2008年3月号 新しいMac Pro、そしてiPhoneに思うこと

Treo Death

I knew that my Treo was suffering from age-related weaknesses, but I felt a twinge of sadness when it finally gave up its ghost and passed on to that graveyard of yesterday's technology. Although it still powers on, it presents me with its stylus calibration screen, requiring that I tap an X in one corner, then an X in another, and finally an X in the middle of the screen. Unfortunately, although I tap the X's it returns to the initial screen and tells me to try it again. I expect it is a hardware problem, somewhere within its touch-sensitivity equipment, possibly the screen itself. I lost some pictures that my daughters had drawn, but there wasn't much I could do about that because the software they used did not let me export their pictures. I installed a drawing app on the iPhone which lets you export its pictures to the iPhone photo application, but my youngest daughter remarked that she missed the wide variety of colors on the Treo app. A bit more disappointing with the loss of my Treo is the loss of some passwords. That's still one of the major missing apps on the iPhone, even a simple authentication storage system for Safari. However, 1Password lets you export your passwords into a bookmarklet, which is most of what I am looking for. Once Apple releases its SDK, I am confident that 1Password or another app will provide greater functionality.

New Macs

Apple continues to lead the way with performance, with Quad-Core Xeon processors running up to 3.2GHz. Very impressive. Unfortunately, it still has a rather blah selection of video cards, with the ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT the default card. It isn't even the GDDR4 model either, just the 256MB GDDR3. Apple does offer the NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT with 512MB of GDDR3 as an option (US$200 more), which is a good card, or an NVIDIA Quadro FX 5600. But why nothing more recent than late last summer? Why not offer 8800 Ultra, GTX, or GTS options? It could be that Apple just doesn't want to spend the resources on drivers, and I must admit that I can't judge how much work that would take, but I would think that Apple has a good relationship with nVIDIA. Couldn't they handle at least one of the top-end cards? Perhaps it is because the options they offer are just "good enough." Perhaps Apple just doesn't think it needs to offer anything better. If so, that's a pity.

One other disappointing thing: no word about HD DVD or Blu-Ray support. It looks like Blu-Ray is taking the lead, with Warner Brothers now throwing its support behind that format (good for Sony and Phillips, not so good for Toshiba and Hitachi), and Apple has been on Blu-Ray's Board of Directors for some time. Perhaps we will hear something at MacWorld about it, but then, why announce and ship new Mac Pros with no mention of Blu-Ray? Perhaps Apple is reserving such devices for consumer-oriented machines, or perhaps a home entertainment machine. We will soon see, if Apple announces something in a couple of weeks. But whether or not Apple announces support for one system or the other, we the consumer will still suffer. Both Blu-Ray and HD DVD include highly restrictive copy protection processes designed to protect the entertainment industry but interfere with flexible use of the movies we buy. The High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection system (HDCP) requires and end-to-end encrypted channel to play back high definition content, and if any device in the chain isn't compliant, the best it will play is DVD quality. In order to play one of these high definition discs, you need an HDCP compliant player and HDCP compliant display. From my perspective, I am quite content with regular DVD quality, and transcoding my discs to, for example, DiVX or recompressing them into simply smaller MPEG-2 format is fine for now.

iPhone iPod

I must admit, having used the iPhone for a while now, the iPod function in it is dreadfully bad. Yes, it plays audio and it plays video, but most everything else about it is simply bad. I find the navigation flow between albums and songs awkward. Scrubbing inside songs is downright painful--unlike my iPod nano with its ring control, I cannot skip forward or back just a little bit. I end up jumping way ahead or way behind where I want to be. Terrible! And am I the only person who thinks that Cover Flow is awful? On a computer in iTunes, it isn't bad. I can see some pretty pictures and beneath it are my songs. But that's not what I see on the iPhone. In Cover Flow, what you see are the album covers, and you only see a list of the songs if you tap a small icon in the upper right of the screen. And even then, you only see the number of the song and its name. In iTunes, you see a host of information, and you can customize it as you wish. When looking at podcasts, I cannot tell which ones I have heard before. Useless! The problem is the screen size, really. Although large for telephones, the iPhone cannot compare to a regular monitor, and so Apple decided to sacrifice functionality for coolness. If it just replicated the interface of my nano, I would at least be satisfied with that. Perhaps the next version will improve things.

Microsoft Office

Speaking of newer versions improving things, I use OpenOffice on Windows on those rare times I need to format a document or work on a spreadsheet, so I don't pay much attention to Office problems. But one interesting one came to my attention, concerning the recently released Office 2003 Service Pack 3. Unannounced and largely unknown to the user base, that Service Pack blocked a large number of file formats, preventing Word from opening them. The list is long and widely varied: less than but not equal to Word 6.0 for Windows, are older than PowerPoint 97 (such as .ppt, .pot, .pps, and .ppa), and older versions of Corel Draw, PowerPoint, Lotus Notes, Quattro, and so on. Why? Yes, these are rather old types of files. Microsoft says that blocking them will make working with Vista easier, but I can't quite figure that out. It certainly blocks off access to a huge quantity of files that I would call "archival." That could mean a tragic loss of information. Microsoft also claims that they pose a security risk, but is it right to block off access to all such files just because a small number may pose some kind of undefined "risk"? Isn't it the responsibility of Microsoft to write software that can't be compromised by just a file? It sounds like a decision of convenience to me, that Microsoft made a calculated decision and said, "Well, we just don't want to spend the resources to fix the underlying problems, so let's do the easy thing and just block them all." Are there more reasonable interpretations of this situation? There are certainly more conspiratorial interpretations, much less flattering to Microsoft, including the accusation that the company is doing this to force customers to upgrade. If their version of Word can't be read by others, they will simply need to upgrade, and that means more money in Microsoft's coffers. I doubt that Microsoft used such a self-serving factor in making their decision, but they have been accused of doing so in the past in other situations, and it isn't too far to go in assuming they did so here, too. Microsoft did provide a way to back out of the change, but the procedure is apparently ridiculously involved, even for a computer expert, involving registry editing and so forth, and of course editing the registry can render a Microsoft Windows computer unbootable. Well, Microsoft has admitted that it made a mistake here, and that the cause of the problem isn't the file formats themselves but the parsing code that Microsoft wrote, and has provided downloads for more easily restoring access to these older files.

Microsoft deserves praise for trying to make the situation right, but of course, it really should not have come up to begin with, should it? I remember reading a paper by a person at Pixar talking about the fragility of our data, that not only are the disks and CDs and DVDs that we store it on fragile and prone to loss, but so are the file formats. For example, one of my favorite science fiction television shows, Babylon 5, came out over ten years ago, in the early 90s. They used NewTek's Lightwave (on Amiga machines in the first season!) to create many of their terrific graphics, but when it came time to release the series on DVD they wanted to update them. However, the original files were gone, lost in the sands of time, and they could do little to update them. Although the live-action scenes were filmed using Super 35mm film in 1.65:1 widescreen format and could easily be converted to good looking ditigal, they could not recreate the CGi shots. Instead, they had to use the old 4:3 NTSC format CGI shots, cropping them and blowing them up to 1.65:1. The lower quality is very obvious when live-action combines with CGI backgrounds. It is very disappointing, and is an example of why we need to take very good care of our data. Otherwise, it will someday be lost.

I suppose you could call me a journalist. But I think of myself as someone who really loves technology and is simply lucky enough to have a place where I can express that interest, to point out some absurdities and praise creativity. With the growth in popularity of "blogging," now lots of people can express themselves and be read by a large audience, but are bloggers journalists? This has become a bit of a question here in the United States because some people feel that our First Amendment "right to free speech" is only for journalists, and bloggers, not being journalists (they say), are thus not entitled to the same legal protections as journalists. To me, America's First Amendment applies to all Americans, not just people who are or claim to be "journalists." Of course, you still need to behave yourself in your writings. You can certainly present your opinions, but you can't lie or make false claims or accusations, or otherwise cause undue harm to another. Perhaps that is why bloggers aren't really considered "proper" journalists yet, because some of them don't restrain themselves. They make wild statements and present opinions and "might-be's" as rock-solid facts. And then there are other bloggers who just do stupid things, like one or more bloggers at did at the recent Consumer Electronics Show. I sometimes go to computer shows like MacWorld but I know I'm there to learn, not to make trouble for or heckle the presenters. It seems that some Gizmodo bloggers obtained a device called a TV-B-Gone, a small infrared transmitter about the size of a car door/alarm remote control. Pressing its button causes it to emit the "turn yourself off" signal for many televisions, even LCD and plasma versions. Googling for "TV-B-Gone" brings up a number of sites talking about it, and one I found that sells a kit claims that it knows the "off" code for 46 models. So what these Gizmodo adolescents did was walk around the show floor at the recent CES and turn off monitors during demos and presentations. They video'd their actions, and no doubt got quite a chuckle out of it. They made sure to video the bemused booth people as they struggled to find out what was wrong with their previously-working screens, overlooking the obvious, that they has simply switched off. Now, I like to think that I have a reasonable sense of humor, but this wasn't funny. At best, it was embarrassing to the presenters. At worst, it was on a par with vandalism or sabotage. And CES responded by banning the Gizmodo attendees from all future CES events. A not unreasonable response, I think. After all, when you think about what they did, it was not much different than a website DOS attack. Perhaps only a few hundred people were affected by their little prank, but they materially interfered with those people's work. I am quite sure that Gizmodo would not find it acceptable for someone to knock their website offline for an hour or two, or even a few minutes. What made them think it would be excusable to knock out those monitors, even for a few minutes? Thankfully, I have not yet heard people call for the device to be banned. Although I don't approve of using it as Gizmodo did, and I don't know of any "legitimate" use for it other than to be annoying, that isn't sufficient excuse to ban such a device. Punish the misuser, not the misused.

Speaking of CES, Sony announced a new introductory-level digital SLR camera, the Alpha DSLR-A200K. It has some image stabilization built in, but otherwise seems not particular innovative compared to the older model. I recently bought a new dSLR, and fretted a bit about what kind to get. We have had a Canon 3.2MP pocket model for a while now (PowerShot A510), and although the pictures are okay, it doesn't have the flexibility of an SLR body. We wanted a camera that would take better pictures than we could, and I eventually settled on the Canon Rebel XTi. I found a kit with two lenses, case, CF card, and filter for less than US$850. It came with an EF-S 18-55mm lens, which friends tell me is a good lens, and an EF 75-300mm "telephoto zoom" lens, which they say is... okay. Well, I know very little about why one lens is better than another. All I know is that I'm very satisfied with its picture quality, and its 10.1MP sensor seems fine. A number of years ago, when 4MP and 5MP SLRs were appearing, a friend expressed concern about their poor handling of noise. An overly simplistic explanation of noise might be: background electrical noise interfering with the accuracy of what the sensor picks up, often seen as speckles of incorrect colors most visible in solid color areas or in pictures taken in the dark. It seems that today's dSLRs have less of a problem with noise because of filtering software built into the camera and larger sensors that don't generate much electrical leakage. But I have almost no knowledge about this, so don't take my word for it. All I can say is that it takes great pictures, and loading them into iPhoto is easy. Next, I must try Aperture and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Unfortunately, I don't have a particularly capable Mac. Hmm, those new Macs look nice. I wonder if I can convince my personal banker...