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I’d hate to be a piece of furniture in Steve Ballmer’s office this week

The Mac App Store launched Thursday, and Herman Miller stock went up two points in anticipation of all of the chairs Steve Ballmer has probably been throwing at people this week.  There’s no way the sweaty-pitted Microsoft CEO isn’t beating his middle managers like red-headed step-children after the news came out that people downloaded a million apps in the first day, with 10,000 apps available at launch.  The Mac App Store changes things in ways that people in Windowsland cannot even contemplate, although when Win7SP2 launches with the MSFT half-ass attempt of the same concept, I’m sure we’ll hear all about the greatness, just like we’ll hear about how great judicial advocacy is from Teapotters that have railed against it for the last two years when they need it to keep Guantanamo bay open.

The Mac App Store changes things in a big way, both good and bad.  Back when I got started in this industry, if you wanted to write and sell an application for a Mac (or a PC), you rode your dinosaur to work, hired a bunch of people to put your crap on floppy disks and into boxes, and then either sold it yourself in your local computer stores (kids younger than 20: imagine a Best Buy with only a computer section, that didn’t suck), or you got your retail boxes dumped into the channel and flushed out to big stores and catalogs.  (Catalog: a paper version of Amazon, but it took 4-6 weeks to get your stuff.)  Then the internet happened, and people sold software on web sites, where you somehow sent money and either got a download or got a CD-ROM sent to you through the pony express for later installation at your own leisure.

But if you had this great software package, you had this huge list of problems.  Gotta set up a web site.  Gotta get a shopping cart system in place.  Gotta take credit cards and get a merchant account and whatever SSL nonsense your ISP wants you to get.  Or, gotta bend over and spread for PalPal’s cut of the vig.  Gotta find a way to have a download center that isn’t just at widget.com/dontlookhere/dl/product.zip so the first person that buys your crap doesn’t just spam the magic link to the world and let everyone download.  Gotta come up with come crazy system of software enablement, serial numbers you type in and send securely, whatever obfuscated nonsense you need to keep the world from just emailing your ZIP file to all of their friends.  Gotta find a way to drive traffic to the site.  Gotta find a way to get people to return to the site for upgrades and new versions.  There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of things to consider, and either every software reseller reinvents the wheel, or you join some tribe or cabal or commune or collective or whatever else to use one common set of machinery for everyone’s releases, and you pay for the privilege.

So now you avoid all of that.  Pay Apple a hundred bucks to join, upload your DMG file, and you’re in a searchable, centralized catalog of apps.  When a new Apple user fires up their iMac for the first time, there’s a pretty little icon to click that brings them to a huge store filled with games and productivity apps and stuff people can click on without scrambling for their credit cards or signing up for yet another e-merchant account that will probably eventually get hacked, with your password and Visa number and home phone ending up in a torrent sent out to every script kiddie in the world.

There’s also the issue of central maintenance.  When you have to push out a patch, you don’t spam out emails, and you don’t have to write complicated code to beam back to the mothership and check if the latest version is installed on the user’s PC. You tell Apple you have a new version, and let them do the dirty work.  And when a person bricks their MacBook or spills juice in their iMac and has to go get a new machine, they just plug in their username and all of their apps magically download again.  There isn’t a two-month process of trying to remember all of the crap you installed, or a weekend-long backup and reload on an external drive or a pile of DVD-Rs.

Yeah, there are downsides.  You’re paying Apple that hundred bucks, and they’re also skimming 30% of the take on your sales.  But do you know how much banks take from mom and pop companies on merchant accounts?  I’d tell you, but there are like 79 different surcharges and monthly fees and address verification fees and machine rental fees and every other nickel-and-diming the banks can think of to hit you with.  That 30% erases a lot of headaches.  And compare it to how much of a discount you’d give in channel sales, and it’s not a bad deal.

There are all of the “walled garden” arguments you’ll hear from the Microsoft camp.  You’ve heard the same arguments since the App Store showed up on the iPhone, although you haven’t heard as many of them since Windows Phone 7 adopted the same exact strategy for their app store.  And you probably won’t hear much more about it after that Windows 7 Platinum Home Deluxe SP2 Zune Marketplace shows up in the next rev of their OS, providing the same exact walled garden, albeit with a lot of the wall’s pieces removed to appease any of the big software makers that balk.

I think by the fall, everyone at every point of the food chain is going to try to launch their PC app store.  Amazon’s probably brewing one; I’m sure all of the hardware manufacturers like HP and Dell are going to have a long, painful meeting this Monday where some idiot who has never installed software in his life but can wear a mean tie and gets all of the ZDNet headlines beamed to his Blackberry is going to pitch their genius idea to launch their own bundled crapware app store on their new computers.   App stores will be the add-on toolbar of 2011, just like they were for phones in the last 18 months.

Another argument that is a plus and a minus is what the hell this will do to pricing.  People are now used to paying 99 cents for a game on their phone, so good luck on putting your desktop game on the App Store for $79.99.  Sure, you can trim down that price a bit because you’re not paying $47 a copy in merchant account fees to Bank of America.  And your game is some one-gig DVD release and not just a two-screen screen-tapper you wrote in a weekend.  It’s going to cause unbundling of suites, like Apple is doing with iWork and iLife, where people will only buy the apps they want, at a lower price and a smaller download, instead of buying a full package of apps on a DVD.  I don’t know what the magic price point will become, although I’m guessing people will be less apt to buy a $99 app and more willing to pay something like $19 for Real Apps and $4.99 for games and entertainment.

I just got the update and installed the App Store, and gave it a quick drive to download the new Twitter client.  No problems, no surprises.  I haven’t bought anything yet, but when I get a free second (which will be in like June) I will probably hunt down the latest versions of some of the older registered payware/shareware I have, just to make the next update easier.  All I can tell you now is, I’m glad I’m not working at a hardware manufacturer that’s probably going to go on damage control and require all of its R&D center employees to waste a lot of their free time generating stupid powerpoints re-selling an already done idea.  Also glad I’m not driving across the 520 bridge every morning to potentially have a 57-pound Aeron chair thrown at my head.

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iPad

I now have an iPad. Sarah surprised me with one for our anniversary, and I’ve only had a bit over a full day to play with it, but I think it’s a pretty damn revolutionary device. I had my doubts when it came out, especially because I already had a very capable iPhone for pocket-oriented computing and a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro for my full-time yet portable workstation. So what the hell do I need a tablet for?

Okay, first, the hardware itself: technically, it’s pretty solid – very thin, very light, seamless usability, and flawless integration with the other Apple stuff I have. The display is amazingly clear and the perfect size. The iPhone in general has pretty decent speed, or at least the perception of speed. I think that’s an important difference; I’ve used Windows Mobile phones that were CPU giants, but still stuttered and clunked along because nothing was seamless, and you were mushing your way through endless layers of lipstick on a very well-hidden pig. The iPad is an order of magnitude faster than the original iPhone from a hardware perspective, although it’s not running a version of iOS that’s as optimized as it could be. (It also doesn’t multitask yet, like the latest iOS 4 machines.) But going from app to app is pretty damn snappy, and I never really hit any stutter or pause or other issues.

Web browsing on the iPad is pretty much perfect. It makes the ideal machine to use when sitting on the couch or in bed, and that’s pretty much the use case for this, as a sort of appliance computer, like those things in Star Trek that you just whip out when you need to look up technical information about dilithium crystals. It’s weird that the machine has no natural “up” direction, and it doesn’t care if you hold it landscape or upside-down landscape; it corrects itself just fine. And something I didn’t notice for almost a day: it has a lock button that locks the orientation, so when you’re sitting in bed on your side, it doesn’t flip orientation on you, which is one of my annoyances when I sometimes check my email on my phone before getting out of bed in the morning.

I think the weird thing about the iPad is just that it’s so polarizing of a machine, because it’s a niche machine in price and marketing, but it does so much from such a simple design. It’s not a specialized device like a phone, that makes calls and stores contacts, and then the solitaire game and calendar are an afterthought shoehorned into its form factor. It’s very much the 90% of what you’d do on a computer, sitting in front of you in this 680-gram viewport into a digital world. And the tech world is divided between people who get this, and people who don’t. It’s always been true of Apple products for a while, but the iPad is the clearest line in the sand.

The deal is, a lot of people judge technology quantitatively. It has to do the most; it has to have the most RAM; it has to have the highest benchmark; it has to have the most megapixels. It’s classic penis-waving at its best, and it’s a very right-wing sort of way to view the world, because you can have a one-megapixel camera that takes far better pictures than a crap 10-MP plastic-lens, cheap-chip camera built into a cell phone. (Don’t believe me? Take a look at any image from the Hubble space telescope. That thing has a camera smaller than one megapixel. Yeah, it’s sitting behind a few million dollars of optics, and its images are typically pieced together with expensive software from hundreds of exposures, but it’s a good example that the raw megapixel-to-megapixel comparison is flawed.) It’s a lot like shopping for a car and only using horsepower and torque as your only metric for performance. Which is a nicer car to drive, a used Dodge Ram pickup truck, or a Maserati Quattroporte? The Dodge has more horsepower and more torque, but it’s not quite the same overall experience. I feel the same way about people who go on and on about how their computer or their phone has more memory or more storage or whatever – that’s great, but when you’re running an OS that’s bloated and runs code to meet some legacy requirement set up in 1989, it’s not the same deal.

And when I google around various iPad news, I see a whole lot of “well it can’t do everything my desktop computer can.” Of course not. You can’t haul lumber or strap six kiddie seats in the back of your Ferrari 458 Italia. But does that mean you have to drive around an extended-bed truck every time you need to run to the store for milk, just because once every other month you need to pick up a pallet of drywall? I saw someone in a thread bemoaning the iPad because you couldn’t rip CDs on it, which is an absolutely asinine argument. It’s like arguing against the adoption of the car because it won’t give your horses exercise. You don’t need the horses if you have a car; you don’t need to rip CDs because you can just buy music from iTunes and zap it across the ether a million times faster than trying to actually find a store that still sells CDs that don’t suck.

It’s the same argument when someone says “there are 18,273 programs to burn DVDs on Windows but only a couple for the Mac”. But when I need to burn a DVD, I don’t want to have to spend a week shopping for authoring software and memorize what IRQs are in use on my system and read the entire history of laser-written media; I want to put in a blank disc and click a button and that’s it. I don’t care if the hardware is ten percent slower, if it saves me hours and hours of tech support insanity.

Anyway, that’s the story. I’m sitting on the couch and tapping away and in a second I’ll zap over to see how the game went. This thing is truly awesome.

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general

River of stress

I continue to stress out over the move.  I have two painters coming over today for quotes on patch/paint on the old place to get it ready to sell.  I have no news and no commitment on when we will get keys for the new place, so I’m now putting together the contingency plan so that when on Friday they tell us, “oh, maybe next Friday, or the one after that” I can scramble and try to reschedule the dozen things that will happen in the next few days.

I bought a KVM yesterday, a DVI one and the adapter I need to hook it up to the new work laptop.  I’m currently dragging both computers and my four-million-pound 20″ LCD monitor to the kitchen table and working there.  I’ve started using the LCD in portrait mode, because it rotates 90 degrees, and I find it pretty helpful while writing and editing.  I can open two full-page views, one on top of the other, or one really long page, and avoid a lot of scrolling.  I’d like to do this from now on, although my monitor stand is slightly shaky like this.  I’ll be glad to have the KVM – I currently keep the mac running, mostly to run iTunes all day and to keep my mail open, and I have it sort of behind my other computer, so I have to look around to see it.  I work the music with the remote, and that’s fine, but when I do look at the mail, I have the bad confusing habit of trying to move the pointer with the wrong mouse until I realize what the hell I’m doing.  I’ve thought about one of those systems where you can hang multiple displays on one set of input, and can drag windows from the Mac to the PC or whatever, but I’m sure they all involve some form of VNC that will bog down machines or require jumping through network hoops that I can’t deal with right now.

I also found a NeXT VMware image at http://osvirtual.net/en/nextstep-3-3-with-drivers-vmware/ and fired it up yesterday in Fusion.  I got it to work with no real problem, except I’d forgotten about a lot of the weird quirks about the NeXT interface.  And I think a lot of the allure of it back in 1991 was probably that it was a generation ahead of everything else out there, and it ran on the cool black hardware.  I like the idea of a NeXT cube, but I think clunking along on a 25 MHz 68030 is probably not ideal.  Back when a Mac IIfx was a speed demon and cost you $9000, the NeXT was a steal.

I just went off on a browsing tangent, reading about the IIfx.  It’s weird, it was the fastest Mac until the Quadra AV came out in 1993.  And in 1995, I had the Centris version of the AV at work (the Centris 660AV) and I had the same machine when I went to WRQ in 1996.  And in both cases, they were already doorstops at the time.  Like I remember when MP3s were first starting to become popular, and I downloaded some MP3 ripping software and popped a CD in the player (actually into the required caddy, and that into the player), and it took roughly two days of running day and night to rip the 9 tracks.  There are times I romanticize old hardware, but then I remember how clunky the stuff was back in the day, and I’m not as fond of filling up my storage space with it.

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System emulation time machine

I’m always talking about time machines, touchstones that launch you into nostalgia for some forgotten era of the past.  There’s one that I mess with that’s infinitely more detailed than any other, and it’s system emulation, which was once just a vague dream and is now huge and all-encompassing.

I guess it all really started in the 80s, when you could get the box for your Intellivision or Colecovision that played Atari 2600 games.  And that was a kludge, because it was nothing more than an actual 2600 that hung off the side of your existing system, so you basically used your Mattel power supply, joysticks, and connection to the TV to play Atari games.  Then the Commodore 128 had a Zilog Z80 CPU in addition to its 8502, so you could boot into CPM mode, which was great except none of us cared about CPM or running ancient crusty old office productivity software.  Later there was a lot of talk about the Amiga being able to emulate the Mac or run as a PC with external hardware, but I never knew anybody that really did this.

Fast-forward maybe ten or fifteen years, and I’m in the period when I’m firmly planted behind a desk in cubeland and want to relive the days of 1985, so I’m scouring eBay for a good Commodore 64 and 1541 and maybe an Amiga 500 or decent Atari 2600 setup.  And I’m spending my spare time browsing all of the web sites out there for 8-bit computers, now that there’s a whole world of freaky Finland hackers posting all of this crazy stuff on the interwebs that’s knocking loose the rust in my brain and making me remember to SYS 49152 after I load some ML at #C000.  And around then, some people started writing software that ran in a modern Pentium computer that would emulate the C-64 or the 2600 or any other old machine.  Because by then, you add all of the overhead involved, but you run it on a fast PC, you’ve pretty much got a 6510 running at 1.023 MHz.  The other major factor is that nobody can even keep track of who the hell owns Commodore these days, so there aren’t a bunch of cease-and-desist lawsuits over the ROM images, and a ton of the games are floating around.  That’s the other great thing: in 1985, you spent all day waiting for your 1541 drive to slowly load in that Zork game.  But now, a complete ISO of a 170K SS/SD floppy is smaller than the image of a rounded corner on a web page.  You could go download a thousand games at a clip and barely spike your bandwidth.

And this is truly amazing to me.  Because you can look back at some old era and look at a posed photo that’s two-dimensional and unmovable, or listen to a tape of some audio of an old song or an old conversation, and that partially captures a moment.   But this is trapping an exact bit-by-bit representation, a living and working version of the same environment you basically lived in decades before.  It’s like being able to download some magic thing that would recreate your college dorm room down to the last millimeter, every single detail and quirk and bug and problem, and you could step inside it and relive it.  I could sit at that BASIC prompt and look at every single one of the 65,535 bytes in that system, and run every old game that me and Matt Wanke would stay up all night playing back in the 8th grade.  I could load up Blue Max, the very first game I ever played on the C-64, and fly that little biplane through the weird 45-degree angled world, dropping bombs on the 320×200 terrain that scrolled past.

I spent a lot of time back at the blue and cyan screen, trying to type in some BASIC, playing some old games, and that was decent.  But what really pushed me back into the past was when MAME games started coming out.  MAME was an emulator that could simulate many of the common arcade cabinets that lived in the 80s and 90s.  Game cabinets weren’t all one-off creations; each vendor typically had some common chassis or series, so they could just pop out the ROMs from a dud game and pop in something new.  It wasn’t always that straightforward, and you had systems that mutated over time to add new features or new hardware or whatever, plus you had some games with weird joysticks or buttons.  But if you got bored of your X-Men game and wanted the Simpsons game, it was a straight switch.  And that made it easier to write a common emulator for a bunch of different ROMs.  And once I got MAME running on my laptop and started tracking down ROMs, I was absolutely hooked.  There were two games that were total time machines for me, because I spent so much time pouring quarters into both of them.

The first one was Smash TV.  Me and Ray used to play this constantly, back in like 1991.  When I went to IUSB, we never went to class, and would always drive around South Bend and Mishawaka, listening to death metal, looking for something to eat, something to do, and of course there was nothing.  So we always ended up at the arcade at University Park Mall, and we’d dump unending amounts of money into that game.  It’s basically a rehash of the movie The Running Man; a future where prisoners (in the game, the prisoner part was not mentioned) have to run through mazes killing mass numbers of robots and mutants and warriors with futuristic laser weapons in front of a televised studio audience in order to win money and prizes.  It’s a typical quarter-eater, where two guys can play, and you just shoot every damn thing that runs at you, and if you die, you just need to shell out another token to keep rolling.  The game has a lot of synthesized speech from the Richard Dawson game show host, saying “BIG MONEY!  BIG PRIZES!  I LOVE IT!”  And it’s one of those weird memory things, where I can’t remember my office phone number, but every single millisecond of this game is burned into my head so much that I can instantly repeat any of the lines or hum any of the music within it.  So when I pop it up in a window on my Mac, even though I don’t have the joysticks and have to use a/w/s/z or whatever, it instantly takes me back to those days of playing hooky and feeding quarters in a mall arcade that’s now probably a cell phone store or a place selling uggs or something.

The other game that I have memorized like this is Golden Axe.  This is a Sega ripoff of the Conan franchise (barbarian, not talk show host, although that would be a cool game too, with Andy Richter at your side dressed up as a wench, and broadswording Jay Leno in the head.)  It’s very similar to Altered Beast (also done by the same design team), a side-scroller with two (or was it three?) sets of joysticks and buttons, and you dumped in the quarters to continue.  You could be a barbarian, a dwarf, or an amazon woman (a tall Hilary Swank-type warrior, not a woman that buys a lot of books online on a Kindle.)  They had one of these in the tiny arcade in the Indiana student union, and they only had maybe five games, and all of them sucked, but this one sucked the least, so I was sort of forced to play it when I was killing time in there.  I’d rather go to Spaceport and play some Tetris or find a Smash TV console, but it was one of those captive environment things, and within a matter of time, I got hooked on Golden Axe.  I think it’s a funny game, because all of the various screaming sounds in it are too accurate and over the top.  I was playing this once when Sarah was in the next room and she came in and said “what the hell is that?  It sounds like some kind of Lil’ Jon krunk video game.”  But once again, all of those little sounds and sayings are etched into my brain, and when I fire up that ROM in a Sega 16-B cabinet emulator, I’m back to the student union in 1989, between classes and wasting time and quarters.

I thought of all of this because I was cruising around and wondered if anyone had ever installed NeXTstep in a VMware emulator, and I guess a few people have tried.  I wanted to just find someone who did the whole thing and had a VMware image I could download and fire up, but it’s considerably more difficult than that, setting up all of the drivers and crap.  Here’s a post on how to do it, though.  I think sitting at an OmniWeb browser in a NeXTstep login would be a pretty severe time warp for me.  I spent a lot of time lusting after that hardware when it first came out, and spent a good chunk of 1991-1992 trying to get some time on it.  It’s funny how fast the fall from grace was, though.  Those machines were total demons in like 1991, and by the time I got to the support center in 1993, we had a slab that was practically a doorstop, it was so slow.  But maybe if you took that awesome (in 1991) OS and dropped it in an emulator on a quad-core x64 i7 chip, it would be 5% faster than it was back on the 68040.  Something to mess with, but probably not during the same week when I have to move.

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iOS 4.1, semi-portable computing

iOS 4.1 came out yesterday, and I updated my iPhone 3G, which has been plagued with slowdowns and randomness since I updated it to 4.0.  It was almost so bad that I thought I was running a high-end Windows Mobile phone.  (Okay, not that bad.)  But it appears that the fixes in 4.1 alleviate any of the problems I was having, and everything is back to normal.  I can’t use the new game service, and it doesn’t multitask, both of which are not deal-breakers for me, since I need fewer things to waste time with, and I don’t care much about multitasking as long as I can switch between apps smoothly.  (Like for example, my Windows Mobile phone multitasked, but switching between applications was clunky and involved the virtual equivalent of the phone saying “oh yeah, hang on a second dude…” Switching between email and the web browser is faster on the iPhone, even if both of the applications are running and in memory in WM, the only difference being that in WM, you’re burning through the battery twice as fast.  And I used to constantly do stuff like switch out of Google Maps but not exit it, so it would still be running but not be visible, and by lunch my battery was dead.)

One of the things that enticed me though, and I can’t find any good information on it, is that you can supposedly use a bluetooth keyboard now with the iPhone.  I don’t know if you can on the 3G, or if the performance is decent, but if so, that gets me a step closer to the ideal travel computer setup.  I’ve always wanted some kind of thing where you had an iPhone-sized palm-based computer that you could pull out of your pocket to take a picture or play a song or jot down a note, but then when you sat down at a desk, you could pop it in a cradle or stand and hook up a keyboard and maybe a monitor, and you’d be able to work.

I think my obsession with this model was fueled by a week I spent in San Diego for a conference in 2000, when I only had my Palm Pilot IIIx with me.  It was before I owned a laptop, and probably the main reason I shelled out $5000 for a Dell Latitude in the beginning of 2001.  But this was when the Palm was a big deal, and every suit you see tooling around the airport with an iPad today was tooling around the airport with a Palm Pilot back in 2000.  You could actually go to a CompUSA and buy software for the Palm Pilot – actual shrinkwrapped, boxed, on-disk software.  I think back then, they had entire aisles of software, plus all of the cases, screen protectors, cables, docks, and other add-ons you could buy.  I did a lot of reading on the Palm, a lot of eBooks (which was ten years before the eBook was invented, according to current news reports).  I also played many, many rounds of Dope Wars, and found many hits of acid on a dead dude in the subway, when I happened to actually be on the subway.  But I never really wrote much on the Palm, because the stylus and the graffiti inking language never completely jived with me.  I can barely read my own handwriting, so learning a new handwriting system was out of the question.

I did no writing on the trip – I found a Borders instead and bought an armful of Philip K. Dick books to keep me busy.  But when I got home, I saw this little keyboard at CompUSA and immediately bought it.  The thing unfolded and you plugged your Palm Pilot into the lid, sort of like a makeshift cradle, and then typed away.  This thing was an awesome novelty for me for about three days, until I got bored of trying to write on the Palm Pilot and decided to start gardening in my kitchen or trying to collect crossbow parts off of eBay or whatever the hell else I did at that point in 2000.  This keyboard looked neat, and the folding lid was nifty, but the keys were like 95% sized, and my fat fingers kept hitting the wrong things.  Plus there was some weird delay of a tenth of a microsecond that made the user experience a bit sloppy.  And there were various ergonomic issues with having the keyboard immediately under a three inch screen, and the joined assembly bouncing around as you typed, unless you had a perfectly flat and stable surface to rest the whole thing on.

So would a bluetooth keyboard and an iPhone solve any of these problems?  I’m guessing you would have the same ergo issues unless you pumped the iPhone video into a big monitor.  And it’s not like I can run emacs on my phone, so I’m not going to be writing a 300,000 word book in the notes application.  Also, there’s the issue that the 3G is not a powerhorse cpu-wise, so even my lowly netbook is going to outpace it for desktop application performance.  And then I have the various sync issues; I can’t keep all of my writing on my home computer in a phone’s tiny flash memory.  I suppose I could concoct some scheme where all of my data lived in the cloud somewhere, but that doesn’t help me much at 40,000 feet with no cell tower in sight.  (Side note: man, I hate the term “in the cloud”.  It reeks of MBAism, something that was invented by a suit to describe a long-existing service and wrap it up in some hip and smarmy term that could be resold for more money. I mean, was my VAXNotes conference back in 1989 “in the cloud”? )

Maybe the iPad is part of that solution – you have a big screen, you can haul it around easy, you can plug in that keyboard cradle thing or pair up a bluetooth keyboard and write.  And everything I write here, even though it isn’t my primary writing repository, lives in a remote server and can be accessed by any machine with a reasonable web browser and a functional connection to the internet.  Wordpress has a halfway decent app on the iPhone, and if the iPhone glass keyboard wasn’t so slow for me, I could write on there.  (It works perfectly fine for web surfing, googling things, and the occasional two-sentence email message, but I can’t hack out a thousand words on it unless you gave me like eight hours and four Ativan tablets.)  All of this is much less important starting next week when my office is my home and my Mac is always within arm’s reach.  But it might be more important the first time I have to make a trip back east for work.

Speaking of, last day of the old job is today.  I thought about writing something giant and grand to sum up my feelings about that whole situation, but it’s complicated, so maybe later.  Probably not tomorrow though, given what happened nine years ago and all.

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There are no coincidences

The last time I bought a new computer, the Rockies beat the Mets.  Today, the Rockies beat the Mets.  And guess what I did?  No, I did not buy a computer because Denver beat New York.  (If that was true, I’d own many computers.)  But I did replace my 2007 MacBook.

I ordered the new MacBook Pro, which was announced yesterday.  I got the 15-inch version, with the 2.66 GHz  Intel Core i7.  This is the latest and greatest chip, which is a dual core, but is also hyperthreaded, so it’s more like a quad-core, sort of.  And it has this new turboboost technology, so as long as you are not running hot, the system will overclock one or both cores up to 3.33 Ghz as needed.  It also has both integrated graphics plus an NVIDIA GPU, and can intelligently switch between the two on the fly, which is new in this model.  It also has a nine-hour battery, and the unibody aluminum case.

I did not spec up at all, so it comes with the stock half-terabyte 5400RPM drive and 4 GB of RAM.  I also didn’t opt up for the new higher-res screen, or preinstall any optional software.  I think I’m taking a big enough bump up in performance that I’ll be happy with what I get.

And because I was impatient, I went to the Apple Store at lunch to see if they actually had them in stock, and they did, so I cancelled my order online and picked one.   And now the cruelty any new computer purchase:  I have spent the last four hours with both new and old machines tethered together, slowly copying the last three years of my life through a cable and onto the new machine.  And it does not look like it will finish by bedtime here, so I will have to play more tomorrow.

For those keeping score at home, that brings our household to two MacBook Pros, a MacBook, two iPhones, two iPods, and an AirPort Express.  No iPad.  I didn’t even get to check them out, I was in such a hurry to get in and out of the Palo Alto Apple Store.  I saw one out of the corner of my eye, and it looked neato, but I think Apple has taken enough of my money for a bit.

So I guess it’s a good thing I have this journal on WordPress now; I can type away from my Samsung netbook while sitting in bed.  I’d write a bit, but all of my writing is locked away on the Mac(s) until the transfer is complete.  At least six hours of copying is better than six days of waiting on FedEx.  Right?

BTW I don’t know how it happened, but I went from 10th place to 3rd place in my fantasy baseball league in a matter of days.  I don’t think this will last long-term though, given that I don’t have a closer, I have two catchers in my active lineup, neither one getting more than like 35% of their respective teams’ starts, and my team’s batting average is just over the Mendoza line.  Still, they’re doing better than a few real teams out there right now.

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general

Requiem for an iPhone

Well, my must-last-two-years-according-to-AT&T iPhone 3G just crossed the magical Apple rainbow at nine months.  It was working fine, but it started developing a crack in the back case, just above the dock connector.  It probably could have lasted another year, but I figured I would make the trek to the Apple Store and see if they would swap it for a new one, even if I didn’t have AppleCare, and they did.

First, if we’re in a recession, it sure didn’t look like it in the Bay Street Apple store.  They were wall-to-wall with people grabbing Apple gear for the holidays.  I’m curious what their actual numbers are for sales in the holiday season, and also curious if these new Microsoft stores are doing anything comparable.  Anyway, I made an appointment for the genius bar, and managed to get in at exactly the specified time.  And the swap was no hassle.  Thanks to the whole iTunes-centric backup recovery paradigm and the fact that I backed up right before leaving, the whole thing went almost seamlessly.  (Only exceptions: my WiFi and voicemail passwords vanished and had to be re-entered when I got home.)  I also sprung for AppleCare, just in case, and a new screen protector, which they installed for me.  (It’s pretty much impossible to put on an adhesive screen protector in a home with a long-haired cat, unless you don’t mind staring at a few stray cat hairs on your touchscreen for the rest of the protector’s life.)

What’s weird is that while the Apple genius boxed up my old phone and got ready to pitch it off to whatever Chinese landfill/salvage dumping ground old iPhones go to at the end of their lives, I felt slightly emotional about seeing it go.  Granted, I got an exact clone of the old model, and it even looks identical because it’s in the same old case, but I still felt slightly sentimental about seeing it go.  I think part of that is because this is one of the first cell phones that wasn’t just a vague utensil I occasionally used to make calls, but an actual fully-fledged computer that I used for a wide swath of applications within my somewhat-connected life.  I mean, I really used the camera; I listened to pretty much every Rockies game I could this season, and when I couldn’t listen, I followed along in the MLB app; I sent and read many an email; I used it as a real web browser, not a postage stamp approximation of a web browser; I found myself texting a lot more than I typically would; I even wrote a few blog posts on it.

I guess there’s always been this lack of a suspension of disbelief in my use of a palm-sized computer, either because it didn’t do what I wanted, or it had such clunkiness in what it did do.  Like, I used to have a couple of Palm OS non-phone devices, and while those were decent phone books and occasional game machines (mostly Dopewars), there was a big line to be drawn with all things connected, because there was no way for me to surf the web or read emails on those things.  Yes, you could attach on some giant pack the size of the actual device and sort of use it as a crappy cell phone, and maybe run an email program that barely worked, but there was a pretty hard stopping point in the usefulness of these machines, and it was clear that I would also need to carry a cell phone and a laptop to be semi-functional in the field with these.

I guess now we’re truly reaching this age where we can have a palm-sized computer that can really run apps and really do things and because of that, I feel the same kind of emotional (and somewhat stupid) bond I feel toward some of the primary computers I have in my life.  I mean, when I finally kicked to the curb my entirely obsolete PC that was my primary writing machine from 1991-2001,  I felt a bit of remorse to see that beige rectangle go to the garbage, even if it was fully useless even as a doorstop by the time it went in 2005.  There were many good memories of that thing sitting on my desktop as I chipped away at various books.  And I felt the same kind of nostalgia as that tiny black piece of plastic and glass (which probably had more CPU and memory than said PC) got sent back to the void.

And a side note, iPhone wise – I was tapping away while standing in line at Taco Bell, and curiously got a WiFi connection and didn’t know why.  Then I realized I was standing next to a Starbucks, which has an AT&T hotspot, and at some point I logged in at a different Starbucks, and the new magical AT&T hotspot connector mojo worked without interaction.  That sure beats the old days of having to enter a thousand characters of login info, including a password you can never use or remember.

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general

New iPod

I bought a new iPod yesterday, to replace the second-gen 20 Gig one that I’ve had for a few years now. The battery was starting to go, and it’s on the second battery, plus I wanted more space and all of the new features, so I went to the Apple store and ponied up the plastic for the new one. They are really starting to nickel and dime you, though; I had to pay an extra $39 for a dock, and it didn’t come with a cable. I also had to pay $39 more dollars for a cabled remote. You’d think at least one of those two would be included on the highest-end model, but then you’d think people would want a model that held more than 100 songs, and I guess nobody does.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that iTunes (at least on the Mac) properly behaves when given a new iPod. I assumed that there was a direct iTunes to iPod relationship, and I would go through sheer hell getting all of the old tunes onto the new guy. But it turns out that there is a profile for each iPod, and the profile does the library to iPod mapping. So I could have one iPod only sync a subset of my library, or something weird like that, and it’s no problem. My old iPod will go to the Konrath Museum of Old Technical Devices, to be forgotten about for a decade or two, until people are like “What’s an iPod?”. Or something.

The new color iPod display is incredible! I have not messed with the photo features, which are kind of useless to me. (The iPod “Photo” model was rolled into all of the models as of the last rev.) But the screen is incredibly readable, very crisp and smooth. It’s also nice to see a few new features in the BIOS (or is it OS? whatever.) You can enable and disable the items shown on the menu, so I can finally make that stupid podcast link go away.

One of the coolest non-features is that a little thumbnail icon of an album is shown when you are playing a song. The JPEGs are put into the MP3 tags by iTunes, sort of. The pain in the ass is, there isn’t a “go find every single album cover” button or script. The closest I’ve found is that Konfabulator has an “iTunes buddy” that shows the album cover in a little widget. It hunts all of the Amazon sites and finds the image for you, and then shoots it into iTunes, which then gets it into the MP3s and onto your iPod. But this would only really work if I sat and listened to every single song in my playlist to get the tags fixed up, and that would take about 7 years. If you know of any other solution for this, let me know.

I’ve been pulling albums to add albums and stay under 20 gigs for about a year now, so it sure is nice having about 2.5 times as much space to add more stuff. (You don’t really get 60 gigs; it’s more like 55 after formatting and that crap.) I’m now on a mad rampage to rip all of the b-string CDs that I previously didn’t add to iTunes. Because I’m in the middle of moving, I have a third of my CDs in the new place and the rest back in Astoria. I think most of this weekend will involve shuffling CDs around. And I’ve decided that the days of having CDs out on shelves and racks is over. With most of my stuff being retired to “backup” status, I am planning to pack away things in corrugated plastic boxes. Each box holds a hundred discs, and those will go on a shelf or in a closet or something. I don’t really feel a need to have my house look like the back storage room of a store in the mall. My DVDs are now put in binders, which massively saved space. (About 99% of a packaged DVD is air.) And the CDs will now be hidden. The books – that’s still a big issue.

I have been at war with IKEA over trying to get a new desk. I ordered a $100 desk about three weeks ago, and they sent a vague response basically saying “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Today, they responded, saying that shipping would be… another $100 bucks, plus about $40 of tax. (And to be fair, Sarah handled war-dialing them and trying to keep track of the order, so most of the credit for dealing with these idiots goes to her.) I just ordered another desk from Staples. Maybe I’ll get that by the end of the year. I’m currently working off of a small folding card table that sort of freaks me out, because it’s the type with legs coming out of the middle, and it sometimes makes a little creak and changes height by a couple of millimeters. I have fears of the Mac and giant monitor falling to the floor when I get up to move my chair or something. It’s a brand new table, and very nice for the occasional dinner party, but I don’t think it’s suited for all of my computer gear.

Oh, I now have three pair of those white iPod headphones, and I don’t use any of them. I guess I could “look cool” and/or get targeted by thieves, but I really hate those in-ear things. I’d sell them on eBay, except anyone can buy them new for $12 or something. Oh well.

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general

Making the Mac switch

This is my first entry from my new machine, which is a Mac Mini. I already wrote about the big switch over on LiveJournal, so read there for the political puling. I’m mostly concerned with getting everything over to the new machine and working. I think web updates are fine, I’m reading mail here, and I’ve got the music collection into iTunes, so that’s good. I still have a lot of adjusting to my workflow, but it’s working well so far. For example, instead of having a bunch of directories with photos flung into them and some half-ass scripts generating galleries, I’m moving everything over to iPhoto. That will make things prettier and easier to deal with, but it’s still a lot of work.

I think the next project might be a print book of the glossary. I am reading this book on the history of Apple computer, and it’s similar in a folklore sense, plus it’s that 8-inch square format that lulu just added to their roster, and I’d really like to do a book like that. I know absolutely nobody will buy a copy, but I mostly want one for myself. So I’ve been picking at the entries a bit. Some will go away – Ray is still convinced I wrote the entire project just to spite him, and so I will have to trim a few things. I also have a lot of ideas for new entries, and those are percolating. I now generally dislike the ones about people and like the ones more about concepts, or old stores or restaurants or whatever that have vanished. Lots of work ahead, I guess. Take a look at the site – I am making edits and syncing them to the head, so to speak, so they are all viewable. I’m also nervous I horridly fucked some pages when I moved the computer, so if you see anything weird, let me know.

OK, back to playing with iPhoto…

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iPod, CD binging

This iPod is incredible. It’s a great experience to have a big plurality of your music collection with you at all times, in a tiny little box as big as a deck of cards. And it’s great to listen to everything on shuffle, hearing old favorites next to new CDs next to things I cherished ten years ago but haven’t heard in ages because they were on a compilation CD buried somewhere in my apartment. I’ve been ripping CDs nonstop, and I’m barely filling up the 20 gigs of space. I’ve got about six gigs on there, and another gig or so of stuff I’ve ripped today.

I went to Best Buy today, the new one in Chelsea. It was a minor pain in the ass because there wasn’t an N/W train running to Manhattan, so I had to get on the 7. Then I got on an F, and it took me right to the door of this new place. The whole store is actually underground, and it’s big for a store in Chelsea, although it’s probably one of the smallest Best Buys I’ve been in. I went on a CD rampage, and here’s what I got:

  • CKY – Infiltrate, Destroy, Rebuild
  • CKY – Volume 1
  • Twisted Forever – A Tribute to the Legendary Twisted Sister
  • Iron Maiden – Powerslave
  • Iron Maiden – Piece of Mind
  • Iron Maiden – Somewhere in Time
  • Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden
  • Orgy – Vapor Transmission
  • NWA – Greatest Hits
  • Green Day – Kerplunk
  • Dead Kennedys – Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death

The Iron Maiden CDs are all the new “full cover” versions, with shitty bonus tracks available as multimedia only. I should’ve bought them all five years ago when they were in the cool Castle reissues with a bonus CD in a brilliant box, but I’m an idiot. I don’t have any of them on CD – all of my old Maiden stuff was on vinyl. The CKY is new to me, but I really like them a lot – I first heard them in the Jackass movie. The rest of the list were impulse purchases or stuff that was at a good price, so there you go.

I also picked up a copy of The Sims for PS/2, not really knowing much about it except that a lot of people like it. I played it for an hour or so this afternoon, and it is a total pain in the ass. You have to tell your dude what to do: eat, crap, bathe, watch TV, learn stuff, pick up the house, etc etc. If you don’t do stuff, your meters go down. For example, if you don’t talk to other family members, your social meter goes down. If you don’t watch TV or listen to the radio, your fun meter goes down. And you never, ever have time to do everything. So basically, it’s like real life. And I can’t manage to keep my own house clean or eat three square meals a day, so there’s not a chance I can do it on the computer. Despite this, it’s hard to put down. Go figure.

OK, gotta get out of here and get some stuff done.