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 I'll also announce new products on the Shameless CafePress Sellout, but that won't happen too often.

So, here's what's already up on 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 -" 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, 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.)