Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Oh, Glorious Day!

Everyone buy this book immediately.

Edward Tufte (pronounced “tufty”) is one of my intellectual role models, right up there with Christopher Alexander. Tufte is for information what Alexander is for buildings. When I was in college, in a rut of non-inspiration, I took a gamble on an odd little course from the Division of Rhetoric and Composition called “Information Architecture,” for which Tufte's “Envisioning Information” was one of the texts. It was one of only two times in college I was awestruck (the other was an introduction to ancient Greek and Roman art). Granted, this tells you as much about my difficulties as an undergrad as it does about Tufte, but there you have it.

I went on to be riveted by the rest of his books. I can honestly say that post-Tufte I see the world in an entirely different light. A new book is like a national holiday. Imagine getting Harry Potter #7 delivered to your door out of nowhere by surprise. Times bajillion!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Post-Cartesian Objectivity

The older I get, the less of a relativist I become. I hope this trajectory does not lead to close-minded dogmatism, but I can at least flirt with it, right?

I'm near the end of a magnificent book called "The Nature of Order: the Phenomenon of Life," by architect Christopher Alexander. I learned about him from software engineering, weirdly enough; He's the pioneer of a system of problem-solving by codifying the essence of common problems and describing a generic solution taken from accepted wisdom. He writes about it from the point of view of buildings, but it turns out to be a wonderful device for talking about software problems as well.

"The Nature of Order" is a four-volume magnum opus that strives to do no less than codify beauty in objective terms. In order to do this, he first has to re-cast the very meaning of objectivity away from 17th century mechanistic scientific objectivity. Alexander blames this impersonal worldview for the cold, lifeless, and even hostile architecture of 20th century. In the Alexandrian model of life and beauty in the world, beauty is objective from the frame of reference of our shared humanity; it is a deeply-felt, profoundly human experience. What he describes is not so much an approach to the built environment as it is a philosophy by which we aim to make ourselves more truly alive.

I can't wait to start volume two!

Friday, June 23, 2006

“Overwhelming Response”

I just dialed 1-800-MY-APPLE and got this:

Due to overwhelming response to our products and services, we are unable to take your call.…

Notice how they spin that to make it sound like a good thing.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

MacBook Review

I'm loving my new Apple MacBook. I've got the white one, because I couldn't see why I should want to pay more to get the color of almost every other portable computer on earth. I ordered it with the minimum RAM configuration and bought 2GB from Newegg right away. Apple must be smoking drugs to charge $500 for the same upgrade: Newegg's was around $180. I'm thrilled that the MacBook's RAM and hard drive are user-swappable, but there's a pitfall when installing the memory: shoving the memory modules in takes a good deal more force than anyone would reasonably expect. You don't usually want to be subjecting an expensive piece of equipment to brute force only a few minutes after you lift it out of the box. And it's a beautiful box, by the way. Apple has a knack for achieving obsessive levels of refinement, and you can see it right down to the museum-of-modern-art packaging. The MacBook has a new and different keyboard, and since I bought this machine sight unseen, I didn't know if I was going to like it. Well, I love it. It has a very crisp action that doesn't feel notebook-y at all. The key caps have a very subtle texture on them that makes them more tactile. The surface of the trackpad has the same texture, which makes it very nice to touch. If you put two fingers on the trackpad, you can scroll the active window. Remarkably, it's smart enough that if you have a window with multiple panes and multiple scrollbars, it scrolls the one your pointer is over even if if that pane does not have keyboard focus. Trackpad scrolling is so nice, I hope I never have to click a scroll button again. Speaking of clicking, the MacBook trackpad button is unfortunately a little mushy. My previous machine was a G4 PowerBook, so I am enjoying a big speed boost. I can build Sakai from scratch in four minutes instead of twelve. I've never had a computer with dual processor cores, let alone a "low end" consumer laptop like this one. Oh, I just misspoke. A lot of hay has been made about how the MacBook and MacBook Pro are too hot to sit comfortably on your lap. It is absolutely true. It's fine for a few minutes, but only if you're wearing pants. ;-) For extended use on your couch or in your bed, you are going to want some kind of tray to set it on. In spite of the dual cores, the heat, and the fact that it has a brighter screen and 25% more pixels than my old PowerBook, battery life is about a third longer. Since I like to be mobile, that's a lovely surprise. The MacBook has a new high-gloss screen. I wasn't excited about this, but it turns out that in most lighting conditions you won't notice it. In one case, reflections were obvious and I just had to adjust the angle a little bit. I personally don't buy the claim that this glossy screen is going to make video look better. That sounds like pseudoscience to me. The complement of software that comes bundled is pretty amazing. OS X is an entire universe all by itself, but you also get iLife '06, PhotoBooth, FrontRow, and full versions of ComicLife, OmniOutliner, and 7 classic board games from Freeverse. By surprise, there's also a full version of Quicken 2006 on here, which I could find no mention of on Apple's website. That's about it for my first impressions. The built-in iSight camera is nice, as is the ability to boot into Windows, should that need ever arise (I'm not holding my breath).

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

MacBook Cometh

I'm taking delivery of a rawkin' MacBook tomorrow. Thanks to the international date line, my package can depart China and arrive in Alaska in the past.

Monday, June 12, 2006

I Will Eat My Socks…

… if all the 5-star reviews for this course on DVD were not written by the author himself! His style is — how shall we say &mdash distinctive? Viral marketing on the very cheap. Hey Boris, next time you should mix up your capitalization and punctuation a little bit.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Windows Genuine Advantage

The last time my Windows machine downloaded updates, I got this gem:
The Windows Genuine Advantage Notification tool notifies you if your copy of Windows is not genuine. If your system is found to be non-genuine, the tool will help you obtain a licensed copy of Windows.
How stupid does Microsoft really think its customers are? As a software company, they're well within their rights to do what they feel is necessary to stem the tide of piracy, but they're pitching it like they're doing all of us a magnificent favor. They even have a slick website about it. I don't know about you, but I doubt those that are using Windows for free are going to feel the "genuine advantage" vibe.