Dismantle each and every police force. (external)

Title link goes to the donation page for Black Visions Collective. I don’t have much to say here, honestly. I’ve been kind of going about my business, writing and creating things as a way to distract my mind. Which, frankly, is the textbook definition of white privilege. I have a bunch of dorky shit that I’d love to write about, but… at this point, saying nothing may as well be an act of violence.

I’ve never had a positive encounter with the police, yet I’ve still survived all of them, come out unharmed. I truly hope that people are seeing cops instigating violence, posing as taxi drivers, taking a knee for a photo op before spraying peaceful crowds with chemical agents, showing off their might with ominous coyote brown vehicles, yelling ‘if you do not move, you will be dead’ at protestors from their armored trucks… I hope people who have given the police the benefit of the doubt are seeing this bullshit and realizing just how wrong it all is.

If there’s protest action happening in your city, there’s almost certainly an abuse of power going with it. Funds in Minneapolis, NYC, LA… they all need support. But pay attention to your community as well. Lift up those who need it, however you can. Tear down systems of oppression. Public safety can exist outside of this structure. Fuck the police.

Experiencing the Casio S100

I have a modest collection of calculators – mostly HP, with a few other curiosities thrown in. Some of these have come with not-insignificant price tags attached, due to rarity, collectibility/desirability, present-day usefulness1, &c. Yet, despite a strong desire for Casio’s 2015 release, ‘The Special One’ (models S100 and S200), I could never justify importing one for the ~$300 asking price.

The S1002 is an incredibly simple calculator; it does basic arithmetic, percents, square root, basic memory functions, and some financial bits like rate exchange, tax calculation, and grand total accumulation. Sliders select decimal point fixing and rounding rules. It is, seemingly, functionally identical to the ~$40 heavy-duty Casio JS-20B. Physically, the two share some properties as well – doubleshot keys with ergonomic curvature, three-key rollover, dual solar/battery power, 12-digit display. So… why $300?

The S100 is a showpiece, plain and simple. A 50th-anniversary tribute to the Casio 001, an early desktop calculator with memory3, and the beginning of Casio’s electronic4 calculator business. On the S100’s website, Casio calls out other notable calculators from their history: the compact 6-digit Mini from 1972, and the 0.8mm thick SL-800 from 1983. The S100 is a celebration of decades worth of innovations. Yet it celebrates not by innovating itself, but by refining. It’s an extravagant, luxury version of a product that Casio has been optimizing for half a century.

To this end, the S100 is made in Casio’s control factory in Yamagata Prefecture, Japan. In keeping with the purpose of this factory, assembly and inspection are largely done by hand. Casio brags about the double-sided anti-reflective coating on an FSTN display. The keys are comparable to well-designed laptop keys, with a ‘V-shaped gear link structure.’ The chassis is machined from a single bit of aluminum. It’s all very excessive for a calculator that doesn’t even have trig functions.

I wouldn’t be writing all of this if I hadn’t actually acquired one, right? Certainly, I still paid too much for something so silly, but I did finally find a good deal on a used S100 in black. So is it, in Casio’s words, ‘breathtaking, unsurpassed elegance?’ I mean… it is quite nice. It’s worth noting that I don’t have any experience with Casio’s similar-yet-priced-for-humans-to-actually-use calculators. But I can say that the display is the finest basic seven-segment LCD that I’ve seen. The keys feel great, and the tactility combined with the overall layout make for the ability to calculate very quickly5. It has a satisfying heft about it, and it’s clear that a lot of attention-to-detail went into it6.

But… let’s say you really were considering plonking down $300 on this thing. Any number of classic HPs can be acquired for less (and they all have better key-feel): a 41C/CX/CV or 42S, a 71B, a 15C, an oddity like the 22S. You could get a Compucorp 324G. Any number of exotic slide rules. My point is, $300 will buy you a lot of cool calculating history… or one incredibly fancy showpiece. I guess I’m glad they made it, and I guess I’m glad I own one. But it’d be hard to recommend one as an acquisition to all but the most intense calculator nerds.

  1. I know most people just call up a calculator on their computer or phone. I constantly use my HP-16C at work for radix conversion. Even advanced soft calculators like PCalc fail to optimize this task as well as the decades-old HP. And the immediacy of a dedicated machine certainly doesn’t hurt. ↩︎
  2. The series includes the S100 and S200. The S100 is available in black or blue, the S200 is gold. They are otherwise identical, and I will be referring solely to the S100 throughout the post. ↩︎
  3. Casio claims the 001 was the first desktop calculator with ‘a memory function,’ but… the Friden EC-130 had memory two years earlier. ↩︎
  4. Casio previously had made relay-based calculators; the mid-‘60s was the beginning of the end for that tech. ↩︎
  5. I mean, I’m still incredibly slow at it because it isn’t RPN. But what I’m attempting to do? I’m quick at. ↩︎
  6. The rubber on the back has two little square bits that pop out to reveal the screws for replacing the battery. Feels very old-school, but achieves an admirable aesthetic goal. ↩︎

The 1st Dictionary With Attitude

2020-07-20 update: the dinguses at Viacom have shuttered garfield dot com; I had to update a footnote to reflect this.

A sort of running theme with Paws, Inc. over the years has been licensing Garfield assets to any and every taker and seeing what sticks. Browsing merch prototypes from Paws HQ on eBay shows an incredible variety of oft-freakish attempts at materializing Garf into our 3-dimensional world. StickerYou has a bunch of Garf assets available for making custom stickers. For some reason, a Canadian restaurant exists that sells pizza approximately in the shape of Garf’s head. Jim Davis is known for his support of education, which has led to collaborations like Garf assets in an educational 3D programming environment. It sort of comes as no surprise, then, that Paws, Inc. teamed up with Merriam-Webster to create The Merriam-Webster and Garfield Dictionary.

Physically, the dictionary is compact-sized and lacks thumb indices. It comes in paperback and library-bound editions. It runs 816 pages, including all of the supplementary material. Textually, it largely reads like a nermal1 Merriam-Webster dictionary. It has a how-to-use section including a pronunciation guide, the dictionary itself, sections on names of places, people, mythological figures, &c., a style guide, and a list of sources. I’m unable to tell what pre-existing edition of the Merriam-Webster this is based on, but it is definitely pared down a bit to be more ‘family-friendly’: there are no swear words, giggly words like ‘butt’ and ‘poop’ lack their giggly definitions, but sexual anatomic terms like ‘penis’ and ‘anus’ are present as are non-slangy terms for sexual acts like ‘masturbation’ and ‘cunnilingus.’ It also contains typical charts like a table of the elements, and various illustrations.

There are two things that Garf up this dictionary. First, nearly every page has one definition in a callout box with Garf pointing to the definition. On the same page, there will be a Garfield strip that uses that word in some capacity. This continues through the section of names, locations, &c. The preface tells us that these strips were ‘specially chosen by Merriam-Webster editors,’ and it absolutely makes sense to me that some dictionary randos did this rather than anyone well-versed in the world of Garf. Abu Dhabi would be an obvious choice for a strip, yet that page contains no strip at all. This strip in which Jon tells Garfield his picture is in the dictionary next to the word ‘lazy’ is, in fact in the dictionary… to illustrate the word ‘session.’ There are a handful of these little things that would’ve really made for some cute in-jokes, but alas. The other Garfy bit is ‘Garfield’s Daffy Definitions,’ a three-page supplement at the end wherein words like ‘Arbuckle,’ ‘cat,’ ‘diet,’ ‘lasagna,’ ‘Odie,’ and ‘Pooky’ are defined by Garf himself. The section also includes definitions that serve as weird digs at school and teachers, presumably to make the kids feel empowered.

And that’s it, that’s The Garfield and Merriam-Webster Dictionary. It’s a perfectly useful, reasonable dictionary that would serve the average needs of adults as well as children, just… with Garfield. So why am I even talking about it? Part of it is certainly just one of the more interesting Garfield-related objects that I own, and despite being a mashup of two big brands… nobody seems to know about it. Every time I mention it, folks either think I’m joking or simply ask… why. In that sense, I think it’s an interesting object worth making known. In a sense that is a bit more dear to me… I’m worried about the fate of a lot of these odd Garf collabs now that Viacom owns Paws, Inc. There have already been some damning changes in the world of Paws; notably, U.S. Acres, another Jim Davis strip2 and one which has never been printed in its entirety in book form, was recently removed from GoComics3. This may have been in the cards before the acquisition, it may be entirely on Andrews McMeel, but… it feels like things are changing. And I can’t imagine the capitalist clowns at Viacom4 leaving all of these bizarre collaborations intact. If The Garfield and Merriam-Webster Dictonary goes out of print… will anyone even notice? Will anyone care? It won’t be the end of the world, certainly, but… I do feel some sort of obligation to talk about and document some of these oddities. And if anyone out there was looking for a new dictionary, well… you just got one more option.

  1. lololol ↩︎
  2. IMO, U.S. Acres heavy reliance on sight gags made it largely feel like all of the best bits of Garfield without all of the fluff. It only lasted around 3 years, however, so… I’m sure I’m in the minority, believing it to ultimately be superior to its more famous sibling. ↩︎
  3. Garfield.com is still hosting them, fortunately. As mentioned in the note at the top of the post, Viacom has killed off the garfield dot com website. As far as I know, U.S. Acres is officially off of the internet. So, that sucks. ↩︎
  4. Certainly Jim Davis wanted to make money off of Garf as well, or else most of this wacky merch wouldn’t exist at all. I think the approach of a bunch of Viacom execs is bound to be a bit different, and much less interesting, however. ↩︎

Yet another baffling UX decision from Adobe

As of mid-June 2020, Adobe seems to have fixed this. Whether it was a bug or a poor decision is hard to say. I’m leaving this post up for two reasons: first, it is entirely believable that Adobe would do this intentionally; and second, regardless it’s still a good case study in the impacts of this sort of decision.

Adobe apparently updated Acrobat DC recently, which I’m only aware of because of a completely inexplicable change that’s wreaking havoc on my muscle memory (and therefore, my productivity). I haven’t seen any sort of update notification, no changelogs. But on multiple computers spanning multiple Creative Cloud accounts, this change popped up out of the blue. The change? Online help is now accessed via F2 instead of F1.

Actually, this isn’t true. Presumably, sensing that such a change would break years of muscle memory for folks who use F1 to access help1 and/or realizing that this change completely violates a de facto standard that has been nearly universal across software for decades, Adobe actually decided to assign both F1 and F2 to online help. F2 is, however, the key blessed with being revealed in the Help menu.

So, good! Adobe didn’t break anyone’s muscle memory! Except… for those of us who spend all day in Acrobat doing accessibility work. As I wrote in a 2017 post about efficiently using the keyboard in Acrobat, F2 is was the way to edit tags (and other elements in the left-hand panel) from the keyboard2.

Properly doing accessibility work in Acrobat often requires going through an entire document tag-by-tag. Unlike, say, plaintext editing of an HTML file, this is accomplished via a graphical tree view in Acrobat. It is comically inefficient for such a crucial task; attempting to make the most of it was largely the purpose of that earlier post. Fortunately, there is a new way to edit tags via the keyboard: CtrlF2.

This is an incredibly awkward chord, and I have Caps Lock remapped to Ctrl; it’s far, far more awkward using the actual Ctrl key. But let’s pretend for a minute that it’s no more miserable to press than F2. I cannot see any reason why this decision was made. It presumably won’t be used by folks who have muscle memory and/or decades worth of knowledge that F1 invokes online help. It isn’t (currently, maybe they do plan to remap F1 freeing up an additional key. It breaks the muscle memory of users who need to manipulate tags, objects, &c. It’s completely inexplicable, and therefore entirely predictable for the UX monsters at Adobe.

It’s worth noting, in closing, that this isn’t solely an accessibility issue. However, it’s extremely frustrating that there is one tool in this world that actually allows accessibility professionals to examine and edit the core structural elements of PDFs, and that the developers of this tool have so little respect for the folks who need to do this work. I could come up with countless features that would improve the efficiency of my process3, yet… Adobe instead insists on remapping keyboard shortcuts that make the process even slightly manageable. Keyboard shortcuts that I’ve been using for versions upon versions. It’s incredibly disheartening.

  1. I would love to see some numbers on how many people actually use F1 to access online help. I imagine it was somewhat of a big deal with keyboard-heavy power-users back in the day before the internet, but nowadays? Both casual and power users are almost certainly better off just hitting up a search engine. ↩︎
  2. An update to that post is in order, I suppose. ↩︎
  3. The first of which would be the removal of their accessibility checker. As always, I maintain that these things do more harm than good, yet they allow companies to pat themselves on the back for building in accessibility features. It’s not particularly funny, but it is a joke. ↩︎

A test of three zippers

I’m in the middle of quite a few posts, and honestly… this one should be pretty short because I had no idea I’d be writing it. I’m trying to make my Windows experience as pleasant as possible (that itself is an upcoming post), and part of that has involved looking for a good archive tool. Windows handles ZIP files well enough, but it’s kind of a barebones approach and it doesn’t handle any of the other major archive formats that I’m aware of. I looked at a few alternatives; as is typical for Windows they basically all had miserable, nonstandard user interfaces. Many appeared to be adware or scummy bundle situations. I only ended up testing three, and didn’t make it very far with one of them (PeaZip), simply because whatever Linux-esque toolkit it was made with prevented it from working with FancyZones.

So I tried out 7-Zip, WinZip, and benchmarked these against the inbuilt Windows archiver. I’m not settled on anything yet, but both of the alternatives offer support for all of the common archive formats; 7-Zip supports a ton of additional formats. WinZip wins on the UI/UX front, feeling nearly native and offering a nice dual-pane view; 7-Zip is pretty barebones in this department1. 7-Zip is free, open-source software; WinZip is proprietary, closed-source software with a $29 price tag.

What really shocked me, however, were the benchmarks. I wanted to test ZIP files specifically, as I run into them most often (other formats tend to be things I’ll be handling on the Linux side of things), and I couldn’t benchmark anything else against the inbuilt Windows archiver. My test machine is an 8th Gen Core i7, quad-core @ 1.8GHz, with 16GB RAM and only Intel onboard graphics. WinZip has an option to use OpenCL and offload the task to the GPU; I thought it would handily outperform the others accordingly2. Only 7-Zip has a built in timer, so results on the other two may have been off by a second or two as I was doing it manually with a stopwatch. I did three runs of each and averaged. The test was enwik9, the first 109 bytes of English Wikipedia. A gigabyte of source that reliably FLATEs down to under 350MB.

YMMV, of course, and this was… a single giant file run through only a handful of times. But I was shocked that Windows tore through a gigabyte source so quickly. Unzipping any of the resultant files was uniformly fast; decompression is not an intensive task. I don’t know that there’s an actual takeaway here, but I was shocked by the speed at which Windows compressed that file.

  1. I should clarify that 7-Zip also has a dual-pane view, but overall, the navigation panels just don’t feel quite right to me. ↩︎
  2. It might, on a system with better graphics. It would be interesting to test on a system like my Mac Pro w/ a dedicated non-display GPU. ↩︎