Friday, December 19, 2008

parallels between Steve Jobs and Mao Zedong, and where they break down

Make no mistake about it, Steve Jobs is a capitalist, if not by predilection then at least by necessity and long association, and as such he's done rather well.

But you don't have to scratch him very deeply to find a sort of revolutionary, someone who can't abide the absence of progress. In this he's rather like Mao, who became nervous as ‘his’ revolution seemed to be reaching a conclusion, even if a nominally successful one. Jobs is a wiser man than Mao, however, and his inclination to keep pushing forward is unlikely to produce anything even remotely analogous to the widespread devastation that precipitated from some of Mao's less clueful decisions. The withering of Macworld is about as close as you're likely to see, and there's good arguments on both sides for that.

But, just as Mao retired rather early as head of state, you can expect Jobs to increasingly leave the day-to-day details to others, even if he remains CEO for a few more years. In his case it's likely to be a conscious decision from the outset, to free up his time, enabling him to give more attention to Apple's long term future, and for those close enough to him to have a good idea of what he's choosing to spend time on, the degree to which he becomes personally involved with any deal or issue will be a good measure of how critical he views it as being over the long term.

This doesn't play as well to the public as a keynote, but once he quits emceeing any keynotes himself, if and when he shows up for a cameo, whether in person or via remote link, pay close attention to what he has to say; it will have a density of significance many times that of the casual comments he might make in the context of a longer presentation, and you can bank on it not being hogwash.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

marching to someone else's drummer

Appleinsider quotes Needham & Co. analyst Charles Wolf as saying "I think Apple wants to get away from the tyranny of MacWorld where it is forced to introduce new products on IDG's schedule, rather than its own."

This makes perfect sense.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

countdown to Macworld 2009

One of the two most significant yearly events on Apple's calendar, Macworld 2009 begins three weeks from tomorrow, and the obligatory frenzy of anticipation and speculation should be beginning soon, certainly no later than a week before the event itself.

If previous Macworlds can serve as a guide, there will be a keynote address by Steve Jobs and company, on Tuesday, January 6th, but this has yet to be confirmed.

Since Apple's portable computers were recently updated, early speculation has centered on new desktop machines (Mac mini, iMac, and Mac Pro), and possibly a reshuffling of the low end of Apple's product line, recombining functionality as well as bumping component performance. There's also been considerable talk about the possibility of an iPhone-like portable device with a larger screen, sometimes referred to as a tablet computer.

Personally, I have no predictions to offer at this time, other than, if there is a keynote, I'll be watching the streaming version of it within a few days after it's delivered, as well as the altogether safe prediction that we'll be hearing more about Snow Leopard, the next version of Mac OS X, and arguably the biggest Mac OS X related news to come along since version 1.0 went gold master.

Update: Apple has announced that while there will be a keynote, Phil Schiller will be doing it instead of Steve Jobs. What's more, this will be the last Macworld in which Apple will actively participate.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

wondering how Obama is playing with the ‘lunatic fringe’

I'm not in the habit of using that phrase - ‘lunatic fringe’ - and I expect Barack Obama is also not in the habit of using it, even in the privacy of his own mind. Others are, however, and it's their perspective along with that of those they use it to refer to that I hope to invoke here.

Now, to be fair, either extreme of the conventional left-right political spectrum might be described as a lunatic fringe, particularly by moderates of the opposite persuasion, but since Obama is a Democrat, and therefore presumably left-of-center, those on the left are more likely to think of him as their man and it's their view of what constitutes the ‘lunatic fringe’ that's intended here.

Frankly, I don't think Obama is all that far left-of-center, in conventional terms, but that depiction fails to capture that he is nevertheless a radical, one whose radicalism is deeply rooted in the values of the political center. I doubt that is lost on anyone who really cares about how America is changing and where we're headed; Obama also really cares, and that has to resonate with them, even if they might quibble about the details.

But that's only a theory, without the benefit even of knowing whether the leaders of the political right wing are taking a wait-and-see attitude or doing their best to undermine Obama's momentum, much less which of these the man on the street is more inclined to listen to. So I'm left to wonder whether the sheer quality of the man we just elected as our next President is apparent to those who are likely to wrongly assume they have nothing in common with him.

I wish him well, and hope his leadership has the effect of pulling America closer together, not least by mobilizing the energies of those who care the most, at both ends of the political spectrum, behind a common purpose.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

finding a place for cultibotics in Obama's rural agenda

For a detailed discussion of ‘cultibotics’, see the Cultibotics blog.

It's not like there was any shortage of ideas for how to improve the stability of U.S. agriculture, the lot of farmers, and the economic vitality of rural America. Just have a look at President-Elect Obama's rural agenda.

What would the ideas encapsulated in the Cultibotics blog look like if embraced by the Obama-Biden team? What might they be called? Here's a few focused statements that occur to me...
  • Help insulate farmers and farming regions from dependency on volatile bulk commodity markets by encouraging greater diversity of production.
  • Facilitate production improvements through both simultaneous and sequential polyculture.
  • Enable farmers to grow more of their own food without need for much time investment or manual labor.
  • Reduce the time spent in machine operation.
  • Reduce the acreage needed for an economically viable farming operation.
  • Reduce the initial investment required to start a farm.
  • Provide farmers and their children with high-tech experience.
  • Create a demand for skilled technicians and technical instructors in rural areas.
  • Create opportunities for rural youth.
  • Preserve local crop varieties and experiment with new crops.
  • Improve the quality and diversity of locally available produce.
  • Reverse the impoverishment of rural culture.
  • Reduce exposure to pesticides and pesticide residues.
  • Reduce the dependency of agriculture on fossil fuels and feed stocks.
  • Reduce contamination of runoff and ground water.
  • Reduce and eventually reverse the loss of soil fertility.
  • Reduce wind-borne dust.
  • Enlist productive land in the efforts to preserve endangered species and provide wildlife habitat.

This list could be far longer, but that should be enough for a sample.

Obama: the road ahead

One thing is already becoming crystal clear about Barack Obama, he meant what he said about change.

If you haven't already, have a look at <http://www.change.gov/>, the website of The Office of the President-Elect.

Thankfully, President-Elect Obama also appears to possess the tenacity to follow through on his high aspirations, even in the face of obstinate opposition. He may not win on every point, but, with the help of the people, he'll make real headway.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

W: “What a long, strange trip it's been.”

A week ago, I went to see the new Oliver Stone movie, W., which is a remarkably respectful biographical treatment of George W. Bush.

Nevertheless, I came away from that film thinking “What a long, strange trip it's been.” (an expression made famous by the Grateful Dead)

Worse, it's not over yet. No matter who wins on Tuesday, we'll be dealing with the consequences of eight years of sloppy thinking and mismanagement for a long time to come, the scope of which will only begin to become clear after the inauguration in January.

Even so, good health to W. — may he serve out the remainder of his second term in peace. Heaven forbid something should happen to him that would allow Dick Cheney a few brief weeks as President, for, if that were to happen, we might have yet another war on our hands, in Iran.

Friday, October 24, 2008

‘rumors...greatly exaggerated’

AppleInsider has published an article which adds substance to the hope that the Mac mini may simply be approaching a refresh, instead of its untimely demise. Their piece appears to be based mainly upon an article published on the website of a company which provides colocation services for Mac minis, and which arguably has more experience with them than anyone else.

In that article, Macminicolo.net claims to be “certain” that a refreshed Mac mini is on the way.

One detail they seem far less certain about, is whether it will include an NVIDIA GPU/chipset, or an Intel chipset with integrated graphics.

I can see that going either way. On the one hand, using their chipset would help placate Intel, while at the same time helping to differentiate the Mac mini as a low-end machine, rather than a MacBook without the built-in screen. It would also leave more room for a premium version of the Apple TV including an NVIDIA GPU/chipset.

On the other hand, that scenario makes the lower end of Apple's product line look rather cluttered. To me it seems more elegant to tie the Mac mini more closely to the MacBook, marketing it as essentially the stationary version of the same machine, which can be priced lower not only because it doesn't include a display, keyboard, touchpad, or battery, but also because it doesn't need to be both light and strong enough for portable use.

Design it to take advantage of the same 3-port cable the new 24" Cinema Display uses to connect to the MacBook, and the chances of selling both together rise dramatically. Such a combined sale would surely be more profitable for Apple than the sale of a MacBook alone.

The biggest stickler is sorting out the overlap between the Apple TV and the Mac mini, but I'm sure Apple already has a plan for that.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mac mini redux

Infinite Loop is also saying the Mac mini may be dead.

I've got to disagree with them where they say “Pair it with a 24" LED Cinema Display, though, and you might as well buy the 24" iMac.” Not to slight the iMac, but there's several reasons for preferring the Mac mini + Cinema Display combination.

First, you can update the computer without having to buy a new screen, especially now, with Apple having just begun the rollout of a new Cinema Display line, with the new DisplayPort connector.

On the other hand, if you want both a stationary machine and a portable, the combination of a Mac mini and Cinema Display allows you to use the Cinema Display with your MacBook or MacBook Pro, something you can't currently do with the built-in display of an iMac. Maybe the new iMacs that are rumored to be due soon will make this possible.

Perhaps most importantly, the Mac mini can serve as a starter machine. If what you really want is a Mac Pro, but you can't afford both it and the screen right now, you can start out with the combination of a Mac mini and Cinema Display, and then a year or two later move up to the Mac Pro, continuing to use the same large, bright display.

So I'm going to go out on a limb by speculating that the Mac mini, as a product category, isn't dead at all, but undergoing a major reworking. Maybe the name will change. Maybe it'll resurface as the Apple TV-II or as the AirPort Server, but there's just too many ways a lower-end Mac without a built-in display can leverage the rest of the product line to let it disappear altogether.

That the Mac mini hasn't sold so well thus far can be attributed at least in part to lagging updates and a Cinema Display line that was long overdue for refresh. If brought up to equivalence with the consumer MacBook line, and kept there, it should sell well enough.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Apple and NVIDIA, sitting in a tree

Okay, enough seriousness, back to my favorite subject...

NVIDIA yesterday introduced the desktop versions of their chipset-in-a-chip with integrated GPUs, recently featured in the new MacBook and MacBook Pro machines.

AppleInsider quotes NVIDIA as stating that their “engineering team was presented with a challenge from an unnamed party, to ‘deliver a desktop GPU which integrates full system I/O and discrete-level performance in one-half the size of previous integrated graphics solutions.’”

I'll be assuming for the present purpose that unnamed party was Apple, since it's already well known that they'd presented a similar challenge with regard to bringing desktop-level performance to notebooks.

But why should size be a primary consideration?

Even the 20-inch iMac is roomier inside than any MacBook Pro, and could surely accommodate a larger chip package than that found in the new Apple notebooks. Granted that circuit board area is relatively expensive, but the size of the GPU package still wouldn't seem to rate such attention, unless...

Maybe Apple has something else in mind to do with the chip besides putting it into an iMac, like maybe putting it into a Mac mini, Apple TV, and/or a new product that's essentially both in one. In any variant of that scenario, concern over the size of the chip package would suddenly make complete sense.

How soon are we likely to find out? At a guess, probably not before Macworld '09, since there's still a lot of Apple TV inventory that needs to be moved off the shelves, although, if they plan to continue selling the current Apple TV as a low-end model, much as they're continuing to sell the white plastic MacBook at a discounted price, the inventory wouldn't matter, and an announcement could come sooner.

If Apple is serious about making the Apple TV a contender as a gaming platform, and I think they are, then they'll be shoehorning at least the most modest of NVIDIA's new integrated graphics chips into it.

Update: Gizmodo says it's been told by two major European retailers that they are unable to order more Mac minis, and that they shouldn't expect further shipments, although it's not clear whether that's a reference to current models or the entire product category. Also, in today's quarterly financial report, Steve Jobs said several different ways that Apple wouldn't be competing in the low end of the computer market, but would rather choose to continue to provide increasing value in the market segments it does serve. While what he said wouldn't seem to rule out a reworked Mac mini, or a replacement product with a comparable price range, he did seem to rule out the possiblity of dropping price of any Apple computer to $500 or below. He also said that he expects the Apple TV to remain a hobby through 2009.

Friday, October 10, 2008

voting your enlightened self-interest

What could ‘enlightened self-interest’ possibly mean? Isn't enlightenment supposed to be incommensurate with self-inolvement?

I suppose that depends on what you mean by ‘self’ and therefore by self-interest.

If by ‘self’ you mean your body and the collection of possessions under your control, then the phrase ‘enlightened self-interest’ must seem like so much nonsense, in which the word ‘enlightened’ will have been reduced to another way of saying self-interested, rendering the phrase redundant. (This view, if expansive enough to include a concern for reputation, is likely to lead to relative material prosperity, that is being more prosperous than others.)

On the other hand, if by ‘self’ you (also) mean your mind and its sociocultural environment, then your ‘self-interest’ may extend to conditions which don't directly or only marginally impinge on your own life. (This view, if sufficiently grounded in reality, is likely to lead to social stability and long term sustainability, with distributed, moderate material prosperity.)

So think a moment before you cast your vote, whether you are giving your support to the ticket which better represents your enlightened self-interest, or to the ticket which would be better described as waving it in your face, as a matador waves his cape at the bull, concealing a sword behind it.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

shaking off the numbness

Lies and distortions are everywhere around us, so much so that many of us have lost the ability to distinguish between claims that are relatively trustworthy and those that are not. There's so much noise that picking out a real signal can be a daunting task.

Nor is this situation likely to turn around anytime soon, certainly not before the election.

It's up to all of us to rise to the challenge, to put aside our perceptual enervation and peer through the fog to the reality of the choices before us.

If you haven't already, pull your veracity meter out of the closet, dust it off, be merciless in making use of it, and be prepared for a struggle. The art of lying is largely a matter of timely escape, leaving those who would pin liars down looking where they no longer are, their having quickly qualified what they'd said to avoid responsibility for its effect.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Which way, America?

There's frequently a song running through my head. Today it's Which Way America, written by David Bliss Allen and performed by the Kingston Trio and Up With People.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

what hath Apple wrought?

When beginning the iPhone project, Apple realized they'd be better off adapting their great operating system, Mac OS X, than starting from scratch.

The iPhone has now been out for over a year and iPhone OS 2.1 is being prepared for release. It may not yet be a mature system in the sense that it won't continue to change in major ways, but it's at least stabilized, shaped to fit the device and environment it must serve.

While it shares a lot with Mac OS X, it's a distinct system, the design of which has been driven by the combination of a touch UI in place of a keyboard and mouse and limited resources otherwise.*

Given those design parameters have more in common with the wide range of devices which are apt to come tumbling off the drawing board soon than do traditional desktop and laptop computers, one has to wonder to what the iPhone OS might itself be adapted. The hard work of paring down Mac OS X to fit into a small footprint has already been done; it's a superb starting point for further development, and if it needs elaboration, there's a great, compatible code-base in Mac OS X to draw from.

In the end there may be a family of OSes, all using essentially the same kernel and core components, but residing in very different devices, as well as running on an array of different processor architectures. As did the iPhone, each of these devices will bring new pressures to bear on the design of the OS, but, as applicable, all will reap the benefits. It's a strategy that promises not just new and interesting gadgets, but further refinement of what is already a great operating system.

* It's maybe worth noting that the iPhone is no slouch as a computer. It's Flash memory is comparable in size to the disk drives in early iMacs (but faster), and it's processing power and RAM compare favorably with those machines.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Apple's glass ceiling

Imagine a world in which Apple enjoys 90% market share, while clinging to its hardware-centric PC business model.

It can't happen, of course. If Microsoft constituted a monopoly for supplying the operating system and much of the application software for the vast majority of PCs sold, while only dabbling in PC hardware itself, how much more so would Apple constitute a monopoly if it controlled both hardware and software for a similarly large percentage of the market.

(Actually, Microsoft's still huge market share continues to constitute a technical monopoly, despite viable alternatives, since it can still put the screws to others by refusing to supply or maintain its software for their systems, and can still undermine standards efforts by developing and promoting its own incompatible, proprietary versions — but that's a topic for another time.)

The plain fact is, Apple's going to have to alter its PC business model long before Mac OS X reaches 90% market share, simply because there are too many people who stand to lose too much, who'll cry foul too loudly if Apple should ever even approach that degree of market dominance.

Apple is already trying out alternatives, of course, for example with the iTunes Store and the marketing of iPhone applications, and I expect to see more such experimentation. Moreover, there's a long way to go before PC market dominance is something Apple should have to be even remotely concerned about; they could double their present market share, and double it again, and double it yet again, and still have no cause for concern.

On the other hand, dominance of certain other markets is much closer to being a reality, and it may not be all that long before charges of monopolistic practices start to stick. That kind of PR Apple doesn't need.

I don't have any magic answers. It's a tough nut to crack. There are good reasons why Apple behaves as it does, and there's going to be risk involved no matter which way they choose to go. I just hope they don't wait for some court to force their hand.

oh come on, it's an AD!

I have to wonder whether the author of this criticism of Apple advertising has seen one of HP's ads for their new TouchSmart PCs.

Since when are advertisements expected to be rigorously realistic?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

if she were alive today

If she were alive today, tomorrow would be JonBenet Ramsey's eighteenth birthday.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

for as long as it takes

Joining MacDailyNews in saying “May Steve Ballmer run Microsoft for as long as it takes.”

Friday, August 01, 2008

curiouser and curiouser

Another rumor, this one coming from DigiTimes, not the most credible of sources, has it that NVIDIA is getting out of the chipset business.

If you have to know what's really happening RIGHT NOW, I'd suggest it's time to take a chill pill.

For the moment, those of us not in the know will have to make due with possibilities, and there's plenty of those to go around.

In keeping with the moment, allow me to suggest a possibility even I consider improbable, that Apple might be buying NVIDIA.

NVIDIA's market cap is sitting just a hair above $6 Billion, or about a third of Apple's cash on hand, so there's no question of Apple being able to afford the purchase, which would likely be mainly a stock deal in any case. What is in question is whether it would be seen, within Apple, as an appropriate expenditure that got them something they really needed, and whether NVIDIA would be amenable to the deal.

One problem with this scenario is that it's much too large to account for the relatively minor hit to gross margins Apple's CFO mentioned in a recent conference call, and for the most part already accounted for, so let's scale back the speculation to consider the possibility that Apple might be buying just the part of NVIDIA that produced their recently-introduced single-chip chipsets, and the associated intellectual property.

If, as DigiTimes suggests, other manufacturers were uninterested in NVIDIA's technology, this would leave Apple with an exclusive on a jumpstart towards again producing their own chipsets, providing both an opportunity to differentiate their machines from systems using Intel's off-the-shelf solutions and an additional impediment to those who would undermine their hardware based business model by selling Mac-compatibles.

True? Doubtful, but it's the sort of high stakes deal that just might be true. The "$23 million related to stock-based compensation expense" (Seeking Alpha) Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer mentioned as contributing to the drop in gross margins in the current (September) quarter *might* be about packages put together to help retain engineering staff in the unit acquired from NVIDIA. Far fetched? Yeah, a little, but not so much so that it couldn't be right.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Apple, ARM, & NVIDIA

Suddenly things are interesting again.

With Apple's move to Intel processors, and also to Intel's chipsets, even if incompletely so, things had gotten just a little too predictable.

It's nice to have a couple of wild cards in the deck again.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

get ready for the REAL Reality Distortion Field

Posting to his ZDNet blog, Ed Bott notes what may be the first public manifestation of Microsoft's promised new ad campaign.

Bott quotes Tim Anderson as saying "Vista is now actually better than its reputation." To which I'm tempted to answer ‘Duh! So was Mac OS X 10.1 better than Vista's reputation!’ Cruel, perhaps, but true.

It's particularly ironic that Microsoft seems poised to compare Vista's detractors with members of the Flat Earth Society, since such a comparison would be far more aptly applied to those who are all too ready to cut Microsoft miles of slack and repeatedly give them a pointedly undeserved benefit of the doubt.

Monday, July 21, 2008

improving on a future of profit-driven choices

In a capitalist society, what makes money is the baseline for what the future will bring. Making money isn't only about coming up with a product and getting it out the door, of course, but also about careful sourcing of the parts and materials you need to make your product, effective distribution and careful inventory control, and, perhaps most importantly, creative marketing. It's also about paying careful attention to what your customers are telling you and responding in a way that addresses their needs without sacrificing your own.

Apple has shown it's possible to set high standards for design and manufacture and still make money, in fact that high standard is no small part of why the company is profitable; it helps to differentiate them in a business known for narrow margins and lackluster quality.

Theirs may be a special situation, as the primary alternative to Microsoft — which continues to make money hand over fist despite what has become habitual bumbling in full public view — but they've taken that niche and run with it.

Apple's success isn't just about pretty boxes, but rather about a culture of disciplined high concept, which pervades the company and manifests in many ways, some far less obvious than the delicate curves of an iMac.

I'm proposing that the sort of disciplined high concept Apple lives and breathes is capable of transforming the net result of capitalism itself in ways which dramatically improve the future prospects of humanity*, that it's transmissible through intense or prolonged contact, although not aggressively contagious, and that some corporate cultures have so much momentum of a different sort as to be effectively immune.

Those last two points together mean that we shouldn't expect any such transformation to happen overnight. If it happens at all, it's more likely to be through some combination of spreading of the cultural virus and a shakeout of companies that continue to resist it, assuming that companies infected with this virus will prove hardier in the long run.

An unpredictable factor is whether a watered down version of the virus might prove more virulent than the fully potent strain.

*This point about disciplined high concept transforming capitalism in ways which improve humanity's prospects for the future deserves elaboration and support. For the moment I merely assert the idea, and invite others to say whether it rings true for them.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

there's no such thing as an illegitimate child

How seriously we take ourselves and our institutions, that we call one son or daughter and another bastard.

Shame on us.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

ubiquitous suppression of good sense

Ubiquitous, at least as used here, doesn't mean in absolutely every case or instance. Rather it means so common as to be found at nearly every turn, in nearly every context, and to be more surprising by virtue of absence than presence.

Good sense is what common sense might be if people were both brighter and braver than they are, possessing the capacity and willingness to examine their own beliefs critically and sometimes discard them as baseless.

Suppression is slippery, more commonly a matter of denying traction than of pressing confrontation. It takes many forms, but they mostly boil down to ‘We don't have to listen to what you say because ____’ with the blank requiring nothing more substantial than ‘we don't want to.’

People don't have to listen to each other, of course, except perhaps when one is in a position to do harm to another, which is more likely to result in listening for intent rather than for content.

In fact, listening to other people is about as apt to steer you wrong as otherwise. If they aren't lying to you, or attempting to distract you from something more important, there's a good chance they're mistaken, or confused, or deluded. It's really hard to know how to take what another says without having at least some idea about why they're saying it.

Nevertheless, refusal to hear what another (usually just one other) has to say is at least occasionally a missed opportunity for growth.

Thankfully, all of this simply doesn't apply to the sort of mundane conversation that fills much of the day for most of us, where the stakes aren't high enough to bother. Otherwise we'd all be incapacitated by neurosis.

Friday, July 18, 2008

the unexamined navel yields nothing but lint

My web presence is too scattered, and lacks focus.

Besides this weblog, I have two others on Blogspot - Harmonic Ratio and Cultibotics - both of which suffer from neglect.

I also have accounts on The WELL and MobileMe (formerly .Mac), both of which come with the option of publishing a collection of web pages.

I cut my web-authoring teeth on The WELL, under a previous login, and have long considered my WELL homepage to be my primary foothold on the web, if only because it's been there, at the same address, for about ten years now, and despite that I no longer put the effort into it I once did.

When Apple opened it's iTools online service, I signed up. Then, when Apple transformed iTools into the .Mac paid service, I chose to give it a try and stayed with it for the first year, only later deciding it wasn't worth $99/year to me as it existed at that time. In 2005 I signed up again, and have kept a .Mac account continuously since on the theory that it wouldn't be long before it was worth that $99/year, and the desire to have an established presence when that happened. If .Mac was arguably still not worth the price last month, it's hard to argue that its replacement, MobileMe hasn't crossed that threshold, or at least that it won't have once the dust settles. On the other hand, at least for the moment, there continues to be some ambiguity whether transformed .Mac accounts are in fact mac.com accounts hosted on me.com, or whether they are me.com accounts which retain mac.com addresses as aliases. This might seem a trivial point, but I'm finding it unsettling.

I did, briefly have a few simple web pages on my .Mac account, and had pointed the domain cultibotics.org to it, with the intention of dedicating it to that purpose, but I've since both removed the files and canceled the domain name association. I will probably, eventually, make use of MobileMe's web publishing services, but for more personal use, in keeping with the design of the system. The cultibotics.org domain is simply parked for now; it both needs and deserves a more ambitious implementation than I've thus far found the enthusiasm to create. The Cultibotics blog is a poor stand-in for what that project should really be, but it allows me the opportunity to blow off steam in that direction when I need to.

The Harmonic Ratio blog, on the other hand, is appropriate to both the scale and significance of the project it represents.

I could go on, by identifying other systems on which I have accounts, but doing so seems pointless.

The point here is that I'd really rather be involved with fewer different systems, rather than more. That's not likely to actually happen, as each of the systems I've identified above (including the still-to-be-determined host of cultibotics.org) contributes something valuable, but it rankles to be as spread out as I have become and, short of having acquired a personal domain and server years ago, could hardly have avoided becoming.

There's probably some personality type which this flags me as being. I like to keep my involvements manageably few in number and the quality of my participation relatively high. This doesn't strike me as a problem, except as it can be difficult to pull off.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

(3G (iPhone) OS 2.0), App Store, and MobileMe

That was a lot to roll out at once. I'm surprised it all went as well as it did.

Keep an eye on the App Store; the number and variety of apps it has to offer will be steadily growing, and the quality of many of those apps will be improving.

Monday, July 14, 2008

cold fuzzy, warm prickly

Now for something different...

You've no doubt heard of the distinction between warm fuzzies and cold pricklies, but has it ever occurred to you that these four characteristics might combine differently.

If we take the warm/cold distinction as being a matter of emotional habit, roughly the degree to which one allows others' joys and sorrows to be significant in one's own life, then the fuzzy/prickly distinction might be a matter of vocal habit, whether one is more prone to be comforting or to express criticism.

As with most such gradients, most of us probably fall somewhere near the middle on both counts, being both moderately open to others' concerns and a mixture of comfort and criticism. Statistically, this is known as a normal distribution.

Considering the neglected corners of the grid formed by these two axes might help to illuminate the situation.

A cold fuzzy would be someone who keeps others emotionally at a distance, but is inoffensive or even noncommittally supportive. They may honestly wish you well, but without being really engaged in doing so.

A warm prickly, on the other hand, would be someone who engages quickly and powerfully, but who is just as quick to criticize you for what you're feeling (and therefore dragging them into), or simply for reacting differently than they think they would under the same circumstances, even if you're being upbeat.

As someone recently reminded me, it takes all kinds to make a world.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Apple hires Doug Field away from Segway

It isn't hard to find interesting implications in this bit of news, but, from my position outside the company, there's no knowing which of them might prove substantive.

Evenso, the possibilities dance before my eyes. What, for instance, might a collaboration between Doug Field and Jonathan Ive produce?

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Macs about to get seriously interesting

Apple has been doing its homework, at least since Steve Jobs took over as iCEO, before the turn of the century.

The result of all that effort has been a mix of eye-catching end user features and lower level enhancements that are apparent only to developers and benchmarkers. Apple has already made it plain that the next major revision of Mac OS X, Snow Leopard, will concentrate on the latter.

Stating "The Mac is poised for innovation over the next few years on a scale that we haven’t experienced since the initial move to OS X in the previous decade," Cult of Mac makes the point that the iPod and iPhone are already with us, and will require only maintenance design and engineering henceforth, freeing valuable resources to return to work on Apple's main product line, the Mac.

Perhaps, but even when most distracted, Apple managed to incorporate KPIs and DTrace into Mac OS X, as well as flashier developments like Core Animation, laying the groundwork for future advances. Snow Leopard will take that groundwork much further, with Grand Central and OpenCL.

One upshot is that Apple will be in a far better position than Microsoft to take advantage of multicore (2, 4, 8, ...) processor architectures, hyperthreading, and GPGPUs, as they become available, dramatically increasing the performance advantage that Mac OS X has already established through successive optimizations, while Microsoft has continued to rely on faster hardware to take up its slack (a practice that is now deeply engrained in Microsoft's corporate culture).

One result is likely to be that many companies will find the combination of an Xserve and a dozen Mac minis significantly more cost effective than the Windows PCs they replace, even before taking into account that the Xserve comes with Mac OS X Server which includes serious, easy-to-use groupware, making it simple to set up various collaborative modes.

Another likely result is that the average consumer will finally come to view Windows as being something you only buy if you can't afford better, a situation which, realistically, has existed at least since Mac OS X 10.4.3 was released, and which has become painfully obvious with the release of Mac OS X 10.5.4.

Of course, as with many supposed bargains, the total cost of ownership for a Windows PC is typically higher than for a comparable Mac. For now Microsoft can rest easy in the knowledge that this point is lost on many consumers and will probably remain so for some time to come.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Mossberg's tips for switchers

Remember the Tareyton ads in which the models proclaimed they would "rather fight than switch"?

While it wouldn't be hard to find users on either side of the PC vs. Mac debate who feel the same way, the fact is people are switching, mainly from PCs to Macs.

Walt Mossberg has posted a brief list of tips for people making that switch. His list covers the main differences between the Mac user interface and Windows.

To revisit the Tareyton theme as it really applies in context, would you rather continue to struggle with something familiar or spend a little time becoming familiar with something different that requires far less struggle in the long run?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

what else could Apple possibly put into OS X?

Update: Daniel follows through

Rather than wait for the next installment of RoughlyDrafted, I'm going to proceed with tackling a point that Daniel suggests he'll be addressing, that Apple is simply out of ideas.

I'll be making one crucial assumption, which is that if I can think up something useful someone at Apple has probably already thought of it.

Apple has put a lot of effort into their implementation of OpenGL, hardware acceleration included, but OpenGL is all about surfaces. It won't help you with the flexing of hair or skin, for instance, much less with the fluid dynamics of smoke rising through air or water flowing over rocks in a stream. Of course, dealing with solids, fluids, and factors like gravity and momentum is hugely complicated, and there's a wide selection of expensive software that's used by professionals in gaming, animation, architecture, and mechanical design. Apple certainly couldn't replace all of that, but by laying a little groundwork they could simplify the creation of such software and help to make versions suitable for hobbyists available. For lack of a better name, let's refer to it as Core Physics.

Core Data has already done a lot to simplify the handling and preservation of data. But giving meaning to that data is still left to the developer. One way in which the system could support this task is by making a wider range of statistical operations available as methods on basic classes, like NSNumber or NSArray. Even better would be to provide a library that starts with statistics but goes on to provide support for building object networks based on patterns in the data and putting data in context. Let's call this Core Heuristics.

Picking meaningful information out of data streams, such as those provided by a microphone or a camera, is both difficult and very useful if you can manage it. Support for doing so might be called Core Hearing and Core Vision, respectively.

Given the above, the idea of providing support for environmental/machine control practically suggests itself. For Macs, this would likely be mostly about interfacing with the several home automation standards in use, and maybe about developer tools for other types of hardware, but the possibilities don't end there. Response to touch is a big deal in the physical world, and having touch awareness built into UIKit positions OS X advantageously for use in responsive toys, for example. Granted there's a lot of work to be done to get from an iPhone to an 'iBear', but I wouldn't be too surprised to learn that Apple was already on it. Again, for lack of a better name, let's call this Core Automation.

Note that the above is all about plumbing. I haven't yet suggested anything that would be apparent to the average Mac user, and that's where I'm going to leave it for now. Maybe Daniel has some ideas along those lines.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

whence Carbon?

I think I must be looking forward to Daniel's vacation nearly as much as he is himself, so I can get off this bus, but that time isn't here yet.

In the 5th installment in his series on myths about Snow Leopard Mr. Dilger addresses the notion that Snow Leopard abandons Carbon.

Carbon is the component of Mac OS X which derives from what the Mac OS was before it was combined with NEXTSTEP cum OpenStep. Loosely speaking, it was what was left after the 10% of Mac OS APIs that were incompatible with protected memory and preemptive multitasking were combed out, the remaining 90% were tuned up, and some of them were woven into lower level components that also served Cocoa, which derived from OpenStep. Carbon first appeared in Mac OS 8.6, allowing developers to get an early start on converting their applications so they would run on Mac OS X, when it was eventually released, and conversely apps written for Mac OS X using Carbon would also run on the final version of the classic Mac OS (9.2.2).

It was a good plan for a smooth transition, but it left Mac OS X with what were initially two distinct native GUIs, Carbon, derived from Mac OS, and Cocoa, derived from OpenStep, which complicated further development.

This state of affairs continued until Apple's WWDC 2007, during which it became evident that the Carbon GUI would not be making the jump from 32-bit to 64-bit computing, despite that some developers had already received advanced distributions of the developer tools including 64-bit Carbon, meaning it was a strategic decision rather than one driven by technical difficulties. Once the smoke cleared, it was also plain that 32-bit Carbon wasn't going away, certainly not in Leopard, and probably not for years to come.

(What follows is technically supposition or second-hand summation, since I'm not personally familiar with the APIs in question.)

By this time much of what had originally been Carbon had already been moved into or replaced by lower level components of Mac OS X, and were as much part of Cocoa as part of Carbon. Cocoa had also collected references to many or most of the remaining pieces of Carbon, so it had become relatively simple to use them from within a Cocoa application. What was left that was still identifiably Carbon, the part that wouldn't be making the 64-bit transition, was mainly GUI objects and drawing routines. These remain for compatibility with older software, as Cocoa's GUI support is considerably more sophisticated.

The future is Cocoa, but that doesn't mean your Carbon apps won't run on Snow Leopard, or even on Mac OS X 10.7, whenever it comes along.

Monday, June 23, 2008

under-the-hood enhancements in Snow Leopard

Once again Daniel Dilger provides those of us who weren't at WWDC '08 with more information than we already had, this time regarding new features in Mac OS X 10.6, a.k.a. Snow Leopard, most of which won't be evident to the end user, except in terms of peppier performance and more efficient disk usage.

He even manages to give Microsoft credit where credit is due, for pioneering Fast User Switching, XMLHttpRequest, and innovative text processing features in Word.

Based on what he adds to what was already generally known, I'd characterize Snow Leopard not just as a code refactoring, but as a build-out of features that already existed in some form, sometimes accomplished by moving feature support developed for a particular context into the system where it will be generally available, much as was done with Cover Flow in Leopard, and sometimes by fleshing out support that already existed in skeletal form. Whatever feels half-finished in Leopard should be ready for prime time in Snow Leopard.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Daniel and the Liars Den

Original title: "Daniel and the sycophants"

If you read RoughlyDrafted without keeping an eye peeled for irony, you might think Daniel Eran Dilger believes Microsoft is helplessly incompetent and incapable of surviving in the face of real competition.

While I suspect he thoroughly enjoys projecting that impression, I doubt he'd swear under oath to really believing it, at least not without caveats.

What I think is going on with him is that he just can't abide Microsoft's cheerleaders - the bloggers and columnists who persist in portraying Microsoft as being far more competent than it really is and who treat Apple's best efforts as being of no ultimate significance, except as they may eventually find their way into Windows - and that he's driven to respond in kind, with equal and opposite distortion.

Take this article, for example, in which he tasks The Street's Jim Cramer for attempting to weave FUD around Apple's prospects using trumped up concern over Steve Jobs' health, and the presumption that Apple would be lost without him. I particularly like this: "Apple desperately needs Jobs like a blazing forest fire needs a match."

There's also Dilger's series of articles addressing myths about Leopard, and now about Snow Leopard. He goes after this stuff with the ferocity of a wolverine and the tenacity of a badger.

If you read Dilger carefully, it becomes clear that sucking up to the hegemon is a hot-button issue for him (as in it's something you DON'T DO if you have a gram of integrity), and he's responding creatively.

Maybe he'll be a little mellower after he comes back from vacation.

Friday, June 20, 2008

yet another OS (open secret): LLVM

While not exactly lying face-up on the table, neither is the fact that Apple has plans for LLVM very secret.

AppleInsider goes into some detail, explaining what LLVM is and where it fits into Apple's current development tools and products, and providing a hint of how that role might expand in the future.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

the cards are (mostly) on the table

If Apple's direction seemed uncertain before WWDC '08, it no longer does. They may still (probably do) have some surprises in store, but the overall shape of their plans is coming into focus.

There are three businesses to which Apple is unshakably committed: Mac OS X and the full-blown Macintosh environment, the iPhone and the version of OS X shared by it and the iPod Touch, and iTunes media sales and distribution.

Each of these is an inclusive category, not just a specific set of current products. For instance, the Mac business includes Mac OS X Server and the Xserve, while the iTunes business includes the Apple TV. The iPhone business is likely to grow to include new Touch products which may or may not be phones, as well as becoming the conceptual home for the new MobileMe online service.

There's a lot of crossover and synergy between them, and new ideas are more likely to take root if they apply to at least two, or better yet to all three, but each has integrity in itself and could stand alone as an independent business.

That's a very strong position for Apple, and a very clear statement of who they perceive themselves to be at this point in time and what they intend to do over the near-to-mid term.

What they might do in the long term is a more open question, and is likely to be driven as much by match-ups between market opportunities and the company's core competencies as by any description of what businesses they're in.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

LP64 plus Universal Binaries = smooth transition to 64-bit computing

In today's installment, Daniel Eran Dilger explains why Apple doesn't share most of the problems encountered by Microsoft in making the 64-bit transition.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Snow Leopard Intel only, PPC-Mac users yawn

Continuing his hot streak, Daniel Eran Dilger explains why PPC-Mac users have no real reason to be upset over Snow Leopard being Intel-only, with a few caveats.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

"stop waiting and start coding"

Daniel is on a roll. In his very next article, about SproutCore, he says "If you were waiting for the resurrection of Yellow Box or Cocoa for Windows, stop waiting and start coding. SproutCore brings the values of Leopard’s Cocoa to the web, domesticating JavaScript into a functional application platform with lots of free built-in support for desktop features."

Mr. Dilger asserts, and he's not alone in doing so, that Apple has already made use of SproutCore in its .Mac galleries, and that the client-side web apps which will be an important part of MobileMe are built using it.

Even better, it's open source, under the MIT license.

Update: here's links to two more articles about SproutCore...

a bit more about Grand Central

Had Daniel Eran Dilger of RoughlyDrafted Magazine been in attendance at Apple's WWDC, he would now be in violation of the NDA covering all aspects of the conference aside from the keynote address. As he wasn't, that blood is on someone else's hands, whoever passed the information he presents here along to him.

Much of that article is simply placing news that was already public in context, but there are a few tidbits that hadn't appeared elsewhere.

With regard to Grand Central, after describing how packet-switched networks are more robust than circuit-switched networks, Dilger writes:

"Snow Leopard’s Grand Central Dispatch does the same thing for processes, packetizing tasks into Blocks and routing them to available processing cores as efficiently as possible. It can also manage the big picture for the whole system, adjusting how it balances its tasks as the performance load increases. This would be close to impossible for Individual developers to do themselves."

That's not much, but it's more than those of use who weren't at WWDC already knew.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

parsing the enigma of "Grand Central"

What's the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the phrase Grand Central? If you're from New York City, chances are it's either Grand Central Terminal, or the subway station that adjoins it. Wikipedia has a disambiguation page for "Grand Central" that's been updated this week to include a reference to a new usage, but so far the article pointed to is just a stub, containing a one sentence description: "Grand Central is a technology developed by Apple to optimize multicore application support in Mac OS X 10.6."

In a press release, Apple says this: "Snow Leopard delivers unrivaled support for multi-core processors with a new technology code-named “Grand Central,” making it easy for developers to create programs that take full advantage of the power of multi-core Macs."

But why name it Grand Central, unless there's metaphoric value in stirring up an association with big, busy transportation hubs? (I'd rather not get more specific than that, as I suspect it would be easy to attribute too much significance to the detailed design and operation of one particular hub, looking for clues that aren't there.)

In a transportation hub, conveyances of one sort or another enter, let off and board passengers, and exit, and people enter and board a conveyance, transfer between conveyances, or get off and exit. A computer runs processes, which may themselves be divided into threads, and which are commonly separated between system space and user space. It has various resources which processes/threads make use of. Managing these processes/threads and resources is a much more complicated task than managing the trains and other conveyances passing through a transportation hub (busy airports possibly excepted), although it seems likely that a system software component vaguely analogous to such a hub might help to simplify the problem, and to judge by the sparse information already publicly available that would seem to be a major part of what Apple has created.

Just as conveyances interact with the infrastructure they depend on (sensors, traffic signals, drivers who obey them, ...), processes/thread which are designed to cooperate with the management system can play a role in making things run smoothly, and it seems Apple has also created tools to facilitate writing software that plays nicely with the system.

Whether this interpretation is on the right track, and what the details might be, remain to be seen. We should know in about a year, if not sooner.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

good whistlers make better kissers

I mean, is this obvious or what? If you can't wrap your lips around a tune what chance do you stand with another pair of lips?

But I've never seen or heard it said before, so there it is.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

using Stacks to keep many apps on Leopard's Dock without crowding

For as long as I've been using Mac OS X, which is since the non-beta version of 10.0 was released, I've wished for a way of grouping applications on the Dock, and, as I acquired more apps, I've also begun to wish for a way of shoehorning more icons onto the Dock than it could comfortably accommodate.

Those in the know may immediately point to you to third-party software like QuickSilver or DragThing, or to scripting solutions. Not having tried any of these, I can't comment on them.

My approach is utterly simple, involving nothing more complicated than setting up a group of folders, creating aliases to applications or other folders (Command-L), moving them to the appropriate folder, and dragging the folder icons from a Finder window to the Dock, where they become stacks. The way I've set it up, these folders all live within a folder named Stacks, which is just inside my home folder. They are each named for a category, like "Media" or "Programming" which describes their contents.

Here's the list of stack folders I currently have, in the order they appear on the Dock left to right, and the contents of each (note that the actual filenames of the contents all end in ".alias" or ".app.alias").

  • Browsers
    • Camino
    • Safari
  • Network Apps
    • Adium
    • iChat
    • Transmit
  • Databases
    • AddressBook
    • Bento
    • Data Guardian
    • iCal
  • Getting Things Done
    • Bento
    • iCal
    • OmniFocus
  • Writing Tools
    • MarsEdit
    • OmniOutliner Professional
    • Pages
    • Scrivener
    • TextEdit
  • iWork & Pro Apps
    • Keynote
    • Numbers
    • OmniGraffle Professional
    • Pages
  • Web & Widget Design
    • BBEdit
    • Dashcode
    • iWeb
  • Media
    • GarageBand
    • GraphicConverter
    • iDVD
    • Image Capture
    • iMovie
    • iPhoto
    • iTunes
    • Photo Booth
    • Preview
    • QuickTime Player
  • Programming
    • Automator
    • Xcode
    • /Developer
    • /Developer/Applications


The last two items under Programming are folders. In some cases I have altered the names in order to control the alphabetical sort order, and thereby control which icons appear on top of the stacks on the Dock. Doing this has no effect on the application or folder to which an alias points.

Note that a few items appear in more than one stack. Pages, for instance, is both a writing tool and part of iWork, and Bento is both a database program and an application that's useful in getting things done.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

harvest ho!

Harvest season for winter wheat should already be underway in Texas. (Winter wheat is planted in late summer or early autumn, grows green like the grass it is, then goes dormant through the winter, reviving and producing tiny flowers in the spring, followed by seed which first swells then dries hard.)

Harvesters will, in recent weeks, have been assembling and preparing equipment and crews, firming up agreements with farmers and attempting to fill any large gaps in their schedules.

They'll be moving north with the tide of ripening wheat, clipping seed heads from stalks and threshing them in a single operation, in field after field, working first for one farmer, then another, then another, each one generally located further north than the last.

On highways you'll frequently see their large combine harvesters go by on trailers, with their headers (the wide cross-piece that mounts on the front of the machine) either nestled in the backs of the trucks they'll use to haul the grain to shipping/storage facilities (elevators) or towed separately.

It happens every year, beginning about this time, a great parade, hundreds of miles wide, passing from south to north over a period of two or three months and lasting about two weeks as it passes by any point along the way. With it comes the smell and fine airborne grit of pulverized wheat stalks, the sound of engines, and a general bustle, partly owing to the harvest activity itself and partly to the temporarily swollen populations of otherwise sedate rural communities.

Rain, particularly a storm which brings several days of drizzle over a large area, can slow harvest activity to a halt, both because the combines easily bog down in wet fields and because the grain must be dry (around 14% moisture content) when it goes into storage. Rain means downtime, which some may use to make a quick run to a home hundreds of miles away, while others will stay close, to be ready for a break in the weather. Rain means new faces in what few bars there are and a subdued party atmosphere, kept in check partly by the knowledge that crew bosses have little patience for hangover-induced imprecision in handling harvest equipment, which can cause extra time in a field, cleaning up bits that were missed on the first pass or unnecessary downtime to clear a header of dirt scooped from a terrace, or worse.

Sometimes particular fields won't have dried out sufficiently by the time the harvesters have moved on, and farmers who own their own combines may end up spending another couple of weeks cutting these.

Occasionally a field never does dry out, and the crop sprouts on the stalk, or rots before it can be harvested. Savvy farmers replant such fields to something other than wheat.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

"Shut up, Fool!"

Not bad, but Mr. T said it best.

RIAA in The Briar Patch

While imagining itself in the role of Br'er Fox, in a just world the RIAA would more properly be compared with Br'er Rabbit; every time it strkes out, it would become more deeply embroiled in counterlitigation. Every weapon it used would come back broken.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

convergence, interoperability, and a door to the future

As a buzz-word, "convergence" referred to the coming together of the Internet, electronic media, and telephony. Except for the fact that both both wired and wireless, non-IP telephone networks remain healthy and show no sign of succumbing to obsolescence soon, that process is now well along, by virtue of the appearance of devices that incorporate functionality from all three realms.

While Apple has become a heavy-hitter in the convergence game, they're really more about interoperability, first and foremost among their own products. This is why you'll see one of the most reliable Apple-centric rumor websites suggesting that release of the next Mac OS X update is being coordinated with v2.0 of the iPhone software.

Actually, this might be the case even without interoperability issues, since the iPhone operating system shares a great deal of code with Mac OS X, and changes to one frequently imply changes to the other, to keep them as unified as is practical. The need for interoperability, with each playing a role in functionality which spans devices, for instance synchronized calendars and contact lists, just makes such coordination that much more inevitable.

In a sense, the discipline required to pull this off is something of a bottleneck, because everything related Apple does must be drawn through it, but that bottleneck is also a door leading to a future in which all of our gadgets (or at least all of them bearing Apple's logo) really do work together, seamlessly if not effortlessly.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

hunch: still more brewing in Appleland

If you've been paying any attention to display technology, you'll have heard of OLED displays. It's the technology most likely to replace LCDs in common use, and large OLED displays are already beginning to arrive on the market.

Now, if you search the front page of Apple's online store, you'll find that their Cinema Displays have gone missing. You can still find refurbished Cinema Displays on the Refurbished Mac page, linked under Special Deals (left column, near bottom of page), but new ones are nowhere to be seen.

Connect the dots...

Update: Hmmm, maybe I'm hoping for too much too soon.

Monday, May 12, 2008

something BIG brewing in Appleland

G2 iPhones, almost certainly with 3G connectivity, perhaps this week, OS X iPhone 2.0 and the SDK (both currently in beta), rumors of another portable device at WWDC, rumors of a major makeover for .Mac, rumors of a new gaming initiative.

Any one of these by itself would be interesting, but there's more than an outside chance that we'll see ALL of them within the next month by the end of June.

Steve Jobs' keynote at this year's WWDC should be one not to miss!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

suing stockholders for suing the company

Has it occurred to anyone that, in some cases, suits brought against companies and their executives might do more damage to the companies (and therefore to stockholders) than did the decisions which are the basis of the suits. That being the case, could stockholders sue each other for bringing suit.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

give peace a chance

Noisy rhetoric aside, John McCain may not be eager to widen the conflict in the Persian Gulf to Iran, but a Republican administration would inevitably surround the President with voices arguing for a hard stance, voices that would be difficult to ignore.

Scrappy as they both are, neither Senator Clinton nor Senator Obama is likely to jump recklessly into an attack on Iran, especially considering that a Democratic administration would inevitably surround the President with cooler heads.

Obviously, if you'd like to see the war widened and prolonged indefinitely, you have a better chance of getting what you want if John McCain is in the White House, and you should vote accordingly.

If on the other hand you want to see something approximating peace and stability replace the current situation, well, you figure it out.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Apple luvs P.A. Semi

While there are certainly strategic considerations involved in Apple's acquisition of P.A. Semi, for Apple they would never quite amount to a sufficient reason to go ahead with the deal without being combined with a more intangible factor, which might be described as compatibility or affinity.

To put it simply, Apple must see a lot to like in P.A. Semi, and for its part, P.A. Semi found Apple's overture welcome.

This wouldn't be so much about specific technologies as about corporate culture and the sheer competence of the people who make up the company, and whether those people anticipate becoming engaged or even enchanted with what they'll be doing following the acquisition.

So take all speculation based in strategic theories with a grain of salt, and join me in relishing the moment with a twinkle of delight.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

time to loosen Windows-dependence

According to Roughly Drafted, IBM has begun to take a serious look at Mac OS X for their own internal use.

This is arguably more meaningful than it would be if the company in question were, for example, General Motors, since IBM has more than a little reason not to love Apple, given Apple's abandonment of their PowerPC processor line.

It serves as yet another signal that Windows' hegemony is nearing its end, and that all are well advised to avoid further entrenching their dependence upon Windows and Windows-related proprietary technologies.

Follow this link for a detailed synopsis of the IBM initiative.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Microsoft's money pit

Rumor has it that Microsoft is moving in the direction of establishing a retail chain of its own.

Without a massive clue infusion, they're about as likely to succeed at this as Gateway did.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

21 years living with ‘the knowledge’

As described in detail elsewhere, in January, 1987 I witnessed a pair of glowing red spheres at relatively close range, as they crossed the sky of southern California, west of El Centro. They overtook me from behind, passed directly overhead, and then continued on in front of me for several minutes before I lost sight of them in the distance. I was not abducted, nor did I suffer any ill effects, except for lingering anxiety and fatigue.

Did this event change my life? Yes and no. Except for the fact that I determined, the following day, to pay a visit to the area where I'd grown up and a few of the people I'd known in my youth, there was no immediate change that you could point to. I returned to the same community where I'd been living and to the same job I'd left a short time earlier. But one thing was plainly different; I no longer had the luxury of scoffing at those who claimed Earth was being visited by extraterrestrials.

Many years later I happened across the web address of the National UFO Reporting Center, and saved it, only later making use of it to file a report. This weekend I discovered the existence of the Mutual UFO Network, and again filed a report (getting a few details mixed up on the first attempt).

Looking further into the various organizations, I've arrived at the opinion that MUFON is probably the most credible of them, that is if you like your UFO accounts unmixed with talk of advanced technologies (which, if developed, could render efforts to develop renewable sources of energy unnecessary), grandiose conspiracy theories, and cosmic consciousness - not that there aren't conspiracies or that there's anything wrong with cosmic consciousness.

If you aren't put off by the tangential connections mentioned above, then you might also find Center for the Study of Extraterrestrial Intelligence and The Disclosure Project worth your time. Both of these are headed by Dr. Steven M. Greer and inevitably strongly reflect his own belief system and concerns. Even if you find his forays into such subjects distracting, Dr. Greer's credibility is impeccable as compared, for instance, with Tom Cruise.

On the other hand, if you're a storm chaser at heart, you'll want to go straight to the latest reports page which lists the 20 most recent sightings reported to MUFON. Don't forget to bring your video camera! Be warned, some of them are bogus, and some relate to events that happened months or years prior to being reported, but there's enough left to keep you very busy.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

old myths die hard

When Auto Warehousing Co. announced, last July, that they would be moving quickly to replace Windows PCs with Macs, both employees and customers balked, thinking Macs would be more expensive and that the increased expense would either constrain payroll and benefits or result in higher costs for services, and their bankers wanted assurance that it made good business sense.

Caught off guard by this upwelling of resistance, AWC pushed back the schedule on the conversion project and made use of the time to build support for it, by detailing their thoroughly practical fiscal reasons for going through with it. They estimated that, over three years, Windows licensing would cost them $1.82 Million, whereas the total cost of switching to Macs would be only $335,000.

Even so, it wasn't easy. Dale Frantz, AWC's CIO, had this to say: "We knew we were going down an entirely new road, but we didn't anticipate the huge emotional response that we got back. People are passionate on both sides of the aisle. There's a lot of talk about the cult of Macs, but there's just as strongly a cult of Microsoft. It's just not as widely publicized."

There were also some technical issues, and Apple provided assitance with some of these. It helps that AWC is a large enough company to have the talent to handle most such issues in-house, including the rewriting of a custom, mission critical application in Java.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

the slippery slope: armed, autonomous robots

University of Sheffield Professor Noel Sharkey was recently among those presenting at a conference called The Ethics of Autonomous Military Systems, organized by the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies.

While the warnings raised by Professor Sharkey earned him a lampooning in Engadget, in my opinion he's the one talking sense and those making fun of him are fools.

His speech at the RUSI conference appears not to be publicly available, but he addressed the same concerns in a commentary published last August in The Guardian.

I am a fan of robotics in general, but autonomous machinery is a very powerful technology, and like all powerful technologies it needs to be handled with care.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

synchronicity strikes again

By strange coincidence, my previous post here fell on the very same day that Microsoft chose to issue another in a series of assurances that they will publish the APIs their own application software (Office) makes use of.

While it's true that if they follow through on this promise it will enable third-party software vendors to develop programs which work better and are more competitive with Microsoft's own products, it will also enable developers of Windows emulation environments (Wine and CrossOver) to remove the remaining barriers to running Windows applications without Windows.

Frankly, this is probably the greater concern for Microsoft, especially given that Vista has so far failed to supplant XP as "the standard". The existence of emulators that work every bit as well as Windows itself could further rigidify that standard, wrenching it from Microsoft's hands much as Microsoft wrested it away from IBM many years ago.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

reason #51: open source software

Far more is known, more widely, outside Apple, about how Mac OS X works than is know outside Microsoft about how Windows works, and this is even more true of Vista than it was of XP.

Apple not only participates in and contributes to a broad range of open source projects, but it also sponsors a few of its own.

The prime example of the latter is Darwin - the kernel (xnu) and BSD Unix component of Mac OS X, freely available as source code. (Microsoft could do far worse than to base Windows 7 on Darwin, and doing so would be perfectly legal so long as they complied with the license, which requires publishing changes to the code.)

That's just where it starts. Safari's rendering core, roughly analogous to Gecko, is available as WebKit, and other Apple sponsored open source projects include a streaming server, and an implementation of Zeroconf, which allows computers to find resources across a network, as well as several others of more interest to programmers than to end users.

Even Apple's proprietary code is exceptionally well documented, making it easy to incorporate their public APIs into third-party software, and their private APIs have a way of transforming into public APIs, once they've evolved to the point of being stable.

This all makes for a thriving ecosystem, one which is about to grow dramatically with the release of the iPhone SDK, if not this month then next.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Windows geek throws the switch

Chris Pirillo has made it official, for the purpose of general computer use he's made the switch to Mac OS X.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

not perfect, just unmistakably better

If you have more than a little experience with both Windows and Mac OS X, chances are very high (just short of 100%) that you prefer Macs. That's not to say that Macs are perfect; if they were there'd be no need for the frequent updates to their system software and basic applications. What they are is better, clearly better, unmistakably, unequivocally better than Windows, for practically every purpose, in very nearly every context...and getting even better faster than Windows. (Many have taken the position that Vista is actually a step backward.)

Compare Mac OS X 10.5.2 and Windows Vista on equivalent hardware, and you'll be blown away by how much more responsive the Mac is, no contest, no kidding, no room for debate. Comparing the interfaces is more subjective, and people tend to prefer what they're accustomed to, but people who've made the transition from Windows to Macs commonly say they'll never go back. Counter examples are about as common as hen's teeth.

The game isn't over, of course. Windows still enjoys huge market share, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to find any reason for this aside form momentum and habit. There continues to be some remote chance that Microsoft might pull a miracle out of its hat before that market share drops below 50%, but don't count on it; Microsoft itself certainly isn't. They're moving quickly to get into other businesses besides traditional personal computing.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Microsoft: two views

Microsoft's Surface may be a little late, but it's still happening. While it might seem unlikely that any significant aspect of the device/environment was actually invented at Microsoft, given how well it performs in demonstration videos, it still marks a positive turn in the company's approach to personal computing, and as such something to be applauded.

For those less inclined to be charitable, there's this four year old opinion piece from MacDailyNews, which compares the propensity to defend Windows and make light of Macs to Stockholm Syndrome, in which victims come to identify with and defend their victimizers. If that viewpoint had a gram of validity in 2003, it's practically indisputable now, what with Vista being widely rejected in the market and Leopard about to gain its sea legs with the release of 10.5.2.

I just goes to show that life isn't so simple as any partisan would have it.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Technology in Wartime: autonomous weapons systems

Technology in Wartime is the title of a recent conference organized by Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. (Videos of the conference panels are available here.)

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, one subject to come up repeatedly was autonomous weapons system and whether computer professionals could ethically participate in their development.

Ronald Arkin, director of the Mobile Robot Laboratory at Georgia Tech, who said that his work is partly funded by the military, also had this to say (quoting the Chronicle article): "Pentagon planners are determined to create war-fighting machines that eventually will be able to decide - autonomously - whether or not to kill. Since war-bots are coming, Arkin said, computer scientists should help design their self-control programs."

There are arguments on both sides of this issue, but the notion that certain people in the Pentagon are "determined" to pursue the development and deployment of robotic weapons systems that will eventually operate autonomously rings true. There are, in fact, already a few such systems in testing.

The word "autonomous" needs closer examination here. For at least the immediate future, we're not talking about conscious machines with the potential for rising up in a revolution against those who built them (as in the Terminator movies). A better comparison would be the weapon-bearing robots depicted in Star Wars II and III. Of course there's always the possibility for defective circuitry or programming leading to berserker behavior.

The greater danger, it seems to me, is that robotic weapons make aggression an easier option. When you can send machines to kill, instead of soldiers, it removes the constraint on the use of force currently imposed by the risk of losing American lives. Even worse, it removes the constraint imposed by soldiers' own sense of morality. Those who favor autonomous robotic weapons suggest robots can be programmed to behave more ethically than human soldiers under fire, but the reality is more likely to be that they will follow orders, no matter how heinous those orders might be.

It's high time society begin a discussion about robotic weaponry, and not leave all the decisions to those operating behind the curtain of a black budget - to whom it wouldn't be unreasonable to attribute an enthusiasm for killing with impunity.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

laying down one card at a time

One thing Apple fans find maddening about the company we follow so obsessively is its propensity to keep its plans as secret as possible for as long as possible, rather like a poker player who holds his cards close to his chest and carefully reveals nothing when glancing at them.

If there were a card game based on Apple's habitual behavior, it would be one in which the cards lying face-up on the table decide the winner (or at least the provisional winner, since the game goes on indefinitely), but each player can lay down (or pick back up) at most one card per turn, and strategies can change from one round to the next based on what cards others play, as well as what one picks from the deck.

Apple just played its MacBook Air card, and now we wait while the other players respond or pass for Apple's next turn, when we expect to see updated MacBook Pros (which might possibly still include a new 12-inch model). But it's really Apple's subequent turns that have got everybody fidgeting with anticipation.

You may recall that Apple picked back up its PDA (Newton) card, many turns back, but has never discarded it. Everyone knows Apple has a PDA card in its hand, and now, since playing the iPhone card last summer, and iPod touch card shortly after, many are expecting Apple to follow up with that PDA card, dramatically transformed since the last time it was played.

And then there's the unknown cards in Apple's hand, other devices and applications which haven't yet appeared as specific rumors. We know they're there, but we can only guess at what they might be.

It's maddening, and it keeps us on the edges of our seats, waiting for their next turn to come around.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Microsoft's pursuit of Yahoo!

Microsoft wants Yahoo!, that much is now painfully public.

If you work for Yahoo! your mind is probably buzzing with questions, one of which is sure to be whether you want to work for a company controlled by Microsoft.

If you own Microsoft stock, you might be wondering what happens to the value of Yahoo! in the wake of an acquisition by Microsoft. Does it maybe go up in smoke, like flash paper?

Me, I'm just aghast that Microsoft is so blatantly admitting that it needs to get into a new business badly enough to pay $44.6 Billion for it.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

exoskeleton for farming

Wearable robotics is very cool, and there are plenty of uses for it, but this device suffers from the same problem as tractors, i.e. that there is a one-to-one correspondence between machines and human operators.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Siracusa on keynote anticipation

Ars Technica's John Siracusa nails it with regard to how recent Stevenotes have played and the sense that Steve's going to manage to leave our jaws hanging limp, despite all the factors working to steal his thunder - maybe not this time, but soon.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

here cometh the Stevenote

The world is about to change.

Exactly how, the vast majority of us won't know for sure until Tuesday, the 15th, but if you haven't already felt the ground shifting beneath your feet you haven't been paying attention.

MacWorld is about to start, Steve Jobs takes the stage Tuesday morning, and just about everything you thought you knew about technology and what it's good for is ripe for extension and redefinition.

Leave your expectations at the door...

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

what's coming for 2008?

Prediction is a chancy game, particularly if you're more than casually invested in being right, or at least closer to right than average, which I certainly am. That said, I'll jump right in...

2008 will *NOT* be the year in which Apple loses it's status as the coolest of companies, however it will be the year in which a few other companies demonstrate that they've managed to assimilate some of the lessons Apple has been teaching by example, meaning the competition will start to get more interesting. Meanwhile, Apple will be surging ahead, introducing new product lines and connecting the dots between technologies they've introduced over the last decade. Hidebound competitors will continue slipping toward oblivion.

2008 will not, unfortunately, be the year in which Dick Cheney is removed from office via the impeachment process, but it will be the year in which those who believe he should have been impeached long ago come to outnumber those who believe otherwise.

2008 *WILL* be the year in which George Bush's successor is selected, by the closest thing to a free and fair election we've seen in awhile, despite the best efforts of the remaining few who really believe we're better off with the sort of government they've managed to foist upon us two terms in a row. However those efforts will provide some interesting distractions.

2008 will be the year in which a critical mass of the population comes to understand that their vintage television sets will soon become useless without a converter box, and in which many more than ever before will recognize 700 MHz as being the band in which the soon-to-be-discontinued television signals (channels 52 through 69) are currently being delivered, and more than a few will take an interest in how that band is being repurposed. The ranks of amateur radio operators will swell somewhat. (Broadcast television will continue on channels 2 through 51, but digital only, which is why older sets will need a converter box.)

2008 will *NOT* be the year in which the practice of doling out spectrum to the highest bidder is seriously assailed. Neither will 2009, although more people will begin to pay attention and wonder whether it's a good idea.

With the exception of Apple and a few other bright spots, 2008 will be more about consolidation and clarification than anything new. Old issues will be resolved at a prodigious rate, unfortunately probably not including the feud between Israel and its Islamic neighbors. (Prove me wrong on that one!)