Archive for July, 2010

Quick first impressions of the Magic Trackpad

July 31st, 2010 Comments off

I just picked up one of the new Apple trackpads.
(by the way, that is not my hand. Do I look like a hand model to you?)

Anyway, here are some super fast first impressions:

The device ships with 2 Energizer batteries already installed.

No software comes with it; there is a little sticker telling you to go to the Apple web site to download the drivers

Even though I downloaded and installed the drivers in advance, when I powered on the trackpad, it didn’t automatically get discovered; I had to manually add it as a bluetooth device.

Once added, the trackpad works exactly like you expect; same as on a Macbook.

The surface area is very big, which is nice to use with a larger desktop display as you don’t have to worry about your finger sliding off the edge.

The angle of the device is much higher then the default Apple wired keyboard. This isn’t that big a deal but it looks kind of funny.

The four-finger swipes don’t seem to be well detected, and even when they are detected right, you can’t just keep swiping to switch apps; one swipe brings up the tab switcher, and then you gotta do things manually.

Most other gestures work pretty well, but a lot of apps don’t support the fancy gestures. I wish there was a way to send a key event with a gesture or define custom gesture. Guess we need to wait for the inevitable third-party drivers.

Safari scrolling works fine, but the momentum thing isn’t really noticeable.

In iPhoto, rotation and pinching work great, but weirdly, pinching doesn’t zoom when you are viewing a single photo, only when you are viewing a library (to make all photos bigger or smaller).

Categories: Apple Tags:

Keep Lawrence Weird

July 30th, 2010 5 comments
Grandpa Simpson

This morning I had one of my weirdest Lawrence experiences ever. I was having coffee at Z’s chatting with Dave and a friend, and out of nowhere, this elderly gentleman comes up and hands each of us one of the little free KU football schedules that pretty much every business in Lawrence hands out this time of year. The guy then hands us a couple copies of this xeroxed, hand-written screed and says we should read it, and then kind of shuffles away.

This was bizarre enough on its own. I actually kept the sheet to read, hoping I would get to enjoy a good rant about the gold standard, Lyndon LaRouche, and how fluoride in our water supply will cause all our precious bodily fluids to become poisoned, making it easier for the Communists and illegal immigrants to take over.

I mean, it’s not every day you get someone to care enough to write out a manifesto in longhand, old-school style.

Alas, I was disappointed. The sheet, which is reproduced below in all its glory, appears to be a random series of words, strung together in a manner that suggests grammar and sentences, but without actually meaning anything. I’m not kidding…seriously, try to read the text below and make any sense of it.

I'm not sure what this says

I'm not sure what this says

Maybe it is a secret code, perhaps pointing the way to Leonardo Da Vinci’s fabled lost invention. You tell me!

Anyway, as Homer Simpson would say, “I am intrigued by your ideas and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.”

Categories: Crazy Tags:

A quick shot of syrup

July 27th, 2010 Comments off

So yesterday I needed an easy, quick way to track and log the memory use of an application remotely, in (near) real-time, as I performed various actions.

I could SSH in and run something like top, but that doesn’t get me the logging. There are several graphic “activity monitor” like utilities including, well, Activity Monitor and Big Top, but those don’t work remotely and I didn’t want to graphically control the remote machine since that performance was part of what I was measuring.

Apple’ Instruments would have been really great, but it doesn’t work remotely, at least in any way that was quick or obvious.

After some brief searching, I found a great too, written in Python, called Syrupy, written by a guy named Jeet Sukumaran. It was tiny, simple, lightweight and does only one thing – records the state of a process over time. You tell it which process(es) you want to monitor, and how often to sample them, and it will log the results to a file or the console.

If you choose the latter, you can even make quick and dirty test notes “in line” which makes it really easy to go back later and remember what you did/see the effect of what you did on memory or processor use. You can also control the output format with a few arguments when you invoke Syrupy, which can be useful if you have some graphing app that is picky about formatting.

You run it on the remote machine via an SSH session (obviously you can use it locally too).

Default output looks like this:

SYRUPY: Writing raw process resource usage logs to ''
SYRUPY: sampling process 169
169 2010-07-26 16:00:16 02:08 0.0 0.1 4932 409880
169 2010-07-26 16:00:26 02:18 0.0 0.1 4924 409360

Anyway, Syrupy can be found here if you need it.

Categories: Computers, Software testing Tags:

Paper, please

July 20th, 2010 Comments off

Amazon just announced that it is now selling more books in Kindle format then the traditional hardcover.
Kindle photo

Of course, the Kindle’s not the only game in town for eReaders. Borders has one, as does Barnes and Noble and of course, Apple.

For anyone who knows my relative addiction to technology (motto: if it is good, it can be made better by adding electricity. If it has electricity, it can be made better by turning it into a robot. If it is a robot, it can be made better by giving it sentience) might be surprised ot hear that I use none of these devices. I prefer paper books. The one that are made from dead trees, that take up massive amounts of space, weigh a lot, and give you paper cuts. They also have a disturbing tendency to burn when there is a fire (of course, a Kindle will melt like butter, but all your books are backed up digital files you can load on a new device, right?)

But, before you hand me a Metamucil and a box of Depends, allow me to share with you why I (a pretty voracious reader) still prefer paper books.

These first four reasons are positive, related to what I feel are real advantages of traditional books, on a personal level

I like the tactile feel
I like the physical weight of the book in my hand, and the physical representation of progress as I turn pages and see myself move through the text. Something about a real book makes it easier to get “lost” and really connect with the author.

I enjoy the collecting
I have way too many books, filling my shelves and overspilling everywhere. These books are a physical manifestation of my intellectual growth, my education, my knowledge. They are portals to amazing fictional worlds that I have visited, or keys to great minds or museums. I like seeing them on my shelves, occasionally paging back through them. Any serious reader with a large library knows the feeling of recalling a favored passage or story that can be triggered just by seeing the title of a book on a shelf.

Real books can be shared
If a friend wants to borrow one of my books, he or she can do so. Likewise, I can borrow from friends. You can’t do this with e-books, which are locked to your own device via software incompatibilities and digital rights management. Obviously, real books can be resold as well. You will never browse an electronic used bookstore, nor pass along a treasured e-volume to a spouse or your kids.

Real books will last forever
You can read books that are hundreds of years old. Acid-free paper, stored halfway decently, will last centuries. Do you think any of the e-books you buy today will still be viewable in even a decade, much less a quarter century or more?

The next five reasons are related to technical limitations of e-books. All of these limitations might be overcome, at least somewhat, as the technology continues to mature.

Print is still higher quality
The iPhone 4 has the best screen of any electronic device on the market, and it is basically approaching print in quality. An iPhone 4 display on an iPad-sized device would be amazing, and it is certainly coming, but it isn’t there yet. And even this amazing screen is hard on the eyes if you stare at it for an hour. Print, especially high-quality print, beats any e-reader on the market, at least for now.

E-books are too expensive
E-books used to be ten bucks, now they are fifteen. Add to that the myriad of weird pricing decisions, absurd “on-sale” dates and geographic and time-based market restrictions on various books, and you can start to get an idea that publishers are their own worst enemy in making sure the things which should be the natural advantage of e-books (any book in print, cheap, now) are not taken advantage of. If a new hardcover comes out, I’d rather pay Amazon 18 bucks (which is discounted) for a physical edition then 15 for an electronic version. No contest. But, if the price were 8 bucks, I would think. Hard. I like paper books, but I also like saving money.

There’s less choice of books
Between the new and used marketplace on Amazon and similar sites, I can buy pretty much any book which has been in print the past several decades, as well as books from countries around the world which may not be available in the US. Due to licensing restrictions, only a small fraction of books are available electronically. E-books are like Redbox movies – fine if all you want are the big hits, but no depth.

incompatible formats, devices, and DRM
DRM means I can’t lend my books to friends or sell them when I am done. Incompatible devices mean that if I develop a collection on my Kindle, and later Amazon decides to stop supporting it (unlikely, but stranger things have happened) – or I decide I like iBooks on the iPad better, I can’t transfer my collection (although I could use the iPad Kindle reader). There’s a ton of incompatible formats in the marketplace, and even the “standards” are not fully supported on all the various platforms, especially when DRM is involved.

ebook readers suffer from the limitations of being electronics
They break, run out of juice, don’t like heat or moisture, suffer glitches and crashes, and can’t be tossed around. A book can really be abused and still be readable (not that I would intentionally abuse my own books, but it is common to buy used books that have been less-then-gently used) but I really don’t want to abuse my iPad.

So, do I ever see myself switching to e-books? They do have some amazing advantages, most obvious the immediacy (start reading right away!) as well as the near infinite storage (not to mention searchability). I’ve already read a few short stories electronically, and it is not a bad experience. I am likely to use iBooks on my iPhone or iPad when travelling, or other times when the convenience of carrying a bunch of books in a small device I already am carrying really becomes important. Otherwise, I’ll take paper, please.

PS: Do you publishers, do you want to win me over – or at least temp me – into the ebook world? How is this for an idea. Similar to how most Blu Ray discs come with a digital copy included at no (obvious) extra cost, how about including an electronic copy of a book when I buy the hardcover?

Categories: Internet Tags:

Packing For Mars

July 17th, 2010 Comments off

Packing for Mars cover

Packing For Mars by Mary Roach

When most people think of space travel, they think of the adventure, the excitement of discovery, and the daring of the astronauts, who ride giant tubes filled with explosives into orbit and beyond.

Once you read Mary Roach’s delightful and informative new book “Packing For Mars” you will gain added appreciation for the heroics of our astronauts…for their bravery in putting up with the surprisingly complex minutiae of eating, sleeping, moving around, and yes, defecating in outer space. Not to mention surviving the horrid odors generated when grown adults live in a compartment the size of a small car for days or weeks on end, to the point their underwear actually beings to disintegrate.

Roach’s book covers everything about what happens when human physiological needs meet the final frontier. Chapters deal with the complexities of eating and drinking in zero G, as well as, the travails of motion sickness, psychology and, of course, zero-G sex. The author does some impressive research on this latter subject even tracking down the people involved in the production of a supposed low-gravity adult film as well as talking to former US and Soviet space travelers about this oft-taboo subject.

Roach is a delightful writer, always willing to throw in a well-timed joke or piece of obscure trivia (often contained in addictively fascinating footnotes) from the NASA archives. She also “walks the walk” going on a zero-G simulator and even participating in a simulated Mars mission in the Arctic. In one of the most touching chapters, she tracks down the remains of the first Americans in space – two chimpanzees, and talks to their (now long-retired) handlers about their contribution to increasing our knowledge of space.

“Packing For Mars” is one of the best general-interest books on space travel in years, and will be enjoyed by anyone who has ever gazed at floating astronauts and wondered – even for half a second – “how do they go to the bathroom up there?”

Categories: reviews Tags:

Chimpan-A to chimpan-Z

July 6th, 2010 Comments off

(I am always happy for an excuse to include a Troy McClure Simpsons reference in my titles)

Anyway, Dave is a member of the Amazon Vine program, which gives him access to review copies of books and such, and through this, I was able to read an advance readers’ edition of a new novel called “Lucy” which is the story of a girl who is a hybrid human-bonobo and the various ethical and social issues this brings up.

“Lucy” is an amazing story, which should appeal to a wide variety of readers. It is several books in one: the story of how a “home schooled” girl from the jungles of Africa learns to adapt to American culture, a science-fiction tale about the relationship between humans and bonobos and what a hybrid of the two species might be like, a gripping chase yarn pitting a few good people against a heartless enemy, and lastly, and most importantly, a philosophical examination of what it means to be human, told in the voice of the protagonist.

“Lucy” touches on so many different issues that in the hands of a lesser writer, the story might end up unraveling into a series of disjointed vignettes. Luckily, we are in good hands, as author Laurence Gonzales deftly weaves the various threads of the novel into a unified whole, providing enough background on the legal and scientific issues to satisfy the curious, while making sure the real star of the tale, Lucy herself, shines through. Lucy is the center of this book, and it is to the author’s credit that she becomes, well, real in a way that made me think long after I had finished the book.

“Lucy” is a thoughtful, deep, and emotional exploration of what it means to be human, and is one of the best books I have read so far in 2010.

Categories: reviews Tags: