Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
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Wednesday, May 31, 2021

up to batYes, there’s a bit of a to-do over DC Comics’ retooling of the Batwoman character to give her an alter-ego of a socialite lipstick-lesbian, more so than any other diversity-driven comic book character overhauls currently in play.

But it’s a low-risk, high-payoff move by the Time-Warner subsidiary to generate some buzz. Batwoman’s an eminently disposable spinoff character, so if this rehash doesn’t pan out, she can be stashed back into the closet (pun intended) without the DC Universe missing a beat.

I trust the creatives aren’t going to have every single story revolve around Kathy Kane’s (the name, I believe, is an homage to Batman creator Bob Kane) sexual orientation. The plot possibilities in exploring duality issues on multiple levels — masks, both metaphorical and actual, loom large — promise a goldmine of narrative potential.

Still, given the recent legal flaps over artist Mark Chamberlain’s depiction of Batman and Robin in intimate embrace — not to mention the decades of eyebrow-raising curiosity about the relationship between the Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder — I can’t help but wonder if this development means that DC is finally sending some sort of confirmation about its costumed crew. I mean, if you’re dressing up in outlandish outfits in public, that probably represents the tip of the iceberg as far as leading an atypical lifestyle.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 05/31/2006 11:56:26 PM
Category: Creative, Pop Culture, Publishing
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Yes, that’s one awkward-assed headline I concocted, above. But it’s the best I can do, because the headline writer for today’s Los Angeles Times article about religious surfboarders doing their conversion thing on the beaches of Hawaii hit a homerun with his hed:

ONWARD CHRISTIAN SURFERS

Solid gold, baby. I love me a good pun-based hed, and that it takes a church hymnal as etymological base makes it even sweeter. This may be the best headline I’ve run across so far in 2006.

There seems to be a mini-meme on surfing running through the media lately. In addition to a feature on the improbable surf scene in England’s Newquay coast, I personally indulged in a whimsical anecdote about Mark Twain’s young-reporter experience as a wave-rider. Must be the summer breezes.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 05/31/2006 05:56:23 PM
Category: Other Sports, Society, Wordsmithing
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Tuesday, May 30, 2021

It’s a bit maddening how my creative juices ebb and flow.

Like today. Out of nowhere, I came upon a series of real-life inspirations that helped me work out what turned into pretty well-crafted character sketches and situation-tone vignettes. The writing fairly came in a burst, with a flow that hasn’t been there for a few weeks now. It felt good.

Yet, it came on the same day that I put in a lot of work at my current consulting gig, where I’d presumed I’d be spending most of my mental energy. I’d have committed even more focus there if I’d been able to log into the corporate network remotely, as I’d planned after I got home (I wasn’t able to, damn the luck).

And of course, there’s always the daily contribution to this online space. A bit less than I’d figured on adding when I woke up this morning, but good enough for a random day.

Why can’t I turn it on for days when I have nothing but hours to devote to one creative endeavour or another? Instead, I have to split it up and try to jam it into assorted tasks that never get completed in a typically hectic day. It’s self-sabotage.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 05/30/2006 09:45:46 PM
Category: Creative
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Who do we have to thank for our modern-day urban and transport-infrastructure landscape? According to Clinton-era National Parks Service director Roger G. Kennedy, in his new book “Wildfire and Americans : How to Save Lives, Property, and Your Tax Dollars”, the American land-use template has a couple of unlikely forefathers:

Mr. Kennedy attributes postwar patterns of American development to two of the 20th century’s most notorious top-down thinkers: Hitler and Stalin. Among other things, he writes, Hitler taught Eisenhower the usefulness of autobahns for the quick movement of troops and materiel, and the difficulty of destroying industrial infrastructure if it is well dispersed. And after Stalin got the bomb, Mr. Kennedy goes on, American leaders concluded that the nation would survive thermonuclear war only if its population moved out of the cities and scattered.

A result, as Mr. Kennedy and others have argued, was federal mortgage incentives, insurance programs and other initiatives that dispersed people into unsettled areas. The biggest incentive of all was the creation of the interstate highway system, built, officials said at the time, not to enhance commuting to the exurbs but for the nation’s defense.

The desire to afford as little of a fixed, concentrated target for enemy attacks as possible got renewed vitality with the War on Terror; technological developments (particularly telecom, i.e. Internet and phone options) made further dispersion of people and resources possible. It’s interesting that, as much as the trend is assumed to be the result of individualist desires, it’s driven by monolithic momentum set in motion half a century ago.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 05/30/2006 09:05:39 PM
Category: History, Political, Society
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filling the roles
Ask, and ye shall receive.

Prompted by Debbie’s query about the identity of the actors in that surreal-goofy Milky Way “whatev/buffet of manliness/panda bear” TV commercial, I put the burning question to Stuart Elliott, the New York Times’ chief advertising reporter.

My faith was rewarded, as Elliott provided the answer today in the Q&A section of his weekly In Advertising email newsletter. Since the newsletter isn’t archived online, I’ll reproduce the response here, with a few strategic hyperlinks thrown in:

Q: [Reader] On behalf of a curious commenter on my blog (populationstatistic.com), I put this question to you. Who are the actors in the oddball Milky Way commercial featuring a dejected loser named Neil and his come-to-life candy-bar girlfriend? I find it funny how many people — mostly kids, as far as I can tell — are digging on this goofy ad.

A: [Stuart Elliott] The commercial for Milky Way, sold by the Masterfoods USA division of Mars, is created by BBDO Worldwide in New York, part of the Omnicom Group. Roy Elvove, a spokesman for BBDO New York, identifies the talent as D. Neil Mark (the guy) and Serinda Swan (the girl in the candy bar).

Mr. Elvove passes on this information about Mr. Mark from Chris McMurtrey, the copywriter on the commercial: “The two directors, the Perlorian brothers, knew this was the right guy for the job the second he walked in because he could evoke sympathy without being a total loser.”

As for Ms. Swan, Mr. McMurtrey says, she “auditioned better than anyone else,” adding that some viewers may recognize her as the cover model for the 2006 “Swimsuit Sirens” calendar.

I dunno about that “without being a total loser” assessment. But I guess there is a shred of empathy in the spot for Neil (cute how they used his real name as the commercial character’s name; I believe that’s fairly standard practice).

So there you have it. Somehow, given this blog’s track record with model-icious babes, I’m thinking the links for Swan (which lead to some smokin’ photos) are going to get a ton more action than the ones for Mark…

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 05/30/2006 06:28:28 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Food
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Monday, May 29, 2021

New York City offers you just about anything you could want: Nightlife, shopping, culture.

And a beach?

Yes, there are 14 miles of public beaches spread throughout four of the five boroughs (including the famed Coney Island in Brooklyn). But not an inch of surf ‘n sand on Manhattan Isle.

That could change under a plan to transform part of Hudson River Park into a long stretch of beach on the far West Side, sometime after 2012.

There are a few hitches, though:

“Haven’t they found bodies out here?” asked Sephora Rosario, 32, staring out at the choppy water not too far from where she grew up. “Who would jump in there?”…

For now, the site is hardly a place to relax. It has long been a depot for garbage trucks, and people hurry past to avoid the smell. One day workers might cart in loads of sand, but currently the north side of the outcropping is covered with sharp rocks and jagged wooden stakes.

Something tells me I’m not going to be able to precisely recapture the Florida beach experience at the end of 59th Street…

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 05/29/2006 09:42:07 PM
Category: New Yorkin'
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Hoping to appease independence agitators, U.S. Senator Daniel Kahikina Akaka is proposing controversial Congressional legislation that would grant self-government to native Hawaiians. The plan would set aside an undetermined amount of public land in the islands and place it under native control.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Casinos in Oahu, anyone?

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 05/29/2006 08:30:13 PM
Category: History, Political, Society
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Certain English-language idioms grate on me. One in particular:

“Eat your heart out”.

I’ve never gotten a good feel for the meaning it’s supposed to convey. Especially because I’ve never seen it used in any form other than the indirect second-person — “You can eat your heart out” — and never in a descriptive form — “He’s still eating his heart out over missing his date”. To me, it’s an awkward turn of the phrase.

It’s probably because it’s something of an antiquated term. I don’t think I’ve heard it used conversationally since I was a little kid, and I rarely ever see it in contemporary writing. Maybe it’s fading toward linguistic oblivion; I won’t be sorry to see it go.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 05/29/2006 05:54:59 PM
Category: Wordsmithing
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Sunday, May 28, 2021

Author Ed Morales, proudly displaying his Nuyorican roots, submits a most eloquent reflection on New York’s historical role in the Western Hemispheric island chain — economically and culturally:

As is the case in the Caribbean, New York repeats itself in slightly different versions on each island, each borough. Its rivers make strangers of Bronxites and Brooklynites. It is diverse almost beyond comprehension. Its architectural face changes daily. Its symbols unite all faiths and political points of view, albeit sometimes in a messy way.

New York is also a place whose hybrid culture is constantly being changed by the tides of humanity that flow through it, from borough to borough, even neighborhood to neighborhood. And the islands of the Caribbean have always played a critical role in that process.

New York’s Caribbean roots go back to the days of New Amsterdam and the Dutch trading empire. Peter Stuyvesant, the famous last mayor of the Dutch colony, came to the job after serving as the commander of Dutch political and military operations in the Caribbean, based in Curaçao.

And in “The Island at the Center of the World,” Russell Shorto reminds us, “Manhattan began its rise as an international port not in the 18th century, as the Port of New York, but in the 1630’s, as a cog in the circle of trade moving from the Netherlands to western Africa to Brazil and the Caribbean, then to New Amsterdam, and so back to Europe.”

That Caribbean influence withered, as the English ousted the Dutch and the Americans threw out the English, followed by the great European immigrations of the 19th century. But after the Spanish-American war of 1898, which made the United States the dominant power in the Caribbean, an influx of immigrants — from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Cuba and Puerto Rico — rekindled New York’s island spirit.

I am convinced that when my forebears came to this city, they felt that spirit lurking. Maybe not while shivering atop tenement rooftops while sticking out their tongues to catch their first mysterious snowflake. Maybe not the first time they heard the el rumbling over their heads and thought that the sky was falling.

But I do know how comfortable they must have felt when the tide was running and the wind flew in from the sea and the tang of salt flooded the air. I know because that is how I feel.

Through geography, politics, and socioeconomic fluctuations, New York was destined from the start to be anything but homogenous.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 05/28/2006 11:38:40 PM
Category: History, New Yorkin', Society
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SEC Insight is an investment research firm with a unique operating methodology: It relies upon Freedom of Information Act requests to the Securities and Exchange Commission to snoop out an early-warning system on a public company’s short- and mid-range performance.

It’s a classic data drill-down approach that’s afforded the firm a comfortable niche business. And you’d think that the law would be on SEC Insight’s side, as far as the FOIA mechanism sustaining the business model.

Alas, we’ve already seen how FOIA requests can get gummed up in governmental bureacracy, sometimes for several years. And that seems to be the case again, as SEC Insight chief John Gavin has resorted to suing the SEC over their inertia in releasing the crucial investigative communiques (”comment letters”) that the firm relies upon for its analysis.

The SEC is pleading resource deficiencies: Too many documents, not enough people/time to sort through and release to either specific requestors or through its EDGAR public disclosure website.

Not that that’s an excuse to blatantly disregard the FOIA law, but I can believe that the SEC is organizationally hamstrung. When I was researching Florida’s public companies, I pored over hundreds of public filings. I was always amazed at how shoddy the majority the 10-K and other reports were; often they’d barely relay the financial and operational data required of a publicly-traded concern. I’d wondered why the SEC allowed such crap to pass muster. Then I realized: With a couple of million public filers out there — the vast majority being rinky-dinky sub-$20 million revenue outfits — there’s no way to actively police that corporate universe. The best the SEC can do is keep an eye on the prominent high-fliers, and cross its fingers on the rest. Small wonder the Commission can’t keep up with special requests.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 05/28/2006 11:10:28 PM
Category: Business, Political
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Is the rising price of oil a preview of a future with fewer resources in general? If so, what kind of future will it be?

Assuming past periods of innovation replicate themselves, it’ll be a world with alternate raw materials and energy sources, and a labor/land scarcity that will be near-perpetual.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 05/28/2006 09:51:54 PM
Category: Business, Society
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The name “National Association for Information Destruction” has a most nefarious sound to it. Brings to mind an aggressive group of censorship advocates. Maybe even a real-life Legion of Doom — a group of book-burning supervillains terrorizing intellectual property everywhere!

In reality, the NAID is the trade association for all those corporate record-shredding outfits like Iron Mountain. Like any association, its job is to promote reasons why companies should hire someone to chop up their reams of printouts. It goes beyond paper these days, of course, which is why the catchall of “information” is used in the name.

I wonder why this industry hasn’t spawned an outfit that promotes the burning of records as the ultimate in data destruction. Shredding massive mounds of hard- and soft-copy records is fine, and recycling is a good end result. But it seems to me that if you really want to delete that data beyond retrieval, setting a match to it would be the most foolproof way.

Which would give more teeth to the “Information Destruction” tag. Incineration is way more supervillain-ish than shredding!

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 05/28/2006 08:49:41 PM
Category: Business, Tech
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Saturday, May 27, 2021

say nachoThe upcoming Jack Black goof-fest Nacho Libre will barely hint at the symbolic power of the lucha libre mask in Mexican culture:

“I think a lot of Mexicans will find the real Mexico in this film,” [actor Richard] Montoya said. “Besides, it seems every time a Mexican puts on a mask, it changes the world. Zorro wore a mask. Subcomandante Marcos wears a mask. There seems to be something Mexican about the individual who dons the mask but represents the masses.”

And, as wrestler Blue Demon ably demonstrates here in his formal portrait, the first rule of Fight Club lucha libre is: You DO NOT take off your mask. Not even in your coffin.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 05/27/2006 08:31:30 PM
Category: Movies, Pop Culture
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Producer/director Jay Roach can’t figure out why Fox and Sony killed off his anticipated comedy Used Guys.

Well, aside from a budget that had ballooned early in development to $112 million (thus promising to ultimately top out much higher), the studios probably were mindful of the recent negative buzz surrounding one of the movie’s primaries, Jim Carrey. Entertainment Weekly’s recent feature on Hollywood stars with substandard ROI in relation to their asking salaries placed Carrey at the top of the underachievers’ list. While moviegoers aren’t nearly as fixated upon such arcane numbers as their sports-fan brethren (a contrast I’ve always thought was telling), such a spotlight upon Carrey’s $25-million paycheck would serve to create a self-fulfilling prophecy for immediate projects like Used Guys.

I haven’t seen the EW list, but I’d bet co-star Ben Stiller is also on it, given his recent string of lukewarm films. So two repeat offenders probably would have brought enough performance baggage with them to handicap the project.

Oh well. Maybe Carrey and Stiller can team up on Cable Guy II instead.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 05/27/2006 04:09:47 PM
Category: Business, Celebrity, Movies
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When word came down about a 5-foot-1-inch Nebraska pedophile being sentenced to a 10-year probation term instead of jail because the judge deemed him too small to survive in the prison system, I let it pass as just another news-of-the-weird item.

But now that I’ve been reminded that Charles Manson is only 5-foot-2-inches, I’m thinking a certain cult-killer might have new ammo for his next parole hearing…

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 05/27/2006 02:48:28 PM
Category: Comedy, True Crime
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No need to trudge all the way to some English countryside to see the sunlight sparkle around imposing structures. Starting with this Sunday’s sunset, New York’s manmade street-canyons will provide a Stonehenge-like effect for skywatchers:

A happy coincidence of city planning and a clockwork cosmos is set to play out in technicolor glory on Sunday when the setting sun lines up exactly with Manhattan’s cross streets, creating an ethereal glow down the island’s concrete canyons.

Though the annual event has occurred since buildings north of 14th St. were laid out in a grid pattern beginning in the 19th century, it’s only recently that the stunning visual treat has begun to garner a cult following among latter-day Druids.

To catch the effect, go as far east on the island as you can, and gaze west down any major unobstructed cross street north of 14th (although apparently, the effect is viewable as far away as Long Island City). Might be good photo-op territory; I’ll see what I can do…

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 05/27/2006 01:59:47 PM
Category: New Yorkin', Weather
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Friday, May 26, 2021

dippity
My preoccupation with NYC’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority continues.

This time, it involves a peculiarity with the MTA’s ticket vending machines. I snapped the above photo yesterday, while reloading my trusty MetroCard with a few bucks. Aside from the reflection of yours truly and the cameraphone, you’ll see what comes up on the machine’s screen when payment is requested:

Please dip your credit card

“Dip” your card? Who came up with this diction? I don’t think I’ve ever come upon this term before. “Insert your card”, which is what you’re really doing, is a common enough prompt; that’s what just about every ATM machine I’ve ever used flashes. ATMs are ubiquitous enough, so why not use what’s a fairly universal action word?

The dictionary definition of “dip” doesn’t cover this usage. I’m wondering if MTA arrived at it as a more relatable word for foreign-language speakers — this is New York, after all, and you have to make it as user-friendly as possible. Is “dip” easier to decipher for non-English readers than “insert”? Either that, or else it’s some sort of techie-ese that never got refined after the machines were released into the wild.

I’m not the only one to have noticed this weirdness. But apparently, I’m the only one who deemed it worthy of a dedicated post. I blush with pride!

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 05/26/2006 08:49:55 PM
Category: New Yorkin'
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Thursday, May 25, 2021

I guess talking about an electronic talking urinal cake makes you slip some unfortunate phraseology into your anecdotes:

Christopher Mistron, the traffic safety educator for Nassau County, said that the reaction from friends and around the county has been mixed, but that the way he figures it, anything that gets people talking about the dangers of drunken driving is a good thing. “Trust me, someone comes back from the men’s room after seeing one of these things,” he said, “and says to his friends at the bar, ‘You’ll never believe what I saw in there.’”

Um… Wow. I have to say, if one of my buddies ever uttered those words upon his return from a bar bathroom, I’d practically pay him to not deliver his punchline; the possibilities lean toward the disgusting. In general, stories involving public restrooms tend to have diminishing returns…

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 05/25/2006 11:46:55 PM
Category: New Yorkin', Society, Tech
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a dash for the desktop
Today’s pact between Google and Dell to produce computers that will ship pre-loaded with Google’s search browser toolbar is seen mostly as a tactical victory for Google in search space: It counters Microsoft’s plans to have MSN Search as the default in the upcoming Internet Explorer 7.

But I think it lays significant groundwork for Google. Horning in on the PC desktop fulfills what I speculated was the longer-term intent behind the rollout of the Google Pack suite of Web software:

Google Pack looks less like a Windows helper and more like a start-you-up OS software suite. Suddenly, the rumors of a Google-produced bare-bones PC (since discredited) don’t sound so far-fetched. I can see Pack being a trial balloon. If it develops a large user base among Windows and Mac users, trackable by user updates, that would be enough to convince Google to go ahead and release its own PC hardware. The boxes would come running nothing but a Linux OS, and a direct Internet connection to Google Pack for making the thing actually useful.

Of course, Dell’s not about to ditch Windows for Linux. But the wheels are now greased for more pre-loaded Google-provided apps to show up on Dell machines, and the Pack programs can be positioned as highly-promotable value-added doodads. Google won’t produce the hardware, but it would “own” it in the same sense that Microsoft now does with Windows.

In particular, the Mozilla Firefox browser could get a huge user-base boost from being a continued part of the Pack package. And, as I’ve argued, existing as a pre-installed option on consumer purchases would be the only way Firefox could ever hope to seriously challenge IE’s dominance (and even that might not do it, given IE’s embedded position in the Windows OS).

This is shaping up to be the start of a computer interface experience that’s distinctly Google-branded (rather than only incidentally through minor inroads like Toolbar and Desktop Search). The battle for the desktop has begun.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 05/25/2006 11:22:20 PM
Category: Business, Internet, Tech
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Hey college grads: Expect to make slave wages in your first job out of school. That’s not news, I know.

Just make sure they’re not too slavish, because the salary you settle for in that first stint could set a trend for you, career-wise:

These data confirm that people essentially cannot close the wage gap by working their way up the company hierarchy. While they may work their way up, the people who started above them do, too. They don’t catch up. The recession graduates who actually do catch up tend to be the ones who forget about rising up the ladder and, instead, jump ship to other employers.

Your pay range is established early, and becomes part of your permanent record, so to speak. I can attest to that: I think I swapped monetary compensation for security too often in the past, and consequently, found it hard to credibly demand more money in subsequent jobs. And naturally, one of the first things prospective employers look at salary history, as a shorthand assessment of someone’s worth and talent (fair measure or not). When matched against your peers, it really becomes a handicap.

Of course, “jumping ship” to another company strictly for advancement opportunity is standard practice nowadays. At least for white-collar workers, the chances of committing to one company for your entire working career are laughably slim (unless, say, you happen to own said company — and even that’s no guarantee). So a payscale legacy reinforces the need to be nimble in personal career development. But again, that salary history does follow you around.

So what’s a fiscally-disadvantaged young worker to do? Aside from free agency, s/he can go the office tell-all blog route, which is fraught with reprimandable risk but also offers lucrative satisfaction:

Busted bloggers like Jessica Cutler (a former Capitol Hill intern whose blog, Washingtonienne, is now a novel), Nadine Haobsh (a former beauty editor whose blog Jolie in NYC earned her a two-book deal) and Jeremy Blachman (a lawyer whose blog Anonymous Lawyer is being released as “Anonymous Lawyer: A Novel” this summer) were all interns, entry-level employees and worker bees who traded up on in-the-trade secrets.

The generation entering the work world has noticed.

“Everybody I’ve read about that got fired for having a blog is on to such great things,” said Kelly Kreth, 36, who was fired from her job as the marketing and public relations director at a real estate firm in Manhattan last fall for blogging about her co-workers.

“I’ve had my online diary for six years, and it is very important to me,” Ms. Kreth said, calling the firing the best thing that happened to her. “It led to me opening my own business and making triple what I was making before.”

A book or movie deal is not a bad way to exact revenge. Of course, for every jackpot, there are thousands of unemployed crapouts.

My advice: Stay in school for as long as you can. You can blog from your dorm as easily as you can from a cubicle, and the meal plan is probably better!

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 05/25/2006 10:43:20 PM
Category: Bloggin', Business, College Years
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When Apple was speculated to be going the multi-button mouse route last year (which eventually culminated in the uber-configurable Mighty Mouse), I was thinking about the impact on Macintosh notebook design:

I wonder how this would affect future Powerbook development; they’ll have to start being built with two (or more) click buttons.

Of course, the Powerbooks are now passe, supplanted by the new Intel-powered MacBooks. And the new generation of Apple notebooks took care of the alterna-click option — without adding an extra button:

The MacBook adds something new: if you touch the [trackpad] with two fingers and then click the clicker, you produce what, on a Windows machine, would be a right-click of the mouse. Cool.

Cool indeed. Apple figured out how to accomodate contextual clicking without spooking its established user base (which seems to have an irrational fear of extra buttons). An elegant solution, as we’ve gotten accustomed to seeing from Cupertino.

I do wonder about how reliable the two-finger maneuver is, though. I don’t object to a different digit-shuffle to achieve the contextual-menu effect. But how sensitive is the trackpad in detecting finger width? Suppose you’re an individual with larger-than-average hands/fingers — are you going to be cursing non-stop at your MacBook because it continually thinks you’re attempting the right-click effect? Hopefully, it’s a configurable function.

UPDATE, 6/4/2006: I did finally drop into the Apple Store to briefly testdrive one of these MacBooks. The two-finger move does work well enough. However, it’s not a default setting — you have to dig into the mouse/trackpad settings and turn on this user behavior (it took me a while to figure this out). That’s crucial, because features that aren’t automatically turned on tend to not be utilized by the majority of the user base. I guess the two-finger slide will become something of an insider’s trick.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 05/25/2006 10:05:48 PM
Category: Tech
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