Part 36 of elf's Apple PowerBook G4 Journal
Coldboot and Scrape
Coldboot and Scrape sounds like the name of a quaint English inn
where unsuspecting travellers have their passwords and secret
files, stored on their laptops, stolen while they sleep. In this
fictional "Mission Impossible" story, the team freezes the memory
chips in a laptop using compresed air or submerging them in liquid
nitrogen to preserve their contents, and then reads the contents by
inserting the RAM into another computer.
This scenario, however, is not fiction. It has
by a team of researchers from Princeton. In
they broke into a Mac by getting it to run an "EFI scraper" over
the network and searching for the logname
and password strings and successfully meeting the
Until Apple releases a security update, even computers secured
using FileVault are susceptible. If you value your data, don't let
it out of your sight.
Delicious Library 2.0
of Delicious Library, an application for cataloging your books,
music, movies, videogames, toys and gadgets. It has nice touches
like allowing you to take a picture of the UPC barcode symbol of
your product with the built-in iSight camera, and then downloading
all the catalog information about the product from Amazon. Nice
touches like this abound in all of Wil Shipley's software.
I am in desperate need of a librarian to catalog all my books
(some of which are stored in my parent's place) and DL looks very
appealing. I went as far as
however, it is limited to only cataloging books (I have a DVD
collection also) and manual data input seems to be a
I currently have a stack of unread books which were bought as
"filler" to get free shipping from Amazon for something else I
needed/wanted so I won't be purchasing anything in the near
Scarlett and Natalie
Scarlett Johanssen and Natalie Portman cuddle on the cover
of W Magazine and give the
unsuspecting reader come-hither-if-you-dare looks. The black
lipstick subdues one of Scarlett's most alluring assets.
They both star in The Boleyn Girl; I couldn't finish
watching entire movie trailer.
Friendly Neighbourhood Support
usability x11 firefox
One of the three faculty members in the department who have Macs,
stopped me in the corridor. a couple of days ago. wondering if it
was possible to enable focus-follows-mouse behaviour for X11
applications running under OS X. After a bit of googling, I found
that it is a hidden option that can be enabled with: defaults
write com.apple.x11 wm_ffm -bool true.
Yesterday, in the kitchen, while waiting for the kettle to boil,
another faculty member complained that he was getting annoyed with
his Desktop cluttering up with PDF files. Whenever he clicked on a
PDF in Firefox 2.x, it would download a copy of the PDF to his
desktop and open it in a PDF reader (he didn't remember if it was
Acrobat or Preview). After a bit of googling I suggested that he
can change the behaviour of clicking on a PDF link via Firefox
>Preferences >Content >Filetypes
>Manage.... Alternatively there is a plugin called PDF
Download that pops-up a dialog, whenever a PDF link is clicked,
displaying various actions that can be performed on the PDF
photography iphoto photobook
I took advantage of the extension of the 20%-off coupon for
Photobooks by ordering a pair of 30-page, medium-sized Photobooks
with photographs of downtown Toronto taken in 2004. I started with
2004 because I still have those photographs on my disk; the 2003 and
earlier photographs are archived on a CD. I also don't have
hardcopies of any of these photographs; I wonder what kind of
longevity the inks and paper used in Photobooks have.
The biggest problem I had with making the Photobooks was grouping
the photographs in a logical order or common theme, rather than
just having a random selection of my best photographs. I also found
that it was better to use the original photographs on facing pages
(adjusted accordingly; double-click the image to zoom-in and pan)
rather than use a single panoramic image stitched in
Rendezvous with Rama
I was surprised to stumble on an IMDB entry for Rendezvous
with Rama scheduled to be released in 2009, whilst looking
up David Fincher, who also
directed Zodiac, Se7en, Alien3 and the
cult favourite, Fight Club. I would not list any of
these movies as my favourites.
I remember hearing about this project, starring Morgan Freeman,
and seeing the conceptual artwork, several years ago and looking
forward to a December release date (I even remember marking in on
my PDA) which passed with no sign of the movie.
Abuse of Privileges
Cory Bohon recently posted to TUAW about a call he made to
Applecare, when his MightyMouse stopped scrolling and that they
overnighted a replaement mouse to him.
When my MightyMouse stops scrolling, I unseal an alcohol prep and
rub it on the scroll-ball, carefully removing all the dust and dirt
that comes out of the tiny crevices around the scroll-ball. I only
call Applecare when things go seriously wrong with my Mac or, after
searching the web, I can't find the answer to a particular problem
because I don't particularly enjoy holding on the phone for 20-30
minutes before I am able to speak to someone at Applecare Canada.
Having said this, I would recommend getting Applecare because it
does come in handy when you deperately need help. It has saved my
life many times.
A sign that you should really buy a video-game is when you're
still playing the demo, a year after downloading it. I finally
bought a copy of the puzzle-solving
game, Professor Fizzwizzle
and the Molten Mystery from Grubby Games, for my young nephew
and niece as they've been playing the freely available demos for
more than a year now. The games and demos are available for Mac
(Panther, Tiger, Leopard), Windows and Linux.
Higly recommended if you have children in your family or you enjoy
these types of games as it includes a children's level, an
intermediate level and an adult level.
The technical support is also very prompt— I had a problem
saving new levels in the level editor and it was solved after a few
Some statistics about the visitors to this journal from January 1
to March 7, 2008. The most popular OS is Windows (67%), followed by
Macintosh (27%, close to Apple's PC market penetration) and
trailing behind is Linux. I am surprised that the PSP, the iPhone
and the iPod Touch are equally popular; Jobs' reality distortion
field is quite powerful when you consider what he doesn't say.
|OS|| Visits |
|1. Windows|| 67.06% |
|2. Macintosh|| 27.34%|
|3. Linux|| 4.99%|
|4. (not set)||0.17%|
Browser statistics are far more surprising. Firefox (60%) beats
Internet Explorer (25%) soundly, while Safari (10%) trails far
behind (it just means that I only have a few fans amongst the
die-hard Mac users).
|Browsers|| Visits |
|1. Firefox||59.28% |
|2. Internet Explorer||24.89%|
|6. Mozilla Compatible||0.64%|
And finally, a map
showing accesses by city. London, England is by far the most
popular city, which is quite baffling.
Nobody* Ever Got Mugged for a Zune
culture brands ipod
We all remember reading the news reports of a person being mugged
for their iPod (suggestions of not using the telltale white
headphones followed), but I've never read that someone being mugged
for their Zune or their Nomad (if they were, did they not report it
out of embarrassment?). There are MP3 players that have more
features, greater capacity and more functionality (albeit with less
panache— one risks being mocked if seen using them in public)
and which cost less than the equivalent iPod model and yet 80% of
the market chooses to buy iPods.
Even though the Zune was the first to have wireless music
downloading and exchange (no one seemed to care about these
features) the iPod Touch (which has only one of those features) is
more popular than the Zune. The brand is greater than the
product— Apple has replaced Sony as a luxury lifestyle brand
that the middle class consumer covets
(as my research reproducing
Randall Stross' experiment proved).
How did Apple do it? It required two things: 1) the ascension of
Steve Jobs at Apple in 1997 and 2) the passing of Sony co-founder
Akio Morita in 1999. Sony manufactured Japan's first commercially
produced transistor radio which was a worldwide success and
practically invented the consumer electronics industry and went on
to dominate it with products like the Walkman and the
There are two questions that remain unanswered: 1) how did Apple
discover Sony's formula and 2) why did Sony abandon that very
formula that brought them so much success.
(In researching this post, I discovered that the Powerbook 100
laptop was the first Apple product manufactured by Sony, since
Apple lacked the capabilities required to miniaturize the
Portable. I also discovered that the recent recall of Sony
manufactured batteries was not the first time this happened, in
1995, Sony-manufactured lithium-ion batteries for
5300 had problems.)
*Update Sun Mar 16 21:56:10 2008: Mark notes that one person
mugged ... and my Zune was stolen". My argument was that the
target was typically chosen because of the signature white
headphones. In this case it would seem that the victim was
the target of a mugging and a Zune was part of the loot. I think it
would have made my argument stronger had the thief rejected the
For a limited time only, a 12MB PDF of
my Toronto 2004
iPhotobook is available for download. It has photos (some of which
I've previously published on my journal) and some commentary.
I took advantage of the extended 20% iPhotobook discount to make 2
copies of a medium-sized book. The only lesson I've learned from
this book is to limit commentary to 2 lines; the 3rd line is too
close to the edge.
My intent is to print additional books in the future (not
necessarily annually) to document the changing city.
Graphical Mac Apps
Some interesting Mac software recently announced:
(a simple vector image editor; not sure what file formats it supports)
(simple paint application akin to MacPaint)
(2D image visualizations programmed in
Pattern (very slick screensaver; very cpu intensive however,
as it uses Flash, whose use I frown upon when used for
St. Patrick's Emacs
There once was an editor named Emacs,
It was written by a fellow called RMS.
It became so popular,
That it entered the vernacular,
when people said it was better than sex.
Mr. Gygax's game allowed geeks to venture out of
our dungeons, blinking against the light, just in time to create
the present age of electronic miracles.
...Speaking of which, there was an Op-Ed piece by Adam Rogers,
Love", a tribute to the recently vanquished Gary Gygax,
inventor of Dungeons and Dragons. The
accompanying diagram was very interesting. It began like a proper
flow-chart but quickly degenerated into jibberish which was so
confusing that I decided to write a journal entry expressing my
indignation until I noticed, there in the bottom-left corner, a box
titled "Doubting the technical accuracy of this diagram", followed
by, "Yes" and then, "Blogging about Diagrams." OK. I get it.
I never played Dungeons and Dragons and I didn't know anyone who
did. Which would explain why I can't relate to some of the boxes in
the diagram (dressing up as Gandalf, sunlight, girls, Second Life,
etc.) while others are a defining part of my life (Intense
relationship with science fiction, "Neuromancer", cassette drives,
Yoda, re-reading "Dune", The Internets, etc.)
Even in the heyday of Dungeons & Dragons, when his company was
selling millions of copies and parents feared that the game was
somehow related to Satan worship, Mr. Gygax's creation seemed like a
niche product. Kids played it in basements instead of
socializing. (To be fair, you needed at least three people to play—
two adventurers and one Dungeon Master to guide the game— so
Dungeons & Dragons was social. Demented and sad, but social.)
Nevertheless, the game taught the right lessons to the right people.
Geeks like algorithms. We like sets of rules that guide future
behavior. But people, normal people, consistently act outside rule
sets. People are messy and unpredictable, until you have something
like the Dungeons & Dragons character sheet. Once you've broken down
the elements of an invented personality into numbers generated from
dice, paper and pencil, you can do the same for your real self.
For us, the character sheet and the rules for adventuring in an
imaginary world became a manual for how people are put together. Life
could be lived as a kind of vast, always-on role-playing campaign.
Arthur C. Clarke, R.I.P.
There are some men
who should have mountains
to bear their names to time.
Grave-markers are not high enough
The Equinox is at 1:48AM EDT today; this is the earliest that it
has happened since 1896. This journal has not been graced for what
seems like just as long, so I present an ad campaign for "Joe Fresh",
a new line of clothing from Loblaws, a grocery chain that has
Toronto Fashion Week is on, but alas, the weather conspires
against catching a glimpse of even a single model on Queen
street. It will be -10°C on Good Friday.
brand advertising apple
A few examples
Apple ads and logos— from Isaac Newton to Alan Greenspan.
Apple History: GUI Interfaces
software macintosh apple xerox
While doing some research, I came across a discussion on
apple-history.com, beginning with
by Bruce Horn and follow-ups by Jef Raskin (who started the
Macintosh project at Apple in 1979), clearing up some myths
about Apple's "theft" of GUI concepts from Xerox.
As I said in my history of the Mac Project (the one currently being
serialized in CHAC), the Mac was by no means the work of one person,
but the combined efforts of thousands in hundreds of companies large
and small. It was not, as many accounts anachronistically relate,
stolen from PARC by Steve Jobs after he saw the Alto running
SmallTalk on a visit. For one thing the usual account (as in Levy's
book, "Insanely Great" and others) denigrates the original and
creative work done by all the Apple employees that put their hearts
into the Mac. Most of the histories of the Mac were written without
their authors interviewing the original team (Brian Howard, who
contributed so much, is always missed), and the history of the Mac
that Apple's own P/R department dispensed was based on Jobs's
version. Many didn't speak with me: without knowing that I had worked
out many of the key usability ideas when Jobs was still in grade
school and before there was a Xerox PARC to learn from, it is perhaps
understandable that people would find it necessary to invent a
history that derives the Mac's genesis from the nearest similar
work. The honest intellectual debt the Mac owes to the work at PARC
was not a case of highway robbery.
Raskin also the one-button mouse and claims (Bruce Horn disagrees)
he pioneered click-and-drag as an improvement over the PARC
click-move-click. I have found that very young children have a
problem with click-and-drag (keeping the mouse button pressed and
using a finger of the other on the trackpad) and using
move-click-move would have benifited them.
Reprint of Jef Raskin's
equals Familiar", from Sept. 1994 Communications of the
hardware search google
paper written in 1981, "The Space Elevator: 'Thought
Experiment', or Key to the Universe?", by Arthur C. Clarke,
summarizing the history of its invention.
I found a passage, on the subject of searches,
which I thought was quite interesting— how do you search for
information if you don't know the terms to search for?
The next major development was not for another eight years. Then
Jerome Pearson of the Flight Dynamics Laboratory, Wright-Patterson
Air Force Base, invented the idea all over again and published the
most comprehensive study yet in Acta Astronautica. His computer
search of the literature had failed to turn up any prior references,
and in view of the indexing problem I'm not surprised. How would you
look up such a subject? Pearson called it an 'orbital tower', and
presumably never thought of telling his computer to hunt for
'sky-hook', which might have located the Science
The answer, of course, is that you have to ask a series of
questions to narrow down the subject area, before a search can
begin. So in this one respect, at least, Google's method of doing
keyword searches is very limiting.
It would be nice if the space elevator was built within my
Book Review: "Ventus"
My review of Ventus, by Karl Schroeder is now on
my Bookshelf; I rated
it at 5+/4.
The New Yorker
article by one of my favourite critics, Anthony Lane,
celebrating the centenary of David Lean's birth.
There are two of them, man and boy. They emerge from a sandstorm and
pass through the remains of civilization—a few broken walls and a
swinging door. Beyond, they see something amazing: a ship sailing
calmly through dry land...
And so we are left with a galling irony: on March 25th, almost none
of us will see "Lawrence" on the big screen. That is its natural
habitat— the only place, you might say, where its proud and leonine
presence has any meaning. Anything more cramped is a cage, as Jon
Stewart showed during this year's Oscar ceremony. At one point, we
found him gazing at his iPhone. "I'm watching `Lawrence of Arabia.'
Itís just awesome," he said, adding, "To really appreciate it, you
have to see it in the wide screen." And he turned the phone on its
side. Deserts of vast eternity, reduced to three inches by two...
The glory of Lean was that, with "Lawrence," he summoned his earliest
memory of awe and, perhaps for the last time, restored our illusion
that a mass medium could be a miracle. And the sadness of Lean is
that he went on clinging to that belief while the rest of us watched
it drift away. He died in 1991. Thank heaven he was not around for
philosophy usability emacs rant
There are three kinds of emacs users: 1) Those new to Emacs; 2)
those who have been using Emacs for a long time; and 3) those
leaving Emacs. This essay addresses the needs of those new to
Twenty years ago, it was was easy to see why people would switch
to Emacs; the only competition was vi. Today, it's easy to see why
people leave Emacs; there are numerous competitors that do many
things better than Emacs. Whenever I talk about Emacs' resistance
to change, I am reminded of a scene in the 1960 version
of The Time Machine where the time traveller sees the
changing fashions in a nearby store window while he remains dressed
in his vintage clothing.
Usability studies are important so that shortcomings can be
identified and fixed. Usability studies tend to cost money and
take time. In its time, gnu.emacs.help was the best laboratory for
conducting Emacs usability tests, however, that opportunity was
squandered because the same questions that were asked in those
days, are still being asked today: "How do I change the background
colour?", "How do I change the foreground colour?" and "How do I
change the font?" Surprisingly, the answers remain the same!
Nothing has been done to improve the situation where a user, new to
Emacs, would like to change 3 simple settings and create a
comfortable, familiar environment to begin doing their work. Why is
this still so complicated to do in Emacs?
- Why are the settings of m-x set-foreground-color,
set-background-color and set-default-font not permanent?
- Why can't the user select "Save settings" from a menu and have
Emacs remember everthing?
- Why must the user search through the abomination that is the
Customize menu, for something that vaguely resembles "foreground
colour", "background colour" and "default font"?
Are these unreasonable questions or expectations? Are there
technical reasons why these features cannot, or have not been
introduced to Emacs?
The world has changed, but Emacs remains in its vintage
clothing. Today, the #emacs IRC channel is the best laboratory for
conducting usability experiments. It would be a shame to squander
this opportunity to observe new users trying to use Emacs.
Ordinarily, I would wonder what brand of laptop she was holding.
If she was holding a Mac, I would be wondering what her email
was. (As mentioned
earlier, I have narrowed down my criteria for choosing women I
would be interested in dating.)
The Bleedin' Obvious
There was a time when my boss called an iPod, "just another mp3
player", and he could not imagine the fuss that people made about
it. I tried to explain to him that the iPod by itself does not
define the experience; the ability to search for, sample and buy
music, movies and podcasts (which is one of his primary motivations
for getting an iPod; the other being the ability
video to a TV) with three clicks, makes it possible for ordinary
people (including the Queen and the Pope) to use an electronic
gadget that until 2001 required a degree in either engineering or
computer science (though, despite meeting this criteria, I was
unable to understand how to work Sony's Sonic Stage
So imagine my surprise when I received an email on Good Friday
asking, "I do I copy a movie to a Nano?" It was not a
complete surprise actually, as a few weeks earlier he had
consulted with me and I recommended the iPod Nano as being the
lowest-cost product that would meet his requirements. Since I don't
have an iPod, I had no idea how to answer his question and Googling
for "copy movie iPod Nano" yielded nothing useful. The key was to
substitute "copy" with "sync" (as with all Google searches, if you
don't know the proper name of what you're searching for, you won't
find it) yielding
the iPod FAQ.
I saw an actual Nano for the first time today (yes, I don't get
out much and the Apple ad does not do it justice) and I have to say
He still believes (a bit less than before, I think; but it's not
even been a whole week) that the iPod is just another mp3 player,
but at least he acknowledges that partnered with iTunes (and
podcasts and marketing), that Apple had the winning hand.
It should be foot-noted that he is considering replacing his aging
domestic car with a foreign one.
hardware nano case
of the available covers for iPod Nanos; I emailed off a pointer to
The Apple Mystique
No product escapes Cupertino without meeting
Jobs' exacting standards, which are said to cover such esoteric
details as the number of screws on the bottom of a laptop and the
curve of a monitor's corners.
—Leander Kahney, Wired
Well, since that article was written, there is at least one
product, according to Geoff
Arnold who recently bought a Macbook Air, and a Time Capsule
which didn't, "it just works". Perhaps it's just due to the Rev. "A"
While the first part of this essay addressed the experience of
users new to Emacs, this part deals with the contributions that
established Emacs users can make towards creating better defaults,
which would help future Emacs newcomers.
There are three kinds of established Emacs users: 1) those who
know Lisp and have lovingly hand-crafted .emacs
configuration files; 2) those who create their .emacs
files by cutting and pasting random Lisp snippets from various
locations (.emacs repositories, Emacswiki examples and
posts to online forums (gnu.emacs.help posts and #emacs
pastes) and 3) those that only know Emacs customizations through
the Customize menu (though, once in a while someone will say, "I
don't have a .emacs file." or ask, "Where is my
.emacs file?"). Regardless of what kind of Emacs
user they are, it is the contents of their .emacs files
that concern us.
There was a time when many of us had bound C-c g (or
some equivalent) to goto-line and it's likely many of us
still have this binding in our .emacs file even though
it became a default (bound to M-g g) in recent
Emacsen. Now, let me ask how many of us have C-c d (or
an equivalent) bound to a home-made function (likely
called insert-date), that inserts a timestamp into the
buffer. I believe those that know how (either by writing their own,
or asking about it in a discussion forum), have this function in
their .emacs, and those that don't, wish they had it
because it's an useful function. Wouldn't it be nice if we could
survey everyone's (voluntarily submitted) .emacs file
and analyze it to see what interesting and useful functions people
have invented, what features people tend to enable or disable?
I propose a mechanism that either submit's
people's .emacs files to a central location for analysis
(M-x submit-my-dot-emacs) or a mechanism that analyzes
the .emacs locally M-x
analyze-my-dot-emacs-and-report and submits the results to a
central location for tabulation. I don't know whether the analysis
could be done mechanically or whether it would require human
intervention at one or more stages.
An analysis would help the developers decide what features should
be enabled by default (do people prefer scrolling by a single line
rather thatn half-screenfuls?) and what settings should be set by
default for the various packages (do people prefer IRC queries to
pop-up a new window?), based on actual rather than perceived
usage, (especially keeping new users in mind) in future Emacs
"The Core of Apple's Success"
hardware apple design
This morning's Globe and Mail
article by Matt Hartley, about Apple's design process:
Michael Lopp, senior engineering manager at Apple, gave a
presentation in which he briefly lifted the skirt on the design
process and attempted to explain why Apple's creative minds "get"
design, while other consumer electronics manufacturers don't.
Every week during the design process, the teams hold a pair of
meetings, he said. One is a brainstorming session where free-floating
and crazy ideas are encouraged; in the second, designers and
engineers are forced to ground all those thoughts in reality and
figure out how they can be practically incorporated into the product.
Mr. Lopp said this two-pronged approach helps keep the idea phase of
the process rooted in the real world early on, while ensuring that
the innovative juices keep flowing in the final stages.