Dec 082008

The Apple tablet rumours are picking up again. Since we are just four weeks away from MacWorld, this is no surprise. Interesting speculation going on about Apple’s possible moves to make it’s own CPUs for these future darlings. It’s exciting to me because it seems all of the motion in the world of computing is in mobile devices. The desktop computer is now an appliance, about as worthy of news coverage as refrigerators according to John C. Dvorak. And for once I agree with the cranky geek. My iPhone is my most important computer now and my desktop computers are just media appliances, relegated to encoding and serving up audio and video for my family’s enjoyment.

All hail the coming Apple Mobile Device, whatever the hall it turns out to be.

Oct 222008

It\'s Not Easy Being Green

It's Not Easy Being Green

Two weeks ago I signed up for the iPhone Tech Talk. The e-mail invite was oh so friendly, stating “Stay where you are. We’re coming to you!”. But of course what Apple means by “where you are” is “a big city on the East or West Coast (or Chicago)”. I am in none of those places, so I actually will have to travel to one of them to “stay where I are”. Or something like that. I went ahead and signed up for Chicago. After filling out the form I got a terse and kind of dickish response that said:

Dear Shorn,

Thank you for your interest in attending the iPhone Tech Talk being held in Chicago on 05 November 2008. Due to the high demand and limited space at each venue, please do not make your travel plans until you receive an email confirming your registration.

So don’t call us, we’ll call you.

And then, they didn’t call. For two weeks they didn’t call. I gave up waiting and assumed I’d been passed over as too unsexy for them. But then, this morning, happiness in my in-box!

Hello Shorn,

We are pleased to confirm your registration for the iPhone Tech Talk in Chicago on 05 November 2008.

But now the problem of getting to/from Chicago. Driving is 6+ hours each way. That would mean a hotel stay, which means at least $150 for a room, taking an additional vacation day, and 12 hours lost to driving. I like listening to podcasts in my car, but that’s just ridiculous. So I checked Orbitz and was suprised to find a non-stop round-trip same-day flight that works for about the same price as a hotel stay. And I ordered a Chicago Transit Authority day pass to get me to and from the airport, which will entail trains and busses.

So a long day all by my little self on various forms of public transportation in a city I’ve not spent any time in, and a 1-day seminar with Apple folk. I’m excited!

Update: Someone just reminded me that Nov 5th is the day after the election. Sheesh, I totally forgot! That should be a fun day to travel. I’ll either be giddy or homicidal. (Your choice, America)

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 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.