Previous “Best Of” posts

Finally

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

It appears that when Apple ships iOS 9.1, iPhone users will have access to a key symbol of human communication. In a beta posted yesterday, Apple greatly expanded the number of supported emoji, including multiple new hand gestures. Of course, there’s one gesture that all have been waiting for, and it looks like we’ll be getting it at long last.

Apple's Middle Finger Emoji
Finally, it will be possible to flip someone off via emoji.

This new middle finger emoji was approved almost 15 months ago, as part of Unicode 7. However, Apple was slow to add it to their devices. After many impatient months, I went so far as to file a bug report with Apple on the matter. A few weeks later, however, that bug report was closed with a disappointed statement of “no plans to address this”. Worse, it soon became clear that Microsoft was taking the lead when it came to expressing one’s self via emoji. When this summer’s iOS 9 betas failed to include this important new glyph, I stewed for hours on end.

Today, however, I can breathe a sigh of relief.1 The bird is coming to our emoji. What a time to be alive! Have a look at a full gallery of the new emoji coming in iOS 9.1, which also include a taco, a burrito, an adorable little chipmunk, and much more. Then, sit through a few more weeks of anticipation until we finally get what we deserve!


Footnotes:

  1. As well as rejoice in the fact that I actually got a Radar (bug report) fixed, something fellow developers will know is all too rare. ↩︎

Pretty Damned Good for Around a Thousand Pixels

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

Back in October, I wrote about Square Cash, my favorite service for both exchanging money with friends as well as being amused by the imagined negotiating process of a complete moron. Last year’s post provided me with a brief trickle of $1 referral bonuses, netting me something like $18, so naturally I’ve been itching for another chance to write about Square Cash. Square has since upped their referral bonus to $5 for both sides, so, ya know: Sign up for Square Cash and get yourself a Lincoln.1

Anyhow, the Square Cash iPhone app was recently updated to include support for the Apple Watch. Our glorious future truly has arrived, because it’s now possible to send money to your friends right from your wrist. Open the app and tap your desired recipient to see a screen like this:

The Apple Watch Square Cash app
“Select Amounts” is kind of a weird instruction.

To send cash, you tap the relevant bills to add up to the desired whole number (no change!) you wish to send, then tap “Pay”. Within seconds, and without any further verification or chance of cancelling, your money will be flying off to someone else’s bank account. As your money wings away, there’s even a ridiculous animated image of dollar bills fluttering down.

The Apple Watch Square Cash app
No matter how long you stare at this image, it won’t move, because it’s just a still. Feel free to cash $PBones to see the full animated version though.

I’ve previously written that you do not have to make an Apple Watch app. However, good third-party apps for the watch are certainly possible.2 The Square Cash watch app is definitely well made, and it offers functionality I’ll describe as at least potentially useful, which means it’s better than most Apple Watch apps to date. Perhaps the best thing the Square Cash Apple Watch app does, however, is advance the cause of gender equality.

Allow me to back up slightly. You may have seen a recent push to put Harriet Tubman on America’s $20 bill, fully replacing Andrew Jackson. Hey, according to this article, Old Hickory might not have minded the change:

[Jackson] also hated paper currency and vetoed the reauthorization of the Second Bank of the United States, a predecessor of the Federal Reserve.

This proposed change has also led to other women being considered for placement on American currency, and it appears that the next re-design of the $10 bill will at least provide Alexander Hamilton with a female co-star. That’s some progress, at least, but the idea of placing Harriet Tubman on the $20 has also laid bare some incredible stupidity. Take a deep breath and try to absorb this:

Jimmy's Stupid Comment
I think it’s the exclamation point that really gets me.

Oh jeez. I honestly try to avoid highlighting this sort of depressing idiocy. I figure it’s best to let it die quietly in the dark, rather than live and spread in the light. Some things are just so feebleminded that they must be skewered, however, and this is one of those things. So, how dumb are you, Jimmy Pecoul? Let me count the ways.

A list of the ways in which Jimmy Pecoul has shown off his ignorance, in increasing order of stupidity

  • Problem #1: Thinking that only presidents belong on our banknotes

    While this is wrong, I wouldn’t be surprised if a not-insignificant number of people believe this, and think that both Alexander Hamilton (on the $10 bill) and Benjamin Franklin (on the $100 bill) were presidents.

  • Problem #2: Mistaking Harriet Tubman for Rosa Parks

    These are two entirely different women, who are famous for their work winning progress in different areas (abolitionism for Harriet Tubman and civil rights activism for Rosa Parks), and who were active nearly a full century apart.

  • Problem #3: Having no understanding of what Rosa Parks did

    Rosa Parks did not “stand up to bullies on a bus”. Rosa Parks defied a despicable law and set off the Montgomery bus boycott, which helped bring about the end of segregation in America.

  • Stupidity #4: Thinking he’ll stop using $20 bills

    I like to imagine how this might go. Jimmy would have to avoid just about every ATM in America, for one thing. The interactions with cashiers, waiters, bartenders and the like ought to be something to see as well. I’d give him a week managing to boycott the bill, and that’s being generous.

  • Stupidity #5: Believing that “most” people will stop using the $20 bill

    I doubt even one person in the entire country would stop using yuppie singles if the picture on them changed from Jackson to Tubman. Most? MOST? Jesus Crist.

We’ll just ignore the incredibly foolish acts of posting this publicly to Facebook for the whole world to snigger at, as well as thinking anyone gives a single good goddamn what his “vote” is on this matter, because if we don’t my head might explode. Let’s get back to Harriet Tubman and Square Cash (Square Cash!). Have another look at the buttons for selecting the amount of money you wish to send:

The Apple Watch Square Cash app's buttons

Each button features a pretty good portrait of the corresponding man who appears on that denomination’s bill, but Andrew Jackson on the $20 doesn’t look quite right.

The face on Square Cash's $20 bill

Of course, that’s not Andrew Jackson at all — it’s Harriet Tubman! The image appears to be based on an 1895 portrait of Mrs. Tubman which is part of the collection of America’s National Portrait Gallery. Here’s a side-by-side comparison:

Pixel Tubman and Photo Tubman, side by side

And here it is, blown up:

Enlarged Pixel Tubman and Photo Tubman, side by side
The pixel version has managed to turn that dour frown upside down.

Not bad! Lest you have any lingering doubt as to the true identity of this image, Square has confirmed that the image does indeed represent Tubman, with a spokesman stating “We put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill because she is an American hero”. Well done. It’s a small gesture, but it’s a good one nonetheless.


Update (August 20th, 2015): Square’s creative director Robert Anderson used his own accidental invention (the @-reply) to link me to a higher resolution version of the Tubman image. He also confirmed that the 1895 portrait seen above was indeed the inspiration for the cartoon version. Neat!

A higher-res $20 Tubman
A higher-res Tubman Twenty


Update (April 20th, 2016): Tubman’s gonna be all up in the club, man!


Footnotes:

  1. The bill, not the McConaughey-endorsed vehicle. ↩︎

  2. I should note that the Apple Watch app from USAA has been updated since I mocked it in that post. Now, in addition to showing your account balance (and allowing you to refresh that account balance), the app will show any transactions from the last seven days. That’s actually mildly useful! ↩︎

Water Resistant-Ish

Friday, May 1st, 2015

Today, we’re going to dive deep on the subject of the water resistance of the Apple Watch! Let’s begin with a brief discussion on nomenclature.

While the term is often used casually, most watches are not actually “waterproof” (generally, only high-end dive watches actually use this word in marketing). However, just about all wristwatches are “water-resistant” to some degree, with even cheap digital watches offering excellent water resistance. For most people, these watches are effectively waterproof. Standard use, including swimming, will have no ill effects.

Unfortunately, devices in the new category known as smartwatches have often lacked good water resistance, and the Apple Watch is definitely not a leader in this area. When Apple first unveiled the Apple Watch in 2014, they made no public mention whatsoever of its ability to withstand water. At the time, however, some reporters did receive a bit more information. The word from Apple was that “sweating, wearing it in the rain, washing your hands, or cooking with it are fine”, but you should “[t]ake it off before you swim or get in the shower”.

The next news came in February, when Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly stated that he wears his Apple Watch even in the shower. Here’s a really mediocre French-to-English Google translation of the statement in question:

According to the report that is in us, the boss explained that Apple now always wore his watch “even in the shower.” Casually, it’s since Apple has never communicated info on the tolerance of his watch to water: rather dog or cat instead? It was just a visual on the site with a sporty wet arm but not swimming scenes.

I included this lousy translation (the report is where?) mostly because I really love the idea of measuring a watch as having “dog-like” or “cat-like” water-tolerance. It’s not at all precise, but it certainly is evocative.

Apple’s site was updated in March to include an official water-resistance rating, stating:

Apple Watch is splash and and water resistant but not waterproof. You can, for example, wear and use Apple Watch during exercise, in the rain, and while washing your hands, but submerging Apple Watch is not recommended. Apple Watch has a water resistance rating of IPX7 under IEC standard 60529. The leather bands are not water resistant.

Now, the IP Code is actually a bit tricky. That IPX7 rating means only that the device can handle immersion in up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes. It doesn’t tell us anything about other types of water resistance. A footnote from the above-linked Wikipedia page leads to this page, which states:1

Ratings IPX7 and IPX8: Tests for the ratings IPX7 and IPX8 address the possibility of moisture ingress from submersion in water. For IPX7 testing, the sample is submerged for 30 minutes. The lowest point of the enclosure should be 1000 mm below the surface of the water, and the highest point at least 150 mm below the surface…Compliance with either of these tests does not imply compliance with IPX5 or IPX6 unless the product is marked with both ratings (for example, “IPX5/IPX7”). [Emphasis added]

Thus, an IPX7-rated device like the Apple Watch does not necessarily include any protection from water jets (IPX5, IPX6, IPX6K) like those found in a shower. It would seem odd for Apple’s CEO to admit to showering with his Apple Watch if the device can’t actually handle it though, right? Of course, Cook was never quoted as stating that the device survived the shower. Perhaps it’s all part of an evil strategy to trick customers into drowning their watches, forcing them to buy new ones.

On April 24th, the watch was finally released to the public. Due to myriad factors, including the direction of the Earth’s rotation, the placement of the so-called “International Date Line”, and—well look, it’s all very technical. Suffice it to say that Australians got the watch hours upon hours ahead of their jealous counterparts to the West. The young New Zealand lads at FoneFox did some stress testing, posting a video of the watch surviving the shower, a bucket of water, and even a swim in a pool.

Apple Watch in Pool
Apple Watch: Takes a(n extremely shallow) dive and still stays alive

The watch outperformed its IPX7 certification, and all previous announcements, both formal and informal. In fact, the Apple Watch performed so well that the FoneFox folks rewarded it by bashing it to death with a hammer. If you’re still waiting on your Apple Watch, you may wish to skip that video, but you should know that it took several strikes to break the watch. It turns out that much like yourself, a bit of water won’t kill the Apple Watch, but four blows right to the face probably will.

Nevertheless, between Apple’s CEO stating that he showers with the Apple Watch and the Kiwis stress-testing it, it would seem to offer good water resistance. And yet most recently, I stumbled upon the following, buried on page 137 of the 159 page Apple Watch User Guide:

Exposure to liquid Apple Watch is water resistant but not waterproof. You may, for example, wear and use Apple Watch during exercise (exposure to sweat is OK), in the rain, and while washing your hands. If water splashes on to the watch, wipe it off with a nonabrasive, lint-free cloth.

Submerging Apple Watch is not recommended. Apple Watch has a water resistance rating of IPX7 under IEC standard 60529…The following may affect the water resistance of Apple Watch and should be avoided:

  • Dropping Apple Watch or subjecting it to other impacts.

  • Submerging Apple Watch in water for long periods of time.

  • Swimming or bathing with Apple Watch.

  • Exposing Apple Watch to pressurized water or high velocity water, for example, showering, water skiing, wake boarding, surfing, jet skiing, and so on.2

  • Wearing Apple Watch in the sauna or steam room.

If nothing else, it would appear that Tim Cook is violating the recommendations of his own company’s user guide. Assuming he was accurately quoted by a French website describing a meeting Cook had with retail employees in Germany, anyhow. Regardless, there’s definitely some confusion as to just how water resistant the Apple Watch really is.

So it is that I, and you, arrive at the end of this post without any real conclusion. Real-world tests indicate that the Apple Watch is fairly rugged. It can certainly stand up to use while running and sweating, and it also seems capable of withstanding trips into the shower. Apple appears to be under-promising and over-delivering, which is better than the reverse. As well, given that the company certainly wants to avoid their brand new product acquiring a reputation for flakiness, they’d be foolish not to swap any water-damaged devices which succumbed under reasonable usage. All that is to say that while Apple should probably do a better job of explaining exactly what users can expect in the real-world, you probably don’t need to worry much.


Footnotes:

  1. At the time of writing, that page wouldn’t load, so the Internet Archive’s wonderful Wayback Machine was used to retrieve it. ↩︎

  2. It seems just a bit ridiculous for “showering” to be lumped together with “water skiing, wake boarding, surfing, (and) jet skiing”, no? ↩︎

New Emoji and My Favorite Radar

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

2014 was a big year for emoji. In the spring, Twitter implemented emoji on their website. In June, the emoji standard was extended to include around 250 new images. With the release of iOS 8 in the fall, Apple turned the emoji keyboard on by default. A great deal of progress was made.

After hearing about the new glyphs last summer, I took the opportunity to discuss the rise of emoji. You may recall my eagerness to see one particular new emoji added to the available options: “Reversed Hand With Middle Finger Extended”.

Reversed Hand With Middle Finger Extended
[Image credit: Emoji Blog]

But eight months later, those new emoji are very poorly supported. Apple has yet to update their platforms with any of the recently-added emoji, and each new version of Mac OS X and iOS has led only to repeated disappointment.

Recent news seemed to offer hope of a change. Hearing that Apple would be updating emoji on both their major platforms led to renewed optimism on my part. After reading a post touting “300 new, diverse emoji”, I felt sure that our glorious, obscene future had finally arrived. I updated a machine to the Mac OS X 10.10.3 beta to check it out.

There are some truly new emoji in the form of additional flags. Welcome, Belgium.

Face Massages
Now in alphabeticalish order!

There are also multiple pigments for many of the people emoji, so you can get a face massage in any skin tone you like:

Face Massages
That left-most yellow is intended to mean “cartoonishly unhuman”, not racist “Asian”.

However, after much searching I realized I was to be let down once again. None of the emoji from the updated Unicode 7 spec are included. Apple continues to flip us the figurative bird by refusing to provide us with a literal middle finger. Diversity of races is surely a good thing, but where is the diversity for people who wish to communicate with widely recognized hand gestures? Surely we deserve satisfaction!

After some time sitting in a soggy pile of my own dashed hopes, I resolved to take action. Reasoning that perhaps Apple is simply unaware of the wondrous world of new emoji which awaits us all, I logged on to Apple’s Bug Reporter and filed an enhancement request.1

Radar #19925942
This is probably my favorite radar ever.

If you too dream of a future where we can use emoji to adequately express our contempt, add your support by duping Radar #19925942. Depending on your general feelings toward Apple and their bug reporting system, you may or may not choose to include an image of the desired emoji as I did. For reference, of course.

At times, I am haunted by the thought that Apple will never implement the new emoji. However, I have one fear even deeper than that, which I originally expressed on John Gruber’s “The Talk Show” last year2. My worry is that Apple may update their emoji set with most of the new glyphs, while opting to ignore the one fingered salute. For now though, I wait with bated breath and hope that the folks in Cupertino will do what’s right. C’mon guys — I really don’t want to have to switch to Android.


Footnotes:

  1. Using Safari® 1.0 or better, of course ↩︎

  2. For a non-timestamped, but more canonical link, see here. ↩︎

Square Cash and the World’s Worst Negotiator

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

By now, you’re likely familiar with Square, the financial services business which has enabled thousands of small businesses to take credit cards via their mobile devices. Last year, the company unveiled a product called Square Cash. It was initially touted as a way to send money via email, but that’s actually a rather minor part of it. The real key to the service is that it’s a free and easy way to send money from one bank account to another, often nearly instantaneously. Think the original vision of PayPal, but faster and friendlier. If you’re an American with a Visa or MasterCard debit card, you can send and receive cash at no charge. It’s great.

In addition to sending money via email, Square Cash offers mobile apps for iOS and Android, and they work quite well. However, the design of the app is…a little wonky. For instance, after you sign up, you can invite your friends to make use of the service as well. The app looks at your contacts and enables you to send them an invitation. All of them. As you can see, the “Select All” option helpfully set me up to text 433 of my closest friends.

Square's Invitation Screen
Invite your barber, your old dentist, and that girl you took out twice 11 years ago.

Admittedly, my address book may be in want of some cleaning out. Still, enabling a user to send a mass text to hundreds of people is perhaps not the best idea. The bad ideas continue, with the send and receive screen. Here, you punch in an amount to send or request. Sending in Square Cash is initially limited to $250 per week, and maxes out at $2500 per week once you’re verified. Nevertheless, you can attempt a request for up to $99,999.99.

Requesting $99,999.99
You can just pay me $250 weekly for the next 400 weeks.

What really cracks me up, however, is the history. The app uses a rather amusing messages-type view to show money being sent and received. For instance, here you can see I’ve really been raking it in with sign-up and referral fees.

Requesting $99,999.99
“The Cash Team” is a cool name.

Where this gets really ridiculous is when money is passed back and forth with a friend. I like to read this as an interaction with the world’s worst negotiator. We begin with an opening price of $905. A very low $200 counter comes in, but before any response arrives, it’s followed by a $2000 bid! Excitement then cools and the proposal is lowered way back down to $250. The seller responds with a $500 offer, and the buyer finally agrees. Whew!

A terrible negotiation
$200. $2000! $250.

Though the app is goofy in multiple ways, Square Cash really is a great way to transfer money between friends and acquaintances. Sign up here and we’ll each earn an entire American dollar, free. If enough people sign up with that referral link, I intend to “make it rain”1 in “da club”2.


Footnotes:

  1. A slang phrase meaning “place the bills”. ↩︎

  2. Another slang phrase meaning “my wallet”. ↩︎

The Rise of Emoji

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

If you’re not currently aware of emoji, you’re missing out.1 In fact, you’ve already missed out when it comes to this site. For those who’ve thus far remained unaware, emoji are a set of ideograms available on most current computer platforms. They originated in Japan, but have since spread to the world at large. Think of them as the next evolution of smiley faces made out of punctuation. Using emoji, it’s possible to move beyond relatively simplistic textual representations of faces like :), :(, or even ~(_8^(|)2, to real pictures like 😃 (smiling face with open mouth) and 😬 (grimacing face3).

But if all emoji provided were colorful emoticons, they wouldn’t be doing much for us. After all, chat programs have optionally translated text faces into smiley pictures for years. No, the real power of emoji is seen in the rest of the character set. With these additional symbols, it’s possible to use a single picture to convey entire ideas. For instance, the 🌊 “water wave” emoji represents One Foot Tsunami well4:

Water Wave
Really, it’s most appropriate in its tiny form.

And of course, 💩 “pile of poo” is both popular and appropriate for almost all scenarios:

Pile of Poo
Gosh he’s friendly.

Emoji can even stretch the mind. Thanks to emoji’s large but still limited set of characters, coming up with emoji sentences can be a fun challenge. For instance, you may be able to decipher this idiom: 🍎 🚫 👇           🌳

Red Apple No Entry Sign White Down Pointing Backhand Index                                     Deciduous Tree
That’d be “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”.

Emoji have become popular particularly on mobile devices, as Apple and Google have included them in their respective OSes. Here are simple instructions for activating and using emoji on iOS and Android. The popularity of emoji has grown so much that the emoji keyboard is enabled by default in Apple’s forthcoming iOS 8. That’s big news.

For those who are already fans of emoji, even bigger news arrived last week with the announcement that the emoji standard is being extended. Approximately 250 new emoji are now part of the standard, and soon your devices will allow you to select such useful gems as a “White Hard Shell Floppy Disk” or a “Black Hard Shell Floppy Disk”. The most excitement, however, has definitely been generated by a single new symbol:

Reversed Hand With Middle Finger Extended
[Image credit: Emoji Blog]

My fellow Earthlings, our long international emoji-middle-finger-less nightmare is (almost) over. Yes, the new emoji set includes “Reversed Hand With Middle Finger Extended”. With it, I think our “alphabet” may finally be complete. Hell, you could probably boil at least 30% of my communication down to this single emoji. Forget “Yo”. An app that just sends the emoji middle finger is what we really need.


Footnotes:

  1. And if you’re currently using Google’s Chrome brower, I’m afraid you’re going to miss out when it comes to this post too. ↩︎

  2. For reasons beyond my understanding, I still know how to type out a detailed Homer Simpson emoticon. Thanks for that useful trip down the memory lane of mid-90’s AOL, brain. Now I’m off to sketch the Stussy S on my Trapper Keeper folders, because I can still do that via muscle memory too. ↩︎

  3. I use this little guy to indicate a tooth suck, as a response to an awkward situation, particularly one that’s amusing or the result of comical misunderstanding. ↩︎

  4. That’s particularly true on Apple devices, where the emoji character is patterned after Hokusai’s “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”, just as this site’s imagery is. If you really want to get into emoji minutia, you should be aware that emoji will actually look different on different platforms. For example, the following image shows how the “Airplane” emoji appears on Apple devices, Android devices, and Twitter, respectively:

    Assorted Airplane Emoji
    Shirley there should be a twisted-up airplane in here.

    While each platform draws their own picture set for emoji, they all follow the guidelines for what the set should contain. ↩︎

A Failed Revolution

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

In the badlands of western Pennsylvania, about thirty miles east of Pittsburgh, sits the town of New Alexandria. Should you ever find yourself passing along Route 22, keep an eye out. At 40° 23′ 52.8″ N, 79° 29′ 37.8″ W, you’ll be able to spot both the birthplace, and the final resting place, of a revolution. For it is in New Alexandria, on the westbound side of the William Penn Highway, that you will find the remains of a truly one-of-a-kind business.

It’s likely you’ve never heard of this business, nor of the revolution it attempted. The establishment never flourished the way its creator no doubt hoped it would when he unveiled the concept back in 2000. In fact, less than a decade after the introduction of this groundbreaking idea, it was gone. Perhaps the world just wasn’t ready. Ultimately the entire enterprise went, well, to use an otherwise-crass-but-in-this-case-wholly-appropriate phrase, tits-up. That’s a shame, because New Alexandria was once home to Climax, the world’s only drive-thru strip club.

Climax, Fading
Sure, it looks humble, but from little acorns do mighty oaks grow.

On a trip with my good friend Todd, I had the opportunity to visit this testament to American ingenuity. We wanted to document the incredible landmark before it gets razed or replaced with something slightly less sexy, like a fruit stand. Won’t you join us on our tour?

Options
Upon arriving, you were presented with a choice. You could park and head inside, but why not take advantage of the speed and convenience of the drive-thru lane?

Payment Due Up Front
Much like your favorite drive-thru restaurant, payment was due first.

Payment Options
Once upon a time, Climax accepted all major credit cards, and also Diners Club. The upscale atmosphere was maintained down to the finest detail, as evidenced by the extremely classy sliding payment drawer.

Filming is Prohibited; Your Film Will Be Confiscated.
It’s OK, I used a digital camera. I did not, however, “relax”.

Tiny Viewing Stall
Presumably, most customers went to the venue alone, to wallow in their own sadness. However, even if you wanted to be in a car with others, the viewing stall’s design certainly did not encourage carpooling.

Tiny Viewing Window
That window was about the size of a 22″ TV, with glass as thick as a bank teller’s window in the bad part of town.

Exiting
And just like that, it’s over, because how long can you really sit behind the wheel in silence and stare at a naked woman gyrating behind possibly-bullet-proof glass? You’re now exiting the “world famous” Climax drive-thru strip club. Come again soon!

Like so many patrons of Climax, and dancers as well, I was left to wonder: Where did it all go wrong? Climax sought to combine the thrills of voyeurism with the fun of sitting alone in your car. It seems like a can’t-miss proposition. Sure, you were basically paying to be a peeping tom, but it’s that payment which kept you out of jail, and off of the sex offender registry. Though Climax’s glory has faded, the kernel of the idea it pioneered still lies dormant in New Alexandria. It waits for a like-minded visionary to come, to fertilize it and help it grow. Maybe some day.

Update (November 8th, 2013): Following a great response to this post, I wrote up some more information on Climax that you may enjoy.

I Put a Spell on You

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

If you’ve listened to Episode #13 of Just The Tip (“The Boss’s Nips”!), you’re already familiar with a particular photo featuring your humble author, alongside international film star/man-of-one-name Sinbad. That photo also includes a giant inflatable amoeba named Ammo, who is frankly almost an afterthought.

Sinbad Photo
Look how happy we all are!

As my friend Amy Jane Gruber and I discussed on the show, I bestowed a copy of that photo upon her family back in March of this year. Friend of the site Maggie Steciuk provided a lovely frame and helped print the photo, just in time for us to give it to Amy’s husband John for his birthday. The image above actually shows the picture on display in the Gruber home. As you can no doubt tell, it’s a wonderful conversation piece, sure to raise questions like “Who the hell are these guys?” and ”OK, why are they on your dining room table?”.

While this piece of ridiculousness was ostensibly given to John for his birthday, I’m now delighted to reveal that this present was given for my own secret benefit as well. Before I explain, there are some facts you need to know.

Background Information

The secret here is rooted in baseball, but you don’t need to be a sports fan to appreciate it. You only need to be aware of a few things.

Fact #1: As should be obvious from the infamous Here Comes The Pizza! post, as well as more than a few other posts, I’m a die-hard fan of the Boston Red Sox.

Fact #2: John, meanwhile, is a die-hard New York Yankees fan, as his own site shows. The Gruber clan came up to Boston to catch a Sox game back in August, and even at America’s Most Beloved Ballpark, his half-serious churlishness shone through:

Fenway Park
You’ve been to The Vet, John. No way is Fenway a shithole.
[Photo credit: @gruber]

Fact #3: The Red Sox and Yankees have one of the most storied rivalries in all of sports, featuring an 86-year championship drought for the Red Sox while the Yankees dominated the sport, along with the miraculous 2004 Championship Series comeback by Boston over New York.

As you’d expect, during the baseball season there’s been plenty of good-natured ribbing between John and me. I definitely got the worst of it recently, with the Red Sox suffering an epic collapse in 2011, followed by their worst season in decades in 2012.

World Champions

2013, however, has been a different story. The Red Sox spent most of the season in first place, coming from behind to grab one win after another. Meanwhile, the Yankees struggled throughout the summer, ultimately missing the postseason entirely. In the playoffs, the Red Sox rolled on. As seen in this rather brutal cover from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Red Sox just wrapped up an amazing 2013 season by winning the World Series.

It's Over Photo
Salt in your own city’s wound, St. Louis Post-Dispatch!

Since April, the resilience of this grieving city was reflected by a team that refused to give up on the field. There’s no two ways about it, baseball can’t heal physical wounds. Still, the game can and did serve as a welcome distraction from emotional pain. This year’s Red Sox were up to the task of giving this city something to cheer about.

Also, there were beards. Oh, what beards.

Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts

So then, back to that ridiculous photo of Sinbad. As I mentioned above, this was something of a gift to myself. More specifically, it was a hex on John and his beloved New York Yankees. Given its apparent effectiveness, perhaps I shouldn’t spill the beans, but it’s just too good not to share.

You see, before Maggie and I framed the photo, we snapped another shot. We printed that picture out and tucked it behind Sinbad, then handed off the gift. We didn’t know how long it would take before our mild treachery could be unveiled. Now, just seven and a half months later, I’ve asked our unwitting accomplice on the inside to reveal the hidden photo.

Hex!
You’ve gotta love the long con.

Yes, like a Trojan horse, the Sinbad photo carried our hidden image into John’s den of Yankee fervor. There it sat, hidden, undetected, but clearly working its magic all season long. In the end, it has proven its worth, and the Red Sox are the best in baseball. Now, I’m not saying Maggie and I deserve World Series rings from the Red Sox organization for our incredible jinxing. But I’m not not saying that either.

Strength in the Face of Evil

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

I stood at the Boston Marathon finish line yesterday. It was just past midnight, and my girlfriend and I had just completed the Midnight Marathon, a playful group bike ride which tracks the marathon’s route on its 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Copley Square. The official race had yet to start, but the viewing stands were already in place and Boylston Street was partially shut down. In just a few hours, thousands of runners and spectators would fill the area to share in the joy of completing one of humanity’s most difficult athletic challenges. For now, however, the street was barren. The contrast was striking, leading me to snap a blurry picture of a then-desolate finish line:

The Finish Line, before the race had begunThe Boston Marathon Finish Line

This place is now a crime scene. Mere hours after this photograph was taken, some twisted individual or group decided to injure and kill innocent men, women, and children by setting off bombs at the end of one of the world’s most famous running events. No one has yet claimed responsibility, but very little will change if they do. There can be no real logic or reason behind such a heinous action.

But at the time, the hellishness was still to come for our city. And so having finished our own race, we slowly pedaled back home to Cambridge. As we did, we were delighted to come upon the work of some enterprising MIT students. They’d turned the Boston-facing side of the campus’s Building 54 into a giant game board, upon which a massive-scale game of Tetris was being played.

MITris in Action
MITris in Action

After first seeing the game from across the river, we biked closer to check it out. I took a turn at the controls and enjoyed a bigger-than-life version of a game so many know and love. I smiled as I played, and even more as I thought about the spirit of the whole goofy endeavor: this was quintessentially Boston. That night, I went to bed both tired and happy.

Today, I wake to somberness, as we deal with the aftermath of a senseless attack. For now, fear and anger have replaced whimsy and good humor in our town. The violence was perpetrated on a holiday we in Massachusetts celebrate as Patriots’ Day, a day which commemorates the start of the Revolutionary War in 1775. That day began with the famous midnight ride of Paul Revere and the subsequent Battles of Lexington and Concord which marked the start of armed conflict against the British. Just as they must have been more than two centuries past, people today are frightened and concerned. But now, just as it was 238 years ago, Boston is defiant.

Yesterday, only a few hours after the explosions that rocked our city, Building 54 was again hacked by folks at MIT. This time, the massive architectural canvas was used to spread a message of pride, of strength, and of resilience. Looking across the Charles River last night, this was the view from the cradle of modern America:

Building 54 Showing Old Glory

Boston stands strong.

Parenthetical Ess

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

This piece was written and posted to the web for you live via satellite, from a jumbo jet winging its way across the Atlantic Ocean.

Path of the plane
Airplane Not to Scale

The Internet was accessible thanks to Lufthansa’s FlyNet, which provides pretty incredible coverage.

Coverage Map
FlyNet’s Coverage Map

You may notice that China is not covered. This is solely a political decision to manually deactivate the service while in Chinese airspace, pending the Chinese government’s decision on approving of the service. I’m sure that decision is coming any decade now.

The website for FlyNet is rather amusing, offering a half dozen stories of how the service might be used, because apparently people need to be convinced that having access to the Internet is a good thing. Perhaps you’ll use Flynet to watch a downloaded video message by staring at the back of your iPhone and pointing its screen away from you, like Sandra L.:

Picture of a woman watching video by staring at the back of her iPhone
Later, we see the beginnings of some rather hideous and duckfaced sexting.

Maybe you’ll find yourself in Josephine A.’s shoes, with FlyNet showing you that your daughter just eloped:

Picture received on phone of the newly married couple
Sorry you had to find out this way, but at least there’s a barf bag close at hand.

Or like the eminently relatable Michael O., you might use your FlyNet connection to pick out the magazine cover shot for your upcoming puff piece in New Manager magazine:

Picture of a fake publication called New Manager Magazine
Subscriptions are limited to three months, after which you’ll receive Manager magazine for the next 57 months. At that time, your subscription will again be transitioned automatically, this time to Veteran Manager magazine.

Anyhow, through the wonders of modern technology, I was able to trade seven thousand otherwise useless airline miles for the ability to hop online. I could browse the web, check email, chat with colleagues, and even keep up with the Red Sox home opener via the mobile version of their site. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a pitcher’s duel is actually not a lot of fun to watch via a text feed. As such, I had a bit of time to think, and I realized something.

We can fly a plane halfway around the world.

We can launch a series of satellites to orbit the planet.

We can use those satellites to access the Internet as that plane flies hundreds of miles per hour.

No parenthesis is needed

And yet MLB.com’s pitch-by-pitch still isn’t smart enough to know it doesn’t need a parenthetical “(s)” at the end of the word “out” when there are no runners on base!