April 2010

iPad Lust: C-ko must be mine!

[Update: Official iPad app list (iTunes link)]

I’ve been very skeptical about the iPad. Even if you ignored Apple’s legendary “never buy a 1.0” problem with new hardware and software, there was a very serious problem that Steve Jobs and his famous Reality Distortion Field failed to answer at the announcement, or any time since: what’s it good for?

Shiny. Sexy. Big iPod Touch. Horribly mis-managed —and micro-managed— app store. Extremely closed content model. Out of the box, there’s really nothing to do with it except show off your disposable income in a time of high unemployment and rising taxes. And all those eager app-store developers (or, more precisely, the ones who remain eager after the real pros got sick of Apple’s capricious policies and gave up) specialize in pretty, shallow, toy software. Great for an iPhone that fits in your pocket, but they’re not going to sell a 1.5-pound battery-powered cookbook with a high-gloss screen.

Today, Appaddvice has a list of third-party software that will be available at launch, scraped from Apple’s pre-release web site. And now I have to buy one, because their list includes some real killer apps.


Dodd-ering Fool

Senator Chris Dodd (D-Corrupt) has proposed a 120-day waiting period on investing in brand-new startup companies. This is not an April Fool’s joke.

Big rock, little flower

Head-sized rock in Grand Canyon

iPad for Education? Not!

A while back, I sent my mother a link to Scratch, an educational programming environment for children. She’s one of the relatively few PhDs in the education field who really goes out and teaches children, so I knew she’d be interested. So were her kids; they love it, and they’re learning a lot more than just how to write programs.

Naturally, someone released an iPhone/iPad app to allow a user to run their Scratch programs. The response from the MIT folks who run Scratch was “hey, check this out”. That was early March. Yesterday, as part of their new policy outlawing all third-party development tools, Apple removed it from the app store.

Nice work, Steve; way to throw out a dozen babies with the (Adobe CS5-flavored) bath water. If you were trying to improve the quality of apps in the store, oh, who am I kidding, we both know that’s a bullshit rationalization. Gruber bought it, and preened when you made him think he was a penetrating analyst for saying so, but it ain’t so. The app store is flooded with crap, and is such a poor shopping experience that customers are forced to wade neck-deep into the sewers to find the tiny handful of useful apps (this is what Gruber calls “the killer app” for the iPad; no doubt he also thinks dumpster-diving would be a great first date).

It’s about control. About forcing people to do things The Steve Way. With Flash CS5, tens of thousands of Windows-based developers would have been able to write iPhone and iPad apps, and Steve would rather require the price of development to include the price of a Mac. Apple is, as we’re often reminded, first and foremost a hardware company. The change was timed to fuck Adobe’s major release, but that was just a bonus.

I want some of these...

After a visit to the Cactus Garden at the Ethel M Chocolate Factory, this is one of the plants I want to have growing in my yard. I don’t know what it is, or how moisture-tolerant it is, but wouldn’t a front yard full of these make for a wonderful Halloween trick-or-treat experience?

Mystery plant from the Ethel M Chocolate Factory Cactus Garden

Sadly, the “factory tour” doesn’t necessarily include having the factory be operational; it appears that it’s currently a Monday through Thursday thing, so if you see it advertised as part of a Hoover Dam or Lake Mead package, understand that you may just see a shut-down food line, without oompa-loompas or chocolate rivers. Go anyway, if you have any interest in cacti or special prices on chocolates.

(the other must-have from the garden is what I can only refer to as a “balloon-animal cactus”)

The Loneliest Balloon Animal

For some reason, none of the other balloon animals want to play with Prickly Sue…

Balloon-Animal Cactus

Touching the Pad

Two people at work bought iPads, and they weren’t the two I expected to have them so soon. So now I’ve spent a few minutes playing with it, and since they hadn’t downloaded many apps or bought much content, all I really got to see was its fundamental “big iPod Touch” functionality. This was not enough to persuade me to acquire one, for obvious reasons. And I already wasn’t impressed by the list of apps available at launch, and haven’t seen any exciting announcements since then.

All I can really say that I haven’t seen mentioned before is that they did one subtle thing to keep it from being dropped when held in one hand: there’s a slight lip around the front edge, keeping your thumb from sliding off the glass while your other fingers try to keep a grip on the smooth aluminum back. Without that, it’d be flying out of your hand faster than a strapless Wiimote in a bowling game. You don’t really want to hold it in one hand for very long anyway, but at least you’re not risking a cracked screen if you do.

Gizmodo, Online Fence

Let me see if I’ve got the story straight: someone sees an unattended iPhone in a bar, takes it home, plays with it, figures out it’s a bit unusual, sends out feelers for a buyer, sells it to Gizmodo for an undisclosed sum, and the only person whose name makes the headline is the Apple employee who lost it.

Did I get that right? It looks like there are two honest-to-gosh criminals and a victim in this story, and the victim is the only one suffering.

I knew the guys at Gizmodo were shameless, but I hadn’t suspected that they were proud felons.

[Update: yup, Gizmodo bought from a thief, and they had to have known it. Based on the fact that the “finder” never even contacted the bar where it was lost, which the owner called every day hoping for news, Gizmodo’s little tale of innocent acquisition and honest attempts to return it looks completely phony.]

How to sell me an iPad

As much as I would prefer a tablet computer to be an honest-to-gosh computer, rather than a media consumption device with support for small-scale commercial applications, I am not opposed to the concept of a “limited” device. I just think Apple has limited theirs too much.

What would be the killer app for me, something that would justify the cost of an iPad? A full-featured light table. Here’s the scenario:

It's 6am, and I'm out on the coast with a thermos full of hot tea, my best camera, a GPS tracker, and a tripod. I shoot the sunrise on the bay, mist and fog giving way to a sparkling ocean. When the light becomes too harsh, I pack up, find a restaurant for a late breakfast, and settle in to examine the fruits of my labor.

I plug first the tracker, then the camera into The Tablet, watching as it files away the RAW images and geotags the matching JPEGs for preview, and then I begin. Sort, arrange, compare, focus-check, rate, annotate, crop, rotate, and flag for further editing, all with a flick of a finger. Then off to the zoo for more pictures, and then lunch and more review.

Back at home, I plug The Tablet into my computer, and it syncs up with Aperture, seamlessly importing the RAW images with all of my annotations and edits intact. Any time I want, I can sync parts of my library back to The Tablet for further review.

Key elements:

  • It uses the JPEGs for review, but imports the RAW images as well, and preserves the link between them. Apple's supplied Photo viewer won't do that.
  • It supports standalone GPS trackers as a data source, which means reading USB mass-storage devices, something the iPad currently doesn't allow.
  • It syncs to something other than iTunes, passing arbitrary data. Yeah, that doesn't work right now, either; most third-party apps have to sync through an ad-hoc wireless connection, which is painfully slow for this use.

It is genuinely new functionality, something I cannot do today on a desktop or laptop. There’s nothing in software right now that gives photographers the power they had with a light table, a loupe, and a box of slides. Sure, you can keep track of 50,000 images on your hard drive, but it’s basically just a poorly-edited dumpster. A real light table will teach you more about photography, your camera, your lenses, and your subject than iPhoto, Aperture, Lightroom, and Photoshop put together.

(all of this would be just as cool to have on a larger tablet computer, of course, especially a home machine with a 30-inch multitouch monitor/canvas, but one dream at a time)

[Update: Now that the camera-connection kit is out, there’s a little more information available. Not from Apple, sadly; their product description and documentation are still quite vague. Short version: it will import some raw formats into Photos, as well as some movie formats; it doesn’t appear to sync seamlessly back to iPhoto on a Mac, yet, but can be used as a manual import source; and it has some problems with MicroSD. So, not useless for my scenario, but still very 1.0 and limited. The surprising news is that people were able to connect USB headsets through it and get them to work; no thumbdrives, as expected, but at least they’re letting some data in, unofficially.]

Dear Japan,

I know there’s a market preference for translating foreign movie titles (with some interesting rules and exceptions), so that, for instance, Sleepless in Seattle becomes “If we should meet by chance…”, etc, but I think you’ve really missed the point with this one:


For the kanji-impaired, that’s “Old Man Carl’s Flying House”.


Geotagging your photos is both fun and useful, and not just for big trips like Japan, where I often had no idea where a bus was taking us. I think it’s nice that they’re starting to integrate it directly into cameras, but there’s a problem with that idea: satellite acquisition takes time, especially if it’s been a while since the device was last turned on.

The problem with putting the GPS into the camera is that people turn their cameras off. So, either the GPS stays active and drains the battery, or your first half-dozen pictures at each stop may look like this:


Standalone GPS trackers have their own problems, of course. Some have poor battery life, some don’t show up as simple USB mass-storage devices for transferring logs, some have poor chipsets, and most do not have a screen that shows the current time. That last bit is perhaps the most important, because your camera and your tracker have to match up by timestamp. Most software supports adjusting the time to improve the match, but for best results, you want to set the camera to GPS time, every day.

[Disclaimer: this particular picture doesn’t actually demonstrate the cold-start location problem. In fact, the cluster of accurately-tagged images in the upper right were taken first, and the half-dozen trailing off to the lower left were the result of the tracker losing signal when we got into the car, and not getting another satellite fix until we were several blocks away. Because the clocks weren’t in sync, the software assumed the pictures were taken while the car was moving, and interpolated their location between the two points. Easy to fix, but still amusing.]

Now we are tree

See that crack in the rock that looks a bit like a tree? Click on the picture and take a closer look.

Tree growing in the wall of Red Rock Canyon

Dear Facebook,

When suggesting possible new friends, please consider the possibility that the person who has the exact same set of friends that I do is, well, me. And if you insist on offering me as a possible friend to me, don’t whine about it in a popup when I click on me.

"It's the End Of The World!"

…at least, that’s what the usual suspects are screaming about Arizona at the moment, for having the temerity to claim that existing laws governing illegal immigration should be treated as if they were, well, laws.

There are people making careful, reasoned arguments about the constitutionality of duplicating federal laws at the state level, some quite cogent, but they’re not driving the argument. Indeed, they’re not even allowed onto the bus, as the headlines shriek “racist!” and “police state!”, pretending that border control is a Republican invention not practiced anywhere else in the world.

It reminds me a great deal of the hysteria over shall-issue concealed-carry legislation. There, it was “gun-nuts blowing away anyone who cuts in line at the grocery!”; here, it’s “racist nazi cops going after everyone brown!”. I expect the long-term results to be pretty much the same: little or no abuse of the new laws, less crime, no loss of civil rights, and more states jumping on the bandwagon as they observe the results.

The hysterics labeled Florida “the gunshine state” for passing CCW reform. It didn’t happen. Now they’re calling Arizona the new Nazi Germany, and that’s not going to happen, either.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Arizona, which has always had open carry with no need for a license, and which quickly adopted shall-issue carry with reciprocity, recently went to concealed carry with no need for a license. Allowing any adult to carry a concealed handgun doesn’t square up with the “papers, please” future promised by the pro-illegal pundits, not that they’ll notice.

[Note: any comments attempting to equate “immigration” and “illegal immigration” will be deleted unread; they’re quite different things, and opposition to one has nothing whatsoever to do with opinions on the other]

Caption the squirrel...

squirrel sightseer

“Day three: still no sign of the bunnykin army, and my hay fever is killing me.”

ポイ捨て & ポイントメーク

Found in the voting page on engrishfunny.com:

Tabako no poisute kinshi

It was posted there because of the odd English translation, of course, but I was more interested in the Japanese: タバコのポイ捨て禁止!, or, for the kana-impaired, “Tabako no poisute kinshi!”.

The interesting bit is poisute, ポイ捨て = “littering”, for a literal translation of “cigarette littering prohibited”. The first half comes from the mimetic adverb poito = “carelessly”; the second half from the verb suteru = “to throw away”. Hadn’t run across poito before.

While looking it up, I came across an amusing loanword: ポイントメーク, pointomeiku. Care to guess the meaning?


Dear Apple,

I see that you’ve replaced all of the category links in the App Store with nebulous fluff like “creative editing kit”, “apps from tv ads”, “new home”, and other non-categories. In addition, you now devote a substantial percentage of the front page to a list of top grossing apps. Please, if you would, explain how this list has any value to a consumer? Isn’t it just a way to tell potential developers “there’s gold in them thar hills!”?

Seriously, am I, as an app buyer, supposed to be attracted by the fact that some people were willing to shell out $899.99 for copies of a surveillance-camera viewer? Could you maybe take some of the money you’re getting from these top grossers and spend it on making the store searchable and browsable?

“Need a clue, take a clue,
 got a clue, leave a clue”