Archive for June, 2010

Aw, here’s to the crazies…

Dicking around with icons today, I happened to zoom in to check out the icon for OS X’s TextEdit application in detail…

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That’s pretty classy. It’s from Apple’s Think Different campaign from the nineties.

Dear ABC|iView

screen-shot-2010-06-28-at-60231-pm.pngHi!

I think it’s awesome that the ABC is offering TV shows online, but I have problems with *how* they are being offered. By making the iView website one big Adobe Flash application the thing breaks all accessibility guidelines– text is not selectable, the user interface can not be enlarged for the vision impaired, and keyboard navigation is virtually non-existent. Any decent interface, especially a web-based one, should be navigable without a mouse!

I bought a PS3 partly on the promise of iView integration, but I discover now that all it does is open the iView web page, which can ONLY be navigated on the PS3 via the game controller (and not the media remote). So the experience is exactly like using iView on a desktop, only without a mouse, ie: Horrible!

Even if Flash is necessary for the video playback, there is no justification for implementing the whole iView site with it–  something that could have been done more easily, cheaply, openly and more *accessibly* in HTML.

Why o why does the ABC hate the disabled?

Digital Media Shenanigans

I’m well on the way to securing my status as Single Guy with Too Much Free Time now that I have my own place as well as both an Xbox 360 and a PS3+PlayTV.

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Most of this evening has been spent rearranging my whole setup, with cables and boxes everywhere, and the rest of the time configuring media related software. The 360 was a bit of a stupid purchase actually since I knew there was a new one about to be launched but I went and paid full retail anyway, for a system that just a week later (after the new one was officially announced) I could have gotten for $150 less.

The later PS3 purchase was largely inspired by the relatively new PlayTV add-on, as well the promise of ABC iView integration, and to a small extent the option of watching Blu-ray movies.

Here follows my carefully considered and balanced opinions of the two systems’ strengths and weaknesses:

Xbox 360 (not the just announced shiny one):

  • Noisy! Originally I had this on a shelf below the TV but the whine of the fan got on my nerves so now it is stashed behind a glass cabinet door. The new one is supposed to be quieter, and it would want to be.
  • Stupid! Would you believe that it doesn’t come with built-in wireless networking? It didn’t even occur to me that this would be an issue since both the PS3 and the Wii have had wireless forever. The XBox 360 Wifi adapter can be purchase separately for something like 50% the cost of the original console.
  • Ugly! That concave casing really doesn’t look right anywhere in a home media setup. It wouldn’t be so bad if at least the front panel was flat, but it is not. The new 360 has a more faceted design, but still if you keep it horizontally it looks like someone has kicked in a big dent at the front.
  • Clumsy/Inconsistent/Schizophrenic – I’m really starting to appreciate Apple at this point, for their ability to make a remote with almost no buttons which still gets things done. The amount of time with xbox I expect a button to play something but instead it “selects” and opens another tab… argg! So I decided to run Windows Media Center on it for a more media-centric experience (since hey it’s supposed to be a games machine normally) but it’s hardly just a mattering of flicking it into a different mode. I can’t believe I have to wait almost 20 seconds for it to: Launch; Search for a Windows PC; Connect; Show splash screen; fade in to pretty but not particularly great WMC interface. Urgggh. And now that I’m in WMC mode, none of the buttons work like they do when playing media from the regular 360 dashboard. It took me ages to find the play/pause button on the controller, because for some incomprehensible reason it is the Right Thumbstick Button, ie you have to clumsily push down on the top of the analog thumbstick just to play or pause a video!

PS3 slim:

  • Less Noisy! Significantly quieter than the 360, but by no means silent. Instead of whining it makes more of a thrumming sound, and I do not  feel compelled to stash it behind a door just yet.
  • Equally crappy media playing experience… it’s like both Microsoft and Sony don’t want you to use their systems for this purpose! I finally got it finding my shared media via the DNLA sharing feature of Windows Media Player (but not WM Center, even though this is the logical place to put this goddamn setting). Of course, both Microsoft and Sony could have simply made their consoles find SMB shares (ie common-or-garden variety shared folders on the network) but Noooooooo they have to use dodgy “media sharing” protocols which require extra settings and hoops and give stupid random errors during playback. DNLA reminds me of XML-RPC on the web: it’s almost completely redundant, and usually poorly implemented.
  • iView integration my arse! iView is supported by launching a browser window and going to the iView website exactly as you would using a desktop PC– the only integration is that they add a shortcut to the top menu. So now you are in a browser window watching a video, and NONE of the buttons on the controller do anything useful like pause the video; instead you have to wiggle the thumbstick to move a mouse cursor on your TV screen until it hovers over the pause button on the iView Flash player. So it’s all the non-immersiveness of the browser experience combined with the added handicap that you don’t actually have a goddamn mouse to at least make page navigation bearable. Oh and in fullscreen mode on a 4:3 TV the cursor position messes up so you actually have to click beside the onscreen button instead of on it. I blame the ABC and Sony equally for this crummy implementation.
  • No rear USB ports! Now this may not seem like a big deal, unless of course you want to connect some weird peripheral to your PS3, like, say, the goddamn PlayTV add-on! (The 360 has a rear port, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to shell out for that ripoff Wifi adapter)
  • PlayTV – Actually this seems pretty cool… Dual digital tuners mean you get decent PVR functionality from your PS3. From preliminary messing about it does mostly what I expect (it shows you program guides and such although I haven’t worked out how to tell it to always record the Daily Show yet). Pity about the USB cable now permanently protruding from the front of the unit though– it really messes with my feng shui. Also I watch hardly any free-to-air TV, because there is so little worth watching, so as cool as the device is it probably won’t really enhance my viewing experience that much.

Oh yeah both systems play games and stuff… yawn! These days I only seem to like indie or art games, not the big titles that consoles are sold on. I tried playing Fable II for a while, since I remember lots of buzz about it because it’s supposed to be this totally immersive narrative where every decision affects the future, but I got very very bored very very quickly when I realized that the moral universe was defined by a bunch of decisions to either help someone with a random and pointless task, or go crazy and whack them with a sword. My suspension of disbelief was seriously disrupted by the disembodied narrator voice of Zoë Wanamaker trying to casually instruct me on my hero status, potion skill levels, etc etc zzzzz……. Here’s the thing with all that D&D style charisma-points bollocks in role-playing games: it was necessary to allow people to keep track of things before we had computers to do it for us. Now that we do, I don’t want to know. Just make my character limp when they’re hurt and let me notice for myself that I am getting better at shooting things with arrows, and don’t bug me with stats!

I know I must sound like the most whiny & spoiled little first-world shit right now, but I just can’t believe how hard it is to get an entertainment setup which just works. There is so much great technology here, and yet no sense that anyone actually gives a toss about whether it’s well designed or pleasant to use– it feels like so much wasted potential.

21 years ago…

I was sitting by a river looking cool and earnest, not to mention thin– weighing in somewhere around 75kg I think…

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Last week I turned 38, way more than twice the age I was then– I could have had a kid when I was 21 and he would be that age now. At least I don’t yet weigh twice as much.

I’m going to have to do a modern recreation of that pose…

Are monospaced fonts just a hangover from olden times?

With modern languages becoming more and more verbose, especially when fully qualified namespaces are used, I sometimes wonder why I’m still using monospaced fonts for coding. After all, I don’t like reading anything else in a fixed-width typeface, so why is code so different?

Here’s the same [random, very old] snippet of C++ code, in DejaVu Sans Mono:

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And in Verdana (proportional spacing):

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Which looks better? To be honest I think the latter is more readable, but still it feels wrong to look at code this way.

But really I can’t see too many reasons against it. Vertical alignment of characters should be irrelevant to pretty much any modern language. IMHO indents should be handled with tabs, and when code mingles tabs and spaces changing fonts merely gives the same wonky layout problems as we already get when people use different IDE settings for tab widths. In general function and type names are more readable with proportional spacing, and take up less horizontal space– surely a good thing. About the only strike against using a proportional font that I can think of is when you’re writing daggy console apps with quoted strings of ASCII dashes and asterisks expected to line up to make nice boxes on your 80 x 40 character screen, and that seems kind of anachronistic these days…

Almost makes me want to watch TOS again

It’s been a while…

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This is the first time I’ve been able to build DriveyC++ in more than two years… thanks largely to an idiotic decision to refactor my codebase back then, when I simply did not have the time to do it properly and so ended up breaking everything. Refactoring is something that many programmers, including myself, feel a compulsive desire to do sometimes. It’s like rearranging the furniture when you’re procrastinating, only instead of ten items you find yourself moving thousands of things, as well as renaming them. So now the chair that was in the corner is called furniture::seat and for some reason ends up in the laundry. Also, because so many changes are made in such a short time frame, you inevitably make terrible mistakes which cause everything to stop working. Usually these are caught and fixed relatively quickly, but if you make all the changes and then immediately stop working on it you get to come back in two years and say WTF! and wonder why nothing seems familiar and even the most basic shit has stopped working.

Couple that with some insanely complicated meta-programming and jumping a few VC versions and you get the situation I have with Jujuscript (and therefore the original Drivey demo) where you have no idea why something was working before and not now (and sometimes it’s hard to see how it even worked in the first place). Is it because of subtle version differences in template argument parsing? All I know is that when I reference an array element in Jujuscript it now shows up as a generic R-Value instead of a typed L-Value, and I’m yet to get to the bottom of it, but it means 90% of my scripts no longer work.

The moral of the story: don’t change several things at once, and don’t refactor unless you have time to follow up and iron out the brand new set of problems this will introduce. Also, just because you have namespaces doesn’t mean it’s ok to use the same type name for different objects– at some point this will bite you in the ass.

Google Earth updated for iPad

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Yay!

Kludging

I’m guessing the majority of people who’ve bought iPads are already iPhone owners, and of those who bought the non-3G iPads I’m also guessing most have felt a bit annoyed about the fact that you can’t tether your iPad to your iPhone (or any other phone). So basically even though the iPad has both Bluetooth and WiFi (as does the iPhone) and there is no good technical reason for it, Apple prevents you from having this arrangement:

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Basically the iPad and the iPhone don’t even recognize each other via Bluetooth, and the only way to use the iPhone as a WiFi hotspot is to jailbreak it :(

If you have a regular WiFi hotspot this doesn’t matter of course, since the iPad will just connect using that instead. But unfortunately my ADSL connection won’t be established for 7-10 days, and that’s a long time to wait!

Now unlike the iPad, the iMac can tether to the iPhone (and actually works surprisingly well with 1.5Mbps downloads). So with a little bit of dicking around I can set up a direct WiFi connection to the iMac and use Internet Sharing* to bridge the WiFi connection to the Bluetooth one, resulting in the following:

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A little more roundabout but hey it gets the job done…. EXCEPT… it so happens that when the iMac is in WiFi host mode it only supports WEP encryption, and there is some weird bug in the iPad at the moment that screws up the password to WEP connections, so if I want to run with this arrangement I have to leave the WiFi unsecured (in which case some random neighbor could connect and start hosing my precious phone bandwidth).

So the next thing I’ll try (as soon as I get a Cat-5 network cable) will involve a second bridge via the Airport wireless router, resulting in this charmingly simple arrangement:

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This way I should be finally be able to access my iPhone’s 3G connection securely from the iPad.

So simple.

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* In OS X go to System Preferences > Sharing > Internet Sharing

New digs

Well I’ve basically moved in now, and it was all relatively painless since the place is almost entirely furnished. So much easier than the last time I moved into a new house, when I spent the first few days in discomfort while I acquired furniture and appliances (my first night there I slept on an air mattress which deflated during the night). This time around it’s a piece of cake!

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My new study!

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My new kitchen!

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My new bedroom!

The only furniture I’ve felt the need to introduce are a desk and a coffee table (from IKEA of course). The desk was cheap but took forever to put together thanks to the number of crappy phillips-head screws needed (ow my hand), so coffee table can wait til tomorrow.

Internet & phone is yet to be arranged, so currently I’m tethering my iMac to my iPhone (via Bluetooth)… it would be nice if I could do the same with the iPad grrrrrr….

My new home/office (starting next week)

After weeks and weeks of looking at places to rent (and missing out on many that I liked– this is not a good time to be renting around Sydney) I have finally secured a little place of my own, in which I will be achieving great things over the next 6 months.

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This is the second bedroom, which I think will make a nice study/office.

Well out of the city, less than 200m from the beach (close enough to hear the ocean), the idea is that here I will be able to live well and concentrate on being productive without too many distractions, and hopefully the fact that I will be paying a tonne of rent will  provide an extra incentive to get my ass into gear.