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Nightmare Eve RPG
Thu, 2013Oct31 21:49:10 PDT
in Roleplaying by kamikaze

Just barely sliding in under deadline, I have released a draft of Nightmare Eve, my Halloween horror mini-RPG. I hope you have nightmares!

Nightmare Eve

← Previous: Nintendon't (Toys)
Nintendon't
Mon, 2013Sep02 12:57:01 PDT
in Toys by kamikaze

There’s a terrible war brewing. Millions live in fear over the consequences. I speak of course about Nintendo.

The Wii U is a failed console. Nintendo may have to entirely sit out years before they can ship a modern console, if they ever can again; they have cash reserves, but will burn through them trying to catch up without any income. The 3DS has “weak” sales in Iwata-san’s politest Japanese euphemism for bleeding to death. Every device has had price cuts, and now they’ve released the 2DS, which is a 3DS without the 3D, stereo sound, or folding. But it’s cheap! Desperation is ugly.

The problem in consoles is that they’re competing in hardware with Sony, who have massive other businesses for economies of scale, and can ship next-gen hardware which will still be interesting in 5 years; note the last-gasp PS3 titles like The Last Of Us, Final Fantasy XIV, and Skyrim. Those are impossible on the current Wii U, and the PS4 will be out in months. The Xbox and Xbox 360 have cost Microsoft at least $2B in losses, but they’re Sony-class game machines, just unreliable. The Xbone looks to continue that, being almost as powerful as the PS4 and unless Ballmer’s replacement gives up on it, MS will keep pumping money into it to fix whatever fails.

In handhelds, Sony hasn’t done as well, even though the PS Vita is superior to the 3DS, because they’re both competing with an unstoppable juggernaut: Smartphones.

In past generations, general-purpose devices didn’t get good graphics chips, sound, or any sensors, because they were being made by inept corporate devs for uncaring corporate purchasers; you had to buy a custom gaming PC or a console to get anything that didn’t suck. Apple’s iPhone design put game-like graphics and sound front and center, and Android feebly follows behind, throwing hardware at their software design flaws.

While the Android marketplace is completely open to piracy and hostile to profit, the iOS App Store is reasonably secure and profitable. So Apple has shipped ~100 million high-end handheld gaming machines with HD video, accelerometer, and perfect touchscreens, and the ability to share their screen to an AppleTV hooked up to your big HDTV. Any iOS device and AppleTV look an awful lot like the Wii U, but with better screen, more games, cheaper or not much more, and you can take it with you.

The one remaining advantage of dedicated handhelds is controls, and the iCade cabinet and 8-bitty are a good current compromise. With iOS 7 in 2 weeks, there’s support for [REDACTED], which will do to built-in controllers what iPhone did to the Blackberry’s hardware keyboard. You can look at less reputable rumor sites to see details, or just wait 2 weeks.

A bunch of nerd pundits have taken the 2DS as an opportunity to say Nintendo should exit the hardware business. And they’re right.

SEGA dumped their failing Dreamcast, and while they aren’t huge anymore, they’re still in business, and still make new games. Atari rode their dying console and computer businesses into the ground, and then the name and IP got sold around between various owners.

Nintendo is showing with the 2DS that they’re willing to cannibalize 3DS hardware sales for a few software sales. They certainly cannot support their current business on just 2DS sales. If they put older “virtual console” titles on iOS, it costs them no current hardware sales. Once the 3DS death spiral finishes, they can exit hardware gracefully.

There are those who superficially argue that the hardware is somehow the "real" Nintendo, clearly disproven by the Wii U. Nobody buys console hardware for itself, they buy it for the games, and in Nintendo's case specifically to play again in the world of Link & Zelda, Samus, Mario & Luigi. Far better to have those worlds without the hardware, than nothing, which is where Nintendo is headed.

Beyond the logic and pleading for releases on our platform of choice, though, there’s the real reason all the nerds are worked up about this: We love Nintendo and are mortally terrified at the obvious repeat of Atari’s death they are rushing headlong into. Super Mario Brothers, Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Starfox are some of the greatest games ever made. Not all the sequels are great (Wind Waker sailing sailing sailing sailing make it stop sailing), but some were transcendant (Ocarina of Time). Whoever buys the corpse of Nintendo isn’t going to give a damn.

← Previous: RPG progress (Roleplaying) Next: Nightmare Eve RPG (Roleplaying) →
RPG progress
Mon, 2013Jul22 15:04:39 PDT
in Roleplaying by kamikaze

I've cleaned up my RPG page in preparation for my new swords & sorcery RPG, Freelance: Metal & Blood. Years, too many years in the making. Choadsucker stealing my old title (no longer entirely appropriate, but still, mine). It is nothing. I persevere, I cut a bloody swath through writer's block, foes, and editing alike.

More when I can preview something, just a barbaric howl that I'm back.

← Previous: Microsoft Promises Pie Tomorrow (News) Next: Nintendon't (Toys) →
Microsoft Promises Pie Tomorrow
Sat, 2013Jun01 14:34:12 PDT
in News by kamikaze

“But while some want to suggest it’s game over in the smartphone market, Mary’s report makes it clear that it’s about the second inning in a nine-inning game”
Microsoft PR flack Frank X. Shaw

Forget about the last 15 years of Wince phones! That was just batting practice!

Microsoft PR is always pie tomorrow, never pie today. Yesterday never happened. Yet every time they claim to have pie for tomorrow, they fuck it up and abandon it:

  • Sidewalk (1996–1999): Microsoft’s urban weekly, classified ads, restaurant/movie/theatre/music review site. That’s all incredibly useful, and at the time (or even now) it was a pain to find out what’s local and good. But this requires journalism, competence, and non-pathological management, which Microsoft couldn’t even imagine providing. The Cracks in Microsoft’s Sidewalk

  • Hotmail (1997–2006): Buy a plucky Unix-based web email provider, crap it into Windows requiring twice as many servers and less reliability, expose massive security holes for years, then mismanage and run it into the ground before killing it. The brand name lingered until last year. You laugh now, but for a couple years Hotmail was super useful as a portable email address, rather than tied to your university or job.

  • Passport (1999–2006): Conceived as a single sign-on for ecommerce, because you’d trust Microsoft with your identity and money. Joel on Software and Ed Bott on the ongoing fiasco. This horrible thing still lives as a Microsoft Live ID, but nobody cares.

  • Windows For Tablet Stylus Edition (2001-): Fat, heavy, hot laptops without keyboards are Microsoft’s favorite hobby. They’ve constantly announced them, and they never sell. The slates they showed off at CES 2010 didn’t even ship. The latest round of “Surface Pro” aka Windows 8 is just more of the same.

  • Windows Longhorn, WinFS (2001–2006): The ever-promised not-shit version of Windows, eventually parts were shipped as Windows Vista, aka Windows Clusterfuck Edition. WinFS was the promised database-backed filesystem that would make searching and using files awesome, which never shipped at all. Paul Thurrott’s FAQ circa 2003

  • Spot (2004–2008): A smart watch that shows time, weather, news, messages, alerts, sounds great, huh? Except it only synced with Windows, was read-only, needed an FM network that barely covered any of Seattle let alone elsewhere, and was stupidly expensive. Time runs out.

  • Zune (2006–2010): The ultimate iPod killer! Five years late, more expensive, shit-brown or puke-green colors, “squirting” over wifi if you ever found another Zune sucker. If you’d previously purchased PlaysForSure™ music, too bad, they killed that service and deleted your purchases, you had to start over with Zune media. It’s almost inconceivable they even released this crap. Nick Wingfield at NYTimes obituary desk

  • Surface Table (2007–2012): Not the tablet, the $10,000 end table now called PixelSense. Rarely seen, slow at tracking touches, endless vapor promises and fake promo videos of it recognizing credit cards and empty drink glasses, all came to nothing.

  • Courier (2008–2010): An electronic journal, a creative take on the tablet. I was never impressed with the two-screen solution, but at least it was interesting. Of course because it didn’t run Windows or Powerpoint, it had to die. Jay Greene at CNet

  • Kin (2010–04–10 to 2010–06–30): Buy Danger Sidekick, one of the most beloved communicators ever, crash the servers and lose everyone’s data, then throw it out and have the team build a new social network tool on Wince and .Net trash, then kill it and shut the site down almost immediately. And they knew how terrible it was before launch.

  • Windows Mobile Phone 7 Series 8 Phone For Ears Edition™ (2010-): Take the existing unpleasant but market-dominant Wince 6 phones, throw it all out. Then make a new Wince phone that nobody wants. Then partner with Nokia, and watch their Symbian dumbphone market disintegrate while picking up no smartphone converts, relentlessly mocked by Tomi Ahonen. Microsoft still has a delusional belief that Windows Phone is going to pick up any customers, when it has no software, no services anyone wants, and no marketing partnerships with the carriers, but literally nobody will ever own one of these things, no matter what FuxShaw says.

  • Windows RT (2011–2012): Take the spectacular failure of the Windows Phone, and put that UI on an underpowered ARM latop, along with a bad port of a desktop and Office apps, and no other software. Unsurprisingly, nobody wanted it, less than 1M Surface RT devices have been shipped and fewer sold, and nobody wants to produce more. “To be honest, there’s no value doing the current version of RT,” Acer CEO Wong said.


Maybe it’s just pareidolia, but I see a pattern here. Microsoft’s pursuit of things that enhhance the Windows “brand” mirrors their internal divisions into feudal states at eternal war, with stack ranking to enforce mediocrity across every team. Anything creative and new is broken on the wheel as it’s forced into the company mold, and then of course nobody wants the crippled remains.

As long as suckers keep giving them money for Office and Windows and Xbox (now that it no longer costs them billions in losses), they’ll keep producing shit and then killing it. Like giving money to beggars, don’t support their habits.

← Previous: Minecraft setup (Toys) Next: RPG progress (Roleplaying) →
Minecraft setup
Fri, 2013Mar22 01:44:43 PDT
in Toys by kamikaze

Minecraft 1.5.1 just came out and broke my local setup, so I made a few changes, thought it might be useful for others.

  1. Make a Minecraft folder, and a mods folder in that.
  2. Download MagicLauncher to the Minecraft folder.
  3. Download Minecraft Forge, Rei's Minimap, and OptiFine to mods folder.
  4. Run MagicLauncher, go to Setup, remove ModLoader, and add each of the mods in order: minecraftforge, ReiMinimap, OptiFine.
  5. I use a texture pack made with Painterly Pack, drop it in the Minecraft texture folder.
  6. Once launched, go to Options, Video Settings, Details, change Grass to Fancy. This forces OptiFine to use biome grass colors even if graphics are set to Fast, which mine usually are.

More mods are easy to add, just make sure minecraftforge is first, OptiFine is last. I also play some Feed the Beast, but vanilla Minecraft requires less wiki reading and research. I may start adding some of the less difficult mods for variety.

Happy caving!

Tog says "Apple needs to get these kids off my lawn!"

Tog: "The real problem with the Dock is that Apple simultaneously stripped out functionality that was far superior, though less flashy, when they put the Dock in."

Like what? The Dock does an excellent job for even power users, as a launcher for the most commonly used tasks and assigning apps to spaces. For intermediate users, Cmd-Space to open Spotlight and type 2-4 letters will instantly find almost any app or document you want. For expert users, Terminal is always open, and there you have the Unix power user interface. Some people find Alfred or Quicksilver preferable to Spotlight and Terminal; I don't agree but the Mac's capable of supporting different interfaces if you're that concerned.

Apple's Lion-era scrolling behavior is correct, and it's shocking it took 30 years for them to fix this design flaw of the Xerox interface. Scroll bars being hidden except when in use reclaims space for content, not a useless bit of UI chrome; your trackpad or magic mouse can scroll by stroking, no need to find and grab a little widget and drag it around like it's 1984. And making scrolling work like iOS, in the direction of the content instead of the direction of the widget, further emphasizes the content over chrome.

Tog: "Apple’s expert users are their largest, most influential sales force."

Patently untrue. The "Apple faithful" had little or no influence on growing the Mac market; if anything they repelled anyone who got close to the Mac for years. The iPod, iPhone, and iPad were sold to non-Mac users who then bought Macs because they liked their new object with a minimal interface that just worked. Some are disappointed by how complex the Mac is, but compared to Windows or Linux it's still Jobs' proverbial "glass of ice water to somebody in Hell".

Tog: "Apple used to do that, with its ads for “munitions-grade” computers. Now, it’s all toy-piano music and nursery-school software."

1984: Macintosh: the computer for the rest of us.

2013: Together, Alive.

29 years apart, and those could've been made by the same people, for the same product. Both show amateurs and power users getting things done easily, though the pseudo-calypso in the 1984 ads is a bit embarassing.

Tog: "Having shot more than 20,000 digital photos, I’d like to access them on my iPad from memory, lots and lots of memory. Not going to happen. … Apple refuses to let people select a “real” keyboard from the open market for their mobile devices if Apple won’t supply one with arrow keys, etc."

Don't use Photos app for that, put the photos in Dropbox or a pro photo management tool. Apps devoted to text editing like Nebulous Notes and Textastic have on-screen arrow controls, there are custom keyboard libraries developers can license, and you can use an external keyboard from Apple, Zagg, or Logitech.

Apple's model has been consistent: The default apps are kept as simple and painless as possible for novices and light users. If you want more, you buy an app from someone else. And this seems to work, since the iPad sells hundreds of millions. It was designed not by old-school "UX experts" who advocated increasingly complex UIs, but by people willing to toss out everything extraneous to the content, and let third-party developers handle power users. If this drives off people who can't adapt or look for a third-party tool, that's irrelevant collateral damage.

Apple doesn't need to do anything.

← Previous: State of the Fucking Art, App.net! (Media) Next: Minecraft setup (Toys) →
State of the Fucking Art, App.net!
Tue, 2013Feb26 04:16:53 PST
in Media by kamikaze

App.net is now freemium, you need an invite from someone on there, and you're limited to 40 follows and not enough file space for many photos, but it's a good taste test. I broke my Twitter EOL to rescue a few people.

Since Dalton's audacious proposal in July 2012, ADN has grown enormously, and now it's going to enter a bit of a hockey-stick growth. That'll be interesting to see, may or may not work with the community it has now.

  • ADN is a lot more than "Twitter with 256 characters", but even that is interesting. In 256, I can write a full thesis/antithesis lemma as I so often do in my paragraphs (much to the annoyance of unary people).

  • MMMercury, Reposted.me, and App.net stats provide the kind of analytics I want, and there are many more.

  • #MondayNightDanceParty is one of the more clever uses of ADN. It's a chat room where you can request and comment on Youtube videos which auto-play in a jukebox. It's interactive MTV. I always get a few good new (or old) bands to listen to. It can whipsaw from a Russian orchestra playing/dancing "Kalenka" to Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds singing "Jubilee Street", to Usher yapping whatever.

  • Patter turns public (but hidden from the main timeline) channels and private rooms into a series of chat rooms. You can drop in, read the history, post, get notified.

  • Global is just everyone's public posts. On Twitter, they killed the global stream when it became unusable, but it was amazing. ADN's is just barely possible to follow for a while now, great for discovering people at random. It's like wandering through a block party and hearing passerby, and then you can introduce yourself and flirt with the cute nerd chick (they're all nerds on ADN). As ADN becomes too large for Global, some kind of filtering/automated content search should take its place, so the block party rocks on.

  • App.net API lets developers put App.net in anything. Think of using it for single sign-on to comments and apps instead of Twitter or Facebook. Storing user data in file storage instead of on Dropbox/iCloud/Mega, and then enabling sharing. There's a million interesting uses. I've got a few apps in design notes stage.

Writing With MultiMarkdown 3
Mon, 2013Jan21 13:26:47 PST
in Mac by kamikaze

I recently upgraded from Markdown 2.0 (old, slow, Perl-based) to Markdown 3.7 (new, 100x faster, C-based). For the most part this went fine, run the Mac Installer and Mac Support Installer. The QuickLook plugin is sans instructions, you have to:

$ mkdir ~/Library/QuickLook
$ mv MultiMarkdownQuickLook.qlgenerator ~/Library/QuickLook

BBEdit can now support alternative processing in Preview, so:

$ mkdir "~/Library/Application Support/BBEdit/Preview Filters"
$ cd "~/Library/Application Support/BBEdit/Preview Filters"
$ ln -s `which mmd` DefaultFilter_Markdown

Now when you hit "Markup|Preview in BBEdit", you see MultiMarkdown, not dowdy old Markdown without tables or definition lists. Yay!

Minor aggrievances:

The line separator must now be ----, because --- is an M-dash, and there's no way to turn that shit off. I can type my own goddamned — character with ⇑⌥– on Mac or hold down - on iOS. So hey, every document has wrong separators because Windows sucks at typing non-ASCII!

There's no default way to turn off “smart” quotes, but you can use mmd --nosmart to fix it. If I wanted curly quotes, I would have typed them myself (⌥[ and ⇑⌥[, ⌥] and ⇑⌥]). Is there a more noxious bit of effete typographic wankery than curly quotes? No.

There's still no way to underline except by <u>xxx</u>.

However, I'll put up with this petty crap for a major boost in speed.

The big problem was that my old xslt filter for table of contents stopped working, it was slow as hell anyway, and I couldn't find a reasonable fix, so I just did a Javascript hack. The top of my document is:

Title: Foo
Author: Me
Date: 1970-01-01
CSS: style.css
HTML header: <script src="toc.js" type="text/javascript" language="javascript"></script>

**Table of Contents**
<pre id='toc'>
[NOTE: You must have Javascript enabled]
</pre>

style.css:

body {
    font: 12pt Palatino, serif;
}
tr {
    vertical-align: top;
}
th {
    text-align: left;
    text-decoration: underline;
}
tr > td:first-child {
    white-space: nowrap;
}
dt {
    font-weight: bold;
}
pre {
    font: 10pt Courier, monospace;
}
.toclink {
    text-decoration: none;
}

toc.js:

function tocNode(nodes) {
    var text = "";
    for (var i = 0; i < nodes.length; ++i) {
        var node = nodes[i];
        if (node.nodeType != 1) {
            continue;
        }
        var tn = node.tagName;
        if (tn == "H2" || tn == "H3" || tn == "H4" || tn == "H5" || tn == "H6") {
            var id = node.getAttribute("id");
            if (id) {
                var depth = parseInt(tn.substring(1, 2), 10);
                var value = node.innerHTML;
                var line = "";
                for (var t = 0; t < depth - 1; ++t) {
                    line += "  ";
                }
                line += "<a href='#"+id+"' class='toclink'>"+value+"<\/a>\n";
                text += line;
            }
        }
        text += tocNode(node.childNodes);
    }
    return text;
}

function tocInit() {
    var tocText = tocNode(document.body.childNodes);
    document.getElementById("toc").innerHTML = tocText;
}

Note that my toc.js does not include H1 elements, as I use that for the document title. Only H2-H6 are in the TOC.

I couldn't figure out any reasonable way to make tocInit() run in body onLoad, since I don't control that HTML generation, so at the end of the document I append:

<script type="text/javascript" language="javascript">tocInit();</script>

It would be nice to have an index, because one of my major turn-offs with even a small book is No Fucking Index, but I'm still thinking about that. There is a LaTeX glossary option, but I'd rather not touch LaTeX again.

Finally, I want to be able to "compile" my document, so I use a dumb shell script, build.sh:

#!/bin/bash
rm -rf build
mkdir build
echo foo.md
mmd --nosmart <foo.md >build/foo.html
cp style.css toc.js build
# copy other resources to build
open build/foo.html

It's interesting to see how my writing process has cycled around. Long ago, I used crappy word processors. Then I started using troff, with inline markup and a build script. Then I wrote raw HTML for a very long time. Then I started using less shitty word processors. Then I went to Markdown, inline markup, and a build script.

I think the tension here is between how smart I have to be to set up my tools, vs. how much attention I have to pay while writing. The markup tools take far more setup work, but they let me just write. Word processors take no initial effort, but every little change, every table, is a pain in the ass. Raw HTML was the worst of both worlds, since nothing was easy.

(And yes, this writing about writing means I've been making progress again on the fantasy RPG I've been working on for a couple years… Something is coming on that front soonish.)

← Previous: Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition (Roleplaying) Next: State of the Fucking Art, App.net! (Media) →
Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition
Fri, 2012Dec07 23:46:31 PST
in Roleplaying by kamikaze

Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition out for the iPad! Adventuring party like it's 1998!

I made a Half-Elf Fighter/Thief, Chaotic "Good" (ha ha as if); you're going to be using thieving skills pretty much all the time, and the main character needs to be able to fight. I'm not a fan of Fighter/Magic-User/Thief, they advance too slowly. I have no love for AD&D's bloated yet stifling rules on the tabletop, but for a computer game with limited options it works fine. The game lets you rest and recover spells almost any time, so Magic-Users aren't as limited as in the tabletop game.

So, I've looted the castle, got all the sidequests. Looted the training NPCs, too, but the game took their items back. On the road. No worries or obligations, a world to pillage. Town watchmen are TOUGH at 1st level, but I will be back for them.

On the down side, the UI is full of tiny confusingly vague or similar icons; if players have to read a help screen to understand the icons, you blew it. A lot of controls are not really touch-optimized, they're teeny little things. Seeing item details requires a long press and release, but sometimes it just registers as a single press which picks it up. Dialogues are especially dangerous, since picking the wrong item could kill you, but the links are a single line of text tall, half the size they should be.

Single character play is pretty good; you can pause, look around, pick an action, then unpause and it plays out. Mass combat is crap. Did I get my guy clicked on the right enemy? Next guy, try to move into position and nothing happens, why? Augh. I think I won't have a big party, I'll just get two sidekicks (mage, cleric) and tough it out.

I'm going to try to keep my play to an hour or two per day. We'll see how well that lasts.

baldursgate-20121207-01
baldursgate-20121207-02

"My hotel's as clean as an Elven arse!" —Innkeeper

What I'm Reading, Comic Book Edition
Sun, 2012Nov18 11:38:11 PST
in Media by kamikaze

I got tired of spandex. Tightly muscled superhumans wearing skin-tight costumes and beating each other up can only amuse for so long. So my comics buying has dropped to just a few, and I'm happier with all of them:

Garth Ennis, Carlos Ezquerra, Russ Braun, Darick Robertson

The Boys, the guys who kill superheroes when they get out of line. It's the end of spandex. It's Garth Ennis at almost his foulest and most violent and depraved, and that's saying a lot. Everything that I HATE about spandex, the preposterous backstories, costumes, self-marketing, pompous bullshit, that's what The Boys mocks and ruins. It'll be over soon, but it's been a fantastic run, and if you read comics, you must read it and think about what you've been reading.

Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips

Criminal, film noir, former con & military Tracy Lawless comes home to find out why his little brother Ricky was killed. Bloody sagas of revenge and treachery.

Fatale, Raymond Chandler by way of H.P. Lovecraft. If you meet a dame who's too good to be true, she ain't so good or true.

Incognito, based on the pulp heroes, like Doc Savage and The Shadow and The Phantom. This verges on spandex, but it's in Brubaker's hard-boiled style.

Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples

Saga, science fantasy about aliens who look an awful lot like angels and demons, with a baby, robot assassins, planets with rocketship forests. It's mad and beautifully drawn.

Scott Snyder, Stephen King, Rafael Albuquerque

American Vampire, the fight of a few American-strain vampires immune to sunlight, against the ancient European vampires. Early on, it's great horror and period piece. There's some great stories in here, and great art. But later it gets a bit too much professional monster hunters, and Hellboy and BPRD already did that. Why isn't this still horror? I'm still buying it, but maybe reaching the end.

Carlos Trillo, Eduardo Risso

Borderline, an Italian comic (by an Argentine writer), set post-apocalypse, in a city controlled by two drug gangs, the Council selling Hope, the Commune selling The Great Astral High. Two psychologically damaged mercenary assassins who used to be in love try to survive on opposite sides. It's one of the most melancholy and violent comics I've ever read, I love it.

Daniel Way, Filipe Andrade

Deadpool, the funniest comic ever about an amoral immortal assassin with uncontrollable motormouth. Supposedly set in Marvel's spandex universe, but really you won't see much of that, it's just Deadpool killing Skrull invaders.

Bryan Lee O'Malley

Scott Pilgrim IN COLOR. Long ago, I liked the comic a lot, but the vague character designs and repetitive landscapes in black & white were a flaw. Scott's a dick, and Ramona's a manipulative bitch, but they both get better through trial and tribulation. I haven't been to Toronto, but the grim frozen post-suburban wasteland environment really does make a great setting for urban fantasy.

Other Media Aside: The PS3 retro fighting game Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is excellent and old-school hard and long and grinding, with a great chiptune soundtrack by Anamanaguchi; you should also buy all of their music.

The movie was a wafer-thin retelling of parts of the book, with a terrible, whiny, pathetic lead actor for Scott, and totally misses the point of Ramona. It is a pretty movie, and hearing Sex Bob-Omb play is… special.

I did read a few of the Before Watchmen comics; I'm kind of stopped at present, but I might finish up the lines I liked. Nite Owl (J. Michael Straczynski, Andy Kubert, Joe Kubert) is excellent. Minutemen (Darwyn Cooke) is excellent, very pulp vigilante. Comedian (Brian Azarello, J.G. Jones) is a great comic in its own terms, but has massive continuity and character errors with Watchmen, so I'm kind of upset. Ozymandias and Silk Spectre were OK, but didn't grab me. Alan Moore does not own the Charlton comics characters (or the victorian characters he stole for League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), he doesn't want to cooperate with the people who DO own those characters, so I don't care what his opinion is now. I only care if the comics are well-written and interesting.

Almost all of my comics now are from Comixology, because physical comics are a pain to collect and store; the iPad is always with me, and it's easy to buy, download, and read; and the retina screen and HD comics look AMAZING, better than even the good paper comics ever did.

← Previous: Longer, Deeper, Harder Thoughts (Media) Next: Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition (Roleplaying) →
Longer, Deeper, Harder Thoughts
Wed, 2012Nov14 10:28:35 PST
in Media by kamikaze

Quitting Twitter has driven me to an unusual state, without the constant noise even when I was filtering with my lists. I've been, uh, what's the word? "Reading". Books, blog posts, packets of Splenda.

In the old days of 2008, which now seems as distant as the Fall of Troy, I had hundreds of blog feeds in NetNewsWire. With Twitter, they atrophied, and I dumped almost everything, only kept some webcomics.

I've spent some time this morning running through my old RSS feeds, and almost all of the old tech blogs I read are defunct; a few of the authors still rarely write articles, and I run across them in App.net or nerd news sites, so no need to refollow any of them.

My current newsreader of choice, Pulse, lets you import feeds from the hateful Google Reader, but does not have any way to export. Bastards!

Tech News

  • Daring Fireball
  • Ars Technica
  • Loop Insight
  • Pando Daily (not at all technical, and often it's complete shit, but gossip about startups is useful intel for me)
  • The Verge (90% of the reviews and such are junk, but there's actual content here in the 10%)
  • Parislemon
  • Asymco
  • Monday Note (I just read Jean-Louis Gassée's articles, I have no interest in FF's chronicling of the death of newspapers)
  • AllThingsD (Alas, about half the articles are stubs for Wall Street Journal, which is paywalled and not worth paying for)
  • TUAW
  • GigaOm
  • NSFW Corp (primarily the War Nerd articles, but those are worth the price of admission)

Webcomics OPML

Suppressed Transmissions

I used to read many more RPG blogs, but most of the good ones are defunct, and the rest are waffling on about stuff I don't care about. I need to spend more time writing games again, and less time reading about others' games.

So now I need some advice. What's new and good in science fiction, futurism, science, technology (not software), weird stuff? Turn-offs: Hipsters, steampunk (shit, when will the '90s die?).

Minecraft Superflat Hardcore
Sat, 2012Nov10 03:00:05 PST
in Toys by kamikaze

Today, I wanted a more serious challenge from Minecraft. In any normal survival game, even hardcore, I can't really die. I get iron, I get geared up, I get diamond, enchanting, I'm invincible. I get bored.

So I started playing with the Superflat worlds, making presets that would be harder. Soon I discovered /r/flatcore, and got more ideas from them, though these four should be unique:

Apeman:
The jungles are dense and endless, overrunning the ruins of ancient peoples. The sky is bright, but you rarely catch a glimpse of it through the tree canopy.
2;7,16x3,2;22;biome_1,decoration,dungeon,lake,mineshaft(chance=0.02),stronghold(count=1)
Fimbulwinter:
The ice giants have defeated the gods, leaving only ruins and snow in their wake. Pine trees and a handful of animals still survive around the few lakes which have not frozen. Monsters roam the land freely.
2;7,18x3,2,78,227x0,8x30;5;biome_1,decoration,dungeon,lake,mineshaft(chance=0.02),stronghold(count=1)
Mantle:
A harsh and unforgiving desert at the end of time, the sun is dim and the very surface of the world is unstable. Keep moving.
2;7,2x1,32x11,24x0,1x18,6x12,182x0,8x30;2;biome_1,decoration,lava_lake,village
Sheol:
A prison world (as Cordwainer Smith wrote) for criminals so damned, they could not be allowed to die once, but must rise and suffer again and again. The villages have the supplies you need to survive, but also an ambush which will only bring you pain.
2;7,16x87,3x24,1x9,227x0,8x30;2;biome_1,decoration,stronghold(count=1),village(size=1 distance=1)

To use these, pick Single Player, Create New World, More World Options, World Type: Superflat, Customize, Presets, paste the preset into the text box at top (ctrl-A, ctrl-V even on Mac), Use Preset, Done, Create New World. Most of them will be extremely laggy at first, pause the game and give them a minute to create chunks.

See the wiki for details on the format. I used the following blocks:

1: Stone
2: Grass
3: Dirt
7: Bedrock
9: Water
11: Lava
12: Sand
18: Leaves
20: Glass
24: Sandstone
30: Cobweb
78: Snow
87: Netherrack
Goodnight, Twitter, wherever you are.
Thu, 2012Nov01 21:11:58 PDT
in Media by kamikaze

As I wrote in On App.net, I've quit Twitter. You can find me as @mdhughes on App.net. As of today, I stopped my crossposting, and made my account private. It's still there, but please don't bug me through it, I'm not likely to see mentions.

I use ADN in much the same way as Twitter, but with 256 characters I can actually complete a sentence in my usual loquacious manner, rather than scrimping and saving a letter here or there, or just giving up. It's not quite USENET again, but I can let my breath out a bit.

My drinks & movie nights are going to be much more of a thing on ADN, typical content:

  • OK, neighborhood goblin vermin evaded, time to settle back with Halloween 25th Anniversary Edition.
  • Tonight's beverage is Seagram's Se7en & Coke, in my ongoing mission to find a cheap replacement for Jack & Coke, since JD is now stupidly overpriced in WA. So far it seems kinda sweet and oily, like JD. But I liked the Canadian Club better last week.
  • Man, Carpenter just blasts the Halloween soundtrack out, who needs ambience and voice when you can have [HIGH-PITCHED WARBLE] [STINGER] [BEEEEERE-OOOOOOOOOHHH]?
  • Halloween first kill, first tits: 6 minutes. None o' this fucking around with story for 45 minutes first. Bam. Knife. Bloody tits. That's what we're here for, and John delivers.
  • Song on the radio in brunette victim's car: Don't Fear the Reaper. And she's talking about Dr. Demento's show. Good taste, Halloween.
  • I can't tell if they're smoking pot or just a really strong cig. It's the '70s, so could be either.
  • I do like Rob Zombie's Halloween, tho it's a totally different pace and splatter horror, not tension horror like Carpenter's.
  • And on TV, Laurie watches: The Thing! (from another planet, not Carpenter's own version of years later)
  • Mythbusters should address stabbing someone with a knife so hard they instantly die and remain stapled to the wall 6" off the floor. I do not believe knives are load-bearing devices.
  • "Annie? Linda? Bob? Why is everyone missing and/or dead? Where all all the loud barking dogs (as we all know dogs of the '70s are real dogs, not pussy little chihuahua thigs)? Why are all the houses dark?" —Laurie, who didn't watch ANY of the horror movies
  • I admire Michael's Disney Imagineer-level staging of his murders, so cupboard pop open just when Laurie approaches. And after 15 years in a nuthouse, no professional training! Man's a natural. He could do wonders with Haunted Mansion.
  • Donald Pleasance's subplot is totally unnecessary. Michael shoulda killed him and the nurse at the start, Laurie's capable of handling him with her knitting needles. All the Myers kids are good at stabbing.
  • Half a bottle in, the Seagram's is not impressing. Almost cloying, had to get into the starchy pretzels to soak up the taste. Sigh. Free market booze is difficult.
  • I already own all the Halloween soundtracks, but if you don't, buy them all. They're just that goddamn good.
  • There's a special on the bonus disc, while I find something else. Darkman (comic action-horror), Pacte des Loupes (serious artsy horror), or Throne of Blood (classy)?
  • Going with Pacte des Loups. Little past the "able to read subtitles" state, so English dubbed, may Pan have mercy on my soul.
  • Savate or Le Canne were not invented yet ca. 1800, this being the Terror but they use late 19th century martial arts. Le fucking sigh. Fighting is a technology. It's not ancient wisdom, most styles are VERY new, <150 years old.
  • Uh oh. Booze mood has turned. And the movie's gone from hunting a beast to political shit. I say you kill all the courtiers and fuck all the whores, tell King it's going OK. Only way to be sure.
  • The movie kind of falls apart when the Beast is shown. The real Beast of Gevaudon was probably just a wolf-dog hybrid. Wolves are good people. It takes a man or a man's best friend to be a serial killer.

If you're familiar to me from Twitter, and you follow me on ADN, I usually follow back; I'm trying to keep my follows down to a dull roar, but I'm happy to see the same friends in the new bar, too. (Likewise, if you've insulted or pissed me off on Twitter, I'm still pissed at you on ADN. Apologize, mute me, or suck on it, don't expect it's a magical fairyland where everyone loves you.)


There's a few updates to the clients:

Felix ★★★★☆
Felix now has a font size preference. It can load up to 100 messages at a time, which is sufficient for lower-traffic ADN. It fills gaps in the direction you last scrolled; I'm sometimes roll past and back and screw it up, but mostly this Just Works™. Still wishing for more media sharing options, and would love to have an iPad version, but for the iPhone it's the best client, hands down.
Netbot ★★★☆☆
If you've seen Tweetbot, you've seen Netbot, except it works on ADN.

Pro: Netbot is the only competent iPad client at present. It works, it updates your timeline well, it has notifications (though the initial release did not). Media upload options are Cloudapp, Droplr, and Mobypicture, and the latter lets you browse user galleries (see Ugh, politics and television again tonight).

Con: Does not have a unified timeline; people I don't follow don't appear in my main timeline when they mention me, and they SHOULD. They MUST. There are no badges on the mentions tab, so you have no idea anything's happened. The terrifying Tweetbot duck blowjob robot icon is in grey instead of blue, but it is still a terrifying and awful icon. The app is overdesigned, on the iPad it has tons of extra gray space, and it has a big stompy machine anti-aesthetic to it.

I've been eagerly awaiting the MacBook Pro retina 13", as a replacement for my 2010 MacBook Air; the CPU is slow, but it has a real video card, so it's usable for 3D games like Minecraft. I really want a faster CPU, more RAM, and a retina screen so I can work on iOS software at full size.

I figured I'd hit the Apple Store and test it with Minecraft, it's not the only benchmark that matters, but it's the most CPU and graphics demanding thing I do. Making and drawing millions of tiny textured cubes is hard work! With far draw distance, max particles, opengl, smooth lighting, fancy leaves, and no vsync, you see what a computer's made of.

2010 MacBook Air: 30-40 fps, terrible bursts of lag, can easily outfly chunk generation. I play on much lower settings.

MacBook Pro retina 15": 80-120 fps, mild lag on new chunks.

MacBook Pro retina 13": 40-60 fps, mild to no lag on new chunks. The Intel integrated graphics are faster than expected, but not enough to replace a 2-year-old Air. Macworld got similar disappointing results.

I really don't want to lug around a huge, heavy MBP 15" again, I'll wait for the next gen 13" with a video card.

← Previous: On App.Net (Media) Next: Goodnight, Twitter, wherever you are. (Media) →
On App.Net
Fri, 2012Sep28 22:58:40 PDT
in Media by kamikaze

Twitter has become hostile to developers. It's an unsafe environment to build a 3rd-party client around, or even a 3rd-party service over. They've purchased and then ruined Tweetie (now "the official Twitter client") and Tweetdeck. Services that could have fixed giant gaping holes in Twitter faced obstruction, and many moved on to other businesses. For 5 years they've promised access to our tweet archives, which the API limits to the last 3200 posts, and for 5 years it's been a lie. With the API token restrictions (so no client can have more than 100K users), and just shutting down entire services like IFTTT's Twitter-to-whatever feeds, it's clear that Twitter's become a broadcast channel for their ads, and nothing more.

You want to hear more?

I've had a lot of fun on Twitter. My friends there have been a constant party of nerds at a bar, with dirty jokes, funny and terrible stories, arguments, and sympathy and support for technical problems. But the bar's been sold to a piece of shit yuppie named "Dick", and it's closing time, he's blasting Britney Spears and Justin Bieber shit on the stereo, and us nerds aren't welcome there anymore. I've no interest in being the last guy out the door.

App.net is my liferaft. Dalton's proposed and then built the thing that we needed: A real-time social network with no incentive for the rats and parasites that infested and destroyed Twitter.

I've moved to @mdhughes on App.net. I've set up an IFTTT recipe to copy my App.net dots (my slang term for app "dot" net posts) to Twitter, with an ugly URL at the end, and I'm leaving that running until the end of October. On Halloween, I turn that off, make my Twitter account private, and will not be using it again.

There's a complete list of third-party clients. There's a few neat stats pages, AppNetStats shows a dashboard for the day, just "is there life here?" info. AppNetizens has more detailed tracking and ego-ranking. Watermark née TweetMarker now searches & archives App.net as well as Twitter.


Capsule Reviews of a Few Clients I Have Used

The long-term success or failure of App.net depends a lot on having good clients. I need one for Mac, iPhone, and iPad. Currently, I have a good one for Mac, and some mediocre ones for iPhone, and nothing for iPad. Two out of three?

Mention ★★★★☆
A nice, solid Mac OS X client. For the most part, this Just Works.

Pro: It has a unified timeline (both mentions and non-mentions). I can set a reasonable font face & size. It has Mountain Lion system notifications.

Con: Pasting styled text into the input box reformats the input box, often hilariously badly, so often I have to compose in BBEdit and paste into Mention; no hardship, I tend to do that anyway. The unread feed and mention counts are very small and light grey, and sometimes don't clear even when you've moved over them. Getting keyboard arrows to move the list up and down instead of bouncing in the input area is sometimes tricky (selecting text and deselecting will fix it).

Adian ★★★☆☆
A basic iPhone client. I like Adian well enough, and for several weeks it was my constant companion, but I just use it for media right now, it needs some serious update love.

Pro: Dotting images to FireFoto works great. System notifications on mentions and follows work. Supports Instapaper and Pocket for links. Swiping on a dot shows a menu underneath (like Tweetie), tapping shows the detail page; IMO, it should just have ONE of those.

Con: Timeline goes up to a certain distance back, then stops. Gaps don't get filled. You can't favorite or native-repost, only quote-to-repost like a caveman. There are no options for font face & size. You can't tap on links in the timeline, only in the detail view. Conversations are sorted wrong, with oldest dots at the top instead of at the bottom like the timeline. Can't show directed posts in my timeline (when someone I follow mentions someone I don't follow, if you recall #fixreplies from the early days of Twitter).

Felix ★★★☆☆
A more current iPhone client. This is my current mobile App.net interface.

Pro: Appearance is very nice, a flat grey look, and uses the full iPhone 5 screen. System notifications on mentions, follows, stars, reposts work. Supports Instpaper, Pocket, Readability. You can show directed posts, it has a unified timeline, conversations can be sorted correctly; these can all be set in the settings, which is on the main tab bar instead of hidden away in a cupboard labelled "Beware of the Leopard" like everyone else does.

Con: There are no options for font face & size. Media uploading uses Droplr and CloudApp, neither of which I like much; you can't share an entire gallery like Twitpic or FireFoto, only individual photos.

Gaps in the timeline show up as a blank row with a reload button, but sadly it fills DOWNWARDS, so if you're reading from the past to the present, it knocks you out of place; and the gap fill doesn't fill the entire gap, you often have to do it several times in a couple hours. This is infuriating, nearly a "don't buy" bug.

Rivr ★★☆☆☆
An iPhone client focused on media posting.

Pro: Interesting take on posting images, music tracks, places, moods, and looking at streams of these things. So, basically it's like Path, except without the creepy business people. That's a very compelling idea. It's not there yet.

Con: Sadly, it's like Path without the design sense. There are individual lists reachable by tapping the menu button at the top, OR by swiping right, but there's no hint for learning this. Each of these lists is just your feed filtered by rivr hashtag like #rivrphoto, but it's a pain in the ass to switch between them; or your timeline or mentions as usual.

The posting controls have a + button on your timeline, but there's no such button on other lists, OR by swiping left, again without any hint.

Images have a weird rez-in effect, with extremely fuzzy progressive JPGs replaced with the real image; a more pixellated preview or even just a blank box would be better. It's hideous.

Mood dots have big faces in rivr. In other clients, they look like this:
foo #mood : tired #rivrMood
Note, no smileys, no emoji. Just a mess of tags and text. You want to see this in your timeline? I don't. If people are still doing that in a couple days, I'm muting their asses.

There's just too many subviews and modes, and it's all kind of not there. The timeline looks fine. The toolbars are awful, and unnecessary if there's also a tab bar and three side-swipe menus. If it had a unified timeline and filters to only show X content type, and had affordances for the hidden UI controls… it still needs work.

Rivr is free, which is not a positive feature on App.net. There's a $2 upgrade fee for notifications, but would anyone find that and turn it on? There's developer revenue sharing coming, but it's not, I think, sufficient to build a business on yet. This is $50.net, we can afford a $5 app or two.

I have tried and no longer use moApp, AppApp, and Rhino; maybe when they rev again I'll give another look and review them.

I often receive Word docs at work, and want to dump them into PDF for reading on iPad. The problem is that using Pages, Words docs made in Windows often have a bunch of warnings, and it's just a pain to open, don't review, export, quit, don't save.

Enter Automator! Make a new Service called "Word to PDF", set:
Service receives selected [files or folders] in [Finder.app]
Then add a Run Applescript action and paste in:


-- Service receives selected [files or folders] in [Finder.app]

on run {input, parameters}
	set inpath to (POSIX path of input)
	set pdfpath to inpath & ".pdf"
	
	tell application "Pages"
		open input
		activate
		tell application "System Events" to perform (key code 53)
		save document 1 in pdfpath
		quit saving no
	end tell
	
	display dialog "Saved to " & pdfpath
end run

Save, and from Finder you can right-click, Services, Word to PDF. Wait for the dialog when it's done.

Much thanks to John '@bynkii' Welch for the escape key solution.

← Previous: Mountain Lion dictation (Mac) Next: On App.Net (Media) →
Mountain Lion dictation
Sun, 2012Jul29 01:34:57 PDT
in Mac by kamikaze

Playing with Mountain Lion dictation. First few extemporaneous attempts were pretty bad. Then I read the last paragraph of Ulysses by Tennyson, and it came close, despite my growling voice:

How[Tho] much is taken much abides and though we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven that which we are we are one equal temper of heroic hearts midweek but[made weak by] time and fate but strong and[in] will [to] strive to seek to find not[and not to yield]

The one real drawback to it is that it doesn't update live. You dictate, then tap Fn again when done, and seconds later it comes back. Continuous dictation like Dragon Dictation would be better. But for quick memos, it could be useful.

← Previous: Gargoyles (News) Next: Converting Word to PDF with Applescript and Pages (Mac) →
Gargoyles
Thu, 2012Jun28 06:17:18 PDT
in News by kamikaze

The other event at Google I/O was Google Glass, a HUD in an ugly monocle with Google spam all over it. It’s the realization of the “gargoyles” from Snow Crash.

It’s bad enough all of us are in the Twitter hivemind, and constantly looking at phones. When it’s on your vision all the time, you’re going to be a complete dick to everyone in real life. I think when Sergey Brin was reading Snow Crash, he missed the point that everyone thought gargoyles were creeps, and avoided them.

The terrifying combination is the constant surveillance and ad platform. Imagine everywhere you go, everything you see and hear, is collected and used to sell ads and make a real-time social graph/location tracker. To Google, you are a meat “android” that works for the sole purpose of seeing ads.

The original promo inspired many parody videos, though Google shut down the best one, “Advertising Overload”, which placed horrible Google ads all over the screen.

← Previous: Replicants (News) Next: Mountain Lion dictation (Mac) →
Replicants
Thu, 2012Jun28 05:30:12 PDT
in News by kamikaze

Google released the Nexus 7 at Google I/O yesterday. My guess was that they’d have Motorola make a new, better Xoom, price it at $399, and try to compete with the new iPad. That would make sense.

Instead they’re going after Amazon, with Asus making only slightly better cheap hardware than the Kindle Fire.

Hardware: Nexus 7 has a low-res, dim screen, like something from 2010. The CPU to finally get smooth scrolling in Java is going to burn battery. It has limited RAM and flash, and no SD card like other Android devices. It’s a slightly better Kindle Fire, and the Kindle Fire is terrible.

Jelly Bean OS: Google’s alphabetical dessert naming scheme (Eclair, Frogurt, Gingerbread, Hobojam, Ice Cream Sandwich) is preposterous, and the ugly green trash can logo isn’t at all humanoid, which is what “android” means. But they seem to have fixed the most egregious problems, simplified the UI, gone back to a 3-button button menu. It’s a pity nobody will be using this OS, because it’s the least horrible Android version yet. Yes, that is high praise from me.

Scrolling: Google actually named their smooth scrolling “Project Butter” after a rare Steve Jobs slip of the tongue “scrolls like butter”, which has become an in-joke among Apple nerds. The reason this is so hard for Google is that the Android graphics stack is all drawn in CPU and main memory, then blitted to the GPU every frame. Of course it’s slow! Apple instead renders each component into an OpenGL texture layer, and lets OpenGL do compositing and moving. That’s why iOS is so fast at scrolling, only a “dirty” component ever needs to be redrawn by the CPU.

Software: There’s almost no Android tablet apps, and their dev tools are still primitive. Nexus 7 doesn’t address that. If it was HUGELY popular, it could be a good baseline to develop against. Except it’s Android 4.1, <8% of Androids are even on 4.0 yet. The Kindle Fire and Nook tablet are 2.x variants, and have sold in far greater numbers. So you’re still facing critical fragmentation, it’d take 2-3x the effort and several devices to build an Android tablet app as it does to make an iPad app.

Business: There’s no money in the Google apps market, and ads bring in pennies per dollar invested. So there’s zero incentive for a developer like me to get it and waste valuable time developing for it. Google says they’re making no profit from it. You’re gonna get top-notch support with that kind of incentive!

Content: There’s nothing, Google has driven off every media company. Amazon has all the partners, they have streaming TV and movies, they have their own book store, and much of their content is free for Amazon Prime customers. Apple has all the partners, they have the iTunes store which is magical, like a Virgin Megastore where you don’t have to wear pants. Google has nothing in their store, a Soviet supermarket with breadlines and no bread. If you want a content player, the Kindle Fire will be a better choice. Most importantly, two companies have your credit card: Apple and Amazon. Google doesn’t. One-click purchasing from someone you trust, or Google “Play” née Checkout? Easy choice.

Marco Arment compares Nexus 7 to iPod touch. That’s interesting, same price and roughly comparable hardware, except the Nexus 7 is bulky and has a lower-DPI screen and no content.

Nexus 7 is the “best” cheap Android hardware, which is like being the most fuckable leper whore.

← Previous: Podcatching (Mac) Next: Gargoyles (News) →
Podcatching
Tue, 2012Jun26 20:26:55 PDT
in Mac by kamikaze

Since I listen to podcasts much of the day and night, podcatchers (do people still say that? "podcast players" for the kids these days) are serious business. This is my every-episode playlist, many more I listen to at random:

Originally, I used a podcatcher Python script to pull down new enclosures from a list of feeds, drop them in a folder, then another script to sync those to my mp3 player or phone. I'm a nerd, it worked.

Then for years, I used desktop iTunes to manage podcasts, and it's powerful but so awful to use it makes me nauseous; then I'd sync my podcasts to the iPod classic, and listen all day. If I ran out, or wanted a new podcast, I had to wait until I got home. But I'd been doing that with slight variations for a decade, and it works fine.


Recently I switched to Instacast.

Subscribing is mediocre but usable: At the bottom of Subscriptions tab is a +, and you can enter a link by hitting the mystery meat chain icon; or search by title, author, description; or drag through popularity or genre lists. Every item shows the cover, title, description, and a bunch of show info; you can actually tell what you're going to listen to.

Once you've subscribed to a podcast, they can be organized into playlists, including unplayed, downloaded, and custom playlists. You can select which items to download, and it shows their progress.

Tap a podcast, and you see the show description with working HTML links. Hit Start or Stream (if it's not downloaded), and you get simple controls, drag up to see more controls, hit the flip-over control to see the show links and bookmarks. For the main use case, seeing what's new and playing it, Instacast is basically perfect.


Downcast is equally capable, though I think it makes you spend too much time in navigation, whereas Instacast is faster to get updated and playing. That's a reasonable trade-off of ease of use vs. speed for an experienced user.

There's also network-specific podcatchers like 5by5 and Mule Radio, but I listen to too many diverse sources for those to make sense for my use, and I almost never listen live since I can't pause them.


Apple's just released their Podcasts app, and the word is: Ridiculous.

If you launch it on a "4G" iPhone, you just get "Could not connect to the iTunes Store. Please try again later." Turn on wifi, and now it sorta works. In contrast, all the other podcatchers work fine on cell data.

Catalog is standard iTunes organization, anything of interest to a semi-intelligent person buried under all the popular junk, so you'll spend all your time in Search. I did spend some time trying to find the podcasts I listen to, in the way a normal person would.

There's no description of a show or episdoes visible, so you just guess by title and cover image. Often there's reviews, but we all know how Internet comments are. I thought "Giant Robots Smashing into other Giant Robots" looked interesting, it has Red Robot (my spirit animal! Crush!) on the cover! But it seems to be some Ruby on Rails thing, BORING. If you tap a track without downloading it, you get a standard Apple media player, not the fancy reel-to-reel player.

If you subscribe, it appears in your Library. NOW there's a show description and (i) buttons by each track, so you can see what's what. MADNESS. Tap the down-arrow button, and it downloads, with no progress indication. From here, if you tap the track, downloaded or not, it uses the Podcasts special player.

I like skeuomorphism, in moderation, and when it includes full functionality. But what does any of this do? Can I spin the reel-to-reel back to rewind? No. The speed switch only does slow, normal, fast, but HOW fast? 150%? 200%? There are three sets of forward/back controls; sub-track, track, time, I guess? And then there's a non-skeu action button in the middle of the "reel to reel" to send email/tweet/im. Hurled out of the metaphor.

podcasts

Meanwhile, there's no way to see the show notes and links, which other podcatchers do.

There's also a Top Stations UI, which is pretty, but random. A big radio control to pick category, then subcategory, and covers in a grid (WWDC attendees will recognize "new API sample code" behavior) with no descriptions. I clicked something and was suddenly listening to a Russian podcast playing Journey's "Don't Stop Believing". Which I'm OK with, but the Russian part is useless to me.

Apple's Podcasts is free, and worth every penny.

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