Mark Damon Hughes Topic: News [Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics] [about]
The Daily Two Minutes Hate
Fri, 2011Feb04 14:17:13 PST
in Mac by kamikaze

The Daily is out, yet another News on the iPad app.

The best comment I've heard about this is:

"I would hope the staff is as appalled about the experience as we are. Because otherwise they're doomed. If they think this is okay, they're out of their minds."
John Gruber, Talk Show #28


The UI is wretched. It's another unselectable images-as-pages piece of crap, it's inconsistent between portrait and landscape, and it's slow and awful.

Worse, the content is just what you'd expect from Rupert Murdoch. They explicitly state in the initial editorial that it's "against government control", in other words, it's a teabagger retard conspiracy theory propaganda organ. The "article" on global warming was typical denial nonsense, from the kind of Christian idiots who believe that God won't flood the Earth "again", because He promised not to with a rainbow and a dove. The article on Egypt suggested that "democracy" in Egypt is doomed because Gamal Mubarak, the dictator's son, left the country. They honestly think the son of a psychotic murdering dictator is the most democratic choice to take over.

What I don't understand is how Apple teamed up with this piece of shit. Al Gore is on Apple's board. Steve Jobs seems to be pragmatic but very liberal. Rupert Murdoch, on the other hand, is a lunatic educated only with a 1700-year-old fantasy novel, bent on spreading ignorance and hatred throughout the world through FOX "News", the New York Post, and other propaganda wings.

← Previous: NOW IN 3D! (Media) Next: MultiMarkdown (Mac) →
NOW IN 3D!
Wed, 2011Jan26 16:16:23 PST
in Media by kamikaze

Slate debunks some reviewer's anti-3D diatribes.

The thing is, Roger Ebert was a fine reviewer of mid- to late-20th Century movies, and a terrible scriptwriter of same. But he's also a pod person who's never in his life left the theatre and seen the real world, nor read a book (his understanding of movies based on books, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, ranges from laughable to painful to pitiable if you have read the books). His understanding of 21st Century filmmaking is just sad. So when he says "3D is unnatural", what he means is "it's not a super-bright light projected through a strip of film being changed 24 times per second on a silver screen 10-20 yards in front of me at 4:3 or 16:9 ratio, producing the illusion of motion even though it's just a slideshow". He doesn't mean it's "unnatural" like nature as we know it, because he's never seen nature except in Koyaanisqatsi and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.


Not that 3D movies as they are today are natural and convincing, but they are very slightly LESS unnatural and unconvincing than 2D cinema, and in time they will improve. 3D with polarized or shutter glasses lets both eyes see something slightly different, so you can locate the action in "real" space; you had to learn to see 2D, but most of us grew up with television so we don't remember. A 3D film takes advantage of the fact that our brains can assemble two images into a mental construct of a space, far better than they can with a 2D image.

Modern 3D movies are of two kinds: Those shot in 3D, and those post-processed into 3D. Post-processing makes the movie darker, because the same amount of light is being split into two polarized views (if you try to up the contrast, you blow out the bright areas; you can't win). Movies shot in 3D can have the brightness at an appropriate level for each eye. The post-processed films also just look terrible, because they're basically "painting" 3D cues into a 2D film, and it's a fallible human process, and looks like a ViewMaster slide. The future of 3D film will be to use 2 real or virtual cameras, separated at an appropriate focal distance, and they'll look GOOD. You can see this now, in CGI-heavy films like TRON:Legacy and Toy Story 3, where the 3D is not POKING YOU IN THE EYE, but giving you depth and a sense of place and distance that 2D would lose.

Not every film needs to be 3D, any more than every painting needs to be a hologram, but it is objectively superior in long run, just as talkies were superior to silent films, just as color was superior to black and white; you think you can only do "moody noir" in B&W? Watch Le Samourai, Chinatown, or L.A. Confidential, all three of which rely on the kick of color in places, and the play of shadow and light in others. In a few years, the ridiculous early 3D movies will be seen as flawed but essential experiments while filmmakers learned to film space, not just a flat image.

Art moves on, some old reviewers don't.

← Previous: Thoughts on TRON: Legacy (Media) Next: The Daily Two Minutes Hate (Mac) →
Thoughts on TRON: Legacy
Mon, 2010Dec27 18:04:15 PST
in Media by kamikaze

I can't post this openly yet, since it won't be out everywhere for a while yet, but I wrote up some of my thoughts on what's happening in this movie: SPOILER TRON: Legacy SPOILER

As a general review: Excellent sequel. It's not the equal of the first film, but it does a fine job telling a similar-but-different story with some new creative elements, and effects that match that story. It's like "Alien" (best hard science fiction movie of all time) vs. "Aliens" (dumb but very amusing Vietnam-in-space flick using leftover sets & costumes from Alien).

The goddamned Recognizers are apparently burned into my subconscious as terrifying hunters, because I have a visceral response to them, just like I do to Daleks. "KILL IT, KILL IT, GET A TANK!".

Only real disappointment: Bit does not return. Aw. I liked Bit. "Great, another mouth to feed." "YESYESYESYESYES"

← Previous: Chrome OS: The Return of the Network Computer (Software) Next: NOW IN 3D! (Media) →

Google's finally released a very early prototype of its Chrome OS laptop, the CR-48 (because that's a sexy, easy-to-remember name). There's the obvious problems with prototype hardware (see MG Siegler's TechCrunch review).

But I think the entire premise is flawed, and has failed before, and will continue to fail every time people present it, for exactly the same reasons. I've talked about this before, in The Cloud is Not a Panacea.

The competition to a Chrome OS laptop is the iPad, or light laptops with SSDs (the MacBook Air). The latter keep files locally, let you work on them, and then shove stuff to the slow network. Chrome OS has no choice but to work on the network. It cannot be other than slow and unreliable.


Reliability

Wireless network connections like wifi and mobile fail all the time. The weather, or birds squatting on antennae, or passing vehicles, sunspots, microwave ovens, tin foil hats, bad moods, anything can weaken or disrupt your signal.

If you're working on a local file, you don't care or notice, you continue working and when the network works again, you can send it out. If you're working on a remote file, you can do NOTHING until you get the network back. Quite likely, you'll lose everything you hadn't saved.

Autosaving documents works great on a local system, because HDDs and flash memory are relatively fast; it does not work well over a network, because the network is slow, and in any case won't happen because writing that functionality in a JavaScript app is almost unbearably painful.

Speed

Read this: Latency Trumps All, in particular:

Relative Data Access Latencies, Fastest to Slowest

  • CPU Registers (1)
  • L1 Cache (1-2)
  • L2 Cache (6-10)
  • Main memory (25-100)
  • --- don’t cross this line, don’t go off mother board! ---
  • Solid-State Drive (1e5 = 100,000) [mdh: estimated]
  • Hard drive (1e7 = 10,000,000)
  • LAN (1e7-1e8 = 100,000,000)
  • WAN (1e9-2e9 = 2,000,000,000)

"Avoid going halfway to the moon whenever possible"

So the text in your local text editor can be accessed 20 million times faster than text over a mobile data connection. That it works at ALL is awesome, but doesn't make it a good choice for interactive editing.

It gets worse for photos, music, and video. You can just barely play a low-quality music stream over WAN. Video needs a fast wifi, or local. Even loading a photo gallery is SLOW over the network, try it with a big Flickr gallery. Compare that to working with those on a local device: You can smoothly flip through a gallery of media on an iPad and instantly play anything in high quality.

Development

HTML5/AJAX/JavaScript are quite nice for doing many of the things Java applets and Flash does, and can often do it with shorter startup time and lower resources. I've written AJAX-based web apps, done some impressive things in it, and for front-end input validation, submitting without a page refresh, and a bit of animation, it's more than adequate.

HOWEVER, there's no comparison to a native app. JavaScript is thousands of times slower than native C or Objective-C code. Most complex tasks require a lot of processing power, and/or access to native APIs that JavaScript simply doesn't have.

[Updated: After some prodding from Steve Streza, I actually tested the performance of JS.

I get 4.5-5x faster in Objective-C than JS, doing the most naive drawing possible. If I used OpenGL, it'd easily get 10x or more faster, but this is minimal effort.

You still can't access native APIs in JS, and I think even that speed hit is unacceptable, but it is better than it used to be...

]

On a cheap, resource-constrained device, the last thing in the world you want is a slow, interpreted language like JavaScript. That's why Mac devs rejected and mocked Steve Jobs' "sweet solution" of HTML for iPhone apps. The native iOS SDK is already one of the most successful platforms in the history of computing, by any measure: money, number of apps, and creative work.

The development tools for HTML5 are unbearably primitive. JavaScript debuggers sort of work now, if you don't mind eating 100% CPU on a fast computer. Forget about doing it on something like the target device. There's nothing like Xcode plus all the iOS SDK development tools and Instruments for profiling.

When you do get a web app running on one browser (say, targeting Chrome), you'll find it doesn't work the same, or at all, in other browsers; and you (and Google) are going to want and need those apps to run elsewhere. It's a development and maintenance nightmare.

Now, I might be biased in favor of iOS, despite a career of doing cross-platform Java and web apps, right? But it's easy to verify that I'm correct about this: Compare the state of the art of webapps to their native iPad equivalents.

Google's gmail vs. Apple's Mail app? Gmail is marginally more powerful for searching, but Mail.app wins in usability every time. Trying to read through my inbox in gmail would be insane, and composing in gmail is a great way to throw away my writing when the network goes down.

Google Docs word processing vs. Apple's Pages, or spreadsheets vs. Numbers, or presentations vs. Keynote.

The Google apps aren't even as good as the '80s native versions of MS Word, Lotus 1-2-3, and Powerpoint, let alone anything close to modern. They're like a kid's hobby project. They also have ludicrously incompetent visual design, like using a 3.5" floppy disk icon for "Save" on a web app, 12 years after Apple stopped shipping floppy drives. And these are the work of Google, the biggest and most technically advanced web company.

While in theory it's possible to make webapps less atrocious, in practice that rarely happens, because the same effort yields far better design results and financial rewards in native apps.

Motivation

So if a wireless network/cloud computer with no real local storage or apps is such a terrible idea, why does Google pursue it? MONEY. Google is an advertising company. The easiest (often only) way to make money from a web app is advertising.

It is in Google's self-interest to drive people to web apps, and just as importantly to drive them AWAY FROM local platforms where they make no advertising money. Google's ideal world would be Minority Report, where you can be retina-scanned and given "targeted" (like a sniper rifle) advertising everywhere you go. Every surface projects another damned ad. To anyone sane, that's hell, but to Google, that's "increasing eyeball share".

I am not just an eyeball host, I am a guy who likes using quality software on his computer, iPad, and iPhone.

← Previous: Buffy Minus Whedon (Media) Next: Thoughts on TRON: Legacy (Media) →
Buffy Minus Whedon
Tue, 2010Nov23 10:42:39 PST
in Media by kamikaze

So apparently Warner's is making a new Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie without Joss Whedon. And his response:

Kristin, I'm glad you asked for my thoughts on the announcement of Buffy the cinema film. This is a sad, sad reflection on our times, when people must feed off the carcasses of beloved stories from their youths—just because they can't think of an original idea of their own, like I did with my Avengers idea that I made up myself.

I'm not sure if he's being sarcastic here; it may be a necessary blind spot for him to do his work. Certainly fandom is not taking that as sarcastic, but that's not surprising, either. Whedon has done his own share of scavenging on the corpses of media. He wrote for Roseanne, a crime against humanity if ever there was one. He wrote the unbelievably terrible Alien: Resurrection, and the failed Wonder Woman script, and has written a bunch of X-Men comics; those are generally considered quite good, but the last thing the world needs is more geriatric X-Men stories. And now he's doing Captain America and The Avengers movies.

Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in the '40s; The Avengers by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the '60s. They've gone through a lot of changes in writers/artists since, but the core is still those original stories about a team of powerful but unstable heroes who take on the threats nobody else can. Captain America joined the team later, he is in no sense "The First Avenger" as Whedon's upcoming movie is subtitled. There's nothing creative to be done there, it's just moving around action figures someone else created.

Apple, Java, and Oracle
Fri, 2010Nov12 06:58:35 PST
in Mac by kamikaze

As I said in "Apple, Java, and Chicken Little": "Oracle may make an official JVM … almost certain":

Oracle and Apple Announce OpenJDK Project for Mac OS X

Not only is Apple contributing their implementation of Java to OpenJDK, but Oracle will develop it, and be responsible for shipping Java 7. It's nice to see clarification that the legacy Java 6 will continue to ship on Mac OS X Lion, so existing tools won't just die.

Can everyone stop freaking out now?

← Previous: News on the iPad (Mac) Next: Buffy Minus Whedon (Media) →
News on the iPad
Thu, 2010Nov11 00:17:23 PST
in Mac by kamikaze

Yet another fancy iPad app launches for an old-media news empire: The Washington Post, home of Woodward & Bernstein. Now, I love the Washington Post, it's one of the only political news sources I halfway respect. They actually report on real news and do research. When the stories are about something I know about already, they seem pretty accurate; most newspaper "reporting" is at least half lies and bullshit. TV "news" isn't even that good, it's outright slander and fantasy and advertising.


They certainly put work into the app. They even made a nice video ad with Bob Woodward.

So what I'm about to say is a little disappointing. The app is terrible. The ad was pretty accurate, and Bob and everyone else will be confused by this unnavigable mess.

wapost1.png

Layout: Here's the front page. The masthead has no useful information except the very tiny date and two small buttons, but wastes 66 pixels of height for two buttons. The giant ad for Exxon "we're not as evil as BP, but we try! You're not still mad about the Exxon Valdez, are you?" takes up another 90 at the bottom, and the CNN-like "live topics" area another 122; that means 278 pixels are wasted instead of the standard 44 for a toolbar; 31% of the available height.

It's not quite so egregious in portrait, but it still cuts off before you can read anything, and portrait doesn't have the "related articles/media" sidebar, which is one of the few good bits of the app.

There's no location-awareness. They waste space showing the weather for DC, even if you're not local. It is trivial in iOS to query location and get a city, or even ask for it in setup.

Back to what was confusing Bob Woodward. The page scrolls down only a little ways. Maybe they don't have it hooked up to any back content? But I think it only shows recent stories. Then you can pull down and release to refresh the page; this was a clever but hard-to-discover trick in Tweetie, but it makes no sense in a newspaper.

To move to another section, you can go through the menu, or swipe left and right. But there's no indication that you can go left and right, or what's off in that direction. After Politics is Opinion, Local, Sports, National, World, Business, Lifestyle, Entertainment, Multimedia. Does that make any sense? Politics first, yes. But not National, World, then the others? And why are multimedia bits off in their own ghetto at the end, instead of just being articles? It's like a dead-trees newspaper with a DVD taped in at the back.

The "Live Topics" thing at the bottom pulls up random comments from Facebook and Twitter which may or may not be related, but are of typical comment quality.

The "Read Later" saves a copy of an article to the app for reading offline… But everyone already has Instapaper, right? If you don't use Instapaper, you're not using your iOS devices to their full power. I use Instapaper constantly to move links from Twitter on iPhone or iPad, and read them later on iPad or Mac. So why would I want to silo an article in one device and app? That makes no sense.

When you're reading an article, if you can get there through this jumbled maze of pages and tiny article boxes, you get a scrolling plain text area. You can make it bigger or smaller, but you can't change the font. If the article is too long, there's no bookmarking or paging feature. The related article/media sidebar is nice. That's about it.

And the app crashes kind of often. Reading a simple newspaper, it crashes.


There are other papers on the iPad. The NY Times app is limited, and also wastes valuable article and reading space, though there's nothing so terrible as the WaPost comment bar. I used to make a lot more use of the NY Times Crossword app, but it doesn't work currently, probably since I run an iOS 4.2 beta on my iPad.

usatoday1.png

USA Today is the McDonald's of newspapers, but their app is simple, clean, and easy to navigate. When you can go left or right, there's a pager visible to tell you so. The temperature is local. The crossword puzzle isn't especially challenging, but nicely integrated into the app. Almost every pixel is used for content or pleasant separation of sections, no giant areas wasted on bad UI widgets. The USA Today logo is a section switcher, not useless decoration.

While I have little respect for USA Today as a news organization, I still read it sometimes because the app is pleasant to use.


flipboard1.png

Perhaps the best app isn't a newspaper at all, though. Flipboard is an aggregator for items from Twitter accounts and lists, your own or various public ones. Since many blog writers now tweet about every new entry, they all show up in Flipboard. Navigation is trivially easy and obvious, and little space is wasted on anything but information.

I'm not entirely pleased by how it shows articles, though: You see the first few paragraphs, then a link to the original site, so they can collect their ad revenue. While I sympathize with the need for ads, I just want everything collected. However, it does have a "Read Later" action which sends an article to Instapaper, the ONLY one of these newspaper apps which does.

Still, I think this is pretty close to the ideal for a newspaper. If it had RSS support, and a clearer separation of old from new content, I'd be happy to junk all of the "newspapers" and RSS readers I use.

← Previous: MacBook Air 2010 (Mac) Next: Apple, Java, and Oracle (Mac) →
MacBook Air 2010
Fri, 2010Oct29 17:37:19 PDT
in Mac by kamikaze

My original MacBook Air, "Nanite", has been my constant companion since Feb 2008. It was light and beautiful and fun and was surprisingly useful despite its performance limits. But 2 months ago, the HDD crashed. Apple Store was able to restore it to life, and I got my stuff back on it, but clearly it was dying. 2 weeks ago, it crashed again, and I didn't have it painfully revived. Fortunately, the next week Apple announced an ALL NEW 13" MacBook Air, which perfectly replaces it, and then some.

I'm actually quite sad about the loss of Nanite, and it didn't come at the best time for me financially, but now I have Relto, and I love it. It's like a very good old dog dies, and you feel sad, and then you get an awesome new puppy. "Life is a succession of laptops dogs", as George Carlin said.

Lots of people have reviewed the Air, so I won't do it in detail. But there are a few points some people are missing.


  • Speed

    I got the almost-highest-end MBA, 13.3"/1.86 GHz C2D CPU/1066 MHz bus/4GB RAM (build-to-order option)/128GB SSD, and that's still only $1399. It blows away the Mac mini I use at work, and even makes my home MBP seem slow. Launching apps takes a second or less. Disk-heavy apps just cruise along as if they were reading memory. Pages and Xcode run fast. Compile times for my apps go from a minute to a few seconds.

    Even graphics-heavy stuff is fast. I can run Myst Online: Uru Live at full graphics settings with no lag. I spin around in big complex areas and it's just smooth. World of Warcraft gives me 30-40 fps in cities, 40-60 fps anywhere else. It's as fast or faster than my MBP there (running 1440x900 instead of 1920x1200). My old MBA was a slideshow, 1-2 fps, in either game.

    Playing WoW, I can get the fans to kick in. They whisper a bit. The very far back feels a little warm. My old Nanite would get BLISTERING hot and sounded like a hovercraft full of eels when I ran anything heavy-duty.

  • Upgrades

    Upgradeability is bullshit. Most users never upgrade anything. Order it online and get 4GB RAM. You're set for the next 2 years, when you'll replace it with a new laptop or iPad Pro or whatever. The 13" Air has an SD card slot, and currently you can get 32GB SD cards for $75. Both 11" and 13" Airs have 2 USB ports, so you can put an external drive or USB memory stick in and still have a port free.

  • Ethernet

    Yes, the Air only does wifi normally… But you can buy a $29 USB-ethernet adapter, if you DO have plugging-into-wall needs. I need that maybe once a month, and I have the adapter somewhere in my parts bag.

  • iTunes

    "I got too much iTunes stuff to fit on an Air!" Get a 1TB or even 2TB Time Capsule, set a good password on it, put your Time Machine backups and iTunes library on it, and you have household wifi, backup, and media storage. DONE.

    When you're out of the house, you don't need your iTunes library on your laptop, because it's on your iPod. ALL of my music fits on a big iPod classic, and my little nanowatch has a high-rated set and some podcasts and audiobooks. When you're home, your Air will connect to the Time Capsule, and you'll have your iTunes library. BAM, it's that easy.

    Once a month (make a recurring calendar appointment so you don't forget), connect a big external drive to the TC and back it up, then put that external drive in a safe deposit box far away from your house.

  • Screen Size

    The 11" 1366x768 screen is pretty small. It's as short as an iPad. I found the 1280x800 screen of the old Air crippling at times. But the new 13" 1440x900 screen is excellent, just big enough for serious apps, for a couple of windows to sit next to each other or even stack vertically.

    You don't want to do full-sized presentations or visual work on the tiny laptop screens, but that's what an external monitor is for. The 13" can dual-display its own screen and a 2560x1600 27" Apple Cinema Display. So plug in the big ACD at home, and when you're out you can use the laptop screen.

I love my iPad, too, but it's a kiosk machine for running iOS apps, reading Twitter and books, and sometimes watching TV on the bus. The new MacBook Air is a really great Mac, no real compromises, and if you're not absolutely tied to big desktop storage device, you can easily use it as your only computer.

← Previous: Apple, Java, and Chicken Little (Mac) Next: News on the iPad (Mac) →
Apple, Java, and Chicken Little
Tue, 2010Oct26 11:08:03 PDT
in Mac by kamikaze

Buried in the release notes for the 10.6.3 update, Apple made a rather startling announcement: Java Deprecation:

As of the release of Java for Mac OS X 10.6 Update 3, the Java runtime ported by Apple and that ships with Mac OS X is deprecated. Developers should not rely on the Apple-supplied Java runtime being present in future versions of Mac OS X.

The Java runtime shipping in Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, and Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, will continue to be supported and maintained through the standard support cycles of those products.

[emphasis mine]

Steve Jobs responded to feedback about this with:

"Sun (now Oracle) supplies Java for all other platforms. They have their own release schedules, which are almost always different than ours, so the Java we ship is always a version behind. This may not be the best way to do it.

Well, that's a fair point: The JVM on Mac has lagged, sometimes very badly when security problems come up, and people have constantly whined about it. And now many of the same short-attention-span people whine that Apple won't have an "official" JVM at all.


There are three use cases for Java:

  1. Java as a Desktop Application Environment

    This is uncommon. It's unfortunate, but Sun screwed up desktop Java badly with the bloated industrial-ugly Swing in 1.2, and has been mismanaging it into the ground for a decade since. Hardly surprising, since nobody at Sun used a desktop system, or gave a damn about end-users, so how could they know how to make a usable cross-platform GUI?

    Still, there are desktop Java apps and games. My own older games and utilities, obviously. I use Cyberduck and Minecraft regularly, and hundreds of thousands of people play Runescape, or use Java whiteboarding or chat tools like GoToMyPC.

    A good Java desktop app doesn't look like "a Java desktop app", it looks like a native app. You're probably using some and don't know it.

    There are a few bright spots for desktop or applet Java. JavaFX has a new lease on life at Oracle, and will likely replace Swing for any new UI work, and JavaFX is a modern, attractive, and animated GUI toolkit, unlike Swing. The applet loaders and Java WebStart ("jnlp") have massively improved lately.

  2. Java Web Applications

    Here's where you'll mostly meet Java, and again, you'll almost never know. Most corporate, enterprise, or professional web sites are built in Java. If the pages don't end in ".php" or ".aspx", it's probably Java behind it.

    Java on the server is unlikely to diminish this decade. Maybe ever, with new languages that run on the JVM like Scala and Groovy.

    Java is nearly the ideal server environment. It's incredibly fast, uses a reasonable amount of memory, has automatic garbage collectiton, is stable, and handles errors well, so a server can stay up forever. Cross-platform means you don't have to recompile and fight with bugs between library versions, and can develop on Mac or Windows and deploy to Linux or Solaris. Java's modularity and large-scale programming features make it possible to support a large team working on a large app, and its static typing prevents a lot of bugs. Building an equivalent-sized web application in Ruby, Python, or PHP is nearly impossible, and will never be as fast or reliable.

    Now, very few people actually deploy their web server on Mac OS X, but a lot of them develop on the Mac, which leads to #3:

  3. Java Software Development

    Most people making Java web applications use Eclipse, and it's certain that Eclipse will bundle a JVM if nobody else does. So freaking out that you won't be able to develop Java on the Mac is Chicken Little idiocy. This hasn't stopped a large number of otherwise-respectable Java devs from freaking out, but snap out of it, assholes.

I think it's extremely unfortunate to lose one of the Mac's built-in application environments. Currently, you can bang together some Java and hand it to any Mac user and it'll just run. If Apple doesn't ship any JVM at all, users who want to run desktop or applet Java will have to visit Java.com and download the official Oracle/Sun JVM. But that's what Windows and Linux users have to do already, and the sky hasn't fallen on them. Developers won't have any problem getting a new JVM.

There are two obvious sources for a new JVM for the Mac: OpenJDK/SoyLatte, which was developed and used widely during the 32-bit to 64-bit Intel transition, but has been on life support since; or Oracle may make an official JVM. The former is certain to come out, but may not gain much traction. The latter is almost certain, given that Larry Ellison is Steve Jobs' drinking buddy, and that Oracle likes developer mindshare. On Windows, Sun made money from Java by installing viral browser plugins for payola (yes, Sun was a shitty company without ethics, and their death is unmourned in my household). I don't know how Oracle will deal with this, but they may be more reasonable.

[Update: Oracle does in fact now support Mac Java.]

← Previous: Microsoft Gave Themselves a Parade (Mac) Next: MacBook Air 2010 (Mac) →
Microsoft Gave Themselves a Parade
Mon, 2010Sep13 12:45:30 PDT
in Mac by kamikaze

The mobile phone world never ceases to amuse me.

On Friday, Microsoft "released to manufacturing" (shipped the supposedly ready first version) of Windows 7 Phone 7 Series 7 Phone(TM). In other companies, this would be accompanied by a small internal party, cake and trepidation in equal balance. But Microsoft is sure they're a winner this time, so they had a parade! (These are real, no shit, no Photoshop):


By "burying" iPhone and BlackBerry, are they seriously claiming that they're going to sell more than either… in, what, a year? Two years? Two years is a phone contract cycle, so if you haven't won by then, you've lost. It's obviously not going to happen. Even if Windows 7 Phone 7 Series 7 Phone(TM) doesn't completely suck (possible, though implausible) and sells better than expected (also possible, though implausible), they're going to be fourth place at best, under Android (the new featurephone standard), iPhone, BlackBerry, and perhaps HP/Palm.

The only company Microsoft can realistically bury is Nokia, and that's more a case of outrunning a leper whose parts are falling off. It doesn't make you a winner.

I've made fun of Nokia's "Meego" development environment, which as of 3Q 2010 (a quarter late) is still only available for netbooks, not any actual phones.

Jean-Louis Gassée, the best ex-"President of Apple Products Division" they ever had, knows the same truth as Batman: Mobile device manufacturers are a superstitious, cowardly lot. So back in February, he mocked their Intel partnership:

All the holy words are there: Linux (mandatory), based (to male things clearer), platform (the p-word), multiple hardware architectures (we don’t know what we’re doing so we’re covering all bases), broadest range of device (repeat the offense just committed), segments (the word adds a lot of meaning to the previous phrase), including pocketable mobile computers, netbooks, tablets, mediaphones, connected TVs and in-vehicle infotainment systems (only microprocessor-driven Toto toilets are missing from the litany).

In June, he pointed out what any adult who'd ever tried to get or use a Nokia device knew, with his Science Fiction Sketch.

And today, he just lays out how they will fail.

← Previous: The iPod nano watch (Mac) Next: Apple, Java, and Chicken Little (Mac) →
The iPod nano watch
Fri, 2010Sep10 02:50:56 PDT
in Mac by kamikaze

As soon as I saw the new iPod nano, I thought: This would be a great watch.

I don't normally wear a watch; my phone keeps my calendar and tells me when I have to be somewhere. Watches are semi-functional jewelry now. I have a nice (digital, but artistic) watch from Diesel, but a new one is neat.


A cloth/velcro Timex watch strap cost $8 at a drug store. The strap has a loop up top which the nano's clip fits through, so it doesn't chafe against my arm. But I'd prefer leather, and I'll be looking around for a nicer one soon.

It looks pretty awesome:

nanowatch
Design (A+)
Wow. It's just a black screen on perfect, rounded metal frame, the three hard buttons you want (power, volume +/-), and the dock port and headphone jack. Note: No visible logos on surface. It speaks for itself, you don't need a ton of stickers and logos shitting up the surface.

I do want to get a cover for the dock port, electronics exposed to Seattle weather do poorly.

Clock (A-)
The ostensible purpose of a watch. Looks great, very smooth almost mechanical face. It only has analog, which is a little disappointing; the stopwatch digits have a very cool mirrored surface look, which would make a great digital watch. It has a stopwatch and timer, though you have to have headphones in to hear it go off. No alarm, but again, my calendar is on my phone.

Also, the display only stays on for 60 seconds, then goes off until you hit power again. There is no setting for this, which I would prefer.

iPod (B)
The iPod player is a little awkward, but on a watch it's reachable. It's definitely designed to be used while clipped to something, not held in your hand. The cover art looks nice at this size and DPI. Again, no speaker.

There is a serious bug in the current software: Smart playlists do NOT sync the list. The music syncs, but the playlist shows 0 songs, and all your music is only playable by shuffle. Until Apple fixes it, probably the only workaround is to drag the contents of a smart playlist to a dumb playlist, and sync THAT to iPod. Shit.

Apple ships their cheap earbuds without inline controls. If you buy the nice in-ear headphones with controls, you can just click those to pause/forward/back music.

FM Radio (B)
Apparently radio is still broadcasting! Works fine, and I had a few good local stations. Requires wired headphones as an antenna, and there's no speaker.
Pedometer/Nike+ (A/C)
The pedometer seems to work great, gives you immediate access to your exercise history. What doesn't work great is the Nike+ integration. You visit the Nike site, create an account, log in. Then sync your nano. Sometimes it connects and saves the entries, sometimes it doesn't. I had to quit iTunes & retry several times. Nike's site is a flash abomination, which makes me even less interested. I need to find a better desktop or iPhone app to sync it with.

Apple's made the best watch yet. There's room for improvement, but it's gorgeous, and I'm going to keep wearing it.

← Previous: Python string formatting (Software) Next: Microsoft Gave Themselves a Parade (Mac) →
Python string formatting
Wed, 2010Aug25 22:47:01 PDT
in Software by kamikaze

Python's string formatting tools annoy me. And what annoys me, eventually gets fixed, even if it's with an evil hack.


In Perl (and originally in Bourne Shell), you can write:

print "It is ${foo}!";
to show the value of local variable foo. Simple, clear, and terse.

In Python up to 2.4, you would write:

print "It is %s!" % (foo,)
But that makes you match up positional arguments, which sucks. So there's this:
print "It is %(foo)s!" % {"foo":foo}

In Python 2.5 and later, there's a new formatter:

print "It is {foo}!".format(foo=foo)

In Python 3.0 and later, it's now:

print("It is {foo}!".format(foo=foo))
There's also Template, but it's even longer and uglier.

This is a mess. You can't even find the message in all that line noise, and the name is repeated 2 extra times. Printing several values is unmaintainable.

Hack #1: Use vars() to hide the redundant name assignment.

print("It is {foo}!".format(**vars()))
# **aDict expands the dict as keyword args
Or:
print("It is %(foo)s!" % vars())

Still a lot of noise, but foo is just pulled from local scope. Maybe I can hide that vars() assignment?

Hack #2:

print(fmt("It is {foo}!"))

Sweet! How did I do that? It is magic! But it's black, vile, corrupt magic, and it's about 120x slower than the ugly one (though still unnoticeably fast on modern hardware).

""">>>import inspect
>>>x=2
>>>fmt("{0} {x} {y}", 1, y=3)
'1 2 3'
"""
def fmt(s, *args, **kwargs):
	c_frame = inspect.getouterframes(inspect.currentframe(), 1)[1][0]
	c_args, c_varargs, c_varkw, c_locals = inspect.getargvalues(c_frame)
	d = dict(c_locals)
	if kwargs: d.update(kwargs)
	return s.format(*args, **d)
← Previous: "I am the death of e-ink", said the iPad. (Toys) Next: The iPod nano watch (Mac) →
"I am the death of e-ink", said the iPad.
Thu, 2010Jul22 10:48:17 PDT
in Toys by kamikaze

In 2007, I wrote Amazon's Kindling, or, "Burn Before Reading" and Throw More Kindling on the Fire, where I ripped on the Kindle's terrible aesthetics, reading experience, and lock-in to Amazon's store.

But at the time, it had no real competition (apart from Sony's apathetic marketing of the E-Reader), and it did reasonably well. The aesthetics and user interface improved marginally, though it's still pretty awful to use, still unreadable in dim light, still gray-on-gray, still tied to Amazon only.

Now that the iPad is available, the Kindle and all other e-ink readers (Sony's E-Reader, Barnes & Noble's "Nook", Border's "Kobo") are doomed. The iPad has a bright high-contrast display, color, better fonts, and has iTunes, movies, and the App Store if you get bored of reading.


The iPad's iBooks app does page flips instantly (well, half a second animation; wish I could turn that off) instead of several seconds like Kindle, has a tappable dictionary, notes, and highlighting (instead of trying to use the Kindle paddle control), illustrations, and a gorgeous user interface. It's not "as good as a paper book", it's better in every way (people with a fetish for rotting wood pulp feel & smell can turn one into a case).

If you have a bunch of Kindle ebooks, they can be read in the iPad Kindle app, making the Kindle device irrelevant.

The first release of iBooks was a little underwhelming, given the very limited store, but Apple is backfilling it fast. I have 8 purchased books on it now, and a bunch of "free samples" I use as bookmarks to buy when I'm done with these. I've bought two new release hardcovers (not in iBooks store) since iPad was released, but no more paperbacks, and maybe I never will again.

In other countries, the iBooks store is probably going to lag a while; every publisher has different publishing deals in every country, so Apple can't just turn on books everywhere, they have to wait for the publisher to work out the rights. It may take a few months or years to untangle the legal mess of long centuries of print publishing.

On the con side, an iPad costs $500 base, Kindle costs $189; iPad weighs 0.68 kg, like a hardcover, Kindle weighs 0.28kg, like a thick paperback. But you can only use the Kindle for one thing, and it does it poorly. You have space in a satchel or purse for one book-sized object. If you KNOW you're going to read in a brightly-lit area and do nothing else, the Kindle alone is sufficient; if you have any possibility of doing anything else, you'll take the iPad and leave the Kindle gathering dust.

[Update: @girasquid points out that the iPad brightness may be too high for some to read on, but the brightness and sepiatone controls in iBooks give you a lot of control over your comfort level.]

[Update 17:13: See ZDNet's iPad vs. Kindle vs. Sony E-Reader reading comparison, where iPad did poorly outdoors, but was better for indoors and night. I've had better outdoors experiences with it, but I live in Seattle where "the Sun don't shine".]

← Previous: What I'm Reading: Ancestor (Media) Next: Python string formatting (Software) →
What I'm Reading: Ancestor
Sat, 2010Jul17 18:55:08 PDT
in Media by kamikaze

Scott Sigler's Ancestor was originally released as a podcast and PDF several years ago, but finally in print (just as print is dying, go figure).

It's a fast-paced science fiction horror story in the vein of Michael Crichton, Robin Cook, etc., with a medical company genetically engineering a common ancestor of all mammals to use as a universal organ transplant source. Of course, everything goes wrong, horrible monsters are produced, many cows die, and then many people die on a tiny island in Canada.


So. It's a fun read, and I really like some of the characters, old man Clayton and crazy geneticist Jian in particular.

However, there's a bunch of problems that kept knocking out my suspension of disbelief.

The über-badass Canadian Special Forces psycho killer, Magnus. Canada's Airborne Regiment had the "Somalia Affair", but that's far short of what Magnus seems to have done in his career. Disbelief isn't a strong enough term for this.

The plan. Making a universal organ donor is a great idea. But a common mammalian ancestor won't do that, because it'll still be recognized as foreign material and be rejected. I can halfway give them a pass, since they're actively optimizing for non-reactive, but I don't see how it's possible. And there's something Jian does, which… isn't clear how much that affects the outcome. Still, I'm dubious.

The "ancestors". These things are basically Thrinaxodon, the earliest, most primitive mammals, and were small burrowing carnivores, somewhat equivalent to a badger. Even if you massively increase their size, they're just not getting that much tougher. There's no way they were great hunters, certainly not the ravening pack shown. There is no creature that can gestate and be born that ready to fight, and in any case, Thrinaxodon was egg-laying (yes, they can still be mammals; the Platypus still lays eggs). It has spines from Dimetrodon, a distant more-reptilian cousin of Thrinaxodon; where would Jian get the genes for that? Augh. And it's smart, maybe as smart as an angry Chimpanzee, which is about 240 million years anachronistic for tiny-brained Thrinaxodon. Almost nothing about this thing makes sense.

The heroes are obviously immortal. There's no way that certain people are ever going to die, and you can see it right off. I don't mind a happy ending where it makes sense, but the last few chapters go from "scrappy hero escapes tough situation" to "plot immunity". By the time the last character is saved, I was almost resigned, like I was on a crashing train, nothing to do but watch it crash. Yeah, of course [SPOILER] will win that fight and be okay in the icy water and everyone is safe. Ha ha ha.

I loved Sigler's Infected and Contagious, and I'm looking forward to Pandemic. But I may be passing on Descendent, the sequel to Ancestor, or at least waiting for cheap paperback or ebook.

← Previous: WWDC 2010 Keynote (Mac) Next: "I am the death of e-ink", said the iPad. (Toys) →
WWDC 2010 Keynote
Wed, 2010Jun09 08:59:58 PDT
in Mac by kamikaze

I'm not at WWDC this year. By the time they announced it late, and with an increased price, I had to stop and think hard about that money… and then it was sold out 8 days later, making my lack of decision easier. I'll get the videos later, I guess.

But for now, I'm watching the video from the Apple Keynote podcast.

The tone of this piece is pretty angry. There's some serious problems in Apple Land, videogames, and tech "journalism", and all three were showcased heavily in the keynote. I'm not anti-Apple, and I'm not quitting iOS dev to eat nuts and berries and code on Android and hope someone puts a few pennies in my begging cup. Let's not be stupid here. But there are problems, and I'm angry at them. Apple have changed their minds in response to anger before, so maybe it'll happen again. OH, GREAT SPIRITS, HEAR MY ANGRY BLOGGING. Should I sacrifice a goat, too? I dunno where to get a goat around here.



Steve Jobs Lies About Rejections.

First, I have no problem with HTML5 as an "unrestricted" SDK. I've written "HTML5" apps (more precisely, "HTML/CSS/JavaScript/AJAX + web server", which just ROLLS off the tongue). I like working with those, if they're green-field new apps which only run on Safari. Legacy JavaScript and cross-browser web dev is horrible. HTML5 performance is not as good as native, but it's as good as or better than Flash now. So really, can't complain too much.

I also have no problem with a "curated" store for software that works as advertised. However. 95% approval in the App Store? That's 750 rejections per week. Many are NOT for crashing, private APIs, or misrepresentation. Those may be the "top 3", I'm going to assume Steve isn't lying blatantly here, just by omission, but he is lying. The big additional reasons for rejection are:

Interpreters, the infamous 3.3.1 clause

Any interpreter other than JavaScript in WebKit gets rejected. A few games have got away with locked-down internal interpreters (I won't name names, for fear of getting them caught), but many others have been rejected. Briefs was recently rejected for doing exactly what Keynote or any book or magazine app does: Presenting text and media with click regions to launch new slides.

There are limited justifications for this. Interpreters can be done wrong and expose a security hole. Allowing interpreters allows Flash or C# users to publish on the App Store, and nobody wants that. Explicitly banning specific bad tools would work better than napalming an entire jungle to get two bad guys.

But by and large, this is a giant imposition on one of the most basic and favorite tools programmers have: Domain-Specific Languages. We love making little languages that express domain concepts concisely. This is important stuff, and it does hurt developers. I wish Apple would pull their head out of their ass on this, but I expect another year or two of rectal-cranial inversion.

Things That Look Like Other Things

You apparently can't make a desktop-like app with floating widgets, like MyFrame; nor a plain analog clock (though my ridiculous UnixTime clock is okay); nor a phone, as Google Voice was kept in limbo ("not denied", just never approved) forever. Making anything that looks like something Apple is doing or wants to do will get you rejected. Maybe they're trying to avoid "Watsoning" any future apps, but if so they're doing it in the most ham-fisted way possible. This I can attribute more to incompetence than malice, but it still makes Apple look petty and stupid.

Porn

Apparently children can be breastfed until they're 2, but then cannot EVER see boobies again until they're 18, or they will turn into ravening sexual predators. Or at least their parents will feel very uncomfortable, and we wouldn't want that, would we?

The iPhone and App Store already have age restrictions in place. They classify unrestricted Internet access as 17+. In Settings, General, Restrictions, you can set age limits on music, movies, TV shows, and apps, and disable many "adult" apps like YouTube. If you have kids, and you don't use some kind of parental controls, you are almost certainly a bad parent and should have your kids taken away.

But restricting what adults buy and look at is worse, it's bad citizenship. Wanting to censor other adults is a vile, evil mental sickness. It is not benevolent, it is not helpful. The Nazis liked censorship, book-burning, puritanical behavior, and Godliness because those encouraged obedience to the state and "approved" procreation to make more soldiers. Why a bunch of supposed free-lovin' hippies from California are emulating Nazi morality is baffling.

Perhaps in third-world countries like China and Alabama, setting parental controls on by default is appropriate. In civilization, it is not.


You Are Cattle. You Are Being Farmed.

The Farmville app demo looks like shit. They have an art budget, right? It sure doesn't look like it. It scrolls like crap; I like turn & grid games, but this is not even doing that right. People pay money for this? People pay money to keep playing this?

Mark Pincus of Zynga is an unapologetic drug pusher, he even acts like some hopped-up midwestern meth-head pimp with a junkie wife, nothing more. I wasn't anti-Zynga before, but seeing this prick praising junkies for waking at 2am or neglecting their jobs to "farm"… Fuck that guy.

If you're playing Farmville, you are being farmed by this shithead. He is using you, and taking your money for NOTHING. It's not even a good game. Animal Crossing is one of the greatest games ever made, or Harvest Moon for the slightly more hardcore, and are the same idea done pleasantly, fairly to the players, with beautiful art and music and cool surprises, and you only pay once.


Air Guitar Is Not An Instrument.

The Activision pretend-you're-playing-music demo is fine, except it's still a game where you pretend you're playing music instead of actually playing music. How about you make a game where you play music on a real instrument, and the game judges your quality and trains you? Wouldn't that be awesome? You could actually learn something WHILE having fun! Yeah, I know, it's Activision, where fun has gone to die for over 20 years, but still. I remember and miss Pitfall.


The Tragedy Of The Common WiFi User.

So, the wifi problem in the demo. 570 people were broadcasting wifi access points. WWDC has wifi, last year they had 3 networks: One secured for Apple, one public for MacBooks, one public for iPhones. This worked quite well. There are 11 standard "channels" in wifi. If you have more than about 11 broadcasting in a close area, nobody can connect to any of them reliably, and all of them slow down to uselessness.

This is an example of the Tragedy of the Commons. Each blogger/"journalist" wanted their own access, JUST IN CASE Apple shut the public one down or it overloaded. Each blogger operating their own access point is polluting the public space just a bit. If only a few of them did it, there would be no problem. When all of them do, the entire area is poisoned, and Apple can't give the demo which is the purpose of their keynote.

Now obviously, nobody can expect journalists to be rational creatures; even the ones I like are at best remoras, and the worst are parasitic ticks. Still, the entire day after that keynote, all the journalists were bragging about how they hid their "MyFis" under their fat asses, or just blatantly ignored Steve's request. The arrogance and ignorance on display is stunning. They didn't comprehend at all that they were at fault, or that they should do anything except more of what they were doing.

I expect that next year Apple will have security search the aisles and evict violators. You can't reason with a "journalist" who thinks his story justifies any offense, you can only drag him into a back alley and beat him into a coma.


Bing Goes The Internet.

This is so stupid. Because of Google's little lover's tiff with Apple, Apple's now making out with ugly, hairy Bing, and putting it "as an option" in the search fields of Safari on desktop and iOS.

The problem is, Bing search results are naïve, they have no "similar" suggestions. They spend a lot of effort adding wizards for travel, etc., but it's not a viable alternative to Google.


Read Us "Winnie The Pooh" Again, Papa Steve!

Great Eeyore, does Steve read any other book than Winnie the Pooh?

iBooks on iPhone is nice. And it has left justified text now, instead of the harder-to-read fully-justified previously! Syncing notes, place, bookmarks between devices, all very nice stuff copied from Kindle. Not that I like Kindle, I'll happily switch to iBooks when the store has more content, but these are not new features, just Apple playing catch-up with their prettier but less functional app.

PDFs included in iBooks is a small but much-appreciated improvement. Yes, I already have GoodReader. But they belong in iBooks.


Dick Tracy, Or Tracy's Dick.

Videophones, AKA "FaceTime". Okay, first, Star Trek communicators were voice only. Kirk would flip it open, turn the little knob to tune in, and bark out "MORE POWER OR WE'RE ALL DEAD, MISTER SCOTT!" Both Star Trek and Jetsons showed video chat on large fixed screens, and we already have that, iChat AV. It works fine, it was a nice demo on Mac OS X some years ago, including those silly background replacements.

Turns out most people don't want videophones, because you can't lie as easily, you have to put on pants, etc. Text is best, voice is second, video is a distant third.

Worse, it doesn't work over 3G networking. It only works over wifi. Which you would probably have at home, where your desktop computer with iChat is. If you're out, where you might want to facial, er, "FaceTime" someone, that would likely be on 3G, and you can't use it.

The people who will get some benefit from this are parents calling kids, if the spoiled brats have an iPhone 4G. And sexting now becomes live porn chat with your S.O., or with a sexy phone line operator. THAT is pretty cool.

Of course, I did think of a good use for it. If you've been bad, I mean really bad, so bad you earn a spot in one of my diatribes, you may receive a FaceTime call. It will be a pale, hairy blob, with a pit of eternal darkness in the middle. This will be my most profound way of calling you an asshole.

TOTALLY not related to that, does anyone have Steve's phone number? ;)

← Previous: DODOcase (Mac) Next: What I'm Reading: Ancestor (Media) →
DODOcase
Sat, 2010Jun05 19:45:47 PDT
in Mac by kamikaze

I got my DODOcase for iPad today, a mere 5 weeks after ordering (for something hand-crafted... not bad!).

The traditional unboxing photos after the break:


It really looks and feels like a big Moleskine. With the cover folded back and rubber-banded in place, the spine is just big enough to grip in portrait, and provides a shallow but usable slope for typing in landscape. I might, maybe, prefer if the cover could fold flat, but it's pretty good as it is.

The foam corner grips are serious business. It's difficult — not impossible, but requires force and strong fingers — to remove the iPad from the grips. It's unlikely to shake out. I'll see how that lasts in the months and years to come, but for now I'm very pleased with the solution. All of the ports are accessible. It doesn't fit in the dock, but the cables go in and I can reach the switches.

If I have one complaint, it's that it doesn't have an interior pocket like a real Moleskine. I may glue one into the front cover interior.

All in all, an excellent iPad case, that really solves my problems of safety and landscape support.

← Previous: Programmer Work Journals (Software) Next: WWDC 2010 Keynote (Mac) →
Programmer Work Journals
Fri, 2010Jun04 14:36:07 PDT
in Software by kamikaze

So, I'm not inherently the most productive monkey on the planet. I am, in fact, near-amnesiac, easily OOH SHINY distracted, and have no willpower against fun (say, making that "shiny" joke which was funny once a hundred years ago).

Out of desperation is born solutions. I track what I've done and what I'm doing in two complementary ways:


  • Work Journal.

    Whether it's a cheap spiral-bound or a fancy Moleskine or little Field Notes, every day I start a new line with the date, write down what I plan to do.

    As I go, I write down what I'm actually doing, and what I need to do, or any reminders to myself. I lead unfinished items with "-", resolved with "+" or a checkmark, questions with "?".

    My journals are kind of boring, just "fix the framistan" or "remember to CFRelease(bob)", but they're better than my memory.

    Every few weeks (or months) I trawl through my old journal entries and type up any unresolved items which are still relevant.

  • Marker Comments.

    Inline in my code, I write // FIXME: xxx for known bugs, or // TODO: xxx for things I plan to do.

    This has two advantages. First, Xcode recognizes these comments and lists them in the function dropdown in the editor.

    Second, they're easy to search for with grep or Xcode's project search. When I'm looking for something to do next, I'll find one of these to work on. In Java, I had an Ant task that marked those comment lines as warnings, so I got notified on every build.

← Previous: Myst Online: Uru Live Again (Toys) Next: DODOcase (Mac) →
Myst Online: Uru Live Again
Wed, 2010Jun02 23:00:17 PDT
in Toys by kamikaze

Old games never die, they are periodically reanimated to stagger forth, frighten townsfolk, throw small girls into wells, and finally exact bloody revenge on their creators for abandoning them to a cruel world.

Myst Online: Uru Live (MOUL, or Uru) is just such an old, cranky Frankenstein's monster of a game. It was first designed and beta tested by Cyan Worlds in 2003. In 2004, publisher Ubisoft killed the online game and released a single-player version. In 2006, Cyan released a sort of samizdat version called "Until Uru", where fans ran unofficial shards of the online game. In 2007, GameTap hosted Uru, and let it run on minimal budget for another year, then cancelled it in 2008. Here in 2010, Cyan is hosting it themselves, for free, and collecting donations to keep the servers running. Their plan is to eventually release the system and building tools as open source, but run an official server.


I first played Uru in the GameTap era, since that was the first Mac client.

On the positive side, it had beautiful graphics, sound, and world design, a few great puzzle Ages, and a ton of Myst story. The multiplayer design wasn't bad, though the population was very small and not very communicative. The private island home, Relto, can be customized with a bunch of new features (see my screenshots below).

On the disappointing side, it had very few puzzle Ages, a small and reclusive player population, and a general air of neglect and abandonment. Lag in any public area with 20+ players was (and is) a serious problem. The non-game UI and cursors are hideous, sub-Linux, jarring badly with the lovely, detailed game world.

During the beta of 2003 and again in the GameTap era of 2007, Cyan ran a few in-character "events" to drive the storyline. Unfortunately, they did this in the worst way imaginable: Staff logged in as their avatars, found random online players, and played out the events with them and whoever happened to be on. Everyone else heard about it second-hand or read chat logs.

In the new release, I'm somewhat more optimistic. There are 3 "new" (built in the time at GameTap) puzzle Ages, a multiplayer toy Age, and several sight-seeing ages online, which pretty much doubles the amount of gameplay, to the point where it would be a commercially-acceptable game.

The revived player base is currently fairly active, and higher quality than what I saw during the GameTap era. It's all hard-core Myst fans, because nobody else really knows it exists. There is no sign there will be a repeat of the cheesy events, though more out of lack of time/finances than because they've seen reason.

The tools for the fan-created Ages aren't usable yet, but there's a high likelihood they will be this year. THAT will make all the difference. Uru right now is still a short game with nothing to do except chat after you're "done". With fan-created Ages, not only will you have an unlimited-ish amount of content, you can make your own if you're competent with 3D modelling and Python programming.

You can find it at Myst Online, though Mac users have to jump through a few hoops to get the old Cider wrapper updated to run it.

If you're in-cavern, send KI-mail to mdhughes / KI 05422418. I'm still checking in at least once a week, just to see if anyone needs a hand, to chase my Great Zero marker times down to something tolerable, or on specific event dates. As fan material makes its way in, I'll be in more often.

There's a ton of information, hints if you really get stuck, occasional news and special events, and support for technical problems at various forums:

A few of my screenshots (all 1280x800, open in a new window)

← Previous: Software in a Box (Mac) Next: Programmer Work Journals (Software) →
Software in a Box
Wed, 2010Jun02 02:46:24 PDT
in Mac by kamikaze

"The way we look at it is, we don't want to get into something unless we can invent or control the core technology in it, because we'll get slammed if we don't. And the more we look at it, the more and more consumer devices, the core technology in them is going to be software.

If you really look at the iPod, we looked at that at the very beginning, we said the ultimate competitive barrier is going to be software in this thing. I mean, we're pretty clever at hardware, but eventually people will copy us and do other things.

But the competitive barrier will be software. And the more consumer products as we see them evolve, the more and more they look like software in a box. And a lot of traditional consumer electronics companies haven't grokked software."

Steve Jobs, D2, 2004


So there was Steve, laying out the strategy for the next decade. An iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad is just "software in a box". There's almost nothing to them but software, one home button, which I expect to go away next.

Why is Apple so obsessive about excluding Flash, or using the Safari "WebKit" engine they control instead of Firefox's "Gecko" engine, or not incorporating every random media codec (WMA, OGG, etc.) in iTunes, or controlling what native apps are carried on the App Store? "We'll get slammed if we don't." Later he gets in an argument with Walt about playing WMA in iTunes, and states they spend their energy on things they control.

And I laughed out loud at this:

Walt Mossberg: "So you're feeling quite good about the music thing right now, in terms of your market share for music players and the stores, but aren't you headed for real trouble? You can't possibly believe that Microsoft will have no impact on this when they bring their store out. Maybe you want to say that, I assume they'll have some impact."

Steve Jobs: "Oh, I think they'll have a lot of impact. If you're Roxio or MusicMatch, you're gonna get destroyed. They're gonna eat their young. So that's one thing they're gonna do, it's gonna be painful to watch."

← Previous: Atheism as Cure for Fear of Death (Atheism) Next: Myst Online: Uru Live Again (Toys) →
Atheism as Cure for Fear of Death
Wed, 2010May12 16:42:37 PDT
in Atheism by kamikaze

Andrew Sullivan asks: "If I may intrude, and ask a questoin I do not mean to be loaded, just curious: I wonder what Kevin thinks happens to him when he dies? And how does he feel about that - not just emotionally but existentially?"

A reasonable atheist simply doesn't fear death. We weren't unhappy before birth. We get a life; however good or bad it is, at least it's life. We won't be unhappy after death.

It's only made-up stories of immortality and eternal torment that make people fear death.

I'll try to stay alive as long as I can, but there's no reason to fear it ending someday, because I certainly won't care afterwards.


You prepare [for death] for it by facing up to the truth, which is that life is what we have and so we had better live our life to the full while we have it, because there is nothing after it. We are very lucky accidents or at least each one of us is -- if we hadn't been here, someone else would have been. I take all this to reinforce my view that I am fantastically lucky to be here and so are you, and we ought to use our brief time in the sunlight to maximum effect by trying to understand things and get as full a vision of the world and life as our brains allow us to, which is pretty full.
Richard Dawkins, The Vision Thing, 15 August 1994

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