Part 25 of elf's Apple PowerBook G4 Journal

DRM-Free Music from EMI

itunes drm fsf emi

Mon Apr 02 12:50:25 2007

Steve Jobs announced that the entire EMI catalog will be available as 256kbps DRM-free downloads for $1.29, in addition, 128kbps DRM tracks will be $0.99 (they can be upgraded to 256kbps for $0.30). The announcement came exactly on the day of the deadline set by the FSF's Defective By Design campaign asking Jobs to drop DRM on video and movies from Disney movies.

Command-line "Now Playing"

software script

Mon Apr 02 19:14:29 2007

You can request the currently playing track on iTunes from a shell-script.

"Now Playing" command for ERC

software erc irc

Tue Apr 03 22:11:55 2007

One of many IRC customs is to spam everyone in the channel with personal information; e.g. what you're currently listening to. I now have a /NP command for ERC (Emacs IRC client) thanks to <Riastradh>, <oxymor00n> and <lde_> and yesterday's TUAW tip:

(defun erc-cmd-NP ()
  "Display currently playing iTunes track"
  (erc-send-message (shell-command-to-string "osascript -e 'tell
  application \"iTunes\" to if player state is playing then \"NP: \"
  \& name of current track \& \" - \" \& artist of current track'")))

Another IRC custom is the "whoops! wrong channel" gag where one pretends to type something into one channel when it was clearly intended for another channel; e.g. typing "I can't imagine why people choose python over perl" in the python channel, and immediately typing "whoops! wrong channel". This gag only works if you're a regular in the channel or you risk be labeled a troll and ignored, or at worst, kicked off the channel.

8 Cores

hardware mac pro

Wed Apr 04 12:17:34 2007

Beginning today, you can order a Mac Pro with 2 quad-core 3 GHz Xeons, a maximum of 16 GB of RAM, two SuperDrives, 3 TB of storage (4x750 GB Seagates), 3 video cards each with dual outputs.

I can't imagine what I would possibly do with a fully loaded Mac Pro.


Smartphone OS Distribution

smartphone statistics

Thu Apr 05 21:30:24 2007

20.2 million smartphones were sold in the last quarter of 2006. Here is the distribution of the operating systems used in the phones:

Market share

I was quite surprised to see Linux at the top. In terms of growth between 2005 and 2006, WinCE phones had 120% increase in growth while Palm had a 20% decline in growth. RIM increased by 55% (the introduction of the Pearl, no doubt). Linux had the smallest growth, 3%, while Symbian grew by 37%.

Easter Snow


Thu Apr 05 08:15:17 2007

April showers bring May flowers.
—An old saying

Until April is dead, do not change a thread.
—Another old saying

There was snow on the ground this morning and here is today's weather forecast (note that it is April):

Condition: Partly Cloudy
Temperature: -5°C
Pressure / Tendency: 100.7 kPa/ rising
Visibility: 15 km
Humidity: 72%
WindChill: -14
Dew Point: -9.2°C
Wind Speed: W 37 km/h gust 46 km/h

Who thought that they'd be wearing their parka in April?


chocolate "good friday"

Fri Apr 06 09:23:30 2007

After Pope Pius V had found cocoa so unpleasant that he declared, in 1569, that "this drink does not break the fast", the supreme church of Rome became more and more tolerant towards the exquisite beverage. The question of the fast took on a new urgency. In 1662, Cardinal Brancaccio hands down the judgment of Solomon: Liquidum non fragit jejunum. In other words: "Liquids (in the form of chocolate) do not break the fast." Clearly, one had to wait until Easter to indulge in the eating of chocolate.

The History of Chocolate

Xvid now supported on QT

software video

Fri Apr 06 09:39:53 2007

Xvid is now supported by the Quicktime player. How about DivX and FLV, and the rest? Mplayer is still king. Update Fri Apr 06 20:02:21 2007: David points out that DivX support has existed for a while. Yes, well, with the Perian plugin QT can also play a few more video formats— if I wanted to go around hunting for plugins, I would be running GNU/Linux or Solaris.

Update Sat Apr 07 10:00:30 2007:David follow's-up:

Is it Apple's fault that everyone and their dog seems to have created a different container or codec? Who decides which formats are important or popular enough to be included? How many "normal" people (who generally know nothing about Bit Torrent) use Xvid?

Is Xvid (or DivX or ...) any better than H.264 (which is multi- platform and even has open source implementations)?

I agree with you in principle, but things have generally reached the point of silliness to some extent.

The good thing about standards is that we have many to chose from.
-- Andrew Tannenbaum

First, it's not Apple's fault that there are so many codecs to choose from. Second, the user (me) decides which codec is important— the most important codec is the one I need to play the video I have at the moment. Third, "normal" people don't ever need to know about codecs; they just want to watch the video.

By purchasing OS X, I am paying Apple to make sure things Just Work. When I double-click on an AVI, I don't want to see "Quicktime error -51: could not display the video." I want the QT player to contact Apple HQ (where someone is paid to hunt-down all the codecs and put their locations and availability into a databse that the QT player can query), find the codec it needs, download it, install it and play the video. I don't think that's asking for too much. Mplayer does it and it's free.

“Empires of the Word”

book language history

Sat Apr 07 09:56:36 2007

The fundamental question of this book is to ask how— in what circumstances and with what dynamics— language communities have come to flourish in the past, as well as how some of them have declined and even met their ends.

The Western Roman Empire was throughly overrun by German-speakers in the fifth century... so why did German get left behind? It changed for good all the crowned heads, it left France, Spain and Northern Italy still speaking variations of Latin, and they have gone on doing so to this very day. In Africa, Egyptian had been surviving foreign takeovers for over three millennia: why did it shrivel and dissappear after the influx of Muhammad's Arabic? And in the modern era, the Netherlands had ruled the East Indies for the same period that Britian ruled India: so why is Dutch unknown in modern Indonesia?

With the exception of Chinese, even the languages that originated writing systems, and so made the earliest use of it, have dropped their original system and borrowed another. In some sense, then, when one language replaces another, a people's view of the world must also be changing.

Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World
—Nicholas Ostler

Stradivarius in the Subway: Bell as a Busker


Sun Apr 08 17:29:12 2007

"Koyaanisqatsi" is a Hopi word. It means "life out of balance."

Last January, the Washington Post performed an experiment and secretly filmed the results— one morning during rush-hour, Joshua Bell played his Stradivarius in the subway. He collected a total of $32 for 45 minutes of playing Baroque and Classical music pieces.

Various passer-bys were later interviewed and explained their behaviour, ranging from the obliviousness of someone listening to their iPod, to the ambivalence of someone late for work to someone else stopping and listening because they were completely enthralled. I particularily liked the story of the 3-year-old boy wanting to stop and hear while his mother did her best to prevent it. I also liked the indignation expressed by a fan who recognized Bell:

"It was the most astonishing thing I've ever seen in Washington," Furukawa says. "Joshua Bell was standing there playing at rush hour, and people were not stopping, and not even looking, and some were flipping quarters at him! Quarters! I wouldn't do that to anybody. I was thinking, Omigosh, what kind of a city do I live in that this could happen?"

I think the experiment would have been meaningful if it could have been repeated in different cities.

More Switchers

people switching apple

Mon Apr 09 22:25:15 2007

Yesterday, I was trying to help someone on #emacs and I stumbled across Geoff Wozniak's (he's not related) blog: Curried Lambda. He switched to a Powerbook in May of 2005; he now has a Macbook Pro. He was recently at the International Lisp Conference (ILC) in Cambridge, U.K. and took some nice pictures of Ely cathedral.

The other blog I stumbled across, Embracing Chaos, was while searching for pictures of a Dell laptop (you'll have to wait a year to find out why); the most remarkable thing about this blog is that he has a preference for Dell's power-cable management over Apple's version with the pop-up clips on the adapter.

100M iPods, No Competition

sales ipod

Tue Apr 10 17:19:49 2007

Apple announced on Monday that the 100 millionth iPod was sold. Here is the market share breakdown for MP3 players in Feb. 2007:

CompanyMarket share

A Yahoo!/SanDisk/Zing partnership also announced a new MP3 player (SanDisk Sansa Connect) that can download music over WiFi and supports a monthly subscription service. What is notable is that Zing was co-founded by Tim Bucher (former Apple executive who was involved with the original iPod design).

I cannot imagine this player competing with the iPod; if anything, it will eat away at the market share of the smaller fish.

Tux Deluxe


Wed Apr 11 04:44:40 2007

Tux Deluxe is the name of Jeremy Allison's (he wrote Samba; now works for Google) blog. His April 5th entry, Working for the Man, is a thoughtful essay on programming best practices. Surprisingly, I agree with all his sentiments.

AppleTV Ad and "Ocean's 13" trailer


Wed Apr 11 13:02:08 2007

The AppleTv ad that aired on network television was posted to It features a scene from School of Rock playing on an iMac in a den filled with books; it then pans over to another room where it continues playing on an iPod and it pans further into a living room where it plays on a large TV. The decor of the rooms is tastefully modern with many signature pieces of furniture which, I vaguely remember seeing in the quarterly issues of the New York Times Design magazine.

I think that one of the reasons that particular scene from School of Rock was chosen, was because of the Macs in the back of the classroom.

Earlier in the week, David had sent me a link to the trailer for the upcoming Ocean's 13. The site has a slideshow of photos one of which (ironically, since the ad is streamed by Yahoo! and not by Apple) has a Macbook Pro featured prominently.


Battlestar Galactica, Season 1

scifi bsg

Fri Apr 13 13:57:04 2007

One of the criticisms of the Star Trek television series was that the toilet facilities of the Enterprise were never portrayed. Was it because the thought that human waste, along with other matter, was recycled into a cup of Earl Grey tea?

It wasn't until episode 6 of Battlestar Galactica, currently the best SF on television, that the audience was made privy to the toilet facilities of the eponymous ship-- they are, surprisingly, unisex (I presume the showers are unisex too). Only later did I realize that the very first episode showed a glimpse of a unisex bathroom, when the President's assistant becomes lost in the corridors and follows a soldier into a bathroom. Episode 6 also has the best joke (so far) in the series, "No more mister nice Gaius."

I have nothing but compliments for all aspects of the series: writing (enough plot twists to keep the audience guessing), directing, music, acting, cinematography, casting and special-effects.

I do have a couple of quarrels with some technical matters; 1) in the "Bastille Day" episode where Starbuck uses her short-barrelled assault rifle as a sniper rifle; and 2) when they were unable to ascertain, by remote scanning, whether the Olympic carrier had passengers on board. It required a visual inspection. It seems rather preposterous that a civilization that achives FTL travel is unable to remotely scan for electro-chemical life-signs.

Leopard will be Late

software leopard

Sat Apr 14 20:40:06 2007

Apple has pushed-back the release of Leopard from Spring (meaning, a few days before June 21st, in Applespeak) to October. The engineers and QA staff working on Leopard, were moved over to work on the iPhone.

This is one reason Apple doesn't (and shouldn't) step into Enterprise Computing (OS X servers)— they just don't have enough people, at this time, to be able to cope with additional customers.

Remember Apple making fun of Vista at WWDC 2006, when Leopard was first announced? Well, now that Leopard is delayed, I wonder if Microsoft will fire back a few salvos.

CocoThumbX: DIY Icons

software cocothumbx

Sun Apr 15 14:13:37 2007

You no longer need to have the Developer tools installed to make your own Mac icons (ICNS format), you can use CocoThumbX. The ICNS file is generated from an image file that is dropped into the application.

The rest of today's entries are other interesting Mac software.

Update Sun Apr 22 07:01:08 2007: This post has the usual steps to create an icon (requires installing the Developer Tools) but the comments have alternative suggestions, including Iconverter.

Animated Desktop Screensaver

software quartz desktop screensaver

Sun Apr 15 15:25:12 2007

Quartz Desktop allows you to use an animated .qtz screensaver as a desktop background (according to a comment, some qtz files perform better than others) while the Desktop Screensaver allows you to take a snapshot of any screensaver and use it as a Desktop background.

Booksmart: DIY Books

software booksmart

Sun Apr 15 21:56:05 2007

Booksmart is a combination book-printing service with some free book-making software. This looks interesting because I was thinking of making my journal into a book, like an actual diary; I tried doing it in iPhoto, but it became too tedious having to mark-up each heading and date manually.

Edge Detect: iMovie Plugin

software imovie plugin

Sun Apr 15 21:59:02 2007

Edge Detect is a free imovie plugin that can convert (high-contrast) footage into "pencil-art".

Reading Comprehension

reading comprehension

Mon Apr 16 18:29:44 2007

A couple of Sunday's ago, the NYT business section had an extremely detailed and long report on company executive compensation. The report included a comparative scale showing the number of years of schooling that was required to understand a sampling of compensation reports.

TextYears of school
required to understand
TV Guide, The Bible6
Reader's Digest8
Time, Newsweek10
The New York Times,
U.S. Constitution
The Times,
The Guardian (UK)
Compensation report for
Whole Foods Co.
Academic papers15+
Compensation reports for
Wm. Wrigley, SunTrust Banks

Helen of Troy

kemp muhl

Thu Apr 19 08:43:25 2007

During a recent discussion of the movie Troy on ##cinema, I read, in the IMDb trivia section, that Kemp Muhl was considered for the role of Helen of Troy (the face that launched a thousand ships). After a bit of Googling, I think she is more beautiful than the actress that was chosen. Aside: I found Troy quite boring at times and managed to only watch some small portions of it.

One of the sites that has a picture of Kemp Muhl, has a complete collection of Dolce & Gabbana magazine ads with the names of the models appearing in each photo. The thumbnails on the site do not do justice to the actual ads (the photography and art-direction are superb) which I usually see in the quarterly fashion supplement to the Sunday New York Times. My favourite ad would have to be the photos taken with a Fall backdrop— mother nature eclipses the models.

A Zoomed Pointer is Never Watched


Thu Apr 19 09:08:36 2007

A great hint to hide the mouse pointer when using the Control-zoom feature in Tiger to view a Flash video.



Fri Apr 20 21:25:50 2007

This week, the Ontario government announced that incandescent light-bulbs, "invented" by Thomas Edison in 1879, would be banned from sale in this province by 2012. It is strange to live in a time when so many inventions have been obsoleted. Edison is not completely obsolete, however. Here is a quote from James Burke's TV series Connections:

Edison invented inventing...and he laid down precise rules for it:

  • is there a market for the invention?
  • get financial backing before you start;
  • publicize the whole thing in advance so when it comes out, the consumers are ready to pay for it;
  • plow eveny penny you make, back into making more inventions.

The Stable Marriage Problem


Sun Apr 22 07:34:50 2007

A recent discussion on #emacs made me aware that there is a branch of mathematics that is dedicated to algorithms related to combinatorial problems (optimizing pairings is only one subset). The American Mathematical Society has an article that serves as a good introduction to the concepts.

Along the same lines, The Register has an article about a Dutch agency that has created a service, "for geek virgins looking for that elusive first sexual encounter"; they should make a fortune.

Trivia: universities are the biggest marriage brokers. This means that most people meet their future husband/wife while studying at an university. Whether or not that marriage will last is another question entirely.

Suggest Firefox Improvements

software firefox

Wed Apr 25 00:17:42 2007

If you are a one of the currently growing number (I can't find the Macworld article at the moment) of Firefox users on the Mac, you can list your pet peeves and suggest what you feel are needed improvements.

My suggestions were Keychain integration and Speech Services. I would have to agree with one comment that complained that the DMG doesn't contain any installation instructions.

Whinage and bug-reports aside, the majority of the valid comments are from Mac users who expect a Mac application to work in a certain way (as set by the UI guidelines) and Firefox fails to do this in may respects..

Quicktime Exploit

security quicktime

Wed Apr 25 08:26:21 2007

The exploit, that granted full privileges on a compromised (Intel) Mac, previously thought to be related to Safari was in fact related to Quicktime via Java. It affects all browsers (on Windows too) including IE and Mozilla that access a malicious page with Java and Quicktime.

The fix is to disable Java until a patch is released.

The Journal Resumes

software thisservice pages hardware "canon 1d"

Sun Apr 29 07:52:22 2007

Now that the Departmental Open House (held last Friday) is over, we now return to our regularly scheduled journal.

Pages FTW

I tried something new this year— instead of the program-guide being a 10-page spreadsheet with a sheet of coloured paper for a cover-page, all stapled together in the top corner, I made a 3-column brochure in Pages using the standard Marketing template and printed it on a colour laser printer (Xerox Phaser 6530) on glossy paper. The praise that it received was incalculable (mostly because it exceeded the low expectations). The boss reluctantly admitted that the Mac Mini has now paid for itself. It took me three days of solid work to create it (including PhotoShop'ing the images that were used). I ordered PhotoShop Elements 4 for the Mac so I won't have to switch to VMware to run the PC version. I know it's a PPC binary only so I don't know how poorly it will perform on the Mini.

I encountered two frustrating things in Pages:

  1. The procedure for linking the text-flow of two columns is overly complicated, explained badly in the documentation and it never worked for me (feedback sent to Apple).
  2. I was unable to delete an accidently-created blank page because for some strange reason, Pages selected two "pages" at a time every time I selected the blank page for deletion.

Canon EOS 1D Mk. III Review

A review of the latest Canon digital SLR. Superb picture quality.


ThisService turns any command-line script into a Service callable from any application via the Service menu.

POE Cookbook

POE: The Perl Object Environment Cookbook has "recipes" for doing many things very easily; everything from IRC bots to adding GTK, Tk or Curses interfaces to your perl scripts.

Apple Financial Results

Last week Apple announced the financials for the last fiscal quarter: profit of US$770M on revenues of $5.36B; 1.5M Macs and 10.5M iPods sold.


Kurt Vonnegut; Johnny Hart (creator of the B.C. comic strip & co-creator of The Wizard of Id) and Brant Parker (co-creator of the Wizard of Id comic strip); Mstislav Rostropovich.

Blue Moon


Mon Apr 30 21:44:53 2007

The moon will be full on May 2 and then full again on May 31. The second full moon in a month is traditionally called a blue moon. This last happened on July 31, 2004.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first reference to a blue moon was in a proverb recorded in 1528, and it meant an obvious absurdity. Since then other meanings have emerged, ranging from the ecclesiastical calendar's name for the 13th moon in a year to the modern phrase "once in a blue moon," meaning very rarely. Blue moons are really not that uncommon, happening on average about once every three years.

The moon actually has appeared blue at times, because of smoke or dust particles in the atmosphere from huge forest fires, for example.

—excerpted from Hal Kibbey's "Star Track" newsletter

You can subscribe to the newsletter by sending an email to

luis fernandes / G4 PowerBook Journal, Part 25 / Last Modified: Fri May 11 13:53:17 2007