January 15, 2008

MacBook Air=Portable Cube

MacBook Air @ Macworld
MacBook Air @ Macworld,
originally uploaded by viejomoeb.
I was excited about the rumors of an Apple subnotebook being announced today. I've loved what Apple has done in this space before, and have been a regular user of all three generations of Mac subnotebooks — the PowerBook Duo (I had a 230c), the PowerBook 2400c, and the 12" PowerBook G4.

Having watched the keynote, and gone over the specs with a fine-toothed comb, I'm mostly disappointed. The MacBook Air is a very sexy form factor surrounding some very ordinary parts -- you've got an iPod hard drive, integrated video that burns 144 megs of system memory, and 2 gigs of RAM that it appears are permanently attached, and cannot be upgraded. Unlike every portable Apple has ever built, the battery isn't even user swappable.

I initially thought Apple might take this opportunity to introduce a new form factor in between the MacBook and MacBook Pro that would, in a year or 18 months, serve as the model for the next revision of the MacBook. Such a machine would skimp a little in comparison with the Pro, but likely offer a dedicated video card, standard laptop components cleverly packaged, and an LED-backlit widescreen display.

Instead, what we got strikes me as a “café computer,” one that will be fine for e-mail and weblogging, but that I don't see using for on-the-go video work (there's not even a FireWire port) and that won't even open Photoshop. To better manage heat and power consumption, Apple has designed in a 1.6-gigahertz processor, significantly slower than a standard MacBook (and at least nominally slower even than the processor in the Mac mini). Instead of the commodity hard drive, a 5400-rpm Serial ATA model, the Air gets a 4200-rpm Parallel ATA model in the iPod's 1.8-inch form factor.

Apple has provided one option that could mitigate the machine's performance handicap a bit: A solid-state hard drive, currently 64 gigabytes. Unfortunately, building that drive in is a $999 option!

It's beautiful, certainly. Apple's design aesthetic seems to be collapsing in on itself, leaving just a single word: Thin. Beveled corners, like those on the iPod touch, make the Air's edges visually sharp, while the drop-down ports, required by the crazy thin-ness of the case, are very cool.

But it's beautiful at a price. Here's a machine for travelers that won't be able to connect to the in-room ethernet. Here's a machine that can't simultaneously handle a keyboard and mouse unless the keyboard provides USB pass-through (lots don't). I find myself wondering if it's true: You can be too thin.

Sitting here 10 hours from the keynote, the Air doesn't remind me most of the late, beloved 12" PowerBook or the 2400c, still my favorite computer of all time. The Mac it reminds me of is the Cube. Like the Cube, it's beautiful, offers little expansion capability, and looks pricey when compared to its Apple stablemates.

January 15, 2008 in Apple, Apple - General, Apple - PowerBooks, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (3)

March 09, 2007

Frank's favorite podcasts

So the new job comes with a new, longer commute, and I'm spending an hour a day in the car. With local Atlanta radio only getting worse, the iPod has been a tremendous relief, and I find myself listening to mostly podcasts, and comparatively little music.

My favorite, linked above, is KCRW's Martini Shot, by Hollywood writer and producer Rob Long. This week's edition, “Writing for Free,” is especially entertaining, and touches on blogs, insulting writers, a new twist on the accounting game I've heard described as “Find the Hat,” and the online home of Ken Levine.

Another favorite has been the Penn Radio Show, an hourlong show by Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) and Michael Goudeau. Unfortunately, while loading last week's shows onto my iPod, I discovered they're pining for the fjords just when they got Eric Idle committed to an interview.

So, I've been shopping for new favorites, and can heartily recommend Leo Laporte's slate of podcasts, including This Week in Tech and MacBreak Weekly, whose latest edition had me zeroed in: Battlezone! The IIfx! HyperCard! Poopr!

Also unlikely to survive the day they get downloaded are NPR's This American Life and Wait Wait … Don't Tell Me!, and HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher.

I've been studying Cocoa a little bit, and so have also enjoyed Late Night Cocoa, by Steve Scott, a Windows developer stepping into the light, and finding his way partly by talking with experienced Mac developers about their areas of Cocoa expertise.

Does anybody have any other suggestions I ought to be checking out?

March 9, 2007 in Apple - iPod, Atlanta, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 11, 2007

iPhone 4+ years in the making?

Nicest of the Damned | isync + ical + ichat + inkwell = iphone?

I'm not usually one to self-link, but I'm getting some Google hits on the short post linked above from August 2002. It references a John Markoff story, now lost to the New York Times TimesSelect product, but the abstract is pretty prescient.

Remember, this is from August 19, 2002:

Apple Computer reportedly weighs introduction of hand-held device that would combine elements of cellphone and Palm-like personal digital assistant; forthcoming Macintosh OS X, Version 10.2, is being marketed as improvement for desktop computer users, but it has features that make more sense in hand-held device than desktop; move would play into Apple's so-called digital hub strategy, in which Macintosh desktop computer is center of web of peripheral devices of Steven P Jobs, Apple chief executive...

By the way, my very next post, later that day, was on a cool new RSS aggregator, called NetNewsWire, then in version 1.0b13.

January 11, 2007 in Apple, Apple - General, Apple - iPod, Apple - Software, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 20, 2006

Why no Mac viruses?

Daring Fireball: Jackass of the Week: Larry Seltzer

John Gruber goes off on the latest Windows-centric pundit to declare that the only reason Macs are essentially virus-free is that nobody's interested in them.

Seltzer's summary graph:

Opinion: The verdict is in: OS X is as insecure as anything out there, but somehow nobody—including attackers—cares.

Gruber focuses on the inconsistency that the Mac supports a healthy software market, likely one proportionate in size to the Mac market compared to the Windows market, but the Mac malware market is “nearly zero.”

Gruber misplays his case, however, when he says “Mac OS X’s malware market share hovers near zero (as did the classic Mac OS’s a decade ago).” Both Gruber and Seltzer seem to believe that the Mac has just never supported a virus-producing community. This is dead wrong.

The Mac environment wasn't always virus-free.

Once upon a time, I ran a few public-access labs at my university. These labs suffered several virus outbreaks, most notably catching WDEF before it was discovered in 1989. We also would occasionally see MDEF, nVIR, and Scores. The Mac's market share then was a little higher -- a little under 10 percent, versus 5 or 6 percent today -- but it was still a minority platform, with the great majority of computers running DOS or Windows.

And yet, there were 10 or 20 viruses running loose in the classic Mac OS ecosystem (compared to hundreds for DOS/Windows), and there are none running loose in the OS X ecosystem (compared to hundreds for Windows). Since the hardware was at one point exactly the same for either ecosystem, the difference must be in either the software or the user base.

But the OS X user base is decidedly more capable of creating a virus than the classic Mac OS ecosystem. Plenty of “alphageek” nerd users have made the switch, attracted by Apple's elegant hardware, (figuratively and occasionally literally) transparent interface, and Unix-y base. The only thing about the user base that discourages malware production is that most people who know enough to build a Mac virus can make a nice living as a programmer or administrator, so why foul the nest? Still, the number of users capable of generating theoretical Mac malware must be at least 5 times as large as it was before the release of OS X.

So if it's not the user base, it must be the software. The Unix security model is more secure than the pre-Vista Windows model, and must take the lion's share of the credit for the lack of OS X viruses. There may eventually be Mac OS X viruses, but to claim the reason there are none is that the platform is irrelevant is more than a little bizarre.

November 20, 2006 in Apple, Apple - Software, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

November 04, 2006

Finally, a candidate we all can get behind

Tired of all the political ads this season? Here's one candidate who tells it like it is:

Josh Jennings for Congress

November 4, 2006 in Seen browsing, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 28, 2006

Flickr gets (geo) tagged; why not everything?


Flute practice
Originally uploaded by Frank Steele.
TechCrunch | Flickr To Launch Geo Tagging Today

I don't have a GPS receiver yet, but lately, I'm fascinated by some of the possibilities they present.

Flickr is adding an official Geotag interface today, joining some of their competitors. (It's already frozen up Camino on my machine, when I tried to tag some existing photos).

The Flickr implementation, using Yahoo! Maps (of course) is pretty slick, making seamless use of Ajax, and determining how precisely to tag your photos by how far you're zoomed in when you set their location. I've tagged most of my "out of town" photos, and it was straightforward to set up, and to browse other pictures from nearby. It may get a little clunky when there are 5,000 pictures of or from Alcatraz, but for now it's working well.

Click on the picture above, and you'll see it was shot in “Cleveland, Ohio” -- if you then click on the “map” link, it overlays a hybrid satellite/map view focused on the specific location of the photo.

This seems like a component of the perfect portable blogging machine, one of my ongoing quests. The Nokia E61 and E70 have my attention, since both offer full keyboards. The E70's camera is great for a phone, but not a major factor for me, since I don't think I would be happy using even a good cameraphone for images that matter to me. My ideal would be something like the UMPC tablets, but running OS X, and with EVDO or another always-on networking technology.

For now, the smallest blogging tool I've found useful is my 12" PowerBook -- it's the smallest thing that lets me be reading something on the web, click a bookmarklet, and be ready to type a post with the link pre-filled.

Add in GPS, and you could automatically note the location where you took batches of photos, geotag your blog posts, note stores, parks or other attractions you want to be able to find easily later, keep track of restaurants you like or hate, and a million other things.

I know you can do these things in Google Earth, but that presupposes always-on internet access, and so far as I know, few (no?) standalone applications are supporting integration with Google Earth or similar apps. What I'm thinking would be great would be a system-level geotagging interface: One menu selection tags the foremost document with your current location, accessible through a geotag update to Spotlight.

There's so much going on in the mapping space (is that a pun?) -- what's out there for the Mac that's letting me treat it as more than another separate application?

August 28, 2006 in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 21, 2006

Who'll buy a Zune?

Gizmodo | Exclusive Microsoft Zune Details

So details are beginning to leak about Microsoft's next iPod competitor, the Zune.

To recap for those who aren't following closely, Microsoft has decided to ditch its many hardware partners who have been part of the PlaysForSure initiative, and to recreate much of what has worked for the iPod. Instead of competing hardware providers offering a confusing mix of players, the Zune will be Microsoft-branded, allowing Redmond to keep control of the whole user experience, in the same way Apple does with the iPod.

PlaysForSure (which is, at best, on life support now) also allowed a plethora of online music stores, as Microsoft hoped to leverage brands familiar and credible to a variety of consumers, including MTV's URGE, Napster, and Wal-Mart. The Zune will apparently debut a monolithic Microsoft music store, much like the iTunes Music Store.

The single thing that I get the least is that the Zune is supposed to be Microsoft's "iPod killer for Christmas 2006", but it's apparently slated for release in mid-November.

Contrast that with the original iPod, which was released in October 2001, and was still widely considered a mistake long after the 2001 Christmas season had come and gone. Only wide-eyed Apple fanboys (like me) and people who had suffered through the hackish, inferior flash-based systems that came before (like me) were buying iPods for Christmas 2001 (and yes, I remember there were other hard drive players before the iPod).

So enter the Zune. There aren't really a ton of Microsoft fanboys out there, since Microsoft's hardware offerings are currently limited to Xbox, keyboards and mice. The Zune that's emerging from leaked stories around the net doesn't appear to offer any generational leap features when stacked up against a video iPod or nano. It's got a beefier processor than the current iPod video, but the next-gen iPod is expected Any Time Now.

There are hints of a Zune that interfaces with your Xbox, but those are out somewhere in the gray murky future. As a PSP fighter, leveraging Xbox titles, letting me transfer saved game state and highlight films to other Xboxes or the internet, you've got something new and interesting, but for now it's roughly on par with the iPod for features. WiFi may or may not ship with the first-gen box; there's a menu item for it in the prototypes.

For now, it appears the killer app at launch will be FM transmission and reception, so that you could listen to my Zune's music from your Zune, encouraging social sharing (but not sharing like file sharing, since you couldn't then take my music with you). They'll also include content at purchase, including EMI music videos.

From a marketing perspective, Microsoft faces a difficult task: They've got to simultaneously launch a brand, a device, and an online service, and they've got to do it between mid-November and Christmas, or concede another holiday season in which the iPod will get even more entrenched with consumers. From a decade-long perspective, it could happen, but it's not a threat to iPod hegemony for Christmas 2006.

My prediction: This thing won't sell well until it can move beyond the iPod.

Some Zune blogs:

Zuneluv | Microsoft Zune and Podcasting

Notes that there's been no discussion of support for podcasting in the Zune details released so far, and that Microsoft is likely to include content at purchase.

Zune Insider Blog

August 21, 2006 in Apple - iPod, General computing, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 14, 2006

iTunes 6.02: Now with video sharing

With all the attention on the new ministore presentation, no one seems to have noticed that iTunes 6.02 enables video-sharing to your local network. Whether it's intended for an upcoming home media appliance or not I don't know, but it brings videos up to par with music.

Neither Apple's main iTunes page nor its “Share & Stream” page mention this, and the Share & Stream page refers multiple times to “music sharing,” but it's definitely enabled, as the screenshot below demonstrates.

video_sharing_in_itunes.jpg

Once you've installed iTunes 6.02, that machine will publish a “Videos” playlist, visible to but not accessible by iTunes 6.01.

There's still some weirdness going on. I've upgraded to 6.02 on my wife's iMac, and I can't see two videos she bought with an earlier version of iTunes. From my daughter's partition on my G5, I can stream a music video she bought Thursday (probably with 6.02), but can't see two movies I converted to .m4v format after capturing them on my EyeTV, even though they show up as Videos in iTunes.

I'm experimenting now to see if I can figure out a way to make the older videos show up for sharing, and how to export EyeTV movies that can be shared. If you have any insight, please e-mail me.

Update: Blue Coconut, the application for downloading music from a networked playlist, works exactly the same with video files.

Update 1/19: Welcome Digg.com readers. I'm still looking for info on how iTunes decides which videos to display (I encoded a TV episode the other night, and get full audio, but only a still frame when I try to stream it). If you have any insights, please comment.

January 14, 2006 in Apple, Apple - Software, General computing, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (12)

June 14, 2005

Amazon recommends either really well or really poorly

So today I had a new experience with Amazon.com: I'm waiting on a book that was supposed to arrive about the middle of last week. This morning I checked, and the book was loaded on the UPS truck, headed my way.

I'm sitting in the office today, and I get an "Amazon recommends..." e-mail. Something about the book seems familiar, so I click through, and it's the book I'm waiting for Amazon to deliver!

It seems to me that the sophisticated recommendation algorithm might skip those books that it has reason to believe you already own ...

June 14, 2005 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 21, 2004

Dumbest spammer ever?

From: Citicards <Bxxxxxxxxe@radiomexico.com>
To: Fsteele <my_email_address@mindspring.com>
Subject: CITI_bank e-mail Veerification - my_email_address@mindspring.com
Date: Wed, 21 Jan 2004 12:22:17 -0500
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

Dear_ Citi-Card _Members_,

This leter was sent _by the Citibank_Online server to
veerify your_ _E-MAIL_ adress_.
You muust ctmolpee this pcosres by clicking on the link
bellow and enttering in the litle winndow your citibank_
_Atm full card-nummber and PiN that you use on_the local ATM.
That is done for Your protection -O- becourse some_of our
members no lgneor have acescs to their email adseresds
and we must verify it.

http://citi-cards.net:<lots of percent-encoded crap removed here>
 
To veerify your _e-mail_ addres and acccess _your_ CITI_bank
account, klick on_the_link _bellow_.

6x9brVIUwmJ2GtBjic

Note that the link is actually above, not _bellow_. Note that this wasn't even sent as HTML mail, using Citibank graphics and web design. Note that the spelling, punctuation, and use of "the little window" are so comical as to render the scam harmless, even if the recipient didn't notice the "@radiomexico.com" domain of the sender. Presumably, Citibank doesn't send a lot of e-mail out from that domain.

Ah, for the good old days, when internet thieves took pride in their craft.

January 21, 2004 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack