Hi! My name is Cédric Bozzi, I make websites and iOS apps, and this is my blog about technology (mostly a Twitter archive, really).

1 June 2005

Google Translator: The Universal Language:

At the recent web cast of the Google Factory Tour, researcher Franz Och presented the current state of the Google Machine Translation Systems. He compared translations of the current Google translator, and the status quo of the Google Research Lab’s activities. The results were highly impressive. A sentence in Arabic which is now being translated to a nonsensical “Alpine white new presence tape registered for coffee confirms Laden” is now in the Research Labs being translated to “The White House Confirmed the Existence of a New Bin Laden Tape.” […]

This is the Rosetta Stone approach of translation. Let’s take a simple example: if a book is titled “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” in English, and the German title is “Also sprach Zarathustra”, the system can begin to understand that “thus spoke” can be translated with “also sprach”. […]

Now imagine this: you specified you speak English only. What does the Google Browser do when it encounters a Japanese page? It will show you an English version of it. You wouldn’t even notice it’s Japanese, except for text contained within graphics or Flash, and a little icon Google might show that indicates Auto-translation has been triggered. After a while, you might even forget about the Auto-translation. To you, the web would just be all-English. Your surfing behavior could drastically change because you’re now reading many Japanese sources, as well as the ones in all other languages.

It looks so simple to design, the way they put it.

Like any Windowsian, when OS X was originally released I had nothing but lust for the transparent background window titlebars (the same that gave birth to horrendous blue titlebars in every X-like skin for two years). I’m sad, so sad, ready to cry, that they disappeared before I even had the opportunity to actually meet them. And what was wrong with them anyhow? (Besides not quite working with Steve’s beloved brushed metal windows?)

2 June

3 June

Humilité on the blogs:

Contrary to what most people think — and particularly the many reporters who interview us about the topic — blogs are absolutely not platforms for an ego to be stroked. You see, a personal blog is the exact opposite. It’s an entirely unexpected modesty teaching.

If I am to submit what I learnt from my [limited] experience, I’d even say blogs are uncannily violent to their authors. Whatever the level of assurance you may have when you begin, you’ll find a multitude of responses: from the people who jump at your throat every little misstep you take to those who’ll ignore you a bit too ostensibly, or the hard to please readers who’ll demand their daily fix.

7 June

So What Is Rosetta, Anyway?:

Of course, trying to sell my iMac G5 to finance a future upgrade is now likely to make me lose quite a bit of money, and the fact that I’m sitting in front of a machine that will depreciate steeply until 2007 is a major pain. That I’m not happy with at all, no matter how good the hardware is.

Agreed, definitely. If I had known this was coming, I’d have gone with the Mac mini in a heartbeat (which would be a pity, actually). Can’t imagine how Apple expects to sell any high-end hardware for the next year or two.
 

I’d hazard that 10.5 (Leopard) might well be the last PowerPC version - and that 10.6 is likely to be Intel-only.

Geez, they’ve been maintaining twin versions of each OS X version since 10.0 — you’d think they’d at least be able to go through with this until 11.0.
 

One thing’s for sure: Windows emulation is going to be one hell of a lot faster, and a lot of speculation is certain to be heading down that road soon.

Indeed.

9 June

Apple & Intel: What you need to know [via]:

Will my Intel-based Mac be able to run Windows?

It seems likely, although Apple won’t support it. Someone will probably figure a way to install Windows on a Mac system so that you can choose to boot into either OS X or Windows. In addition, consider a future version of Virtual PC that lets you run PC applications at full speed, on a window within your Mac (or on a second monitor). There are some intriguing possibilities here for Mac users who must use Windows applications some of the time.

But if all Macs one day will be able to run Windows, won’t application developers stop creating Mac versions of their programs?

It’s possible, but not very likely. Mac users are Mac users because they want to run software in the Mac interface. The large software companies that publish programs on the Mac understand that, and so do the small Mac developers who are making the coolest OS X apps around.

…and other questions and answers, but I’m quoting these because the second one is unseen before, and particulary interesting. Even though the answer they give here might be a tad optimistic.

Picking up the pieces: John Siracusa mourns the Power PC [via]:

I can think of two reasons, both of which probably contributed to the end result. First, it seems like IBM promised Apple something that it failed to deliver: a 3GHz G5 one year after the 2GHz G5 was announced. Steve Jobs stood on a public stage and declared it a fait acompli […] Now Jobs is angry at IBM, and an angry Jobs is not pleasant to deal with. […]

And IBM doesn’t really care who wins [the console wars] because they get paid for every single unit sold: Sony, Nintendo, or Microsoft. What’s 5 million Macs a year compared to 20 million game consoles? And over 5 years, IBM can sell the “same chip” (maybe with fabrication refinements that save IBM money anyway) up to 100 million times.

[…]

Many a “PC weenie” has been won over to the Mac side by the allure of strange, new hardware. For CPU geeks, its the same. Look no further than our own Hannibal whose slow ascent to PowerBook glory was guided by a fascination with AltiVec, plentiful registers, and an orthogonal ISA. Sure, x86 has the market-share and usually the speed, but is it elegant? Does it turn the CPU geek knobs all the way to 11? Is it sexy? No, not really. In fact, it’s pretty darned ugly. […]

It will pain me to know the contortions that instructions are going through in an x86 CPU inside a Mac.

See also the definition of AltiVec, before it’s dead. And I know most of my readers are annoyed at my quoting long geeky articles about Apple and stuff, but it’s not so easy and quick for me as it seems, since I have to make a French translation each time (Heavens know why, for the past couple of weeks I started translating quotes again, in order to feel useful or something).

11 June

What’s Really Behind the Apple-Intel Alliance:

People close to I.B.M. said pricing was a central issue, while Mr. Jobs insisted on stage Monday that I.B.M. had failed to meet promised performance measures. […]

In the end, Mr. Jobs was given no choice but to move his business to Intel, when I.B.M. executives said that without additional Apple investment they were unwilling to pursue the faster and lower-power chips he badly needs for his laptop business.

Via Daring Fireball, which sums it up:

In other words, it’s not that IBM couldn’t keep up, it’s that they wanted Apple to pay for the development costs for the new generations of chips.

Finally an explanation that really makes sense.

13 June

7.2 Megapixels In Your Pocket:

One of the coolest things about the video capabilities, however, is what people have been calling “Tivo-mode”. In this mode, I can keep pointing the camera for however long I wish and when I hit the shutter button, the camera begins recording from 5 seconds in the past. You can imagine how useful this is when you’re at an event and you want to catch the action but you’re not sure exactly when that may be. Why waste recording time when nothing is happening?

I’ve been wondering for a while why every camera doesn’t do that — why everything doesn’t work that way, now that we’re technically capable of it (at the expense of battery life, of course, in all cases where there’s a battery).

22 June

La fin de l’email:

Even my friends spam me, sending me the same e-mail messages over and over again, never stopping until they get a reply.

Bad friends, change friends, don’t you think? You’ve got to know how to teach them: my friends know full well that, if I don’t answer a message, I will later — or not at all. And they get used to it. To show you how it works: I almost haven’t got any left now.

We wouldn’t accept that from any other communication medium (imagine for a second if, out of 10 incoming phone calls, seven were dialing errors or purely commercial calls; who’d still answer their phone?).

Oh, but I thought that was exactly the way it was going in the US? And in my room, too, actually: I don’t know exactly who had my number before, but I got so tired of receiving daily mistaken calls (granted, I get very easily tired of getting calls) that I simply unplugged my phone. Which isn’t much of a bother, since I never get legitimate calls anyway (see previous paragraph).

And, as I am reading it, it becomes clear to me that instant messaging (Skype or other) is far from a simple amusing gimmick, but can really constitute a viable alternative to e-mail.

Chat would be a viable alternative if you could trust users to choose the best available system, or at least not the worst: everyone I ever talk to insists they want to chat with me on MSN, the only IM system that doesn’t allow you to send a message to an offline contact. I don’t know whether it’s because it’s included in Windows, or that the MSN client is the one that lets you play most easily with avatar pictures (and webcams), and I don’t know which of the two options is more depressing.

Not to mention, of course, that using MSN, ICQ, Yahoo or AIM implies to trust a single centralized server (well, not for MSN, though, since it doesn’t store messages). If I’ve got to choose, I’d rather trust my personal communications to the care of Wanadoo and OVH than Microsoft or AOL. Uh, well, okay, even as I write this sentence, I’m not so sure anymore.

But there remains the question of communication quality. And if you’ve ever had a chat with a MSN regular you don’t need me to get into the specifics.

23 June

Patent absurdity [via]:

If patent law had been applied to novels in the 1880s, great books would not have been written. If the EU applies it to software, every computer user will be restricted, says Richard Stallman. […]

Here’s one example of a hypothetical literary patent:

Claim 1: a communication process that represents, in the mind of a reader, the concept of a character who has been in jail for a long time and becomes bitter towards society and humankind.

Claim 2: a communication process according to claim 1, wherein said character subsequently finds moral redemption through the kindness of another.

Claim 3: a communication process according to claims 1 and 2, wherein said character changes his name during the story.

If such a patent had existed in 1862 when Les Misérables was published, the novel would have infringed all three claims — all these things happened to Jean Valjean in the novel. Hugo could have been sued, and would have lost. The novel could have been prohibited — in effect, censored — by the patent holder. […]

You might think these ideas are so simple that no patent office would have issued them. We programmers are often amazed by the simplicity of the ideas that real software patents cover — for instance, the European Patent Office has issued a patent on the progress bar, and one on accepting payment via credit cards. These would be laughable if they were not so dangerous.

As it happens, claims 1 and 2 are pretty close to covering the story of the novel I had planned to write. Is that sign destined to encourage me to actually get started, or to find another idea?

P.S. Unless the absence of comments on this post is a sign that nobody gives a damn.

26 June

Each week since OS X’s release introduction, the same topic comes again and again in one of the many feeds I subscribe to: is Dashboard really useful? And, pretty much every time since the very first announcements (because the concept was already quite familiar, due to Konfabulator), the answer’s been: No.

It’s time for me to weigh in (like I have a weight). I still think the same way I did when I first tried Konfabulator on Windows: it’s useless because almost nobody really comprehends the concept’s (huge) interest.

Those who criticize Dashboard always bring up the same point: everything it does, websites and software utilities do it better. If you don’t use the calculator often, you don’t want to waste a tenth of your screen space (and your RAM) to keep it displayed in your Dashboard; if you do, pressing F12 then having to point and click to activate it is less convenient than using alt-tab or Quicksilver. And the same applies, of course, to all those widgets that give you access to websites. What’s the point of keeping Google, Amazon or whatever in your Dashboard when you can have them in your Safari bookmarks (or, then again, in Quicksilver)?

That’s because nobody — including Apple’s own developers, it seems — has realized that the whole point of Dashboard isn’t to offer access to utilities but to display information. Press a single key, have access at a glance (as opposed to anything requiring additional mouse clicks) to all the information you can need: five-day weather (Apple widget, I didn’t say they were completely off-base), current iTunes track (AlbumArt), your iCal schedule (iCal Events, and you can also find to-do-list widgets), your online contacts (AdiumList, there are iChat equivalents), and… and… oh, right, that’s pretty much all of it, because informative widgets aren’t many — particularly considering that such information often needs localization (TV schedules, traffic info, etc.). Among the good ideas I don’t have a use for, you can also find Apple’s Stocks widgets, webcam and photolog displays, or rudimentary RSS widgets, which can be (transitorily) useful to people who don’t know about aggregators yet. And that’s about it, and that’s far from crowding my 20-incher. Because most developers are looking for ideas in the wrong direction.

Forget utilities. Just think of what information the users might want to keep just a click away. Or a non-click, more accurately. The great strength of Dashboard is that it only takes a keypress, or a shove of the pointer in a screen corner, to display a screen where each piece of information is always at the same place, where the eye immediately knows where to find what it’s looking for — it has a memory you mouse pointer doesn’t have.

Think: portal. Even Google is going this way now, if you don’t believe me.

Now if only the international geek community read my blog, I wouldn’t feel like I’m talking to myself here.

P.S. The presence of the dictionary and translation widgets on my Dashboard’s screenshot is not in total contradiction with my post, for a reason: I don’t know any application or website grouping both functionalities in a clear and convenient way — but I’ll probably get to make my own webpage displaying both in frames. As for the screenshot and password widgets, they’re small, more practical than the corresponding utilities (every rule has its exceptions), and considering how much free space there’s on my Dashboard I can definitely afford to leave them there.

28 June

The new iTunes does podcasts, there’s almost nobody in the Language / French category, and Engadget made a howto (for Mac, and a long time ago) about podcasting Skype conversations. It’s time to get to it.

P.S. Apple has often been criticized for their habit of restricting iTunes functionality with each new release, in a bid to keep all the majors happy. And now they offer, right within the iTunes Music Store, a whole bunch of podcasts that quietly, and freely, redistribute mp3s. Right click, “Convert Selection to mp3”, and the track is now in your iTunes library. Isn’t there a little problem here? If I had a music podcast, I’d be particularly afraid of subpoenas right now.

Google Earth is available for free [via] and you must download it.

I had recently read a post detailing it while it was still (I think) in beta, and it looked quite impressive. Well, turns out it is, indeed. The contents are less detailed for Europe than the US (and even less for Smallville, obviously), but it’s still interesting enough; and the screenshots don’t show the globe animating to follow the mouse or to move smoothly from one place to another.

You’ve got to try it if you’ve got a PC (they promise a Mac version is on the way — oh, and you’ll need broadband and a decent video card, too).

P.S. Google Earth should be made compulsory in every school. Fat chance of that happening in France.

29 June

MacDailyNews Exclusive: Leaked images of Motorola Apple iTunes phone?

A purple candybar that lights up green, with a mock clickwheel on the keypad?! I never had much faith in Motorola, and I already thought Apple had made the worst possible choice for a partnership, but I never could imagine something so outlandish.

Hell, it’s so insane it might even work.

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