Archive for October, 2007

Video Done Right

Above is a clip from season 10, episode 3 of the mega-awesome British T.V. show, Top Gear. If you’re at all involved with film or video, watch the clip; this is how to do it right.

I’ve seen Hollywood action films with mind-bogglingly large budgets that don’t come anywhere near the quality of this. Everything about it is fantastic, from the premise — because let’s face it: who doesn’t want to see the world’s fastest and most expensive full-production car go up against a jet fighter? — to the execution.

Look at how it’s shot and edited. Listen to both the use of sound (by which I mean both sound effects and music) as well as the absence of sound. Marvel in the unique frame composition, the depth of field, the set ups and pay offs. The shooting style, the saturated colors, the vignetting; everything about this video fills your senses, draws you in, and bleeds pure, unadulterated cool.

This is how stories were meant to be told.

Richard Hammond has some good one liners: “As drag races go, you will agree, this is quite a good one.” “So I’m fighting for the Germans in a battle against the RAF!” “This is the best race in history!” And what I think is the best line in the video: “If you’re watching thinking this is cool, it is.”

Friday Funday CLXX

Friday Funday brings you some fun and interesting links from my travels around the internet. Funday links will open in a new window.

Chat Noir [del.icio.us]

Can you trap the kitty with your circles? It’s harder than it seems…

Free Rice [del.icio.us]

This has been distracting me all week long. You get a word and four potential synonyms. Click on the synonym that you think best defines the original word. If you’re right, 10 grains of rice will be donated to the United Nations World Food Program. Free Rice began on 7 October and has, as of this writing, generated over 263 million grains of rice. The more you play, the more grains will be donated. It’s fun, educational, and helps feed hungry people!

Michelle Cakes Design Portfolio [del.icio.us]

The level of detail in these cakes is stunning. This truly is food that looks too good to eat. Wonder how much they cost? The answer is a lot. The cakes start at £90.

Is this your name? [del.icio.us]

A fun little site that tells you some info about your name. To me, the census info was the most interesting. According to this site, there are 25,765 people named Thomas Brown in the United States, but none named Morah Peltonen.

The Last Stand [del.icio.us]

Just in time for Halloween comes a fairly-easy zombie shoot ’em up game! Here’s a hint: spend your time trying to find other survivors before you do anything else.

The New Apple Keyboard Hates CAPS LOCK

About a month ago, I was browsing around Apple-related websites, immersing myself in the culture of my new computer (which I love, by the way). I came across an article by Jonathan Rentzsch that mentioned a delay in the activation of caps lock on the new Apple keyboards.

The story goes like this: Rentzsch could swear he kept accidentally hitting the caps lock key, but when he checked to see if caps lock was engaged, it wasn’t. At first he decided that he must have only thought he was hitting the caps lock key, but after a few weeks, he knew for sure that he hit it a few times. All the while, the caps lock key didn’t engage.

This story mirrored my own experiences, so I was intrigued to read that, when Rentzsch purposely hit the caps lock key, it didn’t engage. After testing it out some more, he discovered that the new Apple keyboards have what he describes as, “undocumented anti-jab protection.” If you quickly tap on the caps lock key, as many of us are prone to do by accident, it won’t engage. If you actually press down on the caps lock key for longer than a predetermined amount of time — Rentzsch puts it at roughly a quarter of a second — caps lock will engage. After testing it myself, I found it to be the case.

This is causing quite a stir, as although most people find this to be incredibly useful, others absolutely hate it. The real problem is that it’s a function of the hardware (the keyboard itself) and not a piece of software that can be disabled. This is confirmed by the fact that, although you can remap the caps lock key to act as a different key, the delay still occurs. The eject key has a software-controlled delay (which can be disabled), so why not do the same for caps lock?

While I’m talking about the new Apple keyboards, a lot of people have been asking me how I like them. It’s hard to tell by looking at them on the website, but the keyboards have a breathtakingly low profile. I thought that might annoy me, but this is by far my favorite keyboard (the IBM Model M comes in a close second for it’s sheer retro geek coolness and it’s purposeful clickiness). I wish the wireless model came in a full-size version, but I guess Apple won’t let us have the best of both worlds (for now).

My First Cease and Desist

I just got my first cease and desist order today. I think it’s kind of like losing your virginity, but for bloggers. So who thinks they can bully me into silence? None other than SpeedTicketBeaters.com. Just so that we can all remember what I said over two years ago, here’s a link to the original post.

Here’s the e-mail I received earlier today:

October 20, 2007

Dear Sir:

It would be advisable in the future before you post content such as the material you posted about our company, you can factually support your supposition. Your failure to do so has resulted in the litigation we are now organizing.

Your allegation against our company describing it as a scam, is in no way a reality you can prove in a court of law. In fact, should such an occasion arise, you would find yourself having to refute the claims of thousands of documented customers, who utilized this companies services successfully over the past 5 (Five) years.

Regarding the details of your allegation – every single testimonial writer on the website is a real human being. Each one has used materials provided by the company to defeat their citation/s. We retain the contact information of all of the testimonial writers in our company files. However, we cannot control any scenario where the customer has decided to use an alias , or otherwise fictional name, for privacy purposes. Perhaps it should have occurred to you that we cannot possibly be aware of such a situation when it is the case. Therefore your inability to contact any individual author of our testimonials should never have been presumed to be a reflection of the companies business

practices. Rather, those cases are a customer exerting his or her right to privacy. That in our opinion is fully understandable considering the customer likely wishes to avoid any further harassment from their local Police departments.

In the future, it would serve you well to absolutely know what you write to be true.

You may consider this a formal demand that you remove entirely from your web page the entire section you posted about this company. The material must be entirely removed from your web page within 7 calendar days. To clarify: By Saturday October 27, at Noon Eastern time, all of the relevant material must be deleted from your page. Failure to do so will cause this department to obtain legal jurisdiction over you. This would begin a civil court claim against you for malicious business interference and defamation. That claim will result in punitive and monetary damages against you.

Any future written content authored with your involvement appearing anywhere in print – will be considered malicious business interference, and defamation as well. Any broadcast content in any media, created with any involvement by you, will be considered the same. Any complaints made by you to any agency or organization, that result in any limitation on our ability to conduct business, will also be considered legally actionable. Should we become aware of you participating in any of these activities, legal remedies will be pursued.

A screen capture of your web page taken today will serve as proof to any judge in the United States of the malicious nature of your intent. We will obtain jurisdiction over you in any of the 50 U.S States in which you reside if necessary.

Consider this notice a “cease and desist” upon you, relating to all further contact, complaints, and activities you are considering undertaking. Failure to comply with this notice will bring you legal harm.

From this day (October 20, 2007) forward, any further contact with this company must be made by your attorneys. Only the contact of your attorneys will be acceptable hence forth. All other contact or attempts at contact will be considered a violation of this notice. Should such violations occur, they may be used against you in court at a later date.

Good day.

SpeedTicketBeaters.com/LEGAL

cc: active lit

They still don’t get it, do they? There’s no defamation because I’m not making any libelous statements. The purpose of the original post was to point out that I was suspicious, did some light research, and confirmed my suspicions to my satisfaction. I never said that the service they provide isn’t real. I never said that the service doesn’t work. All I said was that I couldn’t find the authors of any of their testimonials. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, it just means that I couldn’t find them online.

The resource I used was AnyWho.com, which is reliable, but not infallible. I’ll give them that there’s a chance the people who submitted testimonials may have used false names, but there’s no way to prove it, is there? Just like there’s no way to disprove it. Convenient, right?

The only thing I’ll give them is that, in the comments of the original post, I said, “none of the people in their testimonials exist.” I will admit that I have no way of knowing whether or not this is true. That being said, it’s unlikely that over a dozen different people from all over the country are all unlisted from the phone book. Moreover, the statement is not libelous or defamatory, because it is a factual statement that I was unable to find any of the authors of their testimonials on the website AnyWho.com.

So I apologize to SpeedTicketBeaters.com for making a statement that I couldn’t have definitively known to be true. You’re absolutely correct that I have no proof that those people don’t exist. Which brings me to an interesting point: in the C&D, they make a definitive statement that they later admit they know can’t be true.

Regarding the details of your allegation – every single testimonial writer on the website is a real human being. Each one has used materials provided by the company to defeat their citation/s. However, we cannot control any scenario where the customer has decided to use an alias , or otherwise fictional name, for privacy purposes.

So what you’re saying is, every single person is real, except in the case where they might not be real. Nice one, guys. As it stands, testimonials are, for all intents and purposes, worthless. They are not evidence that a product works. They carry especially little weight when they are authored anonymously, and to attempt to bring litigation against someone for making a statement that you fully admit you cannot disprove isn’t exactly good business sense, is it? Oh I know you, “retain the contact information of all of the testimonial writers,” but if they don’t tell you who they are, how do really know they’ve used your service? Couldn’t I, or anyone else, just write a testimonial about your service and send it in under a fake name?

And what do they mean, “regarding the details of your allegation”? Their call it my, “allegation against our company describing it as a scam,” but how am I doing that? In no way did the statements I made imply that the service they provide is a scam. The word “scam” does not appear on the original post, and I even made a point of saying, “I’m not saying anything about their system. Maybe they are legit and have good info; I have no idea.” The only thing I can think of that might be misinterpreted to mean scam is the title of the post: Speedticketbeaters.com or Bigfuckingcheaters.com? What I meant by “cheaters” is not that they’re going to cheat you out of your money, but that perhaps the testimonials are not real, and they may have cheated by making them up themselves. Again, a statement of opinion. A supposition, which, as defined by Meriam-Webster, is an opinion.

Let’s not forget that I’ve researched and talked about all of this before. And just like last time, in order to actually sue me, they would have to prove both malicious intent as well as actual damages.

I’ll wrap this up with one last (I think quite apt) observation: Who sends a legal notice via e-mail on a Sunday?

Friday Funday CLXIX

Friday Funday brings you some fun and interesting links from my travels around the internet. Funday links will open in a new window.

zoomquilt [del.icio.us]

A collaborative art project that’s pretty cool. I keep seeing new things each time I go through.

The Incredible DaVinci Machine [del.icio.us]

Keep your pedal-powered ornithopter in the air while dodging obstacles.

Achmed the Dead Terrorist [del.icio.us]

Too soon?

5 Differences [del.icio.us]

Can you spot the five differences? Some of these are pretty tricky. The scenes are simply beautiful.

Dance, Monkeys, Dance [del.icio.us]

We’re all just monkeys.

Visiting Portland for the First Time

As many of you know, Morah and I celebrated our first anniversary in Portland. Neither of us had been to Portland before, so we were pretty excited to check it out.

We left Spokane on Friday morning, stopping in Pasco for lunch at a taco truck. I’ve since been told that I’m brave for eating at one, but I’m not sure why; the food was fantastic!

After a long drive that hugged the edges of the Columbia River, we arrived in Portland and checked in at our hotel, the Portland Inn City Center. The hotel was quite good overall, but I the wireless internet was unsecured and very spotty (half the time I couldn’t connect to the network from my room), and the water temperature in the shower wouldn’t stay steady. Other than those two things, it was a pretty good hotel, although I was a little miffed that a place touting itself as an inn didn’t serve a complimentary breakfast (back in the day, any place that called itself an inn not only had to provide a room and food, but stabling and food for a patron’s horse).

We wanted to walk around a bit, but we were in a bit of a hurry because we had made reservations to go on the Portland Underground tour. The tour was fun and the tunnels were really cool, but to my dismay, the tour we went on was the first “Halloween ghost tour” of the year. The difference seems to be that they focus less on the history and more on the folklore surrounding the tunnels. There’s still a ton of great historical info, you just have to put up with a bunch of, “isn’t that spooky” type of stories. Before the tour, our guide described a number of “spooky” things that could happen, including hearing voices, seeing shadows of people who aren’t there, smelling perfume where you shouldn’t be able to, feeling someone touching you when no one is there, lights turning on and off on their own, and doors opening and closing on their own. Being a Bright, I found it particularly amusing that none of this happening on the tour. Either way, I’d strongly suggest that people go on the tour.

Friday night was also our first experience with TriMet, Portland’s mass transit system. The service as a whole is fantastic for out-of-towners who don’t want to have to deal with driving and parking in Portland. I don’t know what the locals think of it, but we loved it (especially because it’s it’s free to ride in the downtown area).

We were up bright and early the next morning, ready to walk around the city and check it out. We caught the bus up to Chinatown and explored the beautiful Classical Chinese Garden. I probably took more pictures here than anywhere else on the trip. It was very tranquil and peaceful, but as our time in the garden wore on, more and more people showed up, which took away from some of the awe. If you’re planning to visit, I strongly suggest getting there as soon as they open so you can enjoy it before the masses show up.

Our next stop was the Portland Saturday Market, which was a lot bigger than we expected. The fountain in the middle of it all wasn’t filled with water, but ice and cans of Sierra Mist Free. There was a guy with a camera (looked like a VX2100 or something) videotaping the cans being handed out for free. I kind of wondered why he was there, and my suspicions were confirmed when I found an article online talking about how they plan to release a YouTube commercial with the footage (they shot in nine other cities, as well). I looked around quite a bit and didn’t see an area release posted, so if they do release a commercial and I’m in it, I won’t be very happy.

After we were finished poking around the Saturday Market, we were ready for lunch. Before we left, someone had told us about a really good Mexican restaurant that served authentic food. They couldn’t remember the name, but they were able to give us enough details about its location for someone at the hotel to make an accurate suggestion. He suggested that the restaurant could be called El Grillo and indicated its location on a map. The person who told us about the restaurant said it was right next door to, “a porn shop or something,” which we had forgotten about when we talked to the guy from the hotel. It turns out, El Grillo shares a bathroom with a strip club, so you have to be 21 to go to the bathroom (because in Oregon, they serve alcohol in strip clubs). The food was great (Morah’s chicken quesadilla was probably the best I’ve ever tasted), and we both had to go to the bathroom while we were there, so we got the “complete” El Grillo experience (and yes, there was a naked stripper dancing while we were in there).

Powell’s Books was our next stop. Bookstores are dangerous. Every time I walk into one, it’s hard to walk out without at least one book. At Powell’s, we bought more than one. We bought a book on learning to speak Finnish (Morah’s maiden name is Peltonen, which is a very common Finnish surname), an old and awesome copy of Darwin’s Origin of Species (which I look forward to finally reading), and a book that’s a present for someone who reads this blog, so I’m not going to say what it is (or who it’s for). There were dozens of other books that we wanted to buy, but we had to resist the urge.

Saturday night found us at Kell’s, an Irish Pub with awesome music and even better food. Morah and I both ate the lamb stew, which was fantastic. I can’t recommend it enough. I had some Irish whiskey and a pint of Guinness, and the highlight of the night was when the Kell’s pipe band marched through the front doors.

On Sunday morning, we decided to go out for breakfast (every other day we just went to a coffee shop next door to the hotel). Bijou Cafe was packed, but the wait wasn’t too long and the food was great. There was a couple who tried to bypass the line, but they got caught and sent back! Take that!

After breakfast, we drove across the Willamette River to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry for a day of geeky fun. There’s not much more for me to say about OMSI, other than, if you’re a geek, definitely don’t miss it.

We did a lot of research about Portland restaurants to try and figure out where to go for our anniversary dinner. In the end, the choice was pretty simple: The Portland City Grill. Don’t let their crappy website fool you; this upscale restaurant has haute cuisine and unbeatable views of the city (they’re located on the 30th floor of the U.S. Bancorp Tower). Morah’s opakapaka was divine, and my first experience with filet mignon has left me drooling for more.

After having great weather all weekend, Monday was a bit of a disappointment. We rode the MAX out to Washington Park, where we spent a couple of hours wandering around Hoyt Arboretum. We wanted to see the International Rose Test Garden, but it was a bit late in the season, and it started to rain. We also wanted to see the Japanese Garden, but there was a film crew shooting a movie (and again, it was raining). We had originally planned to see the zoo, but the rain also squashed those plans. Instead, we went back to the room and hung out for a few hours.

After the rain passed, we walked around the area near our hotel (which, surprisingly, we hadn’t done yet), then had dinner at The Melting Pot (whose draconian reservation policy took us by surprise).

We were sad to have to leave on Tuesday morning, but alas, to real life we must return. We had a great time in Portland, and although we didn’t get to do everything we wanted to, the silver lining is that now we have a great excuse to come back soon!

Friday Funday CLXVIII

Friday Funday brings you some fun and interesting links from my travels around the internet. Funday links will open in a new window.

Conan and Jim Carrey – Quantum Physics [del.icio.us]

The title pretty much explains it: Conan and Jim Carrey do a bit where they discuss quantum physics.

Raymond Crowe – A Wonderful World [del.icio.us]

I have a pretty decent repertoire of shadow puppets, but this guy puts me to shame! That rabbit is amazing.

The Unicorn Kingdom Club [del.icio.us]

Um… I really don’t know what to say about this, other than I hope it’s just a joke.

Funny Korean “love” chair ad [del.icio.us]

A commercial for the Dream Love Chair. It’s NSFW, so take a guess what they mean by “love chair”. Via The Book Bitches.

Piano Style Guitarist [del.icio.us]

Wow. Just, wow. About a minute and a half in, it goes from impressive to astounding.

Getting Web 2.0 Right

The poorly defined “Web 2.0” is the hot trend among websites these days, and for good reason: Web 2.0 sites tend to deliver quality content, ease of use, and stylish looks, all creating a good user experience. But how difficult is it to achieve this goal? As it turns out, it’s a short walk between a good idea and a terrible user experience.

Over on Appreciator, Jami wrote a review of two sites that ask you for reviews:GarageBand and Yelp. Both of these sites are what I would consider to be good ideas. GarageBand lets you discover new music that you don’t know about. Yelp is like CitySearch… Yeah, I’ll leave it at that (CitySearch has its own problems that I won’t get into here). So they’re both good ideas, but as Jami points out, they create awful user experiences. Read her blog entry to find out why.

So what makes for a good user experience? Everything I said at the beginning of this post: quality content, easy of use, and, to a slightly lesser degree, stylish looks.

Quality content is so, so important. In talking about GarageBand, Jami points out that it has to be good content; no amount of crappy content will satisfy users. But quality content isn’t just about having good content; you have to provide a good amount of good content! Last year at work, they were tossing around the idea of a Spokane restaurant guide. Someone said that they only wanted to include restaurants on the site who payed to be there. I quickly pointed out what a terrible idea that was. Think about it: If you went to a website that promised to tell you about restaurants in your city, but only listed half (or fewer!) of them, would you stay on that site for very long? Would you ever come back? For the majority of users, the answer to both questions is no.

Ease of use is exactly what it says, but it isn’t as simple as it sounds. In his book, Don’t Make Me Think (which, by the way, is also his first law of usability), usability expert Steve Krug says, “when I look at a Web page, it should be self-evident. Obvious. Self-explanatory. I should be able to ‘get it’ — what it is and how to use it — without expending any effort thinking about it.” I could go on and on about usability and ease of use, but I really just suggest reading Krug’s book (it’s fantastic, easy to read, and funny).

Stylish looks, while not super-important, are still something that need to be considered. After all, a website that looks like OS X will easily be chosen over one that looks like it was made in 1997. It’s a sad truth, but if your service is really that fantastic, you need to spend the money to make it shine (no pun intended).

Friday Funday CLXVII

Friday Funday brings you some fun and interesting links from my travels around the internet. Funday links will open in a new window.

Norton Fighter [del.icio.us]

I wonder if this actually sells anti-virus software.

South Park Wheel of Fortune [del.icio.us]

I tend not to find most South Park jokes terribly funny. This one made me laugh out loud.

Feist – 1 2 3 4 [del.icio.us]

This is the music video use on a iPod nano commercial. The video is pretty neat, especially when you realize that the whole thing is one, unbroken shot.

Internet Commenter Business Meeting [del.icio.us]

You know all those annoying comments you see on nearly every blog? What if those people were all in a business meeting together? Don’t miss Commenter Business Meeting 2.

Sweeney Todd [del.icio.us]

Beware, Sweeney Toodd is coming.

Seam Carving for Content-Aware Image Resizing

There’s a sad truth about clients that every web designer knows: If you give them the keys, they’ll crash the car. By that I mean, if you design a site for a client, as soon as they’re allowed to start populating the site with content, they’ll manage to add content that screws up your design. The design that took you days, possibly weeks to perfect.

This is particularly true for pictures. When clients are allowed to upload whatever size of image they want, problems will eventually arise. You can write an instruction manual as thick as a novel, but the client won’t read it, and even if they do, at some point, they’ll ignore it for the sake of convenience.

To combat this, programmers like to impose restrictions on what type, size, or shape of images can be used. For example, the CMS I use at the place we don’t blog about, which was created by other people, only allows images with an aspect ratio of 4:3 to be uploaded, and even then, the images must be either 640×480, 400×300, or 320×240. That’s it. Three choices for size, all of which _must_ conform to a particular aspect ratio. What if I wanted to upload an image with a 3:4 ratio? What if I want to associate an image to a story, but the only image I have is in some other aspect ratio and I can’t make it conform without cropping out an important part of the photo?

Clearly, restricting the client isn’t the way to go. The DOM gives us some options, but then we’re punishing the user by forcing her to wait for a framework to load (and we’re relying on Javascript to format the page, which has numerous drawbacks).

So what options are available to a webmaster trying to maintain control over the design of a site? Well, the video below was recently at SIGGRAPH. It may not be the best option (in fact, at the moment, it’s not an option), but it’s damn cool!

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