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Saturday, 07/26/03

I would like to know, please, why HBO's ads for Minority Report are letterboxed, but the movie itself is not. 08:40PM «

Wednesday, 07/23/03

Many stories today breathlessly report that AOL lost hundreds of thousands of subscribers this last quarter. Here's one from the Washington Post, which I mention for the two interesting facts withheld until the last two paragraphs.

First, though 846,000 subscribers ditched AOL in the last quarter, the company has "25 to 26 million", which puts the subscriber loss at well below two standard deviations (okay, I'm guessing at the distribution, sue me). Call me when you have some news, like the second novel fact that the company claims 45 percent of the losses come from "intentionally pruning unprofitable customers." I'd like to see one of those 380,700 letters the company presumably sent out, because I'm curious about the language used to part ways with an unprofitable customer.

Speaking of language, AOL may have given us a valuable new gift in the intentional prune. I'm sure you can think of a million wonderful uses for this swell neologism, which I'm not sure is euphemistic or not. What happened to those eggs that were in the refrigerator? They were three weeks old, I intentionally pruned them. I'll bet you find yourself using this fine new phrase by lunchtime tomorrow. 09:13PM «

Tuesday, 07/22/03

I bought a Powerbook recently. More on that later.

Today I finally found a local coffee shop combining adequate air conditioning and a wireless network, the latter being surprisingly elusive on hidebound Queen Anne. So I sit down with my iced tea and am merrily plunging ahead with Scrapoplexy when a young woman with impossibly purple hair sits down at the next table over - it wasn't me, it was the power outlet - and turns out to be a part-time photographer for Suicide Girls. She spends the next couple of hours parked behind her powerbook (bigger than mine) tinkering in Photoshop with a recent shoot and discussing the particulars with her fan, the barista.

It was moderately distracting, but what was I going to do, move? 09:25PM «

Friday, 07/18/03

Neal Stephenson has a new book coming out in couple of months. Leading up to this by-definition-exciting event, there's a bootleg of his recent USENIX keynote making the rounds, in which he magically reconciles a lot of conflicting yet well-established dogma about the strategies by which a tiny number of people manufacture compositional works with a keyboard, and why the strategies used by successful practitioners do not necessarily scale to a wider population.

This led me to wondering if Stephenson had updated his charmingly irascible main page in the last year or so, and sure enough, somewhere along the line he added a link to a still more charmingly irascible Atlantic Monthly essay by Jonathan Rausch: Caring for Your Introvert.

After reading it, I first thought I wanted a T-shirt that says, "I'm OK, you're OK -- in small doses." I quickly realized I'd have to wear it in public, where it would either have no effect or spark discussion, neither of which would serve me particularly well. 09:04PM «

Though service had never been stellar, in the last couple of weeks our cable signal deteriorated to the point that the cable modem would lose block sync when it shared the line with the TV. Several AT&T visits over the last few months led to much replacing of coax cables in my apartment, but with no substantial improvements as service continued to degrade. I decided to give Comcast a shot before I chucked it in for DSL and satellite.

The Comcast repair person, because she bothered to check, cut off no fewer than three cheap Radio Shack splitters on the cable before it got to my unit. Now there's no fuzziness on local channels, so for the first time in this apartment I get the Newshour without audio static. Cable internet hasn't dropped an SSH connection since she left.

Take that, nitwit neighbor fratboys. The lesson, I think, is that you're less likely to be caught hijacking cable service using high-quality parts. 12:18PM «

I think it's bloody great that Hunter Thompson and Nelson Mandela share a birthday today. I think they should have a shared party, like I did with Mason Barney when I was about six, which I believe resulted in the destruction of a Chinese rug.

I also share birthdays with Benicio Del Toro and Nicolas Copernicus. Today, however, is not our birthday. 10:26AM «

Tuesday, 07/15/03

Apple's time in the CPU wilderness, compelled to compete on terms other than raw clock speed, may be responsible for inculcating a finer appreciation of computer displays. Except for cost-conscious educational markets, the company has shunned CRTs in favor of flat-panel monitors, and they've done more than any desktop boxmaker to push LCD adoption up and prices down.

I think we're close to the point where a lot of users would gladly trade a gigahertz off their clock speed for a giant, flicker-free canvas. Sure, it'd mean a little extra time spent sitting at the computer, but factor in the reduced need to swap back and forth between competing windows, and as an added bonus, at the end of the day there's less of a compulsion to claw one's eyes out.

A conversation with Mr. Gruber last week found me evaluating the pricing on the forthcoming $3,000 dual G5 in context of Apple's current round of displays. Off the render farm, I have a bit of a hard time envisioning the user who would necessarily be better served spending $1,000 on the additional 2.4 GHz offered over the low-end, single processor 1.6 GHz G5, compared to the perfectly lovely 17\" display at $700, or to the shockingly beautiful 20\" at $1300. And that conclusion leads to a curious pricing cul-de-sac.

The cost of building a big beautiful LCD screen rises faster than the size of the display, so it's no surprise that the 23\" high-end display costs considerably more than the 20\". However, every recent Apple desktop machine has shipped with a video card that can run two displays at once. The company also sells a $99 adaptor allowing their video cards to simultaneously drive a second Apple flat-panel display.

In light of this, I was startled to notice that the 23\" costs exactly as much as the 20\" and the 17\" put together, while the combined area of the two smaller displays offers as much of a bump over the 23\" as the 23\" offers over the 20\". Check out the chart:

Size Resolution Pixels % of prev Price % of prev
17\" 1280x1024 1310720 $699
20\" 1680x1050 1764000 134.58% $1,299 185.84%
23\" 1920x1200 2304000 130.61% $1,999 153.89%
17\"+20\" 3074720 133.45% $2,097 104.90%

The screen size jumps by about a third with each upgrade. The cost, meanwhile, jumps first by $600, then by $700 when upgrading from one Apple display to the next. But the cost of the final ~30% leap in screen space, using both the 17\" and the 20\", is just the $99 adaptor. Assuming most flat-panel buyers will use them with desktops and not laptops (which can't drive two at once), and excluding a few video geeks, who'd be fool enough to buy the 23\"?

The same process repeats itself on a slightly more budget-conscious scale with a pair of 17\" displays, which for an extra $200 clobber the value of a single 20\" (and arguably even the 23\", at least in price-per-pixel). Sorted by cost:

Size Resolution Pixels % of prev Price % of prev
17\" 1280x1024 1310720 $699
20\" 1680x1050 1764000 134.58% $1,299 185.84%
17\"+17\" 2x1280x1024 2621440 148.61% $1,497 115.24%
23\" 1920x1200 2304000 87.89% $1,999 133.53%
17\"+20\" 3074720 133.45% $2,097 104.90%

I've heard a rumor that Apple's shaking up its display line, possibly as soon as today's conference-formerly-known-as-Macworld-New-York, but barring a major upset, the increased costs of building the largest commercially available LCDs may keep this pricing phenomenon in business for a while yet. 12:00AM «

Sunday, 07/13/03

Jen's job at the Seattle Symphony means a windfall of free tickets to various Benaroya events as long as she wants to put up with phone sales (though a congenial environment, as far as phone sales goes). The season just ended for the year, with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the taciturn Assad Brothers.

I re-learned that the violin is not the least bit hateful in the right hands, and that Charlie Chaplin composed a number of songs whose provenance I had never considered (include "Smile", which I'd only heard performed by Lyle Lovett). A fine Seattle night out, followed on a whim by the monstrous, overpowering Two Dagos Caesar salad on the walk home. 03:34PM «

Thursday, 07/10/03

It's been a nutty couple of weeks: hardware failures, software failures, financial failures, punishing heat, and cat vomit. I've been trying to scrape together some time to puzzle out Webkit and get a release of Scrapoplexy out the door. So after neglecting my poor readers for all this time, now that I've got a new computer and a spare moment, what am I commending to your attention? Strom Thurmond's hair.

The Newshour's coverage of Thurmond's death (it was in the intro, or I'd link it) contained footage of his vituperative televised announcement that the Democratic Party no longer made him feel welcome:

The Democratic Party has forsaken the people, to become the party of minority groups, power-hungry union leaders, political vultures, and big-businessmen looking for government contracts and favors.

Before you injure yourself attempting to wrap your head around that last bit,, let me give you a less vexing quandary on which to focus: in this clip, in 1964, Strom Thurmond is stone bald. How'd that happen? He had lustrous red locks until the day he died. I wonder what year he got them. 05:34PM «

Today I learned that the grocery store closest to my house contains more food at 8AM than at any other time of day. I didn't know it could fit so much food. Food is stacked on top of itself in quasi-decorative arrangements. By the time I get there, usually into the evening, the store looks quite depleted and sad, which I thought was just the natural order of things.

I need to have a chat with their produce manager about their bloody spritzing machine. It's like leaving the poor vegetables under a hose. I buy lettuce and an ounce of dirty water collects at the bottom of the bag. 04:59PM «

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