If you want a picture of the future, imagine yourself saying “Excuse me” just a bit too quietly to be heard, squeezing awkwardly past the person in your way then finishing up with a “Thank you,” again just a bit too quietly to be heard — forever.
Still, I can’t help but wonder if the translation of literature, where the strengths and even personality of the original are embedded in the language, is futile, however heroic. “When you read Haruki Murakami, you’re reading me, at least ninety-five per cent of the time,” Jay Rubin, one of Murakami’s longtime translators, told me in Tokyo last month, explaining what he says to American readers, most of whom prefer to believe otherwise.
Working on my own, much more modest, project last year made me hair-pullingly aware of the hard choices and compromises involved in any translation. Even with a comparatively straightforward text, it felt sometimes like I was trying to cook a curry using only the ingredients for spaghetti bolognese.
By way of retaliation, Harvey tore off the breast pocket of Irv’s shirt. Irv then ripped off Harvey’s. Before the two of them were through, they were both drenched, and their shirts hung down from their belts like hula skirts. Harvey then grabbed the water cooler bottle under one arm, climbed to the top of his desk, took hold of the overhead sprinkler pipe with his free hand, and started swinging from it like an ape.
Years ago, just after I arrived in Japan, I bought a book of Japanese proverbs. I only really learned one, ato no matsuri. Literally translated it means “after the festival” and is used to say that something or someone is too late.
It stuck. I ended up using it all the time - even when a simple “too late” would have been more appropriate. It’s not a common phrase, either. Everyone understands it, but I think I’ve heard it from a mouth other than mine just once in fifteen years.
I caught myself saying it again tonight. I wish I could break the habit, but I guess the horse has bolted.
Practically, and perhaps ironically, this likely amounts to a whole lot of restraint when it comes to your own cursing around your kids. Focus on promoting rarity, excellence, context, and play.
My daughters, despite being ten and twelve, don’t get swearing. They know there are bad words that dad says while driving but, mainly because Japanese doesn’t really have curse words the way English does, the whole concept is still completely foreign to them. The most interest they’ve shown has been to ask why people say “Jesus Christ” all the time.
The closest either of them has come to swearing has been when warning me not to. Once, after I braked suddenly to avoid hitting a text-cycling fool swerving all over the road, my youngest piped up from the back seat:
On the train this morning I noticed that most of the passengers were women. I panicked, thinking that I had indadvertedly got on the female‑only car. It was a few moments before I realised that I no longer lived in a country that had (needed?) such things.
One of the developers of Forecast wrote up some of the lessons they learned from making their app. It’s pretty good, the last hint especially:
Tap things twice. Swipe at things that shouldn’t be swiped.
Touch things that shouldn’t be touched. Mush it and squeeze
it and scrape it. Do it when you’re lying in bed, in the
bathroom, walking down the street. Over, and over, and over again.
So many apps, both native and web, seem designed to be used in just the right way and woe be to any sloppy tappers or inadvertent swipers.
One of the most infuriating examples of this for me is TweetBot, an otherwise excellent app.
This is the behaviour that drives me crazy: when you tap on a link in a tweet it opens in the built-in browser; when you tap and hold on a link it pops up a menu from which you can choose to, among other things, open the link in Safari or send it to Pinboard. This would by great if my idea of a tap wasn’t TweetBot’s idea of a tap and hold. I am forever tapping links expecting them to open but getting the menu instead.
So app developers, please mush, squeeze, scrape your apps - and make sure a tap and hold requires actual holding.
Last night I wasted five minutes shaking my head at iA Writer’s haughty “we know what is good for you” disdain for preferences. I then spent two hours hacking around with FoldingText’s mostly undocumented, completely unsupported theme system.
Last week in science, my daughter’s class conducted an experiment. They had to measure how quickly a piece of chocolate melted in their mouths. They measured three situations: when the chocolate was simply held in the mouth, when it was held and agitated, and when it was chewed.
This week they did the same experiment but with sugar tablets. The teacher counted down, “Three, two, one, GO!” And they popped the tablets into their mouths.
My daughter can’t tell me whether the teacher burst out laughing before the first kid spat out the super sour lemon candy they had been tricked into eating or whether she held on for a few more seconds. She says, though, that she kept hers in until her face turned red and tears came to her eyes.
"Not crying tears, but tears like when you do a big yawn."
Year Walk is a great little mystery game. It’s not hard, but there were a couple of times that I wanted someone to whisper a hint in my ear to help me move forward. Venturing onto the web I found only step-by-step illustrated walkthroughs made, I suppose, for people who hate to play games.
Here are some proper hints - first some general ones.
Make a map: the Year Walk game world is small. You think you can hold it in your head but you just can’t, Nemo.
Get your hands dirty: if it looks like it matters, it matters. Touch it, drag it, spin it, slide it, twist - unlock it. Technologic. Technologic.
And remember: one hand good, two hands better.
No Companion: if you don’t like mystery, why are you playing a mystery game? Save it till you’ve played though once. You’ll need it to open that darned box, too.
That’s really all you need to know. Here are some extra pointers for bits that had me scratching my head.
Box: the secret hides in the companion app. Leave it till later.
Owls: Make them sing. What? You don’t know the song? Maybe someone is hanging around who can give you some pointers.
Forest: Use your ears. Even if you’re tone deaf you can tell the difference between a high-five and a bad-luck-try-again.
Infants: Not even the Buddha can carry a baby with one finger.
And in case of broken gravity, do a cartwheel.
Church: You’ve seen the answer. You just need to put your fingers on it.
Yesterday I drove 60 kilometres south to help by brother-in-law lay the concrete foundation for a wall he’s building in the back yard. My “help” consisted mainly of levelling of the concrete, scraping stubborn bits of concrete from the bottom of the wheelbarrow, and clumsily collapsing the carefully shaped sides of the trench he and my sister spent most of the previous day digging. In spite of my incompetence I was rewarded with a thanks and a homemade hamburger.
The nicest part of the day, though, was the drive. It’s about an hour each way – perfect for listening to some Pavement. I got through most of Wowee Zowee on the way there and listened to Terror Twilight on the way back, haphazardly singing along as best I could. Both of these records were released while I was in Japan, so it was the first time I had listened to them properly cranked up as I flew along the freeway at 100 kph. I never knew what I was missing.
It’s not huge. Okay, it’s pretty huge. But by “huge,” I mean exciting, because I get excited about little things. Especially when the little things are new features. In particular, version 1.02 now lets you:
So perhaps we do not need to fear that evolving technologies will debase our art. The happy accidents that lead us to discover our best artistic impulses come not from the complication of dealing with the world around us, but rather from our own complicated human responses to that world.
It had been a rough day, so when I walked into the party I was very chalant, despite my efforts to appear gruntled and consolate. I was furling my wieldy umbrella for the coat check when I saw her standing alone in a corner. She was a descript person, a woman in a state of total array.
I was running in my school’s all-important half-yearly cross-country race when I spotted an ex-teacher trying madly to re-collect the pine cones that had spilled from his arms. He pre-empted my offer of help by telling me I was sure to succeed in life, which did wonders for my self-esteem.
Woke at four this morning to drive my wife into Namba so she could catch a train to the airport. Got home as dawn was beginning to break. The air above the rice field across from my house was full of bats, whirling and swooping in search of moths and mosquitos.
In ten years we’ve had only two bats in the house.
The first I caught, after an hour long chase, in an old Fables of the Reconstruction t-shirt, so small and fragile it looked I was afraid I’d crush it.
The second we discovered in the early hours of a summer morning, madly circling our bedroom, almost silent but giving off enough of a flutter to let us know it was there. Opened all the windows and it found its way out.
I was wondering when David McCreath, the host of It Might Get Personal, would have a go himself. Well, on the podcasts tenth episode he did, singing Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s “Nothing of the Kind”. The song is great, I wish all country music were more like this, and David’s singing voice is suprisingly rich.
I walk into the cinema, pick up my ticket, buy some popcorn, and wander over to a small booth next to the gift shop.
"Can I get an erasure, thanks?" I say to the guy at the counter.
"Sure," he says, looking up from his iPad, "do you want a full or a partial?"
I’m here to see a film I’ve been looking forward to for years. I’ve read the book, seen all the trailers, and read interviews with the director and cast. I’ve seen dozens of 140 character reviews from my friends on Twitter.
"Better make it a full." I tell the kid.
He looks relieved. Partials, with their endless options, are a lot more work. Last month I got stuck behind a guy who spent five minutes working out if he wanted to erase all knowledge of Tim Burton, all knowledge of Johnny Depp, or just the memory of the films they’ve made together. A lot more work.
He swipes and taps his iPad a few times then lifts something that looks like an iPhone to my eyes.
The light is blinding.
Some people say that they can feel the nanobots at work, zooming along their synapses and stunning very specific parts of the brain into temporary amnesia. I tend to think they’re full of it. I can’t say I’ve ever felt anything.
Five seconds later and I’ve got my eyes back.
"Everything alright sir?"
It takes me a moment to recall where I am and what I’ve just had done.
"Yeah, fine. Thanks."
"Enjoy the movie." he says, his eyes moving to the next person in line.
Stepping away I look down at the ticket in my hand.
On the latest episode of It Might Get Personal, Keri Maijala sings a beautiful version of one of my favourite songs, They Might Be Giants’ “Don’t Let’s Start”. It’s slower than the original, a change that accentuates both the sadness and silliness of the lyrics. Talking to David McCreath afterwards, she describes her terror of performing on the show:
This is something completely different. When I do karaoke I tend to imitate the person I’m singing, and that becomes it’s own little thing and it’s funny … but I’m not going to do John Linnell better than John Linnell does him, so why do that?
So now this is just pure me, in a song that means something really, really personal to me, and I’m just going to go ahead and put that out there for everybody that’s watching.
This is exactly what I most like about this show. People singing songs that really mean something personal to them, going ahead and putting that out there.
When Reminders was released last year I wasn’t very impressed. I thought it looked like a hastily thrown together front end for location-based reminders intended to be added mainly via Siri. As a 3GS user - no Siri, no geofencing - it didn’t have much to interest me.
Over the course of the year, however, I picked it up now and then and began to appreciate the thought that had gone into many elements of its design. It didn’t, for example, unnecessarily truncate the task text and required only a tap in an empty space to add a new task. Gradually, I began to use it for short lists.
It wasn’t until Mountain Lion introduced a Mac version with iCloud syncing that I began to use it more seriously. Due to a few shortcomings, though, the iOS version was something of a pain to use. The new iOS 6 incarnation makes some changes:
Perhaps the most baffling design decision of the original iOS Reminders app was the lack of any way to sort tasks. They were displayed in the order they had been added, with no option to sort them manually, alphabetically, or by priority. Perhaps they were trying too hard to ape a real-life paper-and-pen task list, where you can only add things to the bottom of a list and not move them around. Perhaps they just ran out of time. Whatever the reason, not being able to organise lists in any way made them very difficult to use for anything much beyond get milk, get bread.
Happily, this shortfall has been rectified in iOS 6. As in many other iOS list views, tapping “Edit” takes you into a mode that allows you to manually move tasks up and down or quickly delete items. Any changes you make in the list order are synced via iCloud to the Mac version. Likewise, changes made on the Mac soon appear on your phone. This works as I had expected, but it’s not quite what I’d hoped for. Having to first tap on “Edit” to enter the edit mode seems a little old-fashioned. I’d hoped they would implement something similar to the Calendar app, where you can tap and hold on an event to make it draggable. Even so, the ability to move tasks around makes Reminders enormously more useful.
In the date-based views, where you can see any tasks that have reminders set for that day, you can’t sort manually. Your tasks are sorted according to the time of the reminder you’ve set. If you’re looking at the list for today’s date, any tasks from previous days that have not been completed will appear at the top of the list. This makes sense, and is a great improvement over the previous version, where the tasks were completely unordered.
The thing I like least about iOS task managers is the way they display tasks, commonly using large, bold fonts and truncating the task description if it goes beyond one line. It looks messy and is hard to read. I don’t understand how this became so widespread - even the earliest Palm Pilots wrapped text to the next line. That Reminders gives you more room for your text is the thing that made me overlook its flaws and try it out in the first place. The text neatly wraps to the next line, then the next, then the next. The amount of space you have is not unlimited, though - it truncates after four lines - but partially because of the smaller font Apple uses, I’ve never had a problem with a task being too long. I was a little worried that this would change to accommodate manual sorting. It has not.
Displaying more than one line of text necessarily involves a trade off. The more lines you can see, the fewer tasks can fit on the screen. Almost every other app shows more tasks, an approach that seems to work for a lot of people. I much prefer being able to see the whole task.
One thing that has changed about the list display is notes. Previously, if you added a note to a task, you had to remember that you’d done it. There was no indication in the task list at all. Reminders in iOS 6 changes that in a way that I don’t mind, but may irk others: it actually displays the note (in small grey text) in the list view. Like the task description, you have up to four lines before the text truncates. If you are used to writing a lot in notes you may hate this.
The earlier version of Reminders gave you the option of assigning a priority to a task but did nothing with it. In iOS 6 it displays bright red exclamation marks in front of the task. I’m not a big fan of assigning priorities to tasks, but if you do, you might find this useful.
Another thing I liked in iOS 5’s Reminders was the ability to swipe left or right to move to a different task list, similar to the way you move though screens in the springboard. At first I though it had been removed in the new version. Swiping over a task now makes the delete button appear (previously you had to go into the task details to delete something) and swiping in empty space does nothing. After a while, I worked out that you can still move between lists by swiping, but it has to be in the list title area.
With this release, Apple has made a nice change to the process of adding tasks using the keyboard. Previously, if you wanted to add a task with a reminder, you had to type the text, tap “Done”, then tap on the arrow to go the details screen, then add the reminder. Now, when you start typing the text, the arrow appears immediately, allowing you to move to the details screen without tapping “Done”. It’s a small, but welcome, improvement.
One disappointment with this new version is that it lacks the simple natural language processing found in the desktop version. On the Mac you can type "Check out Geoff’s pics at 6 pm on Wed" and it’ll create a task "Check out Geoff’s pics" with a reminder set for 6 PM on Wednesday. On iOS that doesn’t happen. You just get a task "Check out Geoff’s pics at 6 pm on Wed" with no reminder. Something to look for in future updates, perhaps.
A Close Match
A year ago I thought Reminders was rather feeble. Now, with the introduction of the Mac version, iCloud syncing, and this latest update, it has become a very solid task management system. It matches my idea of how this kind of app should look, feel, and work, more closely than any others I’ve tried.
While I understand that people who misuse the word “literally” are widely considered to be amongst the worst people who have ever lived in the history of the world, I can’t honestly say it’s ever bothered me very much. It’s always clear what they mean. What, really, is the big deal?
If, however, you drop the “of” from “a couple of”, and say something like “I lived in China for a couple years.” I’ll initially react with concern because I’ll assume you’re having a stroke. If, after a minute or so, you exhibit no further stroke-like symptoms, I will loathe you (probably secretly) for as long as you draw breath, because you just stabbed my brain with your words.
Birdhouse is a lightsaber, an elegant weapon for a more civilised age. When it was released by Cameron Hunt and Adam Lisagor in early 2009, Twitter was still fresh, un-monetized, and mostly unsullied by brands hoping to “engage” their customers. When people mentioned celebrities using Twitter, they were probably talking about Stephen Fry.
In some ways it shows its age. It doesn’t have username auto-completion, it can’t automatically shorten links, and you can’t use it to post pictures. However, for capturing and polishing witty, poignant ideas it is still the best tool out there.
Perhaps my favourite aspect of the program is the publishing system, a system I wish were copied by every app that sends text from a little window out into the cold, hard world.
What Cameron and Adam understood, I think, was that even smart people make mistakes, especially when they’re typing with their thumbs on a tiny piece of glass, and that kind app makers should do what they can to help them avoid looking dumb.
Here’s how you post things in most apps:
Here’s Birdhouse’s approach:
Write your thing.
Tape “Done”. The keyboard slides away letting you see the whole tweet.
Tap “Publish”. A subtle “Publish?” prompt appears in the bottom task bar.
Tap “Publish” again. And you’re done.
This may sound cumbersome, but in practice it isn’t. The nice thing about that “Publish?” prompt is that it doesn’t appear as a big modal dialog in the middle of the screen. If you want to go ahead and publish, you don’t have to move your thumb. Just press the same button again.
I also like what happens after you send your tweet. The tweet is still displayed but the “Publish” has been replaced by an “Unpublish” button so, if you see a mistake or realise too late that what you’ve written sounds meaner or dumber than you thought, you can easily and quickly delete it.
Imagine how much better the world would be if every email, Twitter client, or social app encouraged people to take a second look at what they were about to send before they sent it. A lot better. That’s how much better it would be.
The kids were away last weekend so I got to catch up with a lot of videos, articles, and interviews that had been on my to-read/see list for a while. Two standouts were interviews with Jeffrey Zeldman and Ross Floate.
Jeffery’s interview in The Great Discontent covers tons of ground. He describes how he moved from music to advertising and then to the web, and goes on to talk about his companies Happy Cog, A List Apart, and A Book Apart. I’ve been reading his blog since the days of Charlotte Gray but there was a lot here that was new to me. That he manages to do all this and exercise and spend time with his daughter is amazing and rather humbling.
In Ross’ video interview with Jeremy Fuksa, he talks about how he found his way from editing the uni newspaper to running his own firm, Floate Design Partners, and how he sees the job of a designer (“to solve complex problems”) as separate from the business of making things look pretty. Also, he’s not a big fan of aimlessly searching for “inspiration”:
The idea of trying to find inspiration… I think it’s a crutch and… I think it’s wank.
It was a few years back and I was riding the train home from work. It’d been raining earlier in the day and the woman across from me had her umbrella hooked onto the side of her seat. The seats adjacent the doors are the only places you can do this, so they’re prized real estate on rainy days. My own umbrella was similarly hooked. As umbrellas go, mine was pretty special. It had a hard built-in plastic case that slid down to cover the wet cloth when it was not in use. The struts and handle felt strong and sturdy. It was the kind of thing you could see yourself using for years. It wasn’t actually my umbrella, though. I’d borrowed it from my wife, and it had cost her quite a bit.
As the train stopped at the station before mine, I looked up from my book and saw that woman who’d been sitting across from me had gotten off the train, but left her umbrella behind. The doors had not yet closed so I jumped up, grabbed the umbrella, jammed my foot in the doors to stop them closing and called out to the woman. Disaster averted.
I sat down feeling very pleased with myself. If not for me, the poor woman would have lost her umbrella for sure. It’s not like everyone would have done that, either. I’m sure some people would have just pretended not to have noticed. But not me. No, I saw what needed doing and did it. What a guy!
I was still basking in the glow of these warm thoughts as the doors opened at my station. I grabbed my bag and stepped out onto the platform. The doors closed behind me and I set off toward the exit, a spring in my step, arms swinging slightly. My right hand held my bag. My left was entirely empty.
The headline feature in Cultured Code’s newly updated Things 2 is obviously cloud syncing. What caught my eye, though, is an improvement they’ve made to the display of the Today list on the Mac.
Previously the tasks you had chosen to do today were displayed with the name of their associated project in smaller grey text in front of the task, so they were never aligned along the left. It looked messy and jagged. With Things 2 the project name is displayed after the task. It looks much, much better.
I’m a little disappointed, but not surprised, to see that they haven’t changed the other thing that bugged me about the Today list: that when you add a new item, it is added to the top of the list rather than the bottom. I’ve never understood the thinking behind this. When you make a list on paper, do you ever start from the bottom and add each thing to the top of the list? If you’re planning your day do you write down the last thing you’re going to do then work your way back? The order of the items can be changed, but the whole thing seems unnecessarily cumbersome.
Perhaps there’s a secret preference that reverses this behaviour. If there is, I’d love to hear it.
I wonder how long it’ll take the species that takes over from us to develop sufficiently advanced animation technology to realistically render our downfall and self-inflicted destruction and whether they’ll make me look like Rutger Hauer.
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who have never once considered pulling all the keys off their laptop and arranging them in a theoretically more efficient and comfortable manner in an effort to eliminate the cognitive dissonance that occurs when what you see is not what you get and those who have done it too many times to count.
I have been increasingly confused how the NHS staff here insists on calling me ‘mum’ and Samuel ‘baby’ every time we go for a check up. It feels odd to suddenly not be Julia anymore but the general and anonymous ‘mum’, who holds ‘baby’.
They do the same thing here in Japan, too.
Quite a few married couples take it further, referring to each other as “Mama” or “Papa”, even when their kids aren’t around.