Sunday, December 31, 2006

The next 12 inches?

As I've said before there are really only two demographics when it comes to the laptop market. The road warriors, who would kill for another half hour of battery, or half a kilogram less of laptop, and the power users who desperately want another couple of inches of screen real estate, and another hundred gigabytes of hard drive.

I definitely fall into the road warrior category. I spend half my life in airports hunting for power sockets, and on airplanes, carefully hoarding every last minute of battery life.

So what do I want out of a laptop? I want it to be small, not having those couple more inches of screen really don't bother me that much. I want it to be light, run the length of Charles de Gaulle or Frankfurt airport once or twice and those couple of extra pounds of laptop you're lugging around suddenly seem important. Finally I want battery life, enough for a trans-Atlantic flight, so that means eight hours or more.

What am I willing to trade off to get what I want? Money. I'm quite willing, and expect to have to, pay through the nose for my new laptop. Most road warriors will be because in the end "the company" is paying, the new laptop won't cost much more than throwing me onto a plane and lobbing me across the Atlantic once or twice. Anything that makes me even marginally more productive while I'm travelling is probably, in the end, more than worth the money.

However I'm betting you think it isn't possible, that you can't get a laptop with a 12-inch form factor and decent performance and make it light enough that I'd be willing to admit it that this is something "much cooler"...

Ditch the optical drive, I don't use it anymore. If people are really worried about shipping a laptop without one, throw in an external USB drive. Get rid of the hard drive, and replace it with flash memory. Finally get rid of the LCD and replace it with a colour EPD like the new Motorola F3. Even after throwing in 802.11n, Bluetooth, GPS and a built-in 3G modem I still reckon you'd have an eight hour battery life and a 12-inch form factor. After all, its the display and the hard drive which are the main power drains on a modern laptop, and without the optical drive there will be plenty of room to fit in the GPS and 3G chipsets which will make this the killer laptop for the road warrirors.

Fresh rumours of a hyper-portable are now starting to float around in the lead up to Macworld in San Francisco in January 2007. Of course there are many other rumours floating around as well, so who knows what's going to happen...

All I know is that I need something to replace my ageing 12-inch Powerbook, and I know what I want. The only question now is whether Apple is going to provide it?

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Having an Apple Christmas?

On my way back south from visiting relatives over the festive season I dropped by the Meadowhall Centre to do some post-Christmas sales shopping, and of course to pay a visit to one of the few Apple Stores in the UK outside of London and Manchester.

Posted via Flickr by aallan
The Apple Store in the Meadowhall Centre in Sheffield

I've only been in two other Apple Stores before, the Pasadena store in California and the Ginza store in Tokyo, and they provided very different experiences. The five storey Apple cube in Tokyo came as a surprise following the small high street atmosphere in Pasadena, but I wasn't really expecting to be surprised again by the store in Sheffield.

But I was, it was tiny. With only half the square footage of the Pasadena store, the Sheffield store felt far more crowded than either of my pervious Apple experiences. It lalso ooks like not everyone was having a merry Apple Christmas as there was a pile of "refurbished" products sitting next to the Genius Bar in the store. Presumably these were all post-Christmas returns the store was trying to sell on?

Posted via Flickr by aallan
A pile of post-Christmas refurbished products...

I knew that Apple offered refurbished products on its online store, but this is the first time I'd seen anything of the sort in one of their bricks and mortar stores. In typical Apple style, the discounts were fairly small. However amongst the pile was a Mac mini with £50 off which I was on the verge of impulse buying, until my wife returned from elsewhere in the mall and put a stop to that sort of thing. Oh well, must be quicker next time...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Fallout from the Linksys iPhone?

Well we'd pretty much all guessed it wasn't going to be an Apple announcement as the weekend drew to a close and nobody has really heard anything that would have indicated that two years of waiting was finally at an end. It turns out that the iPhone trademark has been owned by Cisco since 1996 and today was the day they finally chose to release something under the brand name.

So now we have the Linksys iPhone, and its arrival even made it into the mainstream media purely on the strength of Apple iPhone hysteria.

CREDIT: Linksys
One of the Linksys iPhone models released today

The main question that seems to be bothering people is what Apple is now going to call their phone. What phone? What hard evidence apart from a great deal of rumour and speculation do we actual have that Apple is planning to release a phone? It looks like this joke by Gizmodo has backfired quite badly for them, and for many it's the straw that breaks the camel's back. They don't care anymore, and you know what? I don't blame them...

Update: Scoble is claiming that the release of the iPhone by Linksys is a publicity coup for them, and a kick in the teeth for Apple. I'd argue quite the opposite, nobody cares about the Linksys product. The most common reaction was indifference, and then the inevitable question as to what Apple will call their cellphone now? I also don't think the iPhone's release strategy was a clever manipulation of the blogosphere, unless it was by Brian Lam on behalf of Gizmodo rather than by Linksys itself, don't look for conspiracy where the facts can equally well be explained by incompetence.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The iPhone, not what we expected?

So what are we supposed to make of Gizmodo's latest rumour?
Gizmodo Knows: iPhone Will Be Announced On Monday. I guarantee it. It isn't what I expected at all. And I've already said too much... - Brian Lam, Gizmodo
A joke? Real insider information? It doesn't look like anyone else knows what's going on, and the timing seems really off the wall. I guess we'll find out on Monday, although if there really is pre-release hardware circulating amongst the great and the good no doubt we should see some leaked pictures before then, surely?

Update: So Matt Hickey over at CrunchGear has apparently been hearing mutterings that hints that Gizmodo might not have entirely lost its mind. This is starting to look interesting...

Update: More MVNO rumours from CrunchGear.

Update: The equivalent to a confused shrug by The Register. If Gizmodo really has seen hardware, then nobody else has got their hands on it yet.

Update: I think Om Malik might have it right, but if this is a wind up then Brian Lam is in real trouble. Considering the hysteria surrounding the iPhone I'm not sure people will see the funny side.

Update: So Crunch Gear is now also saying there will be an iPhone on Monday, an iPhone, just not the iPhone from Apple. Whatever that means? They link to a story from that ever reliable source Apple Insider which apparently should give us hints to what's going on, which is mostly discussing the trademarking issues surrounding the "iPhone" name. Erm, most odd...

Update: We get an iPhone all right, a Linksys iPhone. Oh well...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

More Apple rumours...

At the time of posting over 3,000 people had voted in the TUAW iPhone poll, and over half of them think there is going to be an iPhone released at Macworld in January. I'm not sure what that means, how can people claim to have an opinion on this? Outside the team developing the iPhone, if such a thing actually exists, there are probably half a dozen people who really know what's going on, even this late in the day it's doubtful that Apple's PR department has heard more than rumours.

It also appears that yet another round of MVNO rumours seem to be going around, we last talked seriously about this right back in January, and in an unrelated thread there are rumours of an ultra-thin Macbook Pro [1, 2] floating around. Presumably this ultra-thin notebook would be a replacement for the old 12-inch Powerbook, and fill a big hole in Apple's current notebook line up. This is something I want desperately, as my own Powerbook can't last forever. However I'm not holding out a lot of hope on that one, it just seems to good to be true. Especially with other rumours hinting at the demise of the 15-inch Macbook Pro circulating at the same time.

The really interesting thing that came up during the last Special Event in September was the iTV. It took everyone by surprise, nobody was expecting it and it hadn't been predicted. The things that people were predicting, the iPhone and the "real" video iPod yet again failed to appear. Like many I'm getting bored by these continued predictions, until it gets a lot closer to Macworld, anyone that claims they have a "inside source" isn't telling the whole truth.

Update: Apple Matters on the nine day keynote...

The AG Consortium Meeting

I don't actually work for the Astrogrid however I am involved with the Euro-VO's VOTech project, which is managed in the UK by AstroGrid, so I'm sitting in on their 11th consortium meeting at MSSL.

Which is how I've come to be sitting in the common room of a country house, which despite being about three quarters of an hour drive from Gatwick Airport, is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. I think it's been at least ten years since I was last at MSSL, and it doesn't look as though the old place has changed much.

Like much of the hard science community in the UK most Astronomy groups are ghettoised into buildings constructed during the early 60's, and despite some notable exceptions, these buildings aren't particularly ergonomic or comfortable places to work. MSSL is an exception to this rule. I'm sure like all old buildings it suffers from a whole different set of ergonomic problems, and like Jodrell Bank it suffers from being badly isolated, however it does have a sense of history which is always sadly lacking in modern buildings.

I just wish it wasn't so bloody awkward to get out here...

Monday, December 11, 2006

How not to pitch...

I'm not exactly an A-list blogger, but I still get pitched by PR firms, which is presumably has more to do with demographics than anything else. However Ryan Block the managing editor of Engadget, who probably has to deal with a few more pitches than I do, is obviosuly getting tired and has published a post on how not to pitch a blogger.

I can sympathise, I recall getting called up once by an IPTV firm based in Vancouver who wanted to pitch their break through technology, and it was amongst the most bizarre twenty minutes of my life. Especially since, in that case, it was certainly not about demographics. I don't think I've ever talked about IPTV in the whole time I've been writing this blog...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Spectacular launch

In the first night launch since the Columbia disaster in 2003 the Space Shuttle Discovery sucessfully took off from Cape Canaveral in the early hours of this morning.

CREDIT: Nigel Cook/AP/New York Times (via Digg)
A shot of the launch from Daytona Beach, Florida

Friday, December 08, 2006

Postage unpaid from Apple?

This report being carried by TUAW isn't good news. Until now if you've had a problem with an Apple product in the UK, and it was either covered under Apple Care or you were willing to pay its way, Apple shipped you a pre-paid container. You packaged up your damaged, broken or malfunctioning product, it was collected by courier, repaired and shipped back to you. All without leaving the comfort of your office.

I made good use of this service when the Ethernet daughterboard on my Powerbook died while I was in Japan and was really happy about the turn around time. At least once I'd persuaded the person at the other end of the Apple Support line that there was a real hardware problem with my Powerbook, and that they really did want to look at it. If true, the demise of the service is disastrous, and a real step backwards from Apple.

However as a major customer I thought I would have heard about this directly from Apple, at least got some sort of notification before it was discontinued. I haven't, so I'm writing this off as a weird rumour until told otherwise, does anyone have any confirmation?

Update: It now looks like this might be a temporary measure brought on by the closure of Celestica's Telford facility.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

iPhone confirmed..?

Well getting off the treadmill is proving somewhat difficult, as founder Kevin Rose has gone and announced the specifications of the much rumoured iPhone in his latest podcast. This is somewhat harder to write off than your average Apple related rumour, as Kevin was the man who correctly predicted the iPod nano before its release. It very much looks like the run up to Macworld in January is going to be even more filled with rumours than normal, and the sound you are hearing is the breaks being taken off the rumour mill...

Update: Gizmodo seems convinced that the iPhone is about to ship?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Stop the presses, I want to get off...

The life cycle of an Apple rumour is surprisingly similar, irrespective of the rumoured product we're talking about. I must admit to being somewhat annoyed at the continued rumours of an iPhone which have been doing the rounds for over two years now, but not as annoyed as some who are obviously at the end of their tether when it comes to the rumour mill.

I don't blame them, the rumour mill is starting to turn into a treadmill as long rumoured products like the iPhone, the Mac tablet and a flash based MacBook Pro fail to appear year after year. I think it's time to drop at least some of the rumour sites from my feed reader, and see if I can somehow make do without the next breathtaking unconfirmed, it's from an inside source, iPhone rumour.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Downsizing Apple?

Monitors that is, at least according to DigiTimes (via Gizmodo) who are predicting Apple will launch an entry level (for them) 17-inch widescreen monitor during Q1 of 2007 to complement their existing 20, 23 and 30-inch models.

As Gizmodo comments, Apple got out of the 17-inch monitor business a while ago and it'd be an interesting move for them to re-enter the market especially with other rumours hinting at the arrival of a 50-inch monitor. Are we looking at an, admittedly somewhat overdue, refresh of the entire line of Apple monitors?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The speed of meme

Is it science or a fairly successful attempt at self-advertising? Whatever, since I'd like to find what speed a meme propagates (via Canspice) across the blogosphere as much as the next man I'm dropping Scott a link in the interests of science. You should do the same...

Update: There is nothing new under the Sun, apparently this experiment has already been done. However this is interesting but irrelevant, the interesting result is therefore now, not how fast a meme propagates, but how has the propagation changed since last time the experiment was tried?

Update: The results are in and apparently the speed of a meme across the blogosphere is "very fast". If the guy didn't actually have the programming skills necessary to do a quantitative analysis of the logs, why did he bother in the first place? The mind boggles...

Where now for the Road Warrior?

As you probably know I was annoyed when Apple failed to offer a replacement for the 12-inch Powerbook, especially following the rumours of something much cooler after Macworld in January.

More recently rumours of flash based MacBooks have started to spread, so I've been hopeful that something smaller and lighter than my current 12-inch Powerbook would come along before it died. But now rumours of the demise of the 15-inch MacBook Pro have started to spread, event the middle road will be closed.

This idea seems insane, as I've talked about before people buying laptops are basically divided into two core demographics. The road warriors, who would kill for another half hour of battery, or half a kilogram less of laptop, and the power users who desperately want another couple of inches of screen real estate, and another hundred gigabytes of hard drive.

If Apple get rid of the 15-inch MacBook Pro, without replacing the 12-inch at all, where now for the Road Warriors?

Phones and electronic paper displays

It was fairly hard to imagine how phones were going to get much slimmer, but it looks like Motorola has found a way. Its new F3 which is now shipping, at least in India, makes use of electronic paper rather than an LCD panel for the display and is only 9mm thick.

The new Motorola F3

While Motorola isn't admitting it explicitly it looks like the display is based on EPD technology from E Ink. Electronic paper makes a lot of sense when you're talking about mobile phone displays. It's a thin, light, relatively high resolution display which doesn't suffer from backlight or viewing angle problems and uses much less power than the traditional LCD. Motorola may be first to market, but I'm going to be really surprised if the rest of the manufacturers don't follow them. It looks like the days of having an LCD on your phone are now numbered.

The (Japanese) Mac adverts

Last week Apple started airing the "Get a Mac" adverts in Japan, and the Information Architects site is carrying an insightful analysis of how the now somewhat iconic adverts have translated into the new market...

Monday, November 27, 2006

Web 2.0 or is it 3.0?

Nick Carr declares that Web 2.0 is dead, and with John Markoff announcing the arrival of Web 3.0 in the New York Times before the paint is dry on 2.0 maybe he's on to something..? Of course somewhat predictably Tim O'Reilly disagrees and argues that we'll get there when we get there, and that Markoff is talking about Web 2.0 anyway.

While only a couple of days after Bill Thompson argues that Web 2.0 is a dead end which is distracting people from building real distributed systems, Kathy Sierra argues that Web 2.0 is more than a buzz word (via O'Reilly Radar). It looks like the whole Web 2.0 argument is kicking off again, and this time people aren't taking any prisoners...

Update: More from Nick Carr, who seems to be going with the Casablanca Test for Web 2.0, "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it"...

Google going Nuclear?

There are fifty crackpot ideas born every second. Working in a University physics department you see a lot of them, earnest treaties on the evolution of the Universe, carefully typed up on an old manual typewriter and photocopied to within an inch of its life, lacking in scientific method and bearing only a tenuous grip on reality. Junk science at best, and Pseudo-science at worst.

So when I saw the Slashdot headline asking last week, "Should Google go Nuclear?" I must admit I cringed, but it turned out to be a serious piece. When someone of Robert Bussard's reputation and record of achievement talks you should sit down and listen, and yes, we are talking about the inventor of the Bussard Ramjet here...

Should Google Go Nuclear?

Earlier this year Bussard claimed that his company had developed an inertial electrostatic confinement fusion process that is 100,000 times more efficient than previous designs. However, the company's funding has run out, and Bussard is looking for more money to continue development, and it looks like he's casting his net fairly wide.

Bussard's talk to the assembled great and the good at Google is an interesting clash of cultures, for one thing I doubt any of these guys sitting in the audience have seen a talk using acetate overheads in since college. However for the physicists in the audience I'd recommend sitting down and watching the whole hour and a half of video, although you might want to skip ahead past the definitions of fission and fusion, it makes interesting viewing.

Phones, lies and video tape...

Did anyone ever make much use out of MMS? How about WAP? Or the supposed killer application which was was going to drive the move to 3G, video calls? No thought not, me either...

The latest attempt by the mobile operators to rake back the vast amounts of money they paid out for the 3G licenses however is mobile TV. You have to ask yourself, why? This is almost as pointless as video calling, the only time I'd be at all interested in using this would be when I'm stuck on a train for several hours, but it's hard enough sending text messages, or trying to keep a voice call going, let alone get a UMTS connection stable enough to stream live TV to your handset.

However it looks like people in the industry are starting share my disquiet about possible adoption, let alone the shaky business model of the entire thing. I'm not even going to mention the possibility of a "real" video iPod turning up and totally cannibalising the market. Why stream live over a shaky UMTS connection when you can just download and then time shift your shows?

Bored by rumours of the iPhone?

How about rumours of a Mac tablet (via TUAW) instead?

The Mac Tablet, not an Apple product or likely to be one?

I'd write this off as total fantasy, but the Apple iTV came at us from pretty much nowhere, so while unlikely I guess it's worth mentioning...

Friday, November 17, 2006

Yet more iPhone rumours?

I've been trying to ignore them, but iPhone rumours are yet again running the Apple rumour mill ragged. We've been talking about the possibility of an Apple iPhone for two years now, and the rumours haven't really changed that much.

CREDIT: iCreate/
This concept image comes from the UK magazine iCreate which has a habit of dreaming up possible new product lines for Apple, and is now over two years old.

Maybe I'm just being cynical from over two years of iPhone rumours which led to nothing beyond the clunky Motorola ROKR E1, but surely if it was ever really going to happen, it would have happened by now?

Update: The latest rumours (via TUAW) are suggesting that contracts have been signed and that Apple are, usually for a handset manufacturer, going to be shipping unlocked handsets. Oddly enough this could actually add weigh to the rumours that Apple might be rolling out their own MVNO. Despite my better judgement, I'm actually starting to get excited about the possibility that an iPhone might finally be more than a long running rumour...

Update: There has to be something wrong here, rumours of a second phone (via TUAW) before the first one even gets released? Have Apple Insider gone totally nuts..?

As agile as a herd of rihno?

Joel Spolsky is one of my favourite dispensers of wisdom, which is why it annoys me so much when he says something so obviously wrong, and especially when he contradicts himself doing it...

This week I've spent most of the week locked in my office with my headphones on hammering out new code, actual new code, to do actual new things I couldn't do before. That felt good, its not something I get to do that often any more now I'm hip deep and sinking fast in operations.

As a project matures more and more time gets sucked into maintenance, support and making sure things only break when you expect them to break. Adding features becomes an incremental thing, but sometimes you get the chance to crank out a really big block of code. These chances don't come along that often and shouldn't be squandered. By ignoring several moderately important "other things", I've managed to compress a month long project and a seriously large chunk of code into a weeks work.

That just wouldn't be possible if I'd had to context switch that much. For really short context switches like people ignoring the sign on my door telling them to go away, or a quick email response, I've found that pausing the music I'm listening to, dealing with the interruption, and them restarting the music will allow me to "check point" the state my head is in and the data structures I've built there while I'm working. I'll still loose ten or fifteen minutes because I won't be rolling along at full speed any more, but the damage is fairly limited.

Longer switch outs are more problematic, in fact there was one point this week where I had to drop what I was doing and do something else. It took me two hours, and then it took me another six hours to carefully reassemble the pile of stuff in my head and get back to where I was before I was interrupted. So that was eight hours gone because I had to drop what I was doing for two hours, there isn't such a thing as a short interruption when you're coding, not really...

I'm all for agile development, but agile development shouldn't mean that you get locked into endless fire fighting or you'll never get those big features out the door.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Now where?

For the last few years I've got my broadband from Plusnet and watched it go from a moderate sized technically savvy company to a sprawling less technically savvy, or at least less responsive, company.

However during the entire time I've been with them I have had no problems and almost no down time, despite numerous hardware upgrades at their end. I've also now got an 8Mb/s connection for what I was initially paying for a 1Mb/s line. So no complaints from me...

Now I hear that they're going to be bought out by BT. I've been with BT, so it's time for a new broadband provider. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The end of the OS?

As Microsoft releases Vista to manufacturing in preparation for its public release in a few months, David Sobotta asks "where is the innovation?", as he rakes over John Dvorak's article in PC Magazine where, as controversial as ever, Dvorak ask whether Vista is a dead end?'s possible that Microsoft is out of ideas, and Apple is out of ideas from which Microsoft can borrow.
Like David, I don't hold Dvorak in high esteem as a technical journalist, I think he's out of touch with what's actually going on but sometimes he makes a good point, and this time he might be right.

Dvorak's arguments that Vista will be the last major version of Microsoft's operating system have a certain ring of truth. However perhaps that's possibly because I agree with him, although for different reasons.

Running with Dvorak's arguement, David talks about the main problem facing Apple right now, the very reason for its current success, Steve Jobs. What happens to Apple when Steve either loses interest in computers, if he hasn't already done so, or since no one lives for ever, up and dies on them? Apple doesn't seem to encourage a culture from which an obvious successor for Steve would organically arise, and like many I'm sure that there is some really worried people in Apple's upper management right now, and of course like Microsoft Vista, you have to wonder where Apple should go from here with OSX?

While there is a growing agreement that out "traditional" view of operating systems might be due for a rethink, nobody really agrees what's next. Well you know what I think, Russell Beattie had it right,
If someone's using a PC to demo the next big thing, then it's not the next big thing... - Russell Beattie
The future is in mobile computing, ubiquitous computing and location based services, and if you're building something that even requires a desktop machine to access you're not looking very far ahead. Whatever happens it's going to be a interesting few years, because we're not just going to go on as before, that certainly isn't one of the options...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

More firmware updates

Hot on the tail of the Macbook firmware update which seems to have fixed the unexpected shutdown problems on the previous generation of MacBooks, it looks like Apple have released a whole slew of firmware updates (via Apple Insider).

There has been EFI firmware updates for the; iMac, MacBook, MacBook Pro, Mac mini and Mac Pro which should fix several Boot Camp, start up, and wake-from-sleep issues.

Apple have also released a Firmware Restoration CD (20.5MB), which can be used to restore the firmware of an Intel-based Macintosh computer, and an update for the Apple X11 framework which enables it to better handle GLX stereo visuals and offscreen rendering to GLX Pbuffers and Pixmaps. Hopefully these firmware updates should alleviate the hardware problems people have been seeing with the new Intel Macs.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Sun to open source Java

Robert Scoble and Tim Bray are reporting that Sun is going to open source Java. This is major news, even for those of us who dislike the language.

I'm mostly a Perl guy. Actually, I'm mostly a non-statically typed language kind of guy but that's another story. However I'll turn my hand to anything at need, I'm not proud, and have written more Java than I really care to remember. So, for me, this is a really good thing.

Why? Well, hopefully it'll give a major boost to Parrot and we'll end up with an implementation of Java running on top of the Parrot virtual machine, which will pretty solve all my problems in a single blow. Of course, Parrot with or without Java, will pretty much solve all my problems. Here's hoping...

Automating Google Earth

A couple of months ago Craig Stanton discovered that Google Earth now had acquired Applescript support.

Applescript is amazingly useful, but scripting applications using it still requires some basic programming knowledge. Which is probably why Apple introduced Automator with the release of Tiger, which allows you to script your applications simply by dragging and dropping predefined actions into a workflow, no coding required.

Building a Google Earth workflow

So the next step is obviously to put together some automator actions for Google Earth, and that's now been done with two such actions; Go To Location and Save Screenshot, having been built around the Google Earth Applescript library and released as the Google Earth Action Pack (GEAP) on

Google Earth for Mac with Automator actions

As Ogle Earth points out this is perfect for building scripted tours with voice overs, although with the limitation that Automator has no easy way of playing prerecorded sound files, so at least for the moment you have to use a synthesised voice.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Two more for the road

Less than a month after the release of the updated MacBook Pro, Apple have just announced an updated MacBook, now with Intel Core 2 Duo inside.

The new Intel Core 2 Duo MacBooks, in black & white...

To be honest, I wasn't expecting an update to the MacBook range until Macworld in January, to coincide with the rumoured design refresh to the MacBook Pro range. Shows what I know...

Monday, November 06, 2006

Deep-Fried Pizza

If there is one thing the Scots do right, it's deep fried pizza. Well it looks like civilisation is, at long last, spreading outside my native land and this excellent comestible is now available in the States (via Slice).

Of course these guys are doing it all wrong. The entire point of deep-fried pizza is that it's the cheapest, nastiest, pizza that you can get your hands on, and as for that green stuff they're sprinkling on it? That just isn't right at all...


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Disassembling the Macbook Pro

The new Intel Core 2 Duo Macbook Pro was only released last week, and already someone has taken it apart (via Engadget and Digg).

CREDIT: iFixit
The insides of the new Macbook Pro

It looks like the worst kept secret in the world, that the new Macbook Pros are shipping with an 802.11n card, is now confirmed.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

iPod shuffle now shipping

The redesigned iPod shuffle

It looks like the new second generation iPod shuffle, announced at the Apple special event in September is now shipping, with Apple just making their predicted October release date...

Update: The official release date seems to be the 3rd of November, but there are still unconfirmed rumours that the device is already shipping, although perhaps not in large quantities?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Wireless monitors

I have a bluetooth keyboard and a bluetooth mouse, why do I have a wire running from my computer to my monitor? Well to be fair, I don't as I've got an iMac, but that isn't really the point. Supposing I didn't, and supposing I wanted to connect to my monitor without a pesky wire running between my computer and the monitor.

CREDIT: Teq Gear
The Teq Gear WID101

Teq Gear's WID101 (via Gizmodo) is the first product that almost gets me what I want. Plug it into your monitor, and then you can stream your video data to the monitor, either over a wired network, or crucially, over an 802.11g wireless network. That means if you've got a wireless keyboard and mouse, your computer can actually be in a whole other room to you while you're typing away.

Why? Well think about hanging a 30-inch Cinema Display on your wall, with your Mac mini safely tucked away out of sight. A bluetooth keyboard and mouse, and you're all sorted.

Problems? Well yes, overlooking the fact that the mini can't drive a 30-inch monitor, the WID101 is as ugly as sin, and not that much smaller than the Mac mini itself. You're better hanging the mini off the back of your monitor and having it in plain sight than using the WID101.

Oh, and it only works under Windows, there isn't any support for Mac OS X, or Linux for that matter. Presumably Teq Gear uses some Windows only software to take your video output, crunch it down, encrypt it, and stream it over your network interface to the WID101.

Oh well, better luck next time...

Firmware fix for MacBooks

Stop heating the up the tar, put away that barrel of feathers, and fire up software update. It looks like Apple have released a firmware update that should fix the unexpected shutdown problem being suffered by the current generation of MacBooks.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A Zettabyte?

The Zettabyte Storage zBox (via CrunchGear and Engadget) is a novel idea. Software like Jungle Disk makes access to Amazon S3 fairly transparent, but this is the first time I've seen a piece of hardware that does the same thing.

CREDIT: Zettabyte Storage
The new zBox from Zettabyte Storage

The real pain with remote storage is the slow speed, it looks like these guys have solved that, at a price.

When you buy a zBox you're not really buying the hardware you're renting it. What you actually take out is a service plan based on how many GB you need to backup, and what you get for your money is a local NAS device which also acts as a staging area for the remote backup to Amazon's S3 service. Because the offsite mirror of your backup is done hourly by the NAS device, rather than your own computer, the slow speed of remote storage presumably isn't really going to be a problem. Especially since if you want access to your files you can pull them from the local copy on the NAS, rather than having to wait for, and with S3 pay for, access to your remote storage. However since you now have two additional copies of your data, one on the local NAS, and one remote on the S3 service, you've got decent redundancy.

An interesting feature is that the NAS box they provide with the service is self-monitoring, and if the device notices the beginnings of a hardware failure, it will notify Zettabyte Storage, who will send you a replacement unit. With a bit of luck the replacement unit might even arrive before your old one fails.

Of course all this comes at quite a hefty price, around US$49 (plus tax?) per month for 32GB of redundant storage. However the price, obviously, will vary with how much you want to store. Their top of the line offering being 740GB for US$299 (plus tax?) per month.

As an aside, one thing I really, really, hate about the Zettabyte site is that they're obviously purists, they're stating their storage in binary GB, rather than the artificially inflated size used by hard-disk manufacturers. That battle was lost a long time ago, and what their doing is only going to confuse people. It certainly confused me, I had to pull up a calculator to figure out exactly what they were talking about.

However for a certain market segment, this is a killer device, and it provides a unique service. I'm just not sure how big that market segment is considering the price of the service plans?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

So now I should upgrade?

On the heels of the update to the MacBook Pro, Apple has also released a MagSafe Airline Power Adaptor. Which is sort of rubbing salt into my wounds, I don't want to buy a 15 or 17-inch MacBook Pro, I want a replacement for my 12-inch Powerbook, and no the 13-inch MacBook is still too large.

This is a really odd thing for Apple to come out with, something like this is designed for the road warrior, and the core demographics of the people buying the current 15 and 17-inch models aren't road warriors, they're the power users. I'm confused here...?

Two for the road

It's been obvious for a while that to keep up with the other manufacturers Apple would have to release a new MacBook Pro with an Intel Core 2 Duo inside. Well, today was the day, and we got our new models.

The new Intel Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro

The only surprising thing here is the timing. Traditionally Apple has held off big announcements until the Macworld conference in January, an not worried about a pre-Christmas release like many retailers. So either this is viewed as a minor update, not worth mentioning, or the Leopard has changed its spots. No pun intended...

Personally I'm still hoping for a replacement for the 12-inch Powerbook, I can't see myself going back to a larger laptop. Having seen the 13-inch MacBook now, even that is a little bit too large compared to my Powerbook. Roll on Macworld...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Get a Second Life?

Along with some friends and in the dim and distant past, around 15 years ago now when I was still an undergraduate, and the web hadn't been invented yet, I ran an LP Mud. It turned out that LPC, the language that you used to create content inside the MUD, was a fairly powerful object-orientated programming language, which did in fact later evolve into a "serious" language called Pike.

It's possible that I wouldn't be doing what I do today if it hadn't been for writing thousands of lines of LPC, it taught me the fundamentals of object-orientated programming in a far more visual way than is normal. If you can "see" the objects being created in front of you, the object-oriented metaphor isn't really a metaphor anymore.

Around the same time, although I didn't read it for years afterwards, Neal Stephenson wrote a book called Snow Crash which established him as one of the better serious science fiction authors of his generation. Unlike many books of the cyberpunk genre, Snow Crash is packed full of dark humour, and satire, and amongst its hideously complicated interweaving plot lines the book discussed how a virtual reality-based Internet, the Metaverse, might evolve in the near future.

When I finally got around to reading Snow Crash about five or six years after Stephenson wrote it, I couldn't help nodding my head. His Metaverse was very similar to what my friends and I had sketched out as the the next step forward for online collaboration. However the hardware and the bandwidth of the time made such a thing virtually impossible, and instead we got the web. But we still wanted the Metaverse, and interim hacks like VRML started to emerge. But as anyone that played around with VRML at the height of its popularity in the late nineties can tell you, the hardware and the bandwidth still weren't there yet.

A "Better Life" in Second Life

Second Life has been getting a lot of press recently as their user numbers soared past the one million mark. When I first head about Second Life I was interested, but it sounded like yet another game. It looked like the twenty first century equivalent of the MUD I played around with in the twilight years of the twentieth. I was wrong, its so much more powerful than that, they've gone and invented the Metaverse while I wasn't looking.

The beauty of what Linden Labs have done is to build and elegant suite of tools to allow content to be created easily. The tools are intuitive, and can be picked up by most people fairly easily, and you don't have to be a programmer or a graphics designer to use them. They're simple enough for inexperienced users to build quite complicated in-game structures, but powerful enough so that a professional graphics designer (almost) wouldn't complain about the features they offer.

If you are a programmer then the in-game scripting language, LSL, is going to be fairly trivial to pick up as it appears to be a bastardised off-spring of C, Perl and Javascript. However the real power is that the language allows you to establish an XML-RPC server as part of an in-game object that is accessible from outside Second Life, and also allows objects to call external HTTP services; basic GET and POST services, but also XML-RPC and even SOAP services from inside the game. Second Life isn't a game, it's a platform.

Big companies have been remarkably quick to pick up on the new platform; you might have seen the stories as Reuters opened an online bureau in Second Life. They aren't alone, in recent months companies such as Sun, IBM, Wired, Adidas, Reebok have all established presences in the Second Life world.

The secret is that the back end data stored at Linden Labs isn't going to change. If, or when, we finally see the back of our traditional flat screen and keyboard interface, then all that has to change is the client side application. The world itself is perfectly adapted for immersive virtual reality. In fact I'd be very surprised to learn that there wasn't someone at Linden working on that sort of things, stereoscopic head mounted displays and force feedback gloves fit perfectly into the paradigm used by Second Life. It's even possible that it might (finally) drive widespread adoption of this sort of technology.

Of course flat files aren't dead, nor are they really dying. After all they're what's underneath everything;
Hiro is messing around in Flatland...his reason for being in Flatland is that Hiro Protagonist, the last of the freelance hackers, is hacking. And when hackers are hacking they don't mess around with the superficial world of the Metaverse and avatars. They descend below the surface layer and into the netherworld of code and tangled nam-shubs that supports it, where everything you see in the Metaverse, no matter how lifelike and beautiful and three-dimensional, reduces to a simple text file - Neal Stephenson in Snow Crash
As a profession, programmers aren't a dying breed either, no matter what some of the media coverage might have us think. But we are going to have to change, we're going to have to work much more closely with graphic designers, or specialise in the low level code that's behind the scenes from the avatar in the street.

Of course we're there already, have you ever seen a GUI designed by a team of programmers without significant input from the potential users, or a decent designer? Programmers produce notoriously bad user interfaces, and awful documentation. With or without the Metaverse we're eventually going to have to fix that, but the arrival of a platform where our code has to look as good, as well as work correctly, is going to speed things up a bit.

We might not have to worry about the Metaverse proper for a decade or more, but this is where things are going. It might not be Second Life, but it's going to be someone, and it's going to be soon. I'd advise anyone that intends to make a career in programming to take a look and come visit me when you do. This, whether we like it, or not is going to be the future. The users like it that way...

Second Life: The Official Guide
by Michael Rymaszewski, Wagner James Au, Mark Wallace, Catherine Winters, Cory Ondrejka & Benjamin Batstone-Cunningham
ISBN 047009608X, paperback, £12.60

Friday, October 20, 2006

Home from ADASS

After a taxi, three airports, two flights, two trains, another taxi, and 23 hours of travelling later, I'm back in Exeter...
Warning: Your browser does not support Javascript, and it therefore can 't load the ADASS tag cloud. Are you reading this in an RSS reader? Try clicking through to the website.
Via Samwise rides again
A Clusty tag cloud, created using their cloud creator.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

ADASS: Day 2 & 3

I must admit to being incredibly slack about blogging ADASS this year, I used to do a talk by talk account of most of the conferences I went to, about the only one I do that for now is OSCON, when I'm lucky enough to get to go that is...

Of course other people aren't being so slack, although Brad, notorious for being slack about such things, is pretty much in the same position as me having only blogged the day before the conference. Perhaps understandably enough, he's been more interested in earthquakes since.

Overall I think ADASS this year has been a good meeting, there has been some good stuff presented, for instance Andrew Connolly presented the work he's been doing while on sabbatical with Google Pittsburgh. Michelle Borkin talked about using medical imaging software to display astronomy data. We have our own medical physics group at Exeter so I think I'll be talking to them on my return to see if they have any experience with the programs she was discussing.

I've also got a lot of work done, and had a bunch of corridor meetings, and it's amazing how much you can get done with those things. I've even finished writing some code. Which can't be bad. I was getting very depressed about he quality of work presented at ADASS, but it looks like my year away from the conference has been worthwhile. Either everyone has picked up their game, or I've returned with renewed enthusiasm. You can't complain...

Update: More from day 1 at ADASS.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Post-earthquake status

The JAC in Hawaii has released some detailed status information on the condition of UKIRT and JCMT after the earthquake on Sunday.

Update: Looks like other people are taking stock of their earthquake preparedness after Sunday.

Update: The earthquake and after-shocks in Google Earth.

More iPhone rumours

I'm at ADASS right now, so I'm not paying as much attention to my news feed as normal, but it was hard to miss yet more iPhone rumours. I'm no longer going to make any sort of prediction about whether the iPhone really exists, or whether it's ever going to actually ship. We've been talking about this for two years now, enough already...

Update: More from TUAW...

Monday, October 16, 2006

ADASS: Day 1

I stayed up last night and wrote some talks, two in fact, both of which I gave today. Unfortunately staying up late meant that the cold I'd been successfully holding off for a week or so finally managed to take a firm hold, and my immune system collapsed under the onslaught. So I'm now having a cold instead of holding one off...

There isn't much news coming out of Hawaii after the earthquake yesterday, but it looks like UKIRT and JCMT have come through intact. During the earthquake JCMT was doing an inclinometry run and Ian Coulson put up a page showing the effects (via Canspice).

Posted via Flickr by aallan
Peter and the GAIA 3D demo...

There was a large contingent there for today's demo by Peter Draper of GAIA 3D, and its support for the Plastic protocol, was very heartening. For those of us who were at the last Starlink focus session at the NAM in 2004, where the project offered free beer, and still didn't draw much of a crowd for the session, renewed interest in what is pretty much a best of breed bit of technology is good to see...

Update: In hindsight I guess the cold was my own fault, if I'd just recycled an old talk then I could have gone to bed a lot early. Actually adding new material in was where I went wrong...

Update: More from day 2 and 3 at ADASS.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Enroute to ADASS

I'm holed up in the Renaissance London Heathrow yet again, this time on my way out to Tucson in Arizona for ADASS. I've got a distinct feeling of déjà vu here for some reason..?

Update: So I'm still enroute, and stuck in LAX...

Update: Finally managed to get out of LAX at ten past eight at night, about two and a quarter hours later than planned. Which put me into Tucson too late to do anything useful, but still too early to go directly to bed, despite it being around seven o'clock in the morning in the time zone I woke up in when I started the day.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Docs & Spreadsheets

Techcrunch is reporting that Google has just launched Docs & Spreadsheets, integrating their previously separate Writely and Spreadsheets offerings. Apart from the new name, which is awful, what else is wrong with this offering?

It doesn't work in Safari...

I can't tell, it doesn't work in Apple's Safari. I'm not changing browsers just to get some random online application working. Even if it does come from Google...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A wireless widescreen iPod?

The rumours about a widescreen iPod have been circulating all year, and after a brief hiatus after the special event last month where we saw the iPod, iPod nano and iPod shuffle all updated, the rumours are back. This time Engadget is spreading the rumour that Apple is about to announce a wireless video iPod.

The much-publicised mock-up of the video iPod

The rumour makes sense, and the timing with respect to the holiday season and the launch of Microsoft's Zune would be perfect. Especially if the iPod's wireless support isn't crippled in the same way Microsoft has done to the Zune, a move which has attracted a huge amount of criticism.

But that said, we've been talking about this for so long, does anyone really believe this stuff anymore?

People in glass houses

Today Nick Carr posted about Mike Arrington and about the possible conflicts of interest between bloggers, the companies they blog about, and their assumed responsibilities to their readers.

For the A-list bloggers, people who are normally up to their necks in the Valley, and might have power to guarantee success or failure for a start-up, much as the old time theatre critics could do to a Broadway show, it's a thorny problem. We all know that Robert Scoble worked for Microsoft, and now works for, other aren't so transparent. But then, surely that's only to be expected?

I think Nick is missing the point, these days we all expect biases in our media coverage, after all, only Fox News is fair and balanced..? I wouldn't take Mike Arrington's opinion as gospel, no more than I'd take Nick Carr's, or for that matter any blogger. The secret is very much in the sauce, read lots of view points and filter out the biased ones. Or not, read only people that agree with you. The choice, surely, is your own?

In the spirit of transparency however; I run adverts from Google AdSense and am a member of both the UK and US Amazon affiliate programmes. I also a member of the TradeDoubler affiliate programme, and links to the UK Apple Store will go via that programme.

I don't make a lot of money off any of this, in fact I don't think Amazon has ever paid me a red cent, and I would honestly say that it doesn't affect what I write in the slightest. But what if thousands, or even tens of thousands, of pounds of click-throughs rested on a positive review of a product? Or people were handing me free demonstration models of the latest technology, or I'd just sunk my life savings into yet another Web 2.0 bubble start-up. Would I be biased? Heck yes, although I'd try hard to take a neutral point of view and acknowledge those biases. You should always take everything with a pinch of salt, even me...

You're holding a telephone

I think Dean Bubley has it right when he talks about mobile search,
...the single most important piece of context information is this: You're holding a telephone.
Most people don't know how to use their phone, and even if they do know how to use it, they mostly use it to make calls and (in the UK and Europe at least) send text messages. Nobody cares about MMS or, the holy grail of the 3G operators, video calling, and after the horribly broken first implementation, they don't care about WAP either.

I'm one of the few people I know, and I know a lot of alpha geeks, that use mobile data seriously. Do you know how I find interesting new mobile sites? I use my laptop. Most of the stuff turned up by the current generation of search tools is either trying desperately to sell me something, or is desperately broken.

If you want me to see and use your mobile site, put a prominent link on your normal website. Please don't use auto-detection as the sole method of figuring out that I'm coming from a phone or PDA, it mostly doesn't work. For instance my Nokia N80 advertises itself as "Safari" since it uses a Webkit based browser, and I'm not going to risk running up my data bill by loading your normal webpage on the off chance that you'll figure out I'm on a phone and send me a light weight version.

So yes, I need a decent mobile search, but not very often. I'm also not entirely sure if everyone else needs it or not, what's your target market here? Are you looking for the early adopters and alpha geeks, or the man in the street? If the later I think you're in for an uphill struggle, they don't even think they need mobile data yet, to them they're still holding a telephone, and considering what's out there I don't blame them.

Mobile search isn't the killer application for mobile data, there is very little out there to search yet, except an unending stream of sites selling ring tones. Build the killer app, and then figure out how to index it...

Update: I'm obviously poking the holy cow with a stick here because I've had a sack full of email today about this, so lets make one thing clear, I still think that the next big thing will be mobile computing. The desktop paradigm we all live with today is dead, but mobile search? That isn't the next big thing, it might be next big thing three or four iterations down the line, but first we need some content.