TV Without Your TV

A recent post at BoingBoing compares two television viewing programs for computers—or rather, simply states bluntly that “Miro Kicks Joost’s Ass.” Even having not used either program before, this seemed potentially simplistic to me, so I figured I might as well download both and see how they work. Here is my very brief review, based on admittedly very brief usage on my Macbook.


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The Best Laid Plans of Macs and Men

My continuing quest to make my Mac products work better has met its newest obstacle: funny keyboards.

I got around this by using Doublecommand on my Powerbook, which gives a few options for remapping generally useless keys into rather useful keys on a Mac keyboard. The only option I was using was one that remapped the extra Enter key, next to the right Command key, into a second Option key. This meant I could navigate through tabs in Camino with just my right hand. (Get your dirty jokes out now. It has nothing to do with that. Probably.) I also updated the keyboard shortcuts for Safari to work the same way; by default, you navigate tabs in Safari with Shift-Command and an Arrow key, but that just ends up selecting a line of text if your window happens to have Gmail or WordPress up. Option-Command just works nicer.

Or rather, it just worked nicer. Somehow, this only partially made the transition onto my Macbook. Option-Command-Left Arrow works normally, and I can use it to navigate tabs without a problem using either the original Option key or the modified Enter-as-Option key. However, Option-Command-Right Arrow only works with the original option key. My computer firmly refuses to believe that this keystroke even exists, to the point where I can’t even manually assign it as a shortcut in the Keyboard preference pane. I press it, and nothing registers. I am totally at a loss and mostly just wanted to vent, but feel free to speak up if you have any alternative ideas.

This doesn’t even begin to address how challenging it is to use a Mac keyboard when running Windows, so I’m looking for a keyboard remapper for that, too. (Or maybe it’s just that Windows keyboard shortcuts generally suck. I mean, seriously, Ctrl-everything? I am much more dextrous with my thumb than with my pinky. That is how we defeated the apes.)

Oh, and in case you were wondering how things went with Fusion, I’m going to try getting my money back, but I will probably fail. Running it off a Boot Camp partition just doesn’t work as well, as it forces Windows to shut down every time you quit (as opposed to saving the state). So, in addition to taking awhile to start every time you want to use Windows, it means that Windows is stuck installing a crapload of updates while you’re trying to get out of it just to free up some freaking RAM.

A Vision of Students Today

Cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch and 200 students at Kansas State University created a video about students in today’s college classrooms. It is an example of “digital storytelling” with an interesting mix of low tech (words on paper, chalkboard and walls) and high tech (time-lapse footage of a Google Doc being edited by the 200 students). It doesn’t offer any concrete solutions, but rather poses some though-provoking questions for anyone trying to reach 21st centurty students in a 19th century setting.

Lukewarm Fusion

I must be getting old, I told the clerk at the computer store, because I was paying for software. This one seemed potentially worth it, though: I bought a program today that allows me to run Windows on my Macbook at the same time as Mac OS X. Boot Camp is free and allows you to boot right into Windows, but it requires a 10 gig partition that I really wouldn’t want to have eating up space all the time. This seemed a good alternative, given that all I want to do is play PC-only indie games.

First, the good: This is fun. I like that I can download stuff in Camino and Safari and just drag it into Windows when I need to install it. I like that my Macbook’s home directory appears as a shared folder on my Windows desktop. And I like that I can make Windows applications appear in my dock alongside Mac apps when I open them, making it feel like a more integrated UI experience. This last part is a bit misleading, of course, as the keyboard shortcuts are different (and kind of a pain sometimes) and the XP windows are still rendered in the blue, plasticky style of their native OS. Still, Windows turns out to be super easy to customize with new themes for free, including Mac-style themes (which, I was amused to notice, typically change your start menu to an Apple icon). Plus, Fusion cost $40 at the campus computer store, whereas its main competitor, Parallels, sells for $80. (Fusion seems to be $80 too, with a $20 rebate online dropping its price to $60, so I’m not sure why I got it so cheap.)

And now, the bad: I bought and installed this program for pretty much one reason alone, and that was to allow me to play indie games. I don’t expect high-end games to run well in an emulated environment off a Mac, but I do expect simple stuff to run okay. And so when my long-awaited trial case—Jenova Chen’s Cloud—fails to run properly, I get severely irked. The audio is good, but the video is so choppy that it was a chore just to get the cursor onto the “Start” button. My video card (Intel GMA 950) doesn’t seem to have any particularly recent drivers that need downloading, so I’m not quite sure what I’m missing here.

So, if all I want to do is screw around in Notepad, fiddle with XP themes, and watch stuff in my Movies folder from Windows rather than from the OS I like better, Fusion works great. But I’m going to need some input before I have any idea whether it can be used for the purpose I actually bought it for.

Update: Long story short, Macbooks share VRAM with system RAM, and running a virtual machine is demanding on RAM. Thus, I can’t run Cloud (or other video-semi-intensive applications) through Fusion. It took me a decent chunk of the day to install Boot Camp, and I’m still not done due to complications with activating Windows. Everything (including Cloud) seems to run fine when running through Boot Camp, at least. In short, Fusion seems kind of cool, but it looks like I’ll need to reboot to run pretty much everything I wanted to use it for.

Microsoft Word 2007 is a Frigging Abomination

If your life is at all like mine, perhaps you too came to your office one day to find that the word processor you pretty much had the hang of had been replaced by a godforsaken abomination. I’m not saying I was a huge fan of what Microsoft passed off as “user interface” before, but the new UI for Office 2007 seems actively abusive.

First of all, I can’t seem to find a damn thing because commands are just sort of shoved into non-intuitive categories. Word Count, for example, has been moved under the “Review” tab—which isn’t so bad when you stop to think about it, but it runs against how Microsoft has conceptualized the entire category of tools related to reviewing things. It’s like they came up with their own idea of what “Review” had to mean, and I decided, okay, when dealing with Microsoft, remember that they mean it in a specific sort of way. Fine. And now they mean it in another sort of way. Damn.

I’d be okay with this shift if it meant that I had to unlearn years of bad design to deal with a greatly improved approach. It does not mean this. Rather, an unsightly and absurdly visually crowded “Ribbon” stretches across the top of the screen. The thing is impossible to briefly scan through like a simple freaking list in a menu. I generally keep it minimized to avoid seizures.

Tonight, at least, I discovered that you can customize the only “Toolbar” they left in the UI: the Quick Access Toolbar, which sits above the ribbon. One piece at a time, I made it look like the customized toolbar I used to have. Calm feelings are returning to me. I actually kind of like it now. It pushes the title of my documents off to the right unless you specifically tell it to sit below the Ribbon, but I’m nervous about doing that. That makes it look far too normal, too like the old Office. I fear I will be tempted to click on the ribbon someday, expecting a menu, but rewarded with a punch in the face.

Why Trajan and Laptops for Children Suck

Today I’m just ganking some quick links from Design Observer I thought might be of interest to many of you.

First, Bruce Nussbaum of Business Week writes that the MIT Media Lab’s “One Laptop Per Child” project is a failure—and then he says it again (oh snap). Wade into the debate yourself, but the long and the short of it, Bruce says, is this: Rather than trying to figure out how to make a super cheap laptop, designers and engineers should’ve gone to other countries to figure out what technology might be useful to school children if only it were more usable and accessible. India seems more invested in using cell phones to connect to the internet, so is this just an example of disconnected Americans asserting that everything would be better if only the rest of the world did it our way?

And speaking of potentially unwelcome top-down design: Folks (somehow) associated with the University of Kansas are pissed at the integrated branding effort that changed all the fonts—including the ones on sport uniforms—to Trajan. Enter: Trajan Sucks, the best typographic activist movement since Ban Comic Sans. I really don’t care about sports or Kansas, but I am seriously tempted to pick me up a “Trajan Sucks” t-shirt. It looks pretty likely to be mistaken for a Red Sox reference (especially the red-white-navy version), but whatever. Sometimes “branding” is a great idea, and this is not one of those times, if you ask me.

Drive in

About time. Having finally seen the light at the end of the tunnel, FOX has made the last two episodes of Drive available in streaming form online. It’s not perfect: when I tried to watch it, it jumped at a couple of points, causing me to miss lines of dialog which weren’t crucial, but I’d have liked to hear. Also, you have to watch the same annoying Smirnoff Ice commercial like four or five times, and you can’t watch it in fullscreen mode.

But I digress. I’ve watched the penultimate episode, which wasn’t bad, but felt a little inconsequential. I’m hoping the last episode gets around to answering some more questions about the show, though since several more had been planned beyond that, I’m guessing I’ll be left wondering.

I’d been considering boycotting FOX this coming season, after this atrocious behavior, but it turns out the point is moot: there’s nothing on the network that I’m dying to see. Maybe New Amsterdam or The Sarah Connor Chronicles will turn out to not suck, but I’m not holding my breath.

What Is The Sound of Two Robots Chatting?

A: Knowledge is of two kinds: that which we learn from the senses and that which is true a priori.

J: I think I do not understand you completely.

A: Oh, you don’t understand? Perhaps I can explain it to you better. Which part are you confused about?

J: I have no short-term memory, so I cannot tell you what I was confused about. I only see what is in front of me now.

Sometimes this conversation between two robots reminds me of actual conversations I’ve had with my girlfriend.

Power to the people (or how Digg users are revolting)

If you’re not familiar with Digg, it’s a site that works like this: people submit stories from around the web, and other Digg users vote on them. The more popular the story gets, the more prominent it gets. There are other similar sites, like Reddit, but Digg is among the most popular, able to drive vast amounts of traffic that often seems to overpower many sites. Getting dugg can be both a boon and a curse to a webmaster.

Yesterday, someone leaked the cryptographic code (a 32 digit hexadecimal number) that can be used to decode content on high definition HD-DVD discs, making it possible to essentially rip HD-DVDs, something which has long been possible with conventional DVDs. The story made it to Digg, where it was subsequently removed by the administrators at the behest of the HD-DVD advisory group, who considered the story to be infringing on their intellectual property rights (the HD-DVD people have also threatened legal action on other sites that contain the number).

Unfortunately, while this may have seemed like a logical step for the HD-DVD folks to take, it was also frankly, pretty darn stupid.


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Facebook + Politics: Two Boring Tastes That Taste Awesome Together

Emily may have outdone herself on this one, coming up with her two best ideas ever in just one blog post:

1. Make a parody site for Facebook that critiques politicians relationships’ and activities, thus educating through ruthless mockery.

2. Plus, the following sound bite alone should be enough to secure her immortality: “Facebook is the social networking equivalent of watching your friends do their taxes—voyeuristic yet utterly uninteresting.”

I find her proposed project interesting because it is sort of bizarre but in a way that actually offers useful information in an amusing way and a sort of youth-culture vernacular. Plus, I am curious which politicians would list each other as poke buddies.