A Forgotten Virtue

Seen this paean to obsolescence? I hadn’t until Jackie brought it to my attention, and now I’m passing the favor on to you.

It is fairly lengthy–though that shouldn’t bother anyone who reads my ramblings here–but if you don’t have the patience right now, the tl;dr is that the author, one Ian Bogost, believes that computing technology reached its peak in the early 1990s.

He argues that all of the advances since then–the ability to run quietly, multitask, go online without dialup, use a display big enough to see clearly, and so on–are actually regressions.

I detect a certain amount of Mr. Bogost’s tongue in his cheek, yet the final impression is that he’s quite serious in his praise of archaeo-computing*.

* Yes, I know that the term “retrocomputing” is in common parlance. Mr. Bogost, however, takes the concept to a whole ‘nother level.

Look, I’m not immune to the lure of the small, underpowered computer. You know my love for my Windows tablet. I’ve got a couple of netbooks*. They still work, and I still use them occasionally.

* I’m convinced that what doomed the netbook was not its lack of power, but its lack of screen resolution. 1366×768 just isn’t big enough to get any serious work done in a GUI environment. Give me a ten-inch screen large enough to display something close to a full page of text at a readable size, and I’m in. Why do you think that the iPad is so popular? It’s basically a netbook that swaps the keyboard for a high-resolution screen.

But there are things that just can’t be done with a small computer. Writing, sure. Editing? Probably. Software development? Only if you’re building something to run on that same device. Art? Video editing? Forget it, unless you’re okay with an input lag measured in seconds and rendering times measured in weeks. Games? Anything more taxing than a crossword puzzle or hand of solitaire is going to run slower than real time.

Mr. Bogost, it appears, considers the greater part of the last two decades to have been wasted effort. There is, he says, virtue in a computer that makes you wait and that pummels you with noise while you twiddle your thumbs.

The lack of capability and speed and the noise generated combined to force computer owners to limit their screen time (to use an expression that dates to 1921).

Apparently he missed–or has forgotten–the online communities of the time. There might not have been a Facebook sucking up hours of users’ time. But there was GEnie. Prodigy. AOL. Usenet, for crying out loud.

Text adventures. I can’t count how many hours I spent on the computer game of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. Heck, anyone else remember “Leisure Suit Larry”? I wonder if Mr. Bogost remembers “Zork”.

It’s the final paragraph of Mr. Bogost’s piece that really sets my teeth to grinding. He concludes by turning off his ancient computer and declares that act to be literally impossible today.

I’ve got news for him. Every flipping piece of technology he references–his laptop, his tablet, and his smartphone–has a power switch. He can do exactly the same thing as with his Macintosh SE.

Why doesn’t he? Because he doesn’t want to wait for them to turn back on. Waiting, it seems, is only a virtue when you have no choice.

Settling In, Settling Down

Lefty is definitely relaxing around us. Which is not to say he’s comfortable; we’re nowhere near the point of giving him pettings. But when he retreats from our presence, he no longer does it at high velocity. He’s sniffed our fingers a few times. And he’s decided that the camera might not be his enemy.
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Note the calm-but-cautious expression. A considerable improvement over last month’s “alert” to say nothing of the even earlier “get thou away from me, oh evil biped!”

Rufus, of course, has no trouble relaxing.
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The computer desk is one of his current favorite spots. I’m not crazy about having a fur-bearing creature right in front of the computer’s cooling vents, but he does seem to be making an effort to leave an air gap, so I haven’t made an issue of it.

And, while he’s always been a very mellow fellow, amiable and eager to please, he does have some firm opinions.

Currently, his firmest opinion is that the desk is his spot.

I was working at the computer earlier this week, upgrading the OS, when Rufus decided it was time for a nap. He strolled up the back of the futon (just visible to the left side of the picture), shoved the mouse off the desk, and flaked out.
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Bets on whether that’s an innocent blep or a message aimed at anyone who would try to usurp Rufus’ computer desk?

Run It Up!

Because that’s how the game is played, of course.

Oh, sorry. I’m talking about the biggest sports story that many news outlets aren’t covering. Editorial departments are covering it, though…

Specifically, the Women’s World Cup is under way and the US team–the defending champions–are off to a hot start.

Ferociously hot, in fact, beating Thailand 13-0.

I imagine there will be more coverage on the Sports page of your local paper (if you still have one) eventually, but so far most of what’s seen print or electrons has been pontification.

“Why didn’t they ease up when it was obvious they were going to win?”

Which brings us back to my opening paragraph.

Blowouts are a fact of life in every sport. They may be rarer in soccer than in other sports–thirteen goals is a monstrously large number–but they happen.

Some sports do have unwritten rules against running up the score. In baseball, for example, some people consider it bad form to steal bases when you’re five runs ahead. Or seven. Or only if it’s the seventh inning or later. Maybe more people would follow the rule if everyone agreed what the rule is. But I digress.

It’s common to pull your starters out when you’ve got a big lead late. Not universal, though. And those replacements you put in are going to be playing hard, because putting up good numbers is the only way they’ve got to petition for more playing time (which–indirectly–means a bigger paycheck).

Other sports, not so much. I’ve never heard of a hockey team going easy on an opponent after running up a six goal lead. Not saying it doesn’t happen, just that I haven’t heard of it.

And soccer is more like hockey than baseball: continuous action, an opportunity to switch from defense to offense at any moment, a set length to the game, and so on.

Looked at from another perspective, letting up could be seen as establishing a bad habit. If you relax and lighten up after taking a five goal lead today, are you going to unconsciously do the same next week when you’ve got a four goal lead?

There are other reasons–off-field reasons–why the US Women’s National Team would want to make every game a major blowout if they can. That’s beside the point here.

Because most of the editorials I’ve seen start from an unstated premise that “women don’t act like that.”

I call bullshit.

Competitive sports are, by definition, competitive, and the people who play them–male, female, or decline to state–compete. Granted, in my experience, women are more likely to commiserate with a defeated opponent after the game. But the key word there is “after”.

Hey, last Wednesday the Mariners beat the Astros 14-1. Nobody said they should have stopped hitting home runs after the sixth inning. They lost 13-3 a few days before that, and nobody called for the Angles to take it easy after they scored their seventh run in the second inning.

In the moment, you play to win. If that means an occasional blowout, so be it. No matter what your sport or your sex.

Misinterpretation

I know I’ve been talking about advertising a fair amount lately, but I hope you’ll indulge me in one more take on the subject. If it helps any, today’s focus is not TV commercials. We’re taking a look at poorly thought out and poorly presented print advertising.

Notice anything wrong about this ad? (Kate, I know you do. Give the rest of the group a minute to spot it.)
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It’s an interesting bit of technology, intended to solve a real-world problem. Unfortunately, the virtues of the product are undercut by the advertising department’s mistake.

Here me now: Unless there’s a deliberate joke involved (see, for instance, Chick-fil-A’s “Eat Mor Chikin” ads*), it is never acceptable to release an ad with a misspelled word.

* Great ads, deplorable corporate practices. But that’s beside the point today.

Does the copywriter know the difference between “hear” and “here”? It’s possible they don’t–their spellchecker would have flagged “hereing” after all.

But how does a blooper like this slip past? Does the company not realize there’s a difference between a copywriter and a copyeditor? Or were they too cheap to pay for a copyedit? If so, makes you wonder what they’re doing with the $120 bucks they take in for each set of headphones. (Yes, that is the price; I had to trim the photo.)

Stupid, easily avoidable mistakes like this one give a poor impression of the company. At some level, anyone who sees it is going to associate poor quality control in an advertisement with poor quality control of the actual product.

Moving on.

There’s nothing wrong with this ad.
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Okay, let me amend that. Regardless of one’s feelings about King’s Hawaiian buns and bread, the actual ad here is reasonable. It gives prominence to the unique feature of the product (an–IMNSHO–overly sweet roll), communicates the price and the product variations (beef and chicken), and incorporates a relevant tagline.

Perfectly legit.

The problem is that the advertisers (the Sonic chain of drive-in restaurants) didn’t consider all of the ways and places they’d be hyping the product.

What works well in a full-page graphic format doesn’t work so well in a text-only medium where space is constrained. Like, say, an LED ad board outside the restaurant.

Simplifying the message to “Try our King’s Hawaiian Clubs” points the viewer in the wrong direction:
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That’s a real King’s Hawaiian club, and yes, those are shark’s teeth around the perimeter. This is not something to sink your teeth into; it’s something that’ll sink its teeth into you.

(The maker of that particular weapon, by the way, sells a variety of related products. They look great and the prices are reasonable for what they are. I could quibble with some of the text on that webpage–I’d have said “indigenous” rather than “endemic”, for example–but most of my objections are concerns over artistic matters rather than effectiveness or appropriateness.)

It’s an oversight on the advertiser’s part. Not fatal–the context of the ads plays a part in conveying the message–but vexing.

Plan ahead, consider alternate points of view and possible misinterpretations, and–especially where multiple cultures are involved–include people from a variety of backgrounds on your planning team.

Not a Neighbor

I can’t possibly let a Friday go by without a post. But the gang hasn’t done anything photo-worthy since I got home from Sedalia.

Fortunately, I have alternatives.

Meet Missy, official shop cat of Chelsea’s Antiques.
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That’s a typical pose for her. Usually, if she’s not asleep on a sun-warmed chair, she’s actively ignoring the store’s clientele.
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Which is not to say Missy is unfriendly. She’s almost always willing to accept the pettings that are her due. She just doesn’t make a big deal out of it.

At least, that’s the way she’s been on all of my previous visits to Chelsea’s.

This year, however, she was in quite a different mood.
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She met us at the door and demanded attentions. Naturally, I obliged with ear rubs and back strokes. She appreciated those, but seemed uninterested in chin scratching. When I offered, she retreated a few steps.

And then she circled around me, sometimes leading, sometimes following, as I walked around the shop. Every time I stopped to look at something, she started rubbing against nearby surfaces: an obvious request for more patting.
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Of course I succumbed to her pleadings.

And, every time, she accepted no more than four pats, then retreated and resumed circling around me. Tsundere in action.

Next time you’re in Sedalia, drop by Chelsea’s Antiques. There’s plenty of good stuff there–in addition to Missy.

WWDC 2019

I’m back from Sedalia, mostly caught up on everything that’s been going on in the world while I’ve been out of touch, and feeling guilty about not having commented on Apple’s WWDC last year. I’m sure we can all agree that Apple’s plans for the coming year are far more important than anything else that’s happening (Trade tarifs? Disaster relief? What are those?), so I’ll start there.

Of course, the keynote address, which is where I get all my information was Monday–while I was driving halfway across Missouri–so you’ve probably seen some of this in your local newspapers already. But that’s okay. The extra days should allow me to give a more nuanced, thoughtful take on the story.

And if you believe that, perhaps I can interest you in my new business: selling snowplows to airports in the tropics. (Don’t laugh. Turns out snowplows are the most efficient way known to humanity for clearing storm debris off of airport runways.)

Anyway, the opening announcement gave quick references to Apple News+, Apple Arcade (later this year), Apple Card (later this summer), and Apple TV+ (this fall). Three of the four are extensions to existing things. The fourth? Dunno about you, but I’m not sure I’m ready to have the credit card reinvented. Didn’t it cause enough trouble the first time it was invented?

Moving on.

tvOS, which powers the Apple TV boxes is getting a facelift with a new homescreen. It’s also going to handle Apple Music, and games in the Apple Arcade will support controllers from your PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. That’s a nice ecumenical gesture on Apple’s part. Gamers can be passionate about the One True Controller, so there’s a lot of goodwill in letting them bring their favorite to an otherwise tightly controlled garden.

Moving on.

Apple Watches are also getting enhancements, of course. New faces. Chimes that include physical taps–I like this idea, actually. It should cut down on the “Who’s phone just rang?” dance. Better audio support–voice memos and audio books. A calculator (really? It took five iterations of the Apple Watch to bring out a calculator?) App Store support, so you can still buy apps even if you leave your phone in your backpack.

Naturally, there are also updates to the health features. Progress tracking over the past ninety days with nags if you’re falling behind on your goals. I’m sure those will be amazingly persuasive to get off our lazy behinds and exercise harder.

Hey, I like this one: Apple Watch will monitor noise levels and alert you if they reach levels that could damage your hearing. An actual use case for those new chimes, since you probably won’t be able to hear the old ones. Good to know my watch will be ready to distract me from the music at the next BABYMETAL concert.

Cycle tracking. That one sounds useful. Useful enough that they’re making it available in iOS so even women without an Apple Watch can get the benefits. It looks like initial features are somewhat limited, but I expect enhancements over the next few iterations of watchOS.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be WWDC without the announcement of new Watch bands–including a Pride edition.

Moving on.

IOS 13 will, of course, be much faster than the ancient iOS 12 that came out last year. Apps will download faster, install faster, and launch faster. One hopes they’ll also run faster once they’re launched, but Apple was curiously quiet about that aspect.

There’s a Dark Mode. For all you fans of Darth Vader, I suppose. Personally, I dislike Dark Mode: I find white text on a black background hard to read. But different strokes. Enjoy.

The keyboard now supports swiping. Only about five years behind Google on that one. But, to be fair, Google’s swiped more than a few tricks from Apple during those five years.

Lots of changes in the default apps around text formatting and image handling. Maps are updated with more detail and more 3D geometry. Integration with street level photographs (more maintenance of feature parity with Google).

More enhancements to privacy. One-time permissions: you can require an app to ask you every time it wants access to your location. (I wonder if that applies to Apple’s own apps, or if it’s only for third-party apps.) If you give it blanket permission, Apple will send you reports on what the app knows. They’re also making it harder for apps to use Bluetooth and Wi-Fi information to figure out your location. That’s a nice improvement that’s going to piss off a lot of app makers who haven’t been able to come up with a good excuse to ask for location data.

Here’s a cool one: Apple is introducing a “Sign in with Apple” feature that uses Face ID to authenticate you to websites and apps. The cool part is that it can create single-use email addresses that you can give to websites that require an address. The site never sees your real email address, and Apple will automatically forward messages from the fake address to the real one. Hopefully it’ll also work the other way, so if you reply to an email from a company, it’ll go out under the fake address.

Homekit now supports handling video (motion detection, alerts, and all the other good stuff) on your device instead of sending everything to the cloud. That’s a big win.

A few more quickies: more flexible memoji, if that’s your thing. Improvements to photo taking and editing. Adding camera filters to video. Automatic categorization of photos and AI-generated displays that try to be context-aware. (I suspect the key word there is “try”.)

Moving on.

More capable Siri in AirPods. Allowing temporary pairing of AirPods (so you can share your audio with somebody for the length of a song or a movie and not have them automatically able to hear everything you do from then on.) Handing audio from iPhone to HomePod and vice-versa. Access to streaming radio stations. HomePod can recognize individuals and give them different experiences.

The big change is that iPads are going to get a customized version of iOS, inevitably called iPadOS. Lots of tweaks to take advantage of the larger screen, like widgets on the home screen. Apps can have multiple windows open at once. I love that idea: being able to have two Word documents open side by side, for example, is a major productivity booster when editing.

Support in the Files app for USB drives and SD cards. That’s great for photos, when you want to import or export just a few images without copying the entire photo roll over Wi-Fi.

Safari on iPads can now get the desktop version of a site instead of the mobile version.

Lots of tweaks to editing as well, mostly around three-finger gestures for copy/paste/undo.

I have to wonder if all these goodies are going to make it onto all the supported iPads–for that matter, will iPadOS be available to older iPads at all?

Moving on.

There’s a new Mac Pro. Hugely powerful and much more expandable than the previous version. And a matching monitor. Would you believe 32-inch, 6016×3384 display? Believe it.

Believe the price tags, too. The Mac Pro starts at $6,000 and goes up from there. Which is actually not out of line for it’s capabilities. Want that lovely monitor (or several of them–supposedly the Pro can use up to six of them at once)? Plan on spending $5,000 for each of those. (Again, not unreasonable for the feature set.) Oh, and don’t forget the $999 for the monitor stand. Now that’s just ridiculous. Yes, the stand can raise and lower the monitor, tilt it, and rotate it to portrait mode. But there are plenty of third-party monitor stands that will do all the same things for a tenth of the price.

New year, new operating system. This year’s version of macOS is “Catalina”.

Thankfully, iTunes is getting broken up into three separate programs. One to handle music, one for podcasts, and one for video. That should make life considerably simpler for anyone who only does music, and it should end the current view of TV programs and movies as music that happens to have an inconvenient video track.

Got an iPad and a Mac? Of course you do; doesn’t everyone? With Catalina, you’ll be able to use the iPad as an external monitor for the Mac. That’s been possible with third-party apps, but now it’ll be built into the OS. And yes, it’ll support all of the iPads’ touch functionality, including Apple Pencil, and it’ll do it over Wi-Fi. Very handy, indeed.

Voice control. Find My Mac. Activation lock. For developers, a path to quickly convert iPad apps to Mac apps.

Actually, quite a lot for developers. Much convergence between iOS and macOS. Though the claims that companies will be able to do apps that support all Apple products without adding specialized developers sound suspect. Maybe they won’t need separate Mac and iPhone teams, but they’re still going to need the people–and my cynical side suggests that any developer savings will be totally wiped out by the need for more QA folk who can test cross-platform.

Bottom line here is that, unlike the last couple of years, Apple has promised some things that sound genuinely exciting. Not necessarily revolutionary, but well worth having if you’re in the Apple infrastructure. Just don’t get your hopes high for a continuation next year. Odds are good that 2020 will be a year of minor tweaks and enhancements to the goodies that show up this fall.

Knitting the Raveled Sleeve

By the time you see this post, I’ll have been in Sedalia for a couple of days. Fortunately, Rhubarb was kind enough to make himself available for photographs before I left.

He’s still one of the most peaceful sleepers around.
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Not just the expression on his face, though that’s delightful enough. But he stays in one position for longer periods of time than most cats. Certainly more than anyone else in our crew other than Rufus.

Nor does he always sleep alone. As we’ve seen in the past, he frequently cuddles with Yuki. Or perhaps “is cuddled by Yuki” would be a better way to put that.

Yuki does often use Rhubarb as a pillow–stability is a virtue in one’s headrest after all–but sometimes he just extends a paw or two, letting Rhubarb know he’s there without getting all demanding.

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Deer Here

We had some visitors the other day.
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Yes, despite the continued presence of the coyotes–though they haven’t been as frequently seen lately–the deer are still hanging around.

It is Fuzzy Antler Season, so they’re a bit restless.

Maggie got a slightly better picture:
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Complete with bonus deer butt.

Unfortunately, as soon as I went in search of a camera with a decent zoom, the deer remembered a pressing engagement elsewhere.

A great shame: I was hoping to get a better shot of the attractive pink insides of their ears. It looks very much like toe beans at a distance.

Are We Really Still Doing This?

I don’t know why I’m surprised, but I am.

Since the beginning of the year, Head & Shoulders shampoo has been running a pair of commercials promoting their product as giving you confidence to pursue your dreams.

Said dreams seem to be of smooching.

And I’ve got no problem with that. Other people, however, find the commercials offensive. See, for example, this blog post from somebody who finds the spot featuring a couple with mixed loyalties–Steelers and Patriots–to be highly unrealistic.

More serious, though, is the reaction to the other commercial. Because–oh, the horror; oh, the humanity; won’t somebody think of the children–the ad features a pair of young women.

Who kiss.

On camera.

Oh, woe!

Predictably, the commentary has been horrified. On one blog–which I won’t link to, because why would I want to give it any publicity?–the comments are running 15-1 against the commercial.

As I said, that was predictable. I expected as much. What did surprise me was the nature of the complaints:

Procter & Gamble shouldn’t be politicizing commercials and I’m never going to buy their products again.

What does shampoo have to do with lesbians? Fire whoever approved the ad!

Sex has nothing to do with shampoo.

Gay couples kissing on TV should only be allowed after 8pm! And certainly not during a Disney movie!

And–my personal favorite–If I ran a commercial featuring Christian values, I would be harassed and mistreated!

All these years of homophobic mistreatment and marginalization, and nobody has managed to come up with a new complaint? That is what really surprised me.

I’m not going to bother with a line by line refutation. If you’re reading this blog, you know the counterarguments at least as well as I do.

But it doesn’t speak well of the mental acuity of the complainers that they don’t know the counterarguments and see no reason to find new reasons to object. Another triumph of imagination over reality, I suppose.

Anyway, you may be expecting me to offer P&G kudos for not pulling the ad. I do, but only to a limited extent. See, there’s a message in this pair of commercials that I don’t think P&G intended. At least, I hope the didn’t intend it.

Consider: In both commercials, it’s a woman who’s nervous about smooching the object of her affection. A kind of nervousness that can only be cured by Head & Shoulders.

And yes, okay, it can be read as “We’re all the same under the skin, LGBT or not, we all have the same fears and desires.”

But something in the way the spots play out come off a little differently to me. I’m reading them as “Only women are so unsure of themselves that they need to take refuge in a bottle.”

Does anyone else remember when H&S was marketed exclusively to men? Maybe I’m watching the wrong shows, but I can’t remember the last time I saw it pitched to men as a confidence crutch. (I’d love to be proved wrong–let me know if you’ve seen H&S ads aimed at men recently.)

For that matter, the ads I remember pushed the shampoo as a cure for what was standing between you and the job of your dreams. Not the love of your life (or your casual hookup at the football game).

It’s an interesting shift of emphasis. Does P&G think women don’t want to be upwardly mobile in the office?

Anyway, if you want to see this hideously offensive ad for yourself, try here. Just don’t let your kids see it before 8pm, or they might turn into lesbians. Or, worse yet, Democrats.

Blinders

They can’t all be winners, I suppose.

Ideas, that is.

Case in point, I’ve been sitting here for the last hour, trying to make something entertaining out of my recent discovery that Google Calendar supports time zones.

The key word there, of course, is “trying”.

It’s a useful feature, especially when dealing with an event that spans multiple time zones (hello, plane flight to Missouri). But entertaining? Not so much.

There’s some minor humor in the fact that the feature has been around for nearly a decade–the oldest references I can find to it date back to 2011–but I only discovered it last week. And you all trust me to be on the cutting edge. Sorry about that.

Maybe it says more about the user interface designers than it does about me. Google does have something of a fetish for hiding controls behind menus, so they can display the actual information in a sea of whitespace.

That’s a fetish they share with Apple, by the way. Which means most of the rest of the tech industry falls in line. Arguably, it’s an improvement over the previous state of affairs, where every possible control was squeezed onto the main screen, or at most, moved one menu level down.

There are still some holdouts in the old style–Microsoft’s Ribbon Bar, I’m looking at you–but I digress.

In any case, I can’t blame the UI here. There’s a prominent “Time Zone” button right next to the date and time fields on the event creation/edit page.

Clearly, there’s a lesson here about willful blindness, seeing only what we expect to see, and the triumph of imagination over reality.

Puts a whole different light on climate change deniers, Trump supporters, and anti-vaccination activists, doesn’t it? It’s not that they’re denying the evidence. They literally don’t see it, even though it’s right in front of them.

Not that that’s a legitimate excuse. The Time Zone button is right there, whether or not I saw it.

Does make me wonder what else I’m missing out on, though.