27 January 2010


I've been remiss in my duties as an interaction designer to make predictions about the Apple iTablet which everyone presumes will be announced in a few hours. Fortunately, John Gruber has said exactly what I think in two posts. So: what he said.

I'm excited.

I have said for many years that there are only five fundamental form factors for personal computing, yet we have only colonized three of them, and one of them only recently: the Desk, the Clamshell, the Tablet, the Pocket Thing, and the Wrist Thing. Barring some kind of categorical VR breakthrough, the Desk is not going to go away in our lifetimes, though we can expect many of the details to change; even in a world that looks more like 10/GUI or Tog's Starfire demo or Apple's old Knowledge Navigator video, you need a place to sit comfortably, a big display, a way to input text, and a way to point to and act on virtual objects on your display. The Clamshell is basically the laptop we have now; it's a small portable Desk, its minimum size defined by the keyboard; barring the Singluarity, I expect that fifty years from now people will still have devices basically indistinguishable in form factor, much as the software running on them will likely change beyond recognition.

I had an epiphany about the Pocket Thing about a decade ago, when I read that in Southeast Asia cellphones had better market penetration than in the US but a majority of phone users there never used their phones for voice. Never! Instead, they used SMS, and games, and electronic calendars, and so forth. At that time I was an early adopter of both the cellphone and of the Palm Pilot, and I was already resenting having two electronic devices in my pocket. So I prophesied that a hundred years from now, everybody would have a powerful computer in their pocket which they would call a “phone” despite telephony being the least of its functions. Only ten years later, that has come true ... if you consider the knowledge workers of the industrialized world “everybody.”

My thinking about the need for a Tablet has always been informed by the one person I've ever met who used the old Apple Newton the way it was intended. He always had it with him, and he wrote everything in it. His secret: he was a paraplegic who always had a lap to set it on, and kept it in a case strapped to his wheelchair right next to his knee. Aside from arriving before silicon was powerful enough to make it work as well as you would want, the Newton was just a little too bulky; unless you were a paraplegic there was always the temptation to leave it behind. But it wouldn't have to be that much smaller to always go in your bag or your hand. Part of the magic of the Moleskine notebook is that it's precisely the right size for that, and what do you know ... that's the exact same size as the Apple iTablet is rumored to be.

Do you doubt that Apple's designers are Moleskine maniacs?

Some skeptics have said that this in-between form will never survive when you can get “the same thing” from either a laptop or a phone. These people have obviously never been in an office full of people precariously running to meetings with a laptop in one hand and a cup of coffee in another, only to discover that they guessed wrong about whether they needed to lug their laptop to that meeting.

Tablet skeptics have also said that the phone is enough as the device that is always with you. You can already get the web from it, they say. But I think that smartphone web surfing is the gateway drug that will make people understand the desirability of a tablet. Having experienced the value of anywhere, any time access to internet resources, which literally changes your life, you come to be frustrated with accessing it through the tiny window of the phone. When I go out for a solo lunch, I have my iPhone in my pocket and a book in my bag, and because the book may not suit my mood while the web is a bottomless ocean of content, I wind up reading from my squinty little phone about as often as I do from the beautiful trade paperback I have at hand. After a year of that, damn straight I'm willing to pay several hundred dollars for an iTablet that's just a bigger version of the same thing.

Especially if it means I can leave that book at home, because my entire library is available to me in one little device. I commented a couple of years ago about the absurdity of shlepping around data in book form. My movers have informed me that I own over three tons of books; that's more than the mass of all of my other possessions put together, including my motorcycle. I now have vivid fantasies about the time, only a few years away, when I can reduce my book collection to a single shelf of beautiful ornamental relics and have my entire library ... and eventually, every book ever published ... with me anywhere, any time.

The question I wonder about with Apple's expected effort is text entry. Just as I want to stop carrying around books, I want to stop using paper notebooks: what I write on paper isn't backed up, isn't searchable, and isn't easily transcribed into other electronic forms like this blog post. The big surprise of the iPhone was its surprisingly effective soft keyboard and I'm expecting that the iTablet is going to have some equally cunning and surprising text input mechanism, linked to some kind of notetaking tool. I cannot believe that Apple has missed that OneNote is the interesting thing about Microsoft's efforts toward a Tablet.

We'll know soon.

25 January 2010


I want to have handy that infographic about health care spending between countries.

23 January 2010


Caleb Larsen has created an artwork which has put itself on eBay. It comes with an end user license agreement.

  1. Artist has created a work of art titled “A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter (2009)” (“the Artwork”) which consists of a black box that places itself for sale on the auction website “eBay” (the “Auction Venue”) every seven (7) days. The Artwork consists of the combination of the black box or cube, the electronics contained therein, and the concept that such a physical object “sells itself” every week.
  2. Collector understands and agrees to the underlying concept and function of the Artwork and that the sale of the Artwork by Artist is dependent and conditioned upon Purchaser’s agreement and adherence to the below terms. Such terms are fundamental and crucial to the on-going viability and artistic integrity of the Artwork ....

Consider this: to keep it is to steal it.

For many reasons, not least that I am a fierce critic of most end user license agreements, I say: brilliant.

20 January 2010


OK Go, the band that gave us that awesome treadmill dance video for their song “Here It Goes Again,” explain that you cannot embed their latest video in your web pages because, well, the music industry cannot figure out their own business model.

four years after we posted our first homemade videos to YouTube and they spread across the globe faster than swine flu, making our bassist’s glasses recognizable to 70-year-olds in Wichita and 5-year-olds in Seoul and eventually turning a tidy little profit for EMI, we’re — unbelievably — stuck in the position of arguing with our own label about the merits of having our videos be easily shared. It’s like the world has gone backwards.

19 January 2010

Gee, what could it be?

Apple has finally officially announced an event on 27 January.

I guess Apple isn't being completely coy any more. (Recall that the iPhone was a total surprise announcement, after a long rap about AppleTV.)

I've not taken time to write up my predictions for the Apple Tablet (maybe I'll find time) but I can say that I think John Gruber at Daring Fireball is exactly right in his speculations.

Infrastructure matters

It turns out that Haiti's airport is a limiting factor in getting aid to the Haitians.

Col. Buck Elton, who was given the mission to open up airfield and assist with airlifts, says they have controlled 600+ takeoffs and landings in an airstrip that normally sees three takeoffs and landings a day.

Because the air traffic control tower has collapsed, all of this is being done by radio, on the ground - in a place that only has one runway/taxiway for planes, set directly in the middle of the airport and thus making it difficult for other planes to take off and arrive.

Whoa. If I ever find myself in the company of Col. Elton, I'm buying that man a drink.

18 January 2010

Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

For more than a decade, I've been spamming people with this note every year. Time marches on: this year the primary medium for that will be Facebook. If you were here this time last year, read it again anyway.

Really. Take a few minutes. I think it's important.

Most people have forgotten that at the civil rights march on Washington DC on 28 August 1963, Martin Luther King was not the featured speaker. He was not the icon of the movement that we think of today. He was a major player, yes, but there were others more famous, respected, and important at that time. The speech he gave — the one you know — changed that.

The importance of the speech is distinctively American. The United States, unique among nations, is a frankly artificial creation. France is the place in Europe where people speak French, but the US has no ethnic definition — this place is full of immigrants who decided to be Americans, and their children. Japan is an island, but there's nothing natural about the borders of the US — this place wound up a nation through a chaotic combination of war, purchase, legislative decisions, and (oh yeah) genocide. The US is an idea. Something we just made up.

This is why we have the peculiar veneration of documents that we do. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are the holiest of holies in our civic religion because they are made of words, made of ideas. Through acclamation over the years we have chosen a handful of other documents that tell us what the United States is, like Lincoln's Gettysburg address and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech. In that speech, the power of King's rhetoric and ideas was so great that hearing it transformed our understanding of what the nation was about. I know, I know, that's a White guy thing to say: it's not like plenty of folks didn't know about American racial injustice. But on the level of shared understanding of shared destiny, King gave voice to ideas implicit in the American national promise that had too long been denied. And still are denied today.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.

Go read it right now. It will only take five minutes of your time. With no exaggeration, I think it's your duty as an American. Yeah, this year we can celebrate it seeming almost unremarkable to have a Black President of the United States, but reading it you cannot help but realize that we have a lot of work left to do.

And while you're at it, take a little more time and read Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I know you did it back in school. It's worth doing again.

And if you really want extra credit, go read what he said on the last full day of his life.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you ...

15 January 2010


Roger Ebert's illness has been a tragedy for him but a blessing for the rest of us. Having lost the ability to speak he's started to put more energy into his not-always-related-to-film blog. (His twitter feed is pretty good, too, if you're into that sort of thing.)

A while back, he gave us a long reflection on the mystery of Jerry Berliant.

I was to see Jerry Berliant many times over the years. “This isn't an A-list party,” Marlene told me one night back in Chicago. “Jerry Berliant hasn't crashed it.”

The enigma of Jerry Berliant has fascinated Chicagoans for years. The Sun-Times columnist Irv Kupcinet, listing the stars at a premiere, would add: “...and Jerry Berliant, America's Guest.”

It's a strangely delightful tale of celebrity name-dropping, private security, and social engineering ... including an allusion to T. S. Elliot.

14 January 2010

Christ love

A friend of mine whose brief love affair with Christianity ended recently has been disheartened by recent evidence that Pat Robertson is even more a hateful lunatic than you tend to think.

In service of being fair and balanced, I offer Mel White quoting Bishop John Shelby Spong being awesome.

I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility.
It is time for the media to announce that there are no longer two sides to the issue of full humanity for gay and lesbian people.
I see no way that ignorance and truth can be placed side by side, nor do I believe that evil is somehow less evil if the Bible is quoted to justify it.
Therefore, I will from this moment on refuse to dignify the continued public expression of ignorant prejudice by engaging it. I do not tolerate racism or sexism any longer. From this moment on, I will no longer tolerate our culture’s various forms of homophobia.


13 January 2010


Linda Holmes at NPR has an interesting observation about a sitcom.

I truly despised the pilot of CBS's The Big Bang Theory, which aired in the fall of 2007. I found it unfunny, obnoxious, stilted, and tired. But now, having been persuaded to try it again this fall -- and intrigued by the fact that its audience was steadily growing, which very rarely happened -- I've really come to love it

Funny, I caught an episode of the show early on (maybe it was the pilot) and was similarly unimpressed, and then found myself exposed to it again recently (I think on an airplane?) and had the same reaction. What happened?

She outlines in fascinating detail that the answer is: just a little bit of ... feminism.

When people say things like “male gaze,” it's easy for it to seem (1) extremely obscure and (2) absolutely no fun at all, in addition to (3) not really relevant if you aren't in film school. But the changes in this particular show make for a great example of the fact that you don't just avoid empty, cliched versions of women (or men, and I am looking at you, Sex And The City) because they're offensive or infuriating or anything like that. The best creative reason to avoid them is that they make your show bad.

Click through, if only to see the “Sheldon knocking” montage.

09 January 2010

Exploitation movie

Looking at movie listings, I just discovered Bitch Slap playing today. Now I love exploitation movies, so it's not like I don't see what they're going for in the trailer for this picture. I can respect the honesty of pure exploitation that just is what it is, and I can respect good ironic pleasure-alloyed-with-critique, as exemplified by how the violence in Inglorous Basterds very deliberately offers us both pleasure and discomfort with your own enjoyment of it. But there's a school of dishonest exploitation—“it's not really offensive, it's okay because it's ironic”—and I smell it all over the trailer. Paying a visit to the website, I see that it promises ...

a mysterious Female Narrator who comments periodically on the folly of humanity, the plight of the human condition, and the vagaries of life and love through quoting the likes of Dostoyevsky, T. S. Eliot, Sun Tzu, and even Buddha
... which seems like Trying A Little Too Hard. Rotten Tomatoes seems to confirm my suspicion.

I write all of this not because I have a real opinion (having not seen the film) but to set up my disappointment that Roger Ebert hasn't reviewed the movie so he can say to the filmmakers, “I knew Russ Meyer, and you guys ... are no Russ Meyer.”