How Not To

Next time any of you think that Apple just slapped a touchscreen on a mobile device and called it iPhone. The next time you think that UIs are solely a matter of opinion and try to wuss out when people talk about the Mac UI and how crap the Windows UI is by saying that it’s personal preferences and “it all depends on what it’s used for”, please do this for me. I’m not asking a lot, I swear. I’ll even go as far as saying “There is no step 3!”

  1. Remind yourself that you’re being stupid.
  2. Remember the following image:<br/> <br/>

The next time you think that Apple was utterly lacking in good intentions for making developers wait so long for a proper SDK, close your mouth. Close it and just trust. Trust. Apple knows what it’s doing with User Experience. Also trust that API development is one of the most conservative tasks in all of computing. If you don’t believe me, look at what a piece of shit Vista is. Why did it take Microsoft so long to produce so little? Because it didn’t bother taking its time when publishing an SDK. It didn’t do the right thing and make sure they were right, they were potent, they were orthogonal, they were complete. There’s a difference between Apple delaying public APIs (like Core Animation and Core Image) while using them themselves and Microsoft’s tactics of keeping superior APIs to themselves so they’d have a competitive advantage. Trust again. Trust that Apple knows what it’s doing when it comes to crafting something worthwhile.

It’s really just as simple as that.

And remember that this has nothing to do with Apple as a corporate or Green or political entity and everything to do with the inspiration and diligence of engineers, designers, QA, marketing and yes, even Steve.

Apple is one of the worst corporate citizens when it comes to how it treats its employees if their personal paths veer from a regimented professional path. Steve Jobs can be a dickhead. Financial & Legal clearly seem to have no issues with cheating.

Separate those soi-disant “real world” aspects from the higher, idealistic efforts.

People you can trust. Corporations you must always distrust.

The Day Microsoft Lost

Today was the day that Microsoft’s mobile efforts started to die. Perhaps it will be a slow death, but I expect not. I expect it to go the way of HD DVD: first a slow build-up of disdain for it from its inferiority and then comes the tipping point. And everything collapses.

Did you know that Windows Mobile used to be called WinCE? Yes, “wince”. People should’ve realized it then and there. But no one turns a blind-eye to the obvious like Microsoft fanboys (I’m not including those of you stuck with Windows or a Windows Mobile device).

It’s all about the iPhone SDK and the next major version of iPhone’s OSX. Apple seems to finally be in a position where licensing Microsoft technology (Exchange/ActiveSync) and not have it look like an all-out surrender. The iPhone is undeniable. In every way. It’s a phenomenon, a very popular fact of life.

Apple has opted—like it did with the original Mac and every model since—to invest computer power into the user interface and not just to, say, run Excel faster. That’s why they all called it a graphical toy, even though its interface in 1984 was superior to Windows (and still is). They’d bitch about the machine being so slow for having to keep the graphical user interface running and “what a waste”. Stupid people to whom it never occurred that the computer was being OPERATED BY HUMANS. So of course, in my opinion, the UI should get as much of the CPU as it needed first and foremost (assuming, of course, that the UI routines are optimized to be faster and more efficient). Still, the UI is the first priority of any technology that humans use. Period. This is unassailable fact.

Same with the iPhone. People call it a smartphone because it can run non-voice applications. Others insist it’s not a smartphone unless it talks to Microsoft Exchange servers. Some people call it a smartphone if it’s got a keyboard and its use requires someone who’s got a knack for succeeding with arcanely byzantine tasks.

The iPhone both fits and does not fit in the category of smartphones: There’s more processing power and more memory than a typical smartphone. No, the iPhone was expected to be a phone that was a better phone than anything out there. And guess what? It is. Look at the voice interfaces. Notice how you don’t have to remember how to turn it to a speakerphone, or that you have to embed a numeric keypad into a QWERY keyboard. Before the iPhone, did you know how to turn on speakerphone after you were in a call? Or to create a 3way call? Did you have to read a manual when you got your Crackberry? Or your Symbian phone?

The iPhone maintains the Apple’s long history of flipping around the common wisdom of the ages. It’s the most difficult programming in the world to make an application that’s easy enough to never have to ‘learn’ because it’s so evident what to do, or because your choices are always right there in front of you.

The iPhone is like the original Mac: an appliance.

Today, though, Apple just enabled a few thousand developers to push themselves past their talents—and mind you, most will—to produce a polish RIM and Palm could only dream of. I won’t even put Microsoft in that same category. Today, Apple just lined up millions of potential iPhone buyers because now all those developers can probably provide any solution anyone might need.

Touch is the new platform, starting today.

The First Lie

Being able to type quickly on my iPhone (single-index finger or two-thumbing it) allows me to write down little scraps of thought, word fragments, phrases with both ends open. The kind of bits that die on the vine or end up amplified, living between […]’s. Time is the sifter, I’m just here for the snacks.

The First Lie

The First Lie
Upon telling itself to the World,
Created a New Truth.

Detritus, baby, one pebble at a time; hubris, one peg at a time.

Sometimes The Best Does Win

So finally, finally, finally, HD DVD is dead. Dead dead dead. And good riddance, too, I say. It was (GoB that feels good to use the past tense) an inferior format in almost every way. Even its karma was fucked: Microsoft and others created the HD DVD standard because it was easier on corporations, not better for consumers.

Some info, just in case you didn’t know, or were misinformed by HD DVD desperados:

  • HD DVD stores only 17GB per layer, which means that right out of the gate, the format lacked the capacity for HD movies, resulting in almost all titles being released as double-layer disks, clocking in at 34GB
  • Blu-ray, on the other hand, has 25GB per layer, meaning there is enough space for full titles plus superior audio, both in quality (uncompressed audio is amazing) and quantity (more languages).
  • Blu-ray has moved up to double-layer disks (BD-50), meaning that bit-rates for video can be much higher (meaning better picture), and even better audio with more language choices
  • HD DVD folks used to claim that HD DVD capacity was 51GB in its triple-layer disks, but those disks were prototypes and no existing HD DVD players would be able to play them anyway, so that’s just damned misleading. Or a damned lie.
  • As for future-proofing, there exist 300GB Blu-ray disks in the prototyping phase, but I’m not sure if any existing players will be able to play them. But then again, you don’t see any Blu-ray advocates pimping a 300GB capacity, either

The media has been the same old selfish culprit in not bothering to understand the stakes and the situation. Just like any computer article that includes Rob Enderle as a source isn’t worth the pixels it’s printed on, any time the media trotted out the old “Betamax vs VHS war”, you should have simply ignored it. This war was nothing like Beta vs VHS, except that Sony was involved.

But Sony was never the sole developer of Blu-ray: the credit there belongs to the BDA, a consortium of the following companies:

<br/> 2008.02.20.bda.gif
<br/> <br/>

Strange, isn’t it, that Universal is a member of BDA and yet it had decided to go HD DVD-only when $150 million suddenly appeared in a plain brown paper back at their doorstep with a free copy of Windows Vista inside? (apocryphal, but Microsoft did kick in the money, supposedly.) Universal is Universally Evil. Of course all of these corporations are in it for themselves and couldn’t give a shit about people (yes, even Apple is included in that list), but Universal upped the hypocrisy to new heights (and by heights, I mean depths) by such statements as “we’re putting the viewing of content in control of the user”, when really, they meant they were removing content from access by iPods and iPhones, making you watch content on a computer and not on a TV, and preventing you from being able to fast-forward through commercials. With such spin, they should be gunning for the Republican primaries.

So yes, Apple is part of the Blu-ray Association, but no Apple hardware includes Blu-ray drives (even though you can buy them from third-parties), and Final Cut Studio, an Apple Pro App for non-linear video editing includes the ability to generate Blu-ray and HD DVD masters. Maybe they were waiting for the dust to settle, or maybe some magic eight-ball settled on a “Not yet” message, I have no idea.

But anyway, maybe this all sounds like more schadenfreude against those who went Red (aka the HD DVD camp), but there are several reasons to celebrate the demise because it rings in some potential improvements for everyone interested in high-defintion titles:

  • All those consumers who’ve been waiting on the sidelines may now commit to high-definition, leading to sale of more players and more titles, bringing the prices down for everyone.
  • No more “least common denominator” disks from Warner Brothers who supported both HD DVD and Blu-ray: to save money, would put the same main title data on both, meaning they’d have to compress the data to fit on a 31GB disk to accommodate HD DVD and now they can use higher bit-rates now that they’re targeting Blu-ray only.
  • AVC (i.e., h.264) seems to be emerging as the standard compression for Blu-ray, and I’ve found that it’s significantly better than VC-1 (i.e., Windows Media), which seemed to be the de facto standard compressor on HD DVD—not surprising, given that Microsoft was in the HD DVD camp and has deeper pockets than God.

For our family’s Secret Santa at Christmas this year, I got the Harry Potter 5-movie special edition on Blu-ray. It looks pretty damned good on my TV; however, the first movie I watched was the fifth one (Order of the Phoenix) and in the first scene, there’s plenty of sky, first a blue sky then a gray, and I could spot in seconds that it was the VC-1 compressor: light blues, light-to-medium grays and all beiges are difficult for any compressor, but VC-1 is terribly noisy, meaning in a light blue sky, you’ll see MUCH darker and MUCH lighter pixels (sometimes groups of pixels), which are different with each frame, making that area look “grainy”. Nerdy, yes, but it can be distracting during scenes in films where you’re supposed to be looking at a serene landscape, for example.

AVC also has some trouble with those same skies, but the noise is far, far less: the darker pixels and lighter pixels are much closer to the true color, and the areas which vary are smaller clusters of pixels and usually square-shaped regions.

Good old MPEG-2 is also one of the compressors used for HD DVD and Blu-ray, just as it is for regular old DVDs, but the bit-rate is much higher (on Blu-ray, it’s usually between 18 and 35 megabits per second and on DVD it’s about 3 to 8 megabits per second).

All of this may seem like minutiae only a geek could love, but overall it does make a huge difference in the experience. And you’d be surprised at how much audio matters: most people think of the audio as an afterthought, but when I switch the audio from standard Dolby Digital 5.1 (compressed) to uncompressed PCM, the entire room opens up broadly and finely, making the content less like watching it and more like experiencing it.

Touch Me, Touch Me, Touch Me, TouchMeeee…

People are stupid.

Correction: people allow, invite or even intentionally place obstructions in the way of clear thinking, thus allowing, inviting or even intentionally making themselves stupid.

So many Macworld Expo predictions about products. So many wishes for touchscreen this and touchscreen that: well, if the iPhone does it, why not my iMac or my MacBook Pro or my MacBook Air?

This one is so simple to answer, and by answer, I mean demonstrate:

You’re holding your iPhone in your hand and you touch the screen to launch (and now move!) app icons on the main screen. You “pinch” to resize. You “swipe” to move screen to screen. You “flick” to scroll.

So why the hell not build this touch sensitivity into Cinema Displays and MacBook screens? Easy! Your arm weighs too much. Try holding your arm out to touch the computer screen you’re in front of. You don’t have to touch the screen if you’re worried about smudging it, because it’s not about touching the screen. Go ahead, do it. Hold your arm out. Hold it there for 60 full seconds. Simulation touch gestures if you must, but keep your arm out from your body.

How’s that feel, kids? Arm tired? Shoulder muscles aching? Keep holding your arm out. Now imagine doing that for eight hours a day.

Don’t be stupid, people. It doesn’t take much to actually think something through—and that’s saying something given diminished capacity.

With an iPhone or and iPod touch, your arm hands and your not working muscles except the fine and quick muscles of your thumb and index fingers.

And don’t be stupid. Like this guy, who accuses Apple of just following others because “the incredible touch interface is relegated to an extra large touchpad.”

There’s a reason that the trackpad is on the base and not above (or even below) the screen on a portable.

Supposedly, there’s also a reason that industry pundits exist. But I’m stumped on that one.

Electricity, I Love You!

Tragic. Desperate. All Alone In The Night.

Ok, I’m being overly bombastic (in the first two anyway: it’s J. Michael Stracyznski being bombastic in the last one).

There were some crazy-ass storms today in San Francisco with, I heard, another two crazy-ass storms on the way to make the weekend something special. It’s because I’m back but not back, I know it. I am at odds with my environment and the environment is letting me know it (and yes, ‘solipsistic’ is a mere doddle away from ‘bombastic’). Still, don’t blame me. I’m too busy cowering under my own storm of a thousand questions up above me and with no settled firmament beneath. And my head hurts. A LOT.

So the storm knocked out power to most of the City. In my neighborhood, electricity went missing at 8:29 (I’ll explain how I know that in a bit) and didn’t return until 17:24 (same reason I know this, don’t get your gutchies in a bunch).

Things learned in a bleak and silent afternoon without electricity:

  • the house is bleak and silent without electricity
  • only my old school room type analog plug-in electric clock which hangs above the kitchen doorway remembers when the world went off and, with offsets, exactly when the world came back on
  • I spend more time in artificial light than natural
  • MacBook Pro batteries should be kept charged at all times and do not do so would be really stupid because they’re there to keep you going when there’s no electricity available and so keep them charged, kids, and now I’m done PSAing
  • iPhones are a lifeline to the net thanks to EDGE networks which are totally plenty fast (but not fast enough for the sole reason that the net can never be fast enough) despite all the bitching by feature-list-obsessors that 3G is “necessary”
  • the Internet isn’t a god, it’s a landscape and electricity keeps you dressed and fed when there
  • the Internet’s my There and without electricity, there’s almost no ‘there’ there
  • the time when I most want to write is when I can’t, and now that I can write, I don’t feel like it. Corollary: adolescence isn’t the Past, it’s vestigial. Like your appendix.
  • Tea-lite candles are quaint, and they’re certainly keeping Walter the Cat transfixed, but flickering light is just a pain in the ass to read by.
  • Giving to charitable organizations is a Good Thing, especially appreciated today when the hand-crank chargeable radio (FM, AM, SW, along with siren, flashing light and white LED light) I got by donating to KQED last year came in very handy indeed.
  • compared to a full-on soundsystem with giant HDTV, music sounds magnificent from a single tinny speaker on a bleak and silent afternoon without electricity.
  • I noticed that tea was being converted to music as I cranked the hand-crank to give the radio an extra bolus of electricity.
  • Thank you, gas heat!

By now even I’m getting the idea I should have titled this one “Even More Filler”, so I’ll just shut up and get back to my re-electrified world of torpor and distraction, because the vickies just ain’t cuttin’ it for the pain no’ mo’.

MT4 and AmazonMP3

The reason I got into all this “trouble” with the blog layout is because Movable Type 4 (the collection of scripts from SixApart that I used to create and maintain this blog) was too smart. Too smart for my own good, really.

If I hadn’t been poking around at CSS—in particular, the structural/layout aspects of it—I wouldn’t have recovered anywhere near as fast as I did. And while it was much easier to get up and running than previous versions, there’s still so much lacking in web apps that it sends me scurrying back to the comfort of native-application bliss (as always, I’m using ecto as my blogging editor).

I’m biased here, but that doesn’t mean I can’t objectively (and subjectively) justify myself when it comes to native applications. I avoid doing any form of creation within a web page if I can help it. Lots of people trundle along quite happily using LiveJournal (EL-JAY! ugh) or TypePad or Blogger or—eek!—MySpace, typing their blog entries into a web form and clicking that Submit button.

But all you have to do is click the wrong button once, or worse, go visit another website while you’re in the midst of writing a blog entry totally forgetting that to leave the page often times means losing the contents of that page.

So here I sit on BART (the train, not the man) typing away. Yes, I have an internet connection, but I’m not sure I’ll finish this entry (you know how I get) before it’s time to disembark at Union City for my weekly visit to the Korean Herb Doctor. Yes, I could close the MacBook Pro and when I opened it later, the webpage would likely be there, but perhaps not. Perhaps Safari will try to connect to the web before I have a chance to reestablish an internet connection and its display of an error message will be enough to lose whatever I type. Probably not, but the best software is that which removes doubt from the proceedings and provides a sunny path to your goals.

Which brings me to Amazon MP3. Yuck.

I tried. I really did. I spent a half hour trudging through the site in search of my old standbys. I was fully prepared to shell out the $8.99 or whatever to repurchase an album I already had just to compare things.

Well, there’s two million songs, and then there’s two millions songs you’d bother with. In searches for “Billy Joel”, I ended up with cover-band albums and tribute albums, and even some weird Asian group of tweens listed only by their Americanized first names. Among Kay and Bobby and Tom was a boy called “Billy Joel”. The sad part is that it was better than most of the alternative listings which were primarily karaoke tracks. At least the kids were singing original material.

Searching for other well-established artists turned up similiar disappointments. I finally ended up with an older Sufjan Stevens album, “Illinoise”, but not after downloading an ironic client application which was required for downloading an entire album at a time.

The client application was the best part of the experience, though. After downloading that and installing it—which required quitting Safari and relaunching it—the purchase started a download of a .amz file, which was the album’s bundle of resources: artwork, songs encoded as MP3s, but at 256kbps and with no DRM.

iTunes Store songs are encoded as AACs (MPEG-4) at 128kbps. Don’t go thinking that the Amazon downloads are twice as nice because they’re encoded at a higher bit-rate because AAC is a much more efficient codec than MP3.

You also end up with a song file that’s 60% larger than an iTunes song of a similar length. That means that if your iPod normally can hold 10,000 songs from iTunes (or your own CDs encoded with AAC), it can only hold 6,250 Amazon MP3 songs. If your iPod is a classic or “classic” iPod with a hard disk, that also means significantly poorer battery life because the hard disk has to spin up more often to access the larger song files.

But I saved a whole $1.00 and the music I have has no technical restrictions on copying as much as I want. But then, I have yet to bump my head against the technological restrictions of the FairPlay (iTunes) DRM, so that doesn’t mean anything.

What a chore. I suppose they’ll get better, but then so will iTunes. Yes, I’m once again biased, but my biases are out in the open.

At the end of the day, that half hour could have been better spent—on fixing the CSS & HTML of this blog, for instance—and I’ll take the comfort of a ⌘S and a local file anyday.

Hello from iPhone!

Sp A0118-1The complaints about the keyboard are greatly exaggerated. I have long approached Apple’s technology offerings with a kind of short-throw faith: if Apple offers guidance for “the right way” of approaching a feature, I try it that way for a while. With the iPhone’s text input, it didn’t even take even that long. Assume that the smart keyboard will more than likely get it right and just keep on typing.

Of course I cannot type as fast and typing with two thumbs instead of single index finger drops the accuracy by about half. Still, I’m entering text plenty fast for blogging from literally anywhere.

Next up, how to get long documents to display at readable sizes and widths on iPhone.

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