Part 36 of elf's Apple PowerBook G4 Journal

Coldboot and Scrape


Sun Mar 02 22:58:35 2008

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 been demonstrated by a team of researchers from Princeton. In another caper, 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 challenge.

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


Tue Mar 04 06:57:27 2008

Appleinsider has a preview 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 downloading Books, however, it is limited to only cataloging books (I have a DVD collection also) and manual data input seems to be a requirement.

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 future.

Scarlett and Natalie


Tue Mar 04 16:31:45 2008

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

Wed Mar 05 21:47:24 2008

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 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 document.

Toronto Photobook

photography iphoto photobook

Wed Mar 05 22:54:10 2008

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 Photoshop.

Rendezvous with Rama


Wed Mar 05 23:21:01 2008

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


Thu Mar 06 09:20:44 2008

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.

Professor Fizzwizzle

software games

Sat Mar 08 11:45:01 2008

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 emails.

Visitor Stats


Sat Mar 08 15:54:30 2008

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%
5. iPhone0.11%
6. PSP0.09%
7. iPod0.08%
8. SunOS0.05%
9. OpenBSD0.03%
10. PS30.03%

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. Firefox59.28%
2. Internet Explorer24.89%
3. Safari9.86%
4. Opera2.46%
5. Mozilla1.63%
6. Mozilla Compatible0.64%
7. Camino0.53%
8. Konqueror0.32%
9. Netscape0.21%
10. PSP0.09%

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

Fri Mar 14 22:03:56 2008

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 Discman.

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 cumbersome Macintosh 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 the Powerbook 5300 had problems.)

*Update Sun Mar 16 21:56:10 2008: Mark notes that one person "was 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 Zune.

Toronto Photobook


Sat Mar 15 14:20:23 2008

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

software graphics

Sun Mar 16 11:02:28 2008

Some interesting Mac software recently announced:

St. Patrick's Emacs


Mon Mar 17 21:02:00 2008

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.

"Geek Love"


Mon Mar 17 21:16:11 2008

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.
—Adam Rogers

...Speaking of which, there was an Op-Ed piece by Adam Rogers, titled "Geek 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.


Tue Mar 18 20:48:05 2008

There are some men
who should have mountains
to bear their names to time.

Grave-markers are not high enough
or green,...
—Leonard Cohen



Wed Mar 20 00:00:01 2008

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 aspirations.

The model reminds me of a girl I knew fleetingly a few years ago, who in turn, resembled Wynona Rider. The layout is striking, though I don't understand the decision to crop the model's head in every photograph.

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.

Apple Preserves

brand advertising apple

Thu Mar 20 12:41:27 2008

A few examples of past Apple ads and logos— from Isaac Newton to Alan Greenspan.

Apple History: GUI Interfaces

software macintosh apple xerox

Fri Mar 21 18:59:09 2008

While doing some research, I came across a discussion on, beginning with an essay 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.
—Jef Raskin

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 paper, "Intuitive equals Familiar", from Sept. 1994 Communications of the ACM.

Final Thoughts


Fri Mar 21 19:11:04 2008

IEEE Spectrum has an interview with Arthur C. Clarke.

Space Elevator

hardware search google

Fri Mar 21 19:11:04 2008

I found a 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 correspondence.

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 lifetime.

Book Review: "Ventus"


Sun Mar 23 09:16:38 2008

My review of Ventus, by Karl Schroeder is now on my Bookshelf; I rated it at 5+/4.

Lean Centenary


Tue Mar 25 08:35:36 2008

The New Yorker has an 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 the iPhone.


Emacs Usability

philosophy usability emacs rant

Tue Mar 25 11:04:39 2008

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 Emacs.

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, 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?

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.



Tue Mar 25 17:52:25 2008

Ordinarily, I would wonder what brand of laptop she was holding.

If she was holding a Mac, I would be wondering what her email address was. (As mentioned earlier, I have narrowed down my criteria for choosing women I would be interested in dating.)

Oh, and she works for CERN.

The Bleedin' Obvious

ipod itunes

Wed Mar 26 22:56:38 2008

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 to output 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 application).

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 it's exquisite.

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.

Nano Skins

hardware nano case

Fri Mar 28 21:56:49 2008

Macworld has a summary of the available covers for iPod Nanos; I emailed off a pointer to my boss.

The Apple Mystique


Sat Mar 29 20:20:18 2008

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" Affliction.

Emacs Defaults

software emacs

Sun Mar 30 14:41:48 2008

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 ( 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 releases.

"The Core of Apple's Success"

hardware apple design

Mon Mar 31 12:03:01 2008

This morning's Globe and Mail had an 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.
luis fernandes / G4 PowerBook Journal, Part 36 / Last Modified: Sat Apr 12 10:17:45 2008