Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas Defcon: Everybody Gifts

I'm going to forgo my aversion to simply linking interesting stuff and point out an awesome DEFCON: Everybody Dies mod called Christmas: Everybody Wins.

Kudos to some very imaginative and skillful ASM hacking.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Guest Lecture Slides

On November 28th and 30th, I gave guest lectures at UALR and UCA on video games as interactive narrative.

I've reproduced the slides here in Flash. (The Flash version doesn't have the movies intact, sorry.)

Simply click on the presentation to advance the slides.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

NULL as the Absence of Value

I'm quickly becoming a fan of SQL. Not just because of the revered database query language's utility (in all its incompatible dialects, natch), but because it reflects a well-thought-out design that makes sense beyond the usefulness of the language down to the philosophy of computer languages in general. Let's take, for example, IS NULL.

In C++, to check if something is NULL, you can compare it to NULL. Or zero. Or false. And, according to the language, these are all actual values: if "int a=0;" then "a==false", "a==0" and "a==NULL". I don't like this.

See, the null set, ø, is not just a set with nothing in it. It is, quite literally, the set with no thing in it. Comparisons between something that "IS NULL" and something that has a value shouldn't even make sense. Thus, in MySQL, Oracle et al, you have to use "WHERE a IS NULL" instead of "WHERE a = 0" or "WHERE a = 'false'".

"NULL IS NULL" is true.
"0 IS NULL" is false.
"NULL = 0" is also false.

I like SQL.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Album Artists in iTunes 7

Oh sweet, sweet iTunes 7. Aside from all the graphical glitz of its "cover flow" view, and gapless playback goodness, music can now hold three different authorial tags: Artist, Composer, and the brand-new Album Artist.

See, with the cover flow view, you get a bunch of duplicate albums in the display when you browse by album. For example, Tranceport by Paul Oakenfold contains a bunch of songs that aren't by Paul Oakenfold. Not only do you lose the Paul Oakenfold credit when you tag "Time" as being by The Dream Traveler, you make browsing by artist a nightmare.

Enter the Album Artist tag. Set all the tracks to have the same Album Artist, and iTunes will wisely group them together, despite being by different artists. Hooray, now your music collection sucks less.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Defcon on the Mac!

Want to play Introversion's latest hit, Defcon, on your Macintel but don't have the license nor the inclination to install Windows via Boot Camp?

Not to worry, Defcon works perfectly under the new version of the CrossOver for Mac beta. Just download the Defcon client installer, select "Install unsupported software..." and install it into a Win2K or XP bottle.

Viola, now you've got Defcon, the world's first Genocide 'Em Up, running natively on the Mac! (Well, "native" in that it's not being emulated.)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

New Wallpaper, Three New Songs

What on Earth is happening with the weather here? Something big is up, because not only is it unseasonably warm, but I've updated Khakionion.com!

Head to the graphics page for a new 2D wallpaper, Numisma. At the music page, you'll find three new songs uploaded:
  • Betwixt, a simple, soft piece featuring piano and guitar.
  • Alien Elements, a song intended to be used for the game ContraBand (now sadly retired).
  • The ContraBand Theme. Self-Explanatory, yes?
Hopefully, the next update interval won't be so prolonged. Check 'em out!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

VaporStream Does Not Matter

Void Communications' VaporStream software is a "recordless" "email-IM hybrid." Although there are no technical documents or real demos on the site, VaporStream claims to send messages back and forth without ever leaving a record of your communication.

This is a cool idea. While corporate IM and email networks still leave the possibility of end users or peeping toms preserving messages that you'd rather not propagate, a VaporStream-like technology forces both parties to relent and accept a "stream discussion." One could consider this a true Internet-based substitute for personal conversations; if you need to hear what someone said again, you have to ask them to repeat it.

On the other hand, this is a silly idea. VaporStream claims that the message "never exists" on either end. How do you view it? The message is stored in your video buffer, and unless you're using hardware overlays, screenshots can preserve communication, and OCR will make it parseable. How about on the sender's side? Same problem, and the presence of keyloggers pose the possibility of third parties snooping in, too.

So, if this communication isn't as ephemeral as they're claiming, what's the benefit? It's not secrecy from network traffic analytics; encrypted email has been around for ages, and works fine. The only problem is that headers still let people know that Person A is talking to Person B. If this is really a problem, VaporStream could potentially serve as a mediator. At that point, snoopers will only be able to tell that Person A and Person B are using VaporStream (and not necessarily communicating with one another). For $39.99 a year, this may be an acceptable price, but something tells me a direct communication between users over pre-established lines of communication aren't going to be obviated by VaporStream.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Where Sony's Priorities Lie

Feast your eyes on a mockup of the PlayStation3's box art. Just gaze upon it, let the sheer Sony-ness of it all sink into your brain: Sleekness, minimalism, brand synergy...wait--brand synergy?

Yeah, what's going on here? What's with the intrusion of Sony's different divisions on our beloved PlayStation? Let's break it down:
  • Their universally-recognized "PS" logo would easily fit behind a dime.
  • The "PlayStation 3" text is in the "Spiderman" font, made popular by Sony's trilogy of movies.
  • The whole case is blue, with a "Blu-ray Disc" bar that takes up almost as much real estate as the entire "PS" logo and "PlayStation 3" text put together.
Sony has truly reached that oft-postulated "souless conglomerate" state that your ultra-liberal philosophy professor reviled. The kind who's happy to sell you their end-all, be-all product, their crowning achievement. Just please bend over and accept all their other brands at the same time.

Maybe I'm giving Sony too much credit. After all, PSone didn't use MiniDisc. PS2 didn't use Memory Stick, although they did call their IEEE1394/FireWire port "i.Link." Perhaps Sony ran out of ideas. Maybe the launch/success of the Xbox360 and the foaming anticipation of the Nintendo Wii forced Sony's hand, before they could finish designing the public face of their future console. That was certainly my guess when the PS3 was first showed off.

"Screen captures of Spider-Man? Spider-Man font?" Surely it was all provisional, just like that boomerang controller of theirs. Something tells me it was all intended to be final, but the controller got such an acidulous reaction that they reneged on that front. Maybe this post is a couple E3s too late.

Either way, why has Sony suddenly become so insistent on cramming all their properties down our throat at once? Couldn't they have just used a clean, attractive font if they wanted to be cliché? Wouldn't it have been enough for me to buy their console? Did it have to push their next-gen DVD format? Did it have to advertise an upcoming sequel, for god's sake?

The answer, of course, is "no, they could have shown consumers some respect." However, Sony chose the other, more asinine course of action. Let's see what it gets them.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Thursday Hubris, Part II

Facebook, popular website for collegiate social networking, rolled out a "News Feed" feature a while back. On Facebook, you can view profiles, events and the like, see who's dating who, and who's saying what to whom. Think of the feed as a "delta" for Facebook. That is, out of the profiles and events you yourself have access to, the news feed summarizes recent changes to inform you of who just said what to whom, who is breaking up with whom, et cetera.

This, oddly enough, has caused an "outrage" in the Facebook community. This feature does nothing more than summarize public knowledge, making available in a more convenient form. Who would protest something that would keep you from missing new photojournals, or the latest happenings with your friends? Well, wonder no longer. The news feed has awoken the phenomenally bad writing skills of thousands of students who probably shouldn't be in college:
This new facebook is waaaaaaaaaaay too stalkerish!!!!
We want to feel just a LITTLE bit of privacy, even if it is facebook.

theyre saying this is our generation's first revolution, pretty fuckin sweet
r facebook stopin us from invitin more people into this group now
its kind of funny becasue i heard about this group through the News Feed...
Even the opponents of the news feed acknowledge its usefulness. Through the avalanche of excruciatingly poorly written posts, the main criticism of the feed presents itself: it makes "stalking" someone too easy. The problem with this criticism is that it's the same Facebook, but with a new summary feature. Anyone who wants to stalk someone could, and still can. If you have a tendency to attract stalkers, you probably want to stay off of websites like Facebook. The whole site is an invasion of privacy to which you voluntary submit.

So, while it's not hard at all to stage a protest online (in fact, it's much easier thanks to the Facebook news feed), this protest has marginal hubris thanks to the speed at which it has grown. Still, being upset because of a "delta" feature is not too smart, so the Facebook news feed protest gets one hubris point, for being phenomenally ignorant.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Promise and Peril of Internet Hype

There are things that confuse me. For example, the popularity of Ann Coulter. The Microsoft monopoly's persistence. The media's fascination with the murder of Jon Benet Ramsey. The grossly anti-student vibe emanating from my university's housing and IT departments. For one reason or another, the explanations behind these phenomena are out of my reach. However, the linked article asks a question I thought everyone already knew the answer to:
Why didn't the snakes have legs?
Or, less metaphorically:
Why did Snakes on a Plane tank?
Of course, I may be putting the word "tank" in Hollywood's mouth. After all, $15.2 million (and the number one box-office spot) is nothing to sneeze at. But still, movie studios want to know why Snakes on a Plane, with all of the hype generated by bloggers (originating here), only garnered $15.2 million. Hollywood wants to know why their $36 million experiment failed to garner any profit. They're confused, because the huge amount of Internet hype (and there was a lot) didn't convert to ticket sales.

Well, let me enlighten you, Hollywood. Snakes on a Plane did poorly because Snakes on a Plane sucked. Snakes on a Plane was popular online because Snakes on a Plane is a terrible idea for a movie. I was part of that Internet hype, and I didn't buy a ticket. Nor did many other people. The reason is not cryptic: We were laughing at Snakes on a Plane, not with it.

I'll gladly spend 15 seconds reading a humorous webcomic or Photoshop that lampoons a terrible idea like this. I really liked the current-events-aware Liquids on a Plane. I'll even spend 5 minutes sending humorous messages to friends about it, or 15 minutes blogging about it, because it's funny. But I'll be damned if I ever pay $8 of my own money to go sit in a theater for 105 minutes of terrible cinema.

Hollywood was dumb enough to make this movie. That's why it was hyped.

Apparently, Hollywood is so dumb, they couldn't even realize this.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Seventh Console War and Online Play

Reggie Fils-Aime, CEO of Nintendo of America, regarding Internet multiplayer with the Nintendo Wii:
We will offer online-enabled games that the consumers will not have to pay a subscription fee for. They'll be able to enjoy that right out of the box. The Wii console is going to be Wi-Fi enabled, so essentially, you'll be able to plug it in and go. It won't have hidden fees or costs.
This is good news for Nintendo fans. And in my opinion, this is the "tipping point" kind of feature that will propel Nintendo to a surprising, massively successful launch. Let's review:

  • The Wii will cost half (maybe even less than half) what its competitors will/do.
  • The Wii can play Gamecube games.
  • The Wii will have a Virtual Console for (S)NES, N64, TG16 and Genesis games.
  • The Wii has a simplified, wireless, motion-aware controller.
  • Playing multiplayer games online with the Wii will be free.
All these features put Wii in prime position to, as Fils-Aime said, appeal to non-gamers and casual gamers. The Nintendo DS has proved that this approach can not only work, but that it can work incredibly well.

I, myself, am extremely excited by the prospect of free online play. When Xbox LIVE first came around, criticism started falling upon the PS2 for not having a centralized multiplayer gaming framework. I defended Sony's approach, saying that it promotes developer freedom, and encourages competition in service pricing.

Now, Sony has announced a centralized system for PS3, while retaining compatibility with third parties, while Microsoft has invested further in Xbox LIVE. For both Xboxen, Microsoft has mandated that Xbox titles use their service. This has two caveats: it locks players into paying for online play regardless of the triviality of the game (monthly fee to play Street Fighter II online? No thanks), and it forces developers to throw out their preferred in-house or middleware netcode, instead having to use Microsoft-blessed libraries. (For an example of why that's bad, see Final Fantasy XI's April release date, when FFXI itself was announced for the 360 before it launched in November.)

Nintendo has affirmed (ironically, with Sony's help) the superiority of a provider-agnostic gaming framework. With their increasingly impressive launch library, below-average price point and innovative control scheme, Nintendo looks to be developing a top-notch console launch. This latest development, a pro-consumer take on Internet multiplayer, should have their competitors shaking in their boots.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Thursday Hubris, Part I

Thursday Hubris is a recurring feature highlighting the gutsy (and sometimes foolish) hubris exhibited in the past week.

Video Game Media Watch has a very nice selection of quotes about E3, the annual trade show for the video game industry which was recently scaled down to a much more "intimate," business-oriented event.

ESA, the organization responsible for E3, feels that the hubbub of a massive, party-like atmosphere is the furthest thing from what a burgeoning game industry needs. I can't agree with them more, nor can many of the people quoted in the article. The only issue I forsee with the new format is over-exclusivity, to the point of censorship, and I really do think this will be a severe problem:
What does this mean for gameblogs like Kotaku and Joystiq? If publishers and platform manufacturers don’t like the site’s messages will they be excluded? The slope here is as slippery as its ever been.
--An extraordinarily lucid Luke Smith
While it's true that the new E3 will slough off lots of wannabes and me-toos, I think the real victims will be the likes of 1up.com, Kotaku and Joystiq who, for the first time in video game journalism's history, are starting to consistently look like a real source of critical game reviews and commentary. Here's hoping they stay in the game.

Changing E3 is a smart move. Still, breaking a years-old tradition, and the largest game expo in the world? That takes hubris, and for such a gutsy, insightful rehash, the E3 downsize gets an 8/10.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Age of the Remix (For Real This Time)

I and others scoffed at William Gibson when his July 2005 article posited that we're firmly within the Age of the Remix. In a way, he's right. These days, it's easier for your run-of-the-mill pro-am artist to release a book, movie or album thanks to the proliferation of computer technology. DJ Dangermouse's Grey Album showed that with a nice software set up, you don't even need original content to make...uh, original content.

But surely no one would think that "the record, not the remix, is the anomaly today." For the most part, people consume art and don't put more art back in the system. (Let DRM get entrenched and it will stay that way, but I digress.)

Since his article was published, however, a few interesting steps have been taken towards finally entering this much-lauded era of prosumerism, where there's not a clear differentiation between those who make art and those who "use" it.

Linked is Slashdot's new feature known as Backslash. Contrary to Slashback, where updates on previously posted stories are grouped in one big "update" post, Backslash takes a selection of insightful and varied comments from a previous post and summarizes the discussion in a brand spanking new post. Now, frontpage Slashdot stories are composed entirely of Slashdot comments.

While not as convincing as Backslash, YouTube has introduced an NBC-sponsored Make Your Own "The Office" Promo contest. Using a (notably limited) supply of promo materials from NBC, you make your own promo for The Office, and the winner will be aired nationally. Nice contest, not a great example, though.

I even touched on the Age of the Remix meme in my thesis defense, pointing out that video games are works created by both the producer and the consumer, since the user's input results in a different playthrough each time. This is especially apparent in games like Oblivion, The Sims and Second Life, where user-created content fuels the game experience (Second Life), and open-ended game mechanics help the user to either select their actions from a broad spectrum (Oblivion/Sims).

The fact of the matter in all of this is that, despite The Grey Album, despite Backslash, despite Second Life and despite cult remix favorites like Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Takeshi's Castle/MXC, there is too much of an IP cold war in American culture. The fear of rights-owners unleashing lawsuits on parody/remix artists (even when it's actually legal, like in the case of Weird Al Yankovic's Amish Paradise) creates a chilling effect on really cementing prosumerism into the American culture.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

An Introduction to Site Syndication

Hi there, and welcome back to Knee of the Curve. It's been a long time since I've posted; hopefully I'll be able to keep my posting frequency up now that my thesis presentation is over with.

What I'm posting about today is the technology known as website syndication. Websites that are syndicated make their content available in a common format that doesn't make assumptions about what software is reading them. Thus, a syndicated website shares its content to be used by other sites, and by visitors without actually visiting the official webpage.

There are two popular ways to do this: via two different languages called RSS and Atom. Since the two are virtually identical to the end user, we'll just call them "feeds." For an end user, syndication works like this: you use a feed reader to "subscribe" to site feeds, and read their content as soon as they're updated.

So, first things first, you need to get a feed reader. For any operating system, Firefox and Thunderbird do the job nicely in their own ways. Thunderbird treats RSS feeds like emails, and Firefox treats them like bookmarks ("Live" bookmarks, to be precise). Mac users can try Safari out, but I prefer the exceptional NewsFire. Linux users, try Akregator (for KDE) or Liferea (for GNOME).

You've installed your feed reader, and subscribed to feeds, now what do you do? Well, just wait for the content to roll in. Soon, you'll be reading your frequently viewed websites' content without ever having to launch a browser window:

Post any questions in the comments, and happy feedreading!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Port 25

I'm a big proponent of interoperability in the computing world. To be completely frank, anyone who isn't in favor of interop is either a monopolist, or dumb. Apple has realized this quite well here in age of OS X, most recently made apparent with the launch of Boot Camp, a tool for running Windows XP on your Mac.

So it is with pleasure that I spread the word about Port 25, a Microsoft blog detailing the goings-on at the Microsoft Linux Lab. This lab was established by Microsoft for the purposes of achieving better interop with other operating systems, something they're currently catching a lot of hell for over in Europe.

It's a great sight to see when massive companies like Microsoft are not only working on interoperability, but actually publicly endorsing it. As has been pointed out, the questions Microsoft certification exams assume a nearly-homogenous Microsoft environment, which is almost never the case.

The admittance by Apple and Microsoft that their competitors' products will occasionally be selected over their own is a good step towards eliminating the absolutist culture in the computing business world. The American political system has shown us just how asinine this absolutism can get (just read the blurbs on the DNC's homepage), so any step we take away from that quagmire is applaudable, in my opinion.

Friday, March 24, 2006

What's Next: Will Wright

The description of Will Wright's keynote at the Game Developers' Conference was "Why are you still reading this? It's Will Wright." I'd say that was a fairly accurate synopsis.

Will Wright spoke to a packed Civic Auditorium yesterday, and blazed through a laundry list of topics. For example, tying astrobiology to his latest beast, Spore. The coolest thing about the speech wasn't actually any crazy revelation about Spore, or some brilliant insight into the myriad fields he touched on. Rather, his frantic speech showed "What's Next in Game Design" without actually explicitly stating it.

Satoru Iwata had a very different keynote earlier that day, but the two talks definitely resonated. Today's games (the ones that the industry complains about) are just pushing pixels to the screen. What's next in game design is tying fields together. Whether it's for kooky simulations like Spore, or the novel Brain Training series for Nintendo DS, games that show a level of competency beyond "Play-Win-Repeat" are what the industry needs to move forward.

Thankfully, game makers seem to understand this. One game that comes to mind is Cloud, an entrant into the Independent Games Festival that, as was mentioned at the Game Developers' Rant, concerns itself with emotion over scores, fraglimits, blue cardkeys, etcetera. It's also important to note that this game isn't some CPU-melting meterological simulation. You, quite simply, play with clouds.

Emotion, interdisciplinarity. That's what's next.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Serious Games Presentation

If you're here for the Serious Games slides, look no further.

You can download them in PDF format, or SWF (Flash) format.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, on March 1st I held a couple of workshops at the National EAST Conference in Hot Springs, where I talked (and talked and talked) about Serious Games. If you're interested, grab the slides, or follow these citations for more information.

Adage's HCI study with Shadowgrounds
Social Impact Games

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Missing The Point

Linked is an interview with Peter Jackson (yes, that Peter Jackson), who details his affection for the fledgling art of the video game, and how the next-generation platforms are going to be fully buzzword compliant:
"I'm excited that with the new hardware and such amazing leaps forward in technology, I may be able to experience games that even I can't imagine," added Jackson. "I have such admiration for the video game development process and the talent behind these games, that giving them more tools, better hardware, and more budget will only lead to more fantastic adventures."

Please. This drivel is not the future. What Microsoft and Sony are doing with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation3 are nothing more than the next iteration in a silicon cold war. Bigger, faster, stronger, but not better. Throwing more hardware at this problem is not the way to make more immersive games, or more entertaining ones.

Case in point: the Xbox 360 launch titles. Amped 3? Quake 4? Call of Duty 2? It's more of the same, with higher polycounts. There are some titles with varying degrees of originality, but "games that even I can't imagine?" I certainly hope he's insulting his imagination, not lauding the X360/PS3.

Graphics definitely are one of the most important parts of a game, but we've gotten to the point where it's "good enough" for almost every situation. Graphics will improve as the hardware improves, but no one's doing anything different.

Save for Nintendo. The upcoming Revolution console will have better graphics, there's no doubt about that. But they're planning on sacrificing insane pixel-pushing for...wait for it...a novel interface! *gasp* The horrors! But really, that's where the future lies, is with novel interfaces to already-extant high-caliber graphics. The real game developers agree, as reflected on countless Revolution-centric interviews; it's how you play that counts, not how many polygons are on the screen at once.

Monday, January 30, 2006

iMac Attack!

Well, my parents' iMac Core Duo came in the mail today. I took time out from my day to go and assist my mother with the set up. Not like she really needed it, however; the out-of-box experience was expectedly friendly, fast, and accessible. With emphasis on "accessible": the computer said "English!" out loud when we sat at the language selection screen for too long.

Seriously, though, the thing is a dream. I haven't played with the new iSight/Front Row iMacs enough to have a good idea of their capabilities, but this thing blows away my PowerBook G4. I've even heard reports that it's as fast as the Quad G5 PowerMac. I don't know if I'd go that far, but I haven't played with the Quad much either.

Suffice it to say that the new iMac is all that and a bag of chips. I plan on spending quite a bit more time with it over the semester, so expect to see some Mac-specific code published by yours truly. As I said in my earlier post today, Knee of the Curve will be the place where I announce new packages and significant upgrades.

So, after playing with a Core Duo iMac, do I still stand by prediction of 30% market share? Yes. I think they've got a very smooth, Microsoft-quashing road ahead of them, and if their other products (Mac mini, iBook, PowerMac) are as cool and effective as the new iMac and MacBook, then they may exceed even my brash conjecture.


Aloha, chicas bonitas. Wait, do any girls read this? Anyway, I digress.

This post is more of an announcement. I'm going to be polishing off quite a bit of my internally produced code, and releasing it for public consumption under the GPL (when possible).

For new software announcements and major version upgrades, I'll make announcements here. For administrivia, logistics and the like, I'll just post on Khakionion.com. I'll also announce new products on the Shameless Khakionion.com CafePress Sellout, but that won't happen too often.

So, here's what's already up on Khakionion.com Apps, if you're interested:

Querying Eye for the Wireless Guy is a .NET application that queries WiFi access points and garners signal strength and other information from them. Good for doing wireless site surveys, wardriving, etcetera. Only works in Windows for now, and only with certain WiFi chipsets.

StreetSmarts is another .NET application that's less Windows-encumbered, meaning I'll probably be able to port it to Linux soon. It's basically a mass file renamer that has its own, extraordinarily basic scripting language. Give it a whirl if you need "02 Andy Hunter - Come On - torrentazos.net.mp3" to become "Andy Hunter - Come On.mp3" in a jiffy, and to about 5000 files at once.

Have a lot of fun!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Penguin's Place

In my last post, I said that I expected Apple to have at least 10% market share by January 2008, and possibly 30% or more by 2011. Barring any paradigm-shattering advancements due to Kurzweil's nasty little Law of Accelerating Returns, I stand by that prediction. Obviously, to gain that kind of market share they're going to have to earn it from the current leader, Microsoft Windows, and I think the coming year will show they've got what it takes to do that.

However, someone asked me where Linux fits into this market share figure. I'm a Linux user, and love the little operating system that could, but I just don't think it has what it takes to break 10%-15% desktop market share in the next 5 years.

Why? Because Linux comes in too many flavors.

For example, on Skype's download page, there are options for Linux, OS X, and Windows. Click OS X, you get one simple download. Click Windows, you get one simple download. Click Linux, you get--well damn, you get six different selections. The average user doesn't even know what version of their operating system they're running, much less whether they need the dynamic or the static binary.

Or what the hell a binary is. There's too much confusion, too much fracturing. Desktop distributions like Ubuntu will ameliorate this problem, but not enough. The whole point of Linux is choice. Choice of technologies, of architectures, of platforms. This is a strength on the server, but it's hell on the desktop. Unless the entire Linux community commits to stringent standards on software installation, package management, and a big fat "et cetera," Linux will flat-out fail to deliver a compelling desktop experience.

And if they do deliver, they will have done Linux a disservice by creating a monolithic "official Linux" environment. It is in Linux's best interest to not succeed on the desktop, because of the inherent qualities of a successful desktop OS.

Computers are becoming more and more a required commodity to get our work done. For computers to properly serve that purpose, the interfaces need to get out of the way, and allow us to do what we need. For the non-technical person, environments like OS X and Windows (even though Windows sucks, no zealotry intended) will be the platform of choice for whom computing is a means to an end, not the end itself.

On the desktop, Linux is an end, not a means. Programmers will use it, and so will moderately technical people who have special needs. But that won't ever equate to higher market share, especially since most programmers make software for non-Linux platforms, and thus use said non-Linux platforms.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

It's Intel Inside, but Apple Throughout

It's finally here, and I have to say I'm nothing but impressed. The new Apple laptop, the MacBook Pro, is here, and it's got an Intel x86 chip in it. The specs are all over the place, so I won't add to the redundancy. Just click the link above, or get the specs straight from the horse's mouth.

One acronym frequently finds its way into the rhetoric (pro or con) every time Apple makes the news: RDF, for Reality Distortion Field. There are a lot of myths, preconceptions, and party lines both for and against Apple. I'm going to use my little corner of the web to talk about these oft-posited points, and whether their claimants are correct, or just spouting hot air.

It will run Windows. Hold the phone, bud. It's true that yesterday we could have a triple-boot operating system (Darwin, Windows, Linux) on one x86 box. But one big difference between yesterday and today is that the MacBook Pro and the iMac use EFI to boot their systems, not BIOS. It may end up that Mac hardware can't boot Windows (or, rather, that Windows can't boot on an EFI computer).

It won't run Windows. You can be sure, however, that Microsoft's upcoming Windows Vista will support EFI, as it introduces a slew of features that build the first steps in the bridge towards their much-reviled Trusted Computing Initiative. So, even if a vanilla copy of Win2000/XP can never be loaded by a (vanilla or hacked) EFI Mac, the probability of Vista working on an Intel Mac is very high.

Macs aren't special anymore. Get your head out of your ass, zealot. As pointed out on Ars Technica, running Windows on a Mac would be "like letting a retarded kid drive a Ferrari." Mac hardware is still meticulously designed for minimum profile/weight, a bold look, and innovative features. Yes, other laptops have built-in 1.3 megapixel cameras, but how many of those cameras have IR recievers with which you can control a media frontend like Front Row?

They still can't play games. This is wrong on so many counts. Not only might you be able to run Windows (and thus rock out with your kickass Radeon X1600), but the whole Intel thing adds a new dimension of possibilities here. For example, I've been playing Half-Life 2 (a Windows-only game) on my Linux installation since shortly after its release, using a Windows-compatibility layer known as Wine. There's a Mac port, Darwine, but it's been held back because you'd have to recompile programs to run on the PowerPC-based Macs. Now, as soon as Darwine is synced with the source of Wine (or the Crossover/Cedega forks), any Windows program that runs in Linux will run in OS X. Including Half-Life 2.

It's been a long time coming, but Apple's hard work is about to pay off, and in a big way. Mark my words; I think there's a strong possibility that in two years or less, Apple will have 10% of the desktop market share. In five? Who knows, but my money's on 30%.

Waiting for 11:00AM

Well, it's after midnight here in the good old Central Time Zone, and the MacWorld 2006 expo is set to start later this morning, with Steve Jobs giving a keynote speech at 11:00 CT. Like the rest of my Apple enthusiast friends, we're anxiously awaiting said keynote, dying to see what's next for the new darling of the computer industry.

You may be wondering why many a geek seem to be falling into the clutches of this "cult," why such a historically embattled and estranged platform appears to suddenly be the hot thing among the technorati. I can't speak for everyone, but I'll tell you what I think's so great about Apple:

They provide "desktop" UNIX that doesn't suck. This is, in fact, my biggest reason for my relatively recent Apple fervor. Out of the desktop-targeted Unices that cost money, nothing comes close to touching the feature set, polish and dependability that Apple provides. Ubuntu's nice but, sadly, you get what you pay for.

Their designers kick ass. Jonathan Ive and his team have been producing some incredible looking products over in Cupertino. You know how people say lots of iPods are purchased just because of the "look?" They're right.

They aren't Microsoft. It's frequently stated that Americans have the power to "vote with their pocketbooks," but simply not buying (Microsoft's) products doesn't register a vote. Buying non-Microsoft products drives home the point that Americans are anti-monopoly, and interested in computing freedom as well as platform agnosticism. Even if you don't know what those words mean, trust me; you believe in them or, at least, you certainly don't believe in their antithesis.

So, I've made my case, but Apple's still got to make theirs: why should we buy their product over their competitors? Everyone's saying that MacWorld 2006 is going to be where Apple launches their next volley of products. Hence the bated breath; geeks love to see what's next from the would-be dethroner of the desktop computer monopoly...even if they themselves once held the crown.

Here's my bet: Intel PowerBooks and iBooks. Maybe an "iBook nano." A preview of OS X 10.5 Leopard with a redesigned Finder. New versions of iLife and iWork.

Relatively safe bets, I know, but that's because it's more than likely what's going to happen.

...Is it 11:00 yet? Damn.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Once upon a time, I said I was going to have a podcast. It was to be called Knee of the Curve, and feature futurist discussion topics. I marvelled at myself in my buzzword-compliance. Truly, by leveraging a synergistic paradigm, I would be able to enhance client solutions. Or something.

While I was making the first installment of said podcast over Winter Break, I came to a realization: Podcasting isn't really for me. I don't really like the sound of my voice, and I prefer hypertext over spoken word, anyway. Right now, the richness of hypertext is something that we simply cannot find in a medium like audio. Here's what I mean.

I can link to a website, and you can go there. I can embed images. I could even make said images link to said website, but I dare not bombard you with too much at once. We are, after all, only human, and people tend to produce more than audiences wish to consume. (Examples: Mein Kampf, War and Peace, the Bob Dylan discography)

Now, let me ensure you that podcasting does enable you to embed images at certain points (Apple calls them "chapters"), and websites can be included in your RSS/Atom feed. However, we humans don't treat audio like we treat video, so this still isn't as compelling as hypertext. Allow me to elaborate on why.

When was the last time you skimmed a news article? Now, when was the last time you skimmed a popular song? I'll bet you haven't done the latter as often as the former. See, the way we treat text allows us to do things concurrently. You likely viewed the above picture of Dusty the Dog at the same time that you read the accompanying text. But you don't listen to two or three people talking at the same time unless you're listening to the O'Reilly Factor, and that's hardly "information." Or entertainment. Or anything.

So now we know why audio is limited, but is the limitation in our medium or in our bodies? Could we engineer a World Wide Web whose primary medium is audio? I think so.

Imagine turning off your monitor and throwing on your (3D) headphones. Surrounded by a plethora of unique ambient sounds, you move your mouse forward, and hear the sounds move away, only to have new ones in the forefront.

As you get closer to a particular sound, it begins to take shape. Oh, wait, this is my Bob Dylan discography. Let's move away. This sounds like what I want; ah, yes, it's Juno Reactor. *click* Ah, sweet, sweet Juno Reactor.

Hmm, what's the faint click you hear in the upper left? It's the cursor. It's slowly going to the right as the song progresses. And, you can still move around and find other files, but now Juno Reactor will follow you. "God Is God," indeed.

Now, the audiophiles will complain here. "But I want to hear my music unadulterated!" Well, the graphically inclined feel that way about video, and do you know what they do? They make their movie player go "fullscreen." Sure, they can't see their interface anymore, but they know they can hit escape at anytime to get it back. So, we can add a "fullaudio" mode, where your aural interface no longer interferes with what you're listening to; just hit escape to get the interface back. Ah, just like WMP...er, take that back. Just like VLC.

The driving technology needed for this interface is simple; how do you make a complicated sound into something less complex, yet still reminiscent of the original work? R. Luke DuBois recently engineered a song called "Billboard" using a technique called time-lapse phonography, where a pop song is "averaged," resulting in an ambient sound that represents all the sound values of a file, slammed together. This average can be made more and more coarse until you get to the actual sound itself.

Next, you just need audio snippets that can represent the discrete objects with which your interface will be dealing (like, say, songs), and you're set! The spectral averages become GUIDs that you can recognize with your ears. "Fly" to them with your mouse, and begin interacting. It's that simple.

OpenAL, Ogg Vorbis, and time-lapse phonography. Put them together, and you've got a music player that interacts with what a music player should; your ears.

Hey, this is a pretty good idea; anyone want to help me develop it?

Monday, January 02, 2006


Would you like to know why I switched blogs? The short answer is this; I'm done with writing a "public diary." I'm interested in blogging, but I want to do it right. New blog, new purpose. Now, here's the long answer.

You might have guessed it was the influx of "ur hott lolz coment me bak kthx propz" comments due to the disproportionate amount of 14-year-olds to which Xanga was playing host. That's not it.

Nor was it the fact that their RSS support was terrible, or that it took them until November 2005 (!) to add something as simple as titles to their posting software. No, features weren't really the culprit either, although it's a good reason to jump ship, because Blogger is a very developer-friendly service, while maintaining simplicity.

My switch wasn't even motivated by Xanga's constant attempts to get me to pay for their craptastic services. I sure got tired of them saying "wow, geez, you haven't paid us yet," but I learned to deal with the unbearable guilt of not paying for something advertised as a free service.

Sadly, the real reason I switched was because of that god-awful buzzword, community. I'm tired of having a personal journal, and I'm tired of reading other people's journals. Sure, it's great to keep in touch with people, but I'm interested in prosumerism. Let's keep up with each other in The Age of The Remix. I want to know what you're up to. I also want "what you're up to" to be something worthwhile. I think that spark of creation, the very fire of imagination and innovation, is within all of us, and I see so many sparks going out, so many fires being extinguished. It's time to change. It's time to incite change.

This may be the only post that I'll be able to get my Xanga subscribers to read, so listen up:

We post on our Xangas, our Facebooks, our MySpaces, and that's cool. But all we ever talk about is being bored. Don't you want to do something with your time? With all the time we spend on poking Facebook friends, adopting Bunnyhero Labs animals, and playing Flash games, couldn't we be making something extraordinary?

My concern in life is that I'm going to be a college graduate and have nothing to show for it but 4200 two-degree connections in Facebook, or a treasure chest of Xanga eProps. I'm concerned because I know one thing very well: eProps aren't worth shit in the real world.

I'm not attacking anyone and I know that, in some cases, I'm preaching to the choir but regardless of whether you get what I'm saying or not: Aspire. Be satisfied with your work, but don't slow down. Life hands you a few decades. Don't waste them.

(Hey, F. John, thanks for the nudge in the right direction.)