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 accounts hosted on, or whether they are accounts which retain 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 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 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 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?