Stevenote in 60 Seconds

17 01 2008

From Monday’s Macworld ’08. Steve’s 90 minute keynote is presented here in 60 seconds, with all the important points covered. The new kid on the block, the MacBook Air, has got everyone talking. Here’s the synopsis:

Pros:
-Smallest.notebook.ever.
-sexy minimalist design

Cons:
-price
-cannot get extra battery
-cannot replace/upgrade any hardware, (and what you start with isn’t all that great – 2gb RAM for example)
-no ethernet or optical drive (dongle and external USB drive sold seperately), and only 1 built-in USB port

Basically, I’d say it’s one of those things to get if you have money to burn and want to look hot, but getting a MBA as a primary laptop is probably not such a wise idea.

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Panthera Pardus

5 01 2008

My situation right now reminds me of that old adage about a wooden ship in which you replace every part of it over time, until none of the original parts actually make up the ship. Is it still the same boat?

I’m typing on my MacBook – whether or not it’s my “new” MacBook is up to you I guess. This puppy’s sporting 2gb of RAM (667mhz) and a 160gb drive (5400 rpm). In English, that means I now have triple the temporary memory I had. That temporary memory is what allows the machine to handle more commands at once and “remember” more. Additionally my storage capacity has doubled.
But here’s the feature that didn’t occur to me: as you may have guessed from the title, my new hard drive has Leopard on it. This makes a lot of sense, since Apple’s new OS comes standard on their computers now, but for some reason it didn’t occur to me that a new hard drive would come bearing it as well.
So yeah, it’s a pretty sweet deal, but I’ve got a lot of learning to do. For some odd reason I take pride in maximizing everything my computers offer – from using features that improve my own efficiency, to maintaining a healthy system. (Cough.) I haven’t read excessively about Leopard since I had no plans on ever getting it, so I feel like I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
An aside: in an ironic twist of fate, my old PC, which I’d been using exclusively in this computer’s absence, decided to do a faceplant last night itself. Interestingly, it happened as I was plugging in my iPod to charge it – poof, the computer shut down. Permanently. No, it’s not unplugged, and yes, my peripheral hardware works fine. The best news about it is that I don’t think my hard drive in that rig will be effected. After thinking about it and talking it over with a couple people, I think the most likely culprit is the PSU or the motherboard. In that case I’d scrap the old system, keeping the drive in a safe place and whatever else is useful, and eventually building myself a new rig from parts I’d probably pick up online. (So much cheaper than retail.)




Jolt

28 12 2007

I’m going to cut to the chase. This morning I found out that the harddrive in my laptop is fried. Despite the fact that I’m usually the guy encouraging people to back up their files, and take advantage of the all the other life-saver resources out there, I have barely anything saved elsewhere. I fell into the infamous, “it won’t happen to me” mindset. “After all, I’m a Mac user now. Mac users don’t get stupid computer problems. My laptop is invincible. It could beat up your laptop.” So yeah. Hypocracy-overwhelming.

Hopefully I should be able to get my music back, since it’s on my iPod. Also, some of my better photography, and my friends’ photography, is still on Flickr. The main loss I’ll suffer is all the writing I’ve done in the past year and a half, minus blog entries. I also had a boatload of resources bookmarked and a lot of customized settings in my web browser. That stuff isn’t such a big deal though, I’m just moping about the time and effort it’ll take to restore everything. Speaking of restoration, I should probably mention that yes, it is almost certainly unrepairable and yes, I’m having a new drive put in (upgrading to 160gb) as soon as the new year hits and my local Mac place re-opens. While I’m at it I may spend some of my Christmas money on upgrading its RAM (520mhz to 2ghz) as well, which would make it seem like a brand new computer, but with a dirtier screen. Still considering this.

As to my absence from writing, that’s a whole other can o’ worms. Actually I have nothing to say, except that I didn’t feel like saying anything until now. However, I think there’ll be less of a gap between now and the next time I feel like saying something, so there ya go.

Edit: Got these for Christmas after witnessing their power and handsomeness in Peter’s and Paul’s setup. The sound out of these things is remarkable. Click the pic for specs.





Today’s Student

28 10 2007

I want to share this thought-provoking video posted recently by Paul Stamatiou. It’s from Professor Michael Wesch from Kansas State University, and is called “A Vision of Students Today”. I’d like to say that a lot of the points this video brings to the table are very true, while some are questionable. I’ll post the video first, and then say what I think. If you’re going to read the rest of the entry, please watch the short video first. Otherwise you’ll just ruin it, and this is worth looking at.

First of all, the whole “boo hoo I only get 7 hours of sleep a night” is completely ludicrous. Seven hours of sleep for me and everyone I know is a very good night. In reality, most students hit the hay somewhere between 2 and 3am, and start the day somewhere between 7 and 8. Also, in the point about being $20 000 in debt post-graduation, it’s very important to note the following point, which was, “I’m one of the lucky ones”. That is to say, you’d be lucky to finish owing only that much. Most people will be stuck with quite a bit more.

Most importantly, the attention they bring to to abusing laptops in the classroom seems to point a blaming finger at the technology itself. There’s no doubt that there are lots of people Facebooking in class or doing other unrelated things. (On some campuses I know it’s common to see people playing WoW in class.) But there’s an equal number of people, at least in my classes, who are earnestly taking notes, following along with PDFs, using Wikipedia to quickly look up an unfamiliar term, etc. I use my laptop for all of these things in class on a daily basis, in addition to keeping my schedule straight and up to date using applications like iCal. I wish more people at Guelph were savvy enough to use Google docs to create collaborative notes like we saw at the start of that movie. Maybe I should get on my high horse and encourage this.

The point is, you’re the one to blame if you don’t have the self-discipline to pay attention and take notes instead of throwing a sheep at somebody on Facebook. I’ve made a concerted effort this year in a bunch of my classes to sit closer to the front, where the hard workers are most prominent and distractions from chattering bozos are at a minimum. And yes, you might end up sitting next to that annoying guy who puts his hand up in lecture every week to share an anecdote about his cat which he thinks is somehow relevant, but hey, it’s not like you’re going to (most) lectures to make friends.

One more comment – on the multitasking point – how true it is. While perusing the WoW forums the other day, I read an amusing story about a Hunter, (big surprise there!) that made their group wipe during a menial dungeon encounter. (For the uninitiated, that means the group all “died” and lost real time and game money.) Their reason? “Sorry guys, I’m trying to do a little studying for my exam in the morning and I stopped paying attention for a moment.” Classic.

Now I want to segue to something else. In that video, we saw a fair number of Macs, which, culturally speaking, is a noteworthy part of the “vision of students today”. I think it’s a fair assessment that probably about a third of the laptops I see around campus nowadays are MacBooks, (or MBPs). To tell the truth, I’m a little irked that they’re gaining popularity so quickly. And I can’t honestly say if that’s more because of the materialistic desire to stand out, or the sense of deflowered elitism I get when I meet more and more new Mac converts who don’t know who “the Woz” is, but are happy to be looking hip. Windows Vista is the new Paris Hilton – the thing everyone loves to hate. And, honestly, I don’t think there’s that much to hate about it. Yet even if there is, it bothers me when people are all over the Hate-Vista-Love-Mac bandwagon but can’t tell you a thing about either one of them, aside from “Macs are just so cool.”

Am I far too elitist for my own good? Probably.

The other, more legitimate reason to be concerned with Mac Mania is the realization that the popularization of Macs will compromise the sweet, easy, Norton-less world we’ve come to know and love. By the way, it’s not just me giving my unprofessional opinion – I’m getting this straight from Tech otaku Leo Lapporte’s mouth. It’s not as if Apple products have strong-like-bull security features built in. (Just look at Apple TV and the iPhone.) The reason Macs don’t have virus problems is because – who uses a Mac? Yeah, nobody. Oh wait, no. Scratch that. It’s all changing now. If everyone and their mother starts running OS X, you can be sure people will start writing viruses and other malware for it, and the next thing I know I’ll have some abomination of software called iNorton going, “IM IN UR MENU BAR, HOGGIN UR RESOURCES”

Oh, and congratulations to Kat on her new MacBook. I won’t pretend I’m not jealous of its Core 2 Duo-ness and the fact that she’s running Leopard, but goodness knows she’s probably the most deserving new Mac convert I know. May the Force be with you, may the RAM behoove you. Namaste!





Why Facebook will Go the Way of the Dodo

18 09 2007

This is a post I’ve had rolling around in my head for several weeks now, and while it may be a little behind the times I’m going to get it out of my system anyway.

On May 24th of this year, the social network sensation Facebook introduced the ability to create applications for use on on the site. They range from useful things like a feed to del.icio.us links, to pointless, fun things like gifts, plants, pets, and one of my favourites, The Honesty Box. (“What do you really think of me? Answers are completely anonymous!”)

At first these things seemed like a fun way to jazz up the uniform Facebook UI and give each profile its own unique look, as well as provide a way, if you’re a developer, to share your creativity with your friends. That’s all fine and good, until the sheer amount of clutter starts to overwhelm the core features of the site.

I’ve seen quite a few complaints about “application invite/request spam”. A good example, large screenshot included, is a recent post from Paul S’s blog. It clearly demonstrates how out of hand things can get when you have a lot of friends enthusiastically using and sharing their favourite applications. Personally, I don’t have this problem – I guess because a lot of my closest friends are of the same mind as me, and maybe partly because I’ve never replied or sent requests to anyone else.

While I’m sure application spam is a legitimate concern for a lot of people, my main beef comes from a design perspective. (Not that I have any sort of qualification, other than being a 12-year-or-so veteran of internet browsing.) To put it simply, a lot of people’s Facebook profiles are ugly now. Myspace-ugly. The reason a lot of college/university students embraced Facebook in the beginning was because it was a welcome change from the loud, obnoxious Myspace pages with background music and colour schemes that look like my sister’s bedroom in the early 90’s. Let’s compare, shall we? Here’s what profile pages looked like back in the day; ie. when I joined about 14 months ago:

By the way, I don’t know this guy. The image is from Google. But it demonstrates how nice and clean things used to be. Nowadays you’re more likely to see something like this:

It’s not that I have some grudge against colours. This particular example isn’t really too bad. (Again, from Google.) None of the apps pictured here are stupid or pointless, nor do they even look that bad. With this guy we’d be looking at a functionality issue, where the information you’re looking for could easily get lost in all the other data that’s there.

Here are two beliefs that I hold:

Number One: Mainstream trends are leaning more and more toward sleekness and minimalism. I’m sure we can all agree that Apple has been at the forefront of this revolution. Just look at the iPhone or the iPod Touch to witness the ultimate example of minimalist design in consumer electronics. It’s what appeals to people these days. We see the same abstract themes in the design of cars and other material things. This might be a bit of a stretch for some people, but if you think about it, the same or similar elements of design are often present in everything from web browsers to electric shavers. (You may snicker at me for putting so much emphasis on fashion, but I would challenge you to provide a convincing argument that aesthetics aren’t an enormous part of secular culture.)

Number Two: Convenience is a hugely important factor in our day to day lives, especially when it comes to computer usage. Well-designed websites make data access as easy as possible, with more information readily available. It’s organized and uncluttered. Period.

Facebook is moving away from both these things. It has taken two steps backward in allowing users to transform its look into something reminiscent of the chaotic Myspace era, while simultaneously making it harder to access information. Which leads me to my next point: Facebook also gives users a huge amount of privacy settings, so that they can modify their page in almost any way imaginable to hide or limit certain aspects from the world, or just certain people – like parents. Maybe it’s because I’m more willing to police my own content, but I can’t identify with people who feel that they need to block access to their profile page from folks they don’t have listed as friends. While it’s possible that there are some people who only want their friends to know that they like watching The Hills, (understandable) I think the major concern is with items like contact information and Wall posts.

I say, if it’s something you’d be worried about somebody knowing, then don’t post it at all. If your friend needs your new address, that’s what private messages are for. Back in April, the cover story from Wired magazine talked about how transparency is the best policy for business and social interaction these days, and increasingly so in the coming years. I won’t spend time going into that, but in a nut shell, just think of it in terms of: “Nothing To Hide = Trust”. Make sense? I think so. It’s a better idea to not publicly share things in the first place and be prepared to put forward the tiny bit of effort required to moderate content, rather than bluntly hide information and make people wonder.

So, in the end, what we’re seeing is Facebook making 3 major mistakes. Still, its popularity is on the rise even now, and I’m sure its success isn’t near its end yet. I’m just saying we’ve seen the beginning of the end. I think Google’s on the same page as me, considering that some information’s recently leaked about a few web apps they’ll be putting out that will challenge Facebook head-on.

Anyhoo. Time will tell. Right now time’s telling me it’s time to pack up and book it to Zoology.





A Few Things

6 09 2007

Rockwell’s website is up and running. The main Flash intro page is here, and the blog is here.

Apple announced the iPod Touch today. The video iPod will now be called the Classic, and the Nano has received a complete design overhaul. I can’t figure out whether I think this is a good change or not. Apple also reduced the price of the iPhone by a third, much to the chagrin of early buyers.

I was in Chapters today looking around for a recipe book, since I’ll be preparing a lot more of my own food this year. I wasn’t having much luck, but as I was browsing through the stacks I was listening to the latest CommandN podcast on my iPod and Will Pate recommended Chow.com for exactly the kind of information I was looking for.

Speaking of podcasts, the ones I’m currently subscribed to are:
Amber MacArthur’s CommandN and Webnation
Leo Laporte’s This Week in Tech (TWiT), The Tech Guy, and MacBreak Weekly
Attack of the Show‘s The Daily Feed
Morgan Webb’s WebbAlert

Remember when I wrote about Mahalo, the human-powered search engine slash encyclopedia? Well, I’m now a part-time employee with the Panasonic result page reserved for myself. If the results pages I write for them, (which are more HTML-oriented than anything else) get enough hits, I’ll start getting royalty checks in the mail. Awesome.

Highly-regarded blogger Paul Stamatiou published an excellent article about a month ago that’s meant to be a realistic back to school guide for college/university students. It was in direct response to all the articles put out by folks like Wired who seem to feel that our schools are paying us for enrolling. Yeah, right. After reading Paul’s guide I feel like I’m doing pretty well, but I learned a few really handy things such as the ultra-cheap price of an HP laser printer available on Newegg.com. If you’re a student, read it. If you’re not a student, read it anyway.

Yes, I am moved into my new place in Guelph, and no, I won’t be posting about it until later. I plan on posting photos and such once everything is in place. Aiming for next week sometime. That’s it for now.





Exploding Phones and China’s Spot at the Lunch Table

3 09 2007

By now everyone knows that the iPhone’s been hacked so that it’s no longer bound only to the powers of AT&T. (Seventeen year-old hacker George Hotz is practically set for life.) But what you might not know is that Apple’s new darling is set to self-destruct when tampered with!

Ok, so that’s completely untrue. But it did happen – not because of Apple or the iPhone itself, but because of the dangers of lithium-ion batteries. Here’s the Wired article, and here’s an image of the wreckage:


iSore

This story reminded me of something my dad told me he read in a magazine yesterday about another exploding phone incident. As it turns out, the above-linked article also links to that story which Wired covered back in July. Basically what happened in that case is that a 22 year-old welder named Xiao Jingpeh was killed when his Motorola exploded last June. The handset was in his shirt pocket when it happened, and the concussion sent fragments of his ribs into his heart. It’s believed that the heated environment of the factory Xiao worked in is what set the phone off.

Incidents like this have brought scrutiny to those cheap knock-off batteries in particular, as well as other imitations of potentially dangerous products. It’s no secret that walking down the street in a Chinese city like Beijing will present you with numerous opportunities to purchase cheap goods like DVDs, video games, and any manner of electronics in addition to other products. I own a Japanese Wakizashi that my brother bought for me as a gift on one of his travels to China – probably from a street vendor. The widespread knowledge of these products, and now, the growing awareness and concern about their under-par quality will probably spur China into some house-cleaning action. It’s in their best interest after all, considering the whole 2008 Olympics situation. The adventures of Canadian/Tibetan blogger Lhadon Tethong, who was kicked out of China in August for trying to uncover evidence that China was using the Olympics to conceal their occupation of Tibet, are proof that the communist nation is already worried about her reputation with the rest of us.

So basically, if you want your one dollar copy of Transformers, better board a plane, (or find a really big shovel!) and get it now.

As you can see I’m working really hard packing for my big move. I’m able to do this because I stole Dr. Octopus’s omnipotent arms.