My third attempt to become a Mac user in the last decade is now in full swing, and it appears I've finally done it. As promised, here's the story.
After 12 years of Linux exclusivity, I had a hardware failure and was stressing about researching new hardware. After 12 years of it, I've lost enthusiasm for dicking around trying to get simple shit working. Stuff like: my Wacom tablet, one shared desktop across two monitors, a Wacom tablet and shared desktop across two monitors concurrently, etc. It was at this point that D suggested just buying a PC from Costco, pre-assembled, pre-driver-sorted, and running an OS that might be slightly less likely to break itself every time there's an update. (Slightly.)
So I took the plunge and got a machine running Windows 7. Because so many of the applications I use are either webapps or open source, literally every application I needed to be productive was available to me on Windows 7 without any hassle. Ok, without too much hassle. OK, so it was a hassle. I had to get cygwin installed to make working in a terminal window useful, and then a whole host of things needed installed and configured to make my development environments semi-compatible so I didn't rip out all of my hair trying to adjust.
There was some minor pain, but every time I'd clicked the update button in Ubuntu at new release time I'd experienced more. So I felt pretty good about it.
Then one day, I needed to set up a Mac mini in the office to work on automating some aspects of our iPhone build system. It was like heaven. It already had all the unix tools I needed, making a hack like cygwin unnecessary. I didn't need to do anything to make it work like I expected. I made a mental note of this.
A few months later, the hard drive in my Dell laptop started having issues, which exacerbated some of my Windows 7 problems, resulting in me spending inordinate amounts of time rebooting and trying to get stuff working instead of just working. I got fed up and plugged my mouse, keyboard and monitor into the nearby Mac mini and spent the next couple days happily working with no issues whatsoever.
Then, on Black Friday, D and I ventured to the Apple Store, where I put aside years of anti-Apple sentiment and dropped way too much money on a 13" Macbook Pro.
This time, the switch was even easier. Sure, all my webapps and open source applications were available like they were on Windows 7, but now the operating system actually worked like I expected as well. Plus when I opened the lid it would instantly be usuable, which was a huge improvement over Windows 7.
Now, after several months, I've almost completely adjusted, and have never been happier with a computer. (Save maybe for the Google CR-48 ChromeOS laptop that I'm using to compose this blog post... but that's another story altogether. ) I'm sure I won't feel the same way when an OS upgrade is going to cost me $100 and cause a bunch of upgrade pains, but I guess I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
Hey Internet. Sorry to disturb you, but it's been quite a while, hasn't it. Sorry I haven't written, but there's been a lot keeping me busy.
How about a recap by way of quick reviews of a few of the gadgets I've acquired since last we spoke?
HTC EVO: Pretty nice Android phone, but too darn big for my tastes. The 4.3-inch display made for a device that was just too cumbersome to use as a phone, but not quite large enough to be a tablet. If you have big pockets, it's a nice choice.
Samsung Galaxy S Captivate: really nice hardware, but it's a shame that Samsung screwed up the software so badly. Android 2.3 is just about out and Samsung still hasn't managed to release Android 2.2 for it yet. (It's a good thing some nice Samsung engineer leaked an early build of 2.2 about 3 months ago, or I'd be having serious 'behind-the-curve' withdrawals.) The 4.0-inch screen is a much nicer size than the HTC EVO's, making for a much more comfortable pocket phone, and easily my favorite of the various phone form factors I've used.
Sony Blu-ray GoogleTV box: really nice hardware, but it's a shame that Sony screwed up the software so badly. The Blu-ray player application feels like it was made by a completely different team than the rest of the system, which makes sense, since Google didn't make that part. The one area that this device shines, incidentally, is actually the one everyone made fun of when it was first released: the remote control. People laughed, but I can honestly say it's the single greates remote control I've ever used. I really miss it after returning the whole package to the Sony store. If you don't care about Blu-ray, I say save $100 and get the Logitech.
Logitech GoogleTV box: hardware's cheaper than the Sony, but some of the software is better. The built in Harmony universal remote system is really slick, and being $100 cheaper than the sony is a nice perk. The bundled Bluetooth keyboard is way too big to make for a comfortable control device, but as we've been using a vintage SGI Indy keyboard on our various computer-television-hybrid devices for a number of years (have you ever seen then length of the cord on those SGI Indy keyboards?? Not sure why SGI thought they needed that long of a cord, but I for one am glad they made that decision.) it is a step up. GoogleTV has some pretty neat potential, but it's a real shame Google hasn't released the SDK for it yet, or, at the very least, just allowed access to the existing wealth of Android apps in the Android Market. Apps will be where the platform shines, so it seems kind of crazy that they're trying to sell them prior to that. I guess it has Twitter, so what more could people really want, right? Also, it's a shame all the TV networks have blocked the damn thing.
Samsung Galaxy Tab: really nice hardware, but it's a shame that US carriers have the phone functionality disabled. (The one I've been using is unlocked and has full phone functionality, which is awesome. However, being a prototype, it's also got a really rickety housing that feels very fragile.) Darn fine device; great form factor. Goes great in my cargo pants, and after using it for a few minutes, using an iPad now feels like driving a boat. I'm not, however, completely sold on Android as a tablet OS just yet. This hasn't stopped me from using it all the damn time, I'm suspect that a web-based platform might make for a better experience.
ChromeOS: nice hardware but -- wait. I haven't actually seen hardware yet. But I've been running ChromeOS on one of my netbooks for a few months and really, really like it. I tend to use web-based services unless I absolutely have to use a native application, so a web-based OS is a natural fit for me. Combine that with yesterday's Chrome Webstore launch, and it's now an attractive platform for people who are far, far less nerdy than me. If you're having trouble imagining a web-based OS, take a look at the Chrome Webstore and install a few apps. Then imagine your computer is faster with longer battery life and not encumbered by nonsense like virus checkers and printer drivers; now you can start to imagine what ChromeOS is like.
Apple 13" Macbook Pro: really nice hardware, but it's a shame Apple screwed up the software. OS bitching aside, the Macbook Pro is easily the finest piece of computer hardware I've ever owned, and nearly a year of living with Windows 7 made making the switch to OSX far less painful than it would have been going straight from Linux. I'm not completely sold on OSX, but for my usage, it's pretty shocking how much more productive I am than I was on Windows. Having a real UNIX system under all that shiny bounciness is something I didn't realize I missed until I had it back. I think I may write a post about my (most recent) Mac switch instead of going into detail here, as this quick little post has gotten kind of out of hand.
Hopefully it won't be several months before we speak again. Don't be a stranger.
Google I/O was amazing, and I'd like to share the most important things I took away from it. Well, except for the free Motorola Droid and Sprint EVO 4G that I took away from it -- I'm not sharing those. :)
The big news was Android 2.2, which in addition to amazing stuff like wirelessly streaming your iTunes library, also leverages a clever bit of behind the scenes magick that enables a 3x-5X speed increase on the same hardware running 2.1. They demoed this a few times with very dramatic results. It is way, way faster. This huge performance gain shatters one of the main reasons I've been maintaining that Flash on Android is simply not going to be usable; in fact, much to my chagrin, I have to report that Flash works very, very well on Android.
Speaking of Flash, there was a demo of what I believe to be the fabled "Flash killer" everyone has been hoping will come along to eventually put us out of our miseries. Many have tried (and failed) to come up with a Flash killer, but this time they have -- in my opinion -- actually done it. The surprising thing to me isn't that someone has managed to do it, but, rather, that it's Adobe themselves that are responsible. Adobe demoed the new integration between Illustrator and their new CSS-editing powerhouse version of Dreamweaver, effectively creating a very "Flash-like" experience of animating and interacting with elements using entirely open HTML5 and CSS based technology. In a couple minutes they created some remarkably interactive animated stuff with just a few clicks in Illustrator and Dreamweaver, outputting web content that will work in any modern browser without any annoying plugins/runtimes. Adobe has seen the benefit of making open tech take the place of proprietary black boxes, and are embracing it head on rather than fighting it off. Kudos, Adobe.
All that nerd stuff aside, the big exciting thing is GoogleTV. Many have tried to merge the web and television in the past, with downright comical results, so any additional attempts to achieve it are going to have to really 'wow' people. Google has now taken up the challenge, and I think they're really onto something.
Without going into too much detail, here's what they've done: searchable television. No more annoying guides showing you what's on right now; with GoogleTV, you can search for stuff to watch just like you search the Internet. You get a search bar, you type something into it, and you get results. Those results could be things that are on right now, they could be things that your DVR recorded for you, they could be things that are on in the future (and clicking them will make your DVR record them for you) or they could be things that are available to stream right now via Netflix, Hulu, YouTube or any site that you can stream from in your computer's desktop browser. Because GoogleTV is a browser, complete with the Flash plugin required to view most of that streaming content today. In addition to watching television content like this, GoogleTV has access to the Android Market, giving you access to the same thousands of applications you can run on your Android phone -- on your TV.
There are a lot of other cool things that GoogleTV can do, but the main selling point is that you no longer have to care where your television comes from. It could be live TV, something from your DVR, something from Hulu -- it really doesn't matter, and you don't have to think about it. You just know you want to watch 30 Rock, so you simply type "30 Rock" into your fancy GoogleTV remote and get a list of episodes to watch.
There were many other exciting things, but many of them may still be too nerdy to be interesting to most people, so I'm just hitting the points I think people will care about. Android is now really, really fast and can deliver a fantastic Flash experience (if that sort of thing is your bag), which could be a viable alternative for those who want an iPhone/iPad but complain that they can't view Flash. GoogleTV may well change the way television is watched -- and maybe down the road be able to help shake up the control cable/satellite providers have over bundling content we don't want with the content we do.
Without getting too into my feelings on the WGA strike, I'd like to say that you, the networks, could be handling the lack of writers much better than you are. You appear to be taking the "hold our breath and hope it all works out" tack, whereas you could be doing all sorts of pro-active things to keep viewers tuning in and shows in production.
I spent the morning thinking about it, and I've come up with the following list that I'm sharing in the hopes that one of you will listen to me. Any one of these things can fill a time-slot; a combination can fill your whole line-up. The problem is that without writers, you have nothing to produce, right? That's where you're wrong -- you have TONS of things to produce:
1) Spec scripts. Pretty much everyone who wants to break into writing television starts cranking out these free scripts for existing shows in the hopes that producers will like them and pay them to write more. There are undoubtedly thousands of these things of varying quality for nearly any show currently airing. One would only have to grab the stack and produce episodes that fans probably wouldn't even notice are of even lesser quality than the normal scripts. Hell, some of them might even be better.
2) Repurpose old scripts. Know how NBC advertised the hell out of the "Scrubs Musical," touting it as an "event" ? This same type of advertising could be used to promote, um, "different" episodes of currently running shows. For instance, take the script for a first-season episode of "The Dukes of Hazzard," run a find-and-replace on it, swapping out "Bo" with "Earl" and "Luke" with "Randy" and you've got a two-parter KICK-ASS "My Name is Earl" special event. I think that might actually be better than the real "My Name is Earl."
3) Fan fiction. There are BILLIONS of scripts out there written by fans of the show. You don't have to pay them because they were foolhardy enough to use your trademarks without asking permission first -- and are damn lucky you're not suing their asses off. Most of these are rubbish, but some of them are pretty good. They don't have to be GREAT, because half your viewers are already so busy complaining that your writing has gone downhill that they won't notice when it actually DOES.
4) Re-runs. The plan now is to air repeats of the current line-up of shows, right?. The thing is, people who watch those shows have already SEEN those episodes, why would they want to watch them again? I think you'd be better off running re-runs of older shows people have forgotten about. What are Balky and Cousin-Larry-Applay-ton up to? I HAVE NO IDEA, I better tune in! Bonus points for running shows youngins today have heard OF but not seen; run "Twin Peaks" in prime time and I can guarantee you ratings.
5) Un-aired canceled eps. Remember all those shows you canceled at mid-season last year? The ones that still had produced episodes yet to air? Show those. All those shows had people who liked them who would love the chance to see a few more episodes now that it's gone forever. Who knows, maybe the ratings will be good and you can bring them back, "Family Guy"-style. Lord knows THAT show is terrible and people have been watching it for years post-cancellation.
6) Pilots. Every network makes dozens of pilots for potential new series, only a small fraction of which ever get picked up -- let alone aired. I say advertise a block of time-slots giving viewers the opportunity to see shows they wouldn't otherwise get to. Why show episodes you're pretty sure everyone has already seen when you can show episodes NO ONE has ever seen, and will never be able to see again. I'd tune in for that, hells yes. As a bonus, you already PAID for them, so it's essentially free money.
7) CELEBRITY DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS. Know all those boring shows showing celebrities playing boring games like poker? People WATCH those. Know those terrible "funny" shows about fake nerds? People WATCH those too. Now imagine if you took some REAL nerds, who are actually FUNNY, and make them play an exciting game like Dungeons & Dragons, and you have an instant hit on your hands. Call Wil Wheaton to make this happen, as he's tried to get this off the ground before, but you losers weren't interested. Also call Patton Oswalt and Brian Posehn.
There you have it: practical functional ideas that require no writers. Implementing any one of these will keep people working, and keep people viewing -- while keeping my complaining down to a minimum.
I want to have things to watch. You want me to watch them.
I've been getting helpful suggestions regarding future "making a fool of myself by singing for YouTube" ventures, but just had to share this. Within hours of posting my video, I got a YouTube friend request from timmf2007, which I learned is some sort of American Idol-esque competition. I clicked through a few of the videos in there and immediately decided two things:
1) these people are really good
2) I need to add some suck to the competition.
Here's where you come in: I need suggestions for the worst-karaoke-songs-ever to submit. I pretty much showed my entire vocal range in my Hungerstrike video, so I'd suggest things that are either well within that range or horribly outside it. (For instance, I think I could "nail" Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," if you used "nail" in an altogether untruthful sense. Any suggestions? Bonus points if an instrumental track can be located.
Whenever Temple of the Dog's song 'Hungerstrike' [link to YouTube video for the unfamiliar] comes on the radio whilst I'm driving in my car, I get an unstoppable urge to sing along. Because the song is essentially a duet, it involves Chris Cornell screaming really high and loud practically overtop of Eddie Vedder's really low and grungy vocal. This makes for a nice challenge -- and a nice bit of me making a fool of myself -- so I've been meaning to document it somehow.
Today I decided to share the experience with you. Head on over to YouTube to see my incredibly dorky video. Be sure to stick through it long enough to see my switching from grunge to screamy falsetto.
[UPDATE: Grr. Comments were broken again. I will never intentionally disable commenting on posts, so if you ever happen to be unable to leave one, I'd like to hear about it :)]
Sorry that I've been neglecting all of y'all. I've just been hax0ring around in the inner-workings of the iPhone, and have been having so dang much fun that I haven't had time for you.1
Tonight, for instance, I decided to see if I could take advantage of the on-phone voice mail handling to do things that no one ever intended me to. See, you click a button to record a greeting or play voice mails, never actually having to call up a voice mail system to do anything. I decided that I wanted to try to take an existing audio file and use that rather than recording audio through a tinny cellphone microphone. So, having full system access to every nook and cranny of the thing, I did a little digging around and found where it stores the temporary greeting file that is created (you record it, then you have an opportunity to listen to it, THEN you click 'save' to upload it), finding it in relatively short order.2 It is an 8000 KHz .AMR file. I don't know what that is, but FFMPEG can create them, so I created my own using audio I happened to have lying around.
After recording a couple seconds of audio on the phone, I then replaced the temporary greeting file with my newly-created one, and then clicked 'play' on the iPhone to see if it was dumb enough to just assume the file was the same one it recorded. It was. I then clicked 'save' and watched it upload the audio to the voice mail system.
The same can be done with incoming messages, which should prove rather handy should anyone ever leave any mean-spirited ones.
If you'd like to experience my new (temporary) voicemail greeting, go ahead and give me a ring at 3605211191 before about 6am Pacific time on Aug 16th (I'll be changing it to something a little less... crazy... at that time.)
Also, please feel free to leave me a message after the beep. If I get anything good, maybe I'll post them here.
1: I do have a full review coming at some point in the future, as I decided to keep it rather than off-loading it. Short review: despite the many, many, many (many) annoying stupid things about iPhone, it's still the best (and nerdiest) phone I've ever, ever owned. You can have it when you pry it from my cold greasy hands.
2: In case you're playing along at home, after recording your temporary greeting, you'll find it at /var/root/Library/Voicemail/Greeting.amr on your iPhone. Just copy your 8000 KHz .amr file over that one.
checking for NSS... yes
checking for tclConfig.sh... no
checking for snprintf... yes
checking for connect... (cached) yes
checking for me pot o' gold... no
checking for gethostid... yes
checking for lrand48... yes
The first step to compiling an application from source on linux is generally to run a configuration script that determines whether you have all the libraries said application requires. Nestled somewhere in the thousand-or-so lines of rapidly-scrolling status lines was the bolded line above.
I'm pretty sure this is a silly little joke, as I've never heard of a library called "me pot o' gold."