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Tigger

From what little I’ve seen of Mac OS X 10.4 “Tiger”, I can’t say I’m terribly, horribly, awfully impressed. Then again, I haven’t watched the keynote and I haven’t been privy to all the buzz floating around the web since the preview… so I might be missing out on something. Damn this tropical island paradise and its disconnectivity. By–the–minute internet cafés really aren’t as useful as they seem.

Dashboard is, of course, the big bad Konfabulator killer… but not being a Konfabulator user, I can only really say “meh”. John is, as always, on top with the facts; so I suggest you read his take. But it’s funny; Dashboard gadgets are just little floating WebKit views… you don’t hear Steven Frank bitching that Apple “stole” WebDesktop from him.

The new Safari parses RSS/Atom! Huzzah! Unfortunate that it refers to it all as RSS (“feeds” would be nice), but that’s something for another time. I imagine that the more paranoid amongst us might see this as some kind of threat to desktop feed aggregators as a whole; but more realistically, Safari’s feature set is far too limited to pose a threat and can only help to bring syndication to a whole new crowd of non–geek Mac users. People like Brent and Erik could only see this as an opportunity to increase sales; their products are the logical “next step” to anybody who likes the concept of feeds, but finds Safari too limiting. On the same topic, the introduction of system–level Sync APIs will save a lot of developers a lot of time… particularly those who are in the middle of home–growing their synchronization tools.

Spotlight… hmmm. It’s hard to say “LaunchBar killer” with a straight face, considering how clumsy Spotlight looks by comparison. LaunchBar has become such an integral part of my daily workflow that I can’t imagine life without it… and I can’t imagine Spotlight taking its place too easily. Objective Development is already way ahead of the curve so, as with Safari RSS, newbies will stick with the bundled stuff; people who need something more with pay for something more. It’s the circle of life. Or, uh, software. Automator looks to be something interesting, that much is certain, but it looks to me like a natural extension of (or, perhaps, a restoration of) the old–school AppleScript recordability function. Record a task performed in the GUI and then play it back? Without having to actually write AppleScript or rely on the potentially shitty AppleScript support of a hojillion different applications? Inconceivable. About time, too.

All said, Tiger just isn’t as impressive at first blush as Panther was this time last year… the big–ticket items aren’t there; the new Finder, the Exposé, the FileVault. That isn’t to say we all won’t upgrade as soon as humanly possible, but it would appear the dot–upgrades just don’t wow like they used to. Now we wait ‘til playtime.


Thaitinerary, closure

It takes a few days before you can really “get” Thailand. Hell, maybe I still don’t get it; I’ve only been here ten days. The culture is so weird and wonderful that the locals probably don’t get it either; they are quite possibly as bewildered, amazed, and sometimes, dismayed, as we. If you head out to the sticks, somewhere between Thailand’s ancient Siamese roots and the modern west, you can probably catch a glimpse of normal life in a culture you’ve never known. But here on the hotel strip, as much of a ‘city’ as the little isle of Samui can muster, Thai culture is just a gross caricature of western culture.

Everything you see and do here has been built for the amusement of tourists. Sure, Thai people need clothes, food, internet connections, art, watches, GameBoy games, trinkets, carved soap, taxis, massages, guns, knives, DVDs, clothes, food, internet connections, clothes, clothes, and food as much as the rest of us… but I doubt they need all those things every fifty feet. And strangely, I’ve found that the longer you stay here the less of it you notice. After a week of daily walks down Beach Road —children and mongrel dogs underfoot, the smell of open sewage making only the occasional assault on your olfactory senses— you don’t even hear the cab drivers honking at you any more. The cycle–taxi boys, parked by the side of the road and waiting for a fare, don’t catch your gaze; most of the time they don’t even ask if you need a ride anymore, they can tell by your tan and the state of your hair that you’ve been here more than five minutes. When your eyes aren’t so wide and wandering, when your mouth isn’t so agape, when you aren’t wearing clothes so painfully out of sync with the humidity and heat that you look like a moron even to the other tourists, they know that you know the score; you’ll ask for a taxi when you damned well need one. The tailor doesn’t shout numbers at you any more, trying to guess your height, and he doesn’t ask for a handshake every time you walk by. The massage–parlor gals don’t chant “massaa massaa, you wan massaaa” at you from their doorway. The hookers, well, the hookers still yell. But at least they’ve stopped grabbing your ass.

And what a place this is for prostitutes. If you’re in your mid–fifties, divorced, balding, fat, white, and English, chances are I’ve already seen you riding down the street with your bitches in tow. That goes double if you have a lot of tattoos, and triple if you had those tattoos done here in Thailand (keep the hepatitis, it’s free). Hey, I’m not going to judge you if your only reason for flying to Thailand was the cheap poontang —I’m really only here for the cheap massages and the cheap beer— but for Christ’s sake man have some cojones! Do you have any idea how many nubile Swiss girls there are by the pool? If you like boobs you’re in freakin’ boobie central. Ask them out, they’re free! But chances are if you’re headed for a by–the–hour motel on the wrong side of town that you’re not interested purely in boobs. Or conversation, even. And for a country with only one official language, the shopkeepers, waitresses, and, yes, hookers of Thailand have learned a great deal about communicating past language barriers.

Tourists here hail from all corners of Europe, China, Japan, the US, and Australasia; and despite the variety of languages to deal in, business continues unhindered. The average shopkeep communicates in the international language of numbers, his translator a calculator. You point to something you like, he punches out a price, you shake your head and punch in a new price, he shakes his head, and you continue until a settlement is made; it’s an oddly comfortable way to bargain. I can only imagine how the salesman at my local trinket–store would deal with a customer speaking in a completely foreign tongue… he’d probably keep talking, just really loud and really slow.

If you have a chance to snorkel on Koh Tao and Koh Nangyuan, do it. It’s quite possibly the most fun I’ve had while I’ve been here, aside from the lying by the pool reading the Da Vinci Code and Life of Pi stopping only for food and coconut–oil massages. To snorkel around in the warm clear water with hundreds of beautiful and colorful fish within arm’s reach is just breathtaking. To have tiny fish nibble at your hands and feet, following you from place to place like pilot fish cleaning a shark, is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face, and it’s tough to smile with a snorkel in your gob.

The full moon party on Koh Pha Ngan is what you might’ve expected Leavers to be like (or Schoolies, or Spring Break, or whatever) when you were seventeen… the main difference being that there weren’t nightclubs opening onto the sand at Leavers, there weren’t bars on the beach dispensing buckets of vodka and Red Bull, and there weren’t ten thousand people dancing bumper to bumper on a long strip of white sand until sunrise. It’d be more fun with a girl of course, and my girl is back in Australia, so I’ve just had to make do with Scotty.

Tomorrow morning, though, I say my goodbyes to Scotty–Chan–the–man–with–the–plan and bid him good luck for his life in England. Amusing, considering he hates the English, but sad nonetheless. We’ll board our respective planes, his headed for Heathrow Airport and mine for Perth International, and go our separate ways. It’s been fun here in Thailand, but I had to head back to Perth some time. It’s home, after all, and I miss it.


Funstat 500

Happy five–hundredth–post day. Admittedly, 500 isn’t so great a number —particularly for the length of time I’ve been blogging— but during the last two years I’ve pumped out some 113090 words (one hundred and thirteen thousand and ninety words!), not including this post. Some entries have been very long, some have been very short; some months have been busy, others have been lazy; but I’ll tell you what has been common to all of them: me… rocking.

In celebration of this momentous occasion, I’ve prepared an infographic charting daily word counts over time.

Though posts in recent months have been more sparse, they have been noticeably longer than those  earlier in the game. The five–month break between weblog v1.0 and weblog v2.0 was even more noticeable, though.

And with that out of the way, the time has come for your reading this two–bit rag to finally pay off: I’m giving away Gmail invitations. See, while all the cool kids were giving theirs away weeks ago, I put some aside —squirreling them away, as it were— for precisely this moment. I have three to give away, so if you don’t yet have a Gmail account and you’d really like one, drop me a line at chrisclark@decaffeinated.org with a photo of yourself and the one thing you just can’t live without.

Abstract concepts like Love are welcome, as long as you have the giant pink cardboard heart to show it. Winners are drawn 24 hours from… now.

Update

Who’d’ve thunk so many of my readers were geeks with a disturbing affinity for their computers? In retrospect, I probably would’ve sent exactly the same thing. Congratulations to our winners.


The price of a clean plate

Bilal and I stopped by a Fast Eddies Cafe on the way home last night, since we were both hungry for a Cop–the–lot burger combo… and at 2:00am, where else are we gonna go? McDonalds?

Walking into the take–out section of the diner, we were about to order when I announced loudly my need for a bathroom. With no bathrooms in sight, we figured we should try the dine–in half of Fast Eddies (a wall separates the diners from the take–out–ers) and perhaps take our meal sitting down. Arriving next door, I relieved myself and joined Bilal for an inspection of the menu.

Waitress
What can I get you guys?
Bilal
We were going to get a cop–the–lot burger and fries. Could you tell me why it costs $14.95 in here when it’s only $10.20 next door?
Waitress
Well, here you have it served on a clean plate, with a swept floor, table service, and you can order beer.
Bilal
Uhuh.
Chris
Well, we weren’t really planning on drinking…
Waitress
Well, feel free to go next door.
Chris
Ooohhh…kaaaayyyy.

At two in the morning I’m not sure that really registered properly… but did she just tell us that the price of eating with utensils was five dollars? Mein gott.


Hooray for job opportunities

Mail call!

Microsoft Redmond are looking for people in Australia who are interested and qualified candidates for software development positions at corporate headquarters working on our major products. Full Relocation and Visa assistance provided.

I get it, you’re afraid of commas. That, or you just had Word correct your punctuation and grammar for you. Who knew there weren’t enough qualified computer scientists Stateside to hire locally?

Who is a qualified candidate?

  • Someone who has (or will be completing this year) a bachelor’s (four year or more) degree in Computer Science or a related field.
  • Someone that has very strong abilities to write code in C/C++
  • Someone that is very driven and passionate about technology, desiring to make software products that will go all over the world.

Then it makes perfect sense that this message was forwarded to every enrolled first–year computer science student at the university; moreso that we should be passionate about making products that will go all over the world rather than products that will, say… “be of high quality and stand on their own two feet in the marketplace, instead of resting on their laurels monopoly”.

WHATEVER YOU DO, DO IT AT MICROSOFT

That, sir, sounds like a threat.

The reason so many people from various disciplines come to Microsoft is because we provide the most exciting challenges in the industry. Since our inception in 1975, Microsoft’s mission has been to create software for the personal computer that empowers and enriches people in the workplace, at school and at home. Microsoft’s early vision of a computer on every desk and in every home is coupled today with a strong commitment to Internet–related technologies that expand the power and reach of the PC and its users. You can help shape the industry in nearly countless ways, all while gaining invaluable experience. Our casual environment lends itself to freer thinking and therefore, creative problem–solving. However, the coolest part of all is the diversity of jobs. You're guaranteed not to be bored.

Freer? Freer than what? Than working for yourself? Or the competition maybe? And here I was thinking the coolest part about working for Microsoft is the guarantee that the company you’re working for won’t go bust. Then again, I thought the word ‘countless’ was hyperbole, making nearly countless an oxymoron. So I could be wrong on both counts.

We invite you to join us as we move toward the .NET age, the next generation of our products. You could create a world of change in one of these pivotal, Redmond, Washington USA area positions in the Microsoft product groups.

I’ve read the blurbs on these positions… and frankly the roles of “coder” and “tester” don’t seem so pivotal to me. Thanks for the invite though.


Spamtastic

First there was the spam. Then there were the spam filters. Then there were the spam laws. Then there were the songs taken from spam subject lines. Now there are the cartoons taken from spam subject lines; brought to you by Steven Frank.

It’s like explodingdog for your inbox.


Degenerate

The new click–wheel iPod has brought many good things to we jive addicts; a top–level Shuffle feature (for which I’ve been clamoring for months), a simpler one–hand interface, longer battery life, a lower price… it’s a much improved product.

They call it the 4G iPod.

But is it generation four?

For that matter, was the dock–connector iPod really “3G” material? How about the second–gen’s solid–state–scroller? Do these little changes actually qualify each pod as a distinct generation, or are they more like… cousins? From a biological standpoint, the answer lies with the Gs: incremental improvement through successive iterations of the same basic genetic material; it’s evolution, baby, and we’re sitting pretty at generation four. But from a computer hardware —nay— a fashion accessory perspective, this is just iPod unit 1.3… the fourth “feature release” of the same basic gadget. This click–wheel iPod, or (more fittingly) the July 2004 model iPod, is just a little something to keep us on the leash; and like any good fashion accessory, you should expect to see an upgrade in ten to twelve months. We’ll be falling all over ourselves to get our hands on that one, too.

But, after all this, the question isn’t “why is Apple releasing wave after wave of mostly–identical iPod generations?”, but “when will Apple finally unveil the real next–generation iPod?”. Where is the pod that breaks down barriers and explores uncharted territory? There’s been hearty speculation for, well, as long as there has been an iPod, and no man is safe from his own imagination; so here I am, again, with a dream of a future iPod. A generation–two iPod; something that separates itself from the pack. A color screen alone wouldn’t qualify such a jump, nor would the “dumb storage” model with the video–out dock, and I’ve basically given up on my dreams of an integrated digital camera, phone, and PDA. No, the feature to push the iPod to new frontiers is simple. It’s Wi–Fi.

Wi–Fi and Rendezvous OpenTalk means wireless auto–sync whenever you’re in range of your home network. It means contact sharing, calendar sharing, multiplayer games, and streaming audio. If that whole color screen thing does actually come to fruition, it could mean photo sharing too; and in a really adventurous world, a Wi–Fi–enabled iPod with a microphone attached could be your own personal VoIP audioconferencing solution or even an internet radio station. At its most mundane, this ‘AirPod’ could be the remote control you always wanted for your Express setup.

But these features, as cool and as useful as they are, aren’t good reasons to go bumping up the manufacturing cost and bumping down the potential battery life of the humble iPod. In fact, most new hardware features aren’t a real good reason to do that, but there might be one reason Wi–Fi is worth Cupertino’s attention: iTMS on the go.

iPod toters far and wide use iTunes as a digital jukebox about as often as they use their fireplace to light cigarettes. A fireplace is a great spot for setting things on fire, sure, but if you have a cigarette lighter in your pocket you’re gonna damned well use it. For me, after years of rigorous daily iTunes use, the passion died quickly and quietly for three simple reasons; the first being that I bought an iPod, the second being that I work full–time on a laptop these days (and laptop speakers ain’t nothin’ to write home about), and the third being the lack of iTMS on Australian shores. In a situation like mine, once your iPod has you by the short and curlies, the only reason you have for firing up iTunes is to sync.

For all you lucky jerks in the US, UK, France, and Germany, your reasons for launching iTunes are one more than mine: you can buy songs from the iTunes Music Store. But what if you didn’t have to go to your computer to buy new music? What if you could do it on your sofa? or on campus? or at Starbucks? What happens when you’re in a café with your best buddy and she’s telling you all about this great band she’s discovered, so she gives you a little preview via iPod streaming and you fall in love? (with the band, not the girl; though I’m guessing there’s been some unspoken sexual tension between the two of you for some time now, huh? You stud, you)… you can just buy the album, right there and then, wirelessly.

The interface for such an application, to fit with the iPod’s limited inputs, would have to be incredibly usable —though I doubt Apple would have real trouble on that front— and it might be fair to say that such an endeavor couldn’t be embarked upon without the aforementioned color screen; but the payoff for all this R&D should be obvious… it would put Apple, the iPod, and the iTunes Music Store light years ahead of the competition.

There are, of course, other considerations that might impede an iPod iTMS (or iPMS…), one of which being the two–way sync. The iPod, as an iTMS purchasing agent, would have to be FairPlay–authorized for track playback (there goes the “unlimited iPods” clause), and would have to sync both ways to keep your computer(s) up to date with your purchases. This is a Good Thing™, and, at the same time, this is a Very Bad Thing®. The good part is you get to transfer songs from your iPod to your computer, something you can’t do right now without third–party software, and could thusly keep multiple computers in musical sync without too many hassles. The bad part should already be obvious: to ensure this two–way syncing isn’t abused by file sharers, you would only be able to sync between authorized computers of the same account… making your iPod one of those “5 computers” you’re allowed to authorize for playback. It’s a big tradeoff, some might consider it too big, but only one thing remains certain:

This shit might never even happen. Dream on.