Archive for July, 2009

Pixar on Ratatouille’s tasty-looking food

Friday, July 31st, 2009

There’s a splendid new section on Pixar’s website about how they shaded the food in Ratatouille:

The challenge of shading food for Ratatouille was to work with a stylized look that fits into our world, yet is still readable and recognizable as something appealing to eat. We, as humans, have a built-in sensory system to know what looks edible to our eyes and stomach. Finding that acceptable (and tasty) appearence was the main focus.
Ratatouille: Shading Food,

My favorite bit: to make the baguettes look believable, they took the trouble “to compress air bubbles which were closer to the crust, then give a slight twist to the pattern of air bubbles, as often seen in real bread.”

Update: Turns out this is an excerpt from the 58-page Anyone Can Cook – Inside Ratatouille’s Kitchen. Read more…

Microsoft’s retail stores and the Answers Bar

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

Microsoft has announced that they will be opening retail stores this Fall. In the user comments on a leaked document posted by Gizmodo detailing the store design, one comment stood out:

The important thing to note (when comparing Apple retail stores to future Microsoft retail stores), is that Apple sells BOTH their own software AND hardware. Apple has a variety of products to sell, from the Leopard OS, to iPods, to AppleTVs, and then to Macintosh computers.

Microsoft has Zunes, Windows 7, and the XBOX 360. It’s no secret that MS doesn’t manufacture computers.

So, when someone comes in looking to buy a PC, what do the copy-cat-renditions-of-Apple-Specialists… do? When someone books an appointment at the ‘Answers Bar’ because their computer is acting up, what happens when the issue is discovered to be a hardware problem? How will Microsoft tell a customer that their issue can’t be taken care of in-store because the company only sells the software on the broken laptop, not the laptop itself?

I’m less concerned with the store design and recurring motif of Microsoft borrowing inspiration from Apple. I’m simply curious how the company plans on getting around the major issues I mentioned above.

Leslie Capobianco (user comment),, July 25, 2009

Good question.

Observing how well Microsoft executes on the details in their retail stores should be fun. One curious choice: the document as posted devotes considerable attention to Surface, an expensive product few retail customers are likely to buy.

Tip: Using four fingers on your trackpad

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

I didn’t know these four-fingered trackpad tips:

  • Swipe four fingers up to reveal your desktop, and down to hide it again.
  • Swipe four fingers left or right to display the application switcher, just like Command-Tab.

The training video is nicely done, too.

Get Smarter, says The Atlantic

Monday, July 20th, 2009

A great read in The Atlantic about how we’re already augmenting our intelligence with what one biologist calls “exocortical technology” to manage an increasingly complex world:

In any case, there’s no going back. The information sea isn’t going to dry up, and relying on cognitive habits evolved and perfected in an era of limited information flow—and limited information access—is futile. Strengthening our fluid intelligence is the only viable approach to navigating the age of constant connectivity. — Get Smarter,, July/August 2009

iPhone and speed traps

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

trapster_setup.pngThe iPhone replaces yet another device.

In addition to serving as map, compass, camera, and dictation device, iPhone is now also being used to report police speed traps and traffic cameras. Trapster, available for iPhone in addition to other popular mobile platforms, uses your geolocation to monitor whether you’re approaching a speed trap and alerts you with iPhone 3.0’s new notifications.


You can report your own points, too:


Trapster is a clever reconceptualization of speed trap detection that lets drivers pool knowledge. It’s interesting to see another dedicated hardware device, the traditional and often illegal radar detector, replaced by the combination of networked software and GPS.

Interesting too that, though it has limitations when compared to the radar detector, the app offers compelling features that the radar detector cannot. And unlike the radar detector, the app can be trivially updated with additional features.

The mystery of Mobile Mail refreshes

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Refreshing Mobile Mail often confuses me.

When you tap the little refresh button in the bottom-left corner on Mobile Mail’s Accounts page—in version 3.0—the little spinning network access indicator appears in the Info bar at the top of the screen—presumably, Mobile Mail checking for new mail in all of your accounts. After a while, the network access stops, and you think, there, all of my accounts are now refreshed.

But when you then descend into a single account’s Inbox, nothing appears to have changed: no new mail, and the timestamp displayed at the bottom of the page is clearly old. Almost immediately afterwards, at the bottom of the screen appears the spinning progress indicator and “Checking for Mail…”. And new mail starts pouring in.

If Mobile Mail has to refresh within individual accounts, what’s it doing on the Account pages when you refresh?

mobile_mail_all_accounts.png mobile_mail_one_account.png

Apple and In-N-Out Burger

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009
In an Open Forum interview, Matthew E. May discusses elegance:

But my all-time favorite is In ‘N Out Burger. a freakishly popular hamburger chain that started in Los Angeles a half century ago, that has built its brand on the “less is more” approach with an interesting twist. The menu offers only five items: a hamburger, cheeseburger, double burger, French fries, and a short list of beverages. By keeping things simple, founder Harry Snyder says he is able to provide the highest quality food in a sparkling clean environment.

In ‘N Out understands that seduction, and that subtraction can simply mean “not adding.” By resisting formal menu expansion they’ve avoided the self-defeating overkill seen in consumer electronics, with its “feature creep,” and the resulting “feature fatigue. ”Their only rule is “to do whatever the customer wants done to a burger.” In fact, Wikipedia shows a photograph of a 20X20, and on a Halloween weekend in October 2004, CEO Tony Hsieh and blogger What Up Willy ordered and ate—with a team of six others—a 100X100, consuming nearly 20,000 calories in less than two hours.

The twist? There is a secret menu at the restaurant that only regulars are privy to – mostly just different combinations of the standard fare like three burger patties and three slices of cheese. But these special combos have never been on the regular menu, and apparently never will, because they offer the customer a certain “mystique.”
In Pursuit of Elegance: 12 Indispensable Tips,, May 18, 2009

If you’ve ever visited In-N-Out Burger, you’ll appreciate the chain’s attraction. My first visit was in college many years ago, and I don’t believe it’s changed a thing since.

There are doubtless some people who visit In-N-Out Burger only to complain that there’s no onion rings! just as there are some who complain that the iPod/iPhone doesn’t have an FM radio tuner. But despite the deceptively simple menu, most people never think to complain that anything’s missing because what’s there is reasonably priced for what you get, and tastes great.

Spotlight + Dictionary is a buggy delight

Saturday, July 11th, 2009

spotlight_dict_delight.pngDictionary’s Spotlight integration is a delight, but contains a few unfortunate bugs. To find a few of them, look up, well, delight:

spotlight_dict_delighted.pngThen delighted:

Bug: Spotlight displays for delighted the same verb definition as it did for delight, rather than the adjective definition.

spotlight_dict_ran2.pngNow, you may be thinking, it’s also a past tense verb, but Spotlight presents a special display for past tense verbs:

(Note the space before the period. The horror!)

spotlight_dict_thunk.pngand combinations:

spotlight_dict_lazily.pngNo, it’s clear that Spotlight ignores many adjectives for some reason. Like lazily:


Finder displays your mp3 cover art

Thursday, July 9th, 2009
Picture 2.png

Finder displays cover art embedded in mp3 files. Maybe it always has, but I just noticed it.

Not all mp3 files contain cover art. Here’s how you can see this in action if you don’t already have any working files of your own:

  1. Visit ANABlog’s page for Croatian composer Ivo Malec.
  2. Download Bizarra.
  3. Open your Downloads folder in Finder.
  4. Choose as Icons from the View menu.

Snow Leopard, Bonjour, and energy-efficient file sharing

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Looks like Snow Leopard may be using Apple’s new Bonjour sleep proxy patent.



It’s interesting to see this patent being applied to file sharing, because the patent’s wording seemed intended for printers and specifically listed as an example the ability to let your printer enter sleep mode while appearing to remain available on the network.

Maybe Apple had both uses in mind when applying for the patent, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this file sharing application became apparent only after the sleep proxy was implemented and working, a continuation of the virtuous cycle begun when Bonjour was introduced to simplify networking.