Glass Maze Every jumbled pile of person

Mute

There’s been a bit of of tempest in a teapot recently in the Apple community, around an incident where some poor guy stopped a performance of the New York Philharmonic with an ill-timed iPhone alarm. He’d put the phone on mute, but the iOS alarm app ignores the mute button, so it went off anyway.

Gruber and Marco have both mounted their inevitable defense of the iPhone’s muting behavior — but, uncharacteristically, I actually agree with something Marco said:

The user told the iPhone to make noise by either scheduling an alarm or initiating an obviously noise-playing feature in an app.

The user also told the iPhone to be silent with the switch on the side.

The user has issued conflicting commands, and the iPhone can’t obey both.

It’s a typical design problem: it can’t be heavy and light and big and small. Neither decision will satisfy everyone all the time or cover every edge case: if Apple implemented Mute in Ihnatko’s preferred way, millions of people would be just as irritated when their scheduled alarms didn’t wake them up.

This is hard to quibble with. If you have one mute switch and no ability to tell the alarm what you want it to do in that situation, then, yes, you’re going to piss somebody off.

So Marco makes a good point: under those constraints, there is no right decision. But then he goes on to say that Apple made the right decision:

When implementing the Mute switch, Apple had to decide which of a user’s conflicting commands to obey, and they chose the behavior that they believed would make sense to the most people in the most situations.

That’s good design.

But that’s not good design. That’s just choosing one of two bad designs, on a hunch.

I think this is emblematic of the Apple enthusiast mindset: that it doesn’t even occur to them to expand the scope of the problem beyond the constraints that Apple has imposed. There are other options: you could make the alarm vibrate instead. Or you could present the user with a choice (something that Apple rarely does) — in the alarm app itself, say, or the first time the user puts the phone on mute with alarms active. Or something. But all other options are, apparently off the table: the alarm either must go off or mustn’t go off. Those are your choices.

Most of iOS’s “user-centric” design decisions are predicated on the notion that Apple knows best. But this is a situation where Apple not only doesn’t, but can’t, know best. I’d be a lot less annoyed with Apple zealotry if it would just acknowledge this: not that Apple makes mistakes, but that their uncompromising ethos often forces them into situations where every available option is a mistake.


Prose That Takes Your Breath Away

This is some of the most powerful prose I’ve ever seen. It’s from a leaflet handed around during the 1992 primaries, written by Zoe Leonard, an artist and activist:

I want a dyke for president. I want a person with aids for president and I want a fag for vice president and I want someone with no health insurance and I want someone who grew up in a place where the earth is so saturated with toxic waste that they didn’t have a choice about getting leukemia. I want a president that had an abortion at sixteen and I want a candidate who isn’t the lesser of two evils and I want a president who lost their last lover to aids, who still sees that in their eyes every time they lay down to rest, who held their lover in their arms and knew they were dying. I want a president with no airconditioning, a president who has stood on line at the clinic, at the dmv, at the welfare office and has been unemployed and layed off and sexually harassed and gaybashed and deported. I want someone who has spent the night in the tombs and had a cross burned on their lawn and survived rape. I want someone who has been in love and been hurt, who respects sex, who has made mistakes and learned from them. I want a Black woman for president. I want someone with bad teeth and an attitude, someone who has eaten that nasty hospital food, someone who crossdresses and has done drugs and been in therapy. I want someone who has committed civil disobedience. And I want to know why this isn’t possible. I want to know why we started learning somewhere down the line that a president is always a clown: always a john and never a hooker. Always a boss and never a worker, always a liar, always a thief and never caught.

It’s the way this builds, the words tumbling against each other in their eagerness to be heard, swelling off the page, yearning to get to you. As if in their urgency they forget that they’re symbols for a thing and in forgetting become the thing, three-dimensional and real and emphatically present.

I found this breathtaking, in the most literal way possible. I hope I manage to write a paragraph half as good one day.


Decentralized, Participatory Digital Democracy

Zachary Schneirov, the creator of Notational Velocity, on the pernicious qualities of the Cloud:

There’s absolutely no reason a community group, organization, or collection of friends couldn’t share everything they needed using protocols and servers that have existed almost since the dawn of UNIX. And with federated protocols like XMPP (on which Google Wave was built) there’s also no reason that such services couldn’t “scale” to include progressively larger circles of contact.

In the end, the need for profit can only ever add unnecessary and unwanted side-effects to our medium of communication, whether it’s omnipresent and invisible tracking of everything we read and say, a visual landscape overrun with advertisements, or software that disappears and takes our data with it once we stop paying rent. The “cloud” model is becoming popular first and foremost because it enables new forms of profit. However with just a tiny amount of work and responsibility, we can make the Cloud’s few advantages redundant, re-possess our information, and finally move to an era of worldwide, decentralized, participatory digital democracy.

I think I’m in love.


Loving Their Servitude

Aldous Huxley, in a letter to George Orwell:

Within the next generation I believe that the world’s leaders will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging them and kicking them into obedience.


2 Kings 2:23-25

From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.

Stephen Colbert bit or biblical verse? You decide!

Seriously, this is what happens when you’re not allowed to make revisions.


Torture is Bad Even When You Don’t Call it Torture

Here’s Ron Paul making sense at the latest gathering of clowns:

Well, waterboarding is torture. It’s illegal under international law and under our law. It’s also immoral. And it’s also very impractical. There’s no evidence that you really get reliable evidence. Why would you accept the position of torturing 100 people because you know one person might have information? And that’s what you do when you accept the principle of torture. I think it’s uncivilized and has no practical advantages and is really un-American to accept on principle that we will torture people that we capture.

It’s too bad Paul is so cooky in other ways — he’s smart and consistently reasonable about these sorts of things, certainly more so than most of his peers. Herman Cain sounds a lot more like a GOP candidate:

I agree that it was an enhanced interrogation technique….I don’t see it as torture. I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique.

I think the lesson for the kids here is that the way to get away with doing bad stuff is through the magic of calling it something else. Example:

Teacher: Young man, I want you to stop talking during my class.

Lil’ Yoo: I wasn’t talking. I was practicing extroverted thinking techniques.

Teacher: What?

Lil’ Yoo: I was thinking with sounds.

Teacher: You were talking to Lil’ Rummy.

Lil’ Rummy: He was extroverted thinking in my direction.

I’d call this Orwellian, but it lacks the panache of something like, say, the Ministry of Love. It’s just dumb.


Greenwald on Drones

Glenn Greenwald on the Obama administration’s drone bombardment strategy:

… at this point, the word “militant” has no real definition other than: he or she who dies when a missile shot by a U.S. drone detonates


The Adventures of Pretends He Understands Football Man

“He’s a one-cut running back,” said Daniels, a little too loudly. “That’s what he’s paid for. Why does he keep dancing around behind the line?”

“Maybe they should send him back to the minors,” said Pretends He Understands Football Man. “Until he’s ready for the big time.”

Daniels blinked, and glanced sidelong at Peterson.

“Yeah,” he said.

Thad looked at his shoes.

Things got quiet.

Peterson cleared his throat. “So who’s in for this Sunday?”

Daniels raised his hand. “I’m going to eat your nachos and watch the Cowboys ruin your day.”

“You’re having a Superbowl party?” said Pretends He Understands Football Man.

Peterson hesitated, and then recovered, quickly. “Yeah!” he said. “Yeah. Sorry, Jeff, I would have invited you, but you never want to come to these things.”

“I’d love to, if there’s room.”

“Sure. There’s always room. We start around 4:00.”

“Great! I’ll be there.” Pretends He Understands Football Man picked up his coffee and smiled around at everyone, then went back to his office.

The rain was slapping against the windows. He sat down and looked at his phone. Don’t, he thought. But he picked it up and dialed.

Three rings, and then her voice: “Hello?”

For a moment, he couldn’t speak. She must not have looked at her caller id.

“Sheila,” he said, finally. “Don’t hang up.”

Silence. He could hear her breathing on the other end.

“I just want to talk to them. Just for a minute.”

Nothing. She was chewing on her lip now, he thought: the way she did, just the two front teeth, the crease between her eyebrows deepening.

“Or at least hear their voices. Please. Put Jason on. I won’t say anything.”

She drew in a breath, like she was getting ready to answer.

But she didn’t. The line went dead.

He held the receiver to his ear for a moment more, then put it down, gently.

After a while, he picked up the newspaper and flipped over to the sports section and sat there until evening, studying.


The Adventures of Doesn’t Curse Right Man

“Shit you, dude!” said Doesn’t Curse Right Man. “Shit you to hell!”

Terry paused, and lowered his brick. “What?”

“That’s right, you better back off, douchehole.”

Terry looked over at Anthony, then back. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“What I’m talking about is putting my foot in your dick.”

“Ass,” said Anthony. “You’re going to put your foot in his ass.”

“Asshole right I am,” said Doesn’t Curse Right Man.


The Adventures of Pretends He Can’t Remember the Last Time He Laughed Man

“I think it must have been when I was child,” said Pretends He Can’t Remember the Last Time He Laughed Man. “Certainly there was little joy in my youth, but I was able them to draw happiness from the most meager of circumstances then.” He shook his head. “No longer.”

“I thought I saw you laughing yesterday,” said Eustace. “At your desk.”

Peter nodded. “Yeah. You were watching something on your computer.”

“Spongebob,” said Derek, heavily. “He was watching Spongebob. Again.”

“No. What you saw was an empty shell of laughter. A memory bereft of its animating spirit. A corpse.”

“There were tears coming out of your eyes,” said Derek, rooting through the bowl of chips. “That was sorrow, I guess?”

“Sorrow, yes. I’m sure you’ve seen a rainbow arcing through grey stormclouds, lighting up the darkest …” He trailed off, awkwardly.

“Yeah, that’s probably not the metaphor you’re looking for.” Eustace flagged down a waiter, and pointed at the TV over the bar. “Hey, can you switch that to the Cartoon Network?”

The waiter shrugged. “Sure.”

Pretends He Can’t Remember the Last Time He Laughed Man checked his watch, surreptitiously. It should be ok, he thought. Nothing on now but Pokemon.


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