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Apple Patents Fingers, Sues Human Race

August 31, 2012

In a landmark turn of events, tech giant Apple (AAPL) this week successfully patented “Having Fingers.”  The company claims hand-based digits as their intellectual property since fingers are an integral part of their design philosophy.  Upon confirmation of their patent, Apple filed suit against rival tech companies Microsoft (MSFT), Google (GOOG), and the entire human race.

“Apple came up with the way people use fingers in the modern world,” says Apple CEO Tim Cook.  “The touch screen, the keyboard, the flicky thing to open your iPhone – we did all that.  Before Apple, fingers were on the outs.  Now, you can’t operate technology without them.  We reinvented the finger.  There’s no reason we shouldn’t have the rights for that.”

Jonathan Ive, Apple’s senior-most designer, feels similarly.  “Could you post to Instagram using a claw?  Could you type on a MacBook with a wing?  I don’t think so.  It’s all about the finger.  Apple is fingers.”

Google has released a statement calling the suit “childish bullying” and maintaining their support for all users, fingered and fingerless alike.  Microsoft has filed a patent on “Thumbs” and intends to pursue its own litigation if the patent clears.

When reached for comment in light of Apple’s recent victory in a patent lawsuit against Samsung and this new lawsuit, the human race says it only has one finger to give to Apple.  In the interest of propriety, we won’t report on which finger that is.

Moooving

August 23, 2012

I’m moving in with my girlfriend Maddie this coming weekend, and in preparation for it I didn’t write a post last week.  No post this week either besides getting the word out that there’s no post.  I’ll make up for it with more comics.  Two comics in a week.  They’ll be funny, not sad like the last one.  I promise.

Payback

August 10, 2012

Irony in HBO’s The Newsroom

August 3, 2012

I’ve been watching the Newsroom since a week after the first episode aired.  For those of you who don’t know and are too lazy to google it, the Newsroom is a semi-historical show written by Aaron Sorkin about a nightly news program.  It focuses on the main anchor, Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels), his decision to emulate anchors of the past instead of being an entertainment or propaganda host, and his personal drama with members of the news staff.  Also included is the drama of the news staff.  In addition to featuring Sam Waterston in a role where he isn’t Jack McCoy and does threaten to beat the shit out of people, the Newsroom is enjoyable to me because it has a lot of smart characters working to inform the electorate about the stupid/dangerous things that have happened in US politics and the world since 2010.  I enjoy attacks on the Tea Party and other stupid things.  I hate stupid things.  I love wittiness.  Lucky for me the show’s writers have had two years to slow-cook their staircase wit to a boil and are now finally addressing the stupid issues.  It’d be even better if there had been someone around back then to do the work the Newsroom portrays.  Maybe things would’ve turned out differently.

That sentiment, which is one of the main reasons I enjoy watching the show, is also one of the main problems with it.  If there had been someone doing the work Atlantis Cable News (the news program on the Newsroom) pretends to be doing, things would’ve been different.  Maybe not by much, but by some.  But within the show, things can’t be different.  The premise of the Newsroom is to stick to actual, historic events.  Because those events happened without ACN’s influence, ACN can never influence the course of those events as it sets out to do.  Take the episode about last congressional election: given the hard-hitting interviews and truth-serving that ACN delivers, the viewer feels a sense of tension waiting to find out the election results, unsure if ACN successfully did its job in educating the electorate about the problems with the Tea Party or if its warnings fell on deaf ears.  The viewer is disappointed to learn that tragically, the Tea Party won.  BUT THERE WAS NO OTHER OPTION.  There was no tension, dramatic or otherwise.  There was NOTHING that ACN could have done to stop the Tea Party from winning seats in Congress, not because the struggle within the story was futile, but because the Tea Party won the seats outside the framework of the story in real history and the writers have decided that they will not diverge from real history as far as global events are concerned.  This is irony.  Not the funny haha irony where you’re trying to find out who murdered your father for a whole play and it turns out the murderer is you, the irony that boring philosophy majors notice and Alanis Morissette has trouble understanding.  Everything ACN does, all of the tension within the storyline of the setting, is negated by the ironic premise that the story of ACN must follow events that happened without ACN existing.  In essence, when you watch the Newsroom, you’re watching the behind-the-scenes production of the absolutely worst news program ever.

The irony in the Newsroom destroys the setting and a lot of the premise of the show, making the only important part of the Newsroom the drama between the characters.  While I don’t deny that character drama should be the main focus of good TV or a good movie, the framing situation of the show shouldn’t be thrown out entirely like that.  It adds flavor to the drama.  It enhances the story.  It even gives the audience something fun to relate to if the drama is creeping along too slowly.  Like with Star Wars, part of the fun of the story is that it happens a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, so when the audience gets bored of Luke Skywalker being a whiny archetype they can fall back on how awesome lightsabers are or wishing they could use the force.  It doesn’t matter that those parts of the setting aren’t real, the audience has suspended their disbelief and accepted them as part of the experience.  But with the Newsroom, as soon as the audience accepts the premise of the news show, the premise is negated by the inability of ACN to do anything.  Because the setting negates itself out of importance, the character drama could be happening to anyone else anywhere else.  The setting doesn’t matter.  That’s crummy, because the setting of the Newsroom is obviously supposed to be important to the show.  Just read the title.

You may counter argue that while the show is completely filled with inaction within its own framework, it can still influence events by influencing the audience.  It can do some of the good it pretends to do within itself but can’t, just in a round-about, reflective kind of way, where the audience outside the show will be motivated to hold politicians accountable and like responsible journalism etc.  And if you did argue that, you’d be conceding my point that the show is designed poorly, you’d just think that the good it can do outweighs the poorness of its design.  I agree that the show could have a positive influence on culture and history, despite its inherent irony, but I think it’s much more likely that the show will only serve to preach to the choir of those who agree with its political ideas.  I don’t think any members of the audience disagree with the show politically.  In fact, like I mentioned, getting to see your political ideas championed is part of the fun of watching it.  It’s an empty fun, a fun that accomplishes nothing and is beneficial the same way a chocolate sundae is beneficial, but it’s fun nonetheless.  And the constant repartee of the characters is the whipped cream.  So far, the show’s only beneficial political statement that might not have occurred to most of the viewership is that Republicans are people too.  The Newsroom loves mentioning that McAvoy is a Registered Republican.  Did you know that not all Republicans are evil, stupid, money-grubbing thieves?  No way.

This isn’t what they’re like?

So why does that single political statement (and others that everyone watching already agrees with) need to be given in the framework of a news broadcast?  Wouldn’t it work just as well, if not better, to do another political show like The West Wing if Aaron Sorkin wanted to make a statement about politicians and the polity working together instead of being uncompromising assholes?  He could work in other progressive political ideas pretty easily too, and it probably wouldn’t suffer from irony meltdown.  He could even have that political show feature a side-comment blog where he criticizes the media.  But then Sorkin would need to sideline his dramatic love affair with Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow, which also seems to be an important part of the Newsroom.  Not that I don’t respect having a love affair with Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow, or even think that’s a bad thing to have, it’s just that Sorkin isn’t making a compelling case for why his love affair takes the form it does.  Sidney Lumet did a wonderful critique of television news in “Network,” and George Clooney’s “Good Night, and Good Luck” was a great historical drama piece (I didn’t know anything about Murrow before watching that), but those movies stuck to one driving idea and worked through it.  Right now the Newsroom is working on lots of concepts that individually seem good: smart newspeople, critique of trends in contemporary media, critique of contemporary politics, responses to real events, behind-the-scenes intrigue, TV-reasonable levels of compelling character drama (it’s not outstanding in my mind, but that’s another conversation).  But the way they’re put together, the parts end up too separated.  Or they conceptually trip over each other.  Or they negate each other.

Even with the irony, I’ll keep watching the Newsroom through the first season.  It’s easier when the episodes are spaced out over a week instead of guzzled down off Hulu, I remember more of what entertained me and less of the complaints I have with it.   There is fun in it, there are touching moments and some hilarious dialogue.  I’ve looked up some of the news stories they covered just to see what happened in the end because they went off my media radar.  And I enjoy Sam Waterston threatening to bludgeon people within an inch of their life.  I hope he does whoop someone in one of the episodes.  I’d watch that as a television show all on its own.  Anyway, I’ll keep watching the Newsroom, I just think it’s important to point out that it has significant flaws, and that it is not the gleaming godsend of absolute beauty and intelligence it’s made out to be by so many of its viewers.

July 26, 2012

Those Sneaky Phone-Marketers

July 20, 2012

About a year ago I agreed to buy a subscription to the San Jose Mercury News from a guy who came to my door and said each subscription he got would help him to graduate high school.  I let the papers pile up at my doorstep for 45 days for a whole bunch of mediocre reasons, the main one being to convince myself that the guy really needed help for getting into a degree program at a state school and that he wasn’t just working a crappy job to score some drug money.  I still haven’t decided whether or not I got suckered.  But anyway, because of subscribing I’ve ended up on several local-paper-subscription call lists, and they are even more wiley than the door-to-door salesman may have been.  Actually they aren’t because I can see through what they’re doing, but I still want to give them credit for trying to be clever.  Here are some of the techniques used by a company when they called me yesterday:

CALL FROM A DIFFERENT AREA CODE
The call came from the 314 area code, which is in St. Louis, which is half a continent from where I live.  Automatically I think that someone is trying to sell me something because I’m not expecting a call from a non-local number I don’t recognize.  And since I’m not in the mood to buy anything, I don’t pick up.  The non-local service could be a product of necessity, though, since just like with local journalism there might not be anyone willing to do the job here (did I read that article right?).  But maybe the exotic number works for some people.  And for those people who do pick up, maybe they don’t feel put off to be sold a local paper subscription by someone who isn’t local.  Maybe the telemarketers are also geniuses, and in addition to getting cheap labor to surf a marginal market they realize I’ll be slightly curious about this phone number so they:

Mystery is calling.

DON’T LEAVE A MESSAGE
I expect a message, something that will tell me about the amazing free timeshare on a yacht offer I might miss out on and where to call back.  But I get nothing.  The call could’ve been a wrong number instead of a marketer.  It could’ve been a friend who got a new cell phone because he dropped his old one in his dog’s water bowl and he’s calling to tell me that adorably boring story.  Or it could be a marketer acknowledging the decline and fall of the voicemail.  But I’m intrigued now, and I want to find out just how far the rabbit hole goes.  I also know that if I get a telemarketer line they should have a way for me to take my number off their list.  So I call them back.  They planned for that.

HAVE AN AUTOMATED RECEPTION SYSTEM
The other end of the line is a robot.  Mystery’s over, I was phone-assaulted.  But if I have to be in this situation, an automated system is the best way for things to be, both for me and for the marketing company.  I’m probably more likely to press 1 for a subscription than I am to listen to a live person try to sell me the subscription.  And if a live person had picked up on the other end of the line, I would probably be rude to them when I asked to be taken off their call list.  Maybe not rude, just stern.  But their day would suck more, my day might suck more, it’s for the best that fewer people are involved in this caustic business.  History has shown that yelling at a single telemarketer will not stop telemarketing, it will just make everyone meaner.  The only thing to do now is to listen to the message all the way through and try to get my number off their list.


Figure 1.  A Graph.

MAKE THE MESSAGE UNBEARABLY LONG
The telemarketer still hopes you’ll press the right button to make a subscription, but they know most folks who call back are doing it to get off the list.  Once you’re on their home turf, their game-plan changes into a Stratego-like defense, where the telemarketer guards the remove-number feature with as much illusion and padding as possible.  Usually they’ll mix up the dial options so I can’t press 3 automatically without risking a lifetime supply of lawn ornaments (paid of course).  In place of confusing me, though, today’s call tried to bore me away.  They had a six second pause between each menu options.  The telemarketers must be banking on the empty spaces fooling the weak-minded, but I was too stubborn to give up that easily.  I knew the remove-number feature had to be there somewhere.

MAKE THE CALLER CONFIRM MULTIPLE TIMES THAT THEY WANT THEIR NUMBER TAKEN OFF
After over a minute I hear it, and I press 3 to be taken off.  Did I mispress?  Press 2 for no.  Am I sure I want to be taken off?  Press 1 for yes.  Confirm that I meant to press 1 when I just did?  Press 2 for yes.  Did I mean to press something else and I actually want that subscription after all?  Press 2 for no.  Really?  Press 1 for yes.  So I don’t want to be taken off the list?  Press 1 for no.  You do want to be taken off the list?  Press 2 for yes.  Am I sure I’m sure?  Press 2 for yes.  Remember all the fun we had together?  Press 1 for no.  The time they tried to sell me something and I bashfully accepted?  Press 2 for no.  So that’s it, I’m just going to walk away like none of it mattered?  Press 1 for yes.  I want my number off the list?  Press 1 for yes.  Now press 2 to confirm.

No, I don’t need any more vegetable subscriptions, my husband’s got too many peppers as it is.

DON’T TELL THE CALLER, BUT TAKE UP TO 48 HOURS TO REMOVE THEIR NUMBER
Later that day I was called by the same telemarketer line.  Then today I was called by the same telemarketer line.  I picked up today and it was a real person, and I hope I wasn’t too stern with her explaining how I unsubscribed from the paper for a reason and I also already asked them not to call me.  She was helpful and took my number off their list.  Maybe human interfacing is just a better way to do business.

A Flat World

July 11, 2012

Yesterday I was trying to decide which projection of the world would look best on my mantle-piece.  I want it to be as ostentatious as possible but also useful for plotting expeditions or voyages of conquest.  Here are the options.

The Equirectangular Projection

Type: JUST LAY IT FLAT
First Published: Ptolemy says it was Marinus of Tyre in 100 CE who came up with the concept, I say it was Duh in 99 CE, too bad they’re both dead and I’m not.
Pro’s:  The points on this map are plotted one for one from the globe.  Latitude and longitude are x and y.  Clean and easy.  And it’s a rectangle so it looks good in a frame.
Con’s: Everything’s distorted.  The continents don’t take up the right area and their shapes are all messed up.  I can’t use that to plot my navigation, come on.
Verdict: NEXT.

The Mercator Projection

Type: Cylinder
First Published: 1596 CE by Gerardus Mercator, who has the best name for a mapmaker.
Pro’s: This is the Earth the way I’m used to seeing it, with Greenland bigger than Africa.  Screw Africa.  Angles aren’t distorted if you’re looking at shapes locally, meridians and parallels are all straight lines, and it’s a rectangle.  I can use this map to sail in straight lines if I want to.  Things are looking good.
Con’s: It has to be cut off at the top and bottom because otherwise the map expands to infinity.  This is why we’ve never located the North Pole.
Verdict: I think we already have a winner, BUT WAIT–

The Transverse Mercator Projection

Type: Cylinder??
First Published:  1772 CE by Johann Heinrich Lambert.
Pro’s: OH MY GOD.  What is this?  This thing is made the same way as the normal Mercator, just with the cylinder’s axis going east-west instead of north-south?  But I hate it and it’s scary.  I don’t care if angles are preserved locally, it’s a monster.
Con’s: Not only is it distorted, it makes it clear how awful the normal Mercator really is.
Verdict: Oh, I was wrong to give my heart to that Mercator.  NEXT.

The Gall-Peters Projection

Type: Cylindrical Equal-Area?  The wordiness of this map already fits my first requirement for mantle-hood.
First Published: James Gall in 1885 CE, then “invented” by Arno Peters in 1973 CE.
Pro’s: So much drama.  Peters claimed to have made the perfect solution to the over-used Mercator, which cartographers had been trying to dethrone for centuries.  He said his map didn’t distort angles, was a first in being equal-area, and totally preserved distances.  He was then plainly refuted by the entire map-making community.  All of his claims are bogus.  Also, Peters wasn’t even the first to come up with it – Gall published this map in 1885 but it got no press.  Unfortunately, Peters got a lot of press, so the argument went on for a decade or so.  That argument brought the unavoidable inaccuracies of map-making into the public eye in the 80’s, leading to the adoption of lots of other map projections by lots of people.  It’s a good talk piece.
Con’s: It’s ugly.
Verdict: NEXT.  Let’s try something that isn’t a rectangle.

The Mollweide Projection

Type: Pseudocylindrical
First Published: 1805 CE by Karl Brandon Mollweide.  Also known as the Homalographic projection, which means equal area.
Pro’s: It is equal area everywhere and it looks pretty.  The 90 degrees east and west longitudes form a circle.  Who doesn’t love circles?
Con’s: Shapes are pretty messed up, especially in the USA and Australia, and that’s where I live and want to visit except it’s dangerous there.
Verdict: Meh.  NEXT.

The Sinusoidal Projection

Type: Pseudocylindrical
First Published:  1570 CE by Jean Cossin of Dieppe.
Pro’s: “The length of each latitude is proportional to the cosine of the latitude, just like on the globe!”
Con’s: Too mathy.  I want ostentatious, not pedantic.
Verdict: NEXT’d.

The Azimuthal Equidistant Projection

Type: Azimuthal
First Published: Abu Rayhan al-Biruni had the idea for the projection in the 11th Century CE.  It was used for star maps back then.
Pro’s: Even though the shapes get distorted the further you get from the center, the distances along the longitude lines are accurate.
Con’s: It’s the emblem of the United Nations.  They’re cool and all, but it’s not like I want to marry them.  Also, I’m surprised by how crappy the UN’s website is.
Verdict: NEXT.

The Albers Projection

Type: Conical
First Published:  1805 CE by Heinrich Albers.
Pro’s: The projection is constructed by fitting a cone over the globe.  The area where the cone touches the globe (between the two “standard parallels”) isn’t very distorted at all.
Con’s: But everywhere else is, and I could draw this map with a lampshade and an Earth lamp.
Verdict: NEXTORAMA.

The Goode Homolosine Projection

Type: Pseudocylindrical
First Published: 1923 CE by John Paul Goode, the third John of the list.
Pro’s: It’s a combination of the Sinusoidal Projection and the Mollweide Projection, so it’s the best of both worlds kind of.  It also reminds me of delicious tangerines.
Con’s: Overplayed in the 60’s.
Verdict: If only I had the shag rug and orange wall paper to go with it.  But I like where this is going with cutting up the map instead of making it continuous.  NEXT.

The Butterfly Projection

Type: Polyhedral
First Published: 1909 CE by Bernard J.S. Cahill.
Pro’s: It looks nice.  Cahill was an architect, and he wanted to make a map that could elegantly capture the globe’s beauty in two dimensions.  His solution was this eight-piece butterfly.  The shapes have a minimum of distortion, and the pieces of the map can be moved around to refocus the map however you want.  Not much good for navigation, but it’s pretty.
Con’s: Can’t think of any.  This is a really solid piece of work.
Verdict: YES!WAIT– crap, they’re all out of them at the store.  Looks like there aren’t any modern versions of it.  I guess like most important things in life I’ll just have to settle for what’s available.  With a heavy heart I say, NEXT.

The Dymaxion Projection

Type: Polyhedral
First Published: 1943 CE by Buckminster Fuller.
Pro’s: Land-masses are connected like a big island and it doesn’t look half bad.  This map is made by projecting the globe onto an icosahedron and unfolding it.  The icosahedron is one of my top five favorite Platonic solids.  Also, the name sounds like “To the max-ion!”
Con’s: Fuller intended it not to have North as up, or for there not to be an up at all, as a hippy statement about the nature of the universe.  But how will the continent’s know where to stand to keep from falling off the Earth?  Also, Dymaxion isn’t a real word, it’s Fuller’s brand name.  It’s is a portmanteau of dynamic, maximum, and ion.  Those don’t even come from the same language roots.  This map tries to be like my beloved Butterfly, but Dymaxion doesn’t hold a candle to it.  And don’t actually hold a candle to a butterfly because it’d probably fly in and burn up.  Colorful, but still, you shouldn’t abuse animals like that.
Verdict: I appreciate this the same way I appreciate geodesic domes, which is by not living in them or near them.  NEXT.

Darn, that’s it for the ones I found.  In lieu of a lame punchline like getting a globe-shaped liquor cabinet, I’ll just have to wait for someone to colorize and publish Cahill’s map.  This guy might get around to it pretty soon (he’s where I got the Cahill illustration on this page too).  I’ll keep you posted.

PS There are tons of other map projections that I didn’t have time to feature, check them out at your leisure.  Some of the best:
The Star Wars Projection
The Heart Projection
The Cap Projection
The Tripping Balls Projection
The Fisheye Projection
The Hammer Projection