Thursday, January 25, 2007

Big Brother to Saviour, and a Fall from Grace

Yesterday I blogged briefly about the 23rd birthday of the Mac. I had a few thoughts about the famous "1984" Super Bowl ad that I didn't get to yesterday, so here they are now.

To recap, Apple aired this ad a single time1, during the 1984 Super Bowl. A link to a video of the ad, and a bit of a summary, were in yesterday's post.

In the ad, "Big Brother" represents IBM, whose PCs (and mainframes) were the norm among "mindless" business users. (IBM's semi-official nickname is "Big Blue", a fact I'm sure was not lost on the writers of the ad2).

In retrospect, this ad is made rather ironic by subsequent events. Apple and IBM became close allies less than ten years later, as part of the "AIM" (Apple/IBM/Motorola) alliance that created the PowerPC processor. (They had other partnerships in that time frame, but none that were as significant). The PowerPC, in one incarnation or another, powered every Mac from 1994 through the Intel transition in 2005. Motorola initially played the largest role in the alliance from Apple's perspective, and supplied the processors (the PowerPC 601, 603, 604, G3, and G4) that Apple was using. But, by 2002 or so, Motorola was having a great deal of trouble developing newer and faster chips; the G4 had stagnated for quite some. IBM came to the rescue with the PowerPC G5, a processor that trounced its competitors, and put Apple back in the performance game. So, we have IBM going from "evil Big Brother" to ally to saviour of Apple in nineteen years.

However, IBM was unable to improve the G5 quickly enough for Apple's (or, more accurately, Steve's) liking. IBM had privately promised Steve that the chip would go from 2 GHz to 3 GHz within one year, and Steve passed along that promise during the WWDC 2003 Keynote, when he introduced the G5. There was much fanfare and cheering in the audience at the time, since the clock speed of Motorola's PowerPC G4 had stagnated for years, and this rapid increase in speed would be a welcome change. Furthermore, 3 GHz would compare quite favorably with the Intel camp.

However, a year later at WWDC 2004, IBM had only been able to deliver a "modest" 500 MHz increase to 2.5 GHz. I put "modest" in quotes not only because a 25% increase in speed is not insignificant, but because rivals Intel and AMD had been having similar troubles ramping their clock speeds. By the next WWDC, in 2005, clock speeds had only gone to 2.7 GHz. In was partially in response to this perceived lack of increasing speed that Apple announced the Intel transition at that conference. (Some might note that it was only this past year, at WWDC 2006, that Intel was able to cross the 3 GHz threshold, with the Xeon processors in the Mac Pro. As previously mentioned, it was not only IBM that was having trouble ramping clock speeds.)

So, within two years, we have IBM falling from their role as "saviour", and being tossed aside as second class. At this point, to the best of my knowledge, Apple and IBM don't have any meaningful collaborations going on.

It's been an interesting 23 years for the two companies.

  1. Actually, it aired a second time in order to satisfy eligibility requirements for the 1983 advertising awards. Viewers of a small town station in Idaho (all two of them) got to see it during the night of December 15. I can't find the reference for this at the moment, but Wikipedia (I know, I know) cites the book Apple Confidential, which is believe where I read it. 
  2. When I was a summer intern at IBM, one of the events we had during orientation week was a "rubber ducky race" in the creek that run through the Lab's property. Each intern got a yellow plastic duck (with a unique number written on the bottom) that we were supposed to decorate. They got released en masse in the creek, and the person's whose duck finished first won some sort of prize. Gotta love team building exercises, eh? So what's the point of this story?3 Well, we all had to name our ducks. Mine was called "Big Yellow". 
  3. Homer: You know, when I was a boy, I really wanted a catcher's mitt, but my dad wouldn't get it for me. So I held my breath until I passed out and banged my head on the coffee table.

    [cheerily] The doctor thought I might have brain damage.

    Bart: Dad, what's the point of this story?

    Homer: [cheerily] I like stories.4


  4. Episode 9F03 Itchy and Scratchy: The Movie 

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Happy Birthday

I just wanted to raise a quick toast to the birthday guest.

Today, January 24th, is the 23rd birthday of the Mac. The iconic "1984" ad introducing the Mac aired during the Super Bowl, exactly 23 years ago.

I was writing a longer post about the anniversary, but I haven't had a chance to finish it. It should be up soon. But, I wanted to post something today, what with it being the actual day and all.

If you've never seen the add, it's worth watching. A female athlete runs into a theatre occupied by mindless, monochromatic automatons watching their beloved "Big Brother" talking on a giant screen. Pursued by police in riot gear, she throws a large hammer into the screen, shattering it. The ad ends with a voice over telling us that Apple is introducing the Mac, and that "1984 won't be like 1984".

I started to write some commentary on the ad, and, wouldn't you know it, it started to turn into a longer entry. I don't have time to finish it right now, but it should go up soon. Which means that my other commentary on the birthday itself might get pushed back. Coupled with a few other ideas for articles I have percolating, I'm getting quite the backlog.

Anyway, here's a birthday Simpsons reference1 :

[At Mr. Burns birthday party:]
Smithers: Here are several fine young men who I'm sure are gonna go far. Ladies and gentlemen, the Ramones!
Burns: Ah, these minstrels will soothe my jangled nerves.
Ramone 1: I'd just like to say this gig sucks!
Ramone 2: Hey, up yours, Springfield.
Ramone 1: One, two, three, four!
[Abrasive guitar music begins]
Happy Birthday to you! (Happy Birthday!)
Happy Birthday to you! (Happy Birthday!)
Happy Birthday, Burnsey,
Happy Birthday to you!
Ramone 3: Go to hell, you old bastard.
[The curtain falls]
Ramone 4: Hey, I think they liked us!
Burns: [toward the Ramones] Have the Rolling Stones killed.
Smithers: Sir, those aren't --
Burns: Do as I say!

[Updated 2007/02/02: Fixed footnote formatting.]

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Copernicus who?

Via The Amazing Randi's1 weekly newsletter, we have a clip from the French version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

This is the question:

Qu'est-ce qui gravite autour de la Terre?

A) La Lune

B) Le Soleil

C) Mars

D) VĂ©nus

For those of you whose French is rustier than mine (which is saying something), this is the question:

What orbits around the Earth?

A) The Moon

B) The Sun

C) Mars

D) Venus

Right off the bat, he seems worried by the question. After repeating it to himself (and being counseled to take his time), he decides to Ask the Audience. (The host asks the audience to answer "if they know [the answer]". I don't know if that's him being sarcastic, or if that's simply part of his standard spiel.)

When the results come in (after the suspenseful music!), we get:

A) The Moon 42%

B) The Sun 56%

C) Mars 2%

D) Venus 0%

After a little more pondering, he decides that B will be his "dernier mot" ("final word", or, as we know it, the cliched "Final Answer").

You'd have thought that the guy laughing at you in the audience would be a bad sign. But, even so, he seems a bit surprised when he gets it wrong.

Now, I'm not sure what the saddest part of all this is. I'm going to give the audience the benefit of the doubt and say that they were simply having fun at this guy's expense, so they're off the hook.

That leaves me with two options (excluding of course a general sadness at the state of humanity). There's the fact that this was a high enough valued question that getting it wrong still left him with 1500 Euros. But, I think the saddest part of this is fact that his fiancee didn't seem at all surprised.

And that's mon dernier mot.

No, wait, I've got to add my obligatory Simpsons reference2 :

The nightly news starts a new segment:

Kent Brockman: But first, we all stink!


Kent Brockman: That's according to a national survey ranking Springfield as the least popular city in America.

[cut to Skinner tied to a stake on top of a pyre]

In science, dead last.

Skinner: I'm telling you people, the earth revolves around the sun!

Abe Simpson: Burn him! [lights the pyre]

Reporter: What a story! [takes a photo]

Abe Simpson: [chasing him] You've stolen my soul!

[Updated 2007/02/02: Fixed footnote formatting.]

  1. The Amazing Randi (aka James Randi) is a (first rate) magician and skeptic who got tired of seeing charlatans and frauds passing off magic tricks as paranormal abilities, and taking advantage of the unfortunate people who believed in them. He's done quite a bit of work exposing these fraudsters, and currently runs the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). The JREF offers a million dollar prize to anyone who can demonstrate paranormal abilities under controlled scientific conditions. Shockingly, no one done so. 
  2. Episode 2F31 A Star is Burns 

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Apple ConsumerElectronicsWorld 2007 Keynote

So I, like many others, watched Steve's "Apple ConsumerElectronicsWorld" 2007 Keynote yesterday. No wait, that should read "Macworld". Sorry about the typo. At any rate, there was a great deal that was quite interesting, and a great deal that was interesting in its absence.

Let's deal with that last one first. I was awfully surprised how little time was devoted to everyone's (or at least 5% of everyone's) favorite platform. I understand where the emphasis needed to be, but I was expecting at least a brief review of Leopard's features (including the noticeable absence of an announcement a firm ship date1). I had also expected the new Quad-Core Mac Pros that most prognosticators had predicted, along with a Intel-native Photoshop demo. I'd be interested as to why none of these made the cut. I can only imagine that Steve didn't want to take any of the spotlight away from the stuff he did announce.

So, why don't we take a look at what it was he did actually announce in the Keynote. In my mind, one of the most interesting pieces to come out of the Keynote ended with an exclamation point, and not because it was exciting. I'm referring to the partnership with Yahoo! First off, it's the first time (that I can recall) that the two companies have worked together. But more importantly, Apple has chosen to work with Yahoo! not only at the expense of an ally (Google), but at its own.

According to yesterday's news, the iPhone only supports "push" IMAP with Yahoo!'s mail service. In English, "push" IMAP is what makes the Blackberry special. Basically, it sends out a notification whenever you get an email, meaning that you don't have to explicitly check for new messages. So, we have Apple taking aim at one of its major competitors (RIM, the makers of the Blackberry), but requiring the use of Yahoo!'s services to due so. Furthermore, Apple is not supporting Google's Gmail, despite the fact that Dr. Eric Schmidt (Google's CEO) recently joined Apple's Board of Directors, and despite all of the other Google tie-ins in Apple's other products (search in Safari, maps on the iPhone, etc). (From a technical perspective, it's possible that Gmail support doesn't yet exist because Gmail doesn't support IMAP2; that's a guess, but if that's the case Gmail support may be some time away.)

But, more to the point, Apple is not supporting its own services. They're not supporting .Mac (Apple's email and other online services product), which would seem to be a bit of a no-brainer (e.g., "Take your mail anywhere, and stay connected with .Mac"). John Sircusa recently wrote about the decline of .Mac. I generally disagree with his argument to abandon Sync Services (the data synchronization services that third party applications can use, and which makes use of .Mac), but the lack of .Mac "push" support seems to fit with his argument that .Mac is in trouble.

But, what I think is even more surprising is that there does not appear to be support for Mac OS X Server and "push" support. If Apple wants business customers to replace their Blackberries with iPhones (not an unreasonable assumption, given that Steve directly contrasted the iPhone with a RIM smartphone, and given the iPhone's price), they need to allow those customers to integrate with their own mail servers (as they currently do using software from RIM). A law firm is not exactly going to be sending out their emails from a address (unless they're from Nigeria with untold millions, I suppose). Apple even has the foundations in place for this, inasmuch that they already have industry-class hardware and software (Xserves and Mac OS X Server) that can (and do) run enterprise mail services. All they need is a new module in Leopard Server, and they've got a platform to compete directly with RIM, and a great opportunity to get a Mac into the door of corporate data center. A company that never considered Macs might be motivated to do so when a senior executive insists on replacing his "ancient" Blackberry with a shiny new iPhone.

So this one's officially on my prediction list for Leopard. You heard it here first, unless someone else has said it, at which point you heard it here sometime after that.

Some other random thoughts about the iPhone, in no particular order:

Did you notice that the slides, as well as the specs at, refer to the Operating System as "OS X", without any mention of the word Mac? That's the first time I've seen Apple do that. It makes sense, I suppose, since the iPhone isn't really a Mac, but it's odd nonetheless. Let the idle rumors about this implying that Apple is getting out of the Mac business begin! 3


What are the hardware specs in the iPhone? We know it's running Mac OS X (or, OS X, I suppose), and we know it's got an Intel processor, which isn't exactly surprising [Update: Actually, it's the Apple TV that's got an Intel processor. The iPhone appears to be using an ARM variant]. I'll leave it to the Intel junkies to figure out what chip it might be. But I'm more confused by the graphics chip, and, to a lesser extent, the system bus. It was explicitly mentioned (and featured on a slide) that the iPhone supports Core Animation, a new system Framework in Leopard that makes it easy to create gratuitous eye candy. But it requires a fairly hefty GPU, and a decent system bus to keep that GPU fed. I don't see how they can possibly put that beefy a chip into something the size (and with the cooling and power requirements) of the iPhone.

In fact, the Core Animation system requirements state that "Core Animation runs on any Core Image-capable Mac (including most Macs shipped in the past two years)." If we take a look at, we see eleven cards listed that work with Core Animation, all of which are physically larger (in some cases significantly) than the iPhone. In fact, some of them probably have heat sinks that are larger than the iPhone.

What's my point here? Good question. I guess it's that they either must be using some new GPU that's extraordinarily efficient (i.e., a chip that requires very little power (in terms of electricity), and yet is very powerful (in terms of processing capability); this is also called "performance per Watt"), or they don't mean that the iPhone fully supports Core Animation. Conspiracy theorists can note that the slide in question called the feature "Core animation", not "Core Animation" as is the case in all of Apple's other documentation. I'm leaning towards the latter (something that supports a subset of Core Animation's functionality), but the former would be pretty cool!


Gestures! Gestures (on a touch screen, and especially multi-finger gestures) are one of those things that have been in the Human Computer Interaction (HCI) academic research community for years (or decades) but never made it into any real commercial products. It's great to see them turning up here. Same for tilt sensing.

If anyone actually reads this (which I doubt), and cares (which I doubt a heck of a lot more), I'll dig up some references.

As an aside, Apple is doing another one of the "been in the research community for decades but never in a mainstream shipping product" things with Time Machine. So-called "temporal filesystems" are not new (although the Core Animation based effects are), but it's nice to see them actually being used.


160 ppi screen? That's incredibly high, and should make small text (on, say, web sites) actually readable. As a comparison, my 23-inch Cinema Display is a little under 100, and Apple's high-end monster, the 30-inch, is just over 100.


I thought it was a little odd that Steve claimed that Safari on the iPhone was the first "real" browser on a cell phone when WebKit (the rendering engine used for Safari) is already being used for a mobile browser. Nokia has a browser called the S60 that's based on WebKit, and is semi-sanctioned by Apple. They think it's a bit odd too. Mobile Safari is still a great product, though.


I don't get how they are using the name "iPhone". It's a great name, but Linksys/Cisco already released a product with that name. And it's not something like the Tiger Direct (the company) vs Tiger (the Mac OS)4 trademark dispute. In this case, the two actually are comparable products. I could understand if Linksys had preannounced the product and then Apple drove a dump truck full of money up to their house5, causing Linksys to change the product name. But the Linksys iPhone is an actual shipping product. And, as John Gruber points out on his Linked List, doesn't point at either product.



Obvious iPhone feature tweak: a "mail to the person I'm talking to" option. In the demo, when Steve wanted to send that Hawaii photo (he really gets around, doesn't he? I guess owning a private jet helps) to Phil, he had to manually enter Phil's email address into the mail client. There should be an option to pull the email for the current caller from the address book. Already filed this one on Radar (Apple's bug reporting system).


Did you notice the "cingular" at the top of the iPhone display during the demos, but before any announcement was made about carriers? An uncharacteristic "leak".


So far I haven't talked about the Apple TV. So, here's a few thoughts:

I don't get the "stream up to five computers to the Apple TV" thing. I can see the motivations for only letting one Mac sync with it. It simplifies the syncing problem (from a technical point of view), and placates the Copyright Holders(tm) (I don't recall his exact wording, but Steve put it something like "Note that we're streaming this, not making a copy, since that would be Verboten" when he introduced the library sharing feature back in iTunes 4.) But I don't even understand what they mean by "up to five computers".

I see two possibilities. First, it could mean that you can only authorize five computers to stream to it at any given time, much in the same way that only five computers can be authorized to play your protected iTunes content at a single time. But I'm not sure that I see any rationale for this restriction. It doesn't make sense from a copyright prospective, since the content in question is already on the computer trying to do the streaming. In other words, you are trying to get the content off of the device (contrast this to the case where you need to authorize computers to play protected iTunes content, where the goal is to bring the content on to the device).

Second, it could mean that you can "only" connect five computers at one time. That doesn't really make sense to me either, since I don't see why you'd want to connect more than one computer at any given time. By definition, you're only watching (or listening) to one thing at a time, so you only need to connect to one shared library at a time. I suppose that you could have a feature where you merged several shared libraries together to view them at once (e.g., a feature that allowed you to view all of your pictures from any computer in the house). But why would you want to limit that to five?

I'm very clearly missing something here.


Stupid nitpick: Is it "Apple TV" or "Apple tv"? The product name would seem to be "[apple logo] tv", but Apple's site keeps referring to it as the "Apple TV". John Gruber would appreciate this one.


And finally, a few miscellaneous thoughts:

Lots of Beatles coverage (Sgt. Pepper had primo placement in Cover Flow and got some airtime, while Abby Road's cover had a cameo too), but no announcements about the two Apples settling anything, and no announcement of the Beatles catalog on iTunes. After Sgt. Pepper showed up, I thought it was a given, but apparently no. (This had actually been a pre-Macworld prediction of mine, so I got that one wrong).


In another anticlimactic "leak" (along with the Cingular one mentioned above), Dr. Schmidt from Google referred to "others [i.e., companies] represented that are coming up in a bit" (1:18:15 or so). That seemed at first to be an "ATI moment", but nothing really materialized - what others, other than Cingular, was he referring to? Or was he talking about other partners who are going to be bringing services to the iPhone in the future?


Please don't let a guest on to the stage that has a set of index cards with notes on them. Pretty please?


And guests that plug unrelated products is also a bit out of place. Example: Someone from Adobe coming on and plugging Photoshop = good. Someone coming on from, say, Yahoo! (to pick a hypothetical example completely at random) and plugging their new search features = bad.


Steve mentioned that Apple has had two milestones in its past, the original Mac in 1984, and the original iPod in 2001. I really couldn't help but notice one really important omission: the Apple II. That computer was just as significant to the history of the PC as the Mac. Heck, Apple's press release boilerplate mentions all three:

Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh. Today, Apple continues to lead the industry in innovation with its award-winning desktop and notebook computers, OS X operating system, and iLife and professional applications. Apple is also spearheading the digital music revolution with its iPod portable music players and iTunes online store

Apple had even been (unintentionally, I presume) playing up its pre-Mac days with the teaser on its home page. The tagline "The first 30 years were just the beginning. Welcome to 2007" takes you back to the company's roots in 1977, and I would have hoped, for Apple's sake, that it had done something significant in the seven years prior to 1984.

It's not like this is a big deal in the slightest, but I've got a soft spot for the Apple II, I guess. My family's Apple IIe was the very first computer I ever used.


And on that note, I'm going to wrap this up. I'm a bit surprised that I've gotten more than 2000 words out of this. Not bad for a first post, I suppose. We'll see how this whole "blog" thing goes.

[Updated 2007/01/16: Fixed a few minor typos.]

[Updated 2007/02/02: Fixed footnote and link formatting.]

  1. I've only been able to really play with the WWDC seed (we student developers don't get updated builds after the conference), but from what I've seen of 9A321 (at a Leopard Tech Talk), I would place my bets on late "spring", rather than early in the season. It's getting there, but (quite understandably) needs a bit more polish. 
  2. My guess as to why Gmail doesn't support IMAP is that they want to make it harder for people to use their Gmail accounts as large hard drives. IMAP support would make it easier to read and write arbitrary files to and from your Gmail account. 
  3. The opinions expressed in this sentence are those of a sarcastic comment, and do not necessarily represent those of Jonathan. 
  4. Short version: There is a computer reseller called Tiger Direct that, shortly before the release of Mac OS X Tiger (but after a lengthy beta period where the name was widely known), decided to sue Apple for trademark infringement. The suit was thrown out, on the principle that something is not trademark infringement if a reasonable man would not confuse the two entities. So, Apple could release an OS called "Tiger" without issue, but might get into trouble if, for some bizarre yet socratic reason, they renamed their retail stores "Tiger Stores". The lawsuit also accomplished the job of earning Tiger Direct a place on Jonathan's list of stores he boycotts. 
  5. Episode 8F24 Kamp Krusty 

So I’ve finally gone and done It.

So I've finally gone and done It. Something that I didn't think I'd ever really do. Gone to that big "b" in the sky. Jumped the shark, so to speak.

That's right, I've started a blog. I'm not really sure why I never thought I'd bother. I guess I never bought into the hype of the "blogger revolution", since I didn't see the blog software platforms as anything really new. I mean they did make it easier to publish stuff on to the Web, but an easier way to update content on your website does not a revolution make.

I also thought that it was a bit ridiculous for people to post all sorts of personal stuff that no one, except the narcissistic writer himself, actually cared about.1 "My cat played with a toy for two hours!" "I had Thai food for lunch!" "I'm listening to music by a random indie group that no one's ever heard of!" "Ooooh, shiny!!"

But I've bought into the idea of a blog, at least a teeny tiny bit. There are a number of writers that I respect who do their writing through a blog, but don't really write about themselves per se. Of course personalities come through (it wouldn't be as compelling writing if it didn't), but they're writing about interesting topics, not narcissistic crap (or at least not very much).

So, what will my topics be? Well, for the most part, technology related stuff. I'm a Computer Scientist and a geek (albeit a well-rounded one, I like to think), so I'll probably end up with a heavy slant in that direction. Furthermore, I'm a Mac geek, so I'll probably focus on tech issues that bear some relation to it. (In fact, it was some thoughts on the Macworld 2007 Keynote that finally motivated me to start this blog.) I'm also a Human Computer Interaction guy, so I'll likely end up talking about usability issues as well. Finally, I will endeavor to work at least one Simpsons quote and/or reference into each post.

Who am I writing for? That's a very good question. I hope that people with an interest in Computer Science and technology will find some of this interesting, as will people interested in usability. I will, however, try to introduce and define any particularly technical subject matter in such a way that those less versed in the material will find it accessible.

In summary, I'm Jonathan, your host, and I'll try to provide interesting commentary on things. And if I ever do get a cat, I won't be posting about him or her. Although come to think of it, Thai2 does sound like a good idea for lunch tomorrow...

[Updated 2007/02/02: Fixed footnote formatting.]

  1. No, the irony of writing a post about myself not wanting to write about myself has not been lost on me. 
  2. Tie good. You like shirt?3 
  3. Episode AABF09 Homer to the Max