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.