26 Jul 2009

Mac Moments: Not using paths

On my Mac, I had a movie in my Movies folder called “Sesame Street Season 1 part 1.m4v”. I dragged it to iTunes so I could play it there (for my daughter), and all was well. One day I wanted to move those old Sesame Streets into a folder called “old”, so I made the “old” folder and dragged that movie in, no big deal.

iTunes still had a record of that movie file of course, but what happens when I ask iTunes to play it? What do you think ought to happen? What do you wish would happen? What do you think computers are capable of enabling to happen?

I’ll tell you what happens on a Mac: it plays the movie, and on Windows and all other operating systems, it does not. This is not about iTunes. The distinction holds for any piece of software at all that maintains pointers to files, whether it’s a media organizer, or a Recent Documents feature in a word processor. This is because on Windows, there is no other system-provided mechanism for storing file locations besides paths. Paths include the name of all enclosing folders, plus the filename, plus of course the drive letter on Windows, e.g. “C:\Documents and Settings\Greg\My Movies\Sesame Street Season 1 part 1.m4v”. If I change the path to include “old” partway along the chain, which is what moving the file into “old” amounts to, then the path has changed and the original path is invalid, it points to nothing.

I will not describe the technical details of the mechanism the Mac uses instead, because frankly it doesn’t matter, that’s the whole point. It’s a smart piece of technology that hides from the user, but enables the user to work in a more intuitive way. It permits all software not to be sensitive to changes the user makes to the locations of files or folders.

This mechanism has existed since the early days of the Mac. It’s not some fancy modern cpu-intensive disk-intensive feature that indexes your hard drive or anything. It’s just a better way of storing file locations in software, since users like to move stuff around.

This is one of those differences that I usually have trouble articulating, but subconsciously affects all my decisions, just like the fragility of paths affects many of my decisions when I’m using Windows.

19 Jul 2009

Lord of the Rings in 100 48 pages

I am a huge fan of Peter Jackson’s movie versions of The Lord of the Rings novels. A HUGE fan. But I am also a fan of the books, which I have read several times, and which I have also done supplementary reading on.

This post is for anyone who enjoyed watching the movies, is willing to re-watch the extended editions, and has a desire to read the books but hesitates to invest the full time required to read 3 novels.

What I have done is go through the books and find the paragraphs where the story differs from the story told in the movies. This serves two purposes. Firstly, for me, there are a few things I felt were especially disappointing or overlooked in the movies, including elements that I consider thematically crucial, and I want others to share in that opinion without having to read every word. Secondly, for you, it will allow you to use the movies to substitute for most of the content of the novels, which when added to the material I am listing here, will give you the entire story as presented in the book. It will also give you good exposure to Tolkien’s writing style and the tone of the books.

I have tried to make it easy for you to follow along no matter what edition of the novels you have. I have provided page numbers for the 3-paperback version published by Ballantine in 1993, and the red single-volume collector’s edition. But in addition I provide the chapter number and the snippet of text that begins and ends the excerpt, plus the approximate number of pages the excerpt runs in my paperback edition, just to give you a sense of the size of the excerpt. If you own the Kindle or another electronic edition, you can probably type in my snippets to find the beginning. I have also annotated each excerpt, to indicate why I am including it.

Note that each novel has two sets of chapters numbered from 1, since it’s actually a 6 ‘book’ story the way Tolkien divided it up. So “TTT 2.5” means The Two Towers, book 2, chapter 5.

The table is available as a Google spreadsheet document.