Alternate Option
Thoughts from me.
Thursday, June 30, 2005 1:34 am
Apple iTunes with podcasting is spectacular spectacular
iTunes 4.9 was released earlier today. I don’t think the term “podcasting”—which erroneously implies the use of an iPod—was coined by Apple. But Apple has used the fortuitously named feature, and embraced it big time with the new iTunes release.

I no longer own any iPods. But I listen to Internet broadcasts quite a bit—usually via streaming. RealPlayer streams from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Windows Media from certain foreign radio stations, and iTunes for MP3 radio.

But I hardly listen to MP3 versions of previously recorded stuff, e.g. the MP3 archives of ABC Radio National. It is cumbersome to find newish stuff to download, and the download usually takes longer than my attention span. I can listen to the MP3 file within my browser window. But then I might be interrupted, or might have the urge to listen to music halfway instead, and then lose the page (for whatever reason). If I download the MP3 file to the desktop/hard disk, then I still have to navigate to look for it, and possibly listen to it in the Finder, or consider copying it to iTunes. And then remember to delete it after I’m done listening.

So, listening to “podcasts”—which really are just MP3 files of previously recorded audio—used to be a chore. The tech-minded found and its variants probably ages ago, but I didn’t… 

And now I don’t have to. Podcasting in iTunes is a new feature of iTunes—not an extension of an old one. I decide what I want to listen to, and iTunes does the downloading, filing for me. And then automatically downloads more from the same ‘author’ when new material shows up. A radio subscription if you will.

This is logically the same direction that television has gone. Time-shifting is the buzzword nowadays, as digital television and personal video recorders becomes the hot new thing in Australian households. Time-shifting (TiVo etc. for non-Australians) frees viewers from television schedules, allowing them to watch what they choose when they choose to. And also to fast forward/rewind/archive when desired.

iTunes does that for audio broadcasts. And goes further to act as an interface for these content providers who want to set up their own podcasts. Large radio stations or any individuals alike can set up their own podcast, and iTunes makes it easier for listeners to subscribe to whichever podcast they find interesting. The current subscription interface is gorgeous. The iTunes Music Store (iTMS) currently handles a million-song archive, which suggests that the current podcast interface is likely to be scalable when more content providers choose to hawk their content via iTunes.

iTunes years entered the jukebox software market to compete with Winamp, MusicMatch, MediaMonkey etc. (on the Windows platform). It started off as an excellent library, with excellent optical-drive burning features. Then iTunes integrated with the iPod, and more recently with the iTMS. Entering new territory smoothly such that the entire experience is greater than the sum of each part. Doubtlessly with plenty of unseen hard work by software engineers working backstage.

The addition of podcasting is a similar bold step. One significant difference for the user: this step is free. There is no requirement to buy an iPod, or to spend 99¢ buying songs. Podcasting is for now… cost-free.

This is quite a canny move for Apple, and I suspect is an unintended solution to constant requests (by some) for radios on iPods. Radios on portable music players appear on some of the “iPod-killers” out there—and rightly out-feature any iPods if a checklist of features is compared.

Adding a radio to the iPod would probably be non-trivial, but would also probably add to the complexity of the iPod. The physical size would probably be larger, and the interface very probably need to be more complex. There will definitely be complaints about the quality of reception, and the radio acts as yet another point of failure.

Instead of adding a radio to the iPod, podcasting simplifies an existing Internet phenomenon, leverages the iTunes-iPod relationship and shifts any added complexity to the desktop computer; which suits the larger colour screens and the intricate keyboard/mouse interface. Podcasting also encourages the use of Apple software without an Apple-specific audio format. Finally, negligible change is made to the tried-and-proven design of the iPod itself. It is a brilliant move. Kudos.

Although each month heralds a new “iPod-killer” from Dell, Sony, Creative, Rio and Archos; Apple gracefully moves from strength to strength. Apple is dominant in the field of portable audio but, as mentioned in an earlier post, I do not think unbeatable. With some cooperation—and probably with the deep pockets of Microsoft—the rest of the field can still make make solid advances. While the other companies spin their wheels, Apple continues to innovate as if it has some real competition. This is good for consumers, but a challenge for the actual “competition”.

[posted with ecto]

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005 10:17 pm
King Kong
Just when I thought there wasn’t much to wait for in the movies, the trailer for King Kong shows up. I wasn’t all that impressed by Return of the King (even the extended version), and I’m skeptical about big budget, big name, CGI-filled movies… but I must say the trailer looks bloody good.

[posted with ecto]

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Monday, June 27, 2005 4:58 pm
Bad movie year
After Batman Begins, hardly anything in the cinema looks interesting. I gave Kingdom of Heaven a miss after all, and will probably do the same for War of the Worlds. Early IMDb user comments for WoW (not always reliable of course) aren’t fantastic. I suspect—maybe wrongly— that I have seen most of the best bits of Fantastic Four and Mr & Mrs Smith in the trailers already. (Plus I really disliked the The Bourne Identity). And FF4 is just another super hero story a la Spiderman 1 & 2, X-Men, Incredibles and Batman.

My wife might drag me to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory… but it does look like a “can rent the DVD” title. In fact I will look forward to all these unwatched movies in the DVD/video rental store in 5 months time. I might even buy the Batman Begins DVD.

Thank goodness we have tickets for the local film society that provide weekly non-mainstream movies.

[posted with ecto]

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Sunday, June 26, 2005 2:48 pm
Plastic bag rant
The local large supermarkets have been promoting reusable shopping bags for several months now, using stickers, signs, ads and sometimes a fee for every plastic bag dispensed. I remember a similar drive about 10 years ago, which did not take off (locally). The current campaign is much more successful. Reusable bags are a common sight nowadays at the checkout and around the streets.

This would represent a victory of sorts for the environment. A disturbing statistic from Clean Up Australia:
Australia puts 4000 plastic bags into landfills every minute. (Therefore 65 bags every second).

I have been using plastic shopping bags as bin liners for my entire life, and would find it inconvenient to say the least, to change practice. If this source of free bin liners dries up, I’d still need to buy plastic bin liners, and that results in no net benefit to the environment. However, the supermarkets benefit—as they can avoid providing consumers with free plastic shopping bags… especially with the higher price of petrol—the source of the plastic in plastic bags.

Therefore IMHO it is canny how supermarkets are using the environmental movement to divest themselves of providing a free consumer service. And in the process create a market (by selling reusable bags), increase the sale of garbage bags, and finally get points for looking environmentally friendly.

There are no environmental ads or warnings at the garbage bag sections of the supermarket… It seems to me duplicitous to discourage consumers from using plastic shopping bags, while continuing to sell garbage bags.

In my case, I have a couple of solutions: I could separate all food bits and leftovers (which tend to be sticky and soggy) into a compost bin. And toss every bit of rubbish into unlined bins. And then wash the bins out after emptying them. That’s quite hard work actually. Especially since I don’t have a garden worth talking about. And the smell accumulates. So that may not be ideal.

Alternatively, I could use get smaller bins, and then continue using the smaller plastic bags from the vegetable section of the grocery stores as bin liners…

[posted with ecto]

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005 11:03 pm
Batman is back, and good too (avoiding spoilers)
There was a time when Michael Keaton as the best of the movie Batmen. Tim Burton was the best of the Batmen directors, and somehow Prince and Kim Basinger were nasty uninvited guests.

Superman—a relatively boring set of comics IMHO—had Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder. The XMen and Spider Man had their Wolverine, Magneto, Professor X and Tobey Maguire. It was painful that Batman had a rich set of history, themes and villains, but already run its course—mismanaged by some ego-driven Hollywood nuts.

Now, with the upswing of non-expendable superhero movies (the “new” Punisher doesn’t count), DC and a new crew has done what many fans wanted—to pretend the past movies never happened—and tell the Batman story that exists, but that has yet to be realised on screen.

Is it necessary, worth it, and possible to? The Batman mythology has been continually repeated in multiple films, comic flashbacks, cartoons. Almost everyone knows of the senseless shooting, the dropping pearls, Zorro, Alfred, and the sociopath billionaire Bats.

I did not have high expectations for this movie at all. But it works. The story is strong enough that it works as an excellent stand alone action movie. The characters are strong enough that I hope we get to meet them again.

I dreaded the presence of Michael Caine (not a favourite), Katie Holmes (can’t stand her), Liam Neeson (always the mentor), Morgan Freeman (always the same old thing). I even had doubts about Gary Oldman (one of my favourite). Surprisingly, all deliver believable performances in the short screen time they have. Liam Neeson in particular—His performance here makes George Lucas’s Phantom Menace look even worse than it is. Katie Holmes is actually not a hopelessly bad actress. She is probably the 2nd best strong femme fatale in the Batman series (behind Michelle Pfeiffer. Meow). Keep in mind the competition includes Nicole Kidman, Elle McPherson, Kim Basinger, Uma Thurman and Alicia Silverstone. Also note that in the Batman comics, the supporting actors seldom have all that much to do.

The penultimate Batman actor has yet been found. IMHO Christian Bale needs a bigger chin, and a bigger torso. He is the best available though, and does a great job. At least he brings some height and humanity to Bruce Wayne, and some nastiness to a somophore Batman.

The movie dispenses with the overdone architecture of Gotham City that sprung out of Tim Burton’s mind, and corrupted by the subsequent pseudo-director. Awful CGI is also avoided (praise, praise). However, the action scenes seem to happen largely off camera. To enhance the mysteriousness of Bats, or because of poor choreography? Who knows. That bit was a little disappointing.

For the longest time, Batman was best seen in print, and in the excellent Batman cartoons. Thankfully, he has been reborn on the big screen. If the cast is agreeable to make further episodes, hopefully it is done quickly and well. X-Men and Spiderman sequels show that it can be done. Hopefully the franchise does not become Hulk (there can only be one), or The Matrix, or repeat its own previous errors.

I left the theatre with a large smile on my face. I can’t wait to see this movie again.

ps; And this is not Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005 7:00 pm
2 years on, no one wants to compete with iTunes Music Store
Message to the rest of the world: Australia is still waiting for the iTunes Music Store. No ETA.

iTunes was a great standalone music jukebox software. When the iPod was released, its close bond with iTunes strengthened 2 already exquisite pieces of technology. The iTMS—which started selling a bit more than 2 years ago—applied even more glue to that bond, and started whispers of “monopoly” and “proprietary format”.

When buying music from the iTMS, some understandably feel nervous being locked into a single audio format, from a single company; which then locks one into buy a portable audio player from that single company. Especially when the company is Apple—usually perceived to be a producer of pricey iconoclastic Mercedes Benz-type products, and perpetually death knelled. While the iPod IMHO is an incredibly intuitive piece of hardware and deserves all its accolades; its major failing is that Apple is the only real player in that market.

Companies like Napster/Roxio, Microsoft, Virgin, Yahoo, Rhapsody, and so on “compete” in online music sales. None have come close to emulating Apple’s success. Why? There are endless sabre-rattlings of iPod-killers, threats to the iTMS, threats to Apple's dominance and so on. We heard it when entered the market, when Napster entered the market, when Microsoft announced an interest. And when Sony announced their music store and the Network Walkman. Then when Yahoo! started its subscription service. When Virgin Electronics released its cutprice player. And everytime Creative’s boss opens his mouth. Even the Playstation Portable was compared to the iPod. Apple’s end is impending. Is close. Is inevitable. Yea right.

Inexplicably no one actually creates something on par with Apple’s music strategy.

There is a simple sounding solution to challenge Apple: create an iTunes clone, that uses a iTMS clone, which uses a DRM that is a FairPlay clone. Which is compatible with iPod clones wannabes from a variety of 3rd party electronics companies. A iTMS/iTunes clone, backed by massive 3rd party support, can still challenge Apple’s dominance.

Apple’s maintenance of the iTMS/iTunes/iPod (and Airport Express) dominance is a weakness by itself. So far Apple has chosen not to license FairPlay to other 3rd parties. Companies like Netgear, Squeezebox and Sonos have relatively nice looking streaming (not copying) solutions to play music remote from a computer. But cannot play DRM protected AAC files.

Similarly, new HiFis, car stereos, and DVD Players are able to play MP3s off a CD/DVD. All these products are do not use FairPlay—and hence cannot directly access DRM protected AAC files.

PDAs from PocketPC and PalmOne now bundle audio players which are still unable to play protected AAC files. Neither can mobile telephones.

Apple’s first relationship with a 3rd party manufacturer to create a truly unique FairPlay product—that is Motorola’s iTunes phone—is still unproductive. (HP iPod doesn’t count).

I suspect that even though Apple seems to have it really cruisy at the moment, their success is the result of a massive amount of continuing negotiations with music companies, audiobook companies, independent companies, and Apple’s own R&D. Which no other company wants to perform the legwork for. Instead, all other companies opt for the “subscription model”—just to provide something different. And then hyping the hell out of that unproven marketing strategy. Meanwhile the iTMS/FairPlay formula has sold 450M+ songs, and is a proven strategy now.

The potential innovation in a DRM-filled world is still great. But for now it is a one-horse race. True competition to light a fire under Apple’s ass; is sorely needed. Meanwhile every sale from the iTMS serves as a global investment into Apple’s music strategy, and makes it even harder for any potential competition to gain a foothold.

[posted with ecto]

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1:06 am
Constantine the movie—really bad
This is a warning, not a movie review. Earlier this year, someone told me Constantine was quite “interesting”. I avoided it because The poster and the trailer looked like More-Of-The-Same Neo stuff. Then yesterday, my wife said the same thing: Constantine was “interesting”. 2 out of 2 can’t be wrong.

But they were. Constantine is an awfully bad movie. Story: the devil trying to destroy mankind—again. Hasn’t the Christianish Occulty thing been so done to death yet? End of Days, Stigmata, Exorcist sequels, Warlock, Seventh Sign, The First Power, The Order… wasn’t Keanu Reeves already in the Devil’s Advocate? I suppose Hell is a good place look for expendable movie villains, and now has the advantage of allowing nice special effects. But wait, there’s also the chance to use really unconventional, supernatural looking solutions to tie up loose plot lines! Just wait for The Da Vinci Code

The hero is essentially Neo. Keanu Reeves acts as Neo’s cousin—like “The Cleaner” in La Femme Nikita vs “Leon” in Leon. Different, but same. In fact, the movie looks like The Matrix, some scenes are coloured greenish (like The Matrix), and it’s CGI-filled albeit worse. And there’s BulletTime. I’m sure the movie was promoted to fans of The Matrix fans, or fans of Keanu Neo.

Which makes it quite sad really. No doubt there isn’t much variation in the Men-Holding-Guns roles that Stallone, Arnie, Bruce Willis play, or the smarty-pants variant that Tom Cruise plays. But Keanu has now acted in 4 movies as the sullen-stony-faced-reluctant-hero-with-hidden-powers-saving-the-world-from-ULTIMATE-evil-in-a-movie-with-Bullet-Time. Not including Johnny Mnemonic.

The obligatory female counterpart is Rachel Weisz, whose acting I’ve never particularly liked. I can’t complain about her performance this time—it was actually quite good, and the best thing about the movie.

I sat through this thing thinking surely this is not just MOTS old crap. But it was.

[posted with ecto]

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 3:17 pm
Mac will be from Apple
I really don’t know why there is so much speculation about whether Apple can prevent hackers from getting Mac OS X (Intel edition) to run on 3rd party hardware.

Just because an operating system runs on the same chips as another, doesn’t mean the operating systems are necessarily interchangeable. An XBox made by Microsoft for example, doesn’t run Microsoft’s own Windows family off the shelf. The PocketPC and PalmOne products use the same Intel XScale chips, but aren’t interchangable hardware.

Making a software compatible only with select hardware, can’t be a difficult thing to do. On the contrary, maintaining an installed operating system on a computer unsupported by the operating system creator can be a pain in the ass. Wintel users will need an XPostFacto equivalent.

Apple has really really miniscule experience working with a hardware from a plethora of sources. Most of their product line is made up of all-in-ones and (an Mac mini) for which the maximal supported internal upgrade is RAM and a new HD. Third party PCI card users on the PowerMacs have trouble sometimes when the OS throws a tantrum and refuses to go to sleep/crashes/refuses to shut down. This is unlike Microsoft—which has experience (from the MS-DOS days decades ago) to create operating systems robust enough to run on a myriad of hardware—of course those hardware manufacturers would:
The creators of Linux don’t have a hardware product that they feel the need to protect. Their community benefits from individuals keen on compatibility with as much 3rd party hardware as possible.

We will find out in a years time—but for the next few years at least, a Macintosh is something we need to buy from Apple.

[posted with ecto]

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Sunday, June 12, 2005 12:52 am
Movies, and costs
A movie ticket where I live costs $13.50. Cheaper for kids, students, pensioners, senior citizens, and on Tuesdays.

Still, a movie experience would cost $27 for a couple, excluding food, petrol and parking. Add in extra time for driving and hunting for a parking spot. And the experience is variable, mostly depending on the crowd (e.g. talking, feet, movement and mobile phones…), and on the rare occasion due to technical faults.

3 years ago, I purchased a reasonable widescreen television, DVD player and a very ordinary home theatre system for A$3000. So… $3000÷$27≈ 111 movies. I probably would have got the $ back in cinema tickets by the end of the 4th year. Although there have been occasions when we had company over, or we watched the same movie twice, or separately. And several occasions when we paused the movie to go to the bathroom. And we never get tempted to buy popcorn or soft drinks when we are at home.

Not to mention the fact that we (used to) use the same television to watch free to air television (i.e. Schapelle Corby’s trial and verdict); and 24 episodes obtained through dodgy means. And play Halo 2 (with Dolby 5.1 sound).

However keep in mind the $ required to borrow/buy/drive to get DVDs… and electricity.

A comparable home theatre system costs much less today, and prices are always dropping. Television screens get larger, with increasing quality too.

With these sorts of calculations, the IMHO worsening quality of movies, the incessant rise in cinema ticket prices—I wonder if the cinema experience for “big” movies is soon doomed. We are members of the local film society—mostly arty films.

I suppose there’r always the kids and lovebirds who want to get out of the house.

[posted with ecto]

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12:01 am
Sin City is coming soon!
Excellent!! Only 1 month and 3 days before I get to watch Sin City in a cinema. Thank goodness I’m don’t live in Germany. They still have 2 whole months to go.

Of course Sin City was released on the 1st of April 2005 in America. The release date schedule (from IMDb) is available here.

What’s with this prolonged wait for movies? In this day and age, when news travels across the Internet, and where movies zip across cyberspace for private viewing, or to be sold internationally on the hush hush for a few dollars. Why hype a movie leading up to April 1st, only to make it available 4 months later in some markets?

I can understand that movies may need to be dubbed and subtitled for some international markets, but most English movies are shown in Australia… in English and without subtitles.

Bad Santa was released theatrically in Australia one year after release in the USA, to take advantage of the next Christmas season. The DVD was available in the USA before the movie appeared in Australian cinemas.

The Incredibles took 2 months to arrive in Australia.

This sort of thing may be common with art house movies. i.e. make a splash at a film festival, and then slowly trickle over years into various markets. But for mainstream movies, which rely on the initial hype and word of mouth, the practice is unfathomable.

[posted with ecto]

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Saturday, June 11, 2005 1:10 am
New PowerBook 12"; purchase
I got a call yesterday afternoon from an ex-classmate who was standing outside an AppleStore, asking for final advice before buying a PowerBook 12";. She actually appreciated Apple’s product line simplicity (i.e. lack of choice), and knew which machine she wanted.

The thought of letting her know about the Intel-Apple lovefest crossed my mind; but I decided against mentioning it. My advice was simply: avoid build-to-order, try all AppleStores to see if there are any that have the machine in stock ready to take away, consider AppleCare, get RAM now if cheap, otherwise, later is OK (all laptops come with 512MB RAM). And get a combined receipt to claim on tax/salary packaging.

4 hours later, she called back to say she was home, and happy with the machine, and could I help her out with some computer-issues… She was a HP laptop convert, and this was her first Mac.

I suppose the crux of this tale is that (I think) for much of the population, issues like the new MacIntel debate etc… aren’t real dealbreakers when buying a Macintosh today. The current line of PowerBooks are purty good machines after all. And I’m cautiously confident that Apple will continue to support them. It’s really a minority of the ”In-The-Know“ that carry out this endless debate.

[posted with ecto]

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Friday, June 10, 2005 11:49 pm
Macintel: Safe(r) recommendations for buying peripherals
The word “sell-out” is frequently uttered, in relation to the Apple switch to Intel. Personally, I hope one day Steve Jobs’ WWDC 2005 keynote will be remembered fondly. The day when Apple decided not to muck around with 2-bit microprocessor manufacturers, and ally itself with the 800-pound gorilla of microprocessor manufacturers.

Or maybe this will be remembered as Apple’s Waterloo—I hope not.
In a crucial part of his keynote, SJ listed 4 types of software—scripts etc, Cocoa, Carbon, and non-Xcode applications. I’m not sure which group driver software fall into. And drivers are one of those things that will cause headaches next year. When I switched myself, my family and my in-laws to Macintosh, there would invariably be an old scanner or printer floating about which would be forgotten prior to Mac-purchase, and hyper-important after Mac-purchase.

Surprisingly, I have been able to find drivers for most of the above cases. Sometimes even when the cartridges for said printers were difficult to find.

For those keen on buying peripherals for their Macs, it would be safer if:
  1. The product you buy follows some a known standard. e.g. a PostScript printer, DVI monitor, USB audio.
  2. The product you buy follows some sort of standard. e.g. Gimp-Print. If it works on Linux, that’s a plus. If a scanner works via Image Capture, that’s a good sign (but not a guarantee).
  3. The product you buy is as generic as they come. e.g. get a USB card reader or digital camera that does not need a driver or specific software for file transfer. Or a USB multibutton mouse and keyboard that you are happy with without installing the supplied software.
  4. The product you buy has an appropriate interface. i.e. printers and scanners should be USB. Printers can also be Ethernet. Webcams should be iSight, or FireWire, or a generic Handycam. Webcams should not be USB/USB2. Hard disks should be Firewire (although USB2 should work now). ADSL modems should be Ethernet, not USB.
  5. The product you buy, should have a company that has a history of supporting Mac OS. e.g. I would consider Griffin Technology, ElGato, MacAlly products to be fairly safe to buy.
Personally I would be particularly worried about buying: USB-based wireless dongles, USB-based ADSL modems, GPS modules, PalmOne hardware, PCI TV-input cards or PCI SCSI cards. Even more worrying would be those high end cards that some users rely upon: e.g. for music, sound processing, fast networking etc… And those are pricey too. I don’t have any experience in those unfortunately. And I am grateful.

ps: I have taken 15 minutes to put my thoughts to text. Caveat emptor, YMMV etc.

[posted with ecto]

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10:21 am
Apple’s home runs
I’ve had some more time to think about the new Apple Intel get-together. There is a lot of buzz on the Internet of course. Some pertinent questions, for example: “should I pay for my ordered PowerBook?”. Difficult question, but probably already answered in triplicate somewhere else on the Internet by now.

My thought for the day: When Apple defines its aims clearly, they usually cope with home runs quite well.

Well known are the transitions in chips and operating systems. Mentioned in the previous post are the axing of the floppy, SCSI, ADB. There was the sudden move to music, and moving from strength to strength in that regard. QuickTime continues to kick goals, continually incorporating new codecs. Don’t forget the overhauling of “classic networking” in favour of Open Transport many years ago.

It’s the small stuff and the follow through where Apple stumbles. When Apple gets half hearted about maintaining a product—it is double-plus-aggravating.

Few examples: The continual removal of 68k code from Mac OS 8/9 was a drawn-out process never really completed. Maintenance of AppleWorks, Sherlock, junk mail capabilities, iSync compatible devices, MRJ (Java) compatibility, Safari compatibility… Anyone remember Apple iTools’ KidSafe feature where webpages continually needed to be whitelisted?

All these that require some element of ongoing maintenance were never really done properly—just waiting for the next “home run” solution. Which sometimes involves axing the product.

Further examples: Adding 3rd party printer support via GIMP; and adding MSN/Yahoo! messenger compatibility via Jabber.

On the whole, I like Apple’s approach, and it does seem to work for some people—if it didn’t I would be using something else.

I don’t doubt that Apple will get Mac OS X for Intel out lickety-split. And hopefully most things will fall into the can be solved by an all-encompassing solution camp. The things that don’t though… will be aggravating.

Continued next post…

[posted with ecto]

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Thursday, June 09, 2005 12:53 am
Apple and Intel… hooray
Back from hiatus. Of course Apple had to make a major chip move while I was playing LAN Halo 2, away from decent Internet access. My panicked dad and brother managed to contact me about Apple’s move… slightly anxious themselves.

I’m on the whole quite excited about Apple’s shift to Intel. The Apple and WinTel machines started out worlds apart but have become more similar over time—mostly when Apple made their machines more compatible with industry standards. Adoption of USB, PCI, VGA/DVI , IDE were not decisions made on a whimsy, and have on the whole been positive moves—Mac users now have access to cheap PC-based peripherals that 10 years ago they did not.

The transition of chips would be technically a different thing altogether. But this time:
So, kudos kudos kudos to the Apple team for having the brains to recognise their microprocessor problem, and the balls to make a change. Now is a good opportunity, and it’s going to be quite a ride.

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Saturday, June 04, 2005 2:24 am
Hitchhiker’s the book
I just read the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy for the 2nd time. The first would have been about 10 years ago or so. Hilarious! I think I enjoyed it more this time. It is so hilarious. Highly recommended. To the first time reader—don’t rush through it like I did the last time. From memory, the subsequent books weren’t as good. But I have them lying around, and they’ll be next.

I’m not too keen on watching the new movie on which this book is based upon—I’m not in the least curious as to how they will pull off the effects. Anyway, most of the book humour is quite cerebral which is hardly common in the cinema.

I’m also a little wary of movie adaptations of good books e.g. is it possible to think of Gandalf as anything but Ian McKellen now…? Well actually, the answer to that is yes. I re-read the LOTR last month, and I kept picturing Gandalf as that old wizard on the novel cover. The movie actually enhanced the book a little bit I felt.

However, there isn’t any way to forget the movie, or even forget the book, and read it afresh. Pity that.

Next series: Dune

ps: the initial 40 minutes of the Bourne Identity movie that I saw made it look like a piece of turd.

[posted with

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Friday, June 03, 2005 9:07 pm
The Machinist (short without many spoilers)
There’s something annoying about movies that employ a single gimmicks. e.g. computer generated characters in Phantom Menace (aargh), and Lord of the Rings (not too bad); Bullet-Time in The Matrix (excellent); Tom Hank’s character change in the middle of CastAway (quite average).

In the case of The Machinist it was Christian Bale’s slimness skeletalness. Yikes, he was thin. His figure went a long way to making his character Trevor Reznick materialise. When Trevor Reznick runs, I couldn’t tell whether his odd gait was Christian Bale’s acting or a physical defect. When he slopes around during the movie, he sure looks the pitiful bastard. The entire performance is quite decent, but I’m not sure he (or anyone) would have pulled it off without the extreme makeover. The end result is memorable.

His appearance also added to the overall high creepiness-factor of the entire movie. The story is a further exploration of the “twist” that has become a bit overused. I did enjoy the experience, and haven’t actually figured it totally out—a bit like yet another movie called Mulholland Drive(highlight to see). Not quite as strange.

So, one to watch if you’re in the mood for an eerie mysterious experience, that isn’t a horror movie. Aside from one skeleton figure.

[posted with ecto]

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12:11 am
Terrorism or not?
In an earlier post, I mentioned that SC would be linked to “the first such terrorist attack on Australian soil”.

Now that the “biological substance” has been found to not be harmful, is it still terrorism though? Despite posts like these on Whirlpool, I’m having 2nd thoughts.

Bomb threats when I was in university in 1996 weren’t uncommon. Some police person would interrupt a lecture, and ask us to look under our chairs and in the lecture theatre looking for suspicious packages. Close by to telephones there were charts listing questions to ask callers that call through a bomb threat: “Where is the bomb?”, “What time does it go off?”, “What does it look like?”, “Did you put the bomb there?”… that sort of thing. Are false bomb threats in a university or on a plane terrorist activities?

This particular threat against the Indonesian embassy was particularly notable, because it was the first time I knew of anthrax usable as a weapon in Australia, and also because of the undercurrent of Corby-related hypersensitivity between each Australia and Indonesia.

But I think I’ll change my mind about calling it terrorism now. No wonder the government avoided the phrase last night. Clever bastards.

[posted with ecto]

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Thursday, June 02, 2005 11:43 pm
Christian Bale & The Empire of the Sun
In the last week I’ve been watching 2 movies which I previously watched when they were first released—The Empire of the Sun and The Color of Money. And then I watched something new:
The Machinist. It’s a Tom Cruise/Christian Bale bonanza, just like the upcoming summer movies.

Empire of the Sun is such a fantastically done movie. When I first watched it I remember wondering “where’s the beef?” However I never really forgot it. The song Suo Gan made an indelible impression, as did many, many visuals from the movie. The current repeat viewing on DVD was an amazing experience.

I expect the portrayal of the Japanese troops as a fairly benign would have been a criticism when the movies was released. Considering the Japanese war crimes in China, such a portrayal seems blasphemous even today. Spielberg did humanise some of the Germans in his other “serious” war movies as well.

I’m not much of a film critic, but I think EOTS is a look at events through the eyes of the spoilt 11–15 year old Jim Graham (played by very young Christian Bale). Hence the “braver” victorious Japanese—especially the pilots—would have a greater influence on him at the time. Jim did appear in most of the scenes in the movie, and the story makes more sense told from his point of view throughout.

Some of the earlier scenes depicting Shanghai were amazing. English movies in China typically seem a little out of place to me. I think filming The Last Emperor in English for example, was a bad move. And every time anyone speaks English in a Jackie Chan/Stephen Chow Hong Kong movies, it’s always for a laugh. In EOTS the early scenes were done realistically on such massive scale against a backdrop of 1940s Shanghai. It’s a credit to the director, and whoever organised those crowds/costumes. Thank goodness computer generated visual effects wasn’t as widespread then. I think I know what George Lucas would have preferred…

The movie is quite sanitised in terms of cruelty by the Japanese. Knowing the events on the Death Railway etc, it seems odd that a large group of prisoners would be kept alive and fed in the middle of China for years. Instead, the movie places much emphasis on real hunger. Jim’s and the other character’s desperation when short of food and water occurs several times in the movie and looked authentic. Politeness and graciousness among prisoners goes right out the window when everyone is famished. Criticism: everyone still looked so fattish at the end.

With the combination of the on-location filming, incredible set pieces, multiple kids on the set, and a kid in the lead role, so much could have gone wrong. But it didn’t. In fact, somehow Christian Bale gave an excellent 2.5 hour performance, and together with the usual Spielberg touches, the team really pulled this one off. It may not have been a monetary winner, but it is still an incredible experience.

[posted with ecto]

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