2008-10-31

FTP for sharing files on Mac OS Leopard

I've decided to upgrade from sneakernet (=USB stick) to something more comfortable when sharing files with my brother, namely FTP. This is relatively easy to configure: Enable FTP sharing, create a new sharing-only user and designate a shared folder. But afterwards I kept getting an error:
530 User guest may not use FTP.
After much googling, a French website provided the answer: sharing-only users (=without their own home directory) have the shell /usr/bin/false. Users with this shell can only log on an FTP server if it is listed in /etc/shells (which it isn't).

2008-10-21

Apple and NetBooks

It's a shame that Apple does not produce NetBooks. But thankfully, there are a few interesting offers out there, even if Microsoft seems to have squashed some of the initial Linux variety. Today's conference call on Apple's Q408 finances shed some light on what might happen if Apple were to ever produce a NetBook:
Steve says that the iPhone could be considered an entrant into the netbook market, since it can browse the web (uh, sure), but that Apple's looking at the "nascent" netbook market and it's "got some interesting ideas there if it does evolve." [Engadget]
Thus: Apple won't shrink their Notebooks, but instead grow their iPhones (confirming a hunch of my Brother's). Throw in a folding keyboard and you do have an interesting mobile solution.

2008-10-19

Colin Powell endorses Obama

Colin Powell gives a great, even-handed analysis of both candidates for the U.S. presidency. Watch the video. One of the highlights: He says that a good answer to the question "is Barack Obama muslim?" is "no, he is christian", but an even better answer is "why does it matter?".

2008-10-14

Of mice and trackpads

Slowly but surely Apple's multi-touch trackpads make mice look really bad:
  • Gestures take a bit to learn, but are very efficient. They are also a perfect preparation for a true multi-touch user interface for Macintoshes.
  • The new button-less trackpad design is great for gestures.
  • The Mighty Mouse track ball (German: Dreckball) gets dirty and stuck really easily. So much so that this is a known problem in Apple tech support circles and that there are a number of solutions floating around where some work better than others.
Thus, the next logical step for Apple is to have a “solid state” Mighty Mouse: It would have no movable parts, especially no track ball, which would be replaced by a trackpad on the front of the mouse. But that begs the question: Why have a mouse then, why not just have a trackpad?
Update: After having played with the new trackpad, it came to me: Apple hasn't eliminated the button, it has eliminated the trackpad (while adding sensors to the button). The cool thing is that this gives you gestures for clicking: For example, for right-clicking you put two fingers down while clicking. The old button could not detect gestures, so this wasn't an option before.

Apple's announcements

Today's announcements from Apple were pretty much what has been expected. Observations:
  • MacBook and MacBook Pro (not MBA) support the Apple Stereo Headset with microphone. Even play, plause, forward, backward work.
  • You can configure an area on the new trackpad that triggers a right-click.
  • The new 24" Cinema Display is cool: When used with a notebook, it serves as external speakers, external display, external webcam, and USB hub. Thus, it is almost a docking station.
  • Apple still does not support either BluRay or HSPA. The latter is a bit suprising, because Apple has always been avant-guard when it comes to wireless technologies.
  • FireWire: Talk about mixed messages. On one hand, FireWire 800 on the MacBook Pro is a sensible evolution, even though I'll never understand why FW800 has different plugs than FW400 (as opposed to the successful USB evolution strategy to USB2, where they kept the same plug). On the other hand, USB2 is reaching its limits when it comes to memory sticks, external hard drives or external video hardware (see throughputs below). By not including FW800 with non-Pro MacBooks, it seems that Apple will use USB 3.0 in future MacBooks and not push FireWire as the next-generation data plug.
  • German prices: Unbelievably badly converted from the US prices. Example: the MacBook costs $1299 (about €946) in the US and €1199 in Germany.
  • NetBooks: In the Q&A Apple indicated that it is still observing that market. I always liked the 12" PowerBook and think that a 12" MacBook Air would sell really well. I think that 12" is the smallest you can get without compromising on the keyboard.
Throughputs:
  • Fast hard drive: 80 MB/s (640 Mbit/s). RAIDs are obviously faster.
  • Fast flash memory: read 200 MB/s (1.6 Gbit/s), write 100 MB/s (800 Mbit/s)
  • USB2: 480 Mbit/s
  • USB3: 4.8 Gbit/s
  • FW800: 786.432 Mbit/s
  • FW3200: 3.2 Gbit/s
  • Gigabit Ethernet: 300MBit/s (under real-world conditions)
  • Wi-Fi 802.11n: 130 MBit/s
Pros and cons:
  • USB3 (products: 2009 or 2010). Con: thick cables, even longer and more cumbersome plugs.
  • FW800 (products: now). Pro: robust plugs. Con: adapter needed for FW400 devices.
  • FW3200 (products: end of 2008). Plugs are the same as FW800.
Open questions:
  • Does the Apple Headphone also work if the MacBook is closed? That would be a better alternative to other notebooks having external buttons for play, pause, etc. Update: It does not work.
  • How does one drag beyond the area of the new clickpad? With traditional trackpads, you hold the button, lift the finger and continue dragging somewhere else. But with a clickpad, you cannot lift your finger and hold the button at the same time. Update: This requires a new gesture that pretends that there is still a button; you click with your thumb and move the cursor with your index finger.
  • Cinema display: Can one attach the MacBook Air DVD drive to the Cinema display? Update: Yes, one can.
  • Cinema display: Sound is enabled by plugging in USB, but is it transmitted via USB or via DisplayPort? The same question applies to the webcam, but as the built-in iSights use USB, DisplayPort is much less likely.
Update: Apple is removing (=censoring) threads that complain about the lack of FireWire in MacBooks.

2008-10-12

The speed of dark

Funny quote from the Amazon interview with Brian Greene about his new book “Icarus at the Edge of Time”:
I recently told my two and a half year old son a bedtime story that involved space travelers moving near the speed of light. Within days he was telling his own animated stories of dinosaurs and monsters outrunning a new and wonderful concept—“the speed of dark.”
It just goes to show: dark is way more bad-ass than light.

The current financial crisis: healthy?

The Washington Independent has published the article “The Great Unwind”. The article's author argues that the current crisis is necessary to reestablish a balance in the financial systems. As a consequence, most fixes that are currently being debated won't help at all---similar to making an illness worse by treating the symptoms. The crux of the matter is that as a society, letting the crisis run its course might be the best thing to do, but for individuals, we must find a way to prevent poverty.

2008-10-10

Is Smalltalk coming back?

Think programming language (not parties). It's amazing how long Smalltalk has been around now (1980: first public version) and it still feels modern, especially its syntax. Sadly, it never got the popularity it deserved. By now, there is even a free version called Squeak, but its UI is beyond unorthodox: I am very patient when it comes to GUIs---I've always thought Java Swing was OK (a few years ago this said a lot about my patience). But if I, a programmer, already find the GUI cumbersome, how can I expect the broad public to work with it? The GUI was so off-putting that I didn't even bother checking if Squeak had improved on Smalltalk's poor modularity mechanisms. But apparently, I wasn't alone in finding Squeak “improvement-worthy”:
  • Pharo: A next-generation Squeak.
  • Newspeak: A completely new language that has been inspired by Smalltalk, but contains many new ideas.
Decades ago we've already had very slick combinations of object-oriented development environments and programming languages: Common Lisp (on Symbolics), Smalltalk, Self, Oberon. Thus, it is a bit sad that the mainstream has not advanced that far, in some aspects even taken a step back. Let's hope that Newspeak and others bring some excitement back to programming language design.

2008-10-09

Hand dryers

Geman magazine “Der Spiegel” has an interesting article on hand dryers. It quotes a study from 1998 that measured how long it takes to dry one's hands with disposable paper towels (12 seconds), reusable cotton towels (10 seconds) and warm air dryers (43 seconds). Air dryers take so long that men stop using them after 20 seconds, while women stop after 25 seconds. The newest development in this area is called the Dyson Airblade hand dryer (YouTube video). It uses room-temperature air (=less germs) that is filtered (=even less germs). The air is projected horizontally so forcefully that it does not dry the water, but rather scrapes it off. Sounds useful to me.