Wed, Nov 24, 2010

: Tangled

I am delighted to report that this is a terrific film. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely one of Disney’s best in a long time. The best thing about it is the psychological behaviors of the characters are real, not cardboard mockups like in most Disney cartoons. For instance, Rapunzal’s character loves the woman she thinks is her mother (she doesn’t realize she was kidnapped as a child by the woman) and is in conflict with herself over obeying her mother and staying in the tower, or leaving and exploring the world she longs to experience. This conflict isn’t just stated, but shown multiple times throughout the film. For a cartoon, it’s amazingly realistically presented, and of course when Rapunzal finally figures things out at the end and stands up for herself, it’s a powerful and emotional moment because of all that buildup. In terms of plot, I had expected that this would be an “alternative” telling of the Rapunzal tale, but it seemed to follow a fairly traditional story. That’s a good thing, for why mess with a classic? (Last year’s The Princess and the Frog took a ton of liberties with the original story and it wasn’t always an improvement.) The animation and filmwork is awesome (the 3D is pretty good, too, though not a must). However, I have a beef with some of the physics. How can a horse and man fall of a cliff and just get up unhurt? Some of Rapunzal’s violence to the man should have caused brain injuries (she keeps hitting him with a frying pan) and yet he seems no worse for the wear. Odd, in a film that is otherwise well-done and grounded in genuine human behavior (it’s not like a regular cartoon where you’d expect such unreality). Another weak point is the music. From the trailers you wouldn’t know this was a musical, but it is, unfortunately. While the songs are okay and blend in fairly well with the story, they poke one of my pet peeves about musicals in that the lyrics to the songs are basically just people singing what they want to tell us. For instance, if I was in a musical right now I’d be singing, “I’m writing movie commentary for my blog, criticizing the way musicals sing what should be said.” I find that annoying and dumb: songs are poetry which are supposed to be metaphorical and give us insight into the characters and situation, not just tell us story. Fortunately, there aren’t that many songs, and some are quite fun. (I liked the “Mama Knows Best” one the witch sings, and the “Everybody Has Dreams” one sung by all the cutthroats in the pub, which also had the best choreography and humor.) Another really smart feature is the way the way the script handles the animal sidekicks. Instead of having our main characters do low-brow humor, which demeans and simplifies them, the humor is mostly the left to the animal sidekicks (a horse and a chameleon). These animals can’t speak, which is refreshing, as they must reveal their thoughts with exaggerated facial expressions and gestures. The result is hilarity and warmth. (Some of the best scenes are the conflict between the thief hero and the out-to-arrest-him police horse.) Overall, this is a wonderful story. It’s rich enough in character that adults can get a lot out of it, and yet there’s plenty of action and humor for kids. One thing I really liked is that the story isn’t dumbed down for children — there’s a stabbing with real blood and consequences, as well as another key death — but such delicate things are cleverly handled in a way that’s not going to be traumatic for kids. The bottom line is this is one of the best animated films I’ve seen in a long time. It’s perhaps not quite up to Pixar’s impossibly high standards, but it’s loads better than even above average fair such as Despicable Me and Megamind. Definitely put this on your must-see list.

Topic: [/movie]


: The Associate

Author: John Grisham

I have to give a thumbs down on this one. It sounds interesting and exciting: a young law student is blackmailed into accepting a job at a huge NY law firm for the purpose of leaking secret info on a big lawsuit to his blackmailers. Unfortunately, this starts off weak and while it gets better in the middle, it falters at the end. The book opens with the young man being accosted by a lawman. This is strangely handled, as the man’s reaction doesn’t seem natural. He is alarmed but acts as though it’s normal for cops to be following him, yet we later find out this is about a rape accusation from five years earlier… an investigation that was halted for lack of evidence after just a few days. In other words, a non-event. So why would the man be a cop expert and all worried about his past indiscretion just because he sees a man in an overcoat hanging around? That didn’t make much sense to me. The next flaw is that the blackmail setup takes about 70 pages. This is way too long for something that’s nearly irrelevant. We all know what blackmail is — we don’t need to have the concept spoon-fed to us. Just have the bad guy say “We’ve got a video. Do what we want or we’ll release it.” Once the blackmail is established, the novel gets going and it’s pretty good. Our young lawyer has to learn spy-craft and figure out how to fight the bad guys. Everything’s good until the ending, which is a horrible disappointment. Basically, little is resolved. After reading the ending, I asked myself why I’d wasted so much time reading the book. Maybe a condensed version of this would be better, but it mostly felt like hundreds of pages of reading about what boring work lawyers do in their 100-hour work weeks, with hints of spy stuff in various places to keep you entertained. I also felt like Grisham cheated in several places. For instance, in one scene we’re taught that a particular computer system is impenetrable. All obvious methods of attack, such as a USB port, have been removed from this custom designed machine. Then later, a hidden USB port is discovered and used to crack the system. Huh? What kind of a moron designs an impenetrable system, specifically removing all ports, and then accidentally includes a hidden one? (Much of the computer tech in this novel left me scratching my head as it made little sense: Grisham obviously knows very little about computers.) Unless you’re such a Grisham fan that you read everything he writes, this is one to avoid.

Topic: [/book]


Mon, Nov 22, 2010

: The Next Three Days

My feelings are split on this film. It has some great moments and some aspects of the plot are clever and extremely well-crafted. But it’s badly constructed. The problem is the beginning. The premise is simple enough: a guy’s innocent wife is in jail for murder and he decides his only recourse is to break her out. But apparently that was too simple, so the director mucked it up by introducing that plot in a confusing manner. For instance, the film begins with an odd scene of our main character driving frantically in a car with someone unseen who is, we gather, dying. This is short and abrupt, and since we only see the driver, who don’t know who is dying. That may be designed to create suspense, but we need more information for suspense. Instead the scene falls flat, and out of context, we really don’t care who died. Undoubtedly this scene was added so we could start off with some action, but it’s too short and there’s no purpose. (Even when we later catch back up with this scene, it’s not that important of a scene.) Then we jump to three years earlier in a restaurant. The man character, our husband, is there with his wife, and they are with another couple. The two women are arguing. What’s strange here is the wife’s over-the-top reaction to the debate. She snarls at the other woman and accuses her of trying to flirt with her husband right in front of her. Since we’ve just met these people and have no idea who is who, this is a bizarre and uncomfortable scene. We aren’t sure who to root for, and we aren’t sure what the argument is about. We’re given little information and everything feels odd and disjointed. Next we jump to a brief scene at home, the couple putting their son to bed, and then it’s breakfast and suddenly the cops are there arresting the woman in an overly-dramatic fashion (lots of hysteria and the child crying). At this point I thought we’d have a trial or in some way explain about the murder. But no: we jump forward two years to where the husband is waiting for the results of the final appeal, and he is crushed when it is denied. His wife will now be in jail for the rest of her life. Of course the key question the viewer is asking is, “If she’s innocent, how did this happen?” The evidence against is revealed much too slowly throughout the film. I think the writer did this to keep the wife’s guilt or innocence ambiguous, but the problem with that is that her guilt or innocence is really irrelevant. If could have been made relevant, but other than one key scene, it’s not even an issue. The result is that the viewer is left confused and puzzled for far too long. Once we get past all these preliminaries and the husband begins to plot to break his wife out of jail, the film really begins, and from that point on, it’s actually a pretty good film. It’s fairly believable. Our hero is a teacher and not a spy, so he makes mistakes as he works to get all the parts of his plan together. (Okay, the shootout with the drug dealer was a bit absurd, but the rest was pretty good.) The last quarter of the movie when he actually makes the escape attempt is really excellent. The problem is still that kludgy beginning. It leaves a shadow over the rest of the film. I honestly think you’re far better off skipping first 20 minutes of this and starting mid-story: you’ll be far less confused and enjoy the rest of the film much better. Part of the problem is the first part is all exposition and setup, which has a very different pace from the action-heavy rest of the film. Yet ironically, that first part really doesn’t actually tell us anything so it fails as exposition! The director should have just started with the wife in prison: her pre-prison scenes don’t tell us anything relevant about her, and the murder — which we need to know about to sympathize with her “unjustly convicted” plight — isn’t explained until the very end of the film! In the end, this is a simple tale the director has tried to make complicated and ruined it in the process.

Topic: [/movie]


Fri, Nov 19, 2010

: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

I heard the hype surrounding this and yesterday afternoon saw the lines already forming for the midnight showing and I wondered why I wasn’t so enthusiastic. Then I remembered: this is just part one and we have to wait for summer for the rest of the story. How lame is that? It wouldn’t bother me as much if part two was in January, but waiting eight months is ridiculous. (The girls behind me in the theatre complained of the same thing at the end.) But despite my reservations and the fact that it does end in mid-sentence as I’d feared, it is still a fantastic film. It’s been too long since I read the book for me to remember if it got all the details right, but much seemed familiar and was extremely well done. (I especially liked the animated story in the middle, which had an interesting and unique style.) It’s a darker tale, and it’s long and slower than I expected. Probably too much of the film is the kids in isolation, hiding and hiking in remote locations while they try to unravel riddles. Yes, we are supposed to understand their bored nature and know that lots of time passes, but you don’t have to literally bore the audience to convey boredom. Still, that slowness does work to convey expectations of later drama — it’s just a shame that most of that resolution comes in part two. There also wasn’t as much humor as we normally expect in the Harry Potter universe (when it came in minor doses the audience laughed loudly with relief of tension), and it was depressing seeing the kids fighting amongst each other (though it’s a key part of the plot and is justified and necessary). Despite these issues, it’s just so wonderful to be back in that world that I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I didn’t want it to end! The drama and stakes have never been higher in the series and you can feel it building to a climax that will get even more intense in the final part. I can’t wait for part two!

Topic: [/movie]


Thu, Nov 18, 2010

: Paperback versus Kindle

I have had a fascinating experience.

The last three novels I read on my Kindle. But this week I lent my Kindle to my mom so she can see how she’d like it, and if she would use it. I was going to start a new novel on my iPad, for comparison, but then I noticed a John Grisham paperback I’d bought recently at Costco. I’d forgotten about it, but since I just finished a Grisham book, I was in the mood for another, and I picked up the paperback and started reading.

To my surprise, I have found the paperback experience to be considerably worse than the Kindle!

Here are the negatives I discovered:

  • Paperback paper is thin, so there is show-through of the text on the back of the page. It makes all the text have a grayish dropshadow behind it.
  • Paperbacks tends to curve, especially toward the spine, so the reading surface is not flat. I have never noticed this as a reading detriment before (since there wasn’t an alternative), but after reading the always-flat Kindle page, I dislike the curved surface intensely.
  • [Click to enlarge]
  • Paperback is bulkier than Kindle (though a similar weight)
  • Paperback requires I fuss with a bookmark to remember my place. (When I fell asleep while reading, the paperback closed and lost my spot. That does not happen with Kindle, as after ten minutes of inactivity it merely joins me in my slumber.)
  • Paperback requires more physical effort to turn pages.
  • Often I accidentally turn multiple pages as the thin paper allows two or more pages to stick together.
  • The paperback’s margins are narrow, so on the outside my thumbs cover up the text, requiring me to shift my hands around constantly.
  • A paperback’s paper quality is poor (not a bright white) resulting in a similar lower-contrast off-white reading experience as the Kindle. I had assumed paper would have a better contrast ratio, but that is not necessarily the case.

Possibly some of these issues are unique to this particular book or to paperbacks in general (i.e. hardbacks usually have better paper and wider margins, though of course they are bigger and heavier). Still, the results are intriguing: if after such a short time I prefer the Kindle this much more, I would guess that within a few months or a year, I shall not want to read any book in print form.

With print publishers cutting costs and using cheaper paper and manufacturing, the advantages of paper drop. (For instance, part of the reason I stopped buying hardbacks is because so many of them have unevenly untrimmed pages, which I find repugnant. This is a cost cutting method adopted a number of years ago by publishers. You used to see it only in book club editions, but now it’s in hardbacks you buy at Costco and other places. I hate that and figure the hardback’s not worth the extra money and I’m better off just waiting for the paperback.)

[Click to enlarge]

Topic: [/personal]


: Hereafter

Director: Clint Eastwood

Strange film. The marketing for this film is severely messed up. It comes across as a film about death, a depressing topic, and it doesn’t convey much about the plot at all. I also didn’t see how such a film could actually have any answers about death — what is it supposed to tell us that thousands of years of religion and philosophy haven’t explained? I had zero interest in seeing this from the trailer. The only thing that made me go see it was that it was directed by Clint Eastwood. It turns out to be a fun film with an interesting plot. It’s basically three separate stories that join together at the very end (too long for that join, but that’s a minor flaw). Often in such tales you’ll find yourself intrigued by one storyline and bored by others, but I actually enjoyed all three. The first is about a French journalist who has a near-death experience that haunts and troubles her and she leaves her TV anchor job and defies convention to write a book about death and the afterlife, a touchy subject. I loved that her scenes were actually in French with subtitles and I could relate to her “rebel with a cause” mentality. The second story was more troubling: a boy’s twin dies and he struggles with grief and the aftermath and seeks answers. The third story I though I would like the least, since it deals with a “real” psychic in San Francisco. That seemed cliche and lame, and I was skeptical. But he came across as a lonely man isolated from society because of his connection with death. His potential romance with the wonderful girl he meets in cooking class was the best part of the film for me. It was so bittersweet and tragic and magical. Matt Damon was surprisingly restrained in the role, which was good, and the girl was such an incredible actor I didn’t even realize until the closing credits it was Bryce Dallas Howard, who I adore. The ending was clever (the way the stories finally intersected) and I liked the final resolution, though a few aspects were almost too clever and didn’t feel natural. Overall the film’s good but doesn’t quite reach greatness. It is too slow at times and too inconsistent, part of the nature of a multi-story plot, but it’s biggest flaw is that it doesn’t really enlighten us in any way. I didn’t come out of the showing with a greater understanding of death or coping. Instead I came out thinking that it was a clever script and liking the way the disparate elements all came together to resolve all the storylines. Unfortunately, while this has several amazing moments (particularly the Damon-Howard scenes for me — she deserves an Oscar), the whole doesn’t achieve greatness. It’s still a good film and definitely worth seeing. It is surprisingly fun and even funny, with lots of nice human touches that make it compelling, and I didn’t find it depressing. It’s not really a “journey to the other side” the trailer seems to imply; it’s merely three stories about troubled people seeing resolution who happen to find each other in the end.

Topic: [/movie]


Mon, Nov 15, 2010

: Unstoppable

The trailer didn’t make me want to watch this much as it seemed to tell me the entire movie: runaway train with hazardous materials on board and two heroic engineers out to stop it. But I was curious about the implementation. The trailer didn’t make it clear how the train became a runaway, nor exactly how it would be stopped. I loved the way that was revealed in the film. It was a believable series of mistakes and bad timing that all led to every backup contingency failing. Then we watch as things get worse and attempt after attempt to stop the train fails, and the tension builds. There’s also a side drama of the train corporation attempting to cover their ass and minimize their liability. That sets things up for our two heroes to save the day, and though that’s stretched out too long, it is exciting and very well done. I thought the director did a decent job of explaining train mechanics and setting up the situation, and the action scenes of the train stuff are excellent, but there are several places where the train location and speed are confusing. For instance, in one sequence the train seems to travel 12 miles in a few seconds, and in another a 3-mile track at 70 mph takes 20 minutes of screen time. Some of that is necessary for storytelling, of course, but with a complicated train-rescue sequence to explain such inconsistencies should have been cleared up. Overall the film’s excellent: a lot of fun, full of exciting tension, with some decent character stuff behind the scenes, and though the story’s predictable, it is gripping and still worth watching.

Topic: [/movie]


Sun, Nov 14, 2010

: The Partner

Author: John Grisham

Somehow I missed this older (1997) book. I saw it recently and thought it was new! (I was puzzled as I read it why the action was all set in the early 1990s.) It’s a fascinating read. We begin with the capture of a man on the run. We learn he’s a former lawyer who faked his own death and stole $90 million from his firm and escaped to Brazil. The book deals with his return to the States and the maze of legal trouble awaiting him. This is an odd premise, as it seems our protagonist is a vile criminal, but early on I predicted where things were going and sure enough, there’s a lot more to the story. Grisham takes his time unveiling the details, which is annoying at times, but it does keep you reading (I read about half the book in one day). Overall, a terrific read, but not without its flaws. There’s one major plot hole I didn’t understand (Why didn’t the guy just turn himself in?) but the biggest mistake is the lame tacked on “twist” in the last couple of pages. I won’t spoil it for you but basically it completely ruins the rest of the book and makes zero sense (a primary character acts completely out of character with no warning or hint). I basically just deleted those last couple of pages from my head and pretend the story ended the way I wanted and I would advise you to do the same!

Topic: [/book]


Fri, Nov 12, 2010

: Skyline

This looked like an interesting sci-fi premise (alien invasion), but it is very slow moving at the beginning and shows little promise of going anywhere. There are a handful of neat special effects but those are mostly shown in the trailer and they frankly work better there than in the lame film. In the end, the film is depressing and pointless, with a strange twist at the end that really is where the movie should have started (perhaps it was designed as the setup for a sequel, but there’s no chance this dog will get a sequel). Bizarre that this pile of dog doo was ever greenlighted. There’s just no story: aliens invade. That’s it.

Topic: [/movie]


Thu, Nov 11, 2010

: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

After reading the book, I wanted to watch the Swedish film. I’d heard good things about it but wasn’t really sure how well it would translate. It turns out to work just fine. It’s a terrific film, beautifully shot and written. They do change some things from the book. Some of the things are clearly for simplicities’ sake, but other aspects are baffling. One change which I didn’t like is the way the main journalist character discovers the hacker Salander. In the book it was a believable mistake she made, which made sense. In the film, she actually sends him an apparently traceable email, which is just ridiculous and destroys the credibility of her hacker character as being intelligent and competent. But other changes are actually better in the film. The biggest is the ending. While the book only hints at Salander’s sketchy past, the film shows us a flashback and links that with her actions at the end. At first I didn’t like what she was doing because it was so different from the book, but the link actually tied everything together and in the end, I liked the film version of that aspect better than the book. I was curious how the film would handle some of the book’s edgier aspects. Some parts they dropped (like the extramarital love affairs), but they did keep a lot of sex and violence and some of the scenes are more disturbing in the film than the book. (Just a warning if you’re squeamish. It’s one thing ton read about a brutal rape. It’s quite another to watch it.) Overall, this is a terrific adaptation and now have trouble imagining how the Hollywood remake can be any better.

Topic: [/movie]


Wed, Nov 10, 2010

: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Author: Stieg Larsson

I’ve been hearing about these books and movies for a while, by Swedish author Larsson, but I hadn’t realized until recently he actually died before they were published and became a worldwide phenomena (they’ve sold like 30 or 60 million copies or something). Anyway, this is the first complete book I’ve read on my Kindle (I finish Mr. Monk and the Dirty Cop on it, but I’d read about half of it on my iPad first) and I dived in knowing absolutely zero about the story. It turns out to be a murder mystery. It’s slow going at first, establishing characters and the situation, but once the mysteries start, they are intriguing. Basically our main protagonist is a disgraced journalist who is hired to investigate a young girl’s disappearance from 40+ years earlier. He isn’t sure he can do anything for the case has been studied for decades and there are no new clues, but he has nothing else to do, so he takes on the task. Eventually, of course, he makes breakthroughs, and the book takes an extremely dark turn (it’s definitely not for kids). He has help from a fascinating character: the girl with the dragon tattoo. She’s a hacker and information researcher who is exotic-looking, anti-social, and has odd personality problems, but somehow the two get along. The book is slow-moving, for sure, but never dull. You always feel you’re on the brink of huge discoveries, though in truth most of the really big breakthroughs don’t happen until the book’s final third. (But I should point out that the progression is extremely realistic.) I would imagine some people would prefer a condensed version of the novel, but I really enjoyed the Swedish environment (I have Swedish ancestors), the complex world of corporate finance, hacking, psychology, and other detailed topics the author explores. It’s a long book, but from the halfway point I read through it very quickly as the story really became exciting. It’s a disturbing read, unpleasant at times, bizarre and confusing at others, but literary, intelligent, unique, and perhaps even profound. The interesting character of the hacker girl is one of the special aspects of the story. The final mystery, when revealed, makes sense and all the pieces fit together beautifully. I found it unusual that when the mystery’s solved the book keeps going — there’s still more than 10% of the book to go! (I’m not sure I like that. Most things felt wrapped up and it felt odd for the story to continue and the later stuff that happened was not as compelling as the odd mystery that’s at the core of the book.) Overall, I’m extremely impressed and can’t wait to read the other books in the series, as well as see the Swedish films.

Topic: [/book]


Fri, Nov 05, 2010

: Megamind

Fun movie. On the surface the premise seems sadly derivative, cribbing our superhero storyline almost word-for-word from Superman and others. It’s so obvious and deliberate it’s apparently supposed to be part of the humor, but it comes across more as cheap and unimaginative than clever. But once the film gets going, it branches into more innovative territory by answering the question, “What would happen to a supervillain who actually kills his superhero nemesis?” The film also explores the “don’t judge a book by its cover” cliche. None of this is particularly well-done, but it gets better as the story goes on, and when the supervillain is faced with a new nemesis, he has to decide if he’s going to be good or evil.

I rarely laughed out loud at the feeble jokes that were obviously designed to be laugh points, but despite a mediocre script, the film is a lot of fun and quite entertaining. The voices are great, and the love story subplot is compelling. Megamind’s incompetent villain comes across as sympathetic. Overall, I liked it. It’s far from perfect, but a solid B- or C+. There are certainly much worse films out there.

Topic: [/movie]


: Kindle Follow-up

Now that I’ve had a chance to use my Kindle a little more, I am more comfortable than ever with my original impressions:

  • size, weight, and readability is great
  • hardware user interface is poor

One of the most interesting things that happened to me recently was on two occasions, I got “lost” in the book I was reading. What happened was that I picked up the sleeping Kindle, turned it on, and started to read. But I couldn’t quite remember where I was in the book, so as I often do with a paper book, I flipped back a page to begin reading at an earlier point to refresh my memory and catch up to where I’d been. Only with the Kindle, I was suddenly in unfamiliar territory. None of the text was remotely familiar. I hit the Previous Page button again, and then again, and then several more times in a row. Bizarrely, the Kindle kept showing me text I had a never seen. From my perspective, the Kindle had mysteriously jumped some unknown number of pages forward in the book!

My first thought was that I was encountering some strange syncing bug. As you may know, the Kindle has a feature where it will remember what page you are on even between devices. This allows you to read a few pages on your iPhone while in line at the grocery store and then when you get back home and pick up your Kindle, it jumps forward to the new location where you stopped reading. Very convenient, but it seemed feasible that the software could become confused and think I’d read further ahead than I really had. Initially that was my conclusion to the strange problem.

When it happened a second time — and again it took me quite a while (several minutes) of paging around to find where I’d stopped reading — I was really frustrated. If this was going to happen all the time, it would really make the Kindle a useless gadget. I wondered why I hadn’t heard of this bug before.

But while I was trying to get back to my reading place, I suddenly noticed something. Occasionally, as I was trying to page through the book, I would hit the big lower button on the left side of the Kindle. If you’re familiar with the Kindle hardware, there are four page turn buttons, two on each side. The upper two are smaller and mean “Previous Page.” The lower two are bigger and mean “Next Page.” From the beginning I’d wondered why Amazon included four of these buttons. It seemed excessive and pointless. Why not just have Previous on the left and Next on the right? But it didn’t seem like a critical design flaw, only an annoyance.

I am changing my opinion of that now: the four buttons are a major design flaw. You see, I finally realized that the Kindle had never jumped to a future reading point without my control. There was no sync bug. What happened was simple: when I intended to go back to the previous page, I hit the button on the left — the big button. In my mind, that was the “Previous Page” button. After all, it’s on the left. Left is previous and right is Next. That’s just natural (at least with books that read left-to-right).

So I hit the wrong button. I told the Kindle to go to the next page when I intended it to go to the previous page. The result left me baffled and confused, and in a panic, I hit the button several more times, but again, I was going right in the book instead of left, but still thinking I was going left. It was the strangest feeling: like running toward your home and getting further away with each step but not being able to understand why!

The key is I wasn’t thinking. I was operating on instinct. I wasn’t conscious of what I was doing. I wasn’t sitting down at a computer, interacting with a machine. I wasn’t thinking, “How do I operate this machine?” Instead I was just trying to read a book. I was focused on my goal, on the content in front of me, and the machine was essentially invisible. That’s a good thing. It’s part of the purpose of the Kindle. But in this case, because of the confusing design of the buttons, the machine did not respond in the way my mind expected. That’s poor design.

Now that I know this, I don’t think I’ll have the same problem again. I am aware of the situation and can compensate. For instance, if I go to a book and it’s on an unfamiliar page, I won’t start hitting the button a bunch of times to turn back pages. Instead I will concentrate to make sure I’m hitting the correct button for what I need the device to do. But just because I can learn my way around the machine’s flaws, that doesn’t mean there is no flaw or the Kindle shouldn’t be corrected.

I find this situation a fascinating example in design. Apple, for instance, would never have designed a reading machine like this. Apple always goes for fewer buttons. At most Apple would have had a single page turn button on each side of the device. Such a design would be far simpler and clearer. Brains are good at left-right distinctions and once I learned which button was which, I would be able to operate the thing forever without once getting confused. The way Amazon designed the Kindle, however, dramatically increases the chances of problem operation:

  • I might press the wrong button subconsciously (like I did).
  • I might press the wrong button because my fingers happen to be in the wrong place.
  • I might press the wrong button simply because there are so many I’m not sure which is the right one.

Some may think this isn’t a big deal, or that Amazon’s approach is better because it gives the user more choices and it allows one-handed operation. But that is only true for a tiny subset of users. The vast majority of users want simple and transparent and could care less about choice.

That is the difference between Apple and Amazon.

Topic: [/technology]


Thu, Nov 04, 2010

: Mt. Hood Trip

Today I went with a visiting friend up to Mt. Hood. I hadn’t been then since I was a kid. It turned out to be the perfect day to go: some snow, but not enough for skiing so the place was quiet and nearly deserted, and the weather was clear and almost balmly (we didn’t even need chains or snow tires to get up there). We took a tour of Timberline Lodge, one of my favorite places, and I learned a lot about its history I didn’t know. The most interesting fact for me was that since it was built out of the Great Depression, they recycled everything, so tons of the building is made from unusual parts. (My favorites are the water fountain made from a large ash tray and chains on the fireplace grate that were actual tire chains the construction crews used to get up the mountain!) We had a nice picnic lunch outside (where a naughty crow made off with our bag of grapes until he dropped it and we safely retrieved them) and we took a lot of terrific pictures. You can see some pictures I took here. Enjoy!

Topic: [/travel]