Archive for March, 2009

tab, pad, and board

March 17th, 2009 Comments off

(alternate title: how Apple is borrowing from Xerox PARC again)

Back in the heady days before the first Macintosh, when PC was in infancy there were a group of Apple researchers that took a visit to Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and took a look at a Xerox research product called the Alto that had a graphical screen, and this weird thing called a mouse to collect user input.  The Apple guys came back home and brought out the Lisa (not huge commercial success) and then a few years later the Macintosh was born.  This is history.

When I was in grad school, we got to take a tour of Xerox’s PARC and had an hour long lecture by Mark Weiser about Ubiquitous Computing ( look here and here ) which was fascinating.  The year was 1996/97ish, and you have to recall the technology of the time.  Weiser was excited about a few things, some haven’t really fleshed out (really cheap computers ~$5 per device — but look at flash drive prices; and the influence of IrDa – infrared as a local networking stack) but I think the one thing he’s come close to identifying is the three form factors of a pad, a tab and a board.

This was at the very beginning of Palm’s device, and that was considered a ‘tab’ something extremely portable, personal and identifible.  In Apple speak this has grown into the iPhone/iPod Touch size devices.

The next form factor was the ‘tab’, this is roughly paper sized and very portable, Weiser saw this as impersonal, like sheets of paper but that could compute, you could push your presence to the device through your pad.  Apple currently doesn’t have a device that fits this description, the closest could be the iBook line, but Weiser identified this as NOT a notebook computer.  Could the rumors flying around Cupertino about a new tablet big boy iPhone be this missing link.

The third form factor was the ‘board’, Weiser saw this as a large wall sized computer monitor where or a group white board type of device where again people could connect to a ‘presence’ via the internet or some other networked type infrastructure.  Apple ‘kinna’ has this form factor in their iMac and/or AppleTV/MAc Mini displaying through a large HDTV.  I say kinda, because again this doesn’t fit Weiser vision as a computing device.

Switch paradigms a bit.  Apple is a first class hardware software company, but they’re making lots of money in a different market, media.  Since the first iPod, Apple has increasingly become less a computer manufacturer (ala Dell) and more a media marketer.  iTunes has become the center of their universe.

It seems to me, that Apple is hitting those form factors and tying them to iTunes for the distribution of content and ‘presence’ to your devices (iPhone, iTablet, AppleTV).

So while all the rumors fly of what the next announcement out of Cupertino will be this afternoon, my thoughts think history will repeat themselves a bit, and Apple will announce a tablet form factor (not a netbook, not a notebook, but something more ‘apple-ish’) as well as more changes to support an iTunes centric media-verse for their collection of devices.

Categories: /dev/null, Gadgets Tags: , ,

Watching the Watchmen

March 13th, 2009 1 comment

Watched the Watchmen last night, so that answers that question (inside joke).  I hustled up after all the school open houses and choir concerts. (brief aside, my kids rock) Met some friends for the 9PM show, and the parking lot was *empty* for the whole theater.  Been hitting the Thursday night 9ish time slot for a while and its never been sooooo empty.  *shakes fist at economy*

Going into the movie I was excited, because I’m a fan of the graphic novel, the story is convoluted so I wasn’t sure how it would be recieved by the non-fanboy public.  About an hour in a few people of the sparsely populated theater got up and left.  Which I kinda expected, if you come into Watchmen thinking, oh this is like Xmen or Spidey, you’re not gonna like what you get.  Its a darker theme, and really it laid the groundwork for some more popular movies (The Incredibles pops into mind).

The good stuff without being too spoilerish.  Rorschach! awesomely portrayed, and his mask is just awesome.  The Comedian is well done by Jackie Earle Haley, and Billy Crudup’s Dr. Manhattan well done (could have used a little less blue penis though).  As stated in other reviews, the awkward love scene was awkward (as the comic portray it too I believe) and the song choice, a bit redundant.  Several people giggled through it, including myself.

Overall Zach Snyder did a great job translating comic to film.  Visually stunning.  For the uninitiated, pay attention to the opening credits.  On first look, several things are probably going back and rewatching, since the plot is all intertwined, some early things would be better understood after the first go round.

Overall: 3 stars.

Categories: Comics, Movies Tags: , ,

Read: Outliers

March 10th, 2009 Comments off
Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell

Title: Outliers: The Story of Success
Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Format: Kindle for iPhone

I bought this book to try out the Kindle application for the iPhone, and also I’m a fan of Gladwell’s other works ( The Tipping Point, Blink).  The hard bound version of this book weighs in at 320 pages, I mention this because the concept of a ‘page’ is somewhat fluid when you’re reading on a portable device. This review will mostly cover my experience with reading experience, and then I delve slightly into the content.

Overall the experience wasn’t bad.  The Kindle application allows the user to select from five font sizes, my eyes are good enough to make out the smallest font and read fairly comfortably, though I read most of the book at the second smallest font (one down from the default).  Page flips are a thumb drag gesture, so its easy to read one handed (a step up from a paperback that requires two hands to turn a page), rarely was there an inadvertant flip, but sometimes had to do the gesture twice because I didn’t use enough pressure.

One fault I found with the Kindle on iPhone (which is apparent in Outliers) is the size of footnote (which Malcom makes good use of and are fairly good reads in the middle of his prose) anchors required many attempts before being able to hit the mark (usually a * or +), while returning to the main story from the footnote was easy thanks to the “return to book” sized anchor.  While its probably more an artifact on how the publisher chose to insert the footnote, a larger anchor area would have been easier to navigate.

The other oddity was with some of the tabular data that is included in Outliers.  Gladwell uses tables in some parts of the book to show relations between dates and birthdays which are fairly well rendered, the Kindle makes columns that are wider than the page navigable via a scroll type functionality on the side bar of the page.  Readable, and for the purpose of the reading it was useable, pouring over the data to glean additional patterns wasn’t really a possiblity.  Again, this is on a very small screen, so this is expected, though being able to open a table viewer that can switch to a landscape mode would be neat, I’m not sure its required.

Which brings up another point, the reader is portait only, and flipping the phone to the side doesn’t change to landscape mode, because there isn’t a landscape mode.  I don’t have a problem with that, because in some situations, reading while lying on my side kept the orientation with my eyes, while an autochanging landscape mode (as in some other apps) would have flipped to landscape mid-sentence and been 90 degrees out for my eyes.

The justification for publications on the Kindle are up to the publisher, and Outliers was published with full justification (straight margins on both sides) which made it like reading a long thin column on a newspaper.  I find justified text fairly easy to read, but there are places where the word spacing was excessively large to make the justification work.  Not horrible, but noticeable here and there.

I read the book over the course of 3-4 days, in a variety of conditions, from completely dark room, to full daylight.  The screen brightness has to be changed outside of the Kindle application, which made for some pauses (don’t want to read a flashlight in my eyes, which is what normal brightness looked like in a dark room).  Full light wasn’t bad at all, the iPhone screen has good performance in daylight.  Best conditions was normal lighting and was very comfortable to read.  I read in different intervals, from a couple of minutes, to upto an hour, and didn’t experience horrible eyestrain.  (I have the joy of looking at LCD screens for the majority of my days at any rate, so reading on the smaller screen of the iPhone wasn’t horrible.  I have no experience with the Kindle’s eInk screen, so I can’t compare.

The nice feature was the ability to open the Kindle app and be returned to the page I left off.  Also reading a footnote then returning to the text was seamless, with one small caveat.  The return jump always had the starting anchor at the top of the screen which changed the position of the lines on the screen, which causes a bit of disorientation, but easily adapted to after understanding what happened.

All in all an enjoyable experience.  At $9.99 for the eBook, I saved ~$5 off the hardbound cover price.  I sort of wish there was a library or a half-price books for used eBooks, as I’m not sure I’ll return to this book over and over.  The content was interesting, but really not mind-blowingly relavatory.  Gladwell’s premise is that people we see as Outliers, people that achieve extraordinary success are often the recipients of inadvertant bias, luck, good timing, and earlier experience.  Sometimes I was left thinking that if everyone had the same experience as Bill Gates the world would be FULL of Bill Gates.  I’m not sure if that was what Gladwell was trying to express, but I disagree with that premise.  Sure, Bill Gates had some extremely lucky things happen to him early in life, but he also put in a lot of hard work and practice to get to the level of skill he showed at the beginning of the PC era.

Outliers is an interesting read, and some of the points made are pertainent to understanding how the world works, but not mind-blowingly relevant to living our lives.  Beyond working hard and making the most of opportunities.

Categories: books Tags: , ,

Kindle for the iPhone

March 4th, 2009 Comments off

Today, Amazon released a free Kindle app for the iPhone. Foe those that don’t follow the gadget world Kindle is Amazon’s entry into the eBook space, with literally thousands of books available in their format. The barrier to entry was the steep 300+ price tag for their reading gadget.

That barrier has been lowered a bit. Since with a iPhone app (and probably a Windows Mobile app right behind) there is an installed base of potential readers ready to read books on a mobile device.

I downloaded the app and bought a book. Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’.

(note: you have to go to the Amazon website to buy a book, can’t do it through the app).

Reading is easy, a thumbflip turns the page. At one click down from the default font I can read about two paragraphs per page. The don’t is easy to read.

Reading more on line, the app will sync with your kindle, so picking up either device you start where you left off.

Things the app can’t do ( yet ) is search or annotate. But for
Just reading it does a good job.

Categories: Gadgets Tags: , ,