25 Years Into The Future

*For those of you confused about the dates in the BTTF movies see my update below.*

Back To The Future first arrived on cinema screens 25 years ago. When I was a boy, most kids wanted to be Michael Jordan, or the President, or maybe an astronaut. I wanted to be [Doctor Emmett L. Brown][doc].

[doc]: “Emmett Brown on Wikipedia”

He was the wonderful scientist-of-all-trades in 1985’s [Back to The Future][bttf], played by the inimitable Christopher Lloyd in what has been, thus far, his finest role on the screen. I doubt he or anyone else will ever top it. As a child, I didn’t want to be a scientist, I wanted to be *that* scientist. Doc Brown just *knew* stuff about pretty much everything, and while being a little scatter-brained (with the knowledge of real, working, time travel in their head, who wouldn’t be?) was unquestionably brilliant, if not a little short-sighted.

[bttf]: “Back to the Future”

Back To The Future released 3 July, 1985. I was barely two years old at the time, so I never got to see it in the theater. Later, though, it became my favorite movie. Over the last 20 years I’ve watched the trilogy dozens of times. Though they are very much a product of the 1980s, and the fashions looks silly to us now, the films themselves never get old, and Doc never becomes less inspirational to me. ” If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” It’s a platitude, sure, but but coming from a guy who invented a time machine, it means a lot.

20 years since I personally first saw the the original BTTF film, am I any closer to mad scientistry? My business card says so, but I doubt I’ll ever reach Doc’s level. Part of Doc’s appeal was that he was this platonic ideal of the Mad Scientist that existed in my mind, even before I knew it was there. Like Peter Cushing’s portrayal of Van Helsing in the half-dozen Hammer-produced Dracula films, or Kevin Conroy’s voicing of Batman in the mid-90s Batman: The Animated Series, Lloyd’s Doc Brown took up residence in my headspace and will probably never leave. At least, I hope he won’t.

**Update**: In the BTTF film the time travel event takes place on October 25th, 1985. In BTTF 2 Marty goes to October 21st, 2015. BTTF was released July 3rd, 1985. For those wondering, [as topherchris was][topher], “how July 5, 2010 fits into this,” the Back To The Future DVD commentary: In it, Bob Zemeckis and Bob Gale (the director and co-writer of the film) explain that they put this in there as a sight gag, since July 5th was around when the movie was going to come out. It exists only as a little joke for keen-eyed viewers. Apparently it doesn’t.

**Update 2**: The original version of this post misused quotation marks around “25 years,” which has been fixed.

**Update 3**: It looks like the [July 5th, 2010 screen shot is actually a hoax][hoax].

[orig]: “Original Scene from BTTF”
[hoax]: “BTTF hoax”
[topher]: “Topherchris”


Fix Netflix “Watch Instantly” Audio Volume With Audio Hijack

If you’re a user of Netflix’s Watch Instantly service you’ve no doubt come upon at least a couple videos that are too quiet to hear without straining, even with your speakers cranked. Mac users: Fear not. The audio-twisting protozoans at Rogue Amoeba have an app called [Audio Hijack Pro][hijack], the Swiss-army knife of Mac system audio. In addition to letting you record audio from any Mac OS X application (while it is running), it also allows you to apply various effects to the live audio stream. Obviously, in order to use Audio Hijack, you have to [download it][hijack]. Do so.

### 1. Open Audio Hijack

Audio Hijack has a lot of settings and switch, and it’s user interface may seem a little abstract to the first-time user. What we’re going to do only takes three clicks, though. First, select Safari from the pane on the left side of the screen. Then click “Hijack” in the top left of the window. Audio Hijack may ask you to restart Safari. Next click the Effects tab in the right panel. Your screen will look like this:

The one we’re interested in is turning up the Gain, which will actually pump the Audio coming from Safari up over the “100%” system limit. For now, though, you have to load up your movie on Netflix.

### 2. Start Playing The Movie on Netflix

I’ll assume you now how to do this, otherwise you wouldn’t even know if you had a problem with quiet audio. While the movie is playing, switch back to Audio Hijack. This was we can tweak the audio in real time, to get the right volume.

### 3. Pump Up The Volume

Click the slider on the Gain control in the top left of the Effects window shown in the picture above. Drag it to the right to pump up the volume, up to a maximum of 238%. That should be plenty for any quiet Netflix movie.

Due to the general awesomeness of Audio Hijack, this trick works for ANY application in OS X.

[hijack]: “Rogue Ameoba’s Audio Hijack Pro”


How To Enable Extensions For Safari 5

If you, like me, have tried to install a Safari 5 extension such as Coda Notes, and were met with the following dialog:

and then spent 5 minutes looking through Safari’s Preferences window to no avail, this is how you enable Extensions on Safari 5:

1. Open **Preferences**
1. Click **Advanced**
1. Click **Show develop in menu bar**
1. Close and reopen Safari
1. Click the **Develop** menu item
1. Finally, click **Enable Extensions**



Wikipedia Is Broken In

I’m not sure if this is due to [Wikipedia’s new skin][skin] (with the “usability” enhancements), some other MediaWiki update, or if the problem is on Apple’s end (*Update*: [It is a problem with Wikipedia’s new skin][fix]), but this is another good example of why Apple doesn’t want to rely on third-party vendors for anything.

[skin]: “Blog post on wikipedia’s new skin”

The image above is what I get when looking up the word “Dictionary” in Snow Leopard’s built-in Dictionary application, and clicking Wikipedia. The Wikipedia page is very long, and should have vertical scrollbars, but there are none.

*Update:* [Mac OS X Hints has information on how a “fix”][fix] which involves logging in to Wikipedia and setting your skin to use the previous one.

Hat tip to [Shawn Medero][shawn].

[shawn]: “Shawn Medero”
[fix]: “Mac OS X hints fix”


Web Development Thought For The Day

It is 2010. If you have a mailing list and every message does not include a one-click unsubscribe link, you are either lazy or an asshole.


For The Uninitiated: Web Video Fracas 2010

Adobe wants people to use Flash to play videos, primarily because they own the technology behind it (which makes them lots of money), and have enjoyed the majority of video on the web being played via Flash for quite some time. Adobe, by virtue of owning Flash, is the only real player in the Flash playing and video encoding game. They want Flash on every device in the world, so they can sell their tools to author Flash. Adobe as a company [still makes most of their money on selling people tools][adobesales] to make things with. Adobe has spent a lot of money making Flash and their Flash editing tools.

[adobesales]: “Adobe Revenue 2010”

Apple wants people to use H.264 to play videos, primarily because their mobile devices (which make them a ton of money) can decode the video stream in hardware which is [a big win in battery life][battery] .vs. decoding in software like Flash. Apple controls the decoding of H.264 on the Mac and iPhone/iPad lines, so they don’t have to wait for anyone else when they want to do something new with it. Apple has spent a lot of money and time making H.264 work great on their devices.

[battery]: “Battery Life”

Google just wants people to play videos. They’d prefer it if the technology used to encode and playback those videos didn’t belong to anyone, so they don’t have to deal with the politics of being nice to some other company because they need their support vis-a-vis video. They [bought a company called On2][bought] and [open sourced a video codec and container format][webm] (which may have [some severe patent problems][tech]) to accomplish this end and try to diffuse the situation. Google is the only company in this tug-o-war who actually makes money selling videos, or more precisely, renting the eyeballs of people who are viewing videos to advertisers.

Due to the above, video on the web is a nightmare right now. There is no video format you can encode to that will play in the big three: Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer, unless you want to use Flash to play the video. Which means users will need to have Flash installed on their device, in which case it will not play on the largest mobile device market: the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, or even current releases of the smaller ones, like Android, which also do not support Flash. If you encode to H.264, it won’t play in Firefox or the current version of Internet Explorer (8), but will work in Safari, Chrome (on the Mac), and the upcoming version of Internet Explorer (9). Adobe has pledged to support WebM in it’s Flash products.

There is no way Apple is going to support WebM for their mobile platform unless it can be decoded in hardware. Broadcomm, a major producer of chips for mobile device, [has announced a chip which will decode VP8 in hardware][broadcom], but this is fairly new development. It is not unreasonable to consider that Apple has plenty of so-called “skunkworks” projects to play all kinds of Video content on iPhone and iPad, but it’s pretty unlikely that we’ll see any new video support in the upcoming new iPhone model.

[broadcom]: “Broadcom Accelerates WebM Video on Mobile Phones”
[bought]: “Google Buys On2”
[webm]: “WebM Project”
[tech]: “A Technical Analysis of VP8, the Codec used for WebM”


On Steam for Mac OS X

* Steam for Mac, while a welcome panacea against the 17 or 20 Windows users who were clinging to the last hope of their platform (“Macs don’t have any games!”), is not yet a first-class Mac OS X citizen. As a cross-platform system, it is completely expected, and normal, that there are going to be conventions that apply and “fit” in one platform but do not in another. We can’t forget that Steam is a primarily a *PC* games platform that is inching it’s way toward being *the* games platform.

* Steam is, in a strange way, a great example of Apple’s own thinking (and primary justification) regarding allowing third-party SDK use on the iPhone and iPad platforms. Namely: They’ve created this software that doesn’t feel, in this case, “Mac-like”, or in the broader sense “Apple-like”. Apple has no say in the look-and-feel of Steam. They can’t chastise Valve for Steam’s refusal to work with Spaces (go ahead, try control+clicking Steam and dragging it into another space). It’s a small example, but it grates on someone who uses Macs all day long and expects this stuff to just work.

* As a Mac user and a gamer, having Steam on the Mac is *great*. I’ve spent about $100 on it already. As someone who cares about how things *work*, Steam is a very PC-feeling application. My gut says many of the explicitly non-Mac design conventions in the Steam application aren’t going anywhere: the strange, dark, non-round-rect windows. Their inexplicable use of ~/Documents to store games and game data. The “Updating Steam” progress window that uses Geneva instead of Lucida Grande (yeah, I noticed). The tiny, non-standard, UI controls.

* As for the rest, I hope Valve makes enough money off of Mac users to justify improving the client into something that more resembles the beautiful, usable, interfaces we’ve become accustomed to. At any rate, it’s good to have Valve on board.


Apple’s Use Of Private APIs In The App Store, iTunes Music Store

[John Gruber notes][john], vis-a-vis [this talk given by Bertrand Serlet][talk] on Apple’s API Lifecycle, that:

>Apple doesn’t disallow the use of private APIs out of spite; they disallow it because their private APIs are not fully baked.

It should be obvious, but: Apple’s intentions are utterly unimportant in this matter. Using private APIs for system-level applications is one thing, but iBooks is in the App Store. [iBooks uses private, Apple-only APIs that are not available to other developers][marco]. iBooks directly competes with any number of other applications that sells things to read. iBooks is using an unfair advantage given to it by Apple’s engineers. There’s nothing ok about any of that.

Adding to this, there is the potentially coming storm of a [United States .vs. Microsoft][ms] situation regarding the iTunes Music Store. There are other music stores out there, after all, and Apple has not put them all on equal footing. If using special features that no other developers have access to isn’t an anti-competitive practice, I’m not sure what else qualifies.

The more iPads, iPhones and Macs that Apple sells, the closer they’re coming to an antitrust showdown.

[talk]: “Bertrand Serlet on Apple’s API Lifecycle”
[marco]: “ – iBooks and private APIs”
[john]: “Bertrand Serlet on Apple’s API Lifecycle”
[ms]: “United States .vs. Microsoft”


How To: Automatically Backup Your 1Password Keychain Offsite With Dropbox

Since the writing of this post, [1Password has added built-in Dropbox syncing as a feature][feat]. As such, the following information is no longer useful and is left intact for historical purposes.

[feat]: “Sync using Dropbox”

*The following post was inspired by the recent postings of [Merlin Mann][merlin] and [John Gruber][gruber] RE: Why you need to be backing up your stuff as often as possible. If you haven’t, you really should give ’em a read.*

[merlin]: “Yes. Another Backup Lecture – 43 Folders”
[gruber]: “And Ode to Diskwarrior, Superduper, and Dropbx”

If you’re as avid a user of the excellent password/login-storing app [1Password][password] as I am, you probably spend a decent amount of time trying *not* to think about what might happen to you if the application or it’s database were to suddenly go bad.

[password]: “1Password”

Ah, you’re probably thinking about it now, huh? Sorry about that. Like [the game][game], important data loss is not something you want occupying your brainspace, and yet there it is. Waiting. I come here not to terrifying you, though I may do that on purpose later if there’s time, but to help you out. You might not know it, but 1Password provides a daily keychain backup function from within the 1Password itself, and when melded to the also-excellent [Dropbox][dropbox] online backup and file sharing system, it can be made to automatically backup your 1Password database offsite, *for free*. Here’s how.

[game]: “The Game. You Lose.”

## Get ‘Er Accomplished

**Prerequesite** Um, I am assuming you use Mac OS X and 1Password already. If not, you can pretend none of this ever happened. I won’t hold it against you. Much.

1. Download and signup for [Dropbox][dropbox]. Install that shit.

[dropbox]: “Dropbox”

2. Navigate to **Your Home Folder → Dropbox** and create a folder called **1Password**.

3. Open 1Password, and click **Preferences** in the **application menu**.

4. Click the **Backup tab** in the **preferences window**, and then the folder-selection box under **Backup Folder**.

5. Select the **1Password folder you created in step 2**. Click the poorly-named “Open” button in the bottom right of the window, or just hit return. Either of these will save you selection.

6. Click **Backup Now** to make sure it works. Wait a minute. If it works, 1Password will open a Finder window with your newly backed-up files.

7. Close 1Password.

8. Sleep the sleep of the just.

You’re welcome. Comments can be sent to *comments* at *the domain this post is on*, and cash gifts can be sent to [me right here][cash].

[cash]: “Paypal Donation”


The Extra Future Drinks Library: The Old Hotty

The Old Hotty is a combination of a [Hot Toddy][toddy] and the oldest cocktail, [The Old Fashioned][old]. It’s great for colds and those of us who are besieged by problems all day long and who seek to conceal our alcoholism by giving it cute names and cloaking the booze in socially acceptable manner (in this case tea).

## Suggested Applications

Cold or Flu remedy, “[hair of the dog][hair]” hangover cure. Secret drinking.

[hair]: “Hair of the Dog that bit me”

## You Will Need

* A coffee mug. Might I suggest one with [the Buchanan Area Chamber of Commerce logo][buck] on it?
* Honey, preferably in one of those little bears.
* (optional) If you like your tea REALLY fucking sugary, then go ahead and add a sugar cube. Jesus.
* A lemon, cut into quarters, or some lemon juice.
* Angostura bitters
* Whisky, Rum or Rye. I sugest Maker’s Mark whisky, but since you’re mixing it, it doesn’t have to be the good stuff. Old Crow will work just fine in a pinch, and I will not judge you. We’re all friends here.
* A bag of tea. Any kind will work, really.

## Cook It Up

Get your coffee mug, pour/squirt just enough honey in it to coat the bottom of the mug. Add juice from a lemon quarter, or a couple squirts from that fake plastic lemon thing or whatever it is you people have, I honestly can’t keep up with all these different kind of lemon juice delivery systems so get off my back. I’m trying to help you here. Now add a dash of the Angostura Bitters, and a shot of your liquor. Throw in your tea bag, and fill the rest of the mug with boiling water. Steep the tea as you normally would. Taste the most delicious thing you’ve had all day. You’re welcome.

[toddy]: “Hot Toddy”
[old]: “The Old Fashioned”
[buck]: “Buchanan Area Chamber of Commerce mug”


The Extra Future No-Prize

I am hereby instituting the Extra Future No-Prize, a non-prize awarded to readers and users of my software who spot bugs, omissions, or misspellings. Include a mailing address with your bug report or correction, and you’ll get sent one of [these handsome fellows][link].

You can find more information about [No-Prizes at your local library][prize].

[link]: “The Extra Future NO-PRIZE”
[prize]: “No-Prize”


AdBrite, Longtime Advertiser on Goatse-Laden Sites Like Boing Boing, Uncomfortable With The Word “Shizz”

[Adbrite][link], the company most known for providing spam pages with endless supplies of 7 Minute Diet and GET RICH NOW banner ads, has apparently decided that those big, bad, grownup words like “shizz” are bad for business. To be honest, it has gotten to be a hassle to deny the 100s of “Weight-loss Secrets of Horny Moms” and “Meet Sexy Singles in the Area We Guess You Live in Based on Our Shoddy IP Geolocation” ads that are the site’s bailiwick, anyway.

Here is the exact message I got from Adbrite, vis-a-vis my ad submission for [][frmt]:

>The landing page contains slang terms for profanity, which we can’t allow in AdBrite. Please remove the word Shizz and resubmit the ad.

Needless to say, I won’t be doing that.

[link]: “Adbrite”
[frmt]: “, The Simple CSS Formatter”


Enhance Your Television Experience With Bland!

From the Extra Future Theater of the Air comes the following public service announcement regarding “Bland!” the hot new trend in televison:

You can, if you want, download it in a in [Ogg][ogg], or [m4a][m4a] format.

[ogg]: “Bland! in Ogg”
[m4a]: “Bland! in m4a”



[ is an online CSS formatter][link] using the Extra Future house style rules, which I’ve yet to codify here but will soon. It is one of my 6-hour projects, and as such is considered a sibling to [Megaman II’s Intro in HTML, CSS, and jQuery][mm2].

House style on the name is to print the domain all caps and the TLD in lowercase, like so:

[link]: “ Formats CSS”


Megaman II’s Intro Animation In HTML

Created by yours truly. No Flash, just CSS, HTML5, and jQuery. The animation is very not smooth in Firefox, but works great in Safari and Chrome.

[You can check it out here.][link]

[link]: “Megaman II Intro”

Using the scrollbar to bring the view upward was a stylistic choice, it could’ve just as (if not more) easily done in a single “screen”, but what’s the fun in that? The demo uses the jQuery [backgroundPosition-Effect][plugin] plugin to achieve the parallax scrolling effect, and the new Javascript audio capabilities introduced by the HTML5 group. The timing may not work very well on older machines.

[plugin]: “jQuery Plugins: backgroundPosition-Effect”



(photo sources: [][doug], [][ch], [][de], [][ad], [][cs], [][adr])

[doug]: “Doug Lubey”
[de]: “Deconcept”
[ad]: “Adobe”
[cs]: “Cutesoft”
[adr]: “Adrian Parr”
[ch]: “Chris Pirillo”


The Little Things: LinkedIn Forums Edition

If you, like I, have been spending some time on the [LinkedIn developer forums][dev] trying to hammer their API into something that works for your client, you’ll notice a couple things: 1) Their forums keep you logged in for about 30 seconds per session and 2) Nobody there pays attention to anything. Case in point, the wording that appears beneath *each* forum post, where the “click here to reply” link would appear if you were logged in, which you aren’t because it logged you out after 30 seconds:

[dev]: “LinkedIn Developer Community Forums”

Keep in mind this appears in *every* forum post, of which there are (as of this writing) thousands. And this isn’t a new thing, it’s been like this for quite some time. Either someone’s asleep, they don’t care, or their software is so gobsmackingly complex it would take more time to change one text string than it is worth. The real question is, though: Who [accidentally][acc] the rest of that sentence?

[acc]: “I Accidentally – Know Your Meme”


Silent Mode Engaged. See You In 201X.

Posting will be light-to-non-existent here on EFHQ until around Jan 3nd. Be excellent to each other.

Thanks to everyone who has ordered [T-Shirts][shirts], I love you all with both my bodymeat and also my headmeat. Shirts should start shipping mid-Jan. You’ll be the coolest kid on your internets.

[shirts]: “Extra Future Shirts”


Usability Question du Jour

Say I’m building a website that deals with data from other websites (social and professional networks, etc), and I want users to be able to enter in their existing profile info into of the application. I can’t just ask for their current username (e.g. ``), because some of these websites do not have very friendly URLs (e.g. ``) and these may confuse the user. Our mock-up implementation looks like this:


In the example above, “Sign Up For” send the user to the specified site’s sign up page, and the form element is their ID. It changes based on the site in question, and I don’t think it quite works. What troubles me most (I’m not in love with it being overlaid on the text) is the language, but none of it is something I can’t live without. “Finish this URL” makes it sound like a game, or look like a CAPTCHA, neither of which is what we want. So, UI/UX/Usability gurus: How would you do it? [Comments are open][link].

[link]: “Let me know in the comments”


Where To Order Red Bull Online

Red Bull. The breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack of brain-champions such as [Warren Ellis][warren], and yours truly. Problem is: It is not cheap stuff. I did a little sleuthing, and here are the current prices on cases of 24 8.3oz cans (*Updated 12 November 2009*):

[warren]: “Warren Ellis”

* $51.48 – Amazon Grocery **qualifies for FREE shipping**
* [£24.34 – The Drink Shop][3]
* [$45.99 – Supplement Warehouse][4] (12oz cans!)
* [$46.99 – Beverages Direct][5]

[3]: “Red Bull on”
[4]: “Red Bull on supplement warehouse”
[5]: “Beverages Direct”