My therapist says I should leave town this weekend if I want to avoid permanent brain damage from stress and over-work. Who am I to argue?
Out.29 Oct 2004
iPod Photo27 Oct 2004
And right on the heels of the new iRiver flagship device, Apple is introducing their own full-color photo-viewer and digital jukebox, the iPod Photo (which to me sorta implies that they will continue releasing non-photo iPods for the next couple of product generations … i mean otherwise, why name it differently?).
So how does this stack up against the iRiver?
I felt really bad about not having waited, until I saw how much they were going for. US$500 is waaay over what I would pay for a portable jukebox, even if it was sporting a 40-gig hard drive. I mean, seriously, if you had 40 gigs worth of music, you may as well just leave half of them at your desktop, because you are so not gonna be able to scroll through all that, let alone listen to it.
Melanie Griffith, the Website26 Oct 2004
Channel-surfing and link-hopping are similar activities in that they both often end up with you experiencing absolute crud. Case in point: a short link-hop this evening brought me from Gizmodo to Boingboing to UseMyComputer to this freaky-beyond-belief website:
Now, before I write anything else, let me first preface this brief entry by saying that I have nothing against Melanie Griffith, as an actress or as a human. Well, at least until now. Because you’d have to be a very special kind of crazy to have a website like this, and I find myself mildly disturbed by the fact that I actually thought she was cute back in Shining Through (i know, i know, i must be a pretty special kind of crazy, too).
As you can see from the screencap, the page has a picture of some sort of magical, faggot garden. This is the main page btw, so as you might guess, those doors are links to the site’s various sections.
I won’t bother describing what’s behind each one (let’s just say, my mouth was agape the whole time and spit was beginning to pool in my lap), but if you want to get a feel for the site without actually having to see all of it, check out Avalon, in which Melanie shares a letter she wrote to her inner self. Yes, it begins with “Dear Inner Self.” No, there is no mention of MPD anywhere.
In another page within Avalon, Melanie provides us with a short guide to Meditation which is, rather interestingly, only four steps long (including the step where you select a chant from the dropdown menu). Basically, you sit back, wait for the cheesy flash animation to load, and hey presto! You’re meditating!
It’s not readily apparent where Melanie is pulling this weirdness from (although this page provides a clue), so I guess I’ll be left forever wondering. Perhaps I shall write a letter to my inner self and ask him for his thoughts on the matter.
iRiver H320, pictures and stuff25 Oct 2004
What does it take to kill an iPod?
I think that’s the question on everybody’s mind these days, right up there with “Did Ashlee Simpson fuck up her SNL performance on purpose” and “Why do men have nipples?” The past two years have seen second-tier players (and indeed, who isn’t second-tier in an iPod World) one-upping each other on a monthly basis, fighting for the vaunted first runner-up position and a chance to maybe, just maybe, beat Apple at a game that it wrote the rules to.
Last September, iRiver unveiled its new flagship line, the H300 series, hoping to shift the five-way tug of war in their favor a little bit further …
And before I sound anymore like an editorial assistant from PCWorld (i.e., more than I already do), let me just say that I was literally hammering down my friendly neighborhood retailer’s door to make sure I was the first to get one.
I think what may have ultimately sold me was iRiver’s “Real Tech Geek Device” tagline, which seemed to be talking directly to me, for some reason. (It must be one of those “marketing” things, you know, like with research and surveys and stuff.) I wanted something that addressed my two basic concerns (disk space and battery life), and threw in as many cool extras as possible, which the H300 series seemed to have by the shitload.
The model I bought, the H320, sports a 20-gig hard drive (which explains the “20″ in its name, if only partially) and up to 16 hours of playback on a single charge. (I’ve only been able to get 12 hours, though, which is still fairly decent considering I’m the sort of guy who turns this thing on when I wake up, and then leaves it on until its batteries deflate.) Oh, and it has a 262,000-color screen too which is pretty charming considering it’s currently the only player in the world with one (as of 4:03 pm, 24 October 2004). It also comes with an inline remote, which is a pretty standard option for HDD players these days, and supports pretty much every music format that matters (MP3, WMA, OGG, ASF).
In terms of sound quality, the iRiver is top-notch. It comes with some fairly decent Sennheiser earbuds, which are more than enough for your average user and probably much, much better than the generic earbuds that most other players come packaged with (the iPod being the exception I suppose). I’ve always been more of a fan of the music itself than the technology that goes into its reproduction, so I don’t require high-end stuff like Sony Nudes or Grados (although if a kindly old sound enthusiast were to accidentally leave a pair in my gadget bag, well then, I’d just say I lost them).
The visibility on the 2-inch LCD is also pretty good. I have pretty weak eyes, but I can read the song titles comfortably at about 3 feet away. Just don’t expect to be able to keep this on top of your home stereo and be able to make out the letters from across the room.
Although I’m mostly satisfied with how it looks, I do wish there was a way to rearrange the info screen a little. The entire lower half of the display is taken up by the animating channel and volume bars, which seems like an awful waste of space when you consider that lengthy band names like “And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead” are squeezed in at the top half of the screen by truncating them at the 20th character. Oh, and while they’re at it, they might as well add a bit of customizability to their background graphics. That blue gradient is a bit too “Windows 95″ for my tastes. (OK, that’s a lie. Windows 95’s blue gradient started at #0000cc. This one is more of a #ccccff.)
On the “Cool Extras” side of things, we have the H320’s ability to act as a USB 1.1 host (allowing it to pull files directly from digital cameras, PDAs or other music players), an FM Radio (which you can even record in real-time), a built-in microphone (with voice-activated recording), line in/out ports, an external battery pack (more on this one later), an image/text viewer and two fistfuls of cable.
The external battery pack is a sincere but ultimately … well, crappy, attempt at extending the H320’s battery life without actually making its Lithium-Polymer battery removable (the way many other portables are doing). Since it requires 4 AA’s, it adds so much weight and bulk that the H320 doesn’t feel all that portable anymore. I’m actually unsure how you’re supposed to carry the player around with the battery pack attached, to be honest. It’s too big for your pocket and it doesn’t have a clip for your belt, so you’re basically stuck with keeping it in your bag (which is probably a good idea since there is some serious un-cool-ness to this battery pack that makes me want to hide it away from public view).
All of those other little nitpicks aside though, I think the main issue with the H320 is its usability. It’s sort of an interesting split between “easy as pie” and “Jesus, please help me,” and as most gadget buffs know, when you can’t understand how to make something work, Jesus usually doesn’t help you, and neither does the manual.
Good stuff first: Windows recognized it immediately as an external hard drive when I plugged it into my USB port, so I didn’t have to install any software. I just dragged my entire music folder onto its drive icon, and sat back. 12 gigs took a little less than an hour to copy, which was a lot shorter than I was expecting, but will only work if your computer has USB 2.0 ports. (At USB 1.0, it’d take … hell, I’m almost scared to guess here … maybe 6 hours?)
As soon as the files were loaded and the player itself had been adequately charged (full charge takes about 3 hours), playing music was as easy as pressing the PLAY button. The PREVIOUS and NEXT buttons function as you would expect them to, namely, pressing them loads the next track, and holding them will move the playhead forwards or backwards within the current track.
Well, that all seems easy enough. Now, how do I use the FM radio?
Unfortunately, the ease-of-use ends where the “Cool Extras” begin. I had to keep referring to the manual to figure out certain functions, like activating the aforementioned FM radio (hold the Record button while in Playback mode) or turning on the Shuffle mode (press the Record button several times to cycle through the different modes).
The center (literally) of the iRiver user-interface is the blue NAVI button, which has different functions depending on whether you press it or hold it, and your position within the menu-system. It’s actually similar to the Nokia’s Menu key on some of its phones. What confounded me about iRiver’s implementation was that apparently, some of the other buttons had this function-morphing mojo as well, but only during specific times.
For example, you can use the A->B button (and may I just say that iRiver could not have picked a more ambiguous button label if they had thrown darts at a wall of printed Linux source) to queue up the next song you want to listen to, but only during playback and only when you’re in the File Tree view. Otherwise, it functions as an Equalizer switch, unless, that is, you happen to be listening to the radio, in which case it will store the current frequency in memory. You can also use it to create a looping segment in the current song you’re listening to (if you wanted to hear a certain portion repeatedly), but it looked so complicated my eyes wouldn’t read it.
I guess if you take a step back and look at how the whole menu system is organized, you’ll see a certain logic to everything, but there are too many dead-ends and complete turnarounds to be very intuitive. I know that most companies these days encourage users to read the guides thoroughly before using their products, but should it really be this difficult to use a digital jukebox? Or its cool extras, for that matter?
I’ve never used an iPod, but I can’t imagine its learning curve being higher than the H320’s. On the other hand, after a few days (or in my case, weeks) of regular use, all learning curves tend to flatten themselves out pretty evenly, so I guess this’ll all be moot by Monday.
Some other minor quibbles, here and there:
For some reason, connecting the player to your computer stops playback. I’m not sure why, and I haven’t found a way around it as of yet. Are they worried that you might delete a file that was currently playing, and like, force a self-destruct sequence or something? Annoying.
This device is pretty heavy too, all things considered. It’s almost as heavy as my Nikon Coolpix 4300, which, being a camera, is totally unrelated to this review and totally irrelevant as a point of comparison. But, it’s pretty close weight-wise, and it’s not like I could say it was as heavy as my UPS. It will just barely fit in your pocket without being bothersome, and only if you’re wearing loose pants.
Also, after the 2000-song mark, the H320 becomes noticeably sluggish, taking almost a full minute before it’s ready to start playing music. The slowdown is actually related to the ID3 database that it has to read every time it starts up, so the unit comes with this feature turned off by default. If you’re not very persnickety about collating and organizing your MP3 collection, you will almost certainly need to have this database feature on, but I’ve found that having a Letter->Artist->Album folder hierarchy can replace the db in most cases. (I knew there was a reason why I hand-typed those 700 artist-name folders two months ago!)
To be fair, once the database had been properly loaded, response time was pretty snappy, whether I was pressing Next repeatedly while on Shuffle mode, or just holding down the Scroll button.
Overall, I’m very happy with the H320; I know I sound like I’m not, but I am. Honest. The one thing it needed to do — i.e., encourage my latent autism by letting me shut out the external world for 12 hours each day — it does very well, and ultimately, that’s what matters.
Although I admittedly have little experience with other players, I’d say that this device addresses all of my music needs pretty handily, and manages to throw in enough extras to warrant its higher price tag: US-based vendors have been pegging it somewhere between US$300 and US$350, although obviously, YMMV, here more than anywhere else. Other interesting non-iPod choices include Creative’s Zen Touch (the one with the touchpad instead of a click-wheel) and the tiny Rio Karma, although neither have color screens.
I’ve been using the player for about a week now, and I have yet to encounter any real screwups or bugs (I’m still using the factory-installed firmware, although a patch is already available at iRiver.com), and apart from the unnecessarily complex UI, I don’t have any major complaints.
Warning: Unsolicited Advice from Amateur Developer Ahead.
Now, if I was to fix their UI, I’d probably just add one or two buttons instead of forcing the menu-system to conform to the handful of buttons that are currently present. A dedicated hardware button for choosing between Music, Radio, Image or Text modes would be extremely helpful for example, not to mention go a long way toward making the device useable straight out of the box. I think that alone would have prevented a lot of my initial confusion, and may have even restored my faith in Jesus to boot.
The Store With No Name25 Oct 2004
One of the sites I’ve been working on over the past month has gone into its final testing stages, so I guess it’s safe to show this off. I’m actually kinda proud of this one, which is a real rarity these days.
Ayala Malls, some griping24 Oct 2004
A few months ago, I joined a pitch to redesign the Ayala Malls website, a hefty project that was supposed to keep me busy for about 10-12 weeks. The deal ultimately fell through, and I found out later that the gig was awarded to this small design studio I’d never heard of.
My pitch design looked liked this. After not having seen it for almost half a year, I’ll admit that it’s actually a bit over-the-top for a shopping portal.
Well, the new site was launched some time ago (although I only remembered to check today), and I have to say, that is the most godawful shade of red I’ve ever seen on a portal (and no, it ain’t web-safe either).
CSS is used inconsistently throughout the code too. Apart from the fact that they still use the positively archaic tag, the CSS file itself looks like it was written by a mindless automaton.
Other weirdness includes the misspelled “Neswletter” header (and check out the limp-dick copy on that page too), the disabled right-click (which, I suppose, they implemented to prevent you from copying their wonderful tool-icons), and the ridiculously-stretched logos on this page.
I could go on and on, but hey, I don’t want people to think I’m bitter or anything.
Sarah Michelle Gellar19 Oct 2004
A cute photo series from this month’s Esquire. You can view the other half of the pictures at highfiber’s gallery.
Sony Ericsson Phone Design Contest19 Oct 2004
Some fun consumer eye-candy; design samples from an amateur phone-design contest held in China. The one below is my favorite — you just gotta love that double-hinge design. (I’d probably not have picked yellow for the button highlights though.)
House of Flying Daggers17 Oct 2004
Last week’s movie night had me begging my friends to watch House of Flying Daggers, and I think we had pretty mixed reactions afterwards.
Zhang Yimou has an interesting approach to storytelling that will either thrill you or put you off entirely, and I’m afraid it really just comes down to personal taste. I personally thought it was wonderfully done, although I would probably have not spent so much time talking about the ensuing war during the first and second act and then dropping it entirely in the third.
In Hero, my favorite scene was the lake battle between Jet Li and Tony Leung, where they bounced off the water’s surface like bubbles. In House of Flying Daggers, there’s a thrilling chase scene where the actors shimmy up and down bamboo trees as if gravity only worked in the direction you happened to be facing.
It’s not all dancing in anti-gravity though: there are also two instances where Zhang Zi Yi and Takeshi Kaneshiro are standing completely motionless with their backs to the camera, and it’s easily the most emotional scene in the whole film.
Other times, the drama is mixed right in with the fighting, as in the climactic fight scene in the snow. Zhang Yimou explains that scene a bit in the House of Flying Daggers presskit:
The snow [in Ukraine] came very early this year – in October. It began to snow heavily when we were half way through a scene, and this worried me a great deal because if it snowed for much longer, all the leaves on the trees would be gone, and we would face huge problems with continuity. I had to make a decision, and after some thought I decided to shoot the scene in the snow. But because we had already begun shooting that scene, we had to make a lot of adjustments – to the script, the pace and so on. When I look at the way this sequence turned out, I feel enormously lucky. The snow created the perfect tone for the scene. It’s fate – someone up above decided to help me out.
I think the trick to enjoying this movie is to ask only the questions that have to do with how the characters feel for each other, because everything else has the same nonsensical, out-of-this-world feel of a fairytale. Zhang Yimou isn’t particularly interested in helping you suspend your disbelief either, so it’s really about understanding that it’s not supposed to make sense, and to enjoy the story for what it is.
If you can do that, you’re in for a hell of a ride.
Uma Thurman15 Oct 2004
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