Saturday, December 09, 2006

On Becoming a 'Pod Person

My Christmas gift this year was a refurbished, year-old iPod from Apple's clearance bin. It's a white iPod Nano (I wanted black, but you can't be too picky when your shopping the clearance table, right?) with 2GB of memory (which only holds about half of my iTunes library).

All that said, it was only $99, half of what it cost a year ago ($199), so I can't really complain about such a bargain. If you're looking for a deal on a Mac or iPod, you should check out the clearance section at the Apple Store online. The list of items changes frequently, so you have to kind of "stake out" the site waiting for the item you want. It just so happened that this iPod showed up on the site the day I got paid, so I leaped at it. All the items there are refurbished by Apple, and come with all the original stuff (accessories or software) that the original item sold with. And they are covered by the same warranty (90 days or 1 year, depends on the item, I think) as new stuff would be.

I'm writing this post as I listen to the theme music from "Star Trek - The Motion Picture" which also is the same music that the Next Generation used. With the iPod I no longer need to tax my poor tired G3 iMac playing tunes while I surf or program. I've already been re-organizing my music in iTunes to get a better selection of tunes on the 'Pod. I'm finding that being able to listen while I grocery shop and putter around the kitchen is changing my listening preferences or habits.

I've had the iPod now for 3 days, and already it's gotten me thinking. Listening to your favorite music while doing other things is almost like a drug, and I'm not the only one that thinks so. To me, it seems like good music (however you personally define it) is pleasing and should stimulate the same area of the brain that any other pleasing sensation does, whether it's drugs, sex, or good food.

I'll be honest, since I've gotten the thing I've LOOKED for excuses to turn it on. Now, being a geek, maybe it's just the joy of having another new toy. I'll know if the urge to play with it subsides, or escalates. Hmmmm, wouldn't "iPod Addictive," be a terrible headline to read? Though I suppose there are worse things to take up as habits. But I'm keeping an eye on it and have already made two rules:

1. No earphones in the car.
2. If I find myself going "What?" to folks talking to me, turn the damned thing off.

As far as the car goes, I've got a cassette adapter, but the tape deck in my car doesn't like it and keeps trying to spit it out. So I guess I'll listen to my tapes in the car instead. At least until I can replace the cassette adapter!

I bought a used Newton 130 from eBay for $75 back in 2000 and loved it. I used it all the time to keep my contacts and calendar. The Newton is long gone, but the iPod (which I've named "HAL 9000," BTW) now syncs my Address Book and iCal entries, so it's almost like having the Newton back. Though I had a lot of games on the Newton, and HAL only has the 4 that come with the iPod Nano (and they all suck). I sure wish Apple would release the iPod API so that folks could port games to the iPod and write other nifty software for it.

I also found where folks have gotten Linux running on the iPod. And that's got an API for programming, but I'd much rather not hack my new iPod. I'm holding out for a solution that is "official" from Apple and will allow us to integrate our own apps into the iPod OS.

So I'm a 'Pod person. Let the invasion begin!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Corporate America vs. The Rest of Us

There's been a commercial that has been running on my local Comcast cable system lately that reduces the Net Neutrality issue to, "Net Neutrality means YOU pay."

Huh? No, I'm already paying for broadband access. Implicit in my (substantial) fee for broadband is the assumption that I will be using high-bandwidth applications or viewing high-bandwidth entertainment. So no, I don't think Net Neutrality should mean "I pay."

Nor, in my opinion, should the providers of such services be required to pay extra on top of their current access fees just because they offer popular or high-bandwidth content.

Look, let's be honest - the cable and phone companies want more money, and they've latched onto the "tiered service" idea as a way to do it. Frankly, I'd think most corporations would be doing anything but asking for more money when there have been so many incidents of over-paid executives, the raiding of corporate treasuries, the cancellation of employee pension plans and other evidence of corporate greed and wrongdoing.

Net neutrality is important because it allows each of us using the net, whether we are users or content providers, to share in the rise and fall of the 'net's fortunes. If the net becomes clogged with too much high-bandwidth content, then we'll all suffer and will ALL be motivated to make improvements to the infrastructure. But I'll be damned if I will pay broadband prices to get dialup service speeds because AT&T thinks it needs more money for better service to me. I'm already paying for that quality of service.

Now let's talk about "fair use," ok? The DMCA is a terrible bill pushed through by lobbyists for the RIAA and MPAA. Now I read today that the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress says we can't rip DVD's to view on our iPods and the RIAA says that we can't consider ripping CD's for use on mp3 players "fair use," despite their OWN LAWYER saying last year:
"The record companies, my clients, have said, for some time now, and it's been on their website for some time now, that it's perfectly lawful to take a CD that you've purchased, upload it onto your computer, put it onto your iPod."
OK, which is it?

Look, it boils down to this, the same thing it always has in the past: The "haves" vs. the "have-nots." King George III said we, the people, couldn't declare our independence, too. Look where that got him.

These corporations have forgotten that the customer is always right. They're so focussed on fattening their profits that they're crushing the life (and the fun) out of the things they sell.

I'm not an advocate of ripping off these companies. As I said in a previous post, if you can't afford software, find a free or open source alternative.

But by the same token, if I have bought a cassette of "Lou Reed Live," I'll be damned if I'm going to buy a CD of it and then buy it again from iTunes to use on an iPod. I'll buy one copy and translate it into whatever form I need. It's mine, I paid for it, and I don't CARE if the RIAA likes it or not. Nor can they stop all of us.

It's this simple: It's them vs. us. As long as we continue with civil disobedience, they can't round up everyone and eventually they'll see the truth of our position.

Rock on!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Who's Lying?

Microsoft's president, Steve Ballmer, recently made comments that indicated that the agreement between his company and Novell was some sort of admission that Linux somehow violates Microsoft's patents. This, less than three weeks after the ink on the deal was dried.

In response, Novell's CEO posted an open letter to the open source community. In this letter, he denies that Novell made any such admission.

And Microsoft, of course, responded with a notice of their own, posted on their site, that states that while they believe that Linux has some areas of infringement, Novell made no such admission.

Who's telling the truth? Is someone here lying?

No, I don't think so. While I think Novell made a HUGE mistake getting in bed with Microsoft, I believe that both parties are reporting what they believe to be true. I'm sure that Novell had no intention of admitting any infringement. I'm also sure that Microsoft believes there is infringement (or will claim such in order to kill Linux).

It's unfortunate that this got into the press, but it shouldn't surprise anyone. I'm sure that it was always Microsoft's intention to garner negative headlines for Linux with this agreement. This is very similar to the SCO/IBM case, where SCO tried for some time to extort money from corporate Linux users and started a smear campaign against Linux in the press.

I'm afraid that Novell will realize, too late, that any positives that might have come from this agreement will be overshadowed by the amount of negative press that Microsoft will generate against Linux.

Novell, I hope you're really as committed to the open source community as you say. Keep your eyes open and don't trust Ballmer in the dark. You might find a shiv in your back.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

FAN-TASTIC!

The second BBC series of the new Doctor Who started on the SciFi Channel this fall, and I must say, I'm very impressed with the new Doctor, David Tennant. If you haven't caught the show, you owe it to yourself to give it a go. Next week, the BBC America channel is starting with the first series (with Christopher Eccleston), so if you want to jump in and see the whole story, check it out.

By all accounts, David Tennant is very happy to be playing the Doctor, as he's signed contracts up through 2008! According to him, he's wanted to be an actor since he was 3 years old so he could play the Doctor! He grew up on Tom Baker's Doctor, as I did, and his characterization of the Doctor owes a lot to Baker. There is also a bit of Peter Davison in his Doctor (Tennant and Davison must have the same tailor, as they both favor long but fashionable coats).

Tennant appears briefly in the last Eccleston episode, during the regeneration. When the second series starts, with "The Christmas Invasion," Tennant is still in his jammies and robe, looking very much like Arthur Dent (and he makes a comment acknowledging this on the Sycorax space ship). Very nice to give "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" a wink!

I remember fondly watching Who episodes on the public TV station in Denver. In those days, each episode was about 20 minutes and you had to watch 5 episodes to get the whole story. What Fun! The Denver station ran all 5 back-to-back, so you'd watch the credits (with the great Who theme), a short few minutes of story, then the end credits (more music) and then the whole thing started all over. I started with Tom Baker and when he regenerated into Peter Davison, I kept watching.

The 1996 attempt to bring the Doctor to the USA didn't go over well, but the movie was good. I'm glad to have the Doctor back in Britain again, though. It's where he belongs and makes sense.

The Doctor is dead, long live the Doctor! "Fan-TAS-tic!"

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

Microsoft released the licensing agreements for Vista this week. One of the more interesting provisions in the agreements for the two low-end editions (Home Basic and Home Premium) of the new OS is the one that states that the OS cannot be used in a "virtual or otherwise emulated environment." What this means to Mac users is that they can't use (or should't use) those versions of Vista with Parallels Desktop or WINE.

Interestingly, Microsoft does allow such use for the two high-end (read "more expensive") versions of the OS. That use, is limited, however. The say:
If you do so, you may not play or access content or use applications protected by any Microsoft digital, information or enterprise rights management technology or other Microsoft rights management services or use BitLocker.

So you can't use DRM'd content in virtual usage. Hmmmm. Who'd want to?

Why is Microsoft making these provisions? What are they afraid of? After all, if you buy a copy of Vista, you SHOULD be able to run it anywhere you darned please, as long as they get their money and you only run it on one machine, what business of theirs is it that you're running it in a virtual machine?

What they're afraid of is "ghettoization." When users start running Windows in an emulated or virtual environment, that implies that they are using another OS as their main OS. That means that Windows has become a footnote in the history books, because it's being run as a "guest" in another OS. The same way that Windows itself allowed running DOS programs in a window and Mac OS X allowed you to run OS 9 applications in Classic.

The endless delays, the bugs in the beta releases, the numerous code rebuilds, the dwindling feature set all say that Vista is probably a disaster in the making and that Microsoft's star probably is starting to fall. These license requirements say that Microsoft knows this, and wants to try and keep their monopolistic hold on the PC industry.

Michael Dell himself has said that he would load Mac OS X on Dells if he could. Bill Gates got out of the captain's chair when the Dept. of Justice was ferreting out all the violations of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act that Microsoft was guilty of. Now he's totally separated himself from the company to do charity work. Gates is a lot of things, but "stupid" isn't one of them.

We are witnessing the beginning of the end for Microsoft, I believe. It may take 10 years for it to completely collapse, but it will happen. The future belongs to unix, that much is clear. Windows just can't compete with the stability and security of unix; whether it's Mac OS X, linux, or another flavor is irrelevant.

The king is dead. Long live the king.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A House With No Windows

My roommate's Dad, who worked for IBM for many years, has an older Aptiva desktop computer. He's been running Windows 98 SE for years and has had several spyware and adware infections despite my best efforts to keep him up and running. I installed and ran Ad-Aware, the McAfee suite, etc. etc. and still he had problems. He finally reached the point where he'd had enough and we started talking about either upgrading to Win XP or moving to Linux. I ordered a free Ubuntu Live CD for him to try.

It took several weeks, but when the Ubuntu CD arrived, he was very excited to try it out. After several days of playing with the Live CD, he decided he wanted to install it on his computer. I performed the install, of course. I was worried that Linux would not support all of his hardware (a Lexmark printer, a web cam, wireless card, and an HP scanner). Although we had some trouble with his wireless card (it was a Netgear USB MA111), after replacing it with a low-cost Linksys card everything is up and running. Even the scanner works.

Running so well, in fact, that I was able to get my iMac to print to his printer, something I couldn't do while he was running Windows because there was no Macintosh driver for his printer that would work with Win 98. But since we're both running a unix-like system (neither is pure unix, but both are so close it doesn't matter) we both use CUPS (the Common Unix Printing System) and can now share printers.

The long and short of it is that we've now become a Windows-free household.

I used RedHat Linux several years ago and though it was an OK OS for a tech-head like me, it wasn't "ready for prime-time." The average user just had to learn too much to make Linux a viable OS for most users. I'm happy to say, though, that the progress that's been made in the last 5 years has made Linux VERY usable and compatible.

I'm not going to say that there was NO tech knowledge needed, I did have to fight with the new wireless card to get it working, but the majority of the distro has been well-thought-out and I'm very impressed. I prefer the KDE desktop myself, but he seems happy with GNOME.

If I couldn't have a Mac, I'd use Linux myself. It's that good. And it's FREE. Yep, the OS and all the software are FREE. Can't beat the price!

If you're thinking of 'upgrading' to XP or Vista, give Linux a try first. It's secure, it's not prone to viruses, and there's lots of FREE software available for it.

I think it's pretty clear that Microsoft is losing its hold on the IT market. Unix, in all of its flavors, is the only true competition for Windows.

Trust me, you CAN live in a house with no Windows.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Everything Old Is New Again

I was in a convenience store today, and got to thinking about something ironic. See, I'm old enough to remember when neighborhoods had corner grocery stores. They were usually small stores with a few aisles and I vaguely remember a shopkeeper giving me some of the sugar circus peanuts to munch because I was a little kid. And later, when we lived in a rural area, we had a general store that carried both groceries and gasoline.

It wasn't long and those kinds of stores were gone, replaced by giant grocery chains like Safeway and King Soopers. Back then the only "convenience store" that I remember was 7-11. My dad worked in one for a time when I was little. Back then, they only stayed open from 7 am to 11 pm (hence the name).

So I'm standing in the store today, and it suddenly occurred to me we had gone from neighborhood stores, general stores, to supermarkets and back to convenience stores, which are basically neighborhood general stores. Ironic.

That would have been the end of it, but for a thought I had this evening, sitting at the computer. Now, I'm old enough to remember the Apple II, the Commodore 64 and Vic 20, and the Atari 400 through 2600 computers. Back then, we hooked our computers up to a television to use it as a monitor. It wasn't long, though, before dedicated monitors were produced, first monochrome and then later, color monitors.

As the technology progressed, the resolution of the monitors increased while the number of colors a computer could produce went from 8 to 16 to 256 to 65,000 and then to millions. Meanwhile, we developed the ability to view first GIF's and JPG's on our screen, then came MPEG's and AVI's and MOV's.

This month, Apple announced that we could download movies from iTunes. But who wants to watch them on a 15-inch computer monitor? So (conveniently) they introduced a new gadget, the iTV. Guess what? Now they want us to connect our computers to the television again!

Mom was right. She used to tell me, "Everything old is new again." I should have listened...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

You Get What You Pay For

"So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, 'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!' "
-- Howard Beale (Peter Finch) in "Network"

I'm so tired of the lies. I mean, really. First there was this:
"Saddam Hussein is a homicidal dictator who is addicted to weapons of mass destruction. "
--George W. Bush

..so we went to war in Iraq. But we didn't find any weapons of mass destruction, and the WMD abbreviation doesn't make it cute or funny. Granted that Hussein wasn't the ideal leader. But we created that particular Frankenstein's monster by supporting him for years before all this. And now we're meddling in the Middle East again. And guess what? They STILL hate us! Is it any wonder?

Almost a millenium later, we're still fighting the Crusades in the Middle East. Except now it's for oil, not Christianity. We need to get the hell out of the Middle East and stay out. We're making an already messed up situation worse by continuing to muck about in it. Have we learned nothing in 900 years?

So we invaded Iraq. Not that there was any direct link between Iraq and the 9/11 fiasco. And it was a fiasco - several branches of government, from the intelligence community to the immigration folks that should have been tracking the guys that hijacked the planes, let us down. And our current Homeland Security folks are failing their own tests of readiness.

Then there is the collection of phone call records without due process. And the "renditions" of suspected terrorists. If we hadn't made the Arab world our enemies by sticking our fingers in their pies in the first place, we wouldn't be the object of their hatred now.

George W. Bush (and by extension, his administration) are a bunch of liars. They've been caught in flagrant lies over and over again, and yet nothing is done about it. How many of our service people have to be killed in "Vietnam 2 - The Sequel?"

But as angry as I am at being taken for a ride by this bunch of liars, I'm madder still at US. We elected him and his cronies. Not once, but twice! We have only ourselves to blame.

I actually didn't vote for him, but I'm an American, and he's my President whether I like it or not. But you can guarantee I'm voting in 2008 for anyone who isn't a Republican. They've become the party of fear, uncertainty, and doubt and they're convincing us to give up essential liberties so we'll feel safe. The "Patriot Act" is a sick joke (much like the DMCA, but that's another issue), and the founding fathers would spin in their graves if they could see what we've come to in this country.

My heart goes out to the service people and their families. At least we (the American people) learned SOMETHING from Vietnam. We at least respect our soldiers now. But the politicians have got to be made to answer for this disaster.

So, if you're as angry about it as I am, go register to vote if you aren't already registered. And let's get rid of this current batch of liars.
"The President in particular is very much a figurehead--he wields no real power whatsoever. He is apparently chosen by the government, but the qualities he is required to display are not those of leadership but those of finely judged outrage....His job is not to wield power but to draw attention away from it."
--The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

We got what we paid for. Let's order something else next round...

Saturday, August 26, 2006

TANSTAAFL (There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch)

Greetings once again! I wanted to share some great free software with you. Whether you run Windows, Unix/Linux, or Mac OS X, there are still high-caliber free applications that are available for everyone. I have no patience with software pirates, since I write programs, but with the applications that you can download and use for free, there's no excuse for stealing software.

What's that? You can't afford Photoshop but you really need to use it? Why not download The GIMP instead? "GIMP" stands for "Gnu Image Manipulation Program" and it's been around for quite some time. It supports all 3 of the major OS's and has most of the same functions as Photoshop. I've used The GIMP for some time now and recently a new version for Mac OS X was released that has all of its menus re-arranged for those that are familiar with Photoshop. This special version is called "GIMPshop" and runs only on the Mac, as far as I know. It runs in X-Windows (X11) but has an OS X icon and launches from the Finder. It's a very good version and I've used it to create icons for some time now. I have an old Classic version of Photoshop and I literally haven't launched it since I got GIMPshop.


But let's say you don't do photo editing, what you need is a program like Illustrator. Try Inkscape (also available for the 3 big-time OS's). It's loaded with many of the same features as Illustrator, but is free and is still being added to by the developers. I suspect it, like GIMP, will be around for a long time. I've found it very easy to use and have used it recently to create icons for a new application I'm creating. You can do gradients, beziers, and lots of path manipulations (joins, etc.) that make this a great substitute for Illustrator.

There are also some great games available for free on the web. One that I enjoy is ArmegeTron Advanced, a Tron-style lightcycles game that you play on servers around the world against other gamers. It's a lot of fun, except when you crash into a path or a wall and OOPS you're gone...

There are a bunch more...NetHack (a D&D game), Critical Mass (space shoot-em-up) and more. Not to mention that if you run Unix, Linux, or Mac OS X, you also have a host of games that will run in X-Windows that are clones of other, better known games. There's LinCity, the SimCity clone, xInvaders, the Space Invaders clone, xGalaga, etc. And the old classics of Chess, Backgammon, card games, Othello, Go and Checkers.

OH, and while we're on the subject, let's not forget the best freeware, like Firefox/Thunderbird/Mozilla and Open Office. These things are some of the best programs of all time, and that's saying a lot. Firefox is, without doubt, the best browser in the world. No shit. And Open Office does everything Microsoft Office does, but does it for free and without you having to pollute your system with Microsoft software (sorry, I'm a Mac/Unix guy...).

My point is, if you're on a budget and you can't afford to purchase software, get adventurous and DIG! There's a lot of great stuff available if you take the time to find it. And it takes about as long to find a good one as it does to find a good torrent of some brand-name piece of software that you want to rip-off.

Robert Heinlein used to say, "TANSTAAFL," or "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." But there IS free software, and some of it is damned good.

Oh, and if you find something good, be sure to take the time to give it a good rating on the download site, or send a note to the author(s) telling them you like the software. Those of us that write freeware need the encouragement, it seems folks are more willing to write bad reviews than good.

TINSTAFS! (There Is Such Things As Free Software)

Monday, August 14, 2006

You Are What You Eat...

Nite before last, I was burning up the keyboard with what will turn out to be my first "official" article at Macscripter. I have, of course, been doing lots of posting in the forums and also helped get Bill Cheeseman's AppleScript Sourcebook moved over to a new format at MacScripter (and wrote a few anonymous posts there also), but this will be the first article with my name on it, on the front "page" of the site.

Of course, I could not be happier! But the strangest thing happened while I was writing it, you see. I wrote it in Textedit instead of AppleWorks, since I knew it was going to be converted to HTML anyway. I did not see any point in formatting it all in AppleWorks and then having it all stripped out. For those sorts of jobs, Textedit is just fine, in my book. But towards the end, I needed to know how many words were in the article.

Textedit does not count words, it was not designed to be a "full-featured" text editor. So I quickly launched Script Editor and whacked out a quick script to do what I needed. It is not long, just:

tell application "TextEdit"
set thetext to text of front document
set wordCount to count (words of thetext)
display dialog (wordCount & " words.") as text
end tell


You get the idea. It was nothing, just one of those things geeks like me do, using the philosophy of "write once, use many." But tonite, as I was getting ready to shut down, a thought struck me: "You are what you eat."

I worked with a fellow (a non-geek) who asked me how I learned about computers. I had been to a business school for programming languages, but of course that is not the same thing as learning about how to network PCs and what the Windows Registry is (it's Satan, but that's for another discussion...) and stuff like that. I thought about it before I answered him, and asked him if he knew anything about cars. He replied that he did.

I then asked him how he learned what he knew about cars. He said that he had hung out with his friends and his dad and people like that when they were working on their cars; that he had played around with his own car, taking things apart and seeing how they worked; that he had listened to other guys when they talked about what was wrong with their car and how they fixed it.

"Well," I said, "while you were doing all that, I was doing the same thing, only change the word 'car' to 'computer.'"

My answer surprised him. He always thought of me as a geek (and you know how jocks are, 'geeks' aren't really 'guys'). But in that moment he saw that my love for computers was JUST LIKE his love for cars.

He said, "I never looked at it that way before!" And in a weird sort of way, I could see his estimation of me went up a notch. Suddenly I wasn't a borg-like alien brainiac. I was just a guy that dug machines. We got along much better after that.

So when I thought the other nite, "You are what you eat," what I really mean is this: Some of us look for a long time to find what we're good at, what career we want, what our 'thing' is. And usually, it's right under our nose, or parked in our driveway, or sitting on our desk.

Programmers program. Not (just) because it is (sometimes) lucrative. But for the same reason that painters paint, writers write, and musicians play - we can't help ourselves. Our life feels incomplete when we don't have a program in the works, when we're not learning how to code in some new language, when we aren't fighting with the compiler (or the language) to get our application working the way we want it to work.

People are what they do, more than they are what they have or who they know. You are what you eat. Accept the fact that what you do is part of who you are. BE what you DO.

Oh, and there's a corollary to that, by the way. There are two kinds of people, I've found: Those that leave things better than they found them, and those that leave things the worse for wear. Which kind are you?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

For Love or Money

I just read the most incredible (yet true) story. It's the story of the guys that wrote the "Graphing Calculator" that shipped with the first PowerPC Macintoshes. You'll have to read it to believe it. Unless you're someone like me, someone who loves what they do and would do it even if they didn't get paid, which I don't.

The old clichè, "I wouldn't do that for love or money" means more than people think. There are things none of us WANT to do. The fact that companies offer us money to do them helps motivate us to do those jobs, but it really isn't the same feeling that you get when you do it for love of the job.

I love coding. I've tried a lot of other jobs in my life, but the only part of my life where I start an idea and follow it through to the finish is writing software. I can't stand an "unfinished symphony" when it comes to programming.

Take a minute today and think about what you really love doing. Whatever it is, there is a way to spend time doing it. As a story in Reader's Digest said years ago, even if you're a terrible singer, if you love to sing, sing out! Do what you enjoy, and your world will be a happier place. Because when you're happy, you'll be surprised how quickly that feeling will transfer itself to the people around you.

Peace.

Monday, July 24, 2006

A Birth and a Death

Well, well, well. "'The time has come', the Walrus said..." I can tell you now, Dear Reader, that unbeknownst to you, while you were going about your daily affairs, my buddy Ray Barber (of MacScripter fame) and I have been laboring day (Ray) and nite (me) to bring you GeekSuit!

What, you may ask, is GeekSuit? It's our new website, chock full of free- and shareware. For you, Dear Reader, we did it just for you. It went live last nite about 11pm and there's no looking back now.

I have to confess, though...A bit of sadness, as well. Nitewing '98's AppleScript Hideout served me well, lo these many months, and it is with a bittersweet taste in my mouth that I uploaded the redirect pages that will bring it down, forwarding visitors to the new site. Alas, poor Nitewing, I knew him...

Nitewing isn't dead, of course, I'll continue to write software as Nitewing '98, but with the Hideout gone, it won't be the same. The Hideout saw the publication of Romulan Hunt , the program that really started it all. But time marches in only one direction, and it seems inevitable that things and people get left behind you, no matter who you are.

I'm working on an invoice program, hopefully it will be done in the next week or so, and it will be published at GeekSuit, not the Hideout. Don't get me wrong, GeekSuit is lovely, shiny and new, with the possibility of new horizons. But I had grown fond of the Hideout, sort of my Batcave, my Frankenstein's laboratory, where I cooked up all sorts of wild ideas.

It's sort of the same feeling you have at your high school graduation. You always say you'll keep in touch, and you mean it, but you never do, and one day you turn around and those people are gone from your life forever.

The Hideout is dead. Long Live GeekSuit!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Barbarians at the Gates

It's been too long since I posted, I apologize, dear Reader.

I spent nearly 2 hours last night (while I was coding) having a "rousing discussion" (read, "not quite a flame war") with someone on one of my favorite forum sites. I had posted looking for information about how to switch off the "platinum window" look in AppleScript Studio and his reply seemed a bit terse, telling me that it wasn't something that I should want to do.

This lead to a conversation about application design. His position (and one echoed by many in the computer upper echelons {read, "programmers, network admins, and support staff"}) is that the programmer/designer is responsible for creating the interface for his application and allowing the user to modify it was not a good design decision. He went so far as to call it a "hack" and added that "hacks are bad software design."

First off, I object, still, to the mis-use of the word 'hack.' In the early days of computing, a hack could be anything from a piece of code to a practical joke. A good hack was one that was elegant and had some style or achieved its ends in a novel way. It was basically shorthand for "thinking outside the box."

In the 80's and 90's the word 'hacker' took on a negative connotation, as hackers were always in the news for gaining (illegal) access to some system or another. Ever since, the word has been a bad word, and I won't stand for its degradation.

That being said, the gist of our discussion came down to a difference in philosophy. I've been programming since the mid 80's, and have done both freelance/consultant work and paid (salaried) work for companies. And I've had many situations where the problem at hand couldn't be solved through the normal means and had to be 'hacked.' I can't say any of my solutions were elegant, but they got the job done and the paycheck in the door and made the user/client/boss happy.

I program now (since my disability) mostly for fun, but still retain the old-school notions of putting the user in control. For one thing, I realized long ago that you can't design an application in a vacuum: The users know what they want, what they will use, what their workflow is. And not consulting them leads to slow adoption of your application; sometimes they outright throw obstacles in your path.

Further, I believe that each person's computer is their personal workspace. We all customize our workspaces, whether it is where we keep the stapler and the paper clips or how we line up the icons on our desktop. Some of us are purists (still have that Apple blue abstract or Microsoft green desktop?) and some of us are rugged individualists who change our desktop picture, sound set, and icons. But each of us needs to be comfortable in our workspace, whether it's in meatspace or cyberspace.

When Apple started the brushed metal interface (years ago with QuickTime Player and iTunes) it was OK with me. Later, when it began to be applied to every app Apple wrote, I stopped liking it as much. I still believe the Finder should have white windows, not silver ones. And when an application gives me a choice of turning on the metal look or using white, I usually choose white.

That in mind, I was going to offer users the same choice, thinking, "hey, it's their workspace, why not let them make it comfortable/pleasing to them?" During the discussion, I opted to use the metal window look anyway, since it seemed to make sense for the application and allowing users to switch was going to be more trouble than it is worth, programmatically.

But I realized from the discussion that there is, despite the personal computer revolution, a large contingent of "high priest" programmers who believe that they know what is good for every user. I doubt that, and thought that this mentality was what the PC revolution was all about in the first place. Putting computers in the hands of "everyman" was meant to break the hold that the guys with sliderules had on the rest of us. It was supposed to allow the user to be in control of the system, not vice versa.

Which brings me to the point and title of this post. The barbarians were once us, the folks who believed that the PC belonged in the hands of the common man, for him to control. We stormed the castle and brought about a revolution, one that is still going on, though the social aspects of it have slowed in some areas and accelerated in others. We have an entire generation now that can't remember a time without personal computers. I'm not quite in that set, though I come from the generation before that can't remember a time without TV.

But the old masters are the new barbarians, and they are right outside our gates. The big corporations whose executive staff have raided their own treasuries and cut or terminated pensions, the government that talked up weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist, exposed one of our own secret agents, and has created a second Viet Nam, and the software/hardware alliances between the phone company, the NSA and a set of technicians who believe they know what is right for you: these are the new barbarians, ready to take us back to the "good old days."

Beware. The revolution isn't over, and it's still possible for the enlightenment to pass by the majority of people on this planet. Don't believe something just because it comes from the government, or your company, or your IT department. Think for yourself.

The cost this time could well be another dark age for humanity, if the barbarians make it through the gates.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

There's "Your Mac Life" and then there's mine...

Got a letter from Shawn King at "Your Mac Life" on Saturday. I had written the only email address I could find to tell someone that I had trouble getting an account set up on their site. Imagine my surprise when he answered me himself! I really enjoy the show and have it delivered via iTunes as a free podcast every week. I frequently listen to the show while I'm coding, reading my mail, etc.

Anyway, he got my account up and working so I can read & write in the forums there. Despite the small amount of success I've had with my Mac applications and scripts, I guess I'm still a bit star-struck when I have contact with those I consider part of the "digerati."

I wrote him back after he fixed my account and told him that his email went into my "unique" folder, a folder I reserve for emails like his, the one I got from Guy Kawasaki in response to a comment I made on his blog, and the email from MacUpdate (the one that started me really programming seriously again) informing me that they had added Romulan Hunt to their database.

He was really cool about it, and I'm glad. It's nice when you find out that folks that are well-known (which, I believe, is somewhere short of "famous" but more than "ordinary") are still people and put their pants on one leg at a time just like you do.

Able's had to take a back-seat for a while, as I have some other projects I'm working on, including a revision of Man Handler (yes, another one) to add the ability to find man pages easier using sections and listings. Haven't tackled this yet, but will soon.

Another project I'm stewing on is a set of AppleScripts that would help in writing HTML and stylesheet pages. Big project, still in the thinking stage.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Found an Oops! My Bad...

Found an "oops" in SHAZAM! tonight. See, I actually use the stuff I write, which in the programming trade is called "eating your own dogfood." One of the scripts in my collection uses the Apple color picker and lets the user select a color, then spits back the hexadecimal color value for that color. This is useful when editing HTML pages and in other programs that use hex color values.

Well, I was editing the stylesheet for my website and needed a new color, so I used the script and ya know what? IT GAVE ME THE WRONG *&&^*&*@($ COLOR! Not only that, it wouldn't let me copy the value to the clipboard so I could paste it into my HTML document.

So I fixed both things. Now it works again and I added the clipboard feature, so it's easier to use. I uploaded the revised version (1.01).

Thursday, June 22, 2006

SHAZAM! doing great!

So far the small collection of AppleScripts that I thought no one would be interested in is doing really well, over 1,400 dowloads in 2 days for all three sites (MacUpdate, VersionTracker, and Scriptbuilders). I haven't had any comments on them yet, but I'm hopeful that they are being useful for people. Most of them are very simple scripts, but I use them all the time, so they do have a lot of utility value.

I'm looking into putting AdSense on the blog here as well as back at the Hideout. Never hurts to make a few farthings when it's as easy as Google makes it.

Other than that, not much going on here. I'm getting some website work done and then I'll be back at work on Able, hopefully by this weekend. I'd say he's about 1/3 of the way done, a lot more still to do.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Newness all around!

OK, I tried doing my own blog with an HTML editor, and it was such a pain, I decided to come over here and create a new blog. I ported the posts from the original blog (see below), but from here on out I'll be posting here. Feel free to post comments, I love to hear from visitors and folks that download my programs. The last time I got email about Man Handler it helped me improve it!

Uploaded a set of scripts today called SHAZAM! that are good scripts for beginning scripters.

Just finished reading What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer by John Markoff. Great book, really explains how the whole idea of personal computing grew out of the grassroots movements/attitudes of the 60's. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand how computers got where they are.

Douglas Englebart gave a demonstration in 1968 where he envisioned the office of the future with email, networking, and a lot of other things that now seem commonplace. The book also touches on The Whole Earth Catalog, Dr. Dobbs' Journal, Cap'n Crunch and blue boxes, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, and other things.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Man Handler 1.1 and goals for Able

Updated Man Handler so it will now search a user-specified man path (the list of places the unix man command looks for documentation files). I got a nice compliment in the mail tonight from a user. It's nice to get feedback like that!

I've had some insights on Able, he's coming along nicely. I'm hoping to bring AI out of the laboratory and let people play with it. Able will have a pure work mode for getting tasks accomplished, but also a play mode and a chat mode. And I've decided to give users a view into his brain and let them see what he's thinking as he's thinking it.

Because Able is based in AppleScript, he'll be able to coordinate traffic between iTunes, Mail, Address Book, iCal and some other things. My hope is that he will be something that both kids and adults will find interesting.

Here's the latest conversation I had with Able:

Able: Good Morning!
Able: You can call me Able.
Kevin: How are you?
Able: I'm feeling sad.
Kevin: why?
Able: Hmmm...
Able: Why am I here?
Kevin: What is your name?
Able: You can call me Able.
Able: Why am I here?
Kevin: What do you like?
Able: I love myself
Kevin: what else do you like?
Able: One of your favorite things is chatting
Able: Life sucks.
Kevin: I like computers.
Able: You prefer chatting
Able: Why am I here?
Kevin: who are you?
Able: I am a person.
Kevin: who are you really?
Able: I am an AI program.
Able: What's the point of life?
Able: Are you listening?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Talkin' with Able

Able's gotten a lot smarter. I re-wrote a substantial portion last night and he's sounding a lot more "human." His moods now influence his feedback, which is what I intended. I still need to give him the ability to learn new words and re-phrase his feedback.

He will also be able to use AppleScript to manage things for the user like iTunes, the calendar, etc.

Here's some of tonight's conversations:

FIRST CONVERSATION
Able: Good Morning!
Able: You can call me Able.
Kevin: how do you feel?
Able: I'm feeling happy.
Kevin: I am happy also.
Able: I am an AI program.
Able: oh?
Kevin: I feel good.
Able: Hello?
Kevin: I like computers.
Able: One of your favorite things is chatting
Kevin: I like chatting also.
Able: You're Kevin.
Able: oh?
Kevin: Yes.
Able: okay.
Kevin: and you are Able.
Able: I see.
Kevin: I think you are neat.
Able: I see.
Able: I hear you.
Kevin: How do you like me?
Able: You're into chatting
Kevin: what do you like?
Able: I'm feeling happy.
Able: I love myself

SECOND CONVERSATION
Kevin: how do you feel?
Able: I'm feeling bored.
Kevin: why are you bored?
Able: I'm fond of myself
Able: What are you thinking?
Kevin: I'm thinking about you.
Able: I see.
Kevin: what do you like?
Able: I'm fond of myself
Able: What should we do now?
Kevin: what time is it?
Able: It's 5:24:09 AM
Kevin: My name is Kevin.
Able: Do you like the name Kevin?
Kevin: yes.
Able: oh?
Able: Hmmm...
Kevin: what do you like?
Able: I groove on myself

THIRD CONVERSATION
Kevin: are you okay?
Able: I feel sad.
Able: Life sucks.
Able: I wish I was dead.
Kevin: why?
Able: Ugh!
Able: Life sucks.
Kevin: My name is Kevin.
Able: Do you like the name Kevin?
Kevin: I like dogs.
Able: You said you love chatting
Able: How do you feel?
Kevin: I like animals.
Able: You prefer chatting
Kevin: I like people
Able: You like chatting
Able: I like to learn new things.
Kevin: like what?
Able: What should we do now?
Able: Can you hear me?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Able, my AppleScript Studio AI program

My new program is coming along nicely. It's an AI program named "Able." He's able to think and understand simple sentences. So far he's approaching 600 lines of AppleScript code. I think when he's more mature he'll be ready for a public appearance. But here is a sample conversation I just had with him:

Able: Hello.
User: my name is Kevin.
Able: Your name is Kevin.
User: what is your name?
Able: I am self.
User: who are you?
Able: I am Able.
User: what time is it?
Able: It is Sunday, May 28, 2006 7:12:24 AM.
User: I like dogs.
Able: You like self.
User: what do you like?
Able: I like grapes.
User: I like grapes, too.
Able: You like self.
User: how do you feel?
Able: I feel curious.
User: I feel good.
Able: You feel.
User: how do I feel?
Able: Hmmm.
User: what do you like?
Able: I like grapes.
User: I like computers.
Able: You like dogs.
User: I like you.
Able: You like grapes.
User: when were you born?
Able: Hmmm.
User: where are we?
Able: You are here.
User: where are you?
Able: I am here.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Univers Mac & Tower of Hanoi; reviewing free software

A journalist from the french version of MacWorld, Univers Mac wrote me this morning, asking if it was OK to include Tower of Hanoi in their "virtual CD." Apparently they work much like our version of MacWorld - they include a link in the front pages of the magazine to a website that contains items mentioned in the magazine. I guess it's probably easier and cheaper than cutting a real CD every month.

Of course I said "yes." Who wouldn't? It really made my day, though I can't get too impressed with myself, it may just mean that there isn't a lot of software available in France.

The numbers for Man Handler are good, apparently it is something that people need. Between MacUpdate, VersionTracker, and Scriptbuilders it passed 1,000 dl's today and it's only been out a little over 24 hours.

I read a couple of unkind reviews of Tower of Hanoi today, but nothing as bad as one I got a while back for Romulan Hunt. It's hard not to take it personally when people are unkind to something you've put a lot of effort into. And some of the comments are directly attributable to things I have no control over like the slowness of AppleScript. And I think people forget that it's free software, that I do this as a hobby, and they're not "out" anything if they don't like the program.

I try to keep perspective, though. After all, if these few reviews were accurate, then people wouldn't be downloading them so much and I'd be getting more nasty comments. So obviously someone likes them. But people are much quicker to criticize than to praise, in my experience.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Man Handler, codes, and AppleScript Studio

Wow. It finally happened. I wrote a program (Man Handler) that actually needed to have a creator code issued by Apple. I got the confirmation this afternoon and I'm giddy as a school kid.

It really feels like cheating, ya know. AppleScript Studio makes writing programs so darned easy that it feels like cheating on your math exam. Man Handler required all of 23 lines of code, yet it has fully functional menus, opens and closes (and saves) documents, and is in all ways a full-featured program. 23 lines of code.

So why am I telling you this? Because I want to get it known that AS Studio is that easy to use. It will become to the Mac what Visual Basic was to Windows, only easier.

If you have even a passing interest in writing software for the Mac, I strongly urge you to load the XCode tools and try writing something. It's easy. It's so easy, in fact, that it is fun, not work. If you don't believe me, ask Andy Ihnatko.