Apr 042010

Do I love iPad? Nah, it’s a disaster. But it won’t be for long.

First off, I’m definitely NOT seeing the battery life all the reviewers are seeing. Apple says 10 hours of solid use, reviewers say it’s more like 12, I’m getting about 6. Ran it down yesterday, charged overnight, got used today about 1/4th of the day and it’s dead again.

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Jul 082009

gmail-out-of-beta2Google made two related announcements yesterday.

In the morning they announced that all the Google Apps, in beta for as long as the past five years, are now out of beta.  Curiously, the announcement doesn’t really say the apps have changed, just that the beta tag was scaring off the corporate types so they decided to, you know, remove it.  Poof, now it’s enterprise-ready!

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Mar 272009

My mom made me wear the scarf

My mom made me wear the scarf

Check it out, Lauren is going computer shopping!

Microsoft should be given credit for not giving up. They launched this new commercial in their “I’m a PC” campaign on Thursday and this time they’re taking Apple directly to task for being . . . wait for it . . . expensive and cool.

This everybody knows. It’s like pointing out that Yao Ming is tall.

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Oct 192008

Think Gravity

Think Gravity

I think I’m going to sue.

Last night I had a completely convincing dream of Steve Jobs announcing marginally-updated iMacs and raising the price $500. Also, he announced the discontinuation of the Mac Mini. No replacement, it’s just gone.

So, no more $600 Mac, the lowest price Mac desktop is now $1,699.

The crowd has no reaction.

The whole dream was so completely real and convincing that when I woke up I had integrated it as sad fact. I got on eBay to see if the prices of used Mac Minis was going through the roof. They weren’t. I thought that was strange. Then it dawned on me that maybe it was a dream. Had to check the Apple news sites to be sure. Big relief.

Unless it wasn’t a dream but a Vision!

O, M, G.

[Update: Two days after posting this, Engadget reports Apple Stops Mac Mini Shipments to Retailers. OMGOMGOMG!]

Oct 162008

So finally we have new MacBooks and MacBook Pros from Apple. Sturdy suckers hand-crafted from blocks of pure Reardon Metal by John Galt himself.

OK, it’s aluminum, and they are machined by robots. But they are sturdy!

Watching Steve present these new little wonders I was struck by the emphasis he placed on the manufacturing. They found a new way to make laptops. Then they showed what looked a lot like the vocational films I was shown in class as a young teen about 100 years ago, that taught me if I worked hard and learned my math real good, someday I could get a high-paying union job at a stamping plant.

It was just machining. This may be a new way to make laptops, but it’s certainly not ‘new’. This is how light-but-strong parts are made for all kinds of high-performance machines like airplanes, space ships and race cars. Now laptops. Laptops from Apple, the only company with a chance in hell of getting more than a tiny very exclusive fraction of the population to buy such a thing. They are priced accordingly, starting at $1,300 and topping off damn near $3,000. This at a time when other manufacturers are in a race for the bottom of the market with sub-$500 netbooks.

My first reaction was that Steve Jobs was off his rocker, not paying any attention to the market he is in. After watching the presentation though, I realize this is not new. Steve has never paid attention to the market. He dreams of something nicer, and creates a market for it. I’m glad he does, even if I chafe at the price of admission to his dreams.

Steve loves his bricks. This is just the latest in a long line. First was the original Mac itself. Made of plastic, it was a shocking design flying in the face of the stamped steel IBM-compatible boxes of the time.

Then, when John Scully convinced Apple that Steve Jobs’ vision was a liability and they kicked him out, he just thought even bigger and the result was the NeXT Cube and later the NeXTStation. These were made from extruded and/or machined magnesium, so in a pinch you could light them with a blow torch and use them as very large incendiary flares. They were years ahead of the Mac, on par with the most advanced Unix workstations, were under-powered and outrageously over-priced. I think NeXT made computers for about two years before falling back to just selling their advanced operating system and development environment.

Ten years later when Apple came back to their senses and saw that what Steve had been doing at NeXT was what Apple should have done with the Mac, they bought NeXT and Steve turned the Mac in to the NeXT by releasing (among other things) the Mac Cube. An 8-inch square block of 1/2 inch thick transparent acrylic with a convection-cooled computer wedged inside. Ingenious, sturdy, stunning, and of course expensive to manufacture. Lasted for about 1 year on the market. Soon after, the reincarnation of the NeXT OS and development system was released as OS X.

Then in 2005 Steve satisfied his metal cube-lust again with the introduction of the Mac Mini. At it’s introduction I believe he said it was the most beautiful computer Apple had ever made. An aluminum block six little inches square and just a couple inches high, it is surely still the smallest full-featured desktop computer ever made. Having survived the move from PowerPC to Intel intact it has become kind of an orphan. I think they use them for doorstops at the Apple Store now.

And now, the MacBook gets the cube treatment. They are gorgeous. Almost stunning. And of course, they are over-priced. I get it now Steve, this is not a mistake. This is the way of things. Make us lust, then make us pay.

Thank you sir, may I have another?
(How about a desktop cube with good graphics and a slot or two? You could call it the Macintosh.)

Oct 122008

Sorry, this is not an uplifting human interest post, not that anyone is expecting that from me. It’s the result of another in a long line of WTF moments I’ve had while experiencing Microsoft PR in the past few months.

In this short period of time, Microsoft PR has succeeded in failing almost weekly. The Mojave experiment. The pre-announcement of the marketing blitz. The first deeply bizarre and strangely-edited Jerry Seinfeld/Bill Gates commercial. The defensive reaction to all the bad publicity about that commercial. The brazen release of an extended 4-minute follow-up Jerry/Bill commercial, which went over pretty well (and I actually enjoyed). Followed immediately by the inexplicable pulling of all references to the Jerry/Bill ads from the airwaves and their home page followed by a PR release letting us know we misunderstood the marketing program and those Jerry/Bill ads were just a teaser for the real ads. The release of the real ads, a ‘please stop beating me’ rebuttal to Apple’s ‘Get a Mac’ ads, complete with John Hodgman doppelganger. Although well produced (on Macs, it turns out) and well-received these were also pulled off of the home page almost immediately. And for a couple of weeks now, nothing at all.

Just now I found this press release on the Microsoft ‘Presspass’ site:
Microsoft Kicks Off Competition for Developers Who “Dare to Dream Different”

I’m not making this up! Dream Different? Do they think that if they steal Apple’s old marketing slogans we’re somehow going to start confusing Microsoft with Apple? Sheesh.

And what is this daring competition about? Well, it’s a fishing expedition for someone – anyone! (ATTENTION all fourteen-year-old corporate developers, they are giving away an Xbox360!) – to come up with a showcase app for some new flavor of .NET, which smells kind of desperate and begs a question: Why (and how) did you develop an application development environment without any freaking idea what your customers could use it for, let alone whether it fit any of your customers needs?

See, Microsoft, it ought to work like this. You observe the market you want to be in. You find the pain points for customers in those markets. You use your vision and skill to produce and deliver a product that eliminates or at least mitigates those pain points. Profit!

Or, you can keep asking anyone who can spell Visual Basic to write your next great app in exchange for toys and prizes.

I don’t think a marketing program can save them. I believe the world is quite done with Microsoft.

(Image by cheesebikini, used under Creative Commons license)

Oct 112008

The line between digital still and video cameras is blurring pretty dramatically. HDV cameras were probably the first to realistically be used for both purposes, with the HighDef video being recorded on to MiniDV tape and 2.8mp frames from the same imaging system being stored on removable flash media. The small image size is mitigated by the high light sensitivity and long zoom capability of the video camera’s imaging system.

Now tape is rapidly vanishing as video cameras adopt high-capacity flash for storage, and along with that comes even more parity between the video and still side of things. So much so that high-end still cameras are pushing back from the other end and including HD video recording as a feature! Canon, Nikon, Panasonic and others are now offering reasonable-spec video recording on both point-and-shoot and DSLR cameras.

How does video on a still camera measure up? Well in my experience the video out of the latest point-and-shoot still cameras is not up to par with HDV or AVCHD video cameras. Picture and especially sound is better on the video cameras. I’m eager to see some video from one of Nikon or Canon’s new professional DSLRs, because having lens interchangeability is a game-changer for the serious amateur video market. Video cameras that can change lenses are tens of thousands of dollars, and the lenses are thousands. A DSLR that shoots good video for the price of a lens or two would be sweet.

Here are the latest cameras vying for the do-it-all crown:
Nikon D90
Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Lumix DMC-FX37

Update: A WIRED article with the same theme, and links to video and still output from the Canon 5D MkIII can be found Here. And the output is very impressive, I must say.

Oct 082008

Wherein I Correct All That is Wrong With the Music Industry

I just woke up from a dream. Alex Lifeson (guitarist, Rush) spent the day showing me around their Toronto offices and research labs (mostly Russian women in lab coats mixing electronics and chemicals – you know, the usual). One of the highlights of the dream was talking about how he likes to go down in to the cellar where they keep the master tapes, put one on the reel and dup it to cassette, because when he plays that in his car it sounds so much better than CDs or MP3s.

A lot more happened before and after that, including being stuck on a roof in the industrial waterfront district and sitting sipping cool tea on a plaid blanket under a tree with Geddy (bassist & vocalist, Rush). But what stuck with me was the bit about the tapes. And after waking I continued the scene in my head, something like this.

Me: Sure, analog sounds better than digital, because intrinsically digitizing creates a stair-step approximation of a waveform. And anyone who has listened to CDs for 20 years who then goes back and plays a vinyl record on good equipment will get a sensation of eargasm just from being able to relax and just listen, as if somebody turned up the ‘mellow’ and engaged the ‘harsh’ filter. But that doesn’t mean digital has to sound BAD. Bad sound isn’t an intrinsic trait of digital recording. It’s what happens when one treats digital like analog and keeps pushing the volume, looking for a ‘saturated’ sound or some such nonsense. In the 80’s, recording engineers knew this. And CDs sounded fantastic. Now of course no matter what format you get something on, it sounds like crap.

Alex: (Has wandered off in search of mushrooms)

Instead of lamenting the demise of analog and just accepting the false premise that digital sounds bad, can’t something be done about the way music is recorded and packaged? How about we start by recording at about 1/2 the levels we do now? Sure, we lose half of the dynamic range that way but what good is twice the dynamic range if it’s going to be squashed when mastered to make it louder than every other CD ever produced? And digital has dynamic range to BURN baby. The noise floor is zero.

Then, instead of creating a 16-bit crapmaster and then highly compressing that to an MP3, how about we start delivering higher bitrate than the CDs of the 80’s? 24-bit 96-khz would be a nice place to start. The 24-bit part alone would go a very long way towards bringing back the ‘mellow’. The 16-bit 44-khz CD format is holding us back needlessly. Almost all digital playback hardware can handle 24-bit these days.

I realize this was tried with Sony’s Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio and those have failed. I don’t think that is due to lack of desire for better sound. I think it’s due to recognition by the market that a new proprietary physical media is an expensive dead end. Delivery online or simply as data files on a DVD or flash drive would make more sense.

Is music really this important? Well it used to be. The iPod craze brought music back in to everyone’s daily lives, but somehow the trend is towards the cheapening and de-valuing of the music listening experience. Bring back good sound and I think the market will respond.

OK, I’ve figured it all out for the music industry. I’m sure they’ll get right on it and fix everything to my specifications. Time for a nap. Alex will be along on a garden tractor to pick me up any minute now.

Note: For more background on analog vs. digital recording, this PBS/Wired segment is a good place to start.

Oct 032008

The iPhone and Mobile Me seem to have taken up all of Apple’s resources for the past year and a half while the Mac has stayed stuck in time. Now there is a big gaping hole in the Mac linueup. Has Apple missed out on the netbook trend?

In case you have been partying like it’s 2007 all year, netbooks are the adorable little 7″ screen sub-$500 laptops that everyone except Apple has come out with this past summer. Asus started it with the Eee PC and all the other Asian manufacturers quickly followed suit, and then HP and Dell got in to the game in the past month or so. In lieu of something akin from Apple, hackers and Mac enthusiasts have been finding ways to get OS X running on these little buggers like this one on a Dell Mini 9.

It’s very much unlike Apple to miss something like this. Usually they are first to market with the new hottness, not last. So will they get in on it at all? Actually they already did. And it’s sooo not the Macbook Air, which is way too big (in 2 dimensions), de-featured and expensive to be called a netbook. It was in 1997, when they introduced the eMate. The eMate was a clamshell plastic laptop with a 5″ or so greyscale LCD touchscreen (used a stylus) and a close-to-laptop sized keyboard. It was among the first things Steve Jobs cancelled when he came back as head of Apple.

It’s not beyond the believable that Steve would claim that the iPhone is the ultimate netbook and/or dismiss the netbook trend entirely. In fact he’s likely to do that anyway right up until the moment he has one to show us. I’m hoping for something else though – instead of making a smaller laptop, how about a bigger iPhone? A 7″ screen with a thin rolled stainless steel bezel around it would sure look sexy. In fact I’m willing to bet that is precisely what Steve wants to bring to market, and why he cancelled the eMate in the first place all those years ago.

Looking at the eMate I can imagine him saying it’s too big, the UI is too cumbersome, the screen too hard to read, not enough network connectivity or processing power. Then I imagine he started thinking about what would make an ultimate portable computing device and that eventually came to be the iPhone. Now if we can just get something like the iPhone but bigger and more open (srsly Steve – WAY more open) and still under $500, Apple can bury the netbook competition.

I’m holding my breath now until Steve gives me my pony.

Sep 292008

. . . or at least the very sleepy.

Here I am posting to shornlog again for the first time since setting it up at the end of 2007. In between there was a dalliance with blogging on .mac (now Mobile Me) which at first was fresh and exciting but quickly became painful and annoying, then that was abandoned for the instant gratification of Twitter which continues to this day.

Let me tell you, I am as big an Apple fanboy as one could wish to find (not that anybody wishes such a thing) but Apple either needs to get out of the cloud computing business or throw a containership load of cash at someone who can scale their infrastucture. And after that, they need to un-dumb the publishing tools. Seriously, iWeb is like the prettiest version of Microsoft FrontPage you’ve ever seen, and it generates even poorer-performing and less-compliant code. And, it chains you quite solidly to editing your site from one computer and one computer only. Nothing could ever get me back there (short of providing open virtual hosting on Linux with WordPress built-in for less money than my current hosting company) but if they want to keep the untechnical masses paying their $99 a year they better fix the following issues, which continue to this day in Mobile Me:

  • Molasses-like Performance
  • Wanky URL Redirects
  • Bloated Content Tools
  • Piddly space and traffic limits

OK, that’s almost enough Apple-bashing for one year. They get so much right that it just seems nuts that they get something so big so monstrously wrong for such a long time. And to be honest the performance of this virtual hosted service wasn’t so hot either, so I kind of forgot about blogging after two depressing experiences in a row.

So what got me back here posting again? Well, they fixed it. Or so it seems. I logged in today to manage my FTP accounts and was presented with a splashy front-page ad touting 10x storage and 10x performance for the same cost. Yeah right, I thought, and switched over to the account details page to see that indeed my storage limits and bandwidth limits had been increased 10x. So I popped in to this very site and found not only was it delightfully snappy, a version upgrade was available and with a click of a button I’m nearly current with the latest WordPress code (they lag behind a few months making them available for one-touch install).

So I spent a little time hunting down a nice clean theme to install and tweaking the settings and whatnot, which of course turned in to six hours at the keyboard between work and home fiddling with appearances and moving posts from the Mobile Me-hosted site. And voila, live nude blogging shorn-style.

Don’t worry, it’s not as unsavory as it sounds.