Friday, December 12, 2008

It Speaks For Itself

Bill Pullman not withstanding, it's moving to see Ferris Bueller and Bluto Blutarsky working together for the greater good. Finally:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Every Day Of My Fucking Life Is Like This

For anyone with any kind of morbid curiosity about what it's like to live in a Red State™, wonder no more. These are the people I deal with all of the fucking time:

I suppose that I'm on a terrorist watch list after linking to an Al Jazeera video. Why do I have to hate America so much?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Apple Accessibility

I enjoy writing about Apple Inc., and its products because I know them, and because I follow the news and rumors from Cupertino pretty closely. The Mac blogosphere, however is pretty well heeled territory, and is populated with plenty of characters that are funnier, more diligent and more talented than I am. The sheer volume of what gets written about Apple, Mac and the iPhone is just so great that I usually don’t feel like I have much to add to the record.

Occasionally, however, I do stumble on an interesting tidbit that slips by everybody else, or doesn’t get covered nearly as well as I think it should. A recent example of this was as agreement reached recently between Apple Inc., the National Federation of the Blind, and the State of Massachusetts to make iTunes and the iTunes store more accessible to people with visual disabilities. It’s a little dry, to be sure, but the agreement, along with accessibility improvements in Leopard, and the addition of spoken menus in the 4G Nano, is part of a real and welcome push by Apple to make it’s core products more friendly to the disabled.

Happily, most users of Apple products don’t have the need to use any accessibility functions, but that fact has made the issue of usability for the disabled a dark corner that hasn’t been well addressed by the press, the blogosphere or, sadly, the company itself. Historically, the Mac OS has lagged seriously behind Windows for disabled usability. The Windows world has had for years, a variety of different screen reading, optical character recognition and other software that (with varying degrees of convenience) help the blind to do most of what the rest of us do on our computers everyday. The Mac side, for the most part, didn’t go much beyond some gimmicky voices that were supported sporadically and some very basic navigational ability in the OS. iPods, with the exception of the Shuffle, have been pretty much unusable to the blind since they were introduced, and the iPhone, because it is almost completely lacking in physical buttons that the blind rely on, is the most inaccessible cellular phone on the market for blind users. Perhaps most troubling, though, was the fact that Apple’s most used piece of software (iTunes for Windows), was impenetrable to Windows based screen reading software to the point of making it all but unusable to disabled users who were comfortably using most other software on their computers.

To be fair, the gap between blind accessibility on the Mac OS, and Windows wasn’t entirely Apple’s fault, nor did it really demonstrate a commitment my Microsoft.* Straight out of the box, Windows hasn’t historically been any more usable for the blind than the Mac OS. Most of the software that make Windows based computers usable by the blind is made by third party developers like Freedom Scientific, not by Redmond. In that sense, usability on the Mac has been the victim of low market share, which makes software development in general less desirable for the platform, since the user base (and potential customer base) is much smaller. I don’t have any numbers on it, but I also think that the historically higher price (or the perception of higher prices) on the Mac scared off the state agencies that often help fund computer equipment for the disabled. In short, accessibility software for the Mac has been scarce for the same reasons that most large, complicated and/or specialized software haven’t been available for the Mac--lack of sufficient financial incentives and bureaucratic intransigence.

Having said that, accessibility on the iPod wasn’t an afterthought, it was given no thought at all, and iTunes and the iTunes store weren’t much better.

Thankfully, that has been changing in the last couple of years. Apple has made great strides in filling the gap left by developers with VoiceOver, and the “Alex” voice included in Leopard is better than anything I’ve heard on the Windows side. Likewise, the new spoken menus option available on the 4G iPod Nano are a welcome addition.** The aforementioned agreement between Apple, the NFB and the state of Massachusetts is also encouraging because it promises to finally address the accessibility problems with iTunes on the Windows side, and to finally open up the iTunes store to the visually disabled as well. The latter will be particularly welcome, as it should allow the blind to independently access the audio content from iTunes U and purchase audiobooks from the iTunes store.

Apple’s journey to accessibility isn’t over, it hasn’t even achieved parity with Windows yet, but hopefully the positive steps we’ve seen recently are an indication of things to come.

*Amusingly, and I think indicative of the relative tone-deafness of each company, Apple’s accessibility options are in a preference pane called “Universal Access” whose icon is a standing and wide armed figure, apparently freed from constraints, while the Windows control panel in question is called “Accessibility Options”, and is indicated by a person shackled to a wheelchair.

**Interestingly, the spoken menus on the Nano don’t work the way most screen reading software does. Usually, the software will “read” text on the fly and translate it to spoken audio, but with the 4G nano, all text is basically pre-read on the computer that the Nano is tethered to, and a spoken audio file is produced and then attached to the .mp3 or aac file that it describes and transferred to the Nano. As a result, none of the “extras” on the iPod, like calendar, notes, clock, or perhaps most frustratingly, battery level can yet be used by the blind on the iPod. Also, if your iPod is tethered to a pre-Leopard version of the Mac OS, then you’re stuck with those gimmicky sounding voices--No Alex for you!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

God Love Fox News

See, if Fox News didn't exist, I feel like I'd have to make it up just to amuse myself.  I've just spent a month listening to every wingnut I come across ranting about the mainstream media and how they keep sandbagging Sarah Palin.  How dare those biased, liberal bastards ask loaded trick questions like "What newspapers do you read?" or "Do you endorse cross-border raids from Afghanistan into Pakistan?"  Damn eastern liberal media won't give a Republican candidate a fair shake.  Fortunately, Fox news is around to give us a fair and balanced account of the race for the presidency:

Well, there you have it. This election may be closer than I thought.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Extreme Campaign Pandering

A bit of campaign material that you might not have seen yet:

via Monoscope

Comment:  Makes me hate Obama.  Makes me want to kick him.  A lot.

via Ironic Sans

Comment:  I like Luke's chances, though lingering concerns about his ties to an ancient religion followed by his absentee father could derail his campaign.  Also has a  problem with honesty.  Despite sometimes representing himself as such, he's no Jedi.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Prick Me

I don't normally do the whole cute thing. No adorable kids, no lisps, no precious moments and no muppets, unless they're teaching Mark Hamill how to levitate rocks. But I'm still human. Sometimes the cute sneaks up on me when I don't see it coming. I'm only flesh and blood after all. I'm weak, so I give you:

I hate to admit it, but I'm beaten--some things are just snark proof. Prove me wrong in the comments people.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Geriatric Douchebag Indicted

I'm not really one to take joy in the misfortune of others, even when said misfortune is self-inflicted, and well deserved. Having said that, upon hearing that Senator Ted Stevens had been indicted by the justice department, my first thought was that it couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Senator Stevens is something of a douchebag's douchebag. He's a jackass that stands out, even in the grand cavalcade of jackasses that is the Congress of the United States of America.

The first thing that you should know about Ted Stevens is that he's older than dirt. You know John McCain? Ted Stevens makes him look young and spry. How old is Stevens? Well, the same year that he was born, Vladimir Lenin was the leader of The Soviet Union, Calvin Coolidge became President of the United States, and a scant ten days before Stevens was born, a former corporal in the German army named Adolph Hitler attempted to seize power in Weimar Germany by leading a gang of thugs to a Munich Beer Hall. Stevens served actively in World War II. World War freaking II! Guy flew planes against the Japs, and he's still serving in Congress!

To give you another idea of just how ancient he is, Stevens was a major player in the Alaska statehood movement. After a buddy got him a job as legislative counsel at the Department of the Interior of the EISENHOWER ADMINISTRATION!, his main job became to lobby for Alaskan statehood. I won't bore you with the details, but it was a pretty impressive operation, and the whole thing was run from Stevens' office at the Interior department. Nevermind that lobbying form the executive branch is a serious legal and ethical breech...

In case you're not familiar, Ted Stevens was the grand champion of the Bridge to Nowhere, who pitched a fit when it was suggested that 398 million dollars might be better spent on Hurricane Katrina relief than on a Golden Gate Bridge style pork barrel project connecting the mainland of the most sparsely populated state in the union to an island that nobody has ever heard of. Stevens, God bless him, was also the luminary who, while battling against network neutrality, delivered a staggeringly incoherent speech in which he helpfully explained that the internet was not "a big truck", but was instead a "series of tubes", thus launching one of the great internet memes. Thanks Ted. In the same speech, by the way, he complained that "an internet was sent by my staff", which was delayed by 5 days because of network congestion. Right.

To be fair, Stevens isn't completely without merit. He's a moderate on abortion and global warming, which is to say, he is an occasional believer in science. Sadly, however, his main business seems to be acting as a money funnel to his home state. He's pretty good at it, which isn't a crime in itself, but when there's that much free money sloshing around, there are bound to be problems. A bunch of his friends and former aides are under investigation for enriching themselves on Stevens' pork barrel projects. They got Stevens himself for $250,000 in home improvements that it looks like he never had to pay for.