2010-11-30

Expression of the day: dibs

To call dibs on something means to claim it for oneself. An example of using it directly is “Dibs on the rocking chair!”.

PCWorld reliability survey

Quote from the article:
Here's the mile-high view of what we found.
  • Put simply, products made by Apple, Asus, Brother, and Canon are typically reliable and well supported.
  • Products made by Dell and Hewlett-Packard often aren't, especially if you're a home user.
  • Laptops are slightly more reliable than before, and have fewer serious problems than desktops.
  • Business PC customers are generally more satisfied than their consumer counterparts.

2010-11-27

Two sci-fi shows you should give a chance

Here are two underappreciated sci-fi shows that I enjoy watching:
  • Fringe [uk]: The first season is a bit uneven, but towards the end of that season, an overall story emerges. Since then, it has become really great.
  • Stargate Universe [uk]: Unusually for the Stargate franchise, this one has a relatively slow pace. I find it refreshingly different.
In both cases, the cast and the production values are excellent.

    Expression of the day: I don’t mind if I do

    “I don’t mind if I do” is a polite and humorous way of accepting an offer (similar to “twist my arm”). It is often abbreviated as “don’t mind if I do”. The “I don’t mind” is the ironic version of “I’d love to”.

    2010-11-26

    Expression of the day: esprit d’escalier

    Yes, it’s French and yes, you can also use it in English. Literally translated, “esprit d’escalier” means “staircase wit”. It describes a situation, where you only come up with a witty response to an insult (or a witty contribution to a discussion) when it’s already too late. That is, you have left the scene and are on the staircase. The German “Treppenwitz” is also derived from this French expression. “Witz” has its original meaning “witty thought”, not its later meaning “joke”.

    Movie: Doc Hollywood (1991)

    Doc Hollywood” [itunes.com, itunes.de] is another old movie that has aged well. Long after having seen it, I’ve watched the female lead, Julie Warner in another role and was surprised how tiny she was. But as her co-star is Michael J. Fox, you never notice it here. “Doc Hollywood” does the common “heart-warming village with quirky characters” routine, but in a way that does not get on one’s nerves. The movie contains several cleverly-conceived medical incidents that are indicative of one of the writers being a doctor. Funny quote:
    Someone points to a person in a cafe (who is off-camera): “Isn't that a star?” Woody Harrelson’s character answers: “No, it's Ted Danson”. Harrelson and Danson co-starred in Cheers.

    2010-11-25

    Sony’s Networked Application Platform is based on GNUstep

    A long time ago, Apple bought NeXT and its operating system NeXTSTEP would later evolve into Mac OS X. GNUstep is an open source implementation of the NeXTSTEP APIs that was created even longer ago. Applications based on GNUstep run on many Unixes and (with some hassles) on Windows. I’ve followed it since its beginning, because I wanted to have the quality of NeXT’s APIs on an open operating system. Alas, GNUstep took a long time to mature. During this time, Mac OS X made it much cheaper to try out NeXT’s technology and my focus shifted towards web applications, so I never tried it out.
    And now comes this kind of crazy news: Sony’s Networked Application Platform (SNAP) will be based on GNUstep. They want to modernize it for features such as touch displays and 3D graphics. The technology is certainly intriguing, but also feels a bit anachronistic. Maybe web technology and JavaScript would have been a better decision. This is the way Palm went to create a smartphone operating system as quickly as possible. Assuming that they will package GNUstep with an operating system, I’m also not sure how they can position SNAP against its many competitors (Android, Chrome OS, Meego, etc.).
    [Source: Daring Fireball]

    2010-11-24

    Enyo: a web application toolkit from Palm

    Browsers are becoming an increasingly capable platform for application development. One example is that WebGL-based 3D graphics are supported by many of the latest browser versions. Palm has taken this idea to its extreme: On Palm devices, all applications are web applications. Recently, Palm has given a demo of Enyo, the next generation of its development framework. A blog post gives a few details on it. One cool feature (at 15:53 in the video linked to from the post) is that Enyo user interfaces scale seamlessly from small screens (cell phones) to large screens (tablets, desktops). In Ares, Enyo has a web-based IDE. Enyo also runs in normal web browsers which allows one to develop in a browser and then push the application to a device. In the video, the presenter mentions that they only push for performance tests. Enyo is a very early demo and only gives a preliminary glimpse of the final product. From the video it sounds as if it is currently WebKit-only. It would be cool if that could change in the future.

    Update 2011-01-24: The ultimate CSS layout spec for webapps

    2010-11-21

    We don’t see things as they are

    Quote from the Talmud:
    We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.

    2010-11-19

    Sudoku: a sproutcore web application

    This Sudoku is a web application that has been implemented using Sproutcore. It looks really good. It works well on the iPad. Alas, on the iPhone, the application disables scrolling and zooming, so there is no way to play it.

    2010-11-17

    The Beatles on iTunes

    I find the Beatles being on iTunes not that big of a deal. What is a big deal, however is that they are not available on Amazon and Google (which competed with Apple for the distribution rights). I wonder why that made financial sense.

    Update: Apple has Beatles exclusive until 2011.

    Web browsing with tabs

    Update 2012-02-10: Taming tabs and bookmarks

    All major web browsers have had tabs for a while. It is great, because it allows you to open links from the current page in the background and read them later. But, after a while, tabs tend to pile up, much like a to-do list. On Firefox, you can try out two ideas for the next generation of tabbed browsing:

    Java quiz: what does NoClassDefFoundError mean?

    It took me a while to figure this out: NoClassDefFoundError is not the same as ClassNotFoundException.
    • ClassNotFoundException: The given class could not be found.
    • NoClassDefFoundError: The given class could be found, but something went wrong when initializing it (an interface it implemented could not be found, something went wrong in a static initializer etc.).
    This article has more information.

    2010-11-16

    How Israel handles its airport security

    Brilliant piece about how Israel, where terrorist attacks are much more of a threat, handles security: Efficiently and without fear-mongering. [Source: Daring Fireball]

    2010-11-13

    Filling the holes of the Java standard library

    The Java standard library has so many holes that for most, even basic, tasks, you need additional helper classes and methods. There are two options you should be aware of:
    • Apache Commons: the classic, has a very broad scope.
    • Google Guava: new, more of a focus on core tasks, nice tight API. Check out the presentation they link to from their homepage.

    2010-11-10

    Michael J. Fox: latest news

    I’ve always been a fan of Michael J. Fox’s. For example, he played a large role in making “Back to the future” great. In 1991, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Every now and then he still works as an actor, for example, in a guest role on “The Good Wife” [1]. I was surprised how much his performance moved me. It was not pity, more like seeing an old friend struggle, while displaying a lot of dignity. We all struggle from time to time, so it is always instructional to see someone handle adversity well. An interview with Time Magazine gives more insight into Michael’s thinking.

    [1] In some countries, the link only works if you first go to eonline.com and switch to “USA” at the bottom of the page.

    2010-11-07

    Why procrastination happens

    Great find from Phil: “What we can learn from procrastination”. This article analyzes what procrastination really is. The coolest example must be people’s Netflix queues in a study: short-term rentals were always “fun” movies while longer-term rentals were more serious movies that one “should” watch. The article gives one intriguing explanation for procrastination: We are not a single personality, but more like an crowd of competing personalities. A swarm of small fishes posing as a single large fish, if you will. If procrastination happens, the wrong personality won. I find that this has something to do with the amount of pressure I put on myself in order to achieve something I should do (as in “I have to, but I don’t want to”). Then not doing it is an indirect way of standing up for myself, of protesting against being forced. The irony is that in these situations, things I don’t currently have to do seem very appealing, but once I’m free to pursue them, the appeal is often gone.

    A recommended anti-procrastination book is “The Now Habit” [uk, de], one of the “Eight important books for software developers”.

    2010-11-05

    Fan-financed sci-fi: “Who am I”

    Two authors wrote a pilot episode for a science fiction TV show called “Who am I” and are using Kickstarter to finance a pilot. I find this exciting, because it unleashes a new kind of distributed creativity where the old way of creating TV content is much more centralized. The previously mentioned “Pioneer One” is also doing well and continues to fan-finance its episodes.

    2010-11-04

    Mac keyboard and trackpad: save battery power

    With my iMac, I am now using a keyboard and a Magic Trackpad. Unfortunately, the latter is only available as a Bluetooth device and (for right-handers) only makes sense with a shorter keyboard which is also Bluetooth-only. Thus, one has to use batteries. A few tips for saving resources in this kind of scenario:
    • In normal use, both keyboard and trackpad go into light sleep if not used for a certain period of time. Alas, the keyboard does this much more efficiently, because it can wait for a key press to wake up. The trackpad still has to react to touch which is more power-consuming.
    • If you put the computer to sleep, keyboard and trackpad go into deeper sleep. E.g., the trackpad only wakes up if you click it.
    • You can also switch both devices off which is recommended if you don’t use your computer for an extended period of time.
    The only problematic case is thus a long-running task such as finishing a download or converting a video where the devices never go into a deeper sleep. During this kind of task, I switch the trackpad off. Additionally, you can switch off the display with one of the two following methods. This is better than a screen saver, because the display won’t be running.
    • Put the cursor in a hot corner. Use “System Preferences → Desktop + Screen Saver → Hot Corners” (or search for “corner”) to configure a corner so that the display is put to sleep if the cursor stays in it. Disadvantage: this is impossible to do if you have switched off the trackpad.
    • Type Ctrl-Shift-Eject
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