Saturday, June 30, 2007

Steve Jobs' Other June 29 Product Launch: Ratatouille

If Steve Jobs had just brought us the iPhone on June 29, 2007, dayenu--it would have been enough. But that date also marks a simultaneous launch of a groundbreaking product from Steve's other company, Pixar (now in the corporate maw of Disney): Brad Bird's Ratatouille. (If you're lucky enough you can find out where it's playing on your iPhone.)

The review I'd write, had I time and talent is by A.O Scott in the New York Times. But don't read the review until you've seen the movie. Scott gives away too much that you should have directly from Bird.

Bird takes the standard formula for commercial success in animation (write for the kiddies and throw in some sophisticated jokes and cultural references to keep the parents from squirming) and turns it on it's head. Ratatouille is a film for adults about the essence of excellence and the soul of creativity with enough madcap mayhem, chases, fireworks, spills and gags to keep the kiddies from squirming. (It's been known since the dawn of movies: falling into water is funny. Remember that if you ever want to make a comedy.)

As in The Incredibles (2004) Bird finds a way to translate the look of drawn caricature into the language of 3-D models. The character design is hilarious, and the character development is rich and distinct—even for the supporting cast. As in every Pixar feature, the look of every frame is meticulous, thoughtful, and invested with love and delight of craft. The best Pixar features are love songs to the worlds that inspire them. Just as Cars bursts with deep knowledge and joy of car culture, Ratatouille takes food, kitchens, and restaurants seriously. The filmmakers tackle the challenge of depicting the senses of smell and taste without resorting to the cartoon cliche of wavery, wafting, smoky aroma lines. This film is so delicious, you can almost taste it.

Moore's law and an army of clever coders will guarantee that each year's crop of big budget animated movies will have richer palettes of texture, lighting, fire, fur, and liquids to throw up on the screen, But what catches our breath and holds our attention in a Pixar film is not the atmospherics, but the story. No one works harder or better at building animation stories than Pixar, and Ratatouille has, perhaps, their best, most satisfying story ever. Director Bird also has screenplay credit on Ratatouille and shares story credits with Jim Capobianco and Jan Pinkava.

Mickeleh's Take: As a meditation on excellence and creativity, Ratatouille can be taken as a commentary on iPhone. Great movies and great products (like great kitchens) are the product of teamwork, top ingredients, dedication, risk, and love. They also are expressions of a singular, driven, creative vision. Chuck Jones said that it's combination of a lot of work and a lot of love, but when it's done right, all you notice is the love. Thank you, John Lasseter. Thank you, Steve Jobs. Thank you, Brad Bird.

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Friday, June 29, 2007

iPhone is Bigger than Paris Hilton (Today, Anyway)

As the six o'clock iPod launch hour marched westward across the U.S. time zones, CNBC gave it the kind of coverage that cable usually reserves for wayward blonds, and school shootings. Feeds from Palo Alto, San Francisco, Walnut Creek, New York, and Chicago. Pundits, geeks, business folks gladly volunteering to become props and shills for the promotion of iPhone. The privilege of being in line was payment enough. (except for those few who sold their place in line to the more privileged and less sane at prices from $400 to $700.)

Mickeleh's Take: Kudos to Apple for a communications and PR blitz that managed to knock coverage of America's wayward blondes off the air for a few hours.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Survey Most Dem Candidates Use Linux; Repubs, Microsoft

Kos points to a survey by Douglas Karr of the server software running presidential candidate websites. Kos notes:
... several Republican campaigns are using Rackspace, which is one of the most expensive hosts around. That's money pissed down the series of tubes. Most Republicans are on Windows, most Democrats are on Linux. The lone Democrat to host their site with the evil empire? Hillary's, of course.
Mickeleh's Take: There may be more to that Hillary/1984 parody than we thought.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Does this mean Cory Doctorow Isn't Getting an iPhone?

Pop Quiz: Which of Apple's iPhone partners is famous for the motto "Don't be evil"?

Hint: it's the one that finds seafood restaurants for people in San Francisco who hanker for calamari while watching Pirates of the Caribbean.

If you answered AT&T, you might want to take a refresher course at the university of Boing Boing with Professor Doctorow. He doesn't actually say they're evil, but he does call them scumbags and vows, "Seriously: the only day I wouldn't piss on AT&T is if they were on fire."

A tip of the Mickeleh Yarmulke to my sister for pointing me to Cory's post.

Mickeleh's Take: If anybody sees Cory Doctorow with an iPhone, ask him who his carrier is.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Are People Ready for Another Techmeme Circle Jerk?

You bet they are. It's the weekend, so out in the blogosphere, you'll find a gazillion people ready to spend their time reading and writing, huffing and puffing about some grand ethical issue exposed by Valleywag and facilitated through Techmeme.

And what are people ready to churn up the internets about this weekend? It's a John Battelle-brokered scheme to let A-list bloggers pocket some Microsoft bucks in return for a saying a few words about a Microsoft marketing coinage. (These would include, for example, a famous A-lister whose nose turned in the direction of up at this declassé version of blogging for dollars. But who now takes the Talmudic view that it's okay for a woman to lie about her age because everyone knows that's what they do.)

Mickeleh's Take: If I were to have an opinion about this one it would be Dave Winer's. And if I were to point to someone who handled this almost honorably, it would be Om Malik. (I say almost, because a close reading reveals he's offering only an "I'm sorry you were offended" non-apology perfected by politicians. I say honorably because he promises not to do it again.)

But I'm sitting this one out. Disclosure: nobody paid me for not offering an opinion.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

YouTube on AppleTV; it lasted a night, now it's down; back after power-cycling

Had some folks over to play with AppleTV (now with the great taste of YouTube).

Here's the good news: It's fun. If you have folks in the room, browsing on TV changes the YouTube experience into a comfortable social experience. Some of the clips look very fine. They even show up in full widescreen glory. (see Matt Haughey for more on this.). . Low bit-rate clips that suck on a PC screen suck as much or more on TV.

My sister had an a-hah moment, saying that with YouTube, AppleTV finally makes sense to her. My roommate logged into his account through the TV interface and was able to browse through his favorites to show some of his clips. Performance was excellent—a short pause for buffering and then the clips played through smoothly. We didn't see any that had to pause or hiccup to gulp down some more bits

The bad news: While it let me log in, when I tried to save a clip to my favorites, it suddenly said it didn't recognize my password. (My roommate didn't have this problem.) One gotcha: it's likely that most of the clips in your Favorites are not yet available on AppleTV. Only a tiny fraction of the YouTube library has been encoded in H.264 as required for AppleTV. Most of them are still in Flash video format.

The worse news: This morning, I couldn't get the lists for Most Recent, Most Viewed, Featured, or Top Rated to load. (endless spinning). History, which I guess is cached on the box, came up and I could stream any of the clips on that list, so I'm pretty sure the box is online. After unplugging and replugging the AppleTV, YouTube worked as expected.

If you want to sample the experience for yourself, Brian Lam posted a tour on Gizmodo.

Mickeleh's Take: Last night I saw the future. This morning I learned that the future isn't here yet. Maybe it will work better on iPhone.

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Cool Tool for Cooks: Grease Blotter

Kevin Kelly offers a neat tip for cooks who need to get the grease and fat out of stews and such.

Mickeleh's Take: Think of it as liposuction for soups stews.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

YouTube on AppleTV; first look

The download completed. (had to keep checking, because AppleTV went into screensaver mode). Then another click to install and restart. Bonus: you get another view of the startup movie.

Neat translation of the YouTube U-I into AppleTV. (Could it be anything less?) Video quality? Better than I expected, but it varies per video.

There's an onscreen keyboard for search (you can navigate by arrow keys on the remote), and another keyboard with a different design and many more, much smaller characters for logging in to rate videos and save to your favorites.

The announcement said that they'd start with 10,000 videos available in the ecoding format that AppleTV requires (H.264), and it's already up to 11,500. The plan is to have the entire library available by year's end.

I'll offer a considered opinion of the experience after I've used it at leisure. But at first glance, it's a solid and well-designed translation of YouTube to the living room.

Mickeleh's Take: I wonder how many AppleTV users will a) know that the update is available, b) know how to pull it down, c) take the trouble to do it? Compare this to, say, TiVo, Moxi, or any cable DVR: when a software update is ready, it's pushed to the box willy-nilly. Apple is following PC rules—don't mess with the user's software without knowledge or permission. But now that they're in the CE space, maybe it's time to be a little more paternalistic.

Either way, the triumph is this: Finally, something even more mind-numbing than TV. Technology Marches On.

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YouTube on AppleTV; downloading now

Apple announced an update to AppleTV software available today. They don't push it. You have to go into Settings and ask for it. Which I did. Spinning.

Vince Foster's Revenge: Clintons Gleefully Wear The Mantle of the Mob

Okay, it was funny. Someone emailed me about it. I passed it on. I mentioned it on Twitter. It made Olbermann. It was the funniest Sopranos parody by a politician ever. Not quite on the level of the great MadTV parody of a few years back, but a fine piece of work. Hill and Bill as Tony and Carm. (Carm and Tony?)

I don't want to overthink this but I can't help myself. Tony's song was "Don't Stop (Believing)" Bill's was "Don't Stop (Thinking about Tomorrow)." Hmm. Did they really want to revive all of the Bill Clinton whacks his enemies crap? Hmm. Did they have to pick a song by a Canadian? Hmm. That Canadian? Do they know that half the country thinks that the cut to black at the end of the Sopranos signifies that Tony was whacked? Hmm.

Mickeleh's Take: Great way to co-opt the culture and soften the candidate's image."You and I were meant to fly." —Celine. "Fly, you fools!" —Gandalf

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Addendum: Things you can learn in the blogosphere. The Clinton spot was filmed at the Mount Kisco Coach Diner. If you're ever there, try the chocolate pudding, says Marty of Martin's Musings.

Second Addendum: Did I say, "soften"? Stacey Parker AAB has thought this through much more deeply than I.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Krya Sedgwick Blurts About a Demo Steve Jobs Never Showed Us

This morning's Fake Steve Jobs post warns of the inevitable media backlash against Apple. (Thanks, Scoble, for the tip.) Fake Steve, as usual, offers truth, wisdom, comedy, and darn good writing. I think he's right about the backlash. When Christopher Escher was doing PR at Apple, he called it the clock theory: when you're at the top of the clock (noon), it's time for the media to start predicting your fall. When you hit bottom (six), it's time for the comeback story.

But it ain't happening yet.

Early Friday morning on Conan, Kyra Sedgwick gave Steve and Apple a priceless plug, asking us to imagine a demo that, so far, has never made it into a Steve Jobs Keynote.
I’m curious about something. Your career is, of course, going very well, but this must be a little difficult—your husband, of course, Mr. Kevin Bacon, lives in New York with the kids. This is, uh, so you’ve got to keep this relationship going long distance. That’s gotta be difficult

Yeah, it’s hard. You know, but there’s the phone and there’s iChat.



Is I chat..? You find that better than the phone?

Yaah. Because you know, you can see each other and… (long pause, lips pursed). Let’s just say I’m really grateful for Steven Jobs.

Right. Right.

He’s kept my marriage together.

Right. So... it gets kinky over iChat? Is that what you’re suggesting?

Maybe. Sometimes.

You know I dfon’t think that’s what… I think when they came up with the computer, they weren’t… that wasn’t their first thought. Maybe it was?

But It was there second thought. Let me tell you. Because, I mean, I Chat, I mean realy. What are people gonna use that for

But how hot and heavy can it get on iChat.. I mean, I’ve experienced that a little bit. It doesn’t look like you can really be whoo-whoo-whoo- (pantomimens lifting his shirt to flash his chest) It doesn’t look that exciting to me.

You have to use your imagination. No it’s good though. It’s gotten better and better.Maybe you don’t have the right camera.
You just solved all my problems

Mickeleh's Take: So, does that earn Steve a Kevin Bacon number?

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Safari for Windows Take 2: It's all about iPhone

Tim Moynahan has the clearest take I've seen so far on the impact of Safari for Windows. Sez he: it's a ploy to get the Windows development world engaged in apps for iPhone.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Safari for Windows

An Apple branded browser for Windows is something nobody expected and nobody needs. If you have Windows, you already have a browser (IE7), and if you don't like IE7, you can choose Firefox, If you don't like Firefox, you can help yourself to any one of a sturdy bunch of excellent hopefuls. Obviously, Safari for Windows is just a big yawn. Or so you'd think.

Take a gander at Techmeme this morning and it seems everyone in the world wants to say something--usually something critical--about Steve Job's announcement yesterday that Apple was releasing Safari for Windows. Ryan Block is skeptical. Michael Gartenberg hails it as a "great strategic move." While I'd expect the pundits and analysts to pundificate and analyze, it's astonishing to see the large number of folks who took time from their busy Monday to not only follow the keynote, but to download the beta, test it, and blog about it. Top takes: vulnerability to malware, fuzzy font-rendering (though this one is debated), and yes, it's fast.

Mickeleh's Take: Don't we have anything better to do than download irrelevant software? Shouldn't we outsource this odious task to India or China? When Walt Mossberg quizzed Steve at the D Conference about why Apple was doing apps for Windows, Steve quipped, he was bringing ice water to people in hell. If the critics are right about Safari font rendering, I guess it's fuzzy ice water.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

The Sopranpose

How can anybody complain about an episode in which A.J. discovers Dylan, Agent Harris gets laid, Little Steven gets to relax his mouth and hair from the silly Sil grimace and do, Paulie gets to call Tony, "my liege," and we all get to enjoy a nice game of Pop Goes the Weasel's Head?

Mickeleh's Take: Ending Schmending. Kudos to David Chase and the entire cast and crew.

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