blarg?

If I could introduce two bands to each other right now, to try and “set them up”, as it were, I’d definitely want to hook up my good friend She Wants Revenge with this very cute girl I know, Ladytron.

Thematically, they’re perfect for each other. I imagine the conversation going something like this:

She Wants Revenge: “We’re standing here in a club, looking over at a beautiful girl. The music is going thump thump thump. We are so sick of this. We wonder if this is beautiful girl is broken on the inside and slightly psychotic, the way we so prefer them. She smells nice. My life sucks.”

Ladytron: “We are so glamorous and beautiful, and yet so sad. Who will rescue us from this terrible fate of being glamorous and beautiful and yet so sad?”

She Wants Revenge: “Hello.”

I feel compelled to share with you now one of my favorite musical discoveries of the last ten years or so: Gang Of Four‘s “Entertainment!”.

I know this sounds like absurd hyperbole, but I tell you: this album is an altar that a wide swath of rock music has been genuflecting to and stealing from since its release. There’s nothing before “Entertainment!” that sounds even vaguely like it and a thousand bands afterwards that have tried really hard to do exactly that.

The White Stripes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Bloc Party, The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, Billy Talent, Rage Against The Machine, Cop Shoot Cop, dozens or hundreds of others: this is where their sound comes from, the trunk of that tree. Your first reaction might be that you’ve heard all of this before, but that’s rougly like complaining that Casablanca would be a good movie if it wasn’t for all the cliches.

Keep listening. Your gateway drugs to this album are “Natural’s Not In It” and “I Found That Essence Rare”; and I’d follow them up with “At Home He’s A Tourist” if I wanted to ease my way into it, and then go back to track one and leave it on repeat.

The albums you really want, in order, are “Entertainment!” and, though there’s quite a bit of overlap, the “A Brief History Of The 20th Century” compilation. Possibly (though later, please!) also their recent “Return The Gift” two-CD set. If you haven’t heard the originals a lot of that last one won’t mean much to you, for reasons discussed in this article, but it’s very much worth owning either way.

There’s some live-performance love here, Gang Of Four playing “Anthrax” at SXSW 2006. Truly, I say again, it is a fantastic album. So much so that it’s difficult to believe that so few people I know have ever heard of it, and that this album is almost thirty years old.

Only slightly changed, but a few other color schemes and a color-scheme switcher are en-route, for those of you who like their text in pedestrian dark-text-on-light-background. Comments are solicited.

I wonder if there’s a long German word for the feeling you experience when leaving your workplace through a snowstorm at 1:30 in the morning because your “enterprise-grade “antivirus software turned into the primary vector for a worm infestation, and you need to go on walkabout to every single computer in the organization to fix it manually despite the fact that you pay good money to your antivirus providers to prevent just this sort of thing from happening, and to be able to deal with it remotely when it does happen.

If not, there really should be. Get on that, Germans!

blarg to be breaking soon, reworked and reprettied.

Those of you who dislike green-on-black are welcome to say so.

As many of you know, this site provides a wide variety of valuable educational services. You may not know it quite yet, but this is in fact one of them now. When you’re done reading, feel free to mutter “now you know, and knowing is half the battle, yo Joe” quietly to yourselves.

As you might imagine, I get a lot of questions about the basic economics of the real estate markets in high-density Canadian urban centers. Being a man who is here to provide valuable and educational information out of the unbridled altruism of my pure heart, I am now going to answer them. Let me tell you about some subtle differences between the real estate market and most of the other markets that you might be familiar with.

In a typical marketplace, for transactions involving food, clothing, cars, boats, drugs, sex, rock & roll, cake, sheep, endangered animals, seawater, sand, playdoh, healthy human organs or pie, just a zillion different things, it works as follows: you decide that you want something, you go to somebody who is selling it, and either there is a fixed price for that item or a price is negotiated. Then you pay that amount, the exchange takes place, the vendor has your money and you have your item, whatever it is, and everyone goes home happy.

When you’re buying a house, a key difference is that there’s only one of that exact house, in that exact spot; unlike food, clothing, cars, boats, drugs, sex, rock & roll, cake, sheep, endangered animals, seawater, sand, playdoh, healthy human organs, pie and the rest of it, that house is unique, so how the process works is subtly different.

You start, having done your research, by spending half an hour looking at the place, to then decide whether or not you want it. The price listed does not have any relationship whatsoever to the amount the house will eventually cost, which in turn has no relationship at all with what the house is actually worth. It is instead intended to strike a balance between telegraphing the actual value of the house and drawing in a large enough group of bidders to provoke a bidding war.

You’re given approximately 36 hours to decide whether or not you’d like to spend somewhere between a third to half of a million dollars (more, if you like, because the sky is truly the limit) and you examine the “comps”, the comparable houses that have been sold in the area in the last six months or so.

On the day offers are accepted, you weigh the selling prices of those comparable houses against the number of competing offers, bearing in mind that everyone else making this decision also has access to all the same information you do.

So , and this is the key graf: you make an offer that seems reasonable, perhaps even aggressive, considering the number of competing offers and other sales that have take place in the area recently. Then you go home and sit around being wound up and nervous for two hours before you get a call from your real estate agent saying that some well-heeled lunatic showed up and paid between eighty and a hundred thousand dollars more than anyone has ever paid for any house in that neigborhood ever before. You swear a lot.

Then every single person in that area adjusts their expected selling price that same eighty to one hundred thousand dollars higher than they were thinking, which is even more frustrating and infuriating, so you swear a lot more and wonder why people with such obviously poor judgment are given access to such large quantities of money.

That enormously frustrating process is the real estate market. Now you know.

Ok, Toronto residents, I need specific information about food.

Two things that I liked very much about Ottawa were the fact that I could get good Montreal-style bagels, and good Shawarma pretty much whenever I wanted.

In Toronto, not so much.

I can get “New York Style” bagels anywhere, but New York Style bagels are crap, so who cares? I can’t find anywhere that serves what I recognize to be a shawarma. I’ve found a lot of places that serve something that looks like they’ve been given a grainy xeroxed picture of a shawarma with third-hand description scrawled on the page in crayon with instructions to replicate that on a tight budget, but nothing that I’d actually want to eat a second time.

I’m told by my colleagues here that you can get anything in the Big Smoke, and it’s all just about the best you can get anywhere, and I just haven’t been able to find it, and frankly that sounds like bullshit to me. I’m sure that if you moved from Kapuskasing to North Bay, you’d probably say the same thing about North Bay. Toronto’s pretty big, but the world is a lot bigger than Toronto.

But what the hell: I’m totally ready to believe here. All I need just a sliver of evidence. Where do I find these things?

TVO used to make a show called Polka Dot Door, and if you’re the right age (which increasingly seems to mean “old”) you’ll remember the show’s main gag:

  • There’s one man, one woman on set. Guy has some reason for leaving, and goes off camera.

  • Polkaroo appears, via the magical Polka Dot Door.
  • They horse around for a bit, and then Polkaroo leaves.
  • The guy comes back, is told he just missed Polkaroo, and says “Aw, I missed him again!”

It’s a kids’ show, how much sophistication do you want?

So, I’m sitting in my office here and my boss and one of his colleagues are looking for their boss, who I’ve just seen step out – they’ve been just missing him all day – and my boss turns to turns to the other guy and says “Aw, I missed him again?”

I thought that was just amusing until I found out that he’s never seen Polka Dot Door. He wasn’t making a joke at all, he actually meant it. So this whole skit from my childhood is suddenly playing out in front of me, two floors up from the studio it was originally broadcast from twenty years ago, and entirely by accident.

Then it became hilarious. And I felt like it was all just for me.

As you know I work for a TV station, and TV in this modern age has captions, and that’s handled by software so you might correctly deduce that this sort of thing might be my problem.

I just had the most astonishing thing happen.

I just set up a machine with Computer Prompting And Captioning’s software, that does this captioning thing. Problem: it won’t open the caption files that we have, and since that’s sort of the whole point, well, I don’t know how to proceed. Could it be a licensing problem? I try this “upgrade my license” thing, follow their instructions and send it to their provided email address.

I get a reply back a few minutes later, saying “Sorry, I don’t understand this; could you explain what you’re looking for?”

Now, I thought that was a little ominous – I followed the instructions, what do you want? So, I sent him back a note saying, this is what we’re doing, this is why we’re doing it, and this is what isn’t working. How do I fix this, how do we proceed from here?

I clicked send, thinking about how long it’s going to take to sort this out.

The astonishing thing: two minutes later, I get a phone call. From a guy at the company! I told him what the problem was, we walked through the solution together, and that was it. Done.

I was not aware that this sort of thing ever happened. Customer service like that is a myth, a fairy tale. Something that ISVs tell their children about at night before they tuck them in; “In that magical kingdom, people’s problems get solved by courteous professionals in minutes! Also, it rains chocolate milk!”

Anyway, I was so surprised by this that I thought I should remark on it. You rock, CPC.

I’m sure that if you’re inside the bounds of civilization you saw the Apple keynote a little while back, where Steve Jobs announced the iPhone. All the usual things that get said about new Jobs-driven Apple products have already been said, so I’m not going to rehash them. I’m also hardly an authoritative voice on usability or human-factors design (though I can point you to some guys, if you’ve got a pressing need for genuine expertise) but still, I do have a few things to say; I was going to start out by talking about Steve Jobs’ reality distortion field, but the more I thought about it, the less I had to say about that. He’s a great communicator. Thank you, I’ll be here all night. Try the veal.

But one aspect of narrow-minded tribalism that I’ve seen a lot of recently is that criticism of the tribe is one of the privileges of membership; you might know your mom’s cooking sucks, but you’d get angry at anyone outside your family who says so. You know that your government is a corrupt, kleptocratic oligarchy but the foreigners sure don’t get to say so; love it or leave it! You might know, on some level, that the various hardships and indignities you endure as a Windows user are not the way it should be, but fuck those smug Mac users for thinking there should be an easier way, and, well, just screw them.

And if you’re a Linux user, I mean, God help us all.

So, people want their pain to mean something. And I’m right there with you, I can totally sympathize, but look: the fact of the matter is that not everyone who gets speared in the side gets to be Jesus. Most of us just bleed out.

I have my own three-headed dog in the technology-martyr race, of course, but some days it feels like Apple are the only people in the world who give two shits about how users interact with computers. I mean, this horror show is the first thing that greets a Toshiba user who’s just dropped more than two grand on one of their laptops.

That screencap is the image that brought this whole post on.

Jesus Christ, look at it. Almost everything on that screen is either overtly threatening (Restore CDs! Backups! Security! Viruses! Risk!), implicitly threatening (Register with Toshiba? Install Norton?), completely confusing (What the hell is all that crap in the lower right corner?), or an advertisement (Toshiba Solutions? AOL? Why are they there?)

Come on. Why don’t you just stab your customers in the eyes? And this is before you even get into the snake pit that is trying to actually get anything done with a Windows machine. If you gave this brand new, top of the line Toshiba to Steve Jobs, he’d shit on it and then fire the entire division responsible for it.

So, the Nintendo DS goes from being awkward and clunky and selling OK to being smaller and sleeker in the form of the Lite, and all of a sudden Nintendo can’t make them fast enough, so much so that it’s considered noteworthy in Japan when a non-DS game becomes a top-ten seller. Back in World War 2, changing two identical levers on an airplane’s control panel so that the one that controls the wheels is wheel-shaped and the one that controls the wings is wing-shaped eliminates belly landings pretty much overnight. How people interact with their technology is pretty damn important, and making products that actually look like you’ve put some thought into that is pretty important, too.

Steve Jobs steps up, then, and says “this product you’ve been using all this time, it’s shit. There’s a better way. And here it is.” The people who get indignant, who really want all that annoyance and suffering they went through to mean something, they call it a reality-distortion field and sneer at the cultists. The people who want all the difficult peripheral bullshit that gets in their way to just go away, though, they’re sold.

Me, I use Linux, so I must like pain. But from my perspective, whether or not you think Macs are all that great, some days it seems like nobody else (well, almost) cares about ease of use in the slightest. Why is it that the preinstalled systems from Dell, Toshiba, HP and their ilk feel so close to completely unusable that getting anything accomplished is like playing Jenga in boxing gloves?