Mountain Lion. Clever?

Apple just announced the next version of (Mac) OS X: Mountain Lion. And they did so in an rather unusual fashion. Grubes has the scoop:

The recurring theme: Apple is fighting against cruft — inconsistencies and oddities that have accumulated over the years, which made sense at one point but no longer — like managing to-dos in iCal (because CalDAV was being used to sync them to a server) or notes in Mail (because IMAP was the syncing back-end). The changes and additions in Mountain Lion are in a consistent vein: making things simpler and more obvious, closer to how things should be rather than simply how they always have been.

But a lot of the chatter (chirping?) on Twitter concerns the name:

I “get” what Apple’s doing with the name. Mountain Lion (10.8, presumably) is to Lion (10.7) as Snow Leopard (10.6) was to Leopard (10.5): a refinement, a continuation of the same direction in OS X’s evolution as the version that preceded it.

But it is rather odd, if you think about the actual cat names involved, especially since a mountain lion is essentially the same thing as a cougar, also known as a puma or… a panther, which Apple already used as the “big cat” codename for Mac OS X 10.3 way back in 2003.

Beyond that, Lion always seemed like something Apple was building up to… the “king of the jungle.” That version 10.7 was named Lion seemed to suggest the “big cat” lineage, version 10.x of Apple’s Mac OS, and perhaps even the “X” (which is pronounced “ten” after all) was done. And here we have… Mountain Lion? A decisive step backwards in the awesomeness of the big cats. Heck, mountain lions have even been spotted here in Minnesota for crying out loud!

So… anyway… I think the point is: Apple is not taking this whole “big cat” thing too seriously, and neither should we. Mountain Lion looks pretty great. I can’t wait to try it out!

Update: After some research, it turns out Apple already used Puma, too, for 10.1. But as I recall, they didn’t start using the big cat codenames in marketing until 10.2, Jaguar. And I still have the Jaguar mousepad on my desk to prove it!

Apple’s skeuomorphism reconsidered

I was just looking at the much maligned skeuomorphic interface on iCal in Lion, and trying to decide why it doesn’t really bother me that much. I think I figured it out.

It’s inconsistent with other windows, but the objects on a real desk don’t all look alike. I’ve observed novice computer users, even today, struggle to differentiate windows on a standard computer desktop. They can’t tell which window is active; they can’t tell windows apart; they don’t know the difference between different applications or whether a given app is still running without any windows open or not.

In short: a lot of people still don’t understand the GUI, and never will. And, kind of like I wrote yesterday about Kevin and Robert California, whose fault is that? The user’s, or the interface designer’s?

iCal may look out of place, but there’s no mistaking it in the jumble of overlapping windows, just like there’s no mistaking a particular physical book in a big pile on a cluttered desk.

The arguments for or against skeuomorphism are completely different on iOS, of course, where there’s only ever one app on the screen at a time. But I think the HIG zealots and Magritte maybe need to get over themselves a bit, even if iCal makes all of us want to tear those little bits of paper off.


I got up this morning and, like on most mornings, one of the first things I did was brush my teeth. It’s a simple process, just part of the minutiae of daily life. But as with so many of those little things we do every day, it’s a less-than-ideal experience. After fumbling to pull the toothbrush from the cup — where its bulbous, rubberized handle was wedged against the bulbous, rubberized handles of the other toothbrushes necessary for a household of four — and nearly dumping them all into the sink along the way, I took my frustration to Twitter:

It got me thinking about a recent post on Daring Fireball, where John Gruber expressed his frustrations that some people — even Apple Store “geniuses” — were telling iPhone owners that they need to occasionally force-quit all of the apps in their recently-used items tray. He followed up on that post on his podcast, The Talk Show, where he described the experience of operating systems where you are expected to manually monitor and adjust their states as being “fiddly.”

I’ve been thinking about that word, “fiddly,” a lot since then. I think it applies to a lot more than smartphone OSes. I’ve spent a great deal of my life dealing with overwhelming frustration at the clumsiness, the fiddliness, of everyday objects: cheap plastic toys that break easily, things that stick to other things when they shouldn’t or don’t when they should, tools that cannot adequately perform the tasks they are expressly intended for, etc.

As someone who’s not inclined to tinker with objects, much less invent solutions to their shortcomings, that frustration usually just burns off as simmering rage. But as I pondered the nature of fiddliness, and the ideal of the iPhone as a “non-fiddly” object, a couple of thoughts occurred to me:

1. It is the purpose of design to reduce the fiddliness in the world.

2. Very few makers of physical objects today follow #1.

Gary Hustwit’s documentary Objectified is focused on the design of everyday objects, and those who have excelled at creating objects that are, for lack of a better word, as non-fiddly as possible. Two people featured in the documentary are Dieter Rams, the legendary German designer who led Braun’s industrial design team in the 1950s and 1960s, and Jonathan Ive, the head of Apple’s industrial design team today. Both Rams and Ive share a passion for making objects that work. Form not only follows function, form is function. It’s a seamless integration of purpose and style that makes the objects a delight to use.

And that’s a very rare thing today, indeed.

Reflections on (my own) uninformed speculation as pertains to a possible “iTV” from Apple

I don’t have any inside sources of information on the inner workings at Apple. I get most of my information from a handful of well-regarded tech blogs. (See the link list at the bottom of this post.) In fact, I would probably be doing the world a service by deleting my blog entirely and setting up my URL as a redirect to

But my lack of well-sourced information doesn’t preclude the formation of opinions, based on what I’ve heard. On rare occasions, those opinions might even merit sharing with others, and today I think may be one of those times.

The topic is an Apple-branded television, and whether or not such is coming in 2012, or ever. I was inspired to reflect on this after today’s post on the topic on Revert to Saved.

Past performance as an indicator of… something

I have a poor record regarding Apple rumors. I insisted in early 2007 that Apple couldn’t possibly be developing a smartphone. (You won’t find any traces of that insistence here, however, as I did have the good sense not to publish anything about it.)

Most smartphones then on the market sucked. I couldn’t envision what an Apple phone might look like, especially one with a touch screen and only one button. Much like The Homer, my mental abomination would likely resemble a cross between a Nintendo DS and the Cinco-Fone. Besides, it would have to be called the iPhone, and Cisco already owned that name. We know how that turned out.

In late 2009 and early 2010, I couldn’t imagine Apple releasing a tablet. (And that time around I had plenty of stupid stuff to say on the matter.) Every tablet I’d seen before that sucked, and I was certain there would be issues with screen resolution.

We know how that turned out.

Now, an Apple-branded TV, or, as the rumors would have it, iTV. Most TVs today suck, and there are few pieces of technology known to humanity more craptastic than a cable TV set-top box. There are open questions pertaining to the potential device’s screen dimensions. (Today’s flood of rumors says they’ll come in three sizes.) And, of course, ITV is already the name of a British network.

Given the eerie similarity of this scenario to the seemingly insurmountable challenges Apple previously faced with the iPhone and iPad, therefore, I am forced to deduce that Apple must have a TV in development, and… we know what it will be called.

Don’t listen to me

Where Apple excels is not in creating whole new technologies, but rather in combining existing and emerging technologies in novel ways, and optimizing the hell out of their performance. And they integrate their hardware seamlessly with software platforms that deliver content and experiences to create a cohesive and engaging ecosystem that no one else can match.

So, my inability to predict or even imagine what Apple has in the pipeline is partly a failure of imagination, and partly a lack of knowledge of the kinds of hardware and software engineering that Apple is keeping under wraps, guarded with jealous secrecy unmatched by any business or government agency on Earth.

So what?

So what, indeed? What is Apple doing, and more importantly, will it be awesome? Scratch that: How awesome will it be?

But the biggest question I actually have right now is: How much of this (hypothetical) iTV was invented before Steve Jobs died, and how much of Apple’s mojo did he take with him? In the coming months we should have an answer. This will be Apple’s first major product introduction of the post-Jobs era, and it will tell us how well that obsessive attention to detail has truly been woven into the “Apple DNA.”

Further reading

As promised, here’s a list of some of my favorite tech blogs/podcasts at the moment. I subscribe to their RSS feeds and check them daily.

Post script

I cranked out the bulk of this post in the Notes app on my iPhone while standing in a hallway, waiting for SLP. I had the idea in my head and I wanted to get it written before I lost it. I’m not sure what that really says about anything, but I thought it was worth noting.

New adventures in hi-fi… er, iTunes Match

As successful as iTunes has been in transforming both the music industry and the music listening experience, it has, from the beginning, been hamstrung by restrictions imposed by the outmoded, fearful major record labels.

Little by little, Apple has whittled away at those restrictions while managing to create a hugely successful business — iTunes has for several years been the largest music retailer in the world. First there was iTunes Plus: a boost in quality and a victory for users with the elimination of DRM copy restrictions. And now we have the real game changer: iTunes Match.

For $25 per year, you can now store your music “in the cloud.” iCloud, to be specific. That annual subscription allows you to create a centralized, comprehensive library of all of your digital music on Apple’s servers, and accessible from any of your computers and iOS devices. No more worrying about limited disk space or struggling with syncing issues. It just works.

In principle.

In practice? Well, I put iTunes Match to the test today. My music library poses a few unique challenges to this new service:

  • My library consists of over 18,000 songs, and more than 140 GB of data.
  • My main computer is a MacBook Air with a 128 GB hard drive, so I keep a “master” library on an external hard drive and a day-to-day library on the internal hard drive.
  • My main iOS device is a 32 GB iPhone 4, which has been syncing with the “day-to-day” iTunes library on my Mac’s internal hard drive.
  • SLP and I have our own iTunes accounts but have long desired to have a single shared music library.
  • My music library consists mostly of non-iTunes Plus tracks: a mix of DRM-laden 128 kbps iTunes tracks, ripped CDs, and tons of MP3s downloaded from

With these factors in play, I had some specific goals for iTunes Match, roughly in this order:

  1. Move my “master” library from an external hard drive that sits on my desk, into iCloud where all of our devices can access it.
  2. Free up precious storage space on my MacBook Air and iPhone.
  3. Upgrade old DRMed 128 kbps iTunes tracks to higher-quality, DRM-free, 256 kbps versions.
  4. Consolidate SLP’s purchased iTunes music (around 600 songs) with my main library.
  5. Clean up duplicate tracks.

Spoiler alert: I pretty much knew going into it that the last of those items was going to get worse before it got better. But there were still plenty of surprises (good, bad and ugly) along the way.

The journey of 1,000 miles (or 18,000 songs) begins with a single step

I began my iTunes Match journey about two weeks ago, as soon as iTunes Match became available to the public. (For what it’s worth, I’m registered as an iOS developer, so I had access to the beta, but was never able to get it working properly.) The first goal was to get all of my music loaded into the system, and for the most part that went fine. Which is to say, it went… and went… and went… and w…e…n…t… fine. Loading the 4,000 or so songs I kept on my internal hard drive was fairly inconsequential. The process completed in a couple of hours while I went about my work that day. But then when the time came to fire up the external drive and load the remaining 14,000 or so songs… hmm. How can I put this? I guess the plus side was that I could leave it unattended and sleep, because it took three nights (overnight) to finish.

At that point I left things alone for a while, as I was too busy at the time to devote an entire day to organizing and cleaning up my music library. I did, however, get to play around with the overall iTunes Match experience for a week or so, and I discovered the following:

The good:

  • Having my complete music library at my fingertips on any device is amazing.
  • Streaming works great on the Mac, iPhone and Apple TV. Just pick a song and within a few seconds it starts playing.

The bad:

  • Browsing can be slow, sometimes painfully so, with a large library. This is especially a problem on the iPhone.
  • Cover art is often missing. I haven’t yet determined if it’s just not being downloaded, or if it’s not attached to the albums in iCloud, either.

The ugly:

  • Syncing an iOS device with iTunes on your computer can become a real mess. It’s hard to delete anything: like Michael Myers, no matter how many times you shoot him or stab him or stick a hanger in his eye, he just keeps getting up and coming back to get you. OK, bad analogy. But it almost feels that way.
  • Sometimes you don’t really want to remember just how many songs by Edison Lighthouse, England Dan and John Ford Coley, or Peppermint Trolley Company you own. It would be nice to have more filtering options than: a) just what’s on your device, or b) the whole shebang.

The big day arrives

Today I finally decided that I could afford to put off almost all of my real work for an entire day and devote my attention singularly to the task of getting iTunes Match fully synced, and SLP’s music fully integrated into the main library. To be honest, however, it’s not just today. I began the process at around 8:00 last night, worked until just after midnight, resumed from 7:00 to 8:30 this morning, then worked on it straight from 10:30 AM to 3:30 PM and again from about 7 PM to 10 PM, when I began writing this post. That’s 13 1/2 hours total, or approximately 2.66 seconds per each of the 18,266 tracks in my library. YMMV, as they say, but I’d guess it’s reasonable, if you’re trying to budget some time, to assume that you’ll need about 3 seconds times the number of tracks in your library. (And I’m still not really done.)

I took some notes today as I was going about things. Here are some pertinent observations:

Some things were just plain gone. I’m pretty sure this was the fault of my own carelessness in keeping my various pre-iTunes Match libraries in sync, but it’s worth noting that two conspicuous omissions in my library were The King Is Dead by The Decemberists and The King of Limbs by Radiohead. Coincidence?! I think… well, actually, yes, I do think it was probably just a coincidence. Luckily I was able to track down backups of both of those albums, but now I wonder what else is missing that I’m forgetting about.

“Matched” tracks are hit-and-miss. I’m sure Apple is relying on some very powerful algorithms to analyze each track in your library, in order to determine whether or not it matches a track that already exists on iTunes. It’s clearly not just relying on title-and-artist matching like the longstanding (and semi-useless) “Display Duplicates” option. One of the big selling points of iTunes Match is that if your music is available on iTunes, even if you didn’t buy it there, you’ll get the (usually higher-quality) iTunes version instead of the original version in your library, saving you time and saving Apple server space, as well. (Macworld’s Jason Snell has written an excellent tutorial on how to upgrade your tracks.)

The algorithms aren’t perfect, however, and I was annoyed to discover numerous cases where all but one or two tracks of an album were “matched” and could be replaced with 256 kbps iTunes versions, but the other tracks were rejected, for reasons unknown, and were stuck with the inferior quality versions I had to begin with.

Duplicates are a mess. Apple has done a lot to try to make it easy for you to find and weed out duplicate tracks, but you still have to do it. I appreciate that they don’t just assume which tracks you will or won’t want and automatically delete things capriciously, but I still wish there were a more efficient way to trim the excess.

Cloud symbols and error messages could use some clarification. Neven Mrgan has a great summary of the icons and his interpretations of their meanings, but I encountered too many dialog boxes today with useless statements like “This item is not eligible for iCloud” or “The track could not be downloaded because an unknown error occurred.”

If you’re trying to consolidate tracks from two separate iTunes accounts into a single library, you’re on your own. While the 10-device limit on DRMed iTunes tracks, and iTunes’ ability to be authorized for multiple accounts on a single device, allows for this kind of consolidation, Apple has not gone out of its way to support such activities. In my situation, I was dealing with a large number of SLP’s iTunes purchases that were no longer on any of our devices. I happened to have a spare Mac in my office with an empty iTunes library, so I logged into SLP’s iTunes account on that Mac and used the “Purchased” link in the iTunes Store to re-download all of her music in prep for eventual syncing with the main library.

But it wasn’t that easy. At first, a bunch of the songs wouldn’t download. I realized it was because they were still DRM versions, and that I needed to pay another $25 for an iTunes Match subscription on SLP’s iTunes account to get them. Even then, there were a number of weird issues with tracks being unavailable. Strangely, it seemed that in some cases, if I already had some of those tracks in the master iTunes library, and had already downloaded 256 kbps versions of them, it would not allow me to download them on this second computer. This leads me to believe that there is some hidden mechanism whereby Apple does still keep track of even the DRM-free tracks that have been downloaded, and if they’ve been “transferred” (as it were) to another user’s library, they become unavailable to the original user. This is just a guess, but it seems to fit my experience. (On a related side note, since this second computer was not yet authorized with SLP’s iTunes account, I needed to authorize it — which was triggered by attempting to play a song — before iTunes Match would work properly.)

What if your music is no longer available in the iTunes store? I’m sure this is one of the most commonly asked questions about iTunes Match, and I’m sure Apple has given very reassuring scripted answers, but it still remains as perhaps the biggest risk you take in trusting your music to the cloud. Tracks that iTunes fails to match and has to upload should be no problem, but once you’re relying solely on a “matched” track — or, for that matter, a “purchased” or “protected” track — you’re at the mercy of Apple and the record labels keeping the music available. I initially noted this as merely a point to ponder, but during the process of integrating libraries I encountered the problem firsthand. SLP had an album that was DRMed 128 kbps, but which is no longer available in the iTunes Store, at all. Luckily I had it copied to my master library already, or I wouldn’t have even known it existed. As it was, I was stuck with an album of low audio quality and that iTunes refused to load into iTunes Match. (It was “ineligible.”)

I hit upon a hokey workaround solution, one that is flawed mainly in that it results in further compression/degradation of the sound quality of the tracks, but at least it’s a way to get the music into iTunes Match. I burned a CD of the album, then re-ripped that CD back into iTunes, DRM free. (That’s the old school way of circumventing iTunes DRM, circa 2004.) It worked, but of course I’ll always know that the sound quality is sub-128 kbps. (Not that it matters much to me, as it’s an album I’ll probably never listen to.) This led me to a related discovery…

Burning a CD of DRMed tracks, re-ripping it, and uploading the results to iTunes Match will not get you “matched” DRM-free 256 kbps versions. Granted, my sample size here is pretty small — two tracks — but I suspect this is deliberate (if it’s possible). In addition to the aforementioned unavailable album, I found two other tracks from SLP’s library that stubbornly refused to load into iTunes Match, even though the rest of the tracks from the albums they were on were recognized and “matched” with no problem. So I burned them onto a CD, re-ripped the CD, and loaded the tracks into iTunes Match. No match. Just the further-compressed versions based on the original DRMed 128 kbps tracks.

Corrupted files? Are you kidding me? I had been wondering what might happen if files got corrupted, either during upload or download. Unfortunately, I found out. Just another meaningless error message with no real indication of a solution. I’m a few thousand tracks into the “upgrade” process so far, and to this point I’ve had four songs fail to download due to an “unknown error.” The behavior is the same in most cases: the song appears to download several times in quick succession. As soon as the progress bar gets to the end, it starts over again. After maybe 5 attempts, it stops with an error number (sometimes err = -100000, sometimes err = 11111). I think it may be necessary to contact iTunes customer support to resolve the issue, but I want to wait until I’ve finished downloading all of my music, to see if it happens with any other songs first.

So, is it all worth it?

I still have a nagging fear that some kind of catastrophic data loss is just around the corner, but so far I am inclined to say that iTunes Match definitely is worth it. It was delayed by a few weeks and still seems like it may have been rushed out the door, but I am hopeful that most of the current glitches and usability issues will be resolved over time. It would be nice if it “just worked,” as we Apple fanbois are so frequently inclined to say, but knowing the complexity of the task at hand, it’s a nearly superhuman achievement, even flawed as it is today.

At the moment I still have almost 3000 low-quality tracks that are eligible for an upgrade (using Jason Snell’s smart playlists), not to mention countless duplicates to weed out and a few other stray errors (in my nightmares, clouds have exclamation points) to contend with. But I think the biggest testament to the magnitude of Apple’s accomplishment is that it’s actually gotten me excited about “the cloud,” something I’ve looked upon disdainfully for years.

Is iCloud deleting your iCal events? Here’s a possible solution

Like many Apple enthusiasts, I spent much of the day yesterday updating software. Mac OS X 10.7.2, iTunes 10.5, iOS 5, and… iCloud. I’ve been relying on MobileMe for a little over a year to keep my mail, notes and calendars (mostly) in sync. I was not an “early adopter” with MobileMe, so I escaped the first-day glitches that promted Steve Jobs to declare the system’s launch “not our finest hour.”

Less than a day into my experience with iCloud, I’d have to say that this launch also is not Apple’s “finest hour.” There have been numerous complaints today about iCloud mail outages (following what I have observed as several days of flaky MobileMe mail performance). But without a doubt the biggest issue for me personally has been related to iCal.

After completing the iCloud transition yesterday, to my dismay I discovered that all of my iCal events were duplicated! My MobileMe account and my iCloud account were both showing up, with all of the same events. Now, in retrospect, the correct thing to do would probably have been to go to Preferences > Accounts and just delete the MobileMe account from my iCal configuration. But is that what I did? Why, no, of course not! I proceeded to delete all of my individual MobileMe calendars. That appeared to do the trick. The iCloud calendars were still there, and every event was just showing up once.

But then this morning I sat down at my computer and discovered — to my horror — that everything was gone. At some point yesterday, when I wasn’t looking, MobileMe and iCloud synced up, and deleted all of my events.

Time Machine to the rescue!

I opened up my Time Machine backup from yesterday afternoon… sometime just before I had made the iCloud transition. I drilled down to [home]/Library/Calendars. (Note that Library is now a hidden folder, but I have my system set to show hidden files and folders*.) I found the multitude of .ics files that represent each individual calendar event, and dragged them into iCal. At first, things seemed great… until I noticed that one by one, the events started disappearing from my calendar again! Apparently iCloud didn’t like having these events show up in the calendar in this way — probably because it recognized them as being events I had “deleted” yesterday — so it “helpfully” removed them again.

AAAAARGH!!! How am I supposed to get these events back into iCal when iCloud just deletes them as soon as they’re added?! Then it hit me… you don’t have to put events into iCloud calendars.

iCal also allows you to created local calendars (“On My Mac”). My solution was to — temporarily — create new “On My Mac” calendars, add the events to those calendars, then export those calendars and import them back into the iCloud calendars. (Then the “On My Mac” calendars can be deleted.) It worked!

Here are step-by-step instructions to do what I did, in case you’ve found yourself in the same conundrum.

1. Find the old calendars in your Time Machine backup. You could open Time Machine to do this, but I like to just explore the disk in the Finder. (The remaining instructions assume you’re taking my approach.) The most important thing is to determine the date and time when your last “good” iCal backup would be. Drill down into that backup to your home directory (that would be something like [drive name]/Users/[username]), and then to Library/Calendars. (Remember that Library may be hidden; if so, see the footnote below.) You’ll see one or more weirdly-named folders. Each of these represents a separate calendar in iCal. Inside each is a directory called Events, and inside that are all of the events on that calendar, each with a filename ending in .ics. If you have more than one calendar folder, you can tell which calendar this is by selecting one of the events in the Finder; its icon will show its date and title. Keep this folder open; you’ll need to come back to it in a later step.

2. Create a new “On My Mac” calendar in iCal. Go to File > New Calendar > On My Mac. Call this calendar whatever you want. If you have multiple calendars, like I do, you’ll need to repeat this process for each of them separately (to keep your events from all getting jumbled together in one calendar).

3. Set the new “On My Mac” calendar as the default calendar. This can be found under iCal > Preferences > General > Default Calendar. When you drag events into iCal, it automatically assigns them all to the default calendar, so this is a pretty important step. Reassigning the events to a new calendar once they’ve already been imported can be a pain.

4. Drag all of the backed-up events into iCal. Go back to the Time Machine backup window you left open in step 1, select all of the .ics files, and drag them into the iCal window. Depending on how many there are, it may take a while for them all to load. Once they’re in, proceed to the next step.

5. Export the “On My Mac” calendar. It can be tricky to make sure you’re getting iCal to export the correct events. Click the Calendars button in the upper left of the iCal window (on the brown “binding” of the cutely skeuomorphic interface), find the “On My Mac” calendar that you’ve added all of the events to, and right-click (Control-click) that calendar to get a contextual menu. Click Export... and follow the prompts. I recommend saving the exported file to your desktop.

6. Set the appropriate iCloud calendar as the default calendar. This is a repeat of step 3, but this time you’re changing it to the iCloud calendar you want the events to be loaded into.

7. Import the exported calendar file into the iCloud calendar. Go to File > Import > Import... and locate the file you created in step 5.

8. Delete the “On My Mac” calendar. Once you’ve completed the import (and have confirmed that the events are not disappearing), you can safely delete the “On My Mac” calendar you created. Click the Calendars button in the brown “binding” again, right-click (Control-click) the “On My Mac” calendar, and select Delete from the contextual menu.

9. There’s no step 9!

* To get your system to show hidden files and folders, open up Terminal and type this: defaults write AppleShowAllFiles TRUE then hit Return, type this: killall Finder and hit Return again.

A tale of two decades

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

–Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

We’re approaching the tenth anniversary of two pivotal events in the early 21st century. One is perhaps the darkest day America has faced since, at least, World War II. The other was the seemingly inauspicious debut of an electronic device that would soon herald an era of unprecedented advancement in consumer technology.

That I should even place the World Trade Center attacks and the introduction of the iPod into the same blog post, much less the same sentence, is surely offensive to some and perhaps befuddling to most of the rest. But I think it cannot be denied that, while September 11, 2001 ushered in one of the darkest political times in American history, at least the darkest in my lifetime, October 23, 2001 — the day Steve Jobs introduced the first iPod — was perhaps the day that we formally entered “the future” as I (and many others like me) envisioned it in childhood: dazzling technological devices that we can carry around in our pockets and, increasingly, seem capable of doing just about anything.

As New York solemnly builds a monument to the tragic loss of over 3,000 lives on that Tuesday morning, an event that will surely be commemorated in countless ways by millions of Americans next month, we technophiles are learning about more sad news, with the resignation of Steve Jobs as CEO of Apple. Though he’s intensely private about his personal life, it is well known that Steve Jobs underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer in 2004, had a liver transplant in 2009, and has had limited involvement with Apple’s day-to-day operations since he took medical leave this past January. His resignation yesterday may mean his health has suffered further declines, but that is not for us to dwell on. Leave Steve alone to enjoy his life as best he can, for as much as he has left of it.

Personal concerns aside, the departure of Steve Jobs marks the end of an era. It would be little exaggeration to declare the past decade “The Decade of Apple” in terms of technology. Apple didn’t invent every technology it sells; like any modern company it relies upon the past developments of others, just as it outsources its manufacturing to companies like Foxconn in China. But the thing that Apple has done, largely due to Steve Jobs and his visionary leadership, is invent ways to turn these technologies into compelling, “magical,” transformative devices. And along the way he has transformed Apple into a finely tuned machine itself, capable of creating these products of unparalleled originality and unlimited usefulness, at highly competitive (sometimes unmatchable) prices, with such efficiency that the company has gone from “90 days away from bankruptcy” (as it was so famously described just before Jobs’ return at the end of 1996) to vying with Exxon to be the most valuable publicly traded company in the world.

I’ve read plenty of gloom-and-doom speculation about the future of Apple without Steve Jobs, especially in the last 15 hours or so since the announcement of his resignation. Most of it is utterly ludicrous. New CEO Tim Cook and the rest of his executive team are more than capable of carrying on producing great products without Steve Jobs (or with him in a far more limited role as Chairman of the Board). Whether, over the longer term, they’ll be able to continue inventing new products as transformative as the iPod, iPhone and iPad (and whether they’ll all have to have names starting with “iP”), only time will tell. But now is clearly not the time to sell Apple stock, if you own any. (And if you don’t, maybe you should buy some… which is what I should probably be doing right now instead of writing this.)

A tale of two decades. While the September 11 attacks, and the wars, economic turmoil and political polarization that followed them, have made the last decade one of the most difficult in our nation’s history, Steve Jobs and his work at Apple have led the way for the past decade to become one of the most exciting and transformative we’ve ever seen in terms of technological advancement and, in particular, what technology can do to improve people’s everyday lives.

So, thank you, Steve Jobs, for providing a counterpoint to what was otherwise a dark decade of foolishness, incredulity and despair. Thank you for bringing to the world your wisdom, belief and hope. I spend much of every day relying on Apple devices, from using the C25K app on my iPhone during my morning run, to building websites in BBEdit on my MacBook Air, to relaxing in the evening watching “Mad Men” on Netflix with my Apple TV.

There are plenty of things going on in the world right now that are cause for sadness, frustration, anger, confusion, and despair. But the simple joy and unprecedented utility of these devices that Steve Jobs and the rest of the minds at Apple have created give me hope. If people can produce things so well-designed, so incredibly useful, so delightful, then perhaps, someday, we can get all of the rest right too.

A childhood fantasy (almost) realized: 100 Atari games in my pocket

Owners of 1980s technology intellectual property are in an unenviable position. Their IP has very little value beyond historical significance or nostalgia. No one (well, I hope no one) is going to use an Apple IIe computer for serious productivity work these days, but that doesn’t diminish its importance in computing history, nor the strong positive memories its once loyal users may still hold onto.

There are few properties from the ’80s whose value is more purely historical and nostalgic than those bearing the brand of Atari. Sure, there’s still a company today named Atari, and it still makes modern video games for modern consoles, but this Atari shares only its name with the hallowed institution founded in Sunnyvale, California in 1972. The name and all of the properties that go with it have been sold and re-sold and re-re-sold so many times over the intervening years that any minute connection to the past, beyond the games themselves, has been lost.

So, what is a modern company that owns all of this (relatively speaking) useless IP to do? Trying to cash in on it is obvious, but doing it right is a huge challenge. The biggest hurdle is the very historical significance and nostalgia that give these games any lingering value in the first place. The only people who are really going to want to play Combat or Yars’ Revenge or — ah-hem — Math Gran Prix on an iPhone are people who either owned (and played the hell out of) these games as kids 30 years ago, or their kids, who harbor a morbid curiosity about this old crap their parents like for some reason. In order to satisfy these customers, the company that now calls itself Atari needs to achieve perfection in recreating the experience people remember. Not just the graphics and the sounds and the program mechanics of the games, but the feel… the essence of what it meant to play video games in the days when Ronald Reagan was president, pastels were popular in men’s fashion, and MTV still showed music videos.

Yesterday Atari released Atari’s Greatest Hits as a universal app for iOS devices. (To the non-nerd[s] in my audience: that means the same app works on iPhone/iPod touch and iPad.) The game comes free with arcade Pong, and 99 other classic (and not-so-classic, but… well… old) Atari games, both from the arcades and for the Atari 2600 VCS, available as in-app purchases. The games are sold in packs of four for 99 cents, or the entire set can be downloaded for $14.99. Let’s be serious: anyone who cares about this at all should just get it over with and download the works, immediately.

So did Atari live up to my unrealistic expectations? Read on after the screenshot gallery to find out.

First impressions

It’s clear from the moment you load Atari’s Greatest Hits on your iPhone or iPad that a great deal of attention and care went into putting this package together. And yet, it just doesn’t quite hit the mark. The graphic design of the menu interface bears plenty of superficial nods to the vintage Atari experience: plenty of use of Bauhaus font (the font Atari used with the original 7 cartridges released with the Atari VCS in 1977), lots of browns and oranges, and of course the carousel navigation that uses the original cabinet and/or game box art to help you select a game to play. But despite fonts and colors, this doesn’t look ’80s, and it certainly doesn’t sound ’80s. The entire time you’re on the menu, loud 21st century techno music booms from your speaker. To be fair, I like this kind of music, and the music they chose is decent. But it’s a distracting anachronism.

I compare this to the Williams Pinball Collection that came out a few years ago on the modern consoles. Its interface looks like an arcade, with the pinball tables lined up along the wall, and over the din of a dozen pinball machines blasts licensed ’80s popular music. (The song that stands out for me is the quite-possibly-perfect Loverboy hit “Workin’ for the Weekend.”) This is what I would have liked (if not downright expected) in a properly executed Atari collection.

Lamentations about “what could have been” aside, it is truly great to see the original game box art and arcade cabinets on the menu, and the menu itself is intuitive and fun to navigate. And it’s great that each game also includes a full high-resolution scan of the original instruction manual, which also explains why a collection of 100 games, most of which were only about 4 KB each on the original cartridges, could add up to a 68 MB download on iOS.

The sound and the fury

There was almost no question for me which game I would try first: Yars’ Revenge. I logged hundreds of hours (sometimes in a single game, it seemed) playing this game in the ’80s, long past the date when I should have moved on to the NES or PC games. Any true Atari retro experience needs to deliver a perfect rendition of Yars’ Revenge for me to consider it a success.

I started the game, picked my favorite game variation (Game 6), and then… WHAAAAA!!! Playing the game on my iPad, I was assaulted by hideous distorted grinding noises. I tried a few other games and confirmed that all of the 2600 games had horribly distorted sound. (It also didn’t help that Yars’ Revenge gets most of its intensity from a constant droning buzz, making this quite possibly the worst game I could begin this experience with.)

Fortunately, later in the evening I loaded the game onto my iPhone 3GS, and found absolutely no sound issues with the 2600 games, even Yars’ Revenge. So I’m not sure if this is a general issue with the game on the iPad, or if it was an isolated problem that could have been resolved with a reboot. I’ll follow up on that when I know more.

Playing the game

With my worries about sound allayed, I was able to focus my attention on the quality of the game experience. All of the games are presented in a relatively small area of the screen, with ample space above and below devoted to on-screen controls. There have been some complaints in App Store reviews about the games not using the full display, but I think those complaints are misguided. These Atari games in their original form were so low-res that even when shrunk down to a little less than half the size of an iPhone screen, they’re still easily viewable. Plus, displaying the games in full-screen mode would mean you’d need to obscure part of the display with your fingers in order to control the game. Unacceptable.

The developers and designers who worked on this collection put considerable thought into translating the original game controls to on-screen counterparts that do not necessarily mimic the original feel, but that usually (but not always) contribute to a satisfying game experience.

A good pair of games to consider in reviewing the merits of these control systems are the arcade versions of Asteroids and Tempest. Both games translate quite well to the iOS experience. They look fantastic (all of the vector games, in particular, come through well here), and are just as fun to play as ever. With Tempest, the original control mechanism was a flywheel-like spinner. That is replaced with a thumbwheel that reminds me of the volume controls on old transistor radios. It’s way different from the original control, but it feels surprisingly natural and it’s very easy to adapt to this type of play.

Asteroids, on the other hand, does not benefit from this new alternate control mechanism, at least for the way I like to play the game. (I should probably note that I own an actual Asteroids cocktail table, so I’m very accustomed to the arcade controls.) The default control mechanism is a combination rotate/thrust “disc,” not unlike the disc controller on an old Intellivision. (Intellivision controls on an Atari game? Blasphemy!) Some people may prefer this, but I found it absolutely unusable, mainly because of my preferred Asteroids playing style: I don’t thrust all over the screen. I stay in one spot and just rotate, and I move around only when absolutely necessary. The disc control makes it nearly impossible, for me at least, to rotate without thrusting. Luckily, Asteroids (and apparently most of the arcade games, though I haven’t tried them all yet) offers multiple control schemes, including the original arcade-style five-button configuration. This worked well for me on the iPad, but I didn’t try it yet on the iPhone, and I imagine size could be an issue there, not to mention just holding the iPhone while fiddling with five on-screen buttons at the bottom of the display.

A few other miscellaneous game notes:

No licensed games. This was a no-brainer for me, but apparently (based on reviews on the App Store) it’s confusing to some users. This collection only consists of games Atari owns the rights to. That means games that were licensed for the original Atari 2600 won’t show up here, not even if Atari developed those games. You won’t find arcade classics like Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Defender or Berzerk, and you won’t find licensed movie properties like Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark or E.T. And you definitely won’t find games that were originally released by other game companies like Activision, Imagic or Parker Brothers. Although… one wonders. Atari licensed Pitfall! and River Raid from Activision for inclusion on the plug-and-play Atari Flashback 2 console a few years back. Maybe a similar license could be in the works. It wouldn’t be difficult for Atari to offer additional in-app purchases of more games in the future.

I think the funniest instance of licensing issues popping up here though is the matter of Pong Sports. Back in the ’80s Atari manufactured the 2600 and a number of its games under special branding for sale at Sears stores, and there were three Sears exclusive titles (Steeplechase, Submarine Commander and Stellar Track), all of which are included here. And then there’s Pong Sports. Atari released this game as Video Olympics, and sold it as Pong Sports in Sears stores. But here it’s called Pong Sports, presumably because they couldn’t get the rights to use the word “Olympics” this time around.

Unreleased and homebrew games. If you’re not a hardcore Atari fanatic, you probably don’t realize that in recent years a number of unreleased prototype games have come to light as downloadable ROMs to play in computer-based Atari 2600 emulation software. And a rabid homebrew community has developed as well, creating brand new games for the system. This collection includes a few of these prototype and homebrew games, such as the Atari 2600 version of Tempest and an unreleased game called Save Mary. I find it funny that Atari had to, of course, come up with box art for these games for the menu interface, and they went with some really low-quality homemade art for most of them. But Save Mary is the weirdest… it uses the cover art that originally went with the Atari 2600 BASIC Programming cartridge.

It’s also funny… and probably an intentional joke… that for these games, the manual scans that are displayed are not for the games (since they don’t have instruction manuals) but for the Atari 2600 console itself. Somewhat of an Easter egg, I think.

God (or is it the devil?) is in the details

Atari got a lot of things right with this collection, but there is definitely room for improvement. Here are a few things that come to mind, some of which I’ve already mentioned.

License some great ’80s music for the menu. The aforementioned Loverboy hit would certainly be great, but really just about any music that was in heavy rotation on MTV circa 1983 would work. Personally I’d love to hear plenty of Duran Duran and Men at Work.

Alternate control schemes for the 2600 titles. Here’s the one thing that I think would make the biggest difference in creating an authentic Atari 2600 experience: position the on-screen controls to better mimic the feeling of holding an old CX-40 joystick. The space is already there; they’d just need to rearrange the controls. Move the fire button to the upper left where the pause button is; move the d-pad to the lower right where the fire button is; and move the pause button to the lower right where the d-pad is. Holding a square-ish device in the left hand and pressing a button with one’s left thumb while using one’s right hand to control movement is the natural way of the Atari 2600 experience. Ideally the d-pad would be tweaked a bit as well… it’s a little too restrictive feeling. A lot of iOS games with a virtual d-pad allow you to place your thumb anywhere in a general region of the screen and that instantly becomes the “zero” position of the d-pad. I suspect (or at least hope) that, given the nature of iOS apps, Atari will continue to refine the controls in future updates.

Better “cabinet art.” I have to be honest… I can live with the graphic design of the main menus, but the graphics framing the game itself while in play are downright ugly. Better to have it look like an actual vintage TV set like VH1′s (yes, VH1′s) Intellivision collection for iOS. And I’d prefer that the on-screen buttons look exactly like the real buttons on the arcade cabinets and console controllers, without the unnecessary added visual junk. It also seems like they phoned in the design of the on-screen slider for the paddle-based games. (Why doesn’t it at least look like the control they developed for Tempest?)

Final thoughts

I could nitpick details only an OCD Atari junkie will notice, much less care about, but in the end there’s only one thing I can say about this collection. Back in the early days of the App Store, Atari released a few of its classic arcade games as standalone apps, each consisting of both the original and a new version with modernized graphics and sound: Centipede, Super Breakout, Missile Command. Then they disappeared, and were gone for ages. A month or two ago, they reappeared, but with only the modernized portions. For ages I’ve been speculating that Atari had a massive collection app in the works, and finally yesterday it arrived. I was absolutely giddy. And while it will probably never fully live up to my expectations, it’s damn close. I’ve dreamed ever since I first got my Atari 2600 console in 1982, when I was 8 years old, that one day I’d be able to carry the experience around in my pocket. And now I can… almost. It’s not perfect, and it couldn’t be. But I’ll take it anyway.

What sort of person buys an Android phone?

This post will not be as sardonic and Apple-fanboi-smug as the title suggests… I promise. Well, maybe.

As a long-term Apple obsessive, there was never any question that I would fall into the iPhone camp, even when there was no real competition (and, seriously, there was no real competition until Android 2 and Windows Phone 7). But still, I wonder: what makes a person who is fresh to the world of smartphones choose Android over iPhone? This article on Macworld (reprinted… er, re”printed”… from Network World) raised the issue for me again. While it’s talking about a survey that shows most owners of “dumb” phones (a.k.a. “feature phones”) plan to replace them with another “dumb” phone, the author herself is an Android user, and the whole article skews in that direction.

Respondents to the survey cited high costs of data plans and the adequate capabilities of their feature phones as primary reasons not to switch, but then there’s this:

Others said they weren’t tech smart enough to have a smartphone, believing the apps and setup too complicated.

That really got me thinking, because it sounds like those users were imagining an Android phone in their future, not an iPhone. After all, one of the biggest selling points for iOS devices of all kinds (iPod touch, iPhone, iPad) is their ease of use, and specifically, the ease of purchasing, installing and using apps.

Much has been made of spurious comparisons between the iPhone/Android rivalry of today and the Mac/Windows rivalry of the ’90s. I don’t really find the comparison that relevant. While there are certainly some similarities between the “open” Android and the “open” Windows versus the “closed,” Apple-owned iOS and Mac OS, there are too many differences, both between Android and Windows, and between the Apple of the ’90s and the Apple of today: the specific nature of the licensing of Android compared to that of Windows, Apple’s status today as the world’s largest technology company and most iconic brand compared to its “niche player” status in the ’90s, etc.

So, I don’t really see Android as analogous to Windows in making the argument that history is destined to repeat itself and iOS will fall into a small — if highly profitable — niche. Apple’s in a much different place than it was when the desktop wars were raging, and Android presents a much different type of competition.

And yet, there are still some factors that remain relevant in the comparison, which I’ll get to in a minute. First, let’s consider the reasons a person upgrading from a feature phone to a smartphone would choose Android over iOS:

Carrier availability. More than anything else, the argument I’ve heard from people choosing Android phones over the iPhone was that the iPhone wasn’t available on their carrier of choice — usually their current carrier, and usually, specifically, Verizon. For the most part, people seem to like their carriers, and only switch if they’re having problems. And, from what I’ve heard, the only network that’s really had a lot of problems in recent years was, ironically, the only one that carried the iPhone in the US: AT&T.

There’s no question that the iPhone brought customers to AT&T, and little question that the iPhone is the only reason AT&T is still #2 in the US. Anecdotally, I myself switched to AT&T (from T-Mobile, which I was quite happy with) specifically to use the iPhone.

Now that the iPhone is coming to Verizon in a couple of weeks, it will be interesting to see how this changes things. But I am sure there are still customers who are loyal to Sprint or T-Mobile (or other carriers) who will choose an Android phone to avoid switching to either AT&T or Verizon. (And then of course there are the AT&T iPhone users who plan to switch to Verizon as soon as their contracts are up. But that’s for another post.)

Android is “open.” I say “open” in quotes because there has been plenty of discussion (just google “Android open” for a taste; here: I did it for you) about how Android’s open licensing really just means it’s open for carriers to load up with crapware that can’t be uninstalled; or open to exploitation by hackers, viruses and privacy-invading stealth apps. But I’ll acknowledge that it is, also, open — to some extent — in the way its champions mean: users are not inside a “walled garden” as they are with Apple’s iOS. You can install apps freely, bypassing any officially sanctioned “app store”*, and you can tweak the system to your heart’s — or at least your carrier’s heart’s — content. But most users do not want to tweak their systems. They want something that just works, that they don’t have to think about, and that they are not afraid they’ll break. Which leads to…

Recommendations from “tech experts.” In other words, non-techie people asking their techie friends or relatives which phones they should buy. And here’s where we get into the territory where I see relevant analogies to the Mac vs. Windows era of the ’90s. Imagine a person who doesn’t know anything about smartphones but who is interested in entering this slightly daunting new world of technology. They have a friend or relative who they perceive as a tech expert — the person they’d call 15 years ago for help hooking up the free Lexmark printer that came with their new Gateway PC. Which they bought because they asked the same tech expert what kind of computer they should get. Today, that tech expert may be the main reason this person ends up with an Android phone.

The point here is: “tech experts” have different needs and different goals with technology devices than “average” users. They’re not afraid of getting “under the hood” of the system — in fact they want to do that — and they have little understanding or patience for people who don’t get technology. (Trust me, aside from my preference for Apple products, I’m there myself.) But both because of a general disdain for whichever technology they don’t use, along with a very real understanding that in making this recommendation they’re, willing or not, committing themselves to providing ongoing support, the tech experts are most likely to recommend whatever platform they’re most familiar with.

This is one of the reasons so many tech novices bought Windows computers the first time around, and I can see a very real possibility that this will be a factor in the growth of the Android platform, especially among new and technically inexperienced smartphone buyers.

But there are definitely some differences. First, I think Android represents an even more technologically remote territory for novices than did Windows in the ’90s. It’s more like the DMZ between Windows and desktop Linux. And aside from the staunchest supporters, few reclusive, bearded übergeeks are still trying to convince their grandmothers to run Linux on their home PCs. Second, technology isn’t as intimidating as it used to be. Computer use is far more widespread now, and getting into a smartphone after already learning (or, well, sort of learning) to use a computer is comparatively simple.

And finally, we come back to Apple. Apple is not in the position it was in back in the ’90s. For one, Mac market share has grown considerably, especially in the US, along with the growth of Apple as a general consumer technology brand. The success of first the iPod, and more recently the iPhone and iPad, has translated into success for the Mac. (Check Horace Dediu’s asymco blog if you need numbers and graphs to back that up.) Most importantly, more “tech experts” are now using the Mac than ever before. Part of this is because at its core, Mac OS X is Unix-based, just like Linux**. Which is a big part of why desktop Linux is doomed (again, a topic for another post). And as more “tech experts” become familiar with the Apple ecosystem, they embrace iOS devices along with the Mac, and they recommend iPhones to their friends and relatives who ask them for help.

So… where does that leave Android? I see all three of the above rationales for choosing Android over iPhone as diminishing in importance… some much more rapidly than others. I especially see the effects of #1 and #3 diminishing together, especially once the iPhone comes to Verizon next month. I’ll say it more explicitly, with extra emphasis: I expect Android to take a huge hit once the Verizon iPhone becomes available. I’d go so far as to predict that within a matter of months — certainly before the end of 2011 — the number of Verizon iPhone users will be as much as 10 times the number of Verizon Android users. Compound this (likely) huge and sudden impact with the ongoing effect of #3, and it paints a pretty clear picture for me. I think Verizon’s iPhone commercial says it all. The iPhone on Verizon is what people have really been anticipating all along, not an “iPhone killer” Android phone from Verizon. Verizon knows it.

Of course, all of this doesn’t mean Android will go away, nor should it. Ongoing competition from a strong alternative like Android is (probably) essential to keep Apple on top of their game. But I see two main (and increasingly marginal) reasons people will continue to choose Android over iPhone: either they are on Sprint or T-Mobile and don’t want to change, or because they are hardcore tinkerers who will never be satisfied with the kind of controlled operating environment Apple offers. But for everyone else, the choice is about to become a whole lot more obvious.

As Marco Arment insightfully observed, the primary choice has been iPhone vs. (Android on) Verizon. Now users will have more options, with iPhone and Android (and Windows Phone 7) available on both AT&T and Verizon. But I think the choice is mainly going to become AT&T vs. Verizon, with the implication being that it’s (probably) the iPhone on either network. And since Apple has ensured that the carriers can’t significantly differentiate the same device with apps or features, the way they do with other manufacturers’ phones, it’s really all going to come down to the network. AT&T is probably going to take almost as big of a hit as I anticipate Android taking.

That too is a topic for another post.

* Registered trademark by Apple pending.

** Yes, reclusive-bearded-übergeeks, I know neither Mac OS X nor Linux is technically Unix. But the difference is irrelevant to everyone but us.

UoP’s Greatest Hits

In the spirit of “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” I will refrain from writing about last night’s midterm election results, except to say, “Don’t blame Minneapolis.” Also, to quote Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, “If you survive, please come again.” The next two years will either prove or disprove the merits of the Tea Party movement, and if we’re lucky we’ll still be around in two years to start cleaning up the mess.

OK, I knew I couldn’t avoid saying something snarky about it, but that’s it. No more. Let’s move on to something fun… ME! I’m taking a look back at the top 10 posts on Underdog of Perfection, based on the number of hits they’ve received according to WordPress stats. Without further ado… I present the all-time top 10 Underdog of Perfection posts to date.

OK, just a little further ado: here’s a chart of my hit count over the past month.

And now the list…

10. Mechanically-separated chicken or soft serve ice cream? You be the judge.

January 17, 2009 — When the gross picture of mechanically-separated chicken exploded as a full-fledged meme last month, as part of a factually challenged story hyping the dangers of the stuff (come on… you don’t need to make up stuff like “bathed in ammonia”; the truth is bad enough), I immediately recognized the picture as one I had seen about a year before. As I recalled, I had seen it on next to a strawberry soft serve. I had forgotten that I had created that “totally looks like” image, which apparently is no longer available on that site, but is still on mine. Hence, traffic!

9. Best Google Doodle yet

June 6, 2009 — Ah, that would be the Tetris Google Doodle. But I suspect that every time there’s a new Google Doodle, someone googles “Best Google Doodle yet” and finds this post. Traffic!

8. Honda Fit iPod controls: when something is worse than nothing

August 23, 2009 — Rants are always good for some hits, especially when it’s something other people are annoyed by too. The fact is, the Honda Fit iPod controls suck, and Honda doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it, so I suspect as each model year is introduced, this post will generate more… traffic!

7. Migrating from CakePHP 1.2 to 1.3: My Story (Part One of… Possibly More than One)

May 16, 2010 — Writing about technical issues surrounding web development is one of the ostensible purposes of this blog, especially since I went freelance, so it’s gratifying to see my fellow developers relying on me for information, on those rare occasions when I actually have some to share. Thanks for the traffic! (I really didn’t set out to end each of these with the word “traffic” but it seems now that I am destined to do so. Um… traffic.)

6. This is what I wanted all along

October 27, 2010 — Being just a week old, this may be the fastest ascension of any post I’ve written to date. I suspect a lot of that has to do with the timeliness of the topic, but given the vague and keyword-free title (take that, SEO strategists!), the most logical explanation for its popularity is surely the conscious effort I made to promote it. Near the end of the post I make reference to the review of the MacBook Air by Jason Snell for Macworld. I also tweeted an announcement of the post, and stuck in an @jsnell, both in honest appreciation of his review, but also in the somewhat crass hope that he would retweet it. Which he (and several others, most notably Michael Gartenberg) did. Boom! Traffic!

5. Brooks Brothers: what’s up with the sheep?

July 25, 2007 — I’m glad some of these “random observation” posts are generating traffic. I believe I’ve spent a grand total of less than 5 minutes of my life inside Brooks Brothers stores, but I’ve pondered their bizarre logo for much longer, and the fact that others have too has brought my blog significant traffic.

4. Why does Safari 4 Beta take SOOOOO LOOOONG to start up? Am I the only one having this problem?

March 1, 2009 — I kind of wish some of these posts would stay buried. Three of the top four all-time posts on my blog are related to issues with Apple products, specifically, issues with early releases and/or beta software. People continue to visit these posts long after they’ve become irrelevant. Seriously, Safari 4 Beta? It’s currently up to version 5.0.2! Please, this post needs no more traffic!

3. Dog inequality in Walt Disney’s world

November 18, 2008 — And then there are posts like this one. Awesome. I love the fact that this has resonated with so many people. Goofy + Pluto = Traffic.

2. Solution for the iPhone Facebook problem

June 8, 2009 — Here’s another post pertaining to early software, and one that’s way past its sell-by date. Here, from an SEO perspective, we have an interesting case study: a keyword-laden but still generic title. What iPhone Facebook problem? The post was referring to the dilemma of iPhone users who were stuck with the then-crappy iPhone Facebook app or the then-crappy iPhone-optimized Facebook mobile site. The best option at the time, in my opinion, was the non-iPhone mobile site, but Facebook had a redirect built into that site that would automatically take iPhone users to the inferior iPhone mobile site. I found a way around that, and shared it in the post.

This is not really relevant anymore, but now any time there is any kind of problem with iPhones and Facebook, this post sees a surge in traffic.

1. Disabling the pinch-zoom feature on the new MacBook

March 9, 2009 — I’m always a bit annoyed when I look at my stats and see this post near (or at) the top. To me it’s a long-dead issue, but apparently not. I just showed this solution to SLP yesterday, so the problem still persists, and whenever I get a new Mac or reinstall my software, I have to remember to go in and deal with this again.

I don’t know whether or not I’m in the minority of Mac users here, though I suspect not, but I do not like the multitouch features of the MacBook trackpad. The only one I use is two-finger scrolling. That’s nice, but the rest are just an unwanted nuisance. I forget they even exist until I trigger them accidentally when I’m trying to do something else. Then I have to dig into System Preferences again and turn them off. Apple may love multitouch, and it’s great on iOS devices, but clearly there’s some distaste for it on the Mac, which for me means traffic.

P.S. You may notice a logical inconsistency here: the rankings in this list — specifically, the placement within the rankings of #10 and #6 — don’t jibe with the chart I showed at the top. That’s because most of the traffic driven to my site in the wake of the mechanically-separated chicken meme went to the home page, for whatever reason, not directly to the post. In which case those visitors would have completely missed the mark. In short, it’s a failure both for Google and WordPress Stats. Great job!