September 27, 2003
Bowling for Columbine
I just finished watching Bowling for Columbine (So, Frank, have you heard about this show "Friends"?).
I like Michael Moore; I was one of the five viewers of TV Nation, and greatly enjoyed Stupid White Men.
My perception of Bowling for Columbine was clouded by the blogosphere, where many pro-gun advocates have tried to take Moore to task for making a dishonest movie, or an unfair movie, or taking advantage of Charlton Heston's senility. Moore has answered most of their criticism in a new post on his weblog.
Anyway, my perception of the movie, based on coverage in the media and the blogosphere was that it was a film about guns, strongly advocating gun control.
It's not. Moore emphasizes his NRA membership, and I don't think he's a member just so he can throw people for a loop. Moore's point isn't that guns cause murders, or that too many guns lead to a high murder rate (some of those he interviews suggest this, but I think Moore disagrees). I base this on the fact that the movie leans so heavily on Canadian society, where 7+ million guns in about 10 million households exist side-by-side with a murder rate that's orders of magnitude lower than that of the U.S.
No, the movie is about what most of Moore's works are about: social justice. To the extent that Moore offers an opinion on the cause of the U.S. murder rate, he suggests it's the gross inequity in our society, with millions of Americans without health care, welfare vanishing through "reform", and the gap between rich and poor widening (now with the help of an administration focused on paying off the fat cats that got them appointed). Every one for himself; anybody else is probably out to rob or kill you. "I stick my neck out for nobody," growled Bogart in Casablanca, and it's practically the American motto.
Update: I'm watching the DVD extras, and Moore explicitly makes some of these points there.
In our neighboring liberal democracy in Canada, as Moore points out, the system recognizes that all of us can do only so well as the least of us, and therefore makes an investment in health care, education and fighting poverty.
Moore takes a social justice approach to international affairs, as well. He clearly believes that (to borrow from Holy Grail) the violence inherent in the system when we invade Panama, or Afghanistan, or Iraq, or back dictators in Iran, Kuwait, or Iraq, teaches everybody that kicking ass is the way to solve problems.
Looking beyond the politics, this is a terrific movie. Moore isn't a journalist. He's a storyteller, happily sacrificing objectivity to deliver truth.
September 22, 2003
I had an e-mail from a site called Word of Mouth Connection. My spam filter caught it, but it caught my eye before I deleted it, and I checked it out.
The e-mail and website claim that someone was looking for information about me, and that someone else, who had dealt with me in the last year had information to provide. You can't see who the requester is, or who the source is.
I did a little looking around, and found the above weblog post, from July at Wizbang! It looks like the whole thing is a scam intended to get curious cats to cough up $20 to use their anonymous e-mail system.
They harvested my e-mail address from here on NotD, I'm sure.
September 21, 2003
Ispiri-serve: Bringing file servers home
PCWorld previews the Mirra personal server from Ispiri, a cheap ($399) 120-gig file server running Linux aimed at home and small-office users.
Looks like they're another company that sees a few pieces of the puzzle that I envision as an iServe.
They get the small size and headless operation, the importance of being able to access the server securely from anywhere on the net, and the need for seamless integration (they ship client software that automagically syncs your user directories to the server).
What they don't get: the need for the box to be inclusive (they back up both kinds of computer: Windows 2000 OR Windows XP), the value in running web applications like e-mail and a web-server on your home server, and the need for backups that can be moved off-site.
And that's not to mention tying in to home entertainment, the phone, TV, and Apple's .Mac service.
This is ... a chance to drive revenue
Unfortunately CNN is no longer available through the PDA AvantGo service.
Coming Soon, CNN will be introducing exciting new content and services for your mobile devices, simply enter your email address to receive the latest information.
I'm looking for a minimal page for CNN, even though the main page works all right with my phone's browser, anygraaf's Doris Browser.
I've submitted my e-mail address for updates, but here's another example of CNN trading off viewership for (what I suspect will be) premium services.
September 15, 2003
Pray that there's intelligent life somewhere out in space...
...'cause there's bugger-all down here on Earth.
I had never visited Ken Kifer's terrific bicycle transportation pages (which were built on solar-powered laptops), but I see on Metafilter that he was hit by a drunk driver over the weekend and killed.
Didn't take long for the knuckle-draggers to appear, as the first comment was "Oh, the irony, if the drunk had a Darwin Fish bumper sticker."
And hey ... let's be careful out there.
And apparently, Intel will have a 64-bit chip ready to go about 10 minutes before desktop users need them, and not a minute before.
I guess this marks the first time in the history of computing that at least some users couldn't make use of all the power that manufacturers could provide.
September 11, 2003
Meet the iServe
Here‘s what would make my Tuesday perfect. I would like for Steve Jobs to take the stage at Apple Expo Paris, and take some time to discuss the new “Panther” release of OS X Server. “It has a built-in VPN server, improved SMB networking to better support Windows users, improvements from FreeBSD 4.8 and 5, QuickTime Streaming Server 5, better setup, management and monitoring tools,” Steve would say. “With our OpenDirectory 2 handling directory and authentication, it‘s the state-of-the art for simple, robust, scalable file serving.”
“But,” he continues, ”We think there are thousands more people out there who really need powerful file, printer and application services, and we started to think about either lowering the price or sweetening the deal for our customers. Then it hit us: What if with every $499 copy of our 10-user OS X Server, we threw in a server?”
Curtain rises, crowd gasps ... There, on a table, are a couple of small, sexy boxes, about the size of the ill-fated G4 Cube, but with the latest Apple styling. “Introducing the iServe,” Steve would say.
It‘s been a little more than 10 months since I first started thinking about, and discussing, the iServe. Other people have put forth their vision, notably SpamDude, and Santiago has even envisioned an iServe ad.
The general idea of the iServe is a home file and application server that could really become the digital hub of a household. It would start out by bringing e-mail, calendaring, and contact-sharing that are common in the business world to the home, small-business, and education market, but ideally, would move beyond that to take an active role in managing the technology of your home, including your telephone, television, and even HVAC and alarm system.
If this doesn‘t interest you at all, you can stop reading now, because I‘m going to go on at length about what would make me an early adopter, and how I would like to see an iServe designed and marketed.
Apple could launch an iServe as an OS X-only product, but as with the iTunes Music Store, it will be more successful if it supports more platforms, including Windows, OS 9, and Linux, as clients. As much as possible, the iServe should leverage open standards like vCal and LDAP, so that Apple doesn‘t have to create PC software that interoperates only with the iServe, and so that users can choose client software that fits their needs.
- Target markets for the iServe are:
- Home users with multiple computers and broadband connections
- Small workgroups: especially project teams
- Included software:
- OS X Server 10-user
- Weblog software
- iCal server software
- Mail server
Don‘t neglect the importance of small workgroups in marketing the iServe. Apple‘s LaserWriter sold into big companies so that creative teams could output high-resolution documents. Today‘s office is more often organized around ad hoc project teams, put together for specific projects. The iServe is just the right size for a typical project team of 3-10 people, and could keep their project-related calendar, data, and web site on one computer that‘s in their control.
If your whole company is only a dozen people, then the iServe would work for you, too. Won‘t that siphon off Xserve sales? I don‘t think so. The Xserve is clearly a product for the data center, and most workgroups don‘t have access to a data center. The iServe would generally ship with the 10-user version of OS X Server, with customers paying for the upgrade to Unlimited.
The thing that differentiates the iServe, as with all good Apple products, is the software, so let’s look at it first.
File and print services: It goes without saying that this product needs to be able to serve files and printers. You could make an argument for it to be the first Mac with a parallel port, to support the widest possible range of printers.
Web serving. This is, of course, a standard feature of OS X, which includes Apache out of the box. The iServe would also include software to serve a weblog and photo gallery, webalizer, and MRTG.
Other Apple products that would tie in with the iServe:
.Mac and Backup: .Mac is a product in search of an identity. It started out as a vanity e-mail address, but most people seem to use it today as a simple backup mechanism, and a place to get the occasional free program.
The iServe could go a long way toward providing real, indisputable value through .Mac. Apple should expand .Mac to include dynamic DNS service (like DynDNS and No-IP), and every iServe should ship with a 1-year membership, and a free domain registration. It should be Apple-easy to configure the server to serve web pages through a consumer-grade router, and to set up VPN tunnels between the iServe and machines on the public internet, as when you carry your PowerBook to work, to Starbucks, or on a trip. Don’t make users unnecessarily open their iServe up to attack to use them from outside the firewall. All software configuration should be through the web, although it would be okay to provide OS X tools that make it easier, so long as the box can be administered from any machine on its network.
From inside the firewall, the iServe is an extension of .Mac: users can back up their files to the server, and if they’re using OS X, it can happen automatically through Backup. The server administrator can then set particular directories, or classes of directory, to back up to .Mac, for additional peace of mind. In iSync, next to the .Mac icon, would be an icon for your iServe, and each user could choose to sync their data to one, both, or neither.
If you build a website that’s too popular to support from the iServe on your DSL or cable modem, the iServe includes software to transparently migrate to .Mac managed hosting, available starting at a few dollars a month (and hosted on Xserves for the insanely brand-loyal).
There are two issues with e-mail support on the iServe, both relating to spam. Since most ISPs don’t allow SMTP servers on their networks, the simplest and most open solution -- to have the iServe as the SMTP server for whatever domain it’s associated with -- probably won’t work. I suppose the best we can hope for is to set up the iServe to receive mail with your domain name and to use your ISP’s outbound server as the default outbound server. The second issue is e-mail filtering, and there’s another value-add for .Mac. If you’re a subscriber, Apple will distribute new filters whenever another yahoo updates the Sobig virus.
iCal/Address Book: When a user attached to an iServe creates a calendar or a contact, there should be an option to publish that item to the iServe, where other users could subscribe. On my home iServe, Christy could create a “Midvale PTA” calendar that I could see in iCal, and that other people could see through the web (or iCal if they‘ve got it). The iCal server software should also be smart enough to periodically update a calendar that lives on a PowerBook when it‘s logged in, and note on the published calendar when it was last updated.
This also means that Christy and I could update each other’s contact information, so I get new phone numbers from her family, and she gets new ones from mine. By default, these things are for inside-the-firewall only, but the system administrator can easily share groups of contacts or calendars across the net, as with PTA calendars and contacts, soccer schedules, etc.
And please, please, please, include iPhoto in this scheme, so that the iServe could automagically build a master archive of all the digital pictures on all our computers, or at least in all our copies of iPhoto.
iTunes/iTunes Music Store: I should be able to listen to music shared by other users on an iServe, and to share my music with them.
So much for the steak, what about the sizzle?
Television: Rumor is that Steve Jobs doesn’t like television, but he would be a strange techie indeed if he doesn’t like TiVo. One iServe option would grab video as scheduled by server users, then use QuickTime Streaming Server to stream the captured video over the network. This could be a big seller in education, as teachers could build and share collections of educational programs.
Telephone: The iServe would include a modem with voice capabilities, and software to manage your calls. When someone calls your number, they might have to enter a PIN to leave a message, or might enter a code to choose the recipient of the message. The iServe would then generate an e-mail or SMS message (or even phone you!) notifying the recipient of the new message, which they could retrieve through secure login over the internet. Small businesses could use the iServe to handle their voicemail needs.
On the low end, selling for family use, there’s very little here that would require as much horsepower as the current low-end (800 megahertz G3) iBook, but for reasons of economy, it might make sense to build the base iServe on that platform, without battery, LCD, or keyboard. Swap the 4200-rpm 2.5” drive for a cheaper and faster, full-size 3.5” drive, and switch out the Radeon 7500 video card for the cheapest thing that will work -- iServes aren’t meant to run with a display attached. I think Apple could hit the $499 price point here. You’re looking at an iBook motherboard with a cheaper video card, a 60-gig drive, 256 megs of memory, a CD-ROM and a plastic case. The only upgrade would be to gigabit Ethernet. Certainly there’s nothing there that should cost more than a low-end Dell or Gateway desktop.
Of course, Apple would rather you spent more, so there are a lot of add-on goodies. Almost everyone would spend $99 more to get AirPort Extreme, especially folks who were early AirPort adopters, but now have Extreme machines still using their graphite base stations. Most people would upgrade the hard drive and memory as well, and those are profitable upgrades for Apple. And of course you could upgrade to the unlimited OS X Server for less than the $500 difference in the retail packages.
Certainly, you could back up the whole server across the internet, but there are a number of optional backup drives available, including DVD-R and tape. If you really back your machine up, the tape is absolutely necessary. I recently backed up my PowerBook for the first time (since February), and it took 5 DVD-Rs and several hours.
If you want to one-up the neighbors, you’ll want the G4 iServe, starting at $999 (and yes, it comes with OS X Server Unlimited, so again, the hardware and software are the same price as the retail software). Equivalent to the 1 gHz eMac, with lower-end video, no display, AirPort Extreme included, 512 megabytes of memory and a 120-gigabyte drive.
From Mac OS Rumors (which doesn’t support permalinks, but posted 9/10/03):
Details are still sparse and unreliable, but one major feature that sources have been discussing is integration with Safari, and Apple's Web site. Apparently, a feature is being developed to allow users of "iOffice" to upload their work to a central sharing site, where others can use the documents as templates for their own projects. This could make the jobs of a great many desk-bound workers much easier, and although the legal details are still being worked out, apparently the system is already being used internally by some Apple employees.
Update: Another column about an iServe was here at AppleLust, where Pierre Igot uses the term to describe a more entertainment-centric box, that resembles an Apple version of the Media Center PCs many clone manufacturers are shipping.
Toshiba’s iServe-like platform: Toshiba says it “provides a platform for solution developers to reach a variety of vertical markets via software bundling and add-on optional devices that increase productivity.”
It’s the basis for New Millennium’s turnkey FileMaker Server product:
Ikon actually sells a unit they call the iServe.
September 09, 2003
Intel's pocket server project
Intel has done research into a personal server, a tiny Linux box with a web server and wireless connection, that is intended to give users access to their data from anywhere. It’s an interesting approach, but it overlooks one hard-and-fast consumer law: People don’t want to carry more stuff around.
Would I use such a device if it was built into my phone or my iPod, the two gadgets that are most likely to be by my side? Absolutely. But the best solution of all is not to put my critical data on a portable device that’s subject to theft, loss, dead batteries, and corporate IT policies (do you want users bringing in gigs and gigs of who knows what on a device that expects full peering privileges on your network?).
No, the right answer is to accept and accelerate the necessity of always-on broadband. My personal server is accessible from anywhere in the world, and is totally invisible, weightless, and massless as I wander the planet. It doesn’t slow me down explaining it to the airport security staff, and I don’t have to make sure I’ve plugged it in before going to sleep, lest I be unable to get any work done the next day.
My personal server lives in my house, where it occupies a quiet corner of my office, sucking whatever power it needs from a wall socket, and whatever bandwidth it needs from the DSL connection, and letting me log in securely from all over the world. What’s better is that it’s not just my personal server; my family can use it, and you’re reading my inane (insane?) chatterings off it right now.
This is part of the promise of the product I imagine when I discuss the iServe (about which more later this week). The Intel project is smart to realize that a computer that doesn’t have to support a display has a lot of advantages in this sort of project, but it’s dumb if it believes that any product based on this technology would better serve customers needs than a 40-gig iPod.
September 07, 2003
I have and like my ElGato EyeTV. I very much liked the interface when I first used it, but now, after a few months, I realize that it's one of those programs that demos well, but doesn't deliver when you really use it every day.
It's very easy to set up one-time or recurring recordings, and almost trivial to edit the recordings to chop out commercials once you've got them. The software has been pretty reliable (there have been a few times I've found the application unexpectedly closed, and missed recordings). The CyTV project (which I haven't set up yet) reportedly lets you stream video from EyeTV to remote machines.
The central weakness of the system is what the program does with MPEG movies once it captures them. Each program and each recording are given random names. My folder holding Simpsons captures is '000000000437c2f8', and the most recent capture inside of it is '00000000050bfe05.mpg'. After using the program for a while, I've gotten fairly adept at figuring out what's where by checking timestamps, but I can't imagine it would have taken a good developer more than a day to come up with a human-readable scheme for naming the files and folders.
Since it's unwieldy to manage the raw data in the Finder, the only way you can easily manipulate the movies is from within ElGato's software, which knows how to associate your programming to the raw data files. Unfortunately, every single recording you make stands completely alone. It doesn't group your recurring programs (in a "The Daily Show" folder, for instance), and doesn't let you shift-click to delete multiple recordings.
When I came back from vacation, it was a major pain to delete old shows, and transfer others to DVD. It should be a single click and drag operation to eliminate all the recordings of a given show or to delete a contiguous block of shows (for instance, everything recorded before last Thursday).
There are also a number of auxiliary files that share space with the recordings. Each recording has 1 '.eyetvi' file and one '.eyetvr' file associate with it, and each program has a '.eyetvp' file.
If I were creating a sensible structure for EyeTV's data, I would give each program a folder with a name taken from the title the user gives it or adopts from the associated guide program, like "The Simpsons". Directly inside the folder would be the movies, with a title + date stamp name like "TheSimpsons090703". The auxiliary files would be in another folder, possibly called "EyeTV files".
If I wanted to get really fancy, I would also create a folder called "By Date", which would contain aliases to the MPEG files of shows recorded on that date. This would make it much simpler to go grab last night's episode of "The Daily Show" to transfer to my iPod, or transfer a show to a different computer so Sophie can watch it.
By letting the user manage files through the Finder, parts of the EyeTV program would become a customized Finder browser, which would encourage users to store files around the entire filesystem, not just in the EyeTV archive.
Ideally, of course, EyeTV would also support a client and server, so that a) remote machines could schedule recordings, and b) the server could notify users of scheduling conflicts, and c) the server could stream shows to the remote clients.
September 06, 2003
Sophie starts soccer
Here's a shot of Sophie before her soccer game today:
After a winless first season last year, her team won 11-2 in their first game, with Sophie getting one of the goals.
You can compare this shot to the fairly limited shot (which is what the photoblog programs support) below for quality.