Drag is waste. Reduce it.


Apple vs. Origami

If you've been following the technology news, then you know that Microsoft has lately been hyping something called "Origami", which, as was widely believed, is an "ultra-mobile PC" — basically, a laptop-handheld hybrid. The only big question about Origami before today's official announcement from Microsoft was whether it would be Microsoft-branded hardware running a Microsoft OS or third-party-branded hardware running a Microsoft OS. Turns out it's the latter. I honestly don't know why there was ever a question, though, because that's the way Microsoft does things — desktops, laptops, tablets, handhelds, and now ultra-mobile PCs.

Anyway, so that's Origami. What you should be thinking now is, what about Apple? Apple usually likes to be one step ahead of the competition, and this Origami business certainly gives the impression of poor Steve Jobs eating Bill Gates' dust — especially after Apple's underwhelming February 28 media event.

Well, let me tell you — Steve Jobs does not eat Bill Gates' dust. Ever. The reason Apple might look like it's behind Microsoft right now is that Apple is in the process of running circles around Microsoft.

DISCLAIMER: I like Apple. I think their design-style is sleek, minimalist, functional, and, in general, exceptionally well-thought-out. Label me a "Mac Cultist" if you will, but that's my story. What follows is the part that we Apple groupies live for — wild predictions about Apple's Secret Plans.

Apple is up to something. First, the facts:

Exhibit A
Steve Jobs' Keynote presentation at January's Macworld 2006 was 'a bit off'. It is widely believed by, um, Leander Kahney and me, anyway, that something exciting got pulled from the Keynote at the last minute. An 'inside source' apparently spilled some beans to Leander afterwards, advising him not to buy a MacBook Pro just yet because Apple has something "much cooler" in the works.
Exhibit B
Apple recently dropped big bucks on flash memory. A lot of flash memory. Said Steve Jobs, "we want to be able to produce as many of our wildly popular iPods as the market demands." Right.
Exhibit C
Apple has recently filed for a patent relating to a touch-screen interface.
Exhibit D
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Apple had a product called the Newton, a precursor to the Palm Pilot, the first big PDA. The Newton was much loved by many, and, despite having been discontinued in 1998, still has a loyal fan base.
Exhibit E
In a nice bit of circularity, back to Steve's Macworld 2006 Keynote. Upon wrapping up his talk, Steve made a point of mentioning that April 1, 2006 will be Apple's 30-year anniversary. I don't recall his exact words, but, translated from plain English into Mac-fan-speak, it went something like, "it may be three months away, but you'd best start getting excited now."

So. All of that was relatively factual, but now I will transition to castles in the sky. Based on the above facts, I conjecture:

Apple is going to announce an exciting new product, and it will be targeted at the same audience as the MacBook Pro. The new product will be flash-memory based. Dreaming aside, flash is still too expensive for laptops; the new product will thus be sub-laptop-sized. The new product will have a touch screen, implying that it will be tablet- or handheld-esque.

Exiting. Small. Flash-based. Touch-screen. "Professional" audience. Put it all together, and what have you got? On April 1, Apple's 30th Anniversary, Apple will reincarnate the Newton as a flash-based, ultra-mobile PC with a touch-screen (multi-point? that'd be fun).

Well, it made sense to me, anyway. Whatever happens, just remember: you read it here first.


109 Songs from iTunes

Alucky individual has officially purchased and downloaded the 1,000,000,000th song from the iTunes Music Store. For his troubles, Apple has awarded this fortunate fellow with an iMac, 10 iPods, and a $10,000 iTMS gift-card.

While I did purchase one song* from the iTMS during their promotional countdown (or count-up, as it were) to the Big Billion, I'm sorry to report that it wasn't me. No, this guy apparently goes by the name "Alex Ostrovsky" (of West Bloomfield, Michigan), and I wish him well. Also, I wonder if he might not have an iPod to spare?

Congratulations, Alex.

* It was 'Space Oddity' by David Bowie, if you must know.


Muhammad Cartoons

Oh, the irony. As you've probably heard, Muslim groups throughout the Middle East (and elsewhere) are causing a ruckus in response to some satirical caricatures of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad published first in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and subsequently in several other European papers.

To quote from an article from the Canadian Press:

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - Tens of thousands of angry Muslims marched through Palestinian cities, burned the Danish flag and called for vengeance Friday against European countries where caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad were published.

The demonstrations were the latest sign of growing anger against the cartoons that has spread across the Muslim world.

Early Friday, Palestinian militants threw a bomb at a French cultural centre in Gaza City and many Palestinians began boycotting European goods, especially those from Denmark, where the cartoons where first printed.

"Whoever defames our Prophet should be executed," said Ismail Hassan, 37, a tailor who marched through the pouring rain along with hundreds of other angry Muslims in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

"Bin Laden our beloved, Denmark must be blown up," protesters in Ramallah chanted.

Fundamentalist Muslims protested outside the Danish Embassy in Malaysia, chanting "Long live Islam. Destroy our enemies" and accusing Denmark's Jyllands Posten newspaper, which first published the cartoons, of seeking to incite hatred.

"It's an uncivilized act. It's heinous," said Hanifah Maidin, youth wing spokesman of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic party. "We want the Denmark government to tender an apology to the Muslim world."


It's shockingly hypocritical (and yes, ironic) that they can denounce cartoons as uncivilized and, in the same breath, call for death and destruction in response, and it's worrisome that governments are probably going to try to appease them rather than chastise them for it.


Six More Weeks of Winter

"Well, it's Groundhog Day... again..." and Punxsutawney Phil, that "Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary" (no joke), has seen his shadow.



The Serial Comma, Part 2

An astute reader has pointed out that my blanket demand... er... recommendation that you use the serial comma at all times can sometimes lead to trouble. An example —

Bob, an ogre, and Tony went out to lunch yesterday.

The problem here is that the first (Bob) and second (an ogre) items in the list can also — grammatically correctly — be read as an apposition, wherein 'an ogre' is presenting additional information about Bob rather than being a list item in its own right.

So... setting aside the fact that what was actually meant should be fairly clear from the context, what the reader gets out of that sentence is going to depend greatly on whether he or she knows Bob.

Now, one could argue that the confusion is easily dismissed (provided, that is, that Bob and the ogre are distinct items) by simply removing the serial comma —

Bob, an ogre and Tony went out to lunch yesterday.

But don't you dare! Far better to rephrase as either

Bob, Tony, and an ogre went out to lunch yesterday.

or, alternatively, as

Tony and Bob, an ogre, went out to lunch yesterday.

depending on what, exactly, you're trying to say.

Don't let this occasional hiccup sour you on the serial comma; it's a relatively-rare and easily-correctable situation. And let's keep in mind that no matter what punctuation rules you choose to follow, the responsibility for your writing saying what you had intended lies with you. Don't blame the comma.

SO — use the serial comma at every chance you get, but use it wisely. No one appreciates being called an ogre, after all. Even accidentally.


Momentarily Confused

Here's an interesting one —

Both Dictionary.com and the Wiktionary offer two primary defintions for "momentarily". To quote from Dictionary.com:

1. For a moment or an instant.
2. In a moment; very soon.

To illustrate —

Example 1:

Person A: Blah blah blah...
Person B: I'm sorry, I was momentarily distracted by something completely unrelated; could you repeat that?

Example 2:

Impatient Customer: I've been waiting in this line for over 20 minutes!
Customer Service Representative: I apologize for the inconvenience; I'll be with you momentarily.

The interesting part? Both sources cite the second usage above, 'in a moment', as being controversial. The Wiktionary adds that anyone caught using momentarily in the second sense "may be subjected to correction in a formal or academic setting."

What's the big deal, you ask?

Well, there's nothing confusing or ambiguous about either of those examples — it's very clear from the context which definition was meant. Unfortunately, it's not always so simple.

The first usage is generally used to indicated that something happened 'for a moment' — past tense — whereas the second is generally used to indicated that something will happen 'in a moment' — future tense. But what happens when you want to say that something WILL happen FOR a moment? Complications arise:

Example 3:

Optometrist: I'm going to squirt some of this gunk into your eye momentarily; it will hurt.

Example 4:

Optometrist: I'm going to squirt some of this gunk into your eye; it will hurt momentarily.

So that's a little less clear. Is the squirting happening in a moment, or for a moment? Is it going to hurt for a moment, or in a moment? All of the above, perhaps?

Regardless of whether you or I think this is a big deal, though, the Authorities (Dictionary.com and the Wiktionary) are Not Happy.

Dictionary.com calls the second usage of 'momentarily' a "Usage Problem", and a Usage Note goes on to explain that 59% of the illustrious Usage Panel finds the second usage "unacceptable".

Honestly, unacceptable? That's strong language for something that, in their own words, "rarely leads to ambiguity". And this, coming from the same group that has turned a blind eye to the often-used-out-of-context, disaster-in-the-making that is bimonthly.

I do appreciate the mission and efforts of the Usage Panel, it's just that their priorities seem a bit out-of-wack. Let's quit wasting our time with formal votes on tid-bits like "momentarily" and do something meaningful, shall we? I'm pulling for an extensive advertising campaign — info-mercials, Super Bowl ads, and all the rest — promoting proper application of irony.


Pardon the Mess, Part 2

In response to my exciting news, I have been told that the new site design "doesn't look much different". Needless to say, I strenuously object — the layout is similar, but there are a substantial number of subtle and not-so-subtle changes.

So. For funzies, I've added an exciting new feature — by clicking on the links below, you can switch back and forth between the "old" and "new" site designs courtesy of an elegant little javascript written by Paul Sowden at A List Apart. Go clicky-click back and forth a few times, and note the differences!

Old  | New

What I've actually done is written my own blogger template and stylesheets from scratch, which, considering that I had no idea what I was doing at the outset, was quite a bit of work. The fact that the layout hasn't changed too much is far more indicative of the fact that I liked the old layout than that I was lazy or something.


Pardon the Mess

Well. The much anticipated blog makeover has finally happened, and just look at the mess! I will hopefully have everything squeaky clean and in working order again by tomorrow evening.

I'd love to hear your thoughts — as I am now in full control of the appearance of this page, I can adapt very easily to insightful comments and requests. Talk to me!


Bimonthly or Semimonthly?

The most recent issue of MIT's Technology Review arrived on my proverbial doorstep the other day. This issue happened to include a notice to subscribers kindly explaining that Technology Review is moving to a more web-focused publication regimen, and will therefore be reducing its hard-copy publication frequency to "bimonthly".

My first thought upon reading this, "Oh — how often did it come before?", was followed promptly by a second, "Er — how often is bimonthly?" Please, if you will, suspend your smug re-assessment of my intelligence and bear with me.

The prefix "bi-", from the Latin, means "two" — simple as that. Bimonthly, then, is either 'two-monthly', as in 'every two months', or 'two, monthly', as in 'twice each month'. But which?

This, friends, is one of the many instances where the English language, by flaunting logic and regularity with head held high, reminds one not to get too comfortable. And I quote:

1. Happening every two months.
2. Happening twice a month; semimonthly.

Whose brilliant idea was that? It's one thing for a word to be confusing because of widespread incorrect use (e.g. irony), but quite another for a word to be defined in a confusing manner.

Furthermore, you'll notice that the definition above cites the second meaning of bimonthly as being synonymous with "semimonthly".

The prefix "semi-" is, like "bi-", derived from the Latin, and means "one-half". If there were any fairness in the world, "semimonthly" would be defined in as confusing a manner as "bimonthly", but, alas, English once again gives us the finger:

Occurring or issued twice a month.

And the only thing worse than the ridiculousness of 'two-monthly' being synonymous with 'half-monthly' is, of course, that they only sometimes mean the same thing — it's not even consistent! Help!!

The Wiktionary entry on "bimonthly" features a similar definition, and also a usage note stating, in all seriousness, that:

"Because of the ambiguity of this word, it is best to avoid it."

This is clearly madness, and so, dear Reader, it's time for us to Fix It — ambiguity is just one more form of Drag, and you know how we feel about that around here. From now on, we are going to use "bimonthly" to mean exclusively "occurring every two months" (definition 1, above) and "semimonthly", well, we'll just use that correctly. If and when you come across either of these terms being used incorrectly in the wild, please go out of your way, if possible, to (gently!) correct the offending individual or publication.


  • Purpose: user-interface critique (ranting), among other things.
  • Justification: I use things; I have opinions; I have a blog.