conversations with myself

Vale, Steve Jobs

I was at work, browsing idly on my iPhone when I stumbled upon the news, linked to a short news blast from the AP. This wasn’t fake: it was a statement by Apple, and the language was solemn.

Man oh man, the shock froze me for a minute. As though I was searching for a clue, somewhere in there, that this wasn’t real. But it was, and the Apple homepage spoke volumes in its simplicity, their tribute as minimal as could be, befitting the man.

The amount of coverage Jobs’ passing has received is off the chart. I thought that perhaps this matched the level of Michael Jackson’s passing, but the sordid circumstances surrounding that doesn’t hold a candle to what I’ve seen in the media today. It may well be the technology focused echo chamber I live in, but it certainly felt like everyone was talking about it.

At lunch, outside the Apple store in Sydney, three bouquets lay on the pavement. Five minutes later, another had joined them. Astonishing.

it would seem a day for reflecting on Jobs and his way of thinking, and the most intimate view you could have of his thoughts and philosophy seems to have come from his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address (available on Youtube):

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Perhaps the most eloquently put epitaph for Steve Jobs today comes from Barack Obama:

Steve was fond of saying that he lived every day like it was his last.  Because he did, he transformed our lives, redefined entire industries, and achieved one of the rarest feats in human history: he changed the way each of us sees the world. The world has lost a visionary. And there may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented.

Vale, Steve Jobs, 1955 – 2011.

opinion tech


If you know the FTFF acronym, you’ll know exactly why I’m posting this today.

If you don’t, I suspect this post will be largely irrelevant. Feel free to wander over to somewhere you get some damn posts, like Kottke or Dooce or something.


Apple, please, Fix The Fucking Finder for 10.7. And fixing the Finder doesn’t mean getting rid of it or obfuscating it or rendering it pointless by making everything in OSX work just like iOS.

I’m not saying that as a purist or a ranter. I love my iPad, despite my earlier reservations to the contrary. It’s perfect for those little things – you’ve just thought of a random website you want to check out, so you pick up your iPad, flick the slide-to-unlock, jump online, do your thing, put it down, you’re done. It’s light enough that you don’t even think about it as a fantastic computer as powerful as your desktop was just 10 years ago.

The problem occurs when I want to get anything… serious done. Well, not even serious, just something requiring more than one program to interact with a unit of data that goes beyond a couple of lines of text on the clipboard.  For that, I need to deal with files. Not just files on an arbitrary and abstracted system that may as well be a data-store for specific binary blobs actionable by a particular application, I need honest-to-goodness files I can throw around. Move, copy, rename, edit, export, upload, email, back up. I want to be able to do that without relying on APIs and frameworks and implementations of these to work coherently together.

These two models of interaction can coexist peacefully, even with overlap. But take away the higher-functioning mode, and you’re asking for trouble, or at least people to migrate away from your service.

So when I see things like the Mac OSX App Store and Launchpad, I get worried. One way to look at these things is that it’s just an evolution of things that have gone before, and not just in Apple’s world. The App Store is a package management system with a nice interface and a payment mechanism built in. Launchpad is really just an app launcher, recreating a now-familiar paradigm on the more powerful computers; or it’s just an extension of the stacks/folder pop-overs for the Applications folder (or it’s a graphical update to the App menu from the classic Mac OS days).

What I don’t like is where this might be going. I don’t want to fix the finder by replacing it with a simpler paradigm, or removing the “need” for it. I just want to be able to do things I can take for granted in other OSes, and have it done consistently. I don’t want to get Mac OSX 10.8 Mountain Lion and find that the majority of the interaction is through an abstract system where everything is “managed for you”.

I’m not stupid, and I’m not so distracted that every task must be performed one-app-at-a-time. I want to be editing a photo while music plays and a torrent downloads and a movie converts and a chat is open with my friends while my mail comes in and I see any twitter updates slide into view through Growl. Multi-tasking, it’s why you have OSX in the first place.

The reason we complain and yet still prefer you, Apple, is that you’re still the one for moving this industry. A plethora of MP3 players have died at the iPod scythe, where once Creative led; smartphones now inexorably follow the Apple lead of the iPhone, where once Palm blazed the trail. No-one has come close to matching the slickness of the MacBooks or iMacs.

Mac OSX showed you can have Unix with a usable graphical interface not beaten with the ugly stick. So we need a leader who is able to keep options open, operate with diversity, not just a single focus that a belies a company with a $50 billion balance sheet.

So, Apple: in the next 6 – 9 months leading up to the launch, don’t shy away from new features, like you did with Snow Leopard. This is the king of the savannah we’re talking about here: there better be some features worthy of the label “Lion”. And Fix the Goddammed Finder!

opinion tech

Back to the Future

We’ve been here before. I wonder if anyone else recognises it?

(Well, I haven’t, though I’ve read about it. Let me explain…)

There’s an eerie sense of deja vu about the computer industry right now, if you look at it the right way.  The PC wars were pretty much over by the time I was born, definitely so by the time I was old enough to be conscious of a computer, but from what I’ve gleaned from my history books and a little recent reading, things weren’t always so straightforward in the computer industry as they’ve been over the last few years.

Once upon a time thirty years ago, there were many computer manufacturers, almost all with significant differences in key technology components of their machines. The chips inside were different, the operating systems weren’t compatible, and if you made a bet on technology occasionally it didn’t pay out – the computer you bought today might be gone tomorrow.

Apple was there, as was Microsoft. That was the genesis of these two giants of the industry, and their approach to the computing world at the time led to their wildly differing fortunes in the 90s. Apple worked as it does now – to control the whole process end-to-end, with the hardware and the software all under the Apple umbrella.

Microsoft on the other hand tied up with a key partner in IBM and picked just the software side of the equation. Someone else would build the hardware, but anywhere Microsoft’s operating system ran its programs could run, too.

Hardware manufacturers were quickly sidelined as Microsoft defined their interaction with the machine. In the end, even IBM was sidelined as “IBM PC-compatible” quickly became the “Wintel” world.

It all looked like a war that was over until the smartphone redefined what a personal computer was.

Today, we’ve got something very much like the 80s playing out again in the tablet and smartphone market – competing, incompatible OSes, different hardware architectures, and a market that is quickly proliferating with options.

Apple’s got a head start like they did last time, and are controlling the end-to-end chain even more strongly than before. They’ve got a major competitor that is selling only the software, not the hardware. Only this time, Google is Microsoft, with Android the biggest challenger amongst the pack.

There are differences, of course. IBM is no longer in the consumer hardware business, and there’s no Big Blue equivalent for either the consumers to go with or Google to work with as a premier hardware partner. Microsoft is still around of course, though not competitive in the segment where the battle is being fought.

And it almost goes without saying, the Internet has changed everything – no longer does your computing platform determine what applications you can use, as increasingly the complex logic is available in a device-agnostic form. No longer is it necessary to be tied to a single platform if what you do is simply accessed through a browser, more than ever a proxy OS environment for the web.

All this is also within the lifespan of the people involved the first time around, and they’re not likely to make the same mistakes twice, especially not Steve Jobs.


The iPhone Post (Part the Second)

The day iPhone 3GS was announced, I realised that on pure technical stats, it was higher spec than the second computer my family owned, bought in 1999 for a tidy sum – a Pentium III 550MHz with 128MB of RAM and 16GB of disk space. Here Apple was selling a device that could comfortably fit in your hand which rocked a 600MHz CPU, 256MB of RAM and up to 32GB of disk space.

In the space of a decade, a desktop computer housed in a two-foot-tall tower case had shrunk to something which was measured in millimeters for accuracy. Such is the blinding pace of technology.

I wasn’t sure what to put in part 2 that you haven’t read, heard or seen already, until I saw this video which, I think, adequately demonstrates what makes the iPhone the representation of the next generation in computing:

(see the creators’ site for more details)

It’s not so much that the iPhone is unique in having the technology to do it, it’s that it brings it all together in a single functional, beautiful and above all usable device.

For all that netbooks are the rage these days, the form-factor is much the same as larger laptops, and none of the direct competition to the iPhone is quite so singular a package – Windows Mobile is a disjointed market, Symbian’s old-fashioned and years behind in usability, RIM’s Blackberries are distinctly business-focused and while Android has potential, its execution thus far has been underwhelming (and sorely lacking in Australia no less).

And now… the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good

  • Go-anywhere internet: almost as fast as my fixed line ADSL2 at home.  Wow, wow wow wow wow.
  • Mobile Safari: it’s a real browser! Sure, any real page will need zooming and panning around a lot, but it’s definitely a step up over my previous mobile “browser” or the PSP’s browser, the keyboard of which we will not discuss here.
  • The apps: you remember how your previous phone did stuff that came with it on Day 1, and chances are it never did anything new for 2 years? Yeah, forget about that. Brilliant mobile platform.
  • Assisted GPS: This thing can get your position to a reasonable bit of accuracy inside a building surrounded by skyscrapers on a cloudy day, within 10 seconds. Try doing that on your $400 Navman.
  • Software Keyboard: very versatile, and surprisingly usable… with the caveat of:
  • Auto-correction: very necessary, but fairly good at correcting.
  • Camera: 3MP is a decent camera, especially after I’ve spent all these years with a 2MP one on the phone.
  • Multimedia… everything: music, videos, photos – all easily accessible on a beauty of a screen.
  • Silent Mode switch: oh my… this is so easy and useful and instant, I wonder now why all phones don’t have it.
  • Storage: I think the only one that competes with the 32GB storage here is the Nokia N97.
  • Oileophobic coating: The 3GS has a special coating that “resists oil” and as such makes it easier to wipe off fingerprints. And damn me, it works – a quick brush against a shirt and it’s pristine.
  • Light: amazingly so.
  • Slim: astonishingly so.
  • Scratch resistance: surprisingly so.

The Bad

  • The battery life: you can watch the battery percentage tick down incrementally just by using it for light to moderate duties, and don’t even think about heavy duties. Admittedly, it does a whole lot more than the previous phone, giving all the more reason to play with it, but even so it’s a disappointment.
  • Go-anywhere internet: amazingly expensive. Like, stupidly so, especially if you happen to roam – and to avoid roaming, you’d have to go on the stupidly-expensive-anyway Telstra.
  • Settings buried down layers: simple things like turning Bluetooth on and off, adjusting brightness, switching Wifi networks – these should be a tap or two away, not at least three or four clicks through to it. If Apple won’t do it, they should open the APIs and let control apps fill the gap.
  • Software Keyboard: needs to be customisable – I use a lot of commas, and that’s a multi-step process to insert one on the iPhone, but not a problem on say my dad’s Sony Ericsson X1 with a real keyboard.
  • Auto-correction: unfortunately seems to only be limited to spelling-correction style fixes, and the occasional long word completion. Something more like T9’s predictions based on your previous typing patterns (“Yo” is not a typo!) would be marvelous. That and Australian English (US English has the $, British English has the £… d’oh.)
  • No character count in SMS: what. the. hell. Apple. Seriously.
  • Camera: would it kill to have a bigger lens, and maybe an LED flash? How about night mode? And zoom? My 5 year old phone had all of these… (ok yes, it was 2MP with a shite lens and digital zoom, but night mode & flash no less!)
  • iPod mode: not necessarily bad, per se, but there’s something about the earlier iPods that was more… useable. The click wheel also provided very easy accessibility without having to pull the thing out and play with it – if something like the remote switch on the headphones could be incorporated into a button on the phone itself (more buttons? sacrilege!), that’d be a boon for those of us that use non-Apple headphones.
  • No USB Mass Storage Device (i.e. Disk) mode: Why can’t I use it as a flash drive, Apple? I could with my previous iPods…
  • Stupid App restrictions: most likely imposed by carriers, such as Skype or Google Voice or Slingbox being hamstrung.

The… Ugly?

Are you frigging kidding? This thing is a beauty.

There’s probably nothing in this post that hasn’t been said a hundred times elsewhere on the net, but discovering it for myself is what makes it special to me; I do not regret not jumping on it earlier, as the shortcomings of earlier models were enough that they didn’t form the total package. The first was beautiful, but only functional in ways that Apple defined; the unleashing of apps and the first 3G model made it a competitive platform; and now the third iteration has unlocked its potential. Yes, you pay a premium, but it’s worth (nearly) every cent.

(Anyone up for Part the Third, where I geek out with App Store links?)


How to set the default language in Mac OSX or Pages to be Australian or British English

How hard is it to find this somewhere straight-forward on the net? Very hard evidently, because how many people come here.

Edit: now updated for Yosemite. Older version below.

Step 1: Open Language & Region:Screenshot 2014-10-25 11.47.13

Step 2: Go to the language list and click +:
Screenshot 2014-10-25 11.47.59Step 3: Select the language desired – in this case English (Australia) and click Add:Screenshot 2014-10-25 11.48.42

Step 4 – Mac OS X Yosemite prompts you to use the new one as your primary language – select this and you’re good to go:
Screenshot 2014-10-25 11.48.56This is what it should look like:
Screenshot 2014-10-25 11.49.10

Now for spelling dictionaries – Yosemite has system-wide spell-checking, so we need to order it there. Pages (and other apps) will pick this up automatically. This time, we go to the Keyboard pref pane:Screenshot 2014-10-25 12.05.10

Click over to the Text tab, and we’ll see the spelling drop-down over on the right – usually this is set to auto, but let’s go through setup to confirm what we need:Screenshot 2014-10-25 12.06.10In the setup window, you can pick which dictionaries apply – so if you’re not going to type in Russian or Polish, for instance, you can remove these: Screenshot 2014-10-25 12.08.10

You can drag to re-order, and click Done to save your preference: Screenshot 2014-10-25 12.09.41

And there you have it!


For Mac OS X Snow Lion and Pages 8 and earlier:

Step 1: Open International pref pane in System Preferences


Step 2: On the Languages tab, click on “Edit List”


Your list of languages already in the list might be longer – e.g., it’ll usually have most of the European languages.

Step 3: Select the language(s) you wish to add and click OK.


Here I’ve chosen both Australian English and British English – generally speaking though, these are virtually identical and you only need the one you prefer.

Step 3: The newly selected languages should now be in the list. Order the list to your preference by dragging list items around.


As it says under “Edit List”, the changes will take effect next time you start the application (in the case of Finder, that’s obviously when you restart). Generally speaking, I’d say leave English (i.e., the American one) in there somewhere.

Now you’re done for most of the system stuff. Pages will now create new documents with the top language as the default. However, for existing documents you’ll need to do the following:


Select all text, and then (1) click on Inspector, (2) click on the text tab, (3) select “More” tab, and (4) set the language.


Apple Backlash

The Apple backlash proper will occur sometime in March next year: Leopard will be to Tiger as Vista is to XP?