttons in a whole lot of apps, for example. Oh, the comedy of my rotating the phone to reveal a button, or blindly tapping in hopes of finding “send.”

So it was a good run, little, er big honkin’ Droid, but when my clock came up and I could upgrade, I was at the VZW store when it opened (this part was actually by accident, but I was the second guy in the door that morning) and came home with a black 32gb 4S.

Oh. My. There’s just. Why didn’t anybody tell me? It’s so good, and all the slavering over specifications at the gadget blogs about multi-core and 4.6-inch droid screens is just utter nonsense all of a sudden, because Apple just nails this thing.

I turn on the camera app, and there’s the camera. Not only does the app simply start up with a barely perceptible delay, but the quality absolutely smokes that of the droid. The camera lag matters more as my toddler gets faster; waiting for the camera to boot was okay when he was immobile, but the guy is on the move now, people, and shutter lag and slow startup were getting in my way.

The screen is gorgeous. Crisp, clear, colorful. Apps that I got used to working with on the droid — like 1password, tweetdeck, instapaper — are instead shockingly usable.

Tapping a phone number makes a call. I don’t wait, wondering if the tap registered. FaceTime is a revelation, one which my toddler is just agog over.

I mentioned my switch on the twittermatic, and a contact of mine expressed surprise to see me make the move, indicating that he expects many more to move in the opposite direction. Now that I’ve switched, I cannot imagine it. To be fair, android is — probably — forcing Apple to be competitive and pay attention to the apps and features landscape, but the past two years I’ve spent with my own droid is all I need to be very confident that nobody has the full packages together nearly as well. If there’s movement toward android right now, I expect it’s from first-time smartphone shoppers corralled by in-store salespeople. (I think smarter observers than I have made this point.) And as we come up on two years since the Verizon iPhone, I predict a surge of movement from VZW droids to iPhone.

Me, I’m happy.

Clay Shirkey on SOPA

As part of this week’s SOPA blackout protest, Clay Shirkey gave a great talk that puts the issue in context. (Bonus reading: Yochai Benkler’s Wealth of Networks)

Later he wrote a response to David Pogue on SOPA. Arguing that Pogue underestimates the controlling intent of the media proponents of SOPA:

And arguments like Pogue’s are dangerous not because they are pro-SOPA — Pogue himself is glad it is in trouble — but because they obscure the core historical fact: The American media industry tries to stifle user freedom. Every time. Every single time.

We should delight in the stand we’ve taken in favor of things like, say, notifications, and trials, and proof before censoring someone, but we should get ready to do it again next year, and the year after that. The risk now is not that SOPA will pass. The risk is that we’ll think we’ve won. We haven’t; they’ll be back. Get ready to have this fight again.

Reads

I may not be writing much these days, but I’ve been enjoying my eveningtime cruises around the internet for good things to read. Lately I’ve been diving around a bunch of interesting places:

Hello, Typepad: On the Bo Ssam Miracle,

One of the things I love about the Momofuku restaurants is that I get the feeling that everyone who works there — bartenders, folks behind the register, and waiters — all embody and promote a culture of enthusiasm for the food and passion for doing things the right way. You’d no sooner have a fork out of alignment or have a dirty plate on the table too long than get a dry bo ssam. I don’t think that’s the result of a strict resume filter, it’s because Chang & his lieutenant’s have a strong defined culture & hire people who fit that culture and have the ability to grow within & without it. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s an important one.

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Seoul Brother on saying goodbye to his dog.

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Mat Honan at CES:

I’m forever wanting something new. Something I’ve never seen before, that no one else has. Something that will be both an extension and expression of my person. Something that will take me away from the world I actually live in and let me immerse myself in another. Something that will let me see more details, take better pictures, do more at once, work smarter, run faster, live longer.

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Slacktivist on pulling a Brisbane:

Arthur Brisbane’s column is an admission of journalistic malpractice. He should be told to step away from his desk and go home before he does any more damage. The New York Times ought to be furious for what he has done to its once-respected name.

And his name should become a shorthand epithet for all who are clueless about the most basic purpose of their jobs. The next time a cornerback totally flubs the coverage to allow an easy touchdown, the announcer should say, “Boy, he really pulled a Brisbane on that play. He looked like he had no idea why he was even on the field …”

WriteMonkey: a lightweight text environment for Windows

I recently came across WriteMonkey, a very good “zen” — or minimal distraction — editor for markdown. This came along at just the right time for me to draft a couple of documents in a situation where I wanted to get away from the standard office software environment: I needed a bit of a break and wanted to just work in plain text with a little markup for a while.

WriteMonkey handled the task perfectly. It can push a document, styled per a custom style sheet or using its own built in CSS, to Word or HTML for printing or sharing — quite handy.

And then I discovered how much it has under the hood, and found that it’s more than an editor, but a full-on machine for working in text files. It has what it calls “jumps”: regular expression-based search terms that, when matched, can define the maching block of text with any arbitrary designation. Then a built-in navigator pop-up shows those blocks in a list. So, one could define a regex match with TODO at the beginning of a line and use the jump viewer to display all the TODO items in a file full of stuff. (This was the first thing I did, based on the tips at the writemonkey site).

I set up a couple more, too: A regular expression to show a particular header format in a journal file where I quickly dash off notes to myself, and one that shows the first part of text snippets from drafts of language I’m working on in other documents. There isn’t support for multiple windows (comes with the full-screen “zen” option), but WriteMonkey lets you quickly ctrl-tab between recent documents.

Finally, WriteMonkey has a built-in scratch space for every document, accessible via alt-r. It’s a great place for storing all those snippets and todos that accompany the main document, without cluttering up the main text. All that and it’s a portable app: No installation or anything required other than clicking the executable. In two days of use it was a huge help at creating a nice environment for doing the writing and organizing I had to get done.

Blogging

A little anniversary passed me by in November:


pedal:data alan$ whois schussman.com

[…] Updated Date: 17-nov-2011 Creation Date: 25-nov-2001 Expiration Date: 25-nov-2012

Creation Date: 25-nov – 2011! I’ve held this little vanity domain for ten years now, making both it and me unquestionably ancient in real- and internet-years.

As I ego-dove a few years ago:

… due to a squirrely web host disappearing entirely one night, I don’t have any records of the first site I built except for a few miscellaneous graphics floating around. It was wicked cool (I maintain), though, using a simple perl-based templating system to display the most recent of a set of dated text files within a design and with navigation around index to the other files…

Seriously, it was awesome. That’s how we rolled in the aughts: We cobbled together our own custom templating tools and uploaded text files to our web host using some godawful Gnome FTP client. My hosting has been more stable (well, none of them have vanished, anyway), so now I have the complete blog record from January 2002 onward.

So I pulled the numbers to see my activity over time (which, by the way, is one good reason to work on a platform that one can control directly, rather than a hosted service: Want to make data from a database? Just run a query against it!). Here’s the per-month data for 2002 through November 2011:

Cool, right? Check that downward slope into 2007 as I finished graduate school, spent some time in Seattle, and thought about what to do next. Aside from a bit of a bump towards the end of 2008 (I was doing a lot of Lightroomn tinkering and writing then), I’ve kept it pretty quiet around here the last few years (lots more casual posting to twitter and facebook, family-blogging at posterous and brief flirtations with various devoweled-platforms). I don’t know if more blogging is on the horizon, but it’s fun to explore the past ten years a bit (Kieran recently did this in style, producing full-on ebook).

Ride the Divide - race visualization

I watched Ride the Divide on Netflix tonight. It’s a really well put-together documentary about a mountain bike race from Banff, Canada, across the entire great divide, to the New Mexico-Mexico border. It features great photography and strong characters in these semi-nuts enthusiasts who take on the adventure, and turns out to be a pretty moving story.

It also has a bang-up cool race visualization:

Ride the Divide image
Ride the Divide image

The image features the relative positions of all the racers along the route — leaders, followers, and distance between them — their current altitudes, the mileage and location of the current subject, day of the race, relative distances to travel through each state, elevation of the overall route, and total travel distance for the entire race (2711 miles!). In a single, dense image, you get a ton of data. Quite cool.

Bits and Pieces Without Any Meta Blogging Nonsense

Via Jim Ray, your job title is not your worth.

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The trouble with video games isn’t the violence. It’s that most of the characters are dicks. There are so many quotable lines in this one:

Every pixel of Modern Warfare 3 oozes machismo. It’s all chunky gunmetal, booming explosions and stubbly men blasting each other’s legs off. Yet consider what genteel skills the game itself requires. To succeed, you need to be adept at aiming a notional cursor and timing a series of button-pushes. It’s about precision and nimble fingers. Just like darning a sock in a hurry. Or creating tapestry against the clock.

(I don’t actually think this is the trouble with video games; I’m a fan of plenty of them and am in fact entirely unable to resist the Humble Bundle).

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Slacktivist continues to be among the very best things out there on the internets: The Search for New Ways to Take our Money

Banks were able to transfer more than $36 billion a year from us to them through the larcenous “overdraft protection” racket in part by stroking our egos. We Americans love nothing more than being told we’re above average — that we’re exceptionally virtuous and responsible people who are better than our neighbors. By indulging that vanity, banks were able to suppress much of the outrage that might otherwise have accompanied the annual theft of $36 billion. They got us to pretend that this was just something that happened to irresponsible people who irresponsibly failed to maintain large balances in their checking accounts.

But this new generation of myriad fees and fee-hikes designed to recoup that same $36 billion a year can’t be as easily dismissed as being a useful expression of disapproval of the irresponsible, immoral, undeserving poor. These hit everyone indiscriminately, and even the most financially responsible and insufferably self-righteous won’t be able to pretend that these are excusable or justifiable or anything other than flimsy pretexts for the banks reaching into private accounts and withdrawing money simply because that money is there and they want it.

(PS: Fred’s ongoing Jenkins and LaHaye read-along is simply a masterpiece.)

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A Conspiracy of Hogs: While spinning a theory that the McRib is a function of fluctuations in the pig market (or, perhaps more specifically and grotesquely, the hog offal slurry market), Willy Staley turns out passages like:

Fast food involves both hideously violent economies of scale and sad, sad end users who volunteer to be taken advantage of. What makes the McRib different from this everyday horror is that a) McDonald’s is huge to the point that it’s more useful to think of it as a company trading in commodities than it is to think of it as a chain of restaurants b) it is made of pork, which makes it a unique product in the QSR world and c) it is only available sometimes, but refuses to go away entirely.

If you can demonstrate that McDonald’s only introduces the sandwich when pork prices are lower than usual, then you’re but a couple logical steps from concluding that McDonald’s is essentially exploiting a market imbalance between what normal food producers are willing to pay for hog meat at certain times of the year, and what Americans are willing to pay for it once it is processed, molded into illogically anatomical shapes, and slathered in HFCS-rich BBQ sauce.

Read the whole thing, as they say.

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Made by Hand 2: The Knife Maker: Just a great short study in craft and expertise.

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“To the Moon” review at Rock Paper Shotgun: Closure to the “video game characters are dicks” thread: Good video games make thick-skinned reviewers weep. I want to install Parallels and Windows just to play this.

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I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to make the chimichanga the state food of Arizona. The rest of the country already thinks we’re sort of nuts, right?

Using Alfred to manage tasks

Recent updates to Alfred (my earlier post here) have greatly enhanced its capabilities to run local scripts and extensions. I’ve long used the Journal Tasks TextMate bundle in conjunction with geektool to manage and display a small to-do list in one corner of my OS X desktop, and now with Alfred I can instantly add items to that list. Quite slick.

Here’s the task list viewed in TextMate: Simple and no frills.

quick list textmate

And geektool displays it on the desktop using a bit of awk:

awk '!/@done/' ~/DropBox/SimpleText/Quick\ List.taskpaper

quick list desktop

I’ve set up an Alfred extension to add to the list using the “do” command:

alfred quicklist

The command in Alfred looks like this:

perl -p -i -e 's/^Quick List:\n/Quick List:\n\n- {query}/' ~/Dropbox/SimpleText/Quick\ List.taskpaper; growlnotify -m "Added item to quicklist"

It finds the header for the appropriate part of the list, and inserts the query passed to it at the top of the list. (Update paths as appropriate; I keep my quick list file in my DropBox folder.)

Growl provides a nice visual confirmation that the item has been added. I still have to open the file in TextMate to mark items as @done and periodically expunge completed items, but it’s great to be able to effortlessly add to the list.

The entire Alfred extension is at github.