Genius of Love

August 3rd, 2014

Sadie Stein contemplates the state of the modern Genius:

Somewhere in the world there exists a clip of Hugh Hefner on one talk show or another. I can neither remember what the show was nor the exact wording of the exchange, but the following paraphrase has become legendary in my family:

INTERVIEWER: Do you consider yourself a genius?

HEFNER: Genius is a difficult word to define. But by any definition, I am one.

Hef may be a law unto himself, but genius, a word that used to be the sole domain of the upper reaches of the IQ scale, is now thrown around like grass seed. Maybe it's the effect of language evolution or intelligence inflation – after all, only recently has it became compulsory for one's child to be intellectually gifted – but it can't be denied that genius no longer packs the awe-inspiring punch it once did. […]

(And yes, her essay does involve a trip to an Apple Store at one point.)

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The Iconography of 'Alien'

November 2nd, 2013

iOS 7 and the Iconography of 'Alien'.

[Via Daring Fireball Linked List]

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Retail Therapy

September 20th, 2013

From McSweeney's, Retail Therapy: Inside the Apple Store

When Apple employees are asked what they love most about their job (and they are asked often) most invariably answer "the people." They mean their co-workers, not the customers.

Because the daily expectations for customer service go beyond anywhere else in retail, only those with managerial ambitions will invoke their commitment to helping people. Some thrive on that. Others get diagnosed with PTSD. Consider that the flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York City is open 24 hours and has more annual foot traffic than Yankee Stadium, yet only one door. Every day, in every Apple Store, people flood to customer service, when what many truly need is therapy.

On the face of it, a typical set of retail customer service war stories. Until the last customer's story, which is something else entirely, a reminder of how personal our modern personal computers have become.

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Editorial for iPad

July 17th, 2013

Editorial for iPad looks very interesting:

At its core, it's a Markdown editor for iPad, but you can also think of it as a Pythonista spinoff, or a workflow automation tool, not unlike Automator.

I'd rather Apple would just port Applescript over to iOS,1 but as that isn't likely to happen Editorial looks like the next best bet.

[Via Tao of Mac]

  1. I've experimented with doing most of my web browsing at home on my iPad Mini, but that just reminded me of how far I've customised my MacOS X web browsing/blog-posting experience with sundry browser extensions, Applescript routines and Growl notifications. I miss all those little tweaks to my web browsing and posting workflow under iOS, so I'm still doing most of my home web browsing on my Mac Mini.

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'… if you had said something like that to Steve Jobs, he would have taken your head off with a dull knife.'

July 11th, 2013

Former Palm and Apple executive Michael Mace has written a perceptive exploration of the question of Why Google Does the Things it Does:

"What does Google want?"

A favorite pastime among people who watch the tech industry is trying to figure out why Google does things. The […] topic also comes up regularly in conversations with my Silicon Valley friends.

It's a puzzle because Google doesn't seem to respond to the rules and logic used by the rest of the business world. It passes up what look like obvious opportunities, invests heavily in things that look like black holes, and proudly announces product cancellations that the rest of us would view as an embarrassment. […]

But in Google's case, I think its actions do make sense – even the deeply weird stuff like the purchase of Motorola. The issue, I believe, is that Google follows a different set of rules than most other companies. Apple uses "Think Different" as its slogan, but in many ways Google is the company that truly thinks differently. It's not just marching to a different drummer; sometimes I think it hears an entirely different orchestra. […]

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Hot Corners

June 25th, 2013

I really wish I'd known about this hint for Mac OS X users about five years ago: I shudder to think now much time I've wasted over the years backing out of accidentally triggered trips to Mission Control.

[Anyone …] who uses Hot Corners (which OS X refers to interchangeably as Active Screen Corners) triggers those mouse-controlled shortcuts accidentally sometimes. The solution is this: When you're choosing a Hot Corner setting from one of the drop-down menus, hold down your preferred modifier key or keys. You'll see the options change from, say, Mission Control to Option Mission Control" instead.

From then on, your corner will only work when you're also holding down the modifier key(s) you specified. Now, trips to the Apple menu won't trigger your Hot Corner shortcut – unless you're pressing your selected modifier key, too.

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In the Cloud (or not)

February 13th, 2013

Dan Hon has learned the hard way that purchases made through the iTunes Store are subject to the whims of the rights owners, with Apple acting much as Amazon did after losing the rights to publish a particular edition of 1984 three years ago:

Why you can't trust iTunes in the Cloud

At some point, it looks like Apple lost the rights to distribute Anchorman. Unfortunately, this happens all the time because the movie industry is shitty and doesn't care at all about what you, the person who wants to watch movies, does. What the movie industry cares about is maximising its profit, and that means release windows. This is why Netflix gets things for a while and then they disappear and then they (maybe) come back. And yes, I realise that sale windows are different from VOD/streaming windows. But the general idea is this:

Studio sale windows trump iTunes in the Cloud.

The business of Apple removing the sale of the item from your Purchase History if they no longer hold the rights to offer it for sale/download is a bit unfortunate. I don't doubt that it grants itself permission to do so somewhere in the dozens of pages of terms & conditions that you're required to claim you've read and understood when setting up an iTunes account on a device, but it's still not good: Apple shouldn't be making retrospective alterations to records of purchases like that.

Basically, a purchase isn't a purchase when it's made online, and we shouldn't ever forget it.

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November 3rd, 2012

Ever since Apple introduced the Reader feature to Safari, I've been forced to engage in the same ritual after every update to Safari. The thing is, Reader does quite a good job of rendering a cluttered web page readable, but it insists on doing it using justified text, which looks hideous. The (not very user-friendly) way to fix this was to find the Reader.html file buried inside the Safari application package and add a simple text-align: left; to the CSS embedded in that file and save it. Problem solved, except that after each Safari update you'd almost certainly have to repeat the trick. Better still, in some updates Apple changed the location of the damned file so you'd have to figure out where it lived now before you could apply the fix.

After the update to Safari 6 I found the latest home of the Reader.html file and applied my customary edit, but for some reason Safari ignored the revised CSS and kept on rendering justified text in Reader. In searching for hints as to why this might be happening, I came across a much better answer: CustomReader:

With CustomReader, you can change pretty much any aspect of Safari Reader's appearance. CustomReader's settings panel has a graphical user interface that lets you edit a few basic settings, like body font and background color, with a few clicks. But the true power of CustomReader lies in the Advanced tab, where you can directly edit the custom stylesheet that the extension inserts into Safari Reader. By editing this stylesheet, you can override any of Safari Reader's built-in styles with one of your own.

CustomReader has another feature that may be of interest to some. If you find yourself frequently invoking Safari Reader on a certain kind of page at a specific site – for instance, articles on the New York Times website – you can have CustomReader automatically enter the reader whenever you open that kind of page.

It works!1 And with any luck it'll keep working after the next Safari update.

  1. I do have one small quibble. That 'invoke Reader automatically if you visit a specific site' option requires you to enter an escaped version of the site's address: not, but //www\.independent\.co\.uk/.+. I understand why it's doing that – using a regexp allows for more flexibility in choosing which subsections of a site should trigger Reader – but surely there could be a simple 'trigger-for-this-entire-domain' option that would do the job for 95% of prospective users. But then, probably 98% of Safari users either don't care about text justification badly enough to see this as a problem that needs resolving, or else wouldn't want to touch the CSS for Reader anyway.

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Additional Information from the Tube

October 25th, 2012

"For the benefit of passengers using Apple iOS6…"


[Via The Risks Digest]

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I'm pretty sure that Apple are secretly proud that there isn't an Android version of the Sock Sorter app

September 20th, 2012

Remember how for years one of the standard jokes about technological overkill was about whether the world really needed an internet-connected fridge. At heart, that joke was all about the pervasiveness of the network and what could be done with it.

Now we're living in the era of the PDA1 and I think we have a worthy successor to the networked fridge: Smarter Socks

Imagine your phone could communicate with your socks. Your phone would know:

  • which socks belong together,
  • and could help sort them out,
  • how often you have washed your socks,
  • when your socks were produced,
  • when you ordered your socks and
  • when your socks were dispatched.

Your iPhone can also tell you if your black socks are no longer properly black and help you buy new socks.

This is something we dreamed about and we have made the dream come true. The result is Smarter Socks – probably the smartest socks in the world. They are undoubtedly the first socks which leave their mark on the internet via the Sock Sorter and your iPhone.

The funny thing is that I spent some time sorting socks yesterday, as you do, and even though I had my iPod Touch to hand2 at no point did I think "I wonder if there's an app for this?" Not only is there an app, there's a sock-scanning peripheral to scan the RFID tag built into each sock. Furthermore, the app includes a Blackometer function that allows you to check how black your socks are. Which is vital, apparently.

Granted, this is from the company that brought us the Sockscription, so it's for people who are really serious about their socks. I don't think I'm the target audience.

[Via VentureBeat, via Chuq Von Rospach]

  1. Though for marketing reasons we call them smartphones.
  2. I was using Downcast to listen to a podcast as I sorted my laundry.

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Dragging and dropping and kicking myself

September 17th, 2012

File under "I can't believe it never occurred to me to try this":

Like the iTunes Store, the Mac App Store strangely lacks tabbed browsing, despite the fact that they're both basically just websites. One way to work around this drawback hails from Josh Helfferich, who pointed out that you can drag and drop icons from the Mac App Store onto your browser. If you're doing a lot of looking around, this is a great way to look at a lot of apps quickly or keep multiple tab open to compare.

I knew you could copy the URL for an item. I even knew I could drag an App Store/iTunes Store icon onto my desktop and get a .webloc file to click on later. Somehow it never occurred to me to just drop the damn link on the web browser and see what happened.

[Via Mac OS X Hints]

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Starring iTunes

August 10th, 2012

What I learned on the internet today: iTunes on a Mac1 lets you filter songs by star rating by typing asterisks into the search field.


  1. This might work on the Windows version too, but I can't confirm that.


LET Eggs=N+1. LET Baskets = 1.

August 7th, 2012

Getting beyond the particulars of how Mat Honan had hackers use social engineering to get his passwords reset and his iOS and MacOS devices remote wiped, for my money here's the key lesson of the whole sorry saga:

I bought into the Apple account system originally to buy songs at 99 cents a pop, and over the years that same ID has evolved into a single point of entry that controls my phones, tablets, computers and data-driven life. With this AppleID, someone can make thousands of dollars of purchases in an instant, or do damage at a cost that you can't put a price on.

This isn't just about Apple – it's about all the corporations expanding from their original niches into as many corners of our online life as possible.1 Having a single sign-on is scary, and only gets more so as the uses of that ID expand over time.2

I'd like to think that scares like this would motivate Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and the rest to get this stuff right lest the public be discouraged from signing up for all the different services they offer, but I fear that convenience wins out all too often.

  1. For what it's worth, I haven't enabled iCloud on my Mac Mini or my iPod Touch. Not because I foresaw this sort of problem; it's just that I don't see the benefit of iCloud. I bought my iPod Touch as a replacement PDA, not a device for accessing the internet on the move. In any case, given that when I'm at work I'm not in range of an accessible WiFi service, so my iPod Touch isn't going to be accessing iCloud anyway.
  2. I dread the day when Apple finally make some feature I really want/need insist upon having access to iCloud. That might be my cue to take a close look at whatever the successor to the Nexus 7 turns out to be.

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Dock launching

August 5th, 2012

One for the MacOS X users: Brett Terpstra has come up with a neat little script for Launching your entire Dock at once.

And just like that, he solves one of those issues that's been nagging away at me for ages. I'd been thinking in terms of saving a plain text list of applications that I could point a script at, but his approach of extracting the list of applications from the Dock's .plist is so much more flexible.

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70 degrees

June 18th, 2012

I swear this sort of thing makes me want never to set foot in an Apple Store again:

Beneath all the chillness and chirpiness [of an Apple Store] is a consumer destination whose whimsy is the result of painstaking calibration. Think Disney World's underground tunnels, except with all the draconianism out on display and integral to the whole aesthetic. The products placed on blond-wood tables at precisely measured intervals. The reservations-only appointment system at the Genius Bar. The Five Steps of Service. The fact that Jon's beard is trimmed to a uniform three inches. It takes a lot of work to stay this relaxed.

Turns out, though, that there's one more bit of precision required to make the Apple Store so Apple-y. The notebook computers displayed on the store's tabletops and counters are set out, each day, to exactly the same angle. That angle being, precisely, 70 degrees: not as rigid as a table-perpendicular 90 degrees, but open enough — and, also, closed enough — for screens' content to remain visible and inviting to would-be typers and tinkerers.

The point, explains Carmine Gallo, who is writing a book on the inside workings of the Apple Store, is to get people to touch the devices. […]


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Java updated

April 27th, 2012

Good news and bad news for Mac users.

I wondered what software update/new release was finally going to prod me into updating to Lion; I think this might just be it.

[Via Ars Technica]

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Visualizing iOS Text Editors

April 22nd, 2012

The other day, Kieran Healy had a bright idea:

The other day Brett Terpstra posted a gigantic and quite beautifully-executed feature comparison of all of the text editors available for iOS devices. The table is really terrific and also a bit overwhelming, as there's so much data. On the bus home yesterday, it struck me that it might make for a nice data visualization exercise. […]

He was right. Good work.

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Das Keyboard

April 15th, 2012

Based on Justin Williams' review, I very much want a Das Keyboard for my Mac:

[…] The Das Keyboard is a throwback to the days of loud, mechanical keys that came with the computers you used in previous decades. Mechanical keys give this feeling of satisfaction as you're typing. The keyboard itself is insanely large and has a substantial weight to it. It feels really well built and worth the amount of money I spent on it. It's got a full keyboard, number pad and even two full-powered USB ports on the side. The only thing missing from this throwback is the PS/2 or ADB cable at the end.

So… how does it type?

Amazingly. […]

Not that I can justify spending money on a new keyboard right now, but still…

[Via carpeaqua]

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Amen to that

January 29th, 2012

Tweet of the week, courtesy of @kjhealy, a.k.a. Kieran Healy:

Alain de Botton plans to build a series of temples for atheists. Apparently he has never heard of Apple Stores.…

[Via Crooked Timber]

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Searching and browsing (and tapping and holding)

December 6th, 2011

In the course of a post about Browsing vs. Searching, user interface guru Bruce Tognazzini touches on something central to the experience of using the current generation of Apple software:

[…] Instead of working to make everything visible to the user, Apple's industrial and graphic designers, now fully in command, are doing just the opposite: Apparently bereft of even the barest knowledge of behavioral (HCI) design, they have busied themselves hiding everything they can, increasing visual simplicity at the expense of actual simplicity. Then, they pretend both to themselves and to us that the only instruction you'll ever need for an iPad is, "Turn it on." iPad users are left to stumble around, trying to find the things they need to get their work done, things so carefully hidden that without a friend to help them, they are unlikely to ever find them.

Case in point: At some point in the past, perhaps the distant past, Apple added the capability to jump from letter group to letter group by holding down on the letter column, rather than just stabbing at your letter of choice (and usually missing). After four years of using iDevices, during the course of writing this column, I accidentally held down for a second on an alpha character, causing the slide bar to appear. I never knew before that moment that hold-and-slide even existed in Contacts. Principle: If a capability is not visible and the developer does not teach that capability, it may as well not exist.

Damned straight! I had no idea the slide bar existed until I read that last paragraph earlier this evening.

I like iOS, I really do, but it's a crying shame that the most usable portable computers I've ever owned were designed by Palm1 and Psion2 back in the 1990s.

Come on Apple, you can do better than this…

[Via Daring Fireball]

  1. I loved my Palm IIIx and Tungsten T. The T5 was prettier and had better hardware specs, but by then PalmOS was clearly running out of steam.
  2. My Psion Series 3c was the best-engineered portable hardware I've ever owned. The Psion Series 5 came with tremendously capable software, but it wasn't as robust, and it was orphaned when Psion decided to concentrate on making software for smartphones.

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