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Exit ArchiveArchive for April, 2008

My boss walked into my office today, saying, “I have a surprise for you!” “Are you being facetious?” I asked. “Maybe.”

He handed me this:

I think my reaction surprised him. “Oh, wow! This was my favorite mouse ever!” “Really?” I was not being facetious.

This, friends, is the Apple Desktop Bus Mouse II. According to Mactracker—an awesome, comprehensive app that gives info on every Apple product ever made—this mouse was included on all Macs from 1993 to 1998. It was only the third mouse design since the Mac’s introduction in 1984. My boss found this one locked in a cabinet in some conference room. It cleaned up really nice, and I plan to keep it.

I began using Macs when they showed up in my junior high school, though it took a long time for me to have one of my very own. Macs were too expensive, so my folks bought a IIe while I was in high school. (I first used a IIe and learned Apple Basic when I was in 4th grade.) I used my Apple IIe to write all my papers in college, but I loved every moment using the Macs at school to create flyers or newsletters or graphics.

I got my very own Mac, an LC III, in 1993. It had the new Apple Mouse II. When I started doing scientific illustration and page layout for books at Birkhäuser, the LC III was quickly replaced with a faster mac, a Quadra 610, that could better handle Illustrator and Aldus PageMaker. (Here’s one of the books I typeset. For some reason, I thought I had put my name on the copyright page. I usually did. Anyway, I want to go on record saying that nowadays, I would never stretch a font like I did in those black boxes!)

I did not upgrade my Mac until 1999, when I got a blue and white G3. I had already been living in L.A. and working for Disney for five years. I got the G3 literally weeks before the brand new G4 towers came out. It was my first introduction to immediate obsolescence.

I got my G3 less than a year after Apple had introduced the bondi blue iMac, the machine that began the rebirth of Apple and the Mac. Perhaps the most maligned thing about the new iMac was the mouse: it was round, which meant you could never tell, by feel alone, if you were holding it upright or not. My G3 came with one of these horrible mice, but I did not mind, because the machine still had an ADB port, which meant I could use my old Apple Mouse II. (I think this was the last Mac to have an ADB port. It was the first pro-level Mac to have USB.)

When I got my 12″ PowerBook in 2003, I could no longer use my Apple Mouse II. I still have not found a mouse I love as much.

The Apple Mouse II was perfect. That seems like a silly thing to say, because it had only one button, used a physical roller ball, and had no scroll wheel or scroll ball. But I consider it perfect anyway.

The mouse was low profile, which meant it sat in the curve of my hand without me having to bend my wrist backward to accommodate its bulk. The button end of the mouse was very shallow, down close to the desk surface, so I never had to strain my fingers up to rest on the button. My hand could relax comfortably. Most mice, especially today, have unnecessary bulk. They force the hand to arch up to unnatural heights, and the buttons are far off the desk, which pushes the fingers higher than is normal. The Apple Mouse II was shaped so that you could plonk your hand down, relaxed, on the desk, and the mouse would just happen to be there, in the cavity, ready to go.

The button had perfect tactility, which meant you could rest your finger(s) on the button comfortably without the button accidentally clicking. It also clicked at just the right pressure, so I never had to strain my fingers to press down. If a button clicks too easily, finger muscles get strained as you hold them aloft, trying not to click. When a button mechanism is too strong, the muscles have to strain harder to click.

The single button that covered the entire front of the mouse meant I could relax my hand in a natural position, even to the very right edge of the mouse, and still move and click with ease. A two-button mouse where the left button is the default button forces your wrist to rotate farther left and your index finger to angle more than is natural, then hold the pose the entire time you use the mouse. Most mice are designed with the buttons inset from the sides of the mouse, so even if you can rest your hand at the very edge, you have to move your finger to click. On the Apple II Mouse, you could just click any part of the front, and you were okay.

All these tiny little alterations, muscle movements, and position-holdings add up over the hours, and, in my experience, at the end of a long mousing day, they hurt. My right hand is sore every day using “better” mice. For sure, hands of different sizes and shapes may require different shapes of mice. A large hand still rests its fingers at the surface of a desk, so the low mouse button works well there. Perhaps stronger fingers would need stronger button clicking, and a wider hand a wider mouse to more comfortably grip, but overall, I posit that the Apple Mouse II was a perfect, average shape.

My current favorite mouse is the Wireless Mighty Mouse. Yes, also by Apple. I have used a number of other brands of mice, and none of them works as well (though the Logitech MX 300, now impossible to find, was pretty decent). With the Mighty Mouse, I get back the low profile and the low, borderless button. I swap my left and right clicking, so the right side of the mouse is my “left” click. This way, I only have to strain my hand or fingers occasionally to execute a “right” click. My hand can rest as it did using an Apple Mouse II. (I tried swapping button mapping on other mice, but for some reason, it didn’t work so well, mostly because the unclickable side border made it pointless.)

The down side of the Mighty Mouse is that I have to be very careful, and therefore strain my hand, to do a “click and pick up the mouse to move it before you unclick” maneuver. This is easy on most mice, but because the whole top of the Mighty Mouse is mostly one piece, the only place to grab and hold is the side-click buttons. I have to move my thumb up to the left side click button (because it does not naturally rest there), then sort of do a squeeze–hold while I click the main button, then do a cumbersome lift… Do you know how many times I accidentally squeeze too hard and bring up Exposé? And then suddenly I’m stuck, hand aloft, mid-click, with all my windows shrunken, and everything has to come to a halt while I repair the mess.

Another issue is the touch-sensitive button. I love the idea in theory, but you have to lift your fingers off the “left” click “button” to make the “right” click “button” work properly. If the mouse senses a touch on both sides, it does not execute a “right” click. This strain does get to my hand by the end of the day.

I could get into my issues with tracking sensitivity, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that the Apple mice have the best tracking algorithmicity thingy I’ve used. Other mice are too sensitive and don’t get the acceleration right.

One could say that I simply like the Apple Mouse II because that’s what I got used to using. It seems a fair argument, but it doesn’t work here because I can just lay my hand down on my desk, let it relax, and see how it comes to rest. The Apple Mouse II fit right into that relaxed posture. I do not imagine other people’s hands lie in completely different ways than mine, all twisted to the left with fingers naturally hovering in the air and wrists bent backwards. Maybe I’m ignorant, or a fool. Or maybe it’s approaching 8:00 on a Friday night, and I’m here in my office writing a blog post about mice.

I have spent a lot of time at work testing mice, trying to find decent ones that haven’t been bastardized by forced progress and redesigned for redesign’s sake. It’s a constant battle. So seeing an old friend walk in the door was a great surprise and, perhaps pathetically, a happy one.

I really don’t ever watch TV any more. So it seems I’m late to the game on these great Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups “Perfect” ads. I love them (except the out-of-place Whipps one). They play like animated, snarky greeting cards. Best of all, they are deceptively simple. They look like, “Hey, I could make those!” but really, a lot of work and talent went into the production.

Sort of like something else I know.

See the Reese’s ads here. It’s a dumb-ass Flash interface; currently, the ads play automagically. If they don’t play automagically when you visit, click the TV Commercials box. If you’re reading this in 2009 or 2010 or 2416, the site may have changed, and I’m sorry you won’t be able to see them.

No, that is not me making fun of Japanese. On the contrary! It’s… well, not on the contrary. I’m not even sure why I used that phrase. I just know I’m not making fun of the Japanese language or people. I wear a Chococat bracelet, for God’s sake!

All I want to say is that there’s a lot of talk going on about the fonts Obama and Clinton and McCain are using in their political campaigns. I don’t have the energy to post all the links here (see previous post regarding not getting things done), mostly because there are so very many. But here’s the one that got me started on this post in the first place (via Daring Fireball, of course).

What I thought might be both fun and helpful was posting snapshots of the three main candidates’ websites here for easy comparison. So I did. This is what their homepages look like today. Click on any of the images to see them full-size. (They are large PNGs, so they may load slowly.)

Let’s start with McCain.

John McCain\'s Website on April 22, 2008

Boy, that’s a fun site! All the wonderful colors! The cheer! The optimism! The Optima! (And the Gill Sans and the Myriad and the Futura and the Trajan and… ACK!) If John McCain were an investment firm, this would be a great website design. Or, perhaps, a great start to a website design.

How does Hillary’s look?

Hillary Clinton\'s Website on April 22, 2008

Hmm. How… cute. Is she running for district council? And I hear she just recently put a new font on her site. Is that… Gotham? Copycat! Charlatan! Lemming! Oh, wait, it’s Avenir? Well, then, she’s definitely not copying what’s-his-face. The guy with the funny name. What is it again?

Barack Obama\'s Website on April 22, 2008

Ah, yes, that’s right. Obama. Well, now, this is a site! Look at the airiness! The beauty! The hope! The change! The fonts! Gotham! And I can not for the life of me find the name of the serif and script fonts, but they are fantastic. Look how well the script and Gotham work together! Now if only HTML 5 were in effect, we wouldn’t have to put up with Helvetica and Georgia in the text boxes.

Most pundits have agreed that Obama’s branding team knows what it’s doing. I have to agree. That is one professional, good-looking, and effective site. It’s yummy. I’ll take a double scoop in a waffle cone, please.


Ever wonder how so much time gets wasted while you’re supposed to be getting work done? Chuck (the NYC Chuck, not the O’Donnell Chuck) said this today:

Well, you’d be surprised at how much time is consumed by attempting to get anything done. (1) You have to find within yourself the willpower to do it; (2) you have to convince your body to do what you have willed in your head to do; (3) once you’ve considered and accepted the inevitable (that you will actually have to do something), you reconsider in hopes that someone else will come and do it for you; (4) a gnat falls in your morning coffee/tea/O.J. and then you gotta go fish it out; (5) well, with all that excitement you gotta tell someone, so you call that girl from high school you haven’t seen in ages to tell them about the gnat in your A.M. beverage…

Really, with all that goes on, I’m surprised any of us get anything accomplished.

This is excellent analysis.

Back long ago, when my Apple IIe was brand new, I spent hours playing the text-based adventure game version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It was a damn frustrating game, but funny, being infused as it was with Douglas Adamsian humo(u)r.

It turns out there had been a sequel planned, which comes as no surprise; anyone who was a fan of the radio show, the TV series, and the books knew there was much more to the story.

Well, it turns out this guy named Andy Baio has gotten his hands on a backup of the shared network drive from Infocom, the company that produced the Hitchhiker’s game. (Infocom was more known for the Zork games, none of which I ever played. Well, to completion, anyways.) Andy has posted some emails about, memos regarding, and even a playable version of the unfinished sequel!

I am still making my way through the post’s comments, which are almost as fascinating as the story itself. (UPDATE: Keep reading them… the Bywater spat is fascinating!) But I’m taking a break to post this so my bucketload of readers can go enjoy the posting right this very second. Go! Read! Geek out!

Via Daring Fireball

We have decided to post regularly on the Life from the Inside blog, so that there is something for people to actually read when they go there. I have put up my first post today, and for those of you who may not know me so well, you may want to read it. You can see the original posting here, but I have also reproduced it below for those of you who, in addition to not knowing me so well, are also incredibly lazy.

* * * * * *

Hello. Steve here. As the newest but oldest producer on the show, I know I am a bit of an unknown quantity. To quell any rumblings regarding my qualification to produce high-quality, hilarious episodes of Life from the Inside, I have decided that my first weekly post to the LFTI blog will be an enlightening, though drastic truncation, of my curriculum vitae. A curriculum vitae, or “CV” for short, is actually a résumé, but fancy people, like me, prefer to call it a CV so that I may claim to be fancy people.

1969: Born in a small town in central Colorado to a set of six socially conservative parents.

1970: Begin preschool early to get a jump on my studies.

1982: Make my first home movie with my friend Sven. The 8mm black-and-white silent film is a 46-minute staging of the epic poem, “Hortense and the Crusted Tide,” by Montgomery Woolworth Sears (1746-). Ran camera and played Mr. Sir Trundle, the Untoward Ecclesiastic.

1984: Miss the Macintosh ad during the Super Bowl. Don’t actually see it until 1988.

1987: Graduate Magnum cum Magma from Arvada Northwest Regional Preparatory School and Ersatz Military Academy with a pre-degree in Film Emulsion Chemistry and Elastodynamic Theory.

1988: Finish a year at Stanford, not realizing they had not accepted me in the first place. My brother Milton had “misplaced” the rejection letter as some kind of prank. Dumbshit.

1990: Create Tilted Equator Productions at Boston Collegiate University with four colleagues. Make six short films and two features during our first semester. One of these features, The Weeping Game, goes on to win accolades worldwide for its emotional portrayal of a woman whose tear ducts are sealed by a Lasik accident and who is therefore unable to cry for her dying sister, thus leading to the downfall of the Sino-Prussian Empire.

1991: Graduate from BCU with Super Über Magnum cum Magnanimous honors. Give all proceeds to the Hurry Up and Make a Wish Already, Will You? You Haven’t Got Much Time! Foundation.

1993: With leftover chums from Tilted Equator, shoot the first-ever 34-part online independent mini-series, An Oratory for All Humanity. Transfered from U-matic to ASCII animation using a proprietary technique I invented on weekends during college, Oratory was meant for distribution on the soon-to-launch Prodigy dial-up service. The series never saw the light of day, however, and even now remains a subject I’d rather not discuss, much less bring up in a CV such as this.

1994: Move to Los Angeles. Learn there is indeed such a thing as bumper-to-bumper traffic at 10:30pm.

2006: Lose all records and files from 1994–2006 in a mutant silverfish infestation. Forgot everything I may have done during those years.

2007: Begin work on Life from the Inside.

2008: Complete my first official posting for the LFTI blog.

I hope this modest listing helps me to earn your trust and assures you that the future of Life from the Inside is in good feet. Hands! Oops. Crap.

Sad as I am to have only gotten 30 out of 34, I still had a great time playing The Rather Difficult Font Game. Let me know how you do!

Via Daring Fireball

I was possessed last night, around midnight, to pull out the collection of letters, faxes, and pictures I have from my time with Byron. I have kept them all together, in a neat stack, in the back of one of my closets. On top of this stack has always sat a little stuffed bear, wearing a sweater knitted with a British flag.

I was looking for one thing in particular, but once I had pulled out the stack, I was sad to see that the silverfish have been at it. Silverfish eat paper, I was told by the last exterminator who’d been to my place to spray, uselessly, for the buggers. The envelopes and papers were covered with silverfish droppings, and I knew I had to go through and try to shake out any insects and clear the dropping off the papers. I was hoping the bugs hadn’t eaten away too much of this history.

As I went through, I opened every envelope, reading some of what was inside. I really wanted to sit and read every single word, but that would have taken hours. Mr. Fear and I were wordy in our missives.

One of the first letters I skimmed through was his last letter to me, after we broke up, over the phone, 5,500 miles apart. I had told him I could not talk to him afterward, that I had to cut him out of my life until I could get over loving him. His letter was pained, discussing how he was deciding to get over his guilt at the breakup being his fault. It wasn’t ever his fault; there should have been no guilt on either side. But there is always guilt.

A couple letters down into the pile was the first letter he wrote to me, when I still lived in Boston, was not out yet, and had really only begun to ponder what it might mean if I were to maybe somehow potentially consider the remote possibility that I liked guys. It was a giddy, happy letter talking about his Boston trip and how he’d pretty much fallen for me during it. He was careful to try to get that across without scaring me away as a potential friend. I had fallen for him, too, but couldn’t admit that yet. It wasn’t until I’d moved to L.A. that one of my letters revealed to him that “my heterosexuality is not set in stone.” Yes, those were my exact words.

The rest of the stack was everything in between the tone of those two letters, blissful and sexual and pining and mournful and hungry and hurtful and silly. Bryon is an artist, so his letters were often illuminated with his trademark black ink drawings, precise and perfect. There was a small stack of sepia photos he’d sent me from one of his L.A. visits, when he and I and Catherine and Steve R. went to El Matador beach. There were stories and scripts he’d written. There were ridiculous but charming faxes both he and I had sent each other. There were comics he’d mailed me that he knew I loved at the time… Calvin and Hobbes and Mutts. There were the “bedtime tales” we wrote each other, from loving to erotic to pornographic, sometimes all within the same page.

By 1:00am, I had made my way through. I had only found two silverfish, but they did seemingly crawl out of nowhere, so I’m sure more are hiding in the stack. There was some damage to the paper, but nothing terrible.

Bryon and I chatted on IM not long ago about what our love was and how it is still, to this day, for both of us, the love to which we compare all others. He’s been with someone now for a couple years. They are in love, but Bryon said it’s very different. It is the same for me, when I have loved others since. None of my other loves have been as hotly passionate or so all-encompassing that I spend days thinking of nothing else but the other person, failing to get work done, failing to fall asleep because the other person haunts my every cell and neuron.

There are some clichés about all this that I sometimes go through in my head, those occasional times I think about Bryon and our love. Sometimes the cichés are brought up by other guys I’ve dated. I always smack each of the clichés down.

Bryon was my first true love, and nothing can match that. So far, this is true, but I know what the love was, and I know I can feel that way again about someone else.

The downy halo around the relationship is a product of time. With this, I completely disagree. I am keenly aware that there were problems, but those problems did not diminish the love itself.

I am clinging to the past. I do have very fond memories of he and I, but I don’t cling. I appreciate.

Carrying a torch for the love I felt for Bryon will taint any new relationships I try to have. I also disagree with this. I am not carrying a torch. I am keeping in touch, on occasion, with my emotional ability to love someone and what that ability has meant to me, as well as what it will mean to me.

I am still in love with him. This one is more difficult. I have seen Bryon in the UK a couple times in the last few years, and we e-mail and chat occasionally. I do still love him, but it is not the passionate love that got kindled in our hearts over a decade ago. It’s a love for someone who I still admire and with whom I’ve shared something amazing.

That final cliché is the most painful to ponder. I moved on from Bryon years ago, now. I knew that would have to happen when we parted ways, despite that knowledge setting everything in me shuddering from grief. Getting over a love like that happens only when you allow the hottest flame of that love to die out. It’s painful and cruel, doubly so because it involves someone else who will have to let that same flame die. The pain today comes from knowing that I have moved on, and the passion of our love is dead, something that I helped to kill out of necessity, but not out of desire.

I will put the letters in a plastic box to keep out the bugs. I do not want them to vanish by vermin. Time alone will eat away at the clarity and brilliancy of my memory, so to keep these physical reminders safe is as important as protecting any history that shapes, steers, grows, transforms, lifts, enlightens, and devastates.

Is it any wonder that countries fight, peoples genocize each other, and couples can’t choose a place to have dinner? Communication is difficult, and sometimes it’s simply impossible.

Take the following exchange between myself and another guy on DList, a sort of gay MySpace.

To set this up, I have to explain that my profile asks people to send me a message and make some contact with me before asking me to be their “friend.” I hate sites where people just add “friends” willy-nilly. I mean, I get why they do that—the more friends, the more likely you are to be seen—but I can’t be bothered to have a huge list of people that I’ve never even talked to. That’s not why I’m on sites like this. My request is acceptable, and it is certainly not out of the ordinary.

So a fried request pops up on my account, after which a message comes to me, both from a guy calling himself BulkingUp. The message has the subject, “why do you have.” The message then goes:

to be one of those who needs a line to add a friend? I always feel awkward when I’m forced to write a message with the request, I mean what are you supposed to say? besides the obvious, that is…

First two warning signs: the subject line was used as the beginning of the message, and the guy calls himself BulkingUp. While the latter is about par for the course on a gay site, the former is inexcusable no matter what one’s sexual alignment. A third warning sign: poor capitalization. Not a deal-breaker, to be sure, but still grating. At least he was using punctuation.

Had the message been fun and cool, I could easily have ignored the warning signs. But the message was, I thought, obnoxious. He’s bitching about my requirement, but is not annoyed enough by it to decide against sending me a friend request. He was even unable to find anything to say aside from the bitching.

I should have ignored the message, but I was annoyed, so I wrote back a simple, “Sorry you don’t like it. Alas!”

To which he replied, “I was trying to be funny, I guess.” (He had no period at the end, however.)

Oops. Okay, so I misread it. It was easy to do, what with the complete lack of humor involved. So I sent back, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t pick up on that! Oops.”

“I was too subtle, I guess.” Hmm. Okay, yes, the humor was a bit subtle… to the point of near nonexistence. However, he seems to not be understanding that I get that, and that I missed his intent. So I shoot back, “Which is funny, because I’m the one who can often be too subtle! Ha! So I’ve tasted my own medicine! :) ” Every time I use an emoticon, I am ashamed, but sometimes it’s the only way to prove that there is no harm done, no harm meant, and no harm received.

Perhaps his browser turned my :) into a >:P, because his response was:

Dude, all I was trying to do was to add some sort of funny message to my friend request. You didn’t get it. Or it provoked the opposite reaction to the one I expexted. There is no reason to continue this exchange.

On a grander scale, this is when the troops would be sent across the border to shoot up some town holding no strategic advantage. Oh, except he said, “Peace.” So maybe the border troop build-up would have been stood down. (Can you say “stood down”?)

I should not have sent anything more, but I did. “And I was genuinely trying to apologize. Sorry it got so botched. TTFN.” And the communication was done. For all I know, he thought “TTFN” stood for “Ta-ta, fuckin’ numbskull.”

There is nothing important at stake here, nothing to worry about, nor anything to lose sleep over. Yet I was, and still am, a bit taken aback by this. How could two random strangers so quickly and completely miscommunicate? Personally, am I really that bad at getting across my own intent? I don’t think I am, yet here is someone who does. I certainly think he’s no good at it. Is it really that easy for written communication to be so misinterpreted? What if he and I had met randomly in person, at a bar (SOOOOO likely!) or a sushi restaurant (SOOOOO likely!)? Would the visual connection have been able to diffuse such a miscommunication, or would something in each other’s demeanors have set us at each other anyway?

Is it personality, language, attitude, or perception that get in the way of being able to talk? Or all of those?

Whatever the cause, the genuine surprise that comes from an unexpected breakdown in dialogue is not really welcome. It gives me a case of the brow-furrows.

These days, I seem to only find inspiration to post about useless things. Or do I? Is good design useless? Of course not. But I had to call this post useless because it’s not about the trials and tribulations of my life. Like breaking up and having car crashes. It’s not about the great and wonderful things about my life. Like Life from the Inside gathering a growing audience.

No, this post is about coins. Behold The Royal Mint’s new coin designs:

Coins of the Realm

Aren’t these gorgeous? Fantastic? Or, as the Brits might say, brilliant? If you visit The Royal Mint’s site, you can read about the design and see how the coins fit together. Yes, fit together. That’s right, fit together. You heard me right, fit together. Your ears ain’t lyin’, I said “fit together.”

I got wind of this through Daring Fireball, who linked to a post at Hoefler & Frere-Jones. Visit the H&FJ link for a brief but humorous comparison with the US’s new $5 bill.