2 June 2008

Twitter Blog: It’s Not Rocket Science, But It’s Our Work

In which they confirm that everyone who participated in the technological development of Twitter should be shot. What the hell do you expect to achieve with memcached and just a couple SQL servers on such a write-heavy service?

3 June

Apple Store au Carrousel du Louvre

Je suis à moitié surpris qu’ils aient choisi, pour leur premier Store français, un endroit où la vitrine ne pourra pas être visible depuis la rue, mais il est facile de voir ce qui peut attirer Apple au Louvre (et puis c’est moins loin de chez moi que les Champs). Ils vont sûrement payer un alpiniste pour accrocher une pomme géante en douce au milieu de la Pyramide sans que personne ne s’en aperçoive.

Goosh

“The Unofficial Google [Command-Line] Shell.” Cool, and nicely done.

4 June

NeXTcube Burning.

As a former chemist, I was attracted to the NeXT’s magnesium case for a different reason: magnesium burns with a brilliant white flame.

Barbarians. Ah, but that’s not a stupid “Will it blend?” stunt, but a vintage 1993 magazine cover… stunt.

“Michael Birch’s first social networking sellout a blowout”

Michael Birch sold his self-admitted Friendster clone, Ringo, to online dating site Tickle for a pittance. He came to see that as a mistake, and went on to found Bebo, which he sold to AOL for a giggle-inducing $850 million.

Mmh. Mmh. Mmh. What? Oh, no, nothing, just mulling.

5 June

“Mac OS X 10.6 code named Snow Leopard”

Here’s why I don’t believe it:

  • Snow Leopard is a stupid name, no matter how much sense it might make for the upgrade to be derivative of Leopard (as in, not much, actually)

  • I don’t see, at this point in the life of OS X (and the life of Windows Vista, as well), Apple releasing a full upgrade that doesn’t present “sellable” new features

  • Leopard doesn’t need all that much optimizing; OS X performance has already steadily improved release after release

  • If it’s just an optimization pass over Leopard, and it’s marketed as a subset/variation of Leopard, it would be insane, and insulting, to choose that release as being Intel-only

 

Yet here’s why I’m not so certain:

  • It’s very much like Apple to leak this a week early so that we can prepare ourselves and not be too surprised when it’s announced

7 June

9 June

If you’re going to miss a keynote because you’re on the train, it might as well have been this one.

10 June

WWDC ’08

Just finished watching the video on iTunes and, yeah, I’m bored out of my skull — and thankfully I wasn’t locked up in a theater, and I wasn’t even following it live with anticipation, knowing full how uneventful it had been.

 

iPhone 2.0:

You’ve got to wonder what the hell they were thinking when they planned the SDK part of the keynote: the demonstration of Interface Builder makes sense since this is a developers conference, but six hours of mostly boring third-party app demos? Really?

About development: from the way Interface Builder works, it looks like it would be rather trivial for existing apps to run on slightly bigger screens. And notice how the very simple example they demonstrated was able to change orientation when you tilted the phone? Come on, don’t tell me Mobile Mail still won’t do it in July.

The Push Notification Service, letting apps push icon badges or sound effects to the user to notify them of new content, is a pretty clever way to go around the limitation of not having background applications, but it’s got a huge drawback: push only works if the server is willing to implement the functionality. Maybe AOL and Google will provide clients with push updates, but MSN isn’t, and you will never have an Adium-like multi-protocol client notifying you of new messages (unless the developers decide to provide intermediary servers of their own, and sell the iPhone client to pay for those). Same thing for Twitterific: unless Iconfactory dedicates a bunch of servers to storing your login credentials in the cloud and updating your timeline, only a first-party Twitter client will be able to push messages to your iPhone.

I wonder why Electronic Arts wasn’t there this time; the other games were okay, but kind of a letdown in my opinion — not as pretty as the best PSP games, and in some cases clearly demonstrating the limits of a button-less control scheme (forget about action games, and I say driving games will quickly get bothersome). Typepad is nice, because it’s simple; there’s no need whatsoever for an eBay app, and the Associated Press app was lame. Band looks very cool (I understand that it already exists for jailbroken phones but, hey, now you’ll get to pay for it), and what’s nice about the Loopt geolocation is what it prefigures of forthcoming Google and/or Facebook applications.

And, amidst the hundreds of demonstrated apps, no sign of an IM client (although they were mentioned in the Push Notification Service introduction), and no new apps at all from Apple, whether free or on the App Store — where’s my Remote Desktop client? As far as the core OS goes, the news was even more dire: no video recording or video chat, no MMS, no copy and paste (which I’m only listing because everybody else is, even though I understand Apple’s choice on that matter), but a scientific calculator (OMG) and contact search (OMG again). And it’s so frustrating to have confirmation that you’ll be able to draw Chinese characters with your finger, but not the regular alphabet. Come on now — just because the Newton did it doesn’t mean you should never do it again.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year and a half since the introduction of the iPhone OS, and Apple has almost been sitting on its hands all this time — they’ve been working a lot behind the scenes, obviously, to implement the SDK (and finalize what was essentially released as a beta OS), but there’s hardly been anything new on the interface front. Meanwhile, Google’s Android has gone from “better than Windows Mobile” to “arguably better than iPhone” in the last three months, and there’s no telling how good their final product will be. I’m not quite regretting I chose the iPhone yet, but I’m definitely having second thoughs about it today.

Well, I’m kind of having second thoughts about all of Apple now, but the difference is that, as listless as the Mac division might have gotten (and it all boils down to Apple spreading themselves too thin, doesn’t it?), there’s no viable competitor to Mac OS — but there might soon be one to the iPhone.

 

iPhone 3G:

Just like the 2.0 OS (and I’m separating iPhone 3G from the software side because the new OS will be available to everyone for free), a lot of stuff people were expecting still isn’t there. No front-facing camera for video calls, no 32GB model (yet)… isn’t it a pretty boring hardware update?

So it gets faster with 3G, of course; and it has GPS, which is appallingly underutilized by the Maps application (look at the Android demo from a week ago to see what can be done — Apple’s application doesn’t even tell you which direction you’re facing! Please don’t tell me there can be GPS in the iPhone but no compass?). Ah, and the headphone jack is flush with the phone’s body; was I really the only one who liked Apple’s original choice and how it put less strain on the jack when the phone was stuck in your pants’ front pocket?

It’s funny that, just a day before the keynote, I read a very interesting and credible explanation of why the iPhone needed to have a metal back even though it forced an ugly black plastic butt on the designers: because the metal plate was used as a heatsink. Guess the new chipset doesn’t get as hot anymore. Which would be consistent with the improved battery life.

So am I going to upgrade? Hard to tell, and it depends on the price, obviously — but seeing as how AT&T’s subscription will apparently be $10 more a month, with no revenue sharing with Apple, I’m thinking telcos will have every incentive to make their customers an offer they can’t refuse; chances are that would give them an opportunity to upgrade existing contracts to the new, more profitable clauses.

 

Mobile Me:

The “Exchange for the rest of us” tagline scares me. A lot. Have they actually licensed all of Exchange Server? Is that what it’s come to — in 2008, Apple moving all its software and server platforms to Microsoft Exchange?

The web apps do look pretty cool (although they’re not nearly as revolutionary as they like to think — and lack of IE 6 compatibility means you shouldn’t really cound on them to make yourself at home on any computer you sit at), but it all boils down to a very simple question: Do you trust Apple? I’ve never used .Mac personally, but it I kinda recall hearing that… it sucked and was completely unreliable. Now, who would really believe that, because they changed the platform’s name and they hired a couple good Javascript developers, they suddenly learnt how to operate a gigantic data cloud? Steve showed side-by-side comparisons of network performance on the iPhone and iPhone 3G; if he wants Mobile Me to take off, maybe he should show the same humility regarding .Mac and explain that they learnt from their mistakes and they invested in a dozen data centers across the globe. Which I don’t believe for a second that they did.

The only thing that could really give long-time users faith in Mobile Me would have been the long-rumored (or, more accurately, long-wishful-thought) partnership with Google. But, with the latest Android demos, I wondered if the relationship between Google and Apple would change, and I say that it has: there’s no new software joint venture on the iPhone; the addition of GPS to the hardware platform only warrants the most minor update to the Maps application; and Apple pretends to go after Google Mail and Calendar with Mobile Me.

By the way — that’s a stupid, ridiculous name.

 

OS X Snow Leopard:

Of all the week-old rumors that have come true yesterday (and this had to be the most thoroughly leaked Steve Jobs keynote ever), this is the one that still baffles me most. The name is stupid, the idea is stupid — people were already complaining that Leopard didn’t bring enough new features, and they’re going to come out with a new release that doesn’t bring any? Oh, yeah, there’s QuickTime X, that’s huge (and it’s so totally part of the OS, and won’t be available for Leopard — or Windows, for that matter). And Exchange. And whatever.

And the information page doesn’t list hardware requirements, even though the update is scheduled for next year so they’re probably pretty much set in stone by now, so you can assume that it actually does drop PowerPC compatibility. (Which might have been revealed, under NDA, to WWDC attendees.)

I would have hoped that they were planning to include multitouch functionality to the OS, and that would explain why they’re not talking about the new features yet, but if they did I don’t expect they would have chosen such a derivative code name.

 

Damn, this was such a depressing, hopeless keynote. Ah, screw this, I’m even too demotivated to write the French translation.

11 June

iPhone SDK agreement specifically forbids real-time route guidance

And I thought the iPhone 2.0’s Maps application was bad:

Applications may not be designed or marketed for real time route guidance

This is the paragraph of the SDK license agreement that takes care of everything Apple doesn’t want to be held liable for — if an iPhone crashes while displaying CPR instructions or running a Boeing’s auto-pilot system, for instance — and I understand the motivations but, geez, talk about shooting yourself in the foot. No GPS navigation, ever? I’m not going to spend the whole summer repeating how Google’s street view and navigation system is Android’s killer app, but come on now. We’re gonna reach a point when the only thing the iPhone has for itself is iTunes integration.

12 June

Sketchbox

I’m always on the lookout for the right way to store notes — free-formed and structured enough at the same time. Right now I’m making text clippings on my iMac’s desktop, and it’s a bit messy and doesn’t quite scale (while long-term notes end up in Yojimbo where I never look at them again).

Sketchbox is an interesting take on the classical virtual Post-It paradigm: the sticky notes live inside an iPhoto-like window, and zoom in, QuickLook-style, when you double-click them. Plus you can overlay text and drawings on each sticky (with support for tablet pressure sensitivity).

Problem is, the concept is interesting but the development doesn’t really seem to follow. It’s all a little bit off and laggy and lacking a bit of polish. Not ready for public consumption at all, as far as I’m concerned.

14 June

Seamless Hackintosh install on a USB stick

16 June

Telling Folders

I’ve been waiting for this ever since the release of Leopard, with its new 512-pixel recycled folders: Telling Folders lets you customize folders by integrating any kind of images or icons on top of them (and it looks nice more easily than with previous versions of OS X, because the folders face the screen now).

Functionality is limited (you can’t move or resize the overlaid image — and it’s a bit small — and so far they’re missing the opportunity to also allow colorizing the folder icons) but the resulting icons look nice, and the application is free.

17 June

Goddamnit

That’ll teach me to recommend Time Machine, and occasionally Time Capsule, to everyone around me. It’s entirely possible that my external hard drive is faulty (even though Disk Utility doesn’t see anything wrong with it), but whatever the technical reason, and no matter how valid it may or may not be, the one thing that’s inexcusable is that error message (that I’ve gotten four times in a week): it doesn’t inform me in the least about how the state my backup is in. Is my whole Time Machine screwed up? (Apparently not.) Are the files I modified in the last hour lost for the cause? Or will OS X try to copy them again next time?

Chances are the last possibility is the right one (well… let’s say I hope it is, but I know Apple, and I heard about the silently failing incremental backups from the Backup app), but my data’s integrity absolutely not a place where I should be left guessing.

OS X will forever remain that operating system which had an upgrade release that wiped out all connected external hard drives.

Firefox 3 is out

…so much for that world record.

18 June

“Stewart Butterfield’s bizarre resignation letter to Yahoo”

Can this have legal value? (Well, it’s an email, so I guess it’s just announcing a more straightforward physical letter.)

iPhone Developers Roundtable

The Macworld podcast has a mostly pointless, rambling interview with three prominent Mac/iPhone developers, from which I did pick up one thing I didn’t know, even though it had been rumored earlier (don’t know whether I missed the announcement or it hasn’t been widely publicized): it seems like the iPhone 2.0 has Bonjour, and any third-party app (such as OmniFocus in this case) can synchronize data with your Mac over your wifi network (if you don’t have wifi, that’s a good reason to get a Time Capsule).

The Apple Design Awards page only mentions that OmniFocus can “sync with your desktop via .Mac or WebDav,” so I’m not sure whether the Omni developer leaked a secret functionality he wasn’t supposed to mention yet, or the application under-utilizes Bonjour in such a way that it isn’t worth a mention — according to his description, you only use Bonjour to connect to your desktop OmniFocus and find out the settings for synchronization over the internet, not retrieve the data itself.

I understand that Bonjour sync would be limited in that you have to open each application you want to sync, one after another, whenever you’re on your home network (since they can’t run in the background and update their data silently), but it’s still quite a worthy alternative to paying for Mobile Me or setting up a WebDav server yourself.

And, if the technology is in the phone, iTunes better end up using it.

19 June

“Powerset Unveils iPhone-Optimized Wikipedia Search”

I like iPodia better: nice iPhone interface that displays the Wikipedia page pretty much like a computer does, minus the crashing on Mobile Safari. (Whereas Wikipedia’s wap version doesn’t crash but splits the contents into far too many pages.)

23 June

Drag text to Safari’s dock icon for quick Google search

Not that I’m going to use it personally, but it’s pretty cool when you know you can basically drag text away from any OS X application.

24 June

“Blogger avec plaisir”

Parce qu’il y a encore des vieux de la vieille qui se souviennent de quand les blogs n’avaient pas encore été envahis par le marketing sous toutes ses formes. Et qu’ils ne sont pas tous taris comme moi. “Plaisir.” Hmm.

25 June

Okay, official disclaimer: Google Mail / Google Apps POP keeps crapping out on me these days, so I may receive your email a few hours late.

iPhone OS 2.0 to offer secure data wipe

It’s all in the “This will take about an hour” (they didn’t have room to add “and eat one month out of the flash memory’s lifetime”). One good reason to upgrade your first-gen iPhone’s software before you resell or return it.

26 June

Orange dévoile les offres de l’iPhone 3G

A 150 et 200 € pour 8 et 16 Go respectivement, ils ne font pas trop d’efforts — mais, contrairement à AT&T, les prix des forfaits n’augmentent pas, apparemment (quoiqu’au cours actuel du dollar ça doit revenir au même).

Un plan pas très ambitieux, donc, mais qui s’accompagne d’une offre spéciale pour les early adopters que je ne comprends pas bien : cent euros de ristourne sur l’achat d’un iPhone 3G, et pas d’offre de reprise. Aucun doute que le marché de l’iPhone d’occasion va s’effondrer en juillet, mais pas au point qu’on ne fasse pas des bénéfices en revendant l’ancien pour s’acheter le 3G ; ce qui m’échappe, du coup, c’est qu’Orange laisse ses abonnés faire ce bénéfice alors que tout le monde était prêt à accepter une offre de reprise à cinquante euros, où c’était le client qui payait et Orange qui gagnait de l’argent.

Pourquoi passer chez Orange, si vous n’y êtes pas encore, alors que vous pourrez acheter dans quelques mois un iPhone première génération, état neuf (les propriétaires d’iPhone en prennent soin), désimlocké légalement (puisqu’Orange est obligé de débloquer les téléphones six mois après le début du contrat), pour quelque chose comme 300 € ?

CCTV Cameras

Pervasive security cameras don’t substantially reduce crime. […] Conventional wisdom predicts the opposite. But if that were true, then camera-happy London, with something like 500,000, would be the safest city on the planet. It isn’t, of course, because of technological limitations of cameras, organisational limitations of police and the adaptive abilities of criminals.

Image Fulgurator

The Fulgurator is essentially a slave flash (it uses a photosensitive cell to trigger the flash when another camera’s flash is activated; it’s very simple, feels a little magical and I’ve got several I use in studio shoots) that projects an image onto any surface you want when someone else takes a picture — basically hijacking their photograph and inserting any invisible message or pictogram into the image. Which works particularly well to trick tourists, as they tend to use their flash for everything when they shouldn’t.

The video is too long, but you’ve got to watch it until the end; it is fucking awesome.

 

P.S. The Brains Behind the Image Fulgurator.

27 June

NrMe (Near Me)

Here’s an interesting take on the confluence of geolocation and Twitter (how much more fashionable can you get?): the messages you post on the service are received by everyone in a 500-yard radius around you. You don’t follow people or anything, you just see what people around you have to say or ask — which, now that I think about it, kinda boils down to a chat window in an MMO.

I think the stupid name and the iPhone-centricness (there are other geolocating phones, you know) of nrme aren’t going to help much, but I can’t wait for other people to steal that idea and improve on it. If you can mark the local gold farmers as spam.

30 June

I didn’t notice Twitter outages so much when I didn’t get a daily “today’s downtime” tweet from the blue bird.

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