Archive for January, 2008

National Treasure: Book of Secrets
28 January, 2008

National Treasure: Book of Secrets is delightfully silly and chock full of conspiracy theories. Even with a budget of $130 million, it has already exceeded that in domestic gross alone due in large part to its playful lightness. It rewards suspension of disbelief with a fun ride.

Nicholas Cage plays Nicholas Cage again in the film. Diane Kruger infuses her character with an understated sexiness that seemed irrelevant to the plot but made for a really enjoyable looking-for-an-earring scene. Justin Bartha stole his scenes again, delivering his comic lines with perfect timing. The Wibberleys script deftly weaves various conspiracy theories together so well that their implausibility fades. The visuals and audio delivered exactly for an action film.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets continues the lineage of the first movie and obviously tees up a third. If you liked the first, you’ll like the second.

Who Could Hang a Name on You?
26 January, 2008

My spouse recently started using CookWare Deluxe to manage recipes. One of its features is the production of a shopping list based on the selected recipes. The manual gives instructions for putting the list on an iPod. In essence, mount the iPod like a disk and drag the text file into the Notes folder.

However we weren’t able to see the file when under Extras:Notes on the iPod itself. Since the file (inexplicably) has <TITLE> -- Market List -- </TITLE> as the first line, I tried changing the extension from .txt to .html. That seemed to work a little better but it only seemed to work once. We were so fermisht that we took the MacBook and iPod down to the Apple Genius for some help. He had no more success than we did.

I had this hunch that the format of the file was somehow throwing a wrench into things. Perhaps it was too large or, more likely in my opinion, perhaps its pseudo-HTML format convinced the iPod to try to treat it as an HTML file which it most definitely wasn’t. I figured if I munged it into plain text we might have better luck.

I’ve been using Perl for fourteen years and Tcl for three. But it seems like all the cool kids are using Ruby so I thought I’d give it a whirl. Since modern operating systems have all the major scripting languages pre-installed, all I had to do was fire up Emacs for coding and Safari for documentation and I was off and running.

Things went well. In just a few hours I knew enough Ruby to write a twenty-two line script that massaged the generated shopping list into a plain text file. Early testing shows that the plain text file works much better with the iPod.

The only hiccups I had with Ruby were related to reading in the contents of the file. (I doubt it but it might be due to having an old version: Tiger comes with 1.8.2.) The first problem was that the lines were only terminated with carriage returns. That’s the way the file gets generated, probably to support old skool Macs. The second problem was that alternating characters were NUL. I suppose that has something to do with Unicode and my naive code for reading the file didn’t account for that. I assume that both problems are just a function of my being a Ruby newbie.

Tailback Callback
22 January, 2008

Years ago the sports section of the L.A. Times featured quotes from players on page two. My all-time favorite came from a college football player asked about his feelings concerning his coach’s dismissal: “I’m amphibious about the situation.”

Recently Dana Jacobson advised Marcus Allen, who was on First Take to promote a charity signing of 4500 footballs, to switch to his left hand if his right hand became tired. Allen said, probably referring to the college football player given the twinkle in his eye, “I’m amphibious.”

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
19 January, 2008

With the premature end of the Heroes season due to the writer’s strike, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is a welcome late-season addition. Whilst the premises are different, both shows have a similar feel, which is a good thing.

Lena Headey delivers an excellent performance as mother-cum-freedom-fighter despite her slight build, mixing steely-eyed resolve with maternal tenderness, grit with vulnerability. Thomas Dekker accurately captures the insolent foolishness of an adolescent. Summer Glau brings the same awkward ass-kicker intensity as she did in Firefly.

For the most part it captures the élan of the original movie. For example, the number on the door at the Dell store was 1337. (Of course it’s not an Apple Store; we all know Skynet is based in Redmond.) One thing that bumped me in the second episode came after a couple of gunshots were fired inside a house. After an intense exchange of dialogue, we hear police sirens. It seems unrealistic that in L.A. anyone would call about gunshots even if they noticed them from inside their own house. But it added to the dramatic tension and perhaps that’s in keeping with the original.

I’ve set a season pass for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the first film.

What Would You Say You Do Here?
18 January, 2008

At dinner the other night my eldest asked if we have a Take Your Kid To Work day at my employer. I said that we do but there are two possible impediments. First, there may be age restrictions on the kids. Second, writing software is really, really boring to watch. The follow-up caused me to do a spit-take: “Don’t your friends have iChat?”

Live Free or Die Hard
14 January, 2008

Most films require the viewer to suspend disbelief. Live Free or Die Hard required me to not just suspend disbelief, but expel it and burnt its permanent records.

Bruce Willis reprises his role as John McClane, the NYPD detective who always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, with prototypical action hero seriousness. Sadly not even Justin Long and Kevin Smith can bring make the film fun. Trapped by its own gravity, the film’s physically-impossible action sequences provide heckling fodder rather than escapist fare.

I recommend watching Live Free or Die Hard only if the alternative is summer school.

Fructose, Not Acetic Acid
12 January, 2008

John Gruber recently wrote about advertising on Daring Fireball. He mentions that some readers complained to Macworld about Sony Vaio ads. I no longer read Macworld because of their editor, but I complained about the appearance of those ads at Mac|Life, which I do read. He says, “I’ve also gotten a handful of complaints about the ads for Microsoft Expression Studio appearing this month … But, even if Microsoft did want to reach [Daring Fireball]’s audience specifically, so what? The idea that it’s somehow offensive makes no … sense to me”.

I find that position surprising for a Mac aficionado, especially one so passionate and vocal. Gruber, who says “an ad is an ad, and what I write is what I write”, has the same approach to advertising that Slashdot has: advertising is a revenue source, not content. It’s not coincidental that those dependent on advertising revenue have that position; it’s in their own best interest.

Yet apparently there are limits as Gruber says, “There are certainly products and services for which I wouldn’t accept a sponsorship, for various reasons”. (Since he doesn’t disclose those reasons, I think we can assume that he won’t accept advertising from hate groups, etc.) Thus what Gruber is saying is that it makes no sense to him to deny sponsorship from Apple‘s direct competitors in particular.

Given that he describes his blog as “a Mac column in the form of a weblog”, his policy makes no sense to me. While some people like Word for the Mac (I only know one who tolerates it) the majority of Mac users have an antipathy for Microsoft and Windows closer to that of the Linux community than the general populace. Advertising Microsoft products on an Apple blog makes as much sense as advertising Yugo parts on a Toyota Land Cruiser fanatic web site. Or, as Brian Ford wrote concerning Gruber’s position, “like Al Gore accepting a sponsorship from the Hummer corporation”.

Gruber is thinking like a writer, not a businessman. (Which isn’t a criticism per se, just an observation.) Writers for newspapers accept responsibility for their articles, not the advertising around it. The problem is that readers get the advertising with the content. Advertisers take pains to make their ads as much a part of the content as possible. Businesses need to think about the entire customer experience, not just the individual job tasks. By accepting advertising revenue, Gruber made Daring Fireball a business.

I doubt that either Microsoft or Sony would prefer to spend their advertising dollars on the Mac community; the return on investment is lower than advertising elsewhere. Using services like The Deck results in indiscriminate advertising spam. But beyond being ineffective for the advertisers, it’s irritating to the readers.

Advertisers want to advertise to as many potential customers as possible. Fewer readers means fewer potential customers means fewer advertising dollars in the long run. While the “an ad is an ad” mindset may work for a writer, it’s not a successful business model. Irritating publications drive away readers, whether in print or on the web.

If It’s Hysterical, It’s Historical
11 January, 2008

I saw a truck on the highway that had a large engine that looked like a generator on its flat bed. For some reason it seemed to me to have something to do with welding. (Although it appears that it is a concrete pump.) The name painted on the side in early Twentieth Century script made me suspect that the name is historical, chosen long before foreign brandingPutzmeister

Where’d Who Go?
9 January, 2008

Recently Safari 3 stopped updating my bookmarks bar with the count of the new articles for each menu therein. I noticed that RSSBookmarksInBarAreSubscribed was absent from com.apple.Safari.plist so I put it back as 1. So far, though, it doesn’t appear that it worked. Googling has so far yielded no help. What the…?

UPDATE: That does seem to have fixed it.

The Ides of Jobs
8 January, 2008

In the Apple Store at lunch time today, there were sixteen employees wandering the store. The employees outnumbered the customers. After conversing with a number of them, it appeared that the majority were new employees and, sadly, Apple newbs at that.

I wonder what spawned all the new employees. Perchance some forthcoming announcements?