The making of my MFA directing application

/Blog

Here’s how I took a Mac SE/30, a 30-year-old impact printer, a disused VCR and some extraordinary effort to create my MFA directing application, and how nearly everything went wrong.

Read more

How about never?

/Blog

Rumors persist about the Apple TV set, this time putting the release date at sometime in 2015.

How about half-past never?

Still the Apple TV set rumor trundles on

/Blog

Macrumors mentioned Reports of 50″ Apple Television in Jonathan Ive’s Lab and by now I’m worried that, like shoehorning Superman into Dark Knight Rises, something dumb is going to happen because enough insane fans demanded it.

So far, the evidence we have of Apple building a TV are rumors of a 32″ TV, the aforementioned Brit who has a 50″ TV at work, and hundreds of Apple bloggers who need a persistent rumor to talk about.

While I maintain that Apple doesn’t need to make a TV to succeed in the home entertainment space anymore than Microsoft needs to make an Xbox TV, holy shit does the home entertainment user interface need an overhaul. After my epic journey choosing the right home theater receiver, I tried setting it up as simply as possible, so it wasn’t a mumbo-jumbo of “Select input 1 on the receiver remote, switch the TV remote to AUX 2, and hit power to watch TV. To turn it off, press Off (not Power) on the TV remote, and the third red button under the back cover of the receiver remote.” — except that’s the exact solution I came up with.

Heywood Floyd had an easier time using the toilet. If ever there was a case that called for Apple-like simplicity, home theaters are it.

But here’s the situation we’re stuck in. Just as commodity PC and cellphone manufacturers choose to compete on specs, so do home electronics retailers. Samsung, Sony, LG, et al aren’t copying Apple’s simplicity of design — emulating a UI that got by with one mouse button for 15 years — they’re chasing features. Is the next TV internet-ready? Does it have WiFi? Support for Netflix, Facebook, Spotify? It’s a league of followers. Apple made a smart device with apps, therefore apps are the new thing. Nevermind the one most important thing Apple brings to consumer electronics is also the thing no one is crowing about copying: simplicity.

I want a TV that is easy to setup and use, that’s it. Just how Apple got by with a one-button mouse, home theaters should be managed by one remote; an easy way to manage my inputs so they just work. I want my TV picture to look like it’s supposed to, I want my movies to look and sound the way they do in the theater. I don’t want to have to scratch my head over whether it’s supposed to be Dolby Pro Logic II or THX, or whether I’ve set my TV to 60Hz or 24. That is the one huge target that every manufacturer seems to miss. But enjoy your web-connected TV apps, when you use them.

At the end of this, I have to wonder why current manufacturers are scrambling to keep up with Apple’s magical new TV, and also wonder why it always has to be Apple to come in and reinvigorate some ossified industry? You guys have been making flat panel TVs for twenty years, can’t you make one that’s simple to use?

The tipping point for me was when I recently helped two of my older friends setup their TV. As far as they knew, their picture just looked “funny”. Diving in, I was baffled by the array of options, their seemingly scattered placement over the controls, and the mix of settings for deep-level experts and casual viewers both. So I messed with the picture settings, the refresh rate and so forth, until I solved it. Everything looked fakey because the TV was playing it back at 60Hz, when it was a 24fps film. Turning that off got it back to normal. Since it was a Sony BluRay player connected to a Sony TV, why not have the BD player tell the TV to play back at the same refresh rate as the source video? Why are other refresh rates even an option?

Same goes for the picture color settings: there’s the TV setting, the movie look, the high-contrast look (if you want everything you watch to look like Saw), and settings for tinting the picture cooler or warmer to varying degrees. This is a TV, not a Hipstamatic. So after 15 minutes of trying to get the Mos Eisley Cantina to look right, I’m wondering why we need all these settings? Though he seems to always change his mind about what’s in the frame, surely at some point George Lucas had decided that he wanted the cantina walls to be a certain shade of rose, or cream, or tan. Why does the TV give me the option to watch with my own color settings? Amongst the variety of color settings, I see several wrong options for recreating the picture as it was intended. This is a case where more choice is a bad thing.

All I needed was a choice of what my ambient light is: 5600K? 3200K? Even color temperature numbers don’t mean anything to consumers. Why not the sun and lightbulb icons like on my camera, or automatically detect the color temperature of ambient light with a sensor? Oh right, that would cost extra.

Other settings are a solution to a problem that shouldn’t exist in the first place. Frame blending, interpolation and juddering, specifically. While a de-juddering menu is meant to remove the “triple puck effect” of fast-moving objects appearing before and after their actual position, de-juddering creates a problem when you have repeated shapes moving past, like a fence or flight of stairs, which the TV incorrectly perceives as juddering. Turn de-juddering on and the steps become a static halo, turn de-juddering off and you have the triple-puck effect.

Why do we have juddering in the first place? If you’re watching a 60Hz signal on a 120Hz TV, the set should have two chances to draw the video per frame. There is no reason for fore-and-after images of a moving object if the screen is really being redrawn twice per frame. My guess is the screen isn’t refreshing the entire picture per frame. Hard to believe, a little white lie from the same people who brought us dynamic contrast ratio.

I mean, if you can’t do something, just say you can’t do it. Don’t try to patch it over with stupid features used to fake a good picture when you can’t provide the one you promised in the first place. Maybe that’s the nut Jobs “finally cracked” about the home entertainment industry.

Who watches the television?

I am sick of this Apple-branded TV rumor

/Blog

I shoulda written this six months ago.

Rumors like Apple Developing ‘New Technology’ for Delivering Video Content keep popping up and all I hear is that Apple is going to enter into the branded TV space. I mean look at this nonsense:

Apple is not going to make TVs.

Why not? Gee, where to start. That HDTVs are a market with preciously thin margins? Apple’s displays are more expensive than other monitors and still aren’t the best. Or how about the capricious nature of the HDTV market? Apple will have to chase the finicky home entertainment trends — 3D, 240Hz, plasma vs. LCD vs. OLED vs. lasers, internet, wireless internet — on what amounts to an expensive commodity. Then there’s the size issue. Is it 50-inch, 60, 72? How thin is it? Apple will have to compete with all those specs, because TVs are an electronic commodity and must compete on specs. And those are just the specs you can measure. Nevermind the inflated, ridiculous specs of most TVs, like the laughable “infinite dynamic range”. All this effort to make a couple of bucks on a product that’s physically bigger than anything else Apple makes?

Why would Apple dedicate the bulk of their warehouses to a product that would potentially make them the least amount of money? Apple uses iTunes to help sell iPods and iPhones. Tiny, high-margin products. They won’t make nearly as much as they would if they continued to sell these handheld devices, unless Apple can sell a TV for $4000-$5000. Would you pay that much for the convenience of having a TV with iTunes?

All this: the stiff competition, the razor-thin margins, finicky trends, so Apple can sell an expensive commodity just to get iTunes in more homes? They already have a product that does that for under $100. If AppleTV exists, an Apple TV makes no sense.

I’m guessing what happened was some dim tipster heard, “Apple’s working on something big for the home entertainment market!” and assumed Apple is working on a big ass TV. And at times, this rumor may have alluded to the iPod Touch, AppleTV, the iPhone, AppleTV 2, AirPlay, and so on… I don’t know what the next thing will be, but it isn’t going to be a huge, expensive TV.

Even this guy says no, and he seems to be in charge over there.

UPDATE: And still, the rumors keep flying: Apple is working on a television for 2012, sources say [2011]. The article actually guesses “2012 or early 2013.” But it was supposed to be 2011 just a few rumors ago!

BETTER UPDATE: Chris Rawson at TUAW gets it.

The maddening inconsistency of Mobile Safari’s URL autocomplete

/Blog

If there’s one thing people want from a computer, it’s capriciousness. Let’s say I have a favorite site I visit every day that starts with a T. And so I begin typing its address into the URL field of mobile Safari. Tee…

What is this? T brings up a site that starts with W? Only the third word even has a T in it. And after that, ‘The’? ‘The’ ranks higher than a website that has two T’s in the name over a website that doesn’t even have a T in the URL? Keep in mind this is in a form field where URLs are entered. And the only website on this list that starts with a T is the fourth one down. Try that in landscape mode and you wouldn’t even know it’s there.

Read more

How much bandwidth can an iPhone use?

/Blog

Predicting that mobile video will only become more widespread in the future, I decided to keep my unlimited iPhone data plan, but how much data can I reasonably use in a month beyond the new AT&T data plans of 200MB and 2GB per month?

While reading Apple’s new app guidelines, I came across this gem:

Bandwidth:

  • Audio streaming content over a cellular network may not use more than 5MB over 5 minutes
  • Video streaming content over a cellular network longer than 10 minutes must use HTTP Live Streaming and include a baseline 64 kbps audio-only HTTP Live stream

So if listening to streaming audio, I have (1024MB x 2 per month used at 1MB per minute) a total of 34 hours of audio streaming, or over an hour a day just listening to the radio.

Video streaming at 64kbps (3.75MB/minute) yields nine hours of on-demand video a month, enough for four average-length films, or nearly all of Max Headroom.

Suddenly 2GB is starting to feel like a lot.

CORRECTION: Todd points out 64kbps is just the baseline audio-only stream, and doesn’t include video, which should be obvious to anyone who actually read the spec. That and Max Headroom isn’t available for Netflix streaming. Still, in a month, I was only able to use 1087MB, so 2GB isn’t what I thought it was, but it’s still quite a bit.

Spotlight sucks

/Blog

Let me start by saying that I hate OS X’s Spotlight. It willingly turns a blind eye to system files, which (like so much else for the Mac) is a solution that satisfies 90% of users, but does nothing for the other 10%: people like me, who need to edit httpd.conf, php.ini, and other files the OS prefers you ignore.

So in lieu of Spotlight, I have been trying to use find, albeit with mixed results. That changed when I found the terminal command mdfind — it’s Spotlight that actually searches your whole computer. What a relief! And it’s simple to use:

> mdfind php.ini

was all it took to find /private/etc/php.ini. Find without arbitrary limitations. Amazing!

“Freedom from Porn”

/Blog

See Steve Jobs Offers World ‘Freedom From Porn’. Some other things Apple has given us freedom from:

Then you realize when Jobs talks about freedom, he isn’t talking about freedom for the consumer — he’s talking about the freedom of his software platform.

Why are there two menus for this?

/Blog

Hold the mouse button down over the icon of an unresponsive app in the dock and get this menu:

Right-click on the icon and get this one:

Same three options. One is vertical, the other horizontal. Clearly they serve the same purpose, but are arranged differently, and in the case of the horizontal menu, poorly. Why are there two menus? Moreover, why does right-clicking on dock icon not reveal the app’s open windows via Exposé the way click-holding does?

Jim Reekes doesn’t care who you are or where you came from

/Blog

My first exposure to hardcore 12-year Apple employee Jim Reekes was when he stole the show as the jaded, contrarian voice in the ultra low-budget documentary Welcome to Macintosh.

Listening to him recall his sound engineer work at Apple, he is one part Dwight Shrute and one part Bill Hicks. I simply love his candor, honesty and frankness when talking about his work, his industry, his coworkers …and all the little blunders they never quite thought through.

Grounded employees like this are a valuable asset to keep a project on the rails, and simply to keep people from developing really bad ideas. I can only hope to aspire to be as much of an incisive crank as Reekes.

Here he is again talking to One More Thing about the Mac’s startup tone. (You haven’t gone crazy, the introduction is in Hungarian.)

OMT in San Francisco #3: ‘Let it beep’ from One More Thing on Vimeo.

…and now you know the origin of Sosumi.

Next Page »