Saturday, December 01, 2007

15% short of a sure thing

A Piper Jaffray analyst puts the probability of an "ultra-portable" MacBook being introduced at MacWorld at 85%.

That's as close to being a certainty as anything rumored to be about to sprout forth from Apple ever is, which is to say don't count on it until you hear Steve Jobs say that it's true, but be listening for it.

So what, you say?

Well, if the possibility of Apple bringing out such a device hasn't got you on the edge of your seat, you either never leave home (and hence have no use for portability) or you're underestimating Apple.

When Apple brings a new product category to market it represents a careful examination of the uses that device is likely to be put to, and typically a novel design, with a feature set that provokes first surprise then recognition, as the logic behind it sinks in and you realize that they've nailed it again. Apple hardly ever goes to market with a new product unless it's that good.

So, assuming that an 'ultra-portable' MacBook is a sure bet not to be an exception to that pattern, and giving the Piper Jaffray fellow the benefit of a doubt, there would seem to be something very special about to arrive, something that will at least reshape, if not redefine, portable computing.

And, as always with Apple, the truth may turn out to be even more interesting than anticipated.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

something old, something new

Apple has added what must surely be the last chapter to the book of Mac OS X 10.4, a.k.a. Tiger. Version 10.4.11 was posted yesterday. That's not to say that there won't still be a few footnotes added, after all Apple also just posted a pair of security updates to Mac OS X 10.3.9, a.k.a. Panther, which was superseded by Tiger more than two years ago.

Looking forward, the rumor mill is abuzz with talk about a soon-to-be-released ultra-portable Mac sub-notebook which is expected not to have an internal optical drive, and which will have solid-state mass storage, possibly in lieu of an internal hard drive. Probably to be marketed as a MacBook Pro, with a metal case, this new model will be noticeably thinner than and only about half as heavy as the current 15-inch MacBook Pro, but will share its LED screen backlighting, which makes a more vivid display possible and uses less power. This model is expected to be very popular.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

sorting it out

It's not about me. Well, actually, a bit of it is about me, but mostly not. Mostly I'm a bystander, an onlooker; I am not the pivot about which the world turns, not even for myself. At best I am a servant of forces far more powerful than myself, and may choose to which of those forces to add my own meager efforts, and which to deny. I am nearly inconsequential, just not quite entirely so.

For such a humble personage, one homepage is quite enough, and it might as well be the one I've had for years. That and other pages on the same site are where I honed my HTML and CSS manual coding skills, a well as JavaScript, although I'm very rusty at that.

Cultibotics is easily an important enough issue for me to be willing to devote my .Mac website to it, even if all that's there thus far is a link to the Cultibotics blog. The website will develop as I become more comfortable with iWeb.

The Harmonic Ratio blog is home to a project that has been taunting me for years with niggling results that do poor service to the deep potential of music not hampered by a centuries old compromise. That project is also my main hope for breaking through as a serious programmer, although I have other programming projects that may reach 1.0 status before any of my musical efforts do.

This blog, Lacy Ice + Heat (snowmelt, get it?), is where I get to indulge my Mac fixation, as well as anything else that camps out in the forefront of my mind for awhile, which will undoubtedly include those other programming projects, when the time is ripe.

It may not be perfect, but it at least seems like a rational parceling out of purposes.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Leopard: first impressions

Well, it's been a bit over ten days since Leopard was released, and almost as long since I started using it. So far, most of my attention has gone to the new Spaces feature, which is a great addition but has a few behavioral quirks in the version included with 10.5.0. They're nothing I can't get used to, given a little time, and I do have Spaces enabled, but I'm hopeful there'll be a few adjustments in how it works in 10.5.1 or 10.5.2.

Others may differ, but I like the new Dock, with its reflections and bright dots to indicate running applications. I've given up on trying to include everything in the Dock that I'd like to have there, and have installed aliases to a handful of apps on one side of the Desktop. I wish that it had occurred to me to do this before, both because it allows me to put more apps where they're easy to get to and because their icons make nice decorations on the Desktop. It also allows me to group them in two dimensions instead of just one, as on the Dock, and I know right where they're going to be if I need one of them. The Dock is still more convenient, but aliases on the Desktop rate a close second.

I also like the newly adjustable grid that controls icon placement on the Desktop and in Windows, the more detailed icons, the unified window appearance, and the inclusion of predefined searches in Finder's sidebar.

As much as any new feature, though, I like the sparkling performance. Tiger was quick, but, with very few exceptions, Leopard is quicker. It also feels quite stable for a point-zero release. Aside from the rules driving the behavior of Spaces, I haven't found any bugs at all so far, and only one feature gone missing, the ability to launch a URL from Terminal using Command-Doubleclick.

My main reason for wanting Leopard was the new version of Xcode, with support for refactoring, and of Objective-C 2.0, with declared properties, iteration over collections, and garbage collection, and that's where my attention is now turning. The rest I'll get around to sooner or later.

Friday, October 26, 2007

the more things change

The more things change, the more they stay the same, or so they say, and sometimes that's a good thing.

The last thing you want to encounter when doing a software upgrade is having to learn to use it all over again.

Happily, that's not the case with Mac OS X 10.5, a.k.a. Leopard. While the look is a little different, and there's some new features to be explored, chances are just about everything you already knew how to do with OS X still works as expected. It fits like a new glove carefully modeled on an old one that had already shaped itself to your hand.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

taking your OS X game to the next level

The version of Mac OS X 10.5 that will come preinstalled on all new consumer Macs starting this coming Friday is, strictly speaking, the 'client' version of the OS. There's also a server version, which will also be released on the 26th.

The foundation of the two is the same. What differentiates the server version is that it comes with a suite of administration tools and server programs.

Like the client version, it's designed to be easy to use, easy enough that it's a reasonable choice for groups and company's too small to have an IT department, even easy enough for home use for those who need the sophistication of a server.

That's not to say that it's been dumbed down, Mac OS X is Unix, after all, and you have only to open the Terminal program to be reminded of that fact. Any standard tools that may not have been encapsulated in graphical interfaces will still be there, just a command-line entry away, and any other POSIX compliant software available as source code should compile without modification.

Personally, I'll be getting the client version, since I only have one computer, at present, and no real need for the server programs. I wish I could justify the server version, because I'd love to play around with Wiki Server, iCal Server, and iChat Server! Taken together, these server programs and the client programs that work with them comprise some pretty fancy groupware, capable of significantly improving productivity in situations where they're a good fit.

So maybe you're not yet ready for Mac OS X Server either. Just remember that it exists and keep an eye peeled for circumstances in which it might be the right solution. You may find that such circumstances are commonplace, practically everywhere you look!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

on the bright side

The wait for Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5) is almost over, only six days left to go.

For a peek at what Leopard will be like, check out the guided tour on Apple's website.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

when on death row...

Want to know whether Michael Richard's lawyers were running Windows or Mac OS X? Good luck!

That issue seems not to have made the cut as compared with whether the death penalty ought to be abolished, whether lethal injection is unconstitutional, whether Judge Keller ought to have accepted a late filing, or whether Richard deserved what he got - understandably, I suppose.

Personally, I suspect a coverup. I mean, if his lawyers had been using Macs, you *know* it would have rated inclusion as part of the story.

But we're talking about Texas here. What are the chances his lawyers weren't running Windows? I'd say just a hair above zero.

The bottom line: when on death row, make sure your lawyers aren't running Windows.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Murray Bookchin's parting of the ways with anarchism

Never heard of Murray Bookchin? No surprise, but you may count yourself the poorer for it. While American society bumbled its way along, Murray's gaze always penetrated deeper, and the transformations he went through were far more thoroughly considered.

The essay linked here primarily traces one such transition, one that even his admirers frequently overlook.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

consolidation and repurposing

I can feel it coming, there's a change in the wind.

With three blogs, two websites (one venerable and the other just recently put to use), and one registered domain, I'm feeling the need to bring a little more order to this online presence business.

I have the beginnings of a plan, but want to let it steep for awhile before making any changes that would be difficult to reverse, or saying more.

Don't worry, nothing beyond my own degree of distraction depends upon this.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

ebb and flow

This is why I would be very hard pressed to write a regular column; I don't always have something to say.

It might be easier if I didn't get so caught up with the next big thing coming (usually) from Apple. Right now it's mainly Leopard (and Xcode 3), although Mac OS X 10.4.11 is looking ready to drop any day now. The tension is palpable; Leopard's release will be huge! And I can hardly wait to start reading the details about Objective C 2.0 and to try out the new development environment.

Acquired tastes, I realize, but there it is.

Meanwhile the rest of the world muddles along much the same as if I were giving it my rapt attention. That's a very liberating thought, I've discovered, and I no longer beat myself up over my various obsessions and what I'm not getting done while pursuing them.

Monday, September 10, 2007

one month to go

Leopard, Mac OS X 10.5, which was originally expected to ship earlier this year, now appears to be just about ready for release, with a target date that still reads October, so make that a month plus or minus a couple of weeks to go.

Given the delay, it's easy to lose track of why this matters. Ho, hum, another operating system update, another big cat name, big deal, right?

Well, yeah, it IS a big deal. For a reminder of why, click here.

Friday, September 07, 2007

iPod Touch as SIP Terminal

Apple's new iPod Touch may not be a phone, out of the box, but it lacks only a microphone and a bit of software for use as an Internet phone, for example using SIP.

Since the iPhone and all recent full-size iPods use the same dock connector, and there are already microphones that work with it [(1), (2), (3), (4)], all that remains is software.

Since the iPod Touch uses the same software foundation as the iPhone, and work on SIP for the iPhone is already well along, it shouldn't be long, perhaps just a matter of days, before that is also in place.

Not that it matters all that much in a world of millions of sales; it isn't likely to be more than a tiny niche for the time being, but it's a COOL niche!

Thank you, Apple!

Masters of damage control that they sometimes/usually are, Apple has seen the light in almost record time, and will be offering $100 credits to those who purchased iPhones prior to the cutoff date for their standing price protection policy, provided they paid full retail and haven't received some other form of refund.

For myself, with the release of Leopard coming up soon, that $100 credit is as good as cash! ;-)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

What, ME hypocritical?

As anyone who's been following this blog might recall, on June 24th I posted a response to Chris Barylick's screed about not getting respect from from Apple (and AT&T), including the following:

"Apple could very probably charge a couple hundred dollars more than the announced price, stating in advance that they'd be dropping that price by $50 per week for the first month, and still sell nearly as many iPhones over the same period. Frankly, I wish they would. Heck, let the people for whom price is no object pay a little more to get theirs first, if that's what they want."

Well, guess what, just over two months after its introduction they've dropped the price of the iPhone by $200, and I'm inclined to have sympathy for those who are crying foul.

The essential difference between what I suggested on June 24th and what Apple has done is the lack of notice, the lack of even so much as a credible rumor to suggest that the price might be coming down precipitously so soon, which left people like myself, who could afford the iPhone only by digging into credit, and who might just as well have waited for the price drop, had we known to expect it, feeling pretty foolish.

Yeah, I understand about making an attempt to establish a high value for a new product, and rolling back the price as a fallback plan, and also about creating desire for a product that's perceived as being overpriced and then jerking the price down to where those who've held out will be tempted beyond resistance. I also understand about using an initially high price combined with a massive advertising effort to measure the strength/softness of the market, while giving production a chance to get ahead of demand. It's also likely that they didn't make the decision about when and how much to drop the price until after the introduction, and that it's a reaction to softening sales. Evenso, I feel pretty foolish.

The difference between me and those who are screaming bloody murder is that I'll be over it by tomorrow, or the next day at the latest. I made the decision to buy knowing that the price might come down rather dramatically, although I didn't expect it to happen before Thanksgiving. My choice, my responsibility, and no one to blame but myself if I chose badly.

And frankly I'm not certain that I did. $3 per day seems a little steep for the privilege of being among the first owners of a cool new gadget, even one as earthshaking as the iPhone was two months ago, and including the opportunity to get an early start with becoming comfortable with it and learning how to use it. On the other hand, $1 per day for all of that would have been a bargain.

So, while not exactly a happy camper, I'm at least looking at it multidimensionally. I got the iPhone to see if it might change my phone use habits (only turning my phone on to check voicemail, and forgetting to do even that for days at a time), and it has. I still sometimes experience frustration in trying to use my iPhone, but not nearly the anger that used to rise up in me over using my previous phone. It's a huge improvement, and it's not like I got no value at all for that $200.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

one more thing

The rumors were right; Apple is bringing the touchscreen interface it developed for the iPhone to the iPod, which means OS X whether they say so explicitly or not. (Note the Leopard-like dock on the iPod Touch!)

The new iPod Touch looks very much like the iPhone, so much so in fact that you might just as well think of it as an iPhone without the phone hardware and software. Everything else is there, including the browser, which uses a WiFi connection (802.11 b/g).

It's just part of their iPod lineup, with the Fatty and Classic still using the clickwheel.

Chances are the clickwheel won't ever disappear, but will instead move into software, as suggested by a patent Apple received sometime back.

Oh, the "one more thing"? That was about the new iTunes WiFi Store, which allows you to buy music using your iPod Touch (or iPhone after an upcoming software update) and a tie-in with Starbucks which will provide free use of the hotspots located in their stores for the purpose of buying music they're currently playing or have just played.

Overall, pretty cool!

And still one more thing. They're knocking $200 off the price of the 8 GB iPhone. What costed $599 yesterday now costs $399. The 4 GB is also $200 cheaper, at $299, while supplies last. I expect there are a lot of people, those who already bought iPhones at yesterday's prices, who are feeling like they've been taken, and chances are a lot of those people won't be standing in line to buy the next new thing when it first comes out...but someone will be.

Monday, September 03, 2007

the ubiquity and future of OS X

A few years ago, before Apple announced the switch to Intel processors, some pundits were pointing to the iPod and predicting that it signaled the impending end of the Macintosh computer platform.

The pundits said Apple was refocusing its business and moving away from general purpose computers towards smaller gadgets with higher profit margins. They were partly right, in that Apple has gotten into that business in a big way (and we probably haven't seen the whole picture yet in that regard), but they were wrong in that the manner in which Apple has chosen to do so reinforces the Macintosh rather than undermining it.

While the iPod was initially too limited a device to handle in this manner, more recent gadgets, the Apple TV and iPhone, run versions of OS X. Exactly what this means is confidential, but it's clear that major components of Mac OS X have found their way into the newer devices in quite recognizable form, and that any extensions and optimizations developed for these devices are very likely to find their way back to the Mac, where applicable. It's also clear that there is a much closer association between OS X on Apple TV or the iPhone and Mac OS X than there is between Windows Mobile and Windows Vista, which don't share much more than a name.

Now, rumor has it that the iPod is about to come full circle, that the new iPods to be announced this Wednesday (9/5) will also be running a version of OS X, likely one quite similar to that which runs on the iPhone.

This means that, with the exception of AirPort Express and the possible exception of AirPort Extreme, Apple's entire product line will be based upon the same collection of computer code. Not every aspect of that code will apply to every product, but there will be basic components that apply to all, and others that need only minor specialization.

While this sounds a little risky, like putting all your eggs in one basket, it does mean that Apple's focus is on OS X, that there are multiple payoffs for Apple in putting further effort into its development, and that there is good reason to expect Apple's products will work together seamlessly, since they'll all draw from the same codebase. In particular it means that Apple will be able to bring new products to market with a minimum of effort, since much of the software will be off-the-shelf.

This is about as close to a guarantee that OS X won't become an orphan platform as it's possible to get, although another 10% share of the computer market wouldn't hurt. ;-)

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

live birth, sans pouch, as a propagation strategy

This only just occurred to me, so please pardon the lack of development of what is, after all, a rather obscure thought for a general purpose blog.

Without getting into comparisons between mammals and fish, amphibians, or reptiles, some of which lay many eggs at once, or with birds, some of which lay eggs frequently, there's what may be an interesting comparison to be made between mammals and our closer cousins, the marsupials, who are very much like mammals except that they carry and nurse their young in pouches, from a very early stage of development.

A pouch might be considered a built-in, portable nest, and as such a considerable convenience, but far more so with small litters than with larger ones. Much the same is also true of a womb, since a mammalian mother is burdened not only with the weight of her young but also with that of the placenta and amniotic fluid, until they are born, and larger mammals also tend to have small litters.

However, most mammals don't habitually carry their young around with them continuously, once they are out of the womb. It's common for mammalian mothers to leave their litters in some safe place for short periods of time, long enough to find something to eat, to maintain lactation, so their young can continue to develop to the point of being able to move about on their own and take care of themselves. There are plenty of exceptions, of course, but species which take advantage of this pattern, hogs for instance, can have quite large litters.

How is having large litters an advantage? It isn't necessarily, certainly not if it means that you overrun your resource base (food), but if your young are on the menu for other species a large litter can help to insure that a few survive. Also, in the case of predators such as members of the dog family, dependent on prey species with highly volatile populations, the ability of have larger litters can help your own population track that of the available prey more closely, and prevent the situation where they become so common that they eat themselves into a crash condition.

So how did the marsupial pouch develop in the first place, if the combination of live birth and nesting provides a more flexible selection of strategies with an overall advantage. Maybe, just maybe, at the time that both mammals and marsupials were first getting started, about the same time that dinosaurs were just coming into their period of dominance, there was seldom any such thing as a safe place, and nesting was perilous.

Like I said, it's an obscure thought. Don't try to wring more from it than is there.

Monday, July 16, 2007

ten (or more) years of blogging

According to this WSJ article, blogging is ten years old. The author credits Jorn Barger as being regarded by many as the first blogger, a reputation which is somewhat deserved, even if not strictly true, since Barger's Robot Wisdom Weblog is perhaps the quintessential example of the type.

If you care to split hairs, this piece by Jason O'Grady offers evidence that others began blogging before Barger.

You couldn't prove it by me, though. My first such efforts came in 1998, a year after Barger, although still before the term "blog" became commonplace. I tried again, beginning in late 2000, but my heart really wasn't in it, possibly because so much of my energy went to fine-tuning the HTML and CSS that I lost focus on the content, whatever little focus I'd had to begin with.

I've always been more into conversation than soliloquy, albeit with mixed feelings, since it's all too often the case that what I want to talk about either is of no interest to others or others have trouble wrapping their minds around it. So if, as regularly happens, I've got something particular on my mind, I have to be prepared to go there alone, and, if I'm going to do that, it might as well be in a blogging context instead of within an nominally conversational environment.

You might be wondering, if I'm so into conversation why do I have anonymous comments disabled? The answer to that is that, for me, dangling a conversation off a blog post is like putting the cart before the horse; it's backwards; the conversation comes first, or ought to.

There is, of course, a conversation that goes on among bloggers who read each others blogs, but participating in that takes more time than I have to give to it.

So here I am, just one of millions, tossing my pearls to thin air (or worse before swine, for all I know), hoping that if I have anything of value to offer it will take hold in a few minds and spread out from there.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

five days after activation: metareaction

I didn't manage to resist the siren call of the iPhone, and I'm not sorry. It's already clear that I'll get many times more use out of it than I was getting out of the phone it replaced, which I generally only turned on for a minute at a time to check for voicemail.

The first couple of days after making the purchase were tough. You see I was among that small percentage of people whose activation experience was less than stellar. In my case this was because my old phone was of a different type (TDMA instead of GSM) and my old service plan didn't qualify for the iPhone (no surprise). So, it wasn't until more than 48 hours after I first attempted to activate it that the activation actually took effect, and a few more hours before I discovered that it had done so, the morning of the 4th, investing new personal meaning in "Independence Day".

Since then I've had a glimpse of a long-predicted aspect of the future that's finally arriving around us, one in which ubiquitous telecommunications becomes the basis for effortless and effectively continuous interconnection between people, regardless of where they might be at the time. So what if the content of the communication thus enabled is mostly twitter! People twitter, especially with lifelong friends; it's part of what keeps us connected, sharing the little events of our lives, day by day, moment by moment.

While it's tempting to invoke the concept "noosphere" in talking about this, I'd say we've some digging ourselves out of a hole to do first, that hole being the disruption of community-forming relationships brought about by the mobile society. We've become too accustomed to treating the people in our lives as though they were interchangeable, an endless sequence of undifferentiated identities temporarily associated with roles with which we interact, not really as individuals at all.

Does the iPhone magically fix all that? Of course not, but it's a big step in a helpful direction, making it easier for each of us to stay in touch with the people with whom our lives are intertwined, reducing the effort involved in keeping track of and making use of contact information to practically nothing.

More than a million people have already bought and activated iPhones.(That was an inflated figure, however the real number was >200,000.) That's a successful product introduction well on its way to becoming a movement, one with real social relevance.

Monday, June 25, 2007

the fruits of insecurity

While it's not quite true that nothing good ever comes from insecurity, neither is it true that its absence necessarily results in torpidity.

Insecurity is roughly the opposite of confidence. It's about self-doubt, about concern over inadequacy, about concern that one's best efforts won't be good enough, about concern over failing to measure up to some standard of acceptability.

A little insecurity can push one to try harder, to do better than one thought possible, as any military drill instructor will tell you, but turn up the intensity too much and you get very different results, as is frequently the case with the children of parents who are both demanding and emotionally stingy or remote, who set a high standard and respond to success by immediately moving the bar higher, without even pausing for congratulations. Good enough is never really good enough.

While corporations are supposedly guided by hard-headed realists, you can occasionally see much the same pattern playing out. Apple, during the early 90s, for instance, was a company that couldn't seem to get it right, no matter how hard they tried. They were losing market share and there didn't seem to be anything they could do about it. In anthropomorphic terms, Apple was incapacitated by insecurity. They began projects that looked promising, and then canceled them when they ran into snags and seemed unlikely to deliver on that promise in time to save the company.

Steve Jobs came back and instilled renewed confidence within Apple, that they could do something right and make it work in the market. That first taste of success, with the iMac, went a long way to shake off the sense of futility, and they've been nose-to-the-grindstone ever since.

Now it's Microsoft's turn to take note of sliding market share, although sliding from a position of nearly total dominance to one of lesser dominance, and, as if by magic, new signs of life are appearing there. This could be considered an example of the invigorating effect of a little bit of insecurity, although Microsoft's stock price has slipped considerably more than its market share, and the situation within the company may be a good deal further gone than that, as they slowly realize that the best and the brightest have mostly chosen to work elsewhere for a long time now. It remains to be seen.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

stick it to the man, or biting the hand that feeds you...prediction

On, Chris Barylick complains about not getting respect from Apple (and AT&T), and makes reference to "sixties roots" that find expression "in wanting to 'stick it to the man'".

Let's be clear on this, Apple is a publicly owned corporation with a legal obligation to its shareholders to be profit (and/or share price) driven. No small part of the company's value as measured by its capitalization owes to the mystique which surrounds it, and keeping secrets, even if incompletely, contributes to that mystique.

AT&T, on the other hand, suffers from a cool deficit, which collaborating with Apple in keeping the terms of service secret until the last moment will help to ameliorate.

Sure it's aggravating if you've already decided you're going to make the leap and get an iPhone, still not knowing how much it's going to cost you. However, I'm tempted to respond "if you have to ask, you can't afford it", which isn't literally true, but contains a grain of truth.

Any product which arrives to as much anticipation as the iPhone has an initial market value which far exceeds the price it can command after the initial demand is met. Apple could very probably charge a couple hundred dollars more than the announced price, stating in advance that they'd be dropping that price by $50 per week for the first month, and still sell nearly as many iPhones over the same period. Frankly, I wish they would. Heck, let the people for whom price is no object pay a little more to get theirs first, if that's what they want.

Okay, enough of that, here's my prediction...

AT&T's terms of service for the iPhone will come in two basic flavors, probably with variations on each. Those two flavors will be 1) with a 2-year contract and a rebate, at a relatively higher monthly rate for voice service, and 2) without a contract or a rebate, at a relatively lower monthly rate for voice service, possibly using the prepaid model. I expect the rates for data service to be the same either way, and I don't expect the monthly rates for voice service to be hugely different, merely something on the order of 1/24 of the amount of the rebate.

Right or wrong, we'll know 5 days from now.

regarding elective OS reinstallation

Last November I bought a new Core 2 Duo MacBook (yeah, the black one). Since it was replacing a G4 iBook, I used Migration Assistant to move everything over from the iBook to the MacBook. This was a nearly flawless operation, so much so that it encompassed a few items I'd either forgotten about or had never imagined might make the jump from a G4 to an Intel-based machine. These included a couple of processes that launch at startup and just sit there, occasionally checking for the connection of a particular device and launching the device driver if it's found.

That in itself wouldn't have been an issue, but it made me wonder what else might be hidden away, little bits of code that run under Rosetta because they came from a PPC machine, when Intel versions of the same code had shipped with the MacBook.

So, to cut to the chase, I finally got around to restoring the MacBook to its initial condition, using the included installation disks, and am now in the process of reinstalling the applications I've collected along the way (including MarsEdit).

For what I was out to accomplish, getting rid of bits of PPC code and a couple of annoying processes, this is a tedious process. But, you know, if you're thinking you'd better do it, and putting things off until you get it done, then you'd best get it done, so you can get on with your life.

Clearly, that's a train of thought with applicability beyond computing, but rather than pounding it into the ground I'll leave it at that.

Friday, June 15, 2007

the Web Standards Project and their Acid2 test

A good way to learn about web standards would be to start with the home page of the Web Standards Project, where, among other things, you'll find a link to their Acid2 Browser Test.

If you want to cut to the chase, open this link in a new window to see the results of the test as performed by the browser you're currently using, then compare that with the way it's supposed to look.

Suffice to say that comparing Internet Explorer 7's rendering of the Acid2 test with that of Safari 3 Beta is entertaining, especially for Apple fans.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

why the new emphasis on Safari?

Tristan Louis has a point when he says "Apple is making sure that more developers ensure their sites work with Safari" and may be onto something in suggesting that "Apple is basically pushing Safari as a new platform" although that's more obscure.

While the majority of websites work well enough with just about any modern browser, plenty of them treat Internet Explorer as though it defined the standard, making use of techniques that IE supports, irrespective of whether they've been adopted by the World Wide Web Consortium, the ISO, or any other industry standards setting organization, and without regard to whether they exist in other browsers. Since doing so might fairly be characterized as complicity in restraint of trade, I'll call these BAD websites, and I'll get back to them in a bit.

That point about restraint of trade maybe needs further elaboration. You see, Internet Explorer is only being actively developed for the Windows platform. The most recent version available on any other platform, version 5.2.3 for Mac OS X, is two major versions behind what's now shipping with Windows. The only way to run the current version of IE is to first run Windows, which of course means that you must have a copy of Windows.

Now Microsoft is quite happy to sell you a copy of Windows, even one that you can run on a virtual machine alongside Mac OS X or Linux, so these days you don't actually need a dedicated Windows machine to get Internet Explorer running, but you still have the expense of at least the basic version of Windows, and the bottom line is that, if you need Internet Explorer for compatibility with certain websites, Windows is necessary and any other platform is insufficient; you can load Windows onto your Mac, but you can't use a Mac instead. So what are you going to do?

Of course, Microsoft hasn't forced anyone to support Internet Explorer exclusively; that's the choice of web developers and the companies and agencies they work for. It's ostensibly about cost control, although I sincerely doubt that it's any cheaper to develop a website that will only work with Internet Explorer than to develop one that complies with broadly supported standards.

Admittedly, it has begun to become common for some of these websites to also support the number two browser, FireFox. Unfortunately for Apple, Safari is number three, and there's where you'll find the main point behind Safari for Windows. If Safari represented ten or fifteen percent of the market, instead of five, it would be harder to ignore, and as web developers ceased to ignore it the need for Internet Explorer would go away.

In his keynote, Steve Jobs showed a pie chart depicting the market shares of IE, FireFox, Safari, and all others, followed by a chart where FireFox and the others had been replaced by Safari, and said that's what Apple would like to see. I don't believe that; I think they're not so concerned about FireFox, which is more standards-oriented than IE and is being actively developed for Mac OS X, and would rather take a big market share bite out of IE. Pressing forward with the development of Safari for Windows is the most direct path to that goal. That second chart, showing Safari swallowing up FireFox without taking anything away from IE, is as close as you'll ever see Steve Jobs come to kowtowing to Microsoft. Why he felt it necessary to do so is a bit mysterious. Perhaps it has something to do with Microsoft's ability to break application programs by altering the platform they have to run on, something they are notoriously reputed to have done on at least one previous occasion.

In retrospect, this was totally obvious, and Safari for Windows shouldn't have been a surprise.

As to Safari being a new platform, I think that misses the point that Apple really is a huge supporter of web standards. The web is the platform; Safari is an implementation of it. Sure, Apple has done a few things outside of the standards, but they've then pushed for the adoption of those innovations, rather than standing aloof from the standards process.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Safari for Windows

Safari for Windows. Safari for Windows.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around it.

Safari for Windows. (available now)

last minute fun and nonsense

"There's a sucker born every minute" as someone who should have known is reputed to have said at least once, and that principle is regularly somewhat in evidence in the hours preceding a Steve Jobs keynote, as even the most improbable sources claim to have inside information regarding what he's about to announce, in a play for a moment in the limelight and the hope that it will translate into a boost in their long term stats.

This time around, as reported on TUAW, a German website claims to have a copy of Steve's keynote outline (English translation here).

Gizmodo is reporting that some Swedes with too much time on their hands have created a new Mac application (available here) that will generate a custom keynote bingo card for you.

Here's an actual rumor with a decent chance of being true. MacDailyNews is reporting that among today's announcements will be a multitouch mousepad, which will make the multitouch goodness rumored to be ubiquitous in Leopard available to users of current and older Macs.

Well, aside from a rumor about Apple preparing to launch movie rentals on the iTunes Store, which is unlikely to figure in today's announcements even if true, that seems to be about all there is. I'm a little disappointed. No fake pictures of new products. No talk about a surprise switch to a different CPU architecture. The Mac web seems almost content to wait and hear it straight from Steve Jobs. Whodathunkit?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

prairie dogs, squirrels, and rabbits: three survival strategies

Here's something a little different to relieve the tension of waiting...

Prairie dogs dig tunnels they can escape into, squirrels climb out of reach, and rabbits run and hide.

Not everyone has seen a prairie dog, so if you know about them please pardon me while I describe them a bit. They look a lot like squirrels (are in fact a kind of ground squirrel), except bigger, fatter, and lighter in color than most squirrels. Unlike their tree dwelling cousins, they’re gregarious, living in colonies that may number hundreds or even thousands of individuals, and may extend over many acres, digging networks of interconnected tunnels that protect them from all predators not slender enough to follow them underground. Adults will act as sentinels, standing watch at the thresholds of their holes, chirping sharply at the approach of anything that might be dangerous, warning all others to get to their tunnels.

It’s a little known fact that squirrels will also fight as well as climb to safety, especially the males during mating season. If you see a dog with scars on its face, there’s a pretty fair chance they were put there by a squirrel. But it’s rare to see this because mostly they make it to the nearest tree before getting caught, and nothing climbs a tree as well as a squirrel can, not even cats, who tend to be more interested in birds in any case.

Rabbits, on the other hand, are so good at hiding they can do it in plain sight. They hunker down and lay their ears back, and, unless you caught them in the act, you might swear you were looking at a stone. Once discovered, they’ll run until out of sight, then hide again. Jack rabbits do the same thing; they just run faster and farther before hiding.

So, you may be wondering whether I have a point, and the answer is yes and no. I was musing casually how these three animals might serve as metaphors for survival strategies employed by people, and thinking there might be a book in it. But that’s a project I don’t have time for, so I’ll just leave it at that, and leave it to you to draw whatever conclusions you will.

Hmmm... just one last example, a strategy used by a predator - the proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing. Wolves don't actually dress up in sheepskins, but they will roll around in what's left of a kill to mask their own scents, and there might be bits of sheepskin stuck to their coats afterwards, as they go off in search of the next kill. Again, I'll leave it to you whether a parallel exists in human behavior.

one day to go

We're getting down to the wire, and things are bound to start getting a little crazy. The last 24 hours before a Steve Jobs keynote usually produce a few wild rumors, some of which turn out to be true. There’s no telling what might turn up between now and the moment Steve Jobs walks on stage tomorrow, and we won't really know what to believe until it comes from the mouth of Steve Jobs, a point which writer David Morgenstern echoes here.

Meanwhile, all the usual pieces are falling into place...

O’Reilly’s MacDevCenter has published a list of predictions from a collection of their bloggers.

John Siracusa of Ars Technica has released his keynote bingo card.

And, of course, the usual suspects are advertising and preparing their live keynote coverage, which Apple officially discourages but can't really control short of strip-searching attendees, so they tolerate it, fully aware that it helps generate a buzz, even if those doing the covert coverage sometimes get the details mixed up.

A measure of what's waiting for us tomorrow is how much has already been released, announced, or at least quasi-officially leaked from Apple or their business partners. New MacBooks Pro machines and Apple TVs with larger disk drives both came out recently, and an upgrade to the Apple TV's software was preannounced by Steve Jobs at All Things Digital. Just this past week, Sun's Jonathan Schwartz let the cat out of the bag about ZFS being the default file system in Leopard. What purport to be an official Apple list of iPhone specs and requirements and a scan of an AT&T iPhone sales training manual, both of which might have been suppressed, have been allowed to remain available.

That's a lot of table clearing. So what's so important that it wouldn't leave time for some of these items?

We'll find out tomorrow.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

two days to go

When Steve Jobs discussed Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) at Macworld in January, he made it clear that he wasn't mentioning everything there was to talk about, that some aspects of Leopard remained "Top Secret" as the screen behind him said.

More recently he has promised that a "feature complete" beta version of Leopard would be made available to attendees at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). This has been widely conflated with a promise to announce all of the remaining secret features, but he hasn't actually promised that, although it's very likely that he'll at least hit most of the remaining high points in his keynote presentation.

If the beta that Apple distributes at WWDC actually is feature complete - and I have no reason to think that it won't be - then anything he neglects to mention will doubtless be ferreted out over the next few days following his keynote, since there's always someone who wants to be the first to break their NDA by revealing some juicy Apple secret, and Apple actually counts on this as part of their marketing strategy. It's a great way to hold people's attention, so don't be too surprised if a few surprises turn up later in the week.

It's already plain that Leopard is HUGE, meaning a bigger improvement over the current version of Mac OS X (Tiger) than any previous version has been over its predecessor, and Tiger is really good, so that's saying something. We already know about Time Machine, Core Animation, iChat integration, Calendar Store, resolution independence, and full 64-bit support, as well as big improvements to Xcode, Apple's integrated development environment. What more could there be?

One recent rumor has it that the default filesystem in Leopard will be ZFS. Others speak to integration with iPhone and Apple TV, both of which are givens in my opinion. There are also rumors about big improvements to Apple’s .Mac service, which would be echoed in Leopard. So far as I’m aware, no one has yet seriously suggested that Leopard will allow Macs to levitate and move about on their own, although I’ve little doubt that the day is coming when OS X (Mac OS X minus its desktop-specific components) finds its way into hardware that can move, probably sooner rather than later.

What else?

How about retroactively turning sequential code into multithreaded code? (I hear the sound of eyes glazing over. ;-) Traditionally, computer programs have done one thing at a time, and there was no disadvantage to this because computers also did one thing at a time. But the trend in computing is toward multiple cores, which is to say toward doing more than one thing at a time, and programs that aren't able to take advantage of this will soon be upstaged by those that can. Compilers - the programs that turn the code that programmers write into code that computers can execute - are, in some cases, already able to detect which parts of a program could run simultaneously and produce code that does so, but that requires recompilation, at the minimum, and also can't really optimize the code without some knowledge of the hardware it will be running on (without providing multiple versions). An elegant approach is for the operating system to further process the code produced by a compiler, as it's loading a program, to tune it for the specific environment in which it will be running, including how many cores are available. Java works this way, but is arguably not an ideal solution. (Considering that Apple's Rosetta translator is already based upon QuickTransit, it doesn't seem like much of a stretch to think that Leopard might possess such a capability, at least for recompiled code.)

What else?

How about Core Heuristics, a framework that makes it easier to write programs that learn as they are used?

How about Core Physics, a framework that makes it easier to provide animations with realistic motion, reflecting mass, force, and momentum?

Okay, maybe I'm wishing for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but the point is that, with Apple, doing so isn't so farfetched. There are always solid business reasons for what they choose to (or not to) invest in, but without being privy to their internal deliberations it can be very difficult to guess which way they might go next. Hence the excitement as the minutes tick by and Steve Jobs's keynote presentation approaches.

Friday, June 08, 2007

three days to go

Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference opens Monday, with a keynote presentation by Steve Jobs. Many thousands of people are waiting to hear what he has to say, me among them.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

trying out MarsEdit

MarsEdit comes highly recommended, so I guess it's high time that I give it a try.

So far (just barely into it), I'm *very* impressed!

Monday, June 04, 2007

musical arithmatic

This is one of three blogs I have here. The other two had been gathering dust, waiting for me to find time and/or enthusiasm for them. One still is, but the other one just got a substantive update.

I won't repeat the details, but here's a link to the latest post.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

politicians who've accepted contributions from the RIAA

Here is a list of politicians who've accepted campaign contributions from the RIAA, including contact information.

In my opinion, accepting money from the RIAA is morally equivalent to accepting money from the mob, and any politician who continues to do so should be given the boot.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Impeach Cheney First

There's little room for argument that the current administration is more deserving of early removal than any other in the memory of most living Americans, and, to the extent that calls for impeachment are unable to gain traction, that state of affairs makes a mockery of the purported "checks and balances" built into our government.

A way out of this muddle is to focus on the theoretically second-in-command, more villainous member of the team, Dick Cheney.

That a Google search on the phrase "impeach Cheney first" produces 86,000 hits (97,000 the following day) indicates this is a popular idea.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A case of twisted logic

Nature abhors a vacuum, or so they say. Perhaps, at least in the minds of some, that principle applies to unsolved crimes such that, if one cold case is finally solved, ten more similar crimes must be committed so that one of them can go on to become a mystery, maintaining a sort of balance in which the rule of law is never quite allowed to quell chaos. If this were true then we should hold those who solve cold cases accountable for the havoc doing so could precipitate. If this were true, we should be glad for having fulfilled nature's demand for cracks in the wall of justice and sweep remainaing evidence under the rug. Makes a sort of twisted sense, doesn't it?

Some such logic must salve the conscience of the person or persons responsible for the death of JBR, ten years and some months ago, assuming they have a conscience at all.

Sure, she got the princess treatment, and posthumously gained celebrity status, but the fact is that a little girl was murdered, her family horribly disrupted, and a whole town raked repeatedly over the coals, and the responsible person or persons still haven't been brought to account.

Statutes of limitaions do not exist for some crimes, because they are so heinous that no passage of time (or passing on of those directly affected) can ever be sufficient to reduce them to irrelevance. The case of JBR is neither more nor less worthy of dogged pursuit because her parents were well-to-do, or because she'd fared well in child beauty pageants. It is, like less well publicized cases, a standing insult to society in persistent need of remedy.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Boycott the RIAA, what a good idea!

Kudos to Gizmodo for having the audacity to initiate this. The RIAA richly deserves to be reduced to irrelevance.

7) There's a far better alternative.

Christoper Null asks "Why Aren't You Upgrading to Vista?", offering some possible reasons.

One reason he doesn't mention - arguably one more compelling than any of those he does - is there's an alternative that's already far better and improving much faster: Mac OS X.

In other Microsoft-related news, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation has declared "an indefinite moratorium" on upgrades to Vista, IE7, and Office 2007. Their reasons for this decision are thoroughly pragmatic, haivng to do with incompatibility with applcations currently in use, cost, and the fact that they are planning to move to a new headquarters.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Vista visited

By the way, I have tried out Vista, on a machine on which it should have run like the wind and shown like diamonds.

Sad to say, it did neither. In fact, I was aghast at how poorly it performed and how buggy it seemed.

Only Microsoft gets away with shipping such schlock.

Sure, it'll get better, starting with the first service pack, but it has a LONG way to go to live up to the hype. Chances are it never will.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

war, escalation, and silence

I'm feeling embarrassed for having had nothing to say about the deepening quagmire in Iraq and the possibility of it spreading to Iran. The fact is, I have nothing to say that wouldn't simply be parroting something already said by others.

Am I glad that Sadaam Hussein is out of power? Sure. Am I glad that he's dead? No. Do I agree that something had to be done about his continued reign? Beyond the sanctions that were already in place, not really. Do I think that what's been and is being accomplished there has been worth the rising price? No, because I don't think it will hold together without continuing U.S. presence and all that means. Do I think the world is safer becasue of it? Safer from some things, but more at risk from others, so not really. Do I think that more troops will produce better results, or at least lower the risk to those there? Doubtful.

Do I think there's anything at all to be gained by attacking Iran? Words fail me. I want to scream "Are you NUTS" at the top of my lungs.

But, as has long been apparent, at least a few of those in Bush's inner circle are exactly that, nuts. Sometimes I think they're there to make Bush look like a moderate, but then I remember it was by him following their advice that we got into our present situation in Iraq in the first place, so I don't count on his resistance to their foolish counsel holding out for long.

If we do attack Iran, I hope to see Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle strapped to the first two bombs dropped.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

can Microsoft compete?

At first blush, that would seem to be a ridiculous question, given they've got something like 90% market share (a bit more perhaps) among personal computers. But that's sort of the point; they've practically owned the market since the Mac slid out of sight in the early 1990s. They really haven't had to compete.

In fact, you could say they've never had to compete, not since they landed the contract to provide the operating system for the IBM PC, PC-DOS and then went on to develop their own MS-DOS, which, along with the PC-compatible BIOS, enabled the clones to rise up and overwhelm IBM's own personal computing effort. It was a market position borne up by irresistable logic, and they've been on a rocket ride ever since, but that rocket is finally running out of fuel.

True, it didn't come entirely for nothing. A degree of competence, delivering working code, was necessary, but this was easier back in the days of MS-DOS than it has become in the days of Vista, with its Byzantine complexity. True, some of their customers wanted to take advantage of larger memory capacities than MS-DOS could initially accomodate, and there were other such issues early on, but the main thing Microsoft had to be careful to do was to not break the main applications many people were using as they updated MS-DOS and then Windows. Compatibility was the byword which defined the market, initially compatbility with the IBM PC and PC-DOS, then compatibility with MS-DOS and with programs such as Word Perfect and Lotus 1-2-3. (Actually, once they had competing products, breaking these programs mattered considerably less.)

But, to judge by what the rumor mill has to say about Vista, compatibility is no longer the central concern at Microsoft; apparently it has been replaced by brand recognition. It's called Windows, therefore it's just the next version of what you've been using for years; nevermind that you can't install it on your old machine and that it won't run your old software. It's Vista, but it's Windows Vista, get it?

Okay, let's assume they get past this, that they don't lose many customers to the need to upgrade hardware and/or software and their cash cow continues to show up for milking. There's still the issue of the six billion dollars they spent refreshing it and the open question of whether they'll make $6 Billion more off of Vista than they would have made continuing to sell XP.

Now, to that calculation add their intention to ship yet another major update of 'Windows' - one likely to be even less compatible with previous versions - by late 2009, just over two and a half years from now, so the above question becomes whether they'll make $6 Billion more off of Vista than they would have made selling XP between now and January, 2010, at which time we'll have to add the cost of developing Vienna to the bill.

Meanwhile, Linux continues to press forward and Mac OS X is progressing by leaps and bounds.

Place your bets.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

why Vista Forever is A Good Thing

I'm using the expression "Vista Forever" to refer to the long, slow decline of Windows after Microsoft realizes the only way to continue to make money from it is to cease further development beyond bug fixes, security updates, and drivers for new hardware. It presumes that Microsoft will come to their senses before having invested heavily in yet another major iteration of the platform, and that Vista will be the final one. It also presumes that Microsoft will continue to take your money for a copy of Vista for years to come.

The Windows market hates change. That's how Microsoft got so hemmed in by legacy code in the first place. Once it's developed sufficiently to serve their needs, many Windows users would prefer that it stopped changing, as in 'XP is good enough, why do we need Vista?' and 'Does this mean I'm going to have to upgrade all my software again?' (The answer to the first of these is "because Microsoft spent $6 Billion to develop Vista," and the answer to the second is "not necessarily, although it's quite possible.")

A stable system software environment would mean gradual improvement in the performance of other software, as minor bugs are located and fixed. A stable API (basically the same thing) would mean that alternatives, like Wine, have a chance to mature, and you'd eventually be able to run most Windows software on a variety of other platforms, even without a copy of Windows installed. A stable API would also mean that some software which currently exists only on other platforms would finally be ported to Windows, since doing so would become trivial.

Better yet, Windows Forever inevitably means that a license for a copy of Windows would become cheaper and cheaper, as other platforms in a better position to do so continue to evolve rapidly (for a small fraction of what equivalent advances in Windows might cost), further eroding Windows' market share and forcing MS to compete by lowering prices.

As for Microsoft, they'll continue to suck in some revenue from Windows and - once they've written off the $6 Billion development cost of Vista - post profits. They'll also be in a far better position to concentrate on application software and game machines. They'll be fine, really.

It's a win-win scenario. Cheer up! ;-)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

New Apple Ad

This new Apple ad takes a hefty swipe at Vista's supposedly superior security.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

of audacious misrepresentation and squandered credibillity

Steve Jobs has a reputation for taking a 'reality distortion field' with him wherever he goes, but, even at its highest setting, the RDF can't hold a candle to whatever it is that has been interposing itself between Bill Gates and reality lately.

Rather than rehash arguments that have already been made better than I could by others, allow me to point you to John Gruber's Daring Fireball weblog. (Just scan through the entries of the first few days of February.)

While takng Gates to task for grossly misrepresenting the relative state of Vista security versus that of Mac OS X, Gruber concedes that it might be true that Vista is more secure than version 10.4.8 of Mac OS X.

What Gruber migth have said and hasn't yet, that I've noticed, is that even if true that's likely to be a very short-lived state of affairs. The release of 10.4.9 might put Mac OS X back in front, and if not that then 10.5, due within the next few months.

But even without any improvements to Mac OS X security, that of Vista is sure to degrade rather rapidly, once it gets into the hands of the people who write the malware that has so dogged previous versions of Windows.

I invite you to recall that the kernel of Mac OS X is open source software, whereas the source code for Vista hasn't even been shared with the companies that write security software (unless that's recently changed), so the current state of Vista security is at least partly a matter of secrecy, secrecy that will succumb to the techniques of reverse engineering sooner or later.

Moreover, Gates' challenge to produce a "total exploit" of Vista once a month is all too likely to be taken up enthusiastically by an assortment of hackers and crackers with the skills to do that and then some.

Bill Gates had managed to build up a little credibility in recent years; now he has none.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

futureproofing your tech investments

The writing is already on the wall; the days of the Windows hegemony are numbered.

That's not to say that you'll see either Mac or Linux marketshare pass that of Windows anytime soon, but that the forces that may very well eventually lead to that are already hard at work.

Witness the lukewarm reception with which the world has greeted the release of Windows Vista, the successor to Windows XP, which was itself released half a decade ago, and compare that with the anxious anticipation prompted by the impending release of Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard), the successor to 10.4 (Tiger), which was itself released only two years ago.

The plain fact is that Windows's rivals don't have to grab >50% marketshare to drive it into the ground; they merely have to apply enough pressure to make further development unprofitable for Microsoft, and that may already have happened. Microsoft spent a huge amount of money on Vista, and may not have anything to show for it at the end of the day.

Granted that Vista Forever is likely to last quite a bit longer than some other abandonware has, with continued updates to important applications for years to come, but sooner or later it has to grind to a halt, and hanging on as the market moves on to something else is sure to become an increasingly expensive proposition.

Is it time to jump ship? Well, if you're heavily invested in Windows software, maybe not, but it probably is time to begin to consider other options and, where possible, reduce the degree to which you're locked in to Windows.

If you're not heavily invested in Windows software, then now is as good a time as any! By most accounts, Mac OS X is a superior operating system, and several Linux distributions at least merit a serious look. Also, the advantage that Windows once enjoyed in the availability of application software is fast dwindling, as more and more publishers come out with Mac and/or Linux versions.

For people working in IT, it's high time to consider whether you might not be too young to spend the rest of your career patching Vista.

Think about it.