January 2010 Archives

iPad Thoughts

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Alright, so I know everyone has heard of the iPad by now, but I thought I’d take a few moments to address the hype.

First off, in the interest of full disclosure, I never had any intention of buying this device, even before the announcement, and I’m much more interested in Android as a platform than iPhone. That said, it’s the reasons I favor Android over iPhone that is behind a fair number of my complaints with the iPad.

At the end of the day, the iPad is nothing more than a giant iPhone. And for a lot of people, that’s all they wanted. Certainly there are experiences that can be realized on the device now that it has the larger display, the e-mail app (at least in landscape mode) was far more interesting. And there are plenty of more apps that will really shine on this display. But, the iPad has some problems that make it not just a non-starter for me, but in my opinion, a completely waste of time for everyone.

  1. First, the lack of Flash support. This even became an issue during the presentation. I’m not a huge fan of Flash, by any means, and I understand why it was left out of the iPhone. But, for a device of this class, it is simply inexcusable. There are thousands of games, videos, and other widgets dependent on Flash, rightly or wrongly. This may well change (I sincerely hope it does), but until then, this is required support. Especially for a device claiming to offer the ultimate browsing experience. At the end of the day, if it can’t run Hulu, it’s a no buy.
  2. Closed app distribution mechanism. Especially since the mechanism that is available is controlled entirely by the whims of one organization, one with a history of poor definition of standards and practices, is inexcusable. Just because Apple doesn’t want it on the iPad, doesn’t mean that I don’t.
  3. Lack of support for development tools. Requiring all developers to be on Mac, specifically one running the latest software, cuts out a huge pool of potential developers.
  4. iPad and iPhone apps are completely separate. Porting an App to iPad isn’t going to require building a completely new application. Yes, the code should port cleanly, but it still leads toward two divergent code bases that is going to require some work to keep in sync, if you intend to continue upgrading the software for both platforms with new functionality. You should simply be able to design new UI, and bind it up. Admittedly, Android can’t do this yet (I don’t think, though Android does have better support for multiple screen sizes).

So, most of those complaints don’t matter to the average user, but they do cement my decision to not be interested in buying this product. It’s unfortunate, because it is nice hardware, but with a device like that, good hardware isn’t enough when there are such fundamental problems with the software.

Thought's on Conan and NBC

As you’ve most likely heard by now, Conan O’Brien and NBC have reached a deal, wherein Conan will be off NBC as of Friday, and Conan will recieve $33 million, while his staff (some 200 people), split $12 million. I’m guessing that constitutes some 6 months of severance for each staffer, but that’s conjecture. Conan, being the classy man that he is, has said he’ll be chipping in some of his severance to his staff.

I’ve watched Conan for years on Late Night, and I haven’t missed an episode his Tonight Show since it began seven months ago (thanks largely to Hulu. Needless to say, I’m sad to see the end of Conan’s time on NBC, but it is exciting to think of what he’ll do next.

NBC justifies their decision because Conan’s been doing poor in the [Neilsen ratings]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nielsen_ratings) against David Letterman, compared to how Jay Leno was doing. Frankly, this isn’t much of a surprise, since Dave and Jay both served a similar demographic, and Conan was attractive to a younger crowd. However, this is based solely on the Neilsen Ratings, which frankly, I don’t think are likely to be very accurate for Conan’s demographic.

Frankly, while I’ve watched every single episode of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, the number that I’ve watched live I can probably count on one hand. People my age, more and more, have decided to consume television differently, and in such a way that Neilsen’s rating system simply can’t measure. TV Executive’s (or more accurately, advertising executives) are incapable of measuring success of programming by any measure other than (and frankly more reliable than) Neilsen’s methods. Plus, though advertising on the Internet is getting more valuable, it’s still a fraction of what advertisers are willing to spend on TV, even though the data to support the advertising is far worse.

In the long run, I think NBC is betting on the wrong horse. Jay’s well established, but his demographic is getting older, while Conan’s demographic is still on it’s way up. Mostly though, as Media changes, Conan’s demographic is more willing to follow it where it’s going, which in the long run is the real story here. However, despite Revision3’s generous offer, I just don’t see Conan taking the plunge to a fully Internet-based show, even though I believe there is a very good chance Conan could make it work with the aide of savvy people like the folks at Rev3.

I look forward to seeing where Conan goes next, though I’d love if Letterman announced his retirement and Conan took over the Late Show, once again cementing that program’s status as the ‘Fuck NBC’ late night program (remember, NBC basically screwed Letterman out of the Tonight Show nearly twenty years ago). However, wherever Conan goes next, I know I’ll be watching.

Can’t say I’ll watch Jay though.

Independent Game Competitions

Since Revision 3 picked up Bytejacker about four months ago, I’ve been watching it weekly, and really enjoying the show. Bytejacker is a web show, that’s been on for over a year now, that every week takes a look at what’s going on in the world of independent games. Part of the reason I took interest, was because a lot of these games are playable in Linux, either via native builds, or that they’re flash-based browser games. It’s been a great source of cool little games I probably would have never found otherwise.

Part of why it’s so cool, is that a fair number of the episodes highlight the games from The Independent Gaming Source’s competitions, which they’ve been doing for a little over a year now. These games are typically created by very small teams (or individuals), and while most aren’t going to be blockbuster titles, there are some really awesome games available there.

I’m a fan of these sorts of competitions, having usually watched PyWeek fairly closely, though I have yet to participate. PyWeek is cool because developers have 1 week to create their game using PyGame, pyglet, or PyOpenGL.. TIGSource’s games tend to be a bit more polished, since they don’t have the week-long deadline, but PyWeek’s entries are a pretty exciting example of what’s possible in a short period of time.

To date, I haven’t seen any competitions like this targeting the iPhone (which would be hard to do, given the cost of entry and difficulty deploying), or Android (which would be much easier), but I expect as mobile devices become more and more common we’ll start seeing them as well, and frankly, that’s pretty exciting.

Science Education

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A few weeks back, Powell’s Books posted an editorial article by Theodore Gray, author of “Mad Science: Experiments You Can Do At Home — But Probably Shouldn’t”, asking if Science is an important as Football. On the surface, the question seems ridiculous, and I can’t think of very many people who would dream of saying that Football is more important than Science. Mind you, the people I know are a non-random sample, but even on a large scale, I don’t see most people viewing Science Education as less important than school sports.

This discussion isn’t about funding, though that is certainly an issue. Science instructors do tend to find their budgets for specimens, equipment, and chemicals getting leaner, while sports programs (especially football) are almost always able to get the money they need to continue operating. More than that, however, is how Science education has consistently gotten less dangerous, and consequently less exciting.

Safety is important, but when science becomes boring, kids don’t get interested in science. When people don’t have an interest in Science, we end up with a systemic societal problem where people honestly believe that evolution is a lie, the Earth is flat, that lighting it on fire is an effective means of igniting PETN, and that global climate change doesn’t have any anthropomorphic causes (the degree of humanities involvement in climate change is under debate, but no real climate scientists claim that humanity hasn’t impacted the environment). Plus, we delay the progress of Science, since fewer people are interested and participating, progress is slowed.

Gray really bemoans the fact that these moderately dangerous experiments (which aren’t that dangerous when done correctly) have been abolished, but other dangerous activities, Football, are not only sanctioned, but celebrated. And kids do get injured, some badly, every year. Most aren’t bad, but then, neither were most classroom-accidents either.

Being so close to Academia, I’m really afraid that we’re moving more and more, at least in the US, to the kind of world that Neal Stephenson described in Anathem, where the scientists are sequested away from the rest of the population, who mainly continues to operate in ignorance and fear of things that they don’t fully understand. The worst part is that a fair amount of it comes from within Academia itself. Academics strongly stigmatize people who do outreach. People who write for non-scientific publications. People who reach outside of Academia to help the general populace understand why what goes on within Academia is so important.

After all, isn’t a little ridiculous that the most well-respected writer on food science issues, is a journalist?

Some scientists break that barrier, as Carl Sagan did in the 1980s, but only after becoming well established in their career, and often with plenty of derision from their contemporaries. Unfortunately, Carl Sagan has been dead for 13 years, and the no other Scientist-Author has risen who has been able to make the topics as accessible, or as fascinating as Sagan. Others who have tried have focused on issues that have made their writings far more controversial than was necessary, or even helpful.

As important as it is that Science begins reaching out to the public, making people understand their work, essentially arguing for their very existence… Isn’t it just as important that the schools do their part to keep science interesting as they lay down that basic educational, and foundational, framework that they impart upon young people? Certainly parents must play a role here as well, but every child, every student deserves to be exposed to the wonder of Science, the excitement of discovery, and, regrettably, not all parents are up to the task of revealing these wonders.

Bazaar Version Control Thoughts

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on this topic, but I’ve been giving a lot of thought to open source distributed version control systems (DVCS) again. In my opinion, this space has essentially become a three-horse race, between bazaar, git, and mercurial. At this time, I can’t even guess which is used more between git and bazaar. Git powering projects like the Linux kernel, gnome, not to forget everything on github. Bazaar, however, is the VCS of choice for Launchpad, which hosts a ton of code too. Mercurial, isn’t a bad system, but from my perspective, it’s not different enough from git to bother, while I definitely see the niche that bazaar fills. Obviously, my opinion on Mercurial is not the only one, but I’ve talked about git before, though I might want to revisit the subject.

Today however, is about Bazaar. Mostly, I find Bazaar fills a really interesting niche that I hadn’t realized before. Developers had long been talking about the need for version control, and systems like Subversion have often been viewed as simple introductions into these concepts, since they’re pretty straightforward to use. However, Bazaar is fantastic, because in many ways it takes the simplicity (and familiarity) of a system like subversion, but applies distributed concepts that will benefit all developers.

I’ve a firm believer in DVCS, particularly with the ease of branching, merging, local commits, easy sharing… Bazaar works as a great tool. Personally, it hasn’t replaced git as my preferred VCS system, but I’ve been using it a fair amount lately on Launchpad (and it’s Launchpad integration is flat amazing), and I’ve come to appreciate the niche that it follows. Basically, if something like git, which I can see why a person would find fairly alien, is unpalatable for some reason, I think bazaar bridges the gap in an intersting fashion, and can bring people into the distributed mindset with a minimum amount of pain.

My feelings toward bazaar are mixed. It’s a really capable system, it works really well, and it hides away it’s complexity in a way that would be really non-intimidating to new users. But, it’s so simple, that certain things don’t work in a way I like. I don’t like that I need to create new directories for branches. I don’t like that I can’t seem to pull commits from a remote repo without performing a merge (something I use sometimes to aide in certain merges). I don’t like that I have to use a more complex command to get the ‘real’ revision history (ie, the one that includes merges).

Bazaar is awesome. And I’m going to gladly continue using it for projects hosted in Bazaar. But for me, Git still wins.

Green Networking

Slashdot reported today that Bell Labs formed the Green Touch Consortium which is aiming for a 1000x decrease in network energy usage. And they want to do it by 2015.

This is a huge effort, since network hardware is immensely ubiquitous, and according to Acaltel-Lucent, it puts out 300 million tonnes of CO2 every year. Interestingly, they do seem to be focused primarily around mobile networks, given the members, but that makes a lot of sense, given that wireless looks like it’s going to become more, not less, common.

Mostly, it’s just really good to see the focus on the newer technology, though given the nature of the consortium, I have some concerns about this new ‘Green’ networking technology being prohibitively expensive as it become available. Though, since much of it’s going to be backend, non-consumer hardware, it may not likely be much of a concern. I just don’t see myself needing to buy a cell tower…ever.

At the end of the day, this does seem to be a push by Alcatel-Lucent to save their flagging business, and in that case I need to give Alcatel credit for reinventing themselves in a potentially responsible way, and I have hopes that the Green Touch Consortium will be able to accomplish their goal, and I’ll be keeping an eye on what they’re working on.