Archive for August 2004

Introducing sIFR: The Healthy Alternative to Browser Text

UPDATE: Version 2.0 is now available. See article here.

It’s been well over ten years now since the debut of the graphical web browser and we still don’t have an easy way to deliver rich typography using HTML/CSS. With CSS we can size, style, color, kern, show, and hide our text but we can’t deliver something classical typesetters have delivered since at least the 15th century: custom typography. Until now. In concert with Shaun Inman and Tomas Jogin, I am releasing into the public domain a scalable, multiline, Flash 6 compatible version of IFR to help you reduce the amount of browser text in your life and free the world from the scourge of Arial.

An updated example of sIFR (now at version 2.0) is available here.
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Another Reason to Drop IE

I was at a bar this weekend telling a couple of friends how I’ve reflexively stopped using the grammatical device “i.e.” lately because of the industry I’m in. Whenever I have the urge to use it in a sentence, I’ve begun using “e.g.” instead. It’s really quite silly but I just can’t help it.

This sparked a bit of a dorky discussion (see: chick repellant) about what the two abbreviations really mean. “i.e.” seems the most common, but I’ve always assumed they were just two interchangeable ways to say “for example”. Turns out they aren’t, and friend #1 lost twenty bucks to friend #2 because of it.

According to the dictionary, “i.e.” means “that is to say” while “e.g.” means “for example”. So the difference would be as such:

“There are many ways to lose a race (i.e. there are a lot of obstacles to winning).”

“There are many ways to lose a race (e.g. disqualification, injury, sickness).”

So it turns out that by reducing my use of I.E., I am actually a more grammatically correct person now.

E.G. is the new I.E.

Improve the Weather with PHP

Ever wanted to turn a cloudy day into a sunny one? Well now you can, with the magic of PHP. If you use the Live Theme here at Mike Industries, you may have noticed that the weather conditions displayed in the header have improved markedly over the last couple of weeks. We’ve gone from a summer of “partly cloudy” and “fair” days to “sunny”, “beautiful”, and “spectacular” days. Here’s the lowdown on the PHP-induced warming trend:

When I first launched the Live Theme, it was merely a live shot of Puget Sound with no weather conditions readout. But then I saw Michael Simmons’ handy dandy weather readout and got jealous enough to set up a weather readout of my own (full instructions will follow later in this article). Problem was, I didn’t like what I was seeing on the weather report. We are in the middle of our third spectacularly sunny Seattle summer in a row and my weather readout still said things like “Partly Cloudy”.

Then one day a couple of weeks ago, something made me snap. I looked out the window of my office at the 360 degree view, and I saw nothing but blue sky and one tiny speck of a cloud in the distance. I then went to the web and saw that Mike Industries was reporting “Partly Cloudy and 80 degrees”. It was clear at this point that something had to be done.
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Jets, Hydroplanes, and Beer

The first weekend of August is a great time to come to Seattle. Not only is it sunny and beautiful, but the city also plays host to Seafair Weekend; an annual outdoor festival featuring two days of airshows by the Blue Angels, unlimited hydroplane races, and a big old floating boat party on Lake Washington. This year’s waterborne festivities resembled New Orleans during Mardi Gras more than any other year I can remember. Think beads. Lots of beads. I didn’t see one indecent exposure ticket getting written though, so perhaps Seattle cops have lightened up a little.

Anyway, I was planning on having a bunch of photos to post, but unfortunately I forgot to charge the Optio S and it ran out of batteries right after the Blue Angels show was over. Below are ten photos from the airshow:

Apple Flunks First Grade Math

Something happened today which shook the very foundations of what I’ve always believed about computers. See, maybe this was just a crazy notion, but I was always under the impression that if there was ONE thing computers did well, it was math. Simple math, algebra, geometry, calculus… it didn’t matter. Computers have always been equation solving machines. Or so I thought.

As it so happened, I was catching up on three months of procrastinated Quicken transactions and I had a slight discrepancy in my numbers. I typed in Command-Space “cal” to launch the built-in Apple calculator via LaunchBar in order to check my figures. Here is the equation I typed in:

9533.24-215.10

… and here is the garbage Apple babbled back at me: 9318.139999999999

What? How is that possible? I’m subtracting two decimal numbers and the result is a repeating decimal? Thinking something was wrong, I began experimenting by simplifying the equation:

9533.24-.1

Result: 9533.139999999999

Convinced I had the calculator in some whacked-out Reverse Polish mode or something, I began checking the menus. The only relevant menu item was a setting called “Precision” which went from 0 to 16 and was defaulted at 12. How about Precision “Infinity”? I want my damned calculator to be precise enough to subtract simple decimals and apparently 12 isn’t enough to do this. As it turns out, “Precision” is a bit of a misnomer for this setting because it just represents how many decimals you want to see before the number gets rounded. Anyway, that still doesn’t explain why an equation which needs no rounding to begin with is giving me a repeating decimal.

Upon more experimentation, I discovered the following:

  1. The error doesn’t seem occur on numbers less than 1000.
  2. The error only occurs on some numbers greater than 1000.
  3. The error doesn’t seem to occur on addition, but only subtraction.
  4. The principal software engineer at my company couldn’t tell me how this was even possible.

And so there you have it… what was once simple is now apparently difficult again, thanks to the otherwise brilliant piece of engineering that is OS X Panther. I’m sure the explanation has something to do with floating-point calculations, whatever the hell those are, but that doesn’t make this bug the least bit more acceptable. My worst nightmare is that the repeating decimal answer actually is the correct answer from a computing standpoint but most computers are smart enough to round it for us, knowing what we really want. That would really alter my perceptions of low-level computing quite a bit.

On the bright side, we finally found something PCs are better than Macs at.

Subtraction.

Beautification Revisited

Beauty comes in many forms. For normal people, maybe it’s Ashley Judd in a bedsheet on a Sunday morning. For web dorks, however, it can be something as mundane as extensionless URLs or intelligent error pages. Sad as that may be, most of us don’t have the Ashley Judd option available anyway, so we shouldn’t feel too bad about deifying code.

Last week’s post on dirified URLs was supposed to bring about some sort of consensus opinion on smart URL-naming conventions. Thanks to everyone who posted their very helpful and enlightening comments, but in the end, we only discovered more options and came to no mutual conclusions. It appears that people just look for different things in their URLs and what you do with yours is up to you.

Having said that, I have completely redone my URL structure and 404 strategy at Mike Industries based on the comments received and some additional research.

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Shared
Why I Just Asked My Students To Put Their Laptops Away:

A great essay about how toxic everyday distractions can be.

Humanity's deep future:

A group of researchers at the Future of Humanity Institute talk about where our race may be going and how artificial intelligence could save or kill us all.

Steve Jobs speaks about the future at the International Design Conference in 1983:

31 years later, it’s safe to say this is one of the most prescient speeches about technology ever delivered. Jobs covers wireless networking, tablets, Google StreetView, Siri, and the App Store (among other things) many years before their proliferation. A fantastic listen.

How to travel around the world for a year:

Great advice for when you finally find the time.

LiveSurface:

A fantastic app for prototyping your design work onto real world objects like billboards, book covers, and coffee cups. This seems like just as great of a tool for people learning design as it does for experts.

50 problems in 50 days:

One man’s attempt to solve 50 problems in 50 days using only great design. Some good startup ideas in here…

How to Do Philosophy:

If you’ve ever suspected that most classical philosophy is a colossal waste of time, Paul Graham tells you why you’re probably right.

TIME: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us:

Stephen Brill follows the money to uncover the pinnacle of corruption that is the U.S. Health Care system. A must-read article if there ever was one.

DIY Dot Org:

A beautifully designed site full of fun and challenging DIY projects. I could spend months on here.

The Steve Jobs Video Archive:

A collection of over 250 Steve Jobs videos in biographical order

Self-portraits from an artist under the influence of 48 different psychoactive drug combos.

Water Wigs are pretty amazing.

David Pogue proposes to his girlfriend by creating a fake movie trailer about them and then getting a theater to play it before a real movie. Beautiful and totally awesome.

Jonah Peretti's letter to BuzzFeed’s employees:

If you’re wondering what a excellent blueprint for a modern media company looks like, look no further than Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti’s latest email to his employees. In it, Peretti explains a lot of his company’s virtues, the most important being a relentless focus on always providing what’s best for the user. Vox Media (operators of The Verge) is the only other company I can think of which approaches this level of reform and execution.

The Covers Project:

I love this so much: a cross-referenceable database of cover songs, searchable by song or artist. Slowed down, acoustic covers — no matter the song — are so enjoyable to me that I wish it was a requirement to play one at every show. If you like them as much as I do, make sure to check out M. Ward’s Let’s Dance or Sun Kil Moon’s entire album of Modest Mouse covers.