サンフランシスコの空の下から~Kyle's monthly topics~(英語)

Vol.4 WWDC 2009に行ってきました!

It was about the time for Apple to announce an iPhone update, and this one looks generally quite good. I have had my first generation phone for about 21 months now and according to Apple's verification page I do qualify for upgrade pricing, US$199 for the 16GB version and $US299 for the 32GB version. I am still turning over the cost in my mind, but it seems like a good time to upgrade. The new machines, if the stories are true, sport twice the processor power, twice the RAM and of course either twice or four times as much storage as my 8GB model. I rarely fill up my 8GB, but one of the podcasts I subscribe to generates about 45MB of files a day, and unless I specifically uncheck them they all get sync'd, or rather, iTunes attempts to sync them, fails, and then complains about it. Is there some reason it can't check how much data it is going to try to sync before actually trying?

The turn-by-turn Global Positioning System software from TomTom looks good, but I have heard no details yet about its integration with iPhone's iPod function. TomTom's slogan is "A thousand songs, a million roads, sitting on your dashboard" but I hope that it includes support for the Radio Data System (RDS) to show song data on the radio display. Its mounting will apparently act as a GPS antenna of some kind, which is good if true, and it will include hands-free calling. I've wondered how efficient a GPS can be in a phone, considering how many dedicated GPS units have attached antennas (and connections for more substantial external ones). Will I be able to buy maps for both the US and Japan and be able to use it to navigate in both countries without complicated map reloads? Sounds like it will be expensive. I am also troubled by the TomTom "Terms and Conditions" found on their iphone.tomtom.com website. It says near the top, "In accessing the Website or related Communication Channels you accept all the terms and conditions of this Privacy Policy." This is the first time that I have noticed a website tell me that I have explicitly entered into what amounts to a contract with them simply by entering their website. Of course, it is nonsense, but with today's peculiar legal environment perhaps some court somewhere would find that clause enforceable.

Other than the TomTom app, I'm not overly impressed by the apps they demo'd. I am more interested in the bundled apps, like the Voice Memo app. I carry an analog recorder with me, using it while driving (over two hours a day) to note ideas for SD, strange bumper stickers, things to pick up at the store, and so on. The button on the earbud wire can start and stop recording, so I don't think I will careen off the road while trying to touch the machine's screen, but I'll see how convenient it is to use. The video function sounds good, and the increase of the camera to three megapixels will be good, and the tap-to-focus sounds very good, and the auto-macro function sounds really good (as close as 10 cm). But will the camera use the GPS to automatically encode location information in the pictures? I do hope that that will be an option. The PlaceTagger app on the App Store lets you record that, and does so in a clever way: it records your location (latitude, longitude, altitude, and time) and you later run a desktop app which checks the PlaceTagger log file and the timestamps of your imported photos (from a regular SLR camera) and updates the photo metadata based on the PlaceTagger data. Clever, but you need to be running the PlaceTagger software. That's probably okay for a professional photographer, but kind of inconvenient for the rest of us.

I do need to praise Apple for returning FireWire to its entire laptop line except for the Air. I think that's a good move, even though USB2 is more common thanks to the ubiquitiousness of hardware running Windows. I suppose sacrificing the ExpressCard slot on the lower end was to be expected, as it was used by less than "a single digit" of all owners (meaning less than 1%?). It removes a bit of flexibility, but probably not something that many people need to pay for. As to whether the SD slot is going to be more helpful than another type, well, Apple was probably challenged to squeeze everything in, and perhaps a CF reader would have been too tough. An Apple Knowledge Base article reveals some useful details about the slot http://support.apple.com/kb/HT3553, including the fact that you can boot from it and you can access it in Boot Camp.

Steve didn't attend WWDC, but not many people expected him. He is apparently recovering well from a problem he has had, something that news reports claim to be "insiders" describe as difficulty digesting or absorbing protein. It sounds like a very serious problem. Phil Schiller gave the keynote, and he kept using the word "incredible." But he doesn't literally mean "not credible." I should not criticize, I suppose, as I could hardly do as good a job, but I expect more from someone in his position. He needs to present a better image of Apple, a persuasive image. Yes, his audience in that room were the Apple faithful, developers who had come there to hear good news and would overlook most stumbling, but the presentation is available for anyone to stream to their desktop and I'm sure a lot of people who aren't as forgiving watched it, wondering what will happen to Apple if Steve doesn't return. Phil and others need to convince them that Apple will be around for a long, long time, and maintain its innovative spirit.

Speaking of streams, it is great that Apple makes the keynote available, but if you are bandwidth starved, the QuickTime player doesn't handle the situation very gracefully. I queued up some big downloads and streamed a different video on another machine on my LAN, and the QT player quickly choked up even on the non-HD version. I tried relaunching a number of times, and sometimes it would show an image but not play sound, sometimes it would not play sound but it would show only a broken up image, and sometimes it would not show any image at all. I really need to upgrade my Internet connection, which is back down to 1.5Mbits per second downstream only. Once I had killed off the downloads, the non-HD stream played fine, and it was clear that Apple is maintaining its innovation. Nothing really revolutionary, but many excellent refinements. It really makes me want to get another Mac. My wife has an Intel MacBook (white) which I can upgrade to Snow Leopard for the low, low price of US$29, but of course my 17" PowerBook is forever stuck at Leopard. Actually, I still run Tiger on it. I suppose it is time to upgrade to Leopard.

A History of Change

A quick followup to my recent mention of the Oracle/Sun deal: the "golden parachutes" are ready for Sun's executives if they choose not to stay with the company after the Oracle purchase. Of course, this assumes that Sun's shareholders vote to accept the buyout, but it seems all but assured to go through. Jonathan Schwartz is set to receive about US$12 million. I am glad for him, even if his accomplishments at Sun were less than stellar. Perhaps Oracle will do good things with Sun's technology. I hope so. It is rather sad to peruse a site from another once-great company like https://support.sgi.com/content_request/885041/index.html and see the End of Life and End of Support dates for hardware that was once almost magical in its power.

I mentioned recently the new search engine from Wolfram Research, WolframAlpha.com. I was so hoping that it would be a great search engine, or rather that it would give us a new way to discover information. But it has been a huge failure. It seems to be a reasonable search engine for Wikipedia (lots of its data seems to come from there) and it does pull up information about single topics. For example, search for "San Francisco" and you get data about San Francisco, search for "what is color #0066cc" and it shows you various representations of that blue color, but it doesn't handle even vaguely complex natural language questions at all well. All too often, it responds with "Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input." It knows that I am asking about North Korea when I ask it a question that worries the entire world, "How many nuclear warheads could North Korea have?" but it also wonders if I might be asking about the directional North. Even changing the question to the simpler term "atomic bomb" produces the same non-results. Asking the same question of Google and you get back pages of useful and informative links that reveals how much attention the world is giving to that great danger. I think that someday, sure, we will have a true "computational knowledge engine" that can use "built-in algorithms and a growing collection of data to compute the answer." But today Wolfram|Alpha isn't it. To be fair, this is just the start of Wolfram|Alpha, but the hype about it was palpable, the expectations set by Stephan Wolfram himself very high. A lot of people, me included, had such high hopes and now just have to wait a while longer. Maybe a lot longer.

To conclude this issue, I wanted to thank some friends of mine who attended this year's Apple Worldwide Developer's Conference here in San Francisco. 田畑 英和-san brought be a terrific gift, 23 back issues of SD to help complete my collection! It was so interesting to go through them, looking at articles about long-gone technologies, like OS/2 J2.11 and NEXTSTEP 3.2J, and see screenshots of ancient applications like Mosaic and Gopher. We came across an article by another friend who is visiting, Mr. Toru Sato and NeXT software development. In the November 1994 issue we found a series of screenshots of the homepages of famous companies, like Hitachi, Fujitsu, Digital, Sun, IBM, HP, Cisco, and Intel. There are ads for SPARCservers and SPARC clones, MIPS machines, and even one for NEXTSTEP for 486, costing JY98,000! Compare that to Snow Leopard, available at the upgrade price of US$29.