Monthly Archives: June 2005

Alison Krauss

Friday night we saw Alison Krauss & Union Station at The Backyard. At one time far outside Austin, suburbia has now claimed most of the land around this uniquely Austin venue. We parked outside what will shortly be a Bed Bath & Beyond, or maybe a Barnes & Noble, or another of the too familiar cookie cutter retail shops that spring up around new neighborhoods. Walking over the dust, wire, and new concrete of the construction site, we were thankful for a chance to see a show at The Backyard before the landscape changes entirely, invaded by 24-hour parking lot lights and noisy cars.

Inside none of that could be seen or mattered, though, and the stars came out midway through the set on a clear sky above the open-air venue. Alison’s voice was beautiful and effortless. Songs from the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, other great tracks like The Lucky One and Restless, and a bunch of incredible songs that were new to me. For the encore, her voice soared as if she hasn’t even really been trying before. The audience was moved and in the span of an hour I went from being a little familiar with a few songs, to a life-long fan.

Need some music? The Alison Krauss iTunes Essentials is a good place to start.

Howl’s Moving Castle

I saw Howl’s Moving Castle last night. When we showed up at the theater, I was surprised that they accidentally had the subtitled version, not the dub. It was great to see the original Japanese, and I look forward to comparing it to the English on subsequent viewings or when it hits DVD. The subtitles were very good — not the broken English you’d expect from a cheap dub, so I expect the dialog is from the translation handled by Disney.

I should describe my first Hayao Miyazaki experience. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about the history of animation, of a range of genres, styles, and studios, but my first exposure to Miyazaki actually came late, with the Disney dub of Kiki’s Delivery Service. I knew there was something special about this film before I saw it, but finding a copy proved difficult due to lackluster marketing and poor distribution. I went to a few video stores in search of a rental before I finally found a VHS copy for sale and bought it.

Now, many of Miyazaki’s earlier films are definitely geared more toward children, and this is especially true with Kiki. But I was completely blown away by the innocence and total sincerity in this film, and at the climax I was near tears. It is a masterpiece that I’ve enjoyed watching over and over again now that I have my own children. Every second of film is there for a reason, with perfect pacing, dialogue, and emotion. From then I’ve enjoyed his other films over the years, including a side trip while passing through Houston to see Princess Mononoke in the theater, since it was in very limited release, and of course Spirited Away, last year’s Porco Rosso premiere in Austin, Totoro, and most of the rest.

So Howl’s Moving Castle. I’m not sure it was my favorite of his films, but it was very enjoyable, full of both originality and familiar Miyazaki themes. When it wants to be, the animation is beautiful, and the visuals stunning throughout. The acting of the lead character Sophie as a young and old woman is very believable, the movement and walk obviously well studied. Good work all around.

Watching a film like this, with at times such power and intensity, you’d never believe that 2d animation has been written off by most decision-makers in this country. It’s simply impossible to make a film like this in 3d, either now or 5 years from now, which means that the kinds of stories that can be told in U.S. feature animation are limited right now. As long as audiences are being entertained, few people will complain about this unnoticed drought, but the risk is that over time animation will be even more pigeon-holed than it already is.

Nintendo DS

Alright I gave in and bought a DS. The newly bundled Mario 64 was too much for me to resist. I justified it as an early father’s day present to myself.

It became increasingly obvious after E3 that Nintendo does not have a plan for a next-generation Game Boy, and instead they are putting most of their resources into the DS. The Game Boy Micro is a sweet little device, though.

What can I say about the DS after a few days use? It is at the same time flawed and brilliant. So much more bulky than the GBA SP, and a single screen alone is no bigger. The huge win is in the touch screen, which encourages innovative games that let you tinker, explore, or control your character in a new way. This system is just fun to use.

I picked up Kirby Canvas Curse today and I’m loving it. As Nick from 4 color rebellion said: “I here and now declare KCC the first true DS killer app. Combining elements of some of the best games of all time, Hal has created something totally fresh that sets the example of how to make a DS game.”

Indeed. This looks like the first in a string of nice DS titles. Before now, I thought the PSP could actually do the impossible: beat Nintendo’s decade-long dominance of handhelds. But by the end of this year I think we will see quite a different story, with both DS and PSP clearly co-existing for some time to come.

And of course it comes down to the types of games that are being developed. The audience for Halo is not necessarily the same as for Nintendogs. But if you are trying to create for the hardcore and casual gamers, you need something from both on your platform.

From the Wired interview with Shigeru Miyamoto:

“What’s happening with video games is the same thing that happens with anything new and interesting. At the beginning, everybody wants to see what it is. They gather around and check it out. But gradually, people start to lose interest.

“The people who don’t lose interest become more and more involved. And the medium starts to be influenced by only those people. It becomes something exclusive to the people who’ve stuck with it for a long time. And when the people who were interested in it at first look back at it, it’s no longer the thing that interested them.”

I found this very insightful — just that a game company is thinking about these things at that level — and it brings into focus my own “return” to gaming.

WWDC 2005 highlights

Briefly, highlights from WWDC include: great Automator, .Mac, and WebKit sessions; time with James Duncan Davidson, Mike Clark, and small chats with Brent Simmons and other developers; seeing the impressive work Rich Kilmer is doing on ActionStep; the Michael Johnson Pixar talk; another software review with John Gelenyse; and hearing The Wallflowers at the Apple Campus Bash. We took 7 people from work this year, so we had a great mix of session coverage (not to mention good restaurant choices). Look forward to next year.


I saw three people I haven’t seen in over a decade last week. The first two from high school — Heather, at Magnolia Cafe in Austin before leaving, then Joel randomly on Market Street in San Francisco. I wondered who I’d run into next, and the answer came a few days into WWDC when I spotted Bob Pudell, who hired me for an internship at Apple my second semester at UT, and from which I can trace just about every job I’ve landed since.

Collaboration and Goodbyes

The .Mac SDK session here at WWDC was interesting. First, it was forward-looking, not something we’ve seen much this year with the exception of Intel. Also, it wasn’t covered under NDA (hence this blog post).

The 2.0 kit will be Tiger-only when it ships next month, but it will provide some really powerful features such as publish-and-subscribe and secondary user accounts that live off a paid .Mac account. Lots of fun applications surely to come. Apple wants to enable deep collaboration across applications.

Meanwhile, it’s been a few days and many developers have already brought their apps up on Intel. The general consensus now seems to be that this will be a smooth and very fast transition. If there are new Intel-based PowerBooks ready in January, there will be a wide-variety of popular apps ready for it.

I use CodeWarrior for most projects, but I was still surprised to hear Apple say that almost half of Mac developers have also yet to switch to Xcode. That will be the biggest chore for most people.

Thanks for all the good times Metrowerks. CodeWarrior was a great development environment, and in its time PowerPlant was a great framework. The Mac OS X transition has always been a mix of steps forward and back, and Xcode will be no different.


Even before I arrived in San Francisco, and even before the rumors surfaced of Apple switching to Intel, this WWDC looked to be a unique one. For the first time since I can remember, the conference was mostly going to cover a shipping OS. Steve Jobs mentioned Leopard only in that we would hear about it more next year.

On the BART from the airport I met some fellow WWDC attendees (the Apple and Mac-hack 1995 t-shirts were an easy giveaway). We discussed the ramifications of Intel, what else might be in store. I still hoped for a new product line, maybe a tablet or something interesting and different as the first step to Intel.

And then everything changed, the rumors were true. It was a bold move, but as Steve Jobs said, Apple is strong right now. They know what they have to do to pull this transition off.