Three eggs. ANY STYLE.

Friday, May 8, 2009
I love IHOP.

Once christened the International House of Pancakes, a change of branding and marketing in the early part of this decade revitalized the struggling restaurant chain and brought with it one of the most surprising turnarounds the restaurant industry has ever seen.

Gone are the various flags etched into the partitions between booths, the stoic serif font of the logotype. Replaced with a more cozy and modern interior look and a bulbous sans-serfif font: IHOP. One could almost forget what it originally stood for, though I won't.

(Here's the clip that inspired this post. Warning: Satire)

The famous blue roof is an icon; a lighthouse to the road-weary traveller looking for a place to eat where there's a carpet, soft lighting and a predictable atmosphere.

And then there is Denny's. A rancid red-on-yellow sign points the way, almost as if to say, "Look. You're not going to do better." The food at Denny's is mediocre, there's no doubt of that. It's something intangible though, a feeling I get more than any objective "score". The food is simply substance, necessary to go on living (though not a particularly pleasant life for a few hours afterwards), whereas at IHOP, the food is a meal to be shared and experienced.

When we were in high school, the localest Denny's for a time hosted most of our little get-togethers, being one of the few 24-hour places around. Which gave rise to our own personal slogan of "You don't go to Denny's. You end up there."

And it's true. I've never left my house in an earnest attempt to find a Denny's and eat there. It's simply a product of elimination. What's open near where we are?

And trust me. NEVER order the Moons Over My-Hammy.

Clearly Obsessed

At the risk of being typecast as some sort of vintage Macintosh nut, I couldn't help but find myself agog at the following piece of retro mac heaven (especially considering my previous loving tribute to the Mac SE/30).

So, without further ado, I present the completely transparent Mac SE:

So pretty.

Pseudonym: COMPLETELY transparent?? No.

With the right fabrication skills, you could have a carbon fiber mac. Now THAT'd be badass.

The Kindle Boondoggle

Thursday, May 7, 2009
Well, far be it for me to re-tread on ground covered by Pseudonym so recently, but I have an altogether different take on the Kindle phenomenon. I was an enthusiastic Kindle 1 user, getting mine several months before the Kindle 2 was announced. I thought I had finally found ebook nirvana. But I have since become a disillusioned and rather frustrated Kindle owner.

You see, over the years, I've dabbled with a truly ridiculous number of ebook reader-analogues, trying to find the ideal mix of convenience, portability and readability. My favorite devices, before the Kindle, was a Newton 2000, or a Sony Clie NX70. Both of them were small, had terribly long battery life, and had easy-to-use interfaces in either landscape or portrait mode. But they were imperfect. The two major shortcomings were the readability of the screens (low-contrast for the Newton, low-contrast and overbright for the Clie), and the lack of easy access to legitimate content.

I very quickly grew tired of Project Gutenberg public-domain etexts and promotional ebooks. I wanted all of the books that I could buy at my local bookstore, in ebook form, and I didn't want to have to delve into the morally, legally, and ethically dubious world of ebook piracy just to get books I'd be more than happy to pay a fair price for.

Fair price. That's the rub. The Kindle, at first, seemed like an ideal product: it solved all of the readability problems of other devices with its gorgeous eInk screen, and it finally made available a huge catalog of in-print books for fair prices. Let's be clear, here: ebooks are not physical books. They are un-resellable, they are limited to use by an eventually-obsolete device, and they are hampered with DRM. I don't mind any of that, as long as the price is commensurate.

So, when the Kindle store was first introduced, the prices were a breath of fresh air: finally some reality in ebook pricing. In-print hardbacks were never more than $10.00. Paperbacks were deeply discounted from list price (30 to 60 percent or so). But since I've bought my Kindle, I've been dismayed to see the price rise steadily. Current hardbacks probably average $16 to $21 dollars, often more than the price Amazon sells the physical copy for. Paperbacks, the majority of books I'm interested in buying, have seen an even more extreme and nonsensical increase in price: the Kindle price is almost always more than the physical list price. Let me repeat that: MORE than the list price.

I don't know who to blame. Equally vociferous commenters blame greedy book publishers or Amazon's unrealistic profit-sharing. I don't give a damn. Until Kindle ebook prices come down, way down, there is no way in hell I'm going to buy another Kindle. No matter how big the screen is.

Game. Set. Match.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009
We here at weaselsnake probably spend more time talking about our eBook devices; maybe more than we actually use them. And we use them a lot. Eldritch has a 1st Gen Kindle and I have 1st Gen Sony PRS-500, each has similar specs regarding weight, battery life, etc. We aren't fanboys necessarily - the differences between the two are minor in practice - Kindle has buying books, PRS has a wider range of non-DRM format support, etc. Whatever. Either of us would be happy with either.

When each new rev comes out, we discuss the relative merits and benefits of the rev and decide that the new features (new outer casing? new barely brighter screen? new smudgy, clunky touchscreen interface?) are not worth shelling out the extra several hundred dollars for an eBook Reader.

Until now.

Ok. You win. The screens on all the previous generations were the same size, about 6.5 inches diagonal. (Psst. They are all made by the same company...) This made reading PDFs near impossible, as the text couldn't reflow, the book-sized page would have to be shrunk down. Imagine reading a hardcover textbook in the size of a paperback. There were many efforts on the part of the eBook community to fix this, many many efforts, most pretty unsuccessful. And now obsolete.

Yeah, you can gripe about the cost. $200 was a lot to spend on my PRS, and I don't regret a single cent. It's easy to dither when you're saying "it's like a really expensive battery-powered book!" And you'd be right, to some degree. But really it's more like a really expensive battery-powered several hundred (or thousand on newer devices) books on which you can (killer feature for me) change the text size. Make it tiny, save on page turns, make it huge, and turn often from across the room.

Time to start saving them pennies. I don't plan on replacing the venerable PRS yet, it's size makes it ideal for portability, and it's sturdy as hell. It's the only piece of Sony hardware I've ever had that wasn't castrated by the software on it, and even though it can and has been improved on, it'll always hold a place in my heart.

(Going) Steady as She Goes

I love ephemeral films, those little slices of Americana that they used to play before movies and in classrooms back in the 40s and 50s.

While primarily they're recognized as a quick and almost obscenely easy (and hilarious) thing to mock, the glimpses they give into the lives and concerns of the times are fascinating to me. No other medium - books, radio, newspaper captures the overall tone of the times as well as these films. While these other mediums do provide factual information or were produced for entertainment purposes, these ephemeral films are more earnest in their approach, neither giving factual information nor entertainment (at least not intended) but providing what I can only label "cultural education", which was itself a highly recognizable product of the 40s and 50s.

Consider I Want To Be A Secretary, a film where the protagonist ("I'd like to drop physics - I don't really need it - for advanced stenography.") is shown various types of advanced clerical work, to show her the wide variety that she can pick from for her future career. The film explains though, that to get to the upper crust of clerical work, she'll need to have very specialized skills. These jobs aren't for just anybody. (These women have had two years of technical training after high school, and some can type 70 words a minute or more!)

We look back on a film like this and marvel at the sheer audacity of the premise and content, but within the context, it was probably received as intended - good advice for young unmarried women looking to get a clerical job. Keep in mind that this was before World War II, a period I consider to have more impact on the equality of women's work choices than the Womens Lib movement of the 60s and 70s.

Obviously the films aren't just about vocational matters. Many deal with health issues, such as posture, and the importance of good hygiene. Ones produced during WWII concerned themselves with the topic of sexually transmitted disease, one of the few times where the health of the populace was considered more important than keeping mum about the subject matter. For social health, films like Perversion for Profit produced in 1965 warn about the dangers of pornography, intimating that it for sure will spell disaster for all of civilization.

There were plenty of safety videos, pertaining to bicycle safety (Warning: REALLY scary monkeys), workplace safety, and more. These films are interesting for the value they purport to have for the common American. Consider a film beginning not with 20 minutes of previews and commercials (come ON!), but a film instructing you to look both ways before crossing the street. There would be riots in the aisles; for some reason we prefer the commercials.

Another thing that I have a difficult time wrapping my head around is the amount of films dedicated to the issue of Going Steady. Should you? When should you? Why would it be better not to? When is necking acceptable, and when. The films dance around the subject of physical intimacy (referring to it as 'petting' in a charming nostalgic sort of way), but promote the idea, a cultural staple for teens at the time, of dating in the more traditional sense: going on several dates a week with several different partners, until you narrow it down to just one. It is really head-scratching that this concept preceded the sexual revolution of the 60s, somehow contradictorily making it so such polyamory, even while simply dating, is somewhat frowned upon as cheating.

Give yourself an hour or two to watch some films that interest you if you're a fan of Americana. You can almost feel the repression coming at you in waves.

Bonus drinking game for teetotalers: drink every time you see a person of color!

Google Maps, Burakumin and the Shrinking Planet

Monday, May 4, 2009
At first, the AP article on Google Maps seemed like the garden-variety handwringing that happens whenever Google Maps rolls out street view photography in a new location (neighbors complain about invasion of privacy, etc). But it turns out, there was much more going on. From Old Japanese maps on Google Earth unveil secrets:

The maps date back to the country's feudal era, when shoguns ruled and a strict caste system was in place. At the bottom of the hierarchy were a class called the "burakumin," ethnically identical to other Japanese but forced to live in isolation because they did jobs associated with death, such as working with leather, butchering animals and digging graves...

But they still face prejudice, based almost entirely on where they live or their ancestors lived. Moving is little help, because employers or parents of potential spouses can hire agencies to check for buraku ancestry through Japan's elaborate family records, which can span back over a hundred years.

An employee at a large, well-known Japanese company, who works in personnel and has direct knowledge of its hiring practices, said the company actively screens out burakumin job seekers.

Emphasis mine. I won't pretend to know a lot about Japanese culture, but I was fascinated by this holdover from a rigidly-enforced caste system that I never knew existed in Japanese history. Reading more about cultural issues in modern-day Japan, I also learned that Japan, like the United States, has its own tortured past with indiginous peoples: the Ainu and the Ryukyuans.

It was likewise a surprise to me to find that Akira Kurosowa intended the main character of his crime thriller High and Low (Tengoku to jigoku) to be understood as a burakumin who had overcome discrimination to become a business executive.

The infinite varieties of the human condition never cease to amaze me. And as the Google incident shows, the world is getting smaller, and people need to learn a lot more about the world around them.

May 09

Come ON! Now I KNOW you're doing this on purpose.

Eldritch: Weaselsnake: the internet's premier source of traumatizing greyhound photography.

Pseudonym:Well, that baby ain't laughin'!.

Freeman's Mind

"Is that an Mp5? IT IS! Now I can solve up to 800 problems a minute!"

Many of you may know of Gordon Freeman, the silent protagonist of Half-Life. But what's he thinking when he's escaping the Black Mesa research facility?

Pretty much the same thing as you, as it turns out.

Old-School Mac Games: Uninvited

Unlike most people who play video games these days, I cut my teeth on early Macintosh games. Growing up, our first real computer we had around the house was a Mac SE (well, the real first one was a Trash 80, but that's a whole different story).

Though it was a tiny market, early Macs had a surprising amount of quality game software. One of my favorites was the MacVenture series of point-and-click adventure games. First released in 1985, the four MacVenture games can lay claim to being the very first point-and-click adventure games.

Taking advantage of the high-resolution graphics and the standard Mac window interface, the MacVenture games let a player simply drag items from the first-person screen int the inventory, or onto another item. The writing was top-notch, frequently witty, and in many of the games, downright unsettling.

While the series began with Deja Vu, my fondest memories of the MacVenture series was Uninvited, an atmospheric haunted house story, where the protagonist awakes to a crashed car and a missing little brother, and must venture into a creepy old mansion to rescue him.

While the games were made for the Mac originally, their popularity led to them being ported to other systems. The DOS and Amiga versions made the transition relatively unscathed, but the NES ports were savagely cut down, with huge portions of the gameworld excised, gameplay simplified, and most horrifyingly, most of the text was gutted and replaced with simple, short, declarative sentences. Unfortunately, the popularity of the NES compared to early-era Macs has meant that most of the people who know of Deja Vu, Uninvited, or Shadowgate, are only familiar with the simplified, zombie versions released for the NES.

So if you're hungering for a nostalgic trip to the early days of adventure gaming, grab an early Mac emulator for current-vintage Macs, or for other operating systems, including Windows and Linux, and dig up a copy of Uninvited (or Deja Vu or Shadowgate), and revel in the joys of really old-school adventure gaming.

Upon Reflection...

Sunday, May 3, 2009
Thanks to Bryan Lunduke's talk at LinuxFest Northwest, I quickly realized why we're stuck using Wine and old versions of Photoshop if we want to get any work done (No. The Gimp doesn't count.) Despite all the clamoring for native ports, Adobe still doesn't seem interested...