blarg?

Condensation

This isn’t an exact quote, having been dredged out of some dank corner of this derelict hamster-wheel-and-rubber-band contrivance I use for a mind, but it’s stuck with me so long after other little bits of information about things like dressing properly or interacting politely with others has been forgotten, so I might as well put it to some use. It goes like this: a decade or so ago in a televised interview Harry Knowles of “Ain’t It Cool News” answered a question about the Secrets of Hollywood with “…the big secret of Hollywood is that everything’s great, always. In fact you can be fired from a project for not showing sufficient enthusiasm for it. And in that environment, nobody is going to be able to tell you that you’re turning Batman And Robin into one of the worst movies in the history of western cinema.”

Hold that thought.

So I mentioned earlier that the top four or five tiers of whatever department is responsible for Microsoft’s brand management should be fired immediately, but the problem is worse than I’d thought. If you’ve followed the tech media in the last few weeks you’ve already seen the videos Microsoft is making to help you plan your own Windows 7 launch party at home, as though any human anywhere would ever do that. If you haven’t, for the love of God don’t look but, you know, kind of look; it’s honestly like watching some sort of beautiful ethnocultural car accident.

I had two thoughts watching it myself; first of all, this is clearly evidence that the Body Snatcher problem is an ongoing issue. These all look like people, you know? But they’re not acting like people, as though whatever controls those bodies has been very careful to learn as much as they can about these humans and their strange rituals, but can’t quite carry it off themselves. Normal humans just don’t act like that, but here we are on our slippery slope drifting backwards into the Uncanny Valley, and urk.

The second thought isn’t one I’m particularly proud of, but I swear I thought the black guy was going to get killed. With the horrific, tacky, snatched-body-pantomime way the first half of that video went, I would have sworn on a stack of twenties that it was inevitable. I kept wondering, how long can they fight those crappy-eighties-movie reflexes? We’re halfway through this, and he hasn’t so much as gotten a syllable in edgewise. That guy is going to say something sort of funny and then something is going to reach in the window and rip his head off, that’s just how these movies work.

I was actually a little bit let down when that didn’t happen, because as terrible as it sounds, it would have improved this video immensely. Cabel Sasser’s bleeped-out parody would have been a distant second to that, guaranteed. And the suspense was just destroying me.

But the worst part of this is that lots of somebodies right up the MS chain of command (the rumors say all the way up to Steve Ballmer) looked at this and said “yes, this is a good idea, a great idea. This will work.”

It’s hard for me to imagine how the entire heirarchy of a company could be so completely detached from normal human discourse that this could happen, but I’m calling it: this is prima facie evidence that, after Microsoft’s brutal last two quarters and the first layoffs in I think ever, the aforementioned culture of terrified enthusiasm has set in and now everything’s awesome. There’s just nobody left who’s got the eyes to see what’s wrong and the spine to stand up to it. Maybe because the shit that is going to roll downhill if they try is going to have a lot of momentum after starting at the very top of the org chart.

Or maybe because all of their bodies have been snatched. Either theory works for me.

Black Smoke And Flowers

A few days ago Google released a plugin for IE6, the Chrome Frame, that pretty much makes IE6 act kind of like a peppy modern browser. Microsoft got all shirty on the topic, claiming somewhat laughably that Chrome Frame made IE6 less secure, but IE6 is still the kick-me sign taped to the back of the internet and as has become typical Microsoft is getting caught with their head down on the play.

Now, like all right thinking people I don’t use Internet Explorer at all, much less the drifting, hole-filled relic that is IE6; nobody who has any say in the matter does. But I see a pretty shocking number of people missing the intuitive next step, that Chrome Frame isn’t targeted at users who have any say in the matter.

Google’s been selling their internal Search Appliances for years, and more recently started pushing the Google Apps towards business users, so it’s not much of a stretch to guess that Google will start selling Apps boxes soon, so that you can run them behind a firewall: GMail, the Apps, all of it.

And you can bet that the integration with Android handsets will be fantastic. Chrome Frame is just a part of a full-court press into the enterprise environment, and has nothing to do with web standards or user choice. Any user with any say in the matter is already using something else, and thinking about it in those terms is a mistake. It’s all about making it feasible, in cost and performance terms, to install a Google Apps appliance in large corporations.

So let me call the play as follows: this will probably be the beginning of the end for Microsoft’s long-stagnant control of that space. Windows Mobile 7 will ship late and be bad, cheap computers will keep getting better and it’s a short, very cheap step from a Google App Server to lightweight desktop clients running Android. This will have the added benefit of largely killing Android’s major corporate competition in RIM, BES integration being the only worthwhile thing about their increasingly crappy devices.

I could be making all that up, of course, but I know a couple of guys who know a couple of guys, and I get the sense from some people in that chain that all of this is not only well underway, but has quite a bit of mass and momentum behind it.

Piano keys

For some reason I have a bunch of nonsense in my feeds about old people music today, a phenomenon whose majestic inertia continues to appall.

People, look: the Beatles are not the greatest band of all time. Some people think so, but those people tend to have a couple of things in common, notably that they’re very old, very wrong, and stink of a nostalgic desperation that gets worse every year. I know, I know, your demographic wants very badly for the bestest band ever to be some icon of your dimly-remembered youth, as opposed to that noise those kids on your lawn are listening to these days, but every generation wants that. And I know that the lurching demographic hunchback of the most self-absorbed generation in history has got the Beatles’ aging backs, sure. But in music criticism as in all things there is nothing good on this earth that baby boomers can’t collectively screw up for the rest of us. But there’s just so many good choices now, why stay hung up on this one?

Furthermore, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is not the greatest album ever, mainly because it’s not even the best album by the Beatles, a title that belongs to either Revolver or the White Album depending on your mood. Have you really listened to it recently? In the last ten years, at a time when you’ve got a clear head and good speakers and not when you’re not drunk or high on Aleve or racked out with crippling maudlin nostalgia? Yeah, I didn’t think so, but you should try it. In the cold light of a modern morning a good two thirds of that album is children’s music, “Peter, Paul and Mary” for people scared of encroaching middle age instead of the dark. And anyone willing to go on about the Beatles’ brilliant harmonies should put the title track and Mr. Kite on repeat and call me in an hour.

Honestly, I don’t know what the answer to the “greatest band” question is; I’m not even willing concede that it’s a meaningful question. Most popular? Most successful? Most influential? The Beatles, and Sgt. Pepper, are none of those, but: I encourage you to broaden your horizons, old people. It’s never too late.

But really, I’d just like you all to shut up about the Beatles for once.

The Nikon EM

Results 1 – 10 of about 50,900,000 for “Read the whole thing”. (0.07 seconds)

I’ve had this in the queue for a while; it’s a bit dated, but here it is anyway. I hope you are edified by it; as with virtually every article about the ongoing slow suicide of the modern media establishment, I suspect that nobody who’s primed and tooled up to actually make the desperately necessary changes will ever see it, but I’ve got to do my bit to try keeping that pressure on regardless. I’m just trying to plant seeds, as it were.

Back in March, Clay Shirky wrote:

One of the people I was hanging around with online back then was Gordy Thompson, who managed internet services at the New York Times. I remember Thompson saying something to the effect of “When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem.” I think about that conversation a lot these days.

This came back to me when I was reading this article in the Washington Post in which some damp rag of a copywriter is upset to find out that his sneering little human-interest piece was being quoted all over the place, most prominently by Gawker, who he later called up to ask how much effort their little ad-farming exercise actually took:

“After all the reporting, it took me about a day to write the 1,500-word piece. How long did it take Gawker to rewrite and republish it, cherry-pick the funniest quotes, sell ads against it and ultimately reap 9,500 (and counting) page views? I called up Hamilton Nolan, the Gawker writer to whom I had been so grateful. “Probably took me,” he said, “you know . . . a half-hour to an hour.”

His reaction is one that’s distressingly common these days. It’s always the same: this is everyone’s fault but mine, and there should be a bunch of new laws because it’s not fair. It’s become inescapable, this position. It’s the yin to Mike Godwin’s yang; instead of calling somebody a Nazi, he’s saying the world just isn’t jackbooted enough. We need tougher, more stringent laws, or jobs like the one his vacuous prose is rapidly making irrelevant anyway might, swoon, no longer exist. Near the end he nods briefly in the direction of the freight train bearing down on his industry, saying “the popular saying in the industry now is that it’s important to “save journalism” – not necessarily newspapers. I agree, but newspapers are still the most common organizations that pay a large staff of reporters, providing them with a living wage, health care and a retirement plan”, but concludes without the faintest implication that he is anything other than blameless and powerless in all of this, tied to the tracks by some cackling, mustachioed villain with “internet” written on his top hat.

But to be blunt, sir, this is what you deserve for writing things that can be summed up entirely with a few excerpts and a dollop of snark, without the slightest loss of context or significance. And if you had an editor worth a fifth of the title they’d have handed that article back to you and told you to you cut it down to its proper size.

Look, if you want to save journalism, if you want to be a journalist, you need to actually perform the act of journalism. The kind of writing that we desperately need, that we may be well-informed and responsible citizens, not these bullshit celebrity-noise puff pieces. Leave that crap to transient rags like Gawker; it’s their métier, says so right there on the label, and shouldn’t be yours. Go find something out, something important, and tell us. It might be complicated, it might need to be explained at length, contextualized and clarified, sure. It might be difficult, but worthwhile things usually are. You’ll know success when you see it, when you can’t suck the marrow out of it in three lines and people all over the world are telling their audience to come to your site.

The solution to your problem isn’t tougher laws or bizarre DRM technologies: it’s for you to actually provide the public with real, valuable information. With journalism, in short. So be journalist, please. Seek out the truth and bear witness for all of us, because we have never needed it more. Give us stories that are important and relevant and alive, stories with meat on them, with teeth. I promise you: the results will look a lot like what you’ve already seen, blogs and news aggregators the world over will hoist two or three of the better paragraphs out and summarize the rest, but with a critically different bit at the end, an exhortation to get over to your site, because a terse summary isn’t enough to convey what you’ve found. The world will be saying, “read the whole thing.”

A Learning Experience

It turns out that when excitable parents talk about how smart their baby is, they’re giving you a much more accurate assessment of themselves than their child. This is Maya, trying to eat the plate the bagel came on.

Control Panel

20:05  * humph cannot understand why anyone is buying zune
20:05 <@humph> I'm scrolling through engadget and can't believe what I'm seeing
20:05 < mhoye> oh, god, the zune.
20:05 < mhoye> My dad has a story whose details I can barely remember.
20:05 <@humph> hit me

… about a sea captain (Admiral Nelson maybe?) and a sailor who, in the midst of some ship-to-ship battle shows tremendous strength and courage in securing an untethered cannon (this is where the expression “loose cannon” comes from, incidentally) lashing it to the ship’s rolling deck, and saving his shipmates. So after the battle the Admiral addresses the crew, commending the sailor for his bravery under fire, and then immediately orders the sailor keelhauled. Because, the Admiral says, if he’d done his job when he was supposed to the ship would never have been in danger and he would never have had to go to those heroic lengths in the first place.

I think Steve Ballmer needs to have this precise discussion with whoever is in charge of Microsoft’s brand management.

A couple of weeks ago, I said that “…unless Windows Mobile 7 is at least as good as iPhone OS 1, then the walled-garden fuck-you-and-your-freedom model wins. Which makes me really sad, because the alternatives to the Microsoft approach right now are way, way worse”, but that argument has been made irrelevant by the release of the new Zune HD, and so has Windows Mobile.

So, funny little nerd history lesson.

A couple of years ago Microsoft was growing this nice little ecosystem of music players and digital content providers under the aegis of the “PlaysForSure” brand. Sure, there was some DRM involved and it didn’t work exactly right all the time but it was getting better pretty quickly. And at a time when there were a bunch of incompatible implementations of a bunch of different sound file formats (and even MP3 didn’t really work right all the time) they were starting to build up a respectable stable of music vendors and players from a bunch of different OEMs that all said “PlaysForSure” on the box and promised some portability and interoperability to the customer.

And then they built the first Zune and the Zune Marketplace, and word got out that Microsoft’s new flagship media players wouldn’t play PlaysForSure content at all. And that whatever else Microsoft was saying publicly they had decided internally (and months previously) that PFS just wasn’t good enough for them.

And every last person and company who’d bought into PFS looked at that and said, wait, what? You’re doing what with the who, now? And in a few months that whole space was completely abandoned. All the music vendors, all the OEMs who’d been building and marketing PFS devices, all that time and effort and goodwill got kicked into a empty corner and set on fire.

Fast-forward to today, and all that burned karma has amounted to just about nothing. The Zune did cartoonishly poorly and iPods still dominate. But the media-player-only device is clearly on the way out, and cellphones are in ascendance. Windows Mobile 6.5, first demonstrated in February, is coming out in early October. Windows Mobile 7, so very late and so very not-looking-that-interesting-anyway is due early next year. All the other Zunes have been discontinued, and Microsoft has released one Zune to rule them all; their new flagship media player, the Zune HD.

Now with Google’s free Android eating their lunch over at HTC, with Microsoft desperate to get WinMo 6.5 and 7 out the door, their showcase portable device doesn’t run Windows Mobile at all. It runs some heavily modified, closed WinMo derivative with no dev tools, that you can’t make or sell apps for, that can’t leverage or even reuse any part of the existing WinMo software base and that (honestly, oh my fucking god) plays fullscreen commercials before running the free applications they deign to give you at all.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.

For real, in the face of all the evidence and options available in this modern world, somebody in Microsoft’s management thinks that the answer to “how can we turn our customers into a revenue stream” is “we should charge them a big hunk of money for the device, and then give them a crappy experience for free.”

I know that Microsoft’s entertainment division is violently hemorrhaging cash, but I don’t think that anyone there realizes how much momentum and mindshare they’re bleeding out of the rest of their company. Nobody who can do anything about it, anyway. But for the sake of an open market and an open software ecosystem, I hope that somebody there wakes up to how much else that their entertainment division is really costing them, how egregiously it undermines some of their most important projects. Somebody who has the rank and stones to do something about it which, sadly, is just one guy who’s not really technically or vision-inclined.

Because the top four or five levels of that department’s management need to be commended for their heroism, and then keelhauled.

Both completely absurd and totally apt, I have just had this error message pop up for me.

Warning!

Which translated says “In order to protect your computer, Windows has prevented the following program from running: Windows.” On the one hand, completely useless. On the other hand so very true, and probably for the best.

I’m reasonably confident that in the superstitions of the distant future the four horsemen of the apocalypse will be Abort, Ignore, Retry and Fail.

Reflected Sky

Just getting back into it after my pensive little layoff; forgive me if I’m a little rusty.

Exhibit A: From Apple’s recent response to some questions the FCC had about the App Store:

Contrary to published reports, Apple has not rejected the Google Voice application, and continues to study it. The application has not been approved because, as submitted for review, it appears to alter the iPhone’s distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail. Apple spent a lot of time and effort developing this distinct and innovative way to seamlessly deliver core functionality of the iPhone. For example, on an iPhone, the “Phone” icon that is always shown at the bottom of the Home Screen launches Apple’s mobile telephone application, providing access to Favorites, Recents, Contacts, a Keypad, and Visual Voicemail. The Google Voice application replaces Apple’s Visual Voicemail by routing calls through a separate Google Voice telephone number that stores any voicemail, preventing voicemail from being stored on the iPhone, i.e., disabling Apple’s Visual Voicemail. Similarly, SMS text messages are managed through the Google hub—replacing the iPhone’s text messaging feature. In addition, the iPhone user’s entire Contacts database is transferred to Google’s servers, and we have yet to obtain any assurances from Google that this data will only be used in appropriate ways. These factors present several new issues and questions to us that we are still pondering at this time.

Exhibit B:

My friends, each of you is a single cell in the great body of the State. And today that great body has purged itself of parasites. We have triumphed over the unprincipled dissemination of facts. The thugs and wreckers have been cast out, and the poisonous weeds of disinformation have been consigned to the dustbin of history. Let each and every cell rejoice! For today we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directive! We have created for the first time in all history a garden of pure ideology, where each worker may bloom secure from the pests of contradictory and confusing truths. Our Unification of Thought is a more powerful weapon than any fleet or army on Earth. We are one people. With one will. One resolve. One cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death. And we will bury them with their own confusion.

Which was, of course, the speech from the emaciated, bespectacled villain of the classic Apple 1984 ad, heralding the introduction of the original Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like “1984”.

[ Technology Crisis - A Bleak Future ]