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.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I Shall Font You A Second Time

I hate to be a link blogging link blogger, but not many internet videos make me laugh out loud:

Sadly, my old friend Palatino is nowhere to be seen. I imagine a sequel in which Comic Sans is revealed to be their dark overlord.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

When Morons Are Outlawed Only Outlaws Will Be Morons

I saw this in a parking garage this afternoon:

What exactly would be the point of using a pictorial symbol for something and then printing out in text what the symbol is supposed to represent? Doesn't that pretty much negate the entire point of using a symbol in the first place?

You heart you border collie? Great. You feel the need to memorialize that on your SUV? Fine. But pick a paradigm and stick with it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

NPR Takes You There

After a week and a half of coverage of the China earthquake, you still won't find any better reporting than Melissa Block's work for NPR on the first day. In some sense, you'd call it unprofessional, as Melissa's emotional reaction is palpable, and at times overshadows her reporting, but to the extent that good journalism makes you feel like you're actually there, Ms. Block was an excellent conduit.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Poor Reporting Begets Poor Reporting

I’m guessing that we’ll see this making the rounds of the Apple blogosphere in the next few days and weeks. Environmental advocacy group has released a new report ranking, among other things, the environmental impact of a number of major electronics manufacturers. There are plenty of gritty details to pour over, but what’s going to end up getting reported is that IBM took the top spot with a score of 77, while Apple was ranked last with 11.

Now first, I applaud the effort. Even with all the attention that has been gained for environmental causes over the last few years, big companies still aren’t doing enough to reduce their footprint. Large corporations are slow to change, regardless, and the kind of top to bottom change of outlook that solid environmental awareness requires is especially difficult to inject into a corporate culture that is, by its nature, driven primarily by the bottom line. What progress has been made is due, in part, to the efforts of groups like ClimateCounts to raise awareness and put some pressure on corporations to clean up their act. But...

There are a couple of problems here. First, the scores are frequently subjective and are sometimes dead wrong. Take, for instance, Apple’s score on item number 11. ClimateCounts asks “Is there top level support for climate change action?” That’s pretty subjective, but they at least attempt to break it down, awarding one point if “Senior level executive or Board members designated as responsible for climate issues”, and awarding two points if “Clear, public articulation of company’s views on climate by CEO and/or top management.” I’ll leave aside, for the moment, the question of whether “public articulation” of a company’s position really makes that much difference to real-world environmental impact. Apple scores 0 points in this category, despite a very public, and widely reported open letter from the CEO that specifically addresses the company’s eco-related initiatives. Did they miss that one, or does it not count?

Second, the methodology is seriously flawed here. ClimateCounts uses publicly available information to formulate scores. Where information isn’t available, they simply assign a score of zero. Now, I understand the importance of open reporting to environmental verification, but to assume that there is no effort or action in a particular area just because there hasn’t been a public reporting of it is kind of like assuming that nobody in your office cleans their bathrooms just because they haven’t talked to you about it. The result is a profile by ClimateCounts that doesn’t rate the actual greenness of companies so much as it rates the ability of ClimateCounts to obtain information on their greenness. This is especially important with a company like Apple, where innovation is central to the culture and secrecy has evolved to protect poaching from competitors.

IBM scored 77 in the ClimateCounts report , Nokia 37 and Apple 11. Is Nokia really more than twice as environmentally friendly as Apple? Does anyone really think that Apple is seven times worse for the planet than IBM? No reasoned analysis would come to that conclusion, but some group made a report with numbers and issued it, and the reporting is going to be that Apple scored an abysmal 11 points and is terrible on the environment, when the truth is that Apple is terrible at transparency (except in its products) and terrible at reporting on the environment.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Wii Pii

See, normally you'd want to write this off as an internet hoax, but because it's from Japan, all bets are off.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Lights, Camera, Loss of Faith in Representative Democracy

Today is the unofficial start of baseball spring training in Florida and Arizona, but you’d never know it from the major media outlets. Today is all about Roger Clemens. I’m still going to refrain from direct commentary, but I found verbose blogger Joe Posnanski’s angle on yesterday’s hearings to be interesting. Though he covered a lot of ground (and he always does), his main focus was not on Clemens or McNamee, or even Andy Pettitte, but on the lawmakers who were questioning them. Joe included this particularly apt assessment of questioning by William Lacy Clay (D-Mo):

Ugh. He filled two suck-up roles in this proceedings — first he asked the obligatory, “Roger, what should we tell the kids,” question which did allow Clemens to get on his high horse and talk about how he has always taken very, very seriously the responsibility of being a role model for children, you know, except for that time he threw the bat at Mike Piazza or the time cursed out the umpire or threw the ball at Piazza’s head or the time he whined about carrying his own luggage or made that really hilarious remark about Asians during the World Baseball Classic or was popping Vioxx or whatever. Still, it was touching.

Posnanski points out that Clay followed up by asking what uniform Clemens was planning on wearing into the Hall of Fame. This is the quality of character you get in places like the Missouri 1st District, where elections are about as competitive as they are in Parador.

The whole incident reminded me that aside from Mark McGwire’s evasiveness and Raphael Palmiero’s finger wagging (which was only memorable in light of subsequent events), my lasting memory of the last time that ballplayers appeared before Congress was of just how dumb the Representatives sounded. Lots of grandstanding and posturing and softball questions. Yesterday was more of the same.

Come to think of it, my strongest memory of the Clarence Thomas hearings (salacious details about Coke cans aside) is the hazy blabbering of Howell Heflin and the clueless slurring cue card recitations of Strom Thurmond. I’m having trouble remembering the last time that there were widely televised congressional hearings where members of congress came out looking good. I’ve seen obscure hearings on C-SPAN and in person, and they were much more informed and productive that what we see when the whole world is watching. For the most part, these are really smart people, but they can’t stay away from television cameras to save themselves, and once people are performing for the cameras, something turns them stupid. Little wonder that the Supreme Court continues to exclude cameras from the courtroom under most circumstances.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Extended Network

I’m surprised to find myself plugging Slate for the second time in as many days, but: I somehow missed this back in December, but given Roger Clemens’ recent return to the headlines, it remains relevant. The good folks at Slate took information on who was using and distributing steroids in baseball, and arranged them into a social network. Pretty interesting.

They refer to arms of the network as “crews” (like this is The Sopranos or something), but they correlate pretty directly to clubhouses, with the Yankees, Orioles, Dodgers and Rockies locker rooms being the chief hotbeds in the network.

The Mitchell Report isn’t comprehensive by any stretch, but notice that many of the clubhouses that were infested with juice were for some of the worst teams in baseball. Also notice that a good number of the players involved were mediocre with or without the roids. This suggests to me a couple of things:

1. A good deal of the motivation for these guys wasn’t competitive edge, it was desperation. A close look at the report shows a lot of players struggling to make it to the majors, struggling to stay in the majors, or trying to recover from injury. Doesn’t make it right, but most of these guys weren’t Barry Bonds, using for money and ego.

2. The benefit of using performance enhancing substances is hit or miss. For Bonds, Giambi, McGwire and perhaps Clemens, the effect was pretty clear, but for a lot of the guys on this list they might as well have been injecting salt water for all the good it did them. Again, not an excuse, but something contrary to popular perception that’s worth mentioning.

I’ll save the moralizing and outrage for another time, except for this: I hear a lot of whining, especially from the Clemens people about how unfair it is for innocent players to be accused. I’m calling bullshit. The Mitchell and Balco investigations prove that the steroids culture was pervasive and players were well aware of what was going on. I don’t recall a single whistle blower when the problem as at its height. Players who kept the wall of silence aren’t as guilty as the guys who used, but I think that present suspicion is the price that they pay for looking the other way the whole time. In the specific case of Clemens, at the very least you have to think that he knew his besteest buddy Andy Petite was using and chose not to tell anyone about it. Even if Roger never put a needle in his body, his silence helped to earn the speculation that now surrounds him.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

SlateV Redeemed (partially)

I know that SlateV is supposed to trade on the popularity of YouTube and demonstrate Slate’s commitment to passe internet buzzwords like “vodcast”, but I learned pretty quickly that their deft combination of vapid subject matter and complete lack of intellectual curiosity left me wanting hit myself in the head with the nearest blunt object. Seriously, this blog isn’t breaking any new ground in the expansion of human knowledge, but dancing hamsters and The Really Big Button That Doesn’t Do Anything are more valid uses of bandwidth than Dear Prudence. We are all dumber for SlaveV being out there somewhere.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I stumbled upon NPR personage extraordinary Alex Chadwick on SlateV doing a series called Interviews 50 Cents. It turns out that Interviews 50 Cents is an old project of Alex’s that has recently been repurposed by the blind squirrels over at SlaveV.

Typical of Chadwick, the idea is simple, but what is produced is amazing for it’s honesty in exploring the scope of human experience. Basically, it’s an interviewer set up at a public place with two microphones, a card table and a homemade sign reading “Interviews 50 Cents.” On display is Chadwick’s genuine interest in people and their stores. Alex’s style was basically the inspiration for Ira Glass and This American Life, and you can see the connection pretty clearly here.

Definitely worth checking out, if only to see Alex looking like Hannibal Lecter from the last scene of Silence of the Lambs.

Monday, January 28, 2008

State of Distraction

It started this morning when The Washington Post’s story on President Bush’s impending State Of The Union Address included the following curious sentence:

“That is the problem Bush faces as he prepares to deliver his seventh and probably final State of the Union address tonight.”

It’s the phrase “probably final” that raised more than a few eyebrows, since the President’s second and constitutionally mandated final term will have expired by this time next year.

David Kurtz picked up on what he presumed to be excessive journalistic hedging over at Talking Points Memo, but I wrote the whole thing off to spotty editing at the time, though I wondered about the “seventh” thing, since you’d expect this to be his eighth SOTU, but then I saw that stripping PETA chick, and I forgot all about it.

Then this afternoon, I heard NPR’s Jack Speer call tonight’s speech Bush’s “likely final” State of the Union. Somebody must have talked to him because NPR’s streaming newscast omits the “likely” and has Speer emphasizing the word “final”. Shortly thereafter, Lynn Neary, while doing a promo for tomorrow’s Morning Edition opened with “He’s done it seven times before”, implying that this was the President’s eighth SOTU address. So, what gives? Is this his last one, and how many has he done before?

Interestingly, there’s no real provision in the constitution setting either the time or frequency of the SOTU. In fact, there isn’t even a constitutional requirement that the address be delivered in person. Article II says simply “He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” George Washington, apparently, established the tradition of giving said information in the form of a speech, and giving it in person. Thomas Jefferson took a less formal approach, and simply sent congress a written report annually. It wasn’t until Woodrow Wilson in the twentieth century that executives stated giving the address in person again.

This is by way of saying that technically, this is Bush’s “probably final” SOTU, but there’s no constitutional reason that the President couldn’t give another one in a week, a month, or later this year. He could, in theory, squeeze in one more assault on the english language just before he leaves office next year. In 1961, for example, Eisenhower sent a written report to congress just before his term expired, and John Kennedy delivered a SOTU shortly after he took office. No president since Jimmy Carter, however has delivered an address just before leaving office. I doubt W will be looking to him for precedent. So, barring something crazy, this is probably our last chance to see Mr. Bush speak on the floor of Congress with our dark overlord Cheney hovering over his right shoulder.

As far as the question of how many addresses W has given, it turns out that he didn’t give an official SOTU in 2001, so this will be his seventh such address.

For those of you keeping score, WAPO and Jack Speer were right, Lynn Neary and, to a lesser extent, David Kurtz, were wrong.

Also, that PETA chick is taking her clothes off.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"The Catch" Reconsidered

Blogger plenipotentiary Dan Agonistes highlights a debate raging about a possible photo of Willie Mays’ famous catch in the 1954 World Series.

Using the skills acquired during my many years in the Kennedy assassination wilderness, I couldn’t find much to prove that the photo in question doesn’t depict the “The Catch”. On the other hand, the only things that indicate that this photo is authentic are the fact that it depicts Willie Mays, it appears to be in the Polo Grounds, and it shows Mays with his back to the infield--a situation that I’d guess occurred more that a few times during Willie’s tenure in New York.

Could the picture be the real deal? Sure, but one of the lessons that I gleaned in the aforementioned Kennedy assassination wilderness is that just because something could be true, doesn’t mean that it is true.