Some Genius

Every once in awhile the iTunes Genius feature really exceeds expectations. It's that moment when you hear song after song and realize that not only are the songs just great but they sound even more perfect together than you could have imagined. They have that perfect mix of tempos and musical styles, of the familiar and obscure, that just makes you sit up and notice the awesomeness of this feature. And last night I had one of those moments. Here is the genius for your listening enjoyment:

Rooftop by Pete Yorn
Turn Up the Bright Lights by Better than Ezra
I'm Not Afraid by Remy Zero
Red Head Walking by R.E.M.
Belated Promise Ring by Iron & Wine
Round & Round by Bob Schneider
Whatever I Fear by Toad the Wet Sprocket
Yes by Coldplay
Window Blues by Band of Horses
Broken Bottle by Pete Yorn
Special by Better than Ezra
Ghosts by Fanfarlo
There's No Secrets This Year by Silversun Pickups
Mr. Richards by R.E.M.
Safe At Home by Starsailor
Gospel by The National
Knot Comes Loose by My Morning Jacket
Long Time Nothing New by Pete Yorn
Wounded by Better than Ezra
Islands on the Coast by Band of Horses
Gasoline by The Airborne Toxic Event
Prospekt's March / Poppyfields by Coldplay
The Royal We by Silversun Pickups
How Do You Go On? by Pete Yorn
Sing for the Submarine by R.E.M.


Tablet vs. Kindle

A few weeks ago I thought about writing a piece on Apple's upcoming Tablet computer. Which computer it should be noted that Apple has yet to announce or of which they have yet to even confirm existence. But then I decided that many people smarter than I had pretty much had their say, and my thoughts boiled down to this Twitter comment:

When Apple unveils their Tablet de Awesome*, it's going to make the Kindle look like a Fisher Price kid's toy.

I realize that it's probably unfair of me to make such a statement without the ability to back it up. After all, the Kindle has been an unqualified success, of that there is no doubt. So what the hell am I talking about?

It's been said (by a good friend of mine but doubtless others) that the Kindle and Apple's Tablet (for lack of an official name) aren't playing the same game; that the Kindle is trying to be the best e-reader possible and that's it, while the Tablet will undoubtedly be much more than that. Why carry a bazooka when a handgun works just as well, etc.

While that's a valid analogy, I don't think it's going to apply in this case. Not that I have any knowledge of what Apple is going to actually announce at their press event, but let's assume it's a Tablet and let's assume it has features that directly compete with the Kindle.

Much the same way the iPhone is more than a phone, I believe the Tablet will be more than an e-reader. That the iPhone is not the best phone (as in dialing device) available is probably not in doubt, but it's pretty darn good. And while the Kindle is also good at what it does, there are a number of shortcomings on which I think the Tablet will capitalize.

The most glaring limitation of the Kindle is the screen. Yes, I know that it has e-ink which has superior reflective capabilities that mimic ink on paper making it a joy to stare at for hours.

But the Kindle falls short of providing a superior reading experience when you factor in things like typesetting, pagination, image reproduction, and of course color. All of these factors if added to the Kindle would make it a better reading device. That isn't to say there wouldn't have to be concessions, but my point is that there is room for improvement.

To wit: The Kindle uses its own fonts and pagination rules to display text. It treats books as if they're just collections of words organized into chapters, as opposed to completed works of literary art. And while I won't argue that for some books this distinction isn't negligible, for many works this proves to be a definite hindrance.

Your standard fiction novel might not notice the difference, but what about works with illustrations? Or photographs? Or just plain graphs? Or visual embellishments such as historiated initials? The Kindle is very good at reproducing a very limited set of books. I believe the Tablet will excel at reproducing all types of written material.

Be they newspapers, magazines, novels, children's books, textbooks or any other type of book, the Tablet will make them all look stunningly gorgeous. It will faithfully reproduce these works in the ways the authors and publishers intended as much as possible with typesetting and font support. It will maintain page number parity with their printed counterparts. It will feel like you have a digitized version of the book rather than a digitized version of the words.

Another area in which the Kindle excels is its ability to obtain new books. But I believe that Apple will at least draw even on this if not excel here too. The App Store is a huge success and it would not be a stretch to imagine a similar store (or storefront) for acquiring books.

As the e-reader playing field continues to expand, the Kindle (as it stands today) will be seen as a one-trick pony. If all you read is books with text, and you read them for hours on end and always have ample lighting, then today's Kindle will remain an excellent, if not superior choice. Yes I know the Kindle has free "internet" but even Kindle users will tell you it's not a feature worth mentioning.

But I think the e-reader market is going to explode. People will want to read more than just text; they'll want to read magazines with beautiful pictures, they'll want to read textbooks with graphs and illustrations, they'll want to read journals with all of the above.

And if you think the Tablet won't also be great for watching and acquiring video and music as well as web surfing, email, and gaming, then you obviously haven't been following Apple lately.

It's certainly true that the Tablet will have more features than the Kindle, and that it will play in areas the Kindle would rather remain a spectator. And in those areas I think it will be just outstanding. But I still believe that when it's all announced, the Tablet will also be a better e-reader than the Kindle, at least by most standards.

But if your standards begin and end with perfect readability of text (not images or graphics) in bright light, unconscionable battery life (like a week in a rowboat), and the ability to operate it in a Ziploc in the bath, then the Kindle probably will continue to be the better e-reader for you.

It will be interesting to see what the Kindle 3 looks like as it will no doubt debut as a response to whatever Apple unveils. Will Amazon continue riding their pony, or will they switch to a different horse?

* Which, by the way would be a pretty cool name.


It Might be a Tablet, but…

So everyone is a-buzz over the rumors that Apple is set to announce some sort of "tablet" computer later this month. And if you are even a casual internet citizen then you've probably also subscribed to this theory. I am not immune.

But in thinking about what it will be or what it won't be, I'm not going to give you 10,000 words because most of them are bound to be wrong and we'll find out soon enough anyway.

So I'll keep it very simple. Conceptually I think we're going to see some sort of computing device that relies heavily on multi-touch interaction. I'm not even going to speculate on the form factor or hardware or anything like that, because ultimately that's not what's going to be the coolest thing about it.

It's going to be the interface which sets this thing apart. Just as the iPhone introduced new ways to manipulate objects on the screen, this thing is going to be the Holy Grail of direct manipulation. You'll be able to do things that you can do on a Mac or an iPhone, but they'll be even more fun and just plan natural. Just how we can't imagine map manipulation without pinch-to-zoom, get ready for many more just like it.

When it's all said and announced, I think perceptually this thing might more closely resemble a small version of Microsoft Surface as opposed to a large version of the iPhone.



I love me some maps, let's get that out of the way right now. Growing up as a child in Southern California I learned that you never, ever get in the car without a Thomas Guide in the back seat. I moved from OC to SD to The Bay blissfully unaware that those venerable brothers didn't offer maps for every part of the country. These maps had no equal; why wouldn't they be everywhere?

Imagine my surprise when I moved to Ohio in the summer of 2002 and drove straight to the Target for a Thomas Guide, only to find none. It was like someone scrambling all the channels on my television and then depriving me of a listing. I did find a crappy Rand McNally map that was the closest approximation. It failed however when I nearly got into an accident because it didn't have one-way streets marked as such, not to mention it barely covered all of Franklin county which is only slightly less excusable. And yes, Rand McNally had purchased Thomas Bros. in 1999, so there's that.

But this is 2009! As much as I will lament the loss of the Thomas Guide (called "the bible" while in the car, because it was often the source of salvation), I now bask in the glory of what is essentially a billion Thomas Guides in my pocket.

Yes, Google Maps (and others, but come on—Google led the charge and I bet you use it) has done a lot to help the hapless (as well as those teeming with hap) find their way, and with panache. First we got maps. Then satellite view. Then freeway traffic. Then street view. And now we have traffic for major streets (in major cities). All of these have brilliantly added features that are both useful and well-designed as we begin to realize the power of connected maps, especially on our mobile devices.

The Maps app on my iPhone which integrates with the Los Angeles public transit system (yes, we do have one) is singularly one of the best experiences I've ever had on a mobile device. Ever. The ease and beauty with which you can get bus and rail times, directions and transfers, and track your progress along the way is nothing short of navigation nirvana, even when the actual experience of riding transit isn't always so. The app even calculates your distance to the bus stop and tells you what time to leave your house to make it on time. Fucking awesome.

My only complaint at the moment has to do with the new street-level traffic. While it's a wonderful feature that many of us (especially those in the oft-gridlocked Los Angeles metro) are glad to see, when you have a billion streets that all qualify as "major" and are thus color-coded, you get something that looks like this:

Can you tell me where the 10 freeway runs? What about Pico or Figueroa? Yeah, me neither. So how about we fix this by superimposing the street names on top of the roads and traffic colors? I know my city pretty well, but that's just ridiculous.

But I digress…this is but a small complaint in the history of great navigational aids. As I said before, I love me some maps. And things are about to get better. Just as Google raised the bar (and then proceeded to raise it a few more times before anybody caught up), it appears Apple is getting ready for their own vault. Their hands have been chalked, they're gripping the pole, and they're about to make an attempt.

Whether they succeed or fail isn't as important as the fact they're taking a shot at it. Apple is taking a gigantic ball of awesome smothered in awesome sauce and topped with awesome and saying "nah, we can do better." God bless them for that, because we are all about to benefit.

Imagine what life would be like if everyone aspired to such heights…


Aol? Omg Wtf Lol!

AOL recently unveiled the logomarks which will represent their new corporate identity.

This logo is so bad it makes the London 2012 Logo look like CBS or FedEx. Assuming this isn't actually a prank*, whereby a few days from now AOL's (excuse me—Aol's) CEO Tim Armstrong comes out and says "just kidding" while revealing the REAL new corporate identity, it reminds me of the time you opened up Photoshop for the very first time and started playing around with it. The difference is, Aol paid a ton of money for someone to rip that Photoshop file right out from underneath the diligent hands of some 12-year old intern after he'd been using it for 15 minutes and say "done." Also, why go from "AOL" to "Aol."? Aol is (or was) an acronym, not an abbreviation.

*Even if that's the case, someone should tell Aol that "November Fools Day" doesn't actually exist.


It's How You Use It

Lukas Mathis over at Ignore the Code has an interesting article about the horrendous user experience of a Sony camcorder with a touchscreen. He demonstrates a point with which I think many designers would readily agree: the iPhone's killer feature is not, nor has it ever been, its touchscreen. Yes, the touchscreen offers a lot of advantages, but as we've seen with countless other touchscreen phones (BlackBerry Storm anyone?) as well as this Sony camcorder, the touchscreen is only as good as the design of the software that powers it. Mathis' example is perhaps one of the most egregious examples.

A parallel of this dynamic can be seen in the proliferation of computer-animated movies after the early successes of Pixar. Heck, for awhile even Disney had trashed their entire traditional animation team in favor of CG films (thankfully the addition of John Lasseter changed that nonsense). So many companies had gotten this idea that CG was the only way to go, that Pixar had been successful because they were using CG. In reality, I'd guess it was more that Pixar was successful in spite of their technology, which offered an entire array of new challenges. The point that Pixar had been making was that CG had nothing to do with whether a movie was good or not; it was the story and the characters that people care about. The same is true with touchscreens or any other single technological advancement: it's not having it that makes your product great, it's how you use it.


Releasing My Tears from Eye-Jail

I love Major League Baseball, but are they really hurting for money this badly? I hear about record TV ratings, record attendance, and then I see this abomination. The MLB website is busy enough without these awful ads, and I don't like how it's beginning to resemble the disaster known as MySpace. Come on guys, let's clean this up, please?


Choices Are Always Better. Except When They're Not.

Microsoft has a new YouTube video out (uh-oh) featuring "technicians" working on the Windows Marketpace app selection. It's funny. You should watch it.

Now let me see if I have this right: Windows is far superior to OS X because there are thousands more applications available, giving users many more choices. But when it comes to mobile telephony, Windows Marketplace is better than Apple's App Store because it has far fewer applications, but "don't worry we're only cutting out the crappy ones".

Did I get that right?

(via TechCrunch)


The City Without Angels

There's a great article by the LA Times about the story of how the Angels became a baseball team in Southern California, told in the context of the looming spectre of a Freeway Series between the Angels and Dodgers.

Essentially, Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley detested the Angels’ presence in the same market, but as they were an American League franchise, he couldn't do much to block them. As a result, he made their 3 years of tenancy at brand-new Dodger Stadium quite the living hell. A churlish landlord to be sure, he gave them further reason to relocate behind The Orange Curtain and to finally assume their own identity as the California Angels.

While I don't doubt that Arte Moreno has done a lot to help bring the Angles out from underneath the shadow of the Dodgers with solid players and management (many of whom, it should be noted, are former Dodgers themselves), he did the City of Anaheim and the County of Orange no favors in re-naming the franchise "Los Angeles" when they reside in neither the city nor county of which name they bear.

While there may be a Freeway Series this year, there will never be a Los Angeles World Series. Only Chicago and New York lay claim to those opportunities.



My wife and I have a goal of taking at least one international trip together every year. We started by going to Montreal and Holland in 2004. In 2005 we went to Fiji, 2006 was Finland, and 2007 was the UK and Croatia.

Last year broke the streak as the economy began its historic nosedive. We went to New York for free, thanks to Twitter, JetBlue, and a friend who lives in Brooklyn. In October we went to Santa Fe to celebrate our 3rd anniversary.

This year we vowed to return to our out-of-country exploits, but damned if the economy didn't just get worse. And worse. Instead we went to Hawaii (thanks to 6 years of hoarding airline miles) and finally to Illinois and Maine. Illinois was a trip to visit my parents and a good friend of mine got married in Maine.

We came close this year. We went to the southwestern-most state in the Union and the northeastern-most. Perhaps next year we will make it beyond our borders. South America and Africa are at the top of our list, but we'll just have to wait and see.

Here are a few more pictures from our most recent excursion.