Part 28 of elf's Apple PowerBook G4 Journal


iphone technology

Sun Jul 01 00:00:04 2007

"The iPhone is a 2.5G quad-band GSM phone." What does this mean exactly? The bottom line is data speed— how fast you can surf the net and how fast can you send and receive movies and photographs on your mobile phone?

Let's start with the first generation (1G) mobile phones, c. 1970, which used analog radio signals. These phones looked like bricks topped with an antenna; most of the phone's volume was the battery. This technology was voice only, no data.

Second generation (2G) phones, c. 1980, used digital signals, which provided several benefits over analog signals: digital signals could be compressed, which meant that many phone calls could be fit into the same spectrum band as a single analog call; since digital signals have lower power, the phones were physically smaller as the battery required to power the phones was smaller. The data rate for this technology was 9.6kb/s. There were two competing technologies in this era: TDMA (used by GSM which is the worldwide standard for mobile telephony) and CDMA.

General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) phones (2.5G), c. 2000, were a half-step evolution from the primitive TDMA technology, which improved the data rates to 40kb/s (theoretical ideal was 56kb/s) and a further step called EGPRS (EDGE) had data rates of 120kb/s. This is where we stand today with the iPhone.

Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) phones (3G), c. 2005, are the next step in the evolution from EDGE. UMTS phones using W-CDMA have data rates of 14Mb/s; UMTS networks using High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) have speeds of 3.6 Mb/s (3.5G). Some countries already provide this service; North America is beginning to catch-up.

Book Review: "American Prometheus"

Sun Jul 01 16:23:30 2007

The book review and excerpts of Robert Oppenheimer's biography is now available on my bookshelf.

The Competition


Mon Jul 02 16:40:04 2007

Story from the Seattle Times about people lining up for the iPhone; what is interesting is the Microsoft employees...

The Microsoft presence was even more evident at the AT&T store at Redmond Town Center. Many who were there— just a few miles from Microsoft's campus— wore Microsoft T-shirts, Xbox sweatshirts and even employee badges. One employee said an entire team within the Windows Mobile group was there to buy a phone to check out the competition. Microsoft released the sixth version of its Windows Mobile operating system earlier this year.

Amazing! Six versions of winCE and it's still a load of crap that has to be rebooted at least once a day.

The iPhone is not Golden


Tue Jul 03 23:45:37 2007

I started reading “Zero: biography of a dangerous idea” today, which talked about the Golden ratio. When I got home, I downloaded a PNG of the iPhone from the iPhone ADC site and loaded it up in Photoshop and measured the ratio of the height (~271 pixels) to the width (~143 pixels); the ratio was 1.895. The Golden Ratio is approximately 1.6180. Dissappointing.

In mathematics and the arts, two quantities are in the golden ratio if the ratio between the sum of those quantities and the larger one is the same as the ratio between the larger one and the smaller. The golden ratio is approximately 1.6180339887.

At least since the Renaissance, many artists and architects have proportioned their works to approximate the golden ratio—especially in the form of the golden rectangle, in which the ratio of the longer side to the shorter is the golden ratio—believing this proportion to be aesthetically pleasing. Mathematicians have studied the golden ratio because of its unique and interesting properties.

The iPhone is not a Number


Wed Jul 04 08:26:50 2007

"What do you want?"
"Whose side are you on?"
"That would be telling.... We want information. Information! INFORMATION!"
"You won't get it."
"By hook or by crook, we will."
—The Prisoner Intro.

Titled "iPhone Independence Day", Jon Lech Johansen's blog tells about using the iPhone without AT&T activation. Another group has managed to authorize and de-authorize an iPhone without iTunes activation. It looks like both these efforts happened under Winows. The applications on the iPhone run as root...tsk, tsk... when will people learn, and the root account's password in the restore-to-factory-defaults DMG has been compromised (dottie).

A Computer for My Parents


Fri Jul 06 18:19:21 2007

My dad can send an email without ever touching a computer; he can also search the Wikipedia without touching a computer keyboard. How is this possible you're asking, do they use voice input?

Here is the secret of how my Dad sends an email: I am given a hand-written note (including the date in the top-right corner, but no subject!) which I transcribe and send from my email address (I save the note because my Dad has beautiful handwriting; I was thinking of making a font from it). When I get a reply, I print it out and hand-deliver it to the recipient.

But what if he had a small, handheld computer that he could use (without having to "login"), while sitting on the sofa in the living room, and perform actions by just pointing with just his fingers— things like sending a brief email, getting the weather forecast or looking something up on the Wikipedia?

After reading several reviews since the iPhone's release, I am becoming more and more convinced that an iPhone would make a perfect "computer" for my parents; the iPhone is not like a "traditional computer", yet it does the few important tasks that they are interested in doing. It does them simply and it does them well.

iPhone Bug Report


Sat Jul 07 20:32:04 2007

I filed my first iPhone bug-report today; I made a screenshot before I sent it. (This is the result of my being influenced by a marketing campaign whose slogan was Think Different.)

Apple suggests you use the iPhone Feedback form to submit yours.



Sun Jul 08 19:28:37 2007

The iPhoneDevCamp, hosted by Adobe, Flickr pool has an interesting pic of moPhaic, a tool to scroll a text-message across an iPhone.

Do not look at the other photos if you are horrified at the sight of Dells and Thinkpads alongside Macs.

Laptop in Bed


Mon Jul 09 13:07:23 2007

The original picture was a 2.5 second exposure in a completely darked room with the only illumination being the Powerbook screen, the backlit keyboard and the streetlight outside my window. The camera was placed on a table next to the bed and the 10 second delay timer was used.

After a #emacs discussion on laptop-in-bed ergonomics, I decided to post it without giving too much of my privacy away; the photo was filtered in Photoshop Elements using the Treshold filter and then various elements, including the view of the corridor outside the bedroom and the two pillows behind me, were eliminated. What remains is a minimalistic view (23K JPEG with medium compression) of me in bed with mathilde.

Note the nice diagonal beginning at the laptop keyboard and following my arm up to the reflection from the streetlight on the wall. Also note the Lersta floor-lamp just behind my head and the spot of light behind the screen from the glow of the Apple logo.

Die Hard Mac


Thu Jul 12 07:43:38 2007

Live Free or Die Hard opened last month (the TTC streetcars in Toronto sported HUGE posters with the words "YIPEE KI-YAY M"; and "John 6:27" in small letters, in a corner). It is notable that "the guy who plays a Mac" (no one remembers his name) in the famous Apple commercials, plays a computer wizard in the movie. A colleague who saw the movie recently (well, he was asleep through most of it) doesn't remember whether the character uses a Mac in the movie.

We know that Bruce Willis is a Mac user, so it would be interesting if there was a "Hello, I'm a Mac commercial" with Bruce reprising his role as John McClane (Mc, not Mac).


Thu Jul 12 12:11:28 2007

The author of Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea (review forthcoming) describe humans as, "mostly water, with a few impurities." The table below, describing the daily intake of water based on age and sex, is reproduced from yesterday's Globe and Mail article about keeping hydrated in the hot summer:

Adult male3.2 L (13 cups)
Adult female2.2 L (9 cups)
(pregnant)add .2 L (1 cup)
(breastfeeding)add 1 L (4 cups)
Child, 4-81.2 L (5 cups)
Child, 9-132 L (8 cups)
Male teen2.6 L (11 cups)
Female teen2 L (11 cups)

Before exercising, drink .5L (2 cups), during exercise, .1–.5 L (.5–1 cup); "sports drinks" if exercising more than an hour. After exercise, .5 L (2 cups) for every pound of body weight.


Speaking of cups, CUPS (the common Unix Printing System) was bought by Apple (in Feb. 2007). In the ensuing discussion, <technomancy> suggested that it may have been done to prevent CPUS from being released with the newly released GPL3 and <goodfoot> suggest forking the project and calling it "HiCUPS" (Hicups isn't CUPS).


Thu Jul 12 17:33:16 2007

CGI:IRC is a Perl/CGI program that lets you access IRC from a web browser. All you need a UNIX web server that can run perl5. It is known to work on the iPhone as the screenshot on the site shows. The only complaint is that the channel "disappears" when the QWERTY keyboard appears.

Book Review: Zero

book review

Sat Jul 14 11:10:54 2007

My book review of Charles Seife's, Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, is now available on my bookshelf.

LG Touch Me MP3 player

hardware mp3

Thu Jul 19 00:44:03 2007

LG has relased an MP3 player called Touch Me, that uses a touchscreen interface. The Register has a review (87 rating) of it; my favourite excerpts:

The category of personal multi-media players is a very tricky one to launch into with success for one simple reason, the iPod. This product dominates the scene so completely that in just a few short years it has achieved the transition that only mega-successful products achieve, when the very name of the device becomes short hand for the whole product category.
The touch screen approach works so well and feels so natural that perhaps one day all players will shift to this way of operation, perhaps even the next generation of iPod.



Fri Jul 20 00:12:58 2007

Reality is a dangerous concept because everyone tends to have a different version of it.
—Avon, Blake's 7

There is always more than one way to look at everything. The idea of turning things upsidedown also works in other areas of visualization:

I was teaching in a high school in 1965, my first year of public school teaching, and I was dismayed that I wasn't able to teach all of my student how to draw... It had always seemed to me that drawing, compared with other kinds of learning, was easy: after all, everything you need to know in order to draw is right there in front of the eyes. Just look at it, see it, and draw it. "Why can't they see what is right in front of their eyes?" I wondered. "What is the problem?"...

Then one day, out of sheer frustration, I announced to my class, "Right. Today we are going to draw upside down." I placed some copies of master drawings upside down on the students' desks: I told them not to turn the drawings right side up, and to make a copy of the original, doing their own drawings also upside down. The students, I believe, thought I had gone "round the bend." But the room became suddenly quiet, and the students settled in to the task with obvious enjoyment and concentration. When they had finished and we turned the drawings right-side up, to my surprise and to the students' surprise, every person in the class, not just a few, had made a good copy, a good drawing.

—Betty Edwards, Drawing on the Artist Within

Inventing the Future

virtual cartography

Fri Jul 20 23:59:46 2007

I was showing a colleague Street View on Google Map (I started at Palo Alto) and he mentioned that he had driven along the California coast along Highway 1. So we "flew" over to Monterey and drove along for a bit (beautiful beaches) and then flew over to San Francisco and drove across the Golden Gate bridge (no jumpers to be seen anywhere; it should also be noted that Californians tend to drive old klunkers compared with New Yorkers, who mostly drive luxury cars).

Then, he mentioned that they never made it to Lake Tahoe because the mountain roads were snowed-in. Trying to find Lake Tahoe, I zoomed out a few kilometers and he observed that the Google Maps view looked exactly how he remembered seeing it from the plane window (except the streets weren't labeled, as I was Hybrid mode).

I said that sometime in the future, the stewardess will hand out VR glasses, with motion sensors, to passengers and they would be able to look out the window and the terrain below would be identified right before their eyes as they moved their heads. Then he suggested that it would be cool if the information was projected on the airplane window itself and then I further suggested that if it was a touch-screen you could ask for specific information about the terrain below, just by touching the appropriate place on the glass.

Customized Keyboard Shortcuts

Sat Jul 21 13:34:13 2007

I found that I preferred Cmd-F to enable full-screen on DVDPlayer rather than the default Cmd-0 because Cmd-F can be typed with one hand. To add the Cmd-F shortcut to DVDPlayer:

  1. Run DVDPlayer (or the app you want to customize)
  2. Run System Prefs->Keyboard and Mouse
  3. Select the Keyboard Shortcuts tab
  4. Click the "+"
  5. Select the DVDPlayer from the "Application:" drop-down menu
  6. Switch to DVDPlayer and look at the menu text besides Cmd-0; it reads Enter Full Screen
  7. Enter the text exactly as it appears in the menu, into the "Menu Title:" field
  8. In "Keyboard Shortcut:" field, type Cmd-F
  9. Click Add

NOTE: If you have swapped Cmd and Alt/Option, there is an extra step. First will need to type Cmd-F rather then Alt-F when you fill the "Keyboard Shortcut:" field (above). Second, with Emacs or TextEdit, open the file, ~/Library/Preferences/ Search for the string "Enter Full Screen" and you will find something like this:

<key>Enter Full Screen</key>
<string>~F</string> </dict>

Change the character in front of the "F"; it is the key modifier: "^" represents Control, "$" represents Shift, "~" represents Alt/Option and "@" represents Command.

Then save the plist file.

If, like me, you tend to compress many files into a single Archive, you may also want to add Cmd-Z as a shortcut to the Finder's Create Archive menu entry.


software posters

Sun Jul 22 10:22:04 2007

PosteRazor is a utility for making an MxN-page poster (PDF file) given an image file. The user-interface is a bit strange looking.

Items We Carry

photography flickr

Wed Jul 25 07:14:16 2007

On the face of it, the Items We Carry Flickr pool is quite pedestrian (with a couple of exceptions). However, this pool does allow one to gather statistics on items that are are typically out of sight— hidden in pockets, purses and backpacks— a Newton, a few iPhones, a 9mm Beretta, a buck-knife and if there was a computer, it was invariably a Mac. Every single one of the photos included keys— even in the 21st century— where one would have imagined that fingerprint readers, access-cards or voice-print would have been common technologies.

Update Wed Jul 25 14:26:18 2007: The gun was Photoshopped, and it's not a Newton, it's a Gemstar eBook Librarian. I couldn't decide which person was more paranoid— the one with Charmin' toilet-seat covers or the one with the 12 inch machete.

Third Quarter Earnings Report


Thu Jul 26 08:17:10 2007

Apple reported record-breaking sales for the third quarter ending June 30th— notebook sales up 42% since the previous quarter and iPod sales up 18% (9.8M sold, 71.5% of the MP3 player market). 270K iPhones sold and 146K activated (by June 30th). Prediction of 1M iPhones sold by September. Europe will get the iPhone by Christmas with more than one carrier involved; Asia by Christmas 2008.


Anti-theft System

A report of an Apple patent for anti-theft system that disables Apple devices when mated to an unrecognized charger.

Immobile Phones

Thu Jul 26 11:37:15 2007

Last Sunday's NY Times business section had an article about cellular phone carriers titled, "When Mobile Phones Aren't Truly Mobile". Being a member of that minority who still lives in the 20th century, I was surprised about North American wireless carrier's abuse of its user's freedom to choose and to change their minds:

In most European and Asian countries, a customer can switch carriers in a few seconds by removing a smart card from a cellphone and inserting a different one from a new provider. In the United States, wireless carriers have deliberately hobbled their phones to make flight to a competitor difficult, if not impossible.

If you, the long-suffering subscriber, decide that you have had enough and wish to try your luck with another company, you?re free to pay your early-termination fee and go. But you most likely will have to abandon the phone you?ve already paid for, even when the technology is shared by the two carriers. (Sprint, for example, whose network is based on the CDMA standard, forbids the use of CDMA-based cellphones obtained from Verizon.) The odds are better than even that your cellphone is either locked by your incumbent carrier or forbidden for use on the network by your new one.

In light of this, I don't really see it as such a big deal that the iPhone is locked to AT&T; it seems that is how the wireless carriers perfer to operate. Rather than complaining to Apple about lock-in, people should be complaining to the FCC that they are prisoners of their wireless carriers and that they have to post "bail" if they wish to migration to another carrier.

The Hugo

Thu Jul 26 13:38:37 2007

The Hugo is an award given annually to the best scifi author; it is also the new size for a drink at McDonald's— 42 fluid ounces of cold beverage, for 89 cents (in some areas), containing 410 calories— that is generating controversy after complaints from nutritionists about the unhealthy effects of "super-sized" portions. The NY Times article, "Did McDonald's Given In to Temptation", notes a few surprising stats about portions:

When McDonald's opened in 1955 the largest soda was 7 fluid ounces...Now a small soda is 16 ounces, and a child's soda is 12 ounces. And what was once considered a normal adult meal is now a child's portion. A patty the same size as the original McDonald's hamburger and a serving of French[sic] fires, for instance, is now offered to the children as part of the Happy Meal.

The problem with bigger portions has been well documented. They are undoubtedly good deals. But put simply, if people are offered more food, they eat it.

Blade Runner: Final Cut


Sat Jul 28 05:41:04 2007

I've just read about a new edition of Blade Runner, to be called, Final Cut— "Director Ridley Scott has created a new, definitive version of this landmark film, with scenes and special effects that have never been shown before."

I'm happy with the Director's Cut. I've seen some of the deleted scenes (there is one where Deckard visits a hospital to talk to the blade runner that was shot at the interview) and they didn't add anything to the plot or the movie.

Ridley Scott is said to have shown a picture of the Edward Hopper's painting, Nighthawks, to the production designers to illustrate the mood of the film. I didn't recognize the artist or the name, but after Googling, I recognized the picture by sight.

AJAX Tutorials from Google

web programming

Sun Jul 29 16:24:57 2007

Google has started a new feature for university educators. The first set of teaching materials are about AJAX programming and Distributed Systems; the AJAX section includes tutorials on dynamic HTML, CSS and Javascript.

Damn Spam


Mon Jul 30 08:26:35 2007

Nearly two million e-mails are dispatched every second, a hundred and seventy-one billion messages a day.

Michael Specter has an article about the internet scourge known as spam. He certainly did his research including RMS's respose to the very first spam on the ARPAnet:

"We invite you to come see the 2020 and hear about the DECSystem-20 family," the message read. As historic lines go, it didn’t have quite the ring of “One small step for a man,” yet Gary Thuerk's impact cannot be disputed. When he pushed the send button, he became the father of spam.

The reaction was immediate and almost completely hostile. "This was a flagrant violation of the Arpanet," one recipient wrote. Another noted that "advertising of particular products" should be strongly discouraged on the network. The system administrator promised to respond at once, and Thuerk was harshly reprimanded. Nevertheless, his company sold more than twenty of the computer systems, for a million dollars apiece. Thuerk saw no harm in his actions; he and others viewed the network as an emerging symbol of intellectual freedom. Even if unsolicited e-mail became a nuisance, a greater danger would be posed by placing limits on how this powerful new tool could be deployed.

"The amount of harm done by any of the cited 'unfair' things the net has been used for is clearly very small," the Internet pioneer Richard Stallman wrote a few days after the DEC e-mail. Stallman opposed any action that would interfere with the aggressive openness that came to define the Web. And he still does. In his message about the DEC spam, Stallman pointed out— three decades before the appearance of Craigs-list and— that the network provided a unique opportunity to advertise jobs and an entirely new way to sell products. He went even further: "Would a dating service on the net be 'frowned upon'...? I hope not. But even if it is, don't let that stop you from notifying me via net mail if you start one."

Ingmar Bergman, R.I.P.

Mon Jul 30 18:53:49 2007

It is a shame that I have only seen two of his films— The Seventh Seal, and Fanny and Alexander— both on Elwy Yost's TVO show, Saturday Night at the Movies.


judo plist

Tue Jul 31 21:59:42 2007

Today was an interesting day because I learned two things that surprised me (I am rarely surprised. I would even go so far as to say that nothing surprises me anymore, until today.)

The first surprise was Judo for blind athletes. What is even more surprising is that blind athletes can compete against sighted athletes.

The second surprise was discovering that XML property list files (plist) files in OS X, beginning with Tiger, are now stored in binary format rather than ASCII text. It is necessary to convert them to plain text (plutil -convert xml1 foo.plist) if you need to edit them manually (e.g. the earlier hint for customizing keyboard shorcuts required a manual edit if Cmd and Alt were swapped). The reason for their binary nature is because they are easier to parse as Objective-C serialized objects.

luis fernandes / G4 PowerBook Journal, Part 28 / Last Modified: Wed Aug 01 07:35:37 2007