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2009 — Yearly Archive

First Snow 2009

First snow of the year:

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16 December 2009 2:06 pm


Taking platform management advice from a Mac person is like taking relationship advice from an autistic savant. His advice probably works for him, but Your Mileage May Vary.

Which brings me to John Gruber of Daring Fireball on OS opportunity:

If Palm can create WebOS for pocket-sized computers — replete with an email client, calendaring app, web browser, and SDK — why couldn’t these companies make something equivalent for full-size computers?

Short answer: look how many people are developing for Palm.

Long answer: Funny how an OS in some people’s minds (especially Mac users) stops at the web browser and email+calendaring. An OS as a platform is so much more. It took Linux 7-10 years depending on whom you asked to be taken seriously in the server world (it’s not quite there yet in the desktop world). Even the iPhone, with its seemingly unassailable 100k+ apps, has developers champing at the bit with its platform limitations. There is every likelihood that an open standard (whether in the sense of de facto industry standard or open-source, or both) like Android will do to the iPhone what the technically far inferior DOS and Windows did to the classic Mac.

Apple does particularly well these days well because it’s the equivalent of a BMW in the computer market — people buy it for fact that it’s a nice PC, and it has polish and grace for the basic tasks users need to perform: web, email, photo and video editing. But the Mac also has an amazing line-up of applications beyond these basics. Even discounting iWork, you can buy Microsoft Office for the Mac, and lots of Mac users appear to like it (indeed, Microsoft is the biggest ISV for Mac). Then there’s the all-star line-up of pro-grade DTP, photo, video and music manipulation apps – a niche the Mac has held on to for years. And yet even Apple has had to fight hard to convince even its top ISVs to keep the faith – witness the times the Mac community felt betrayed because Microsoft or (worse) Adobe seemed to prioritize the Windows version.

Nurturing a platform is hard work.

Sure a Dell or an HP could go its own and create a platform. But it’d have to stand by and commit to its platform for the 5-7 years it takes for a platform to gain critical mass. (Hint: you can’t commit and still sell Windows. That’d send a really bad signal about how committed you are.) Can Dell or HP take the sales risk? If all they want to do is escape the clutches of Microsoft, wouldn’t they rather throw a few pennies at Canonical and get Ubuntu on their low-end machines?

And no, Desktop Linux in its current avatar isn’t going to save PC OEMs. Apple bolted a proprietary, world-class consumer-grade GUI to an open-source Unix in 4 years. 12 years on, Linux desktop devs are still distracted with KDE v Gnome. Desktop Linux is very much a low-end user/advanced-user choice, not a solution for a mainstream user.

That said, I’m looking forward to seeing what Google’s Chrome OS has in store for us. Google’s heft in the marketplace would go a long way in assuring ISVs and OEMs of commitment. Slowly but steadily, they’ve been putting blocks like Gears, HTML5, Native Client and the Go language (it targets Native Client along with x86 and ARM) in place to make the beginnings of a compelling platform. And they have some of the finest minds in OS development working for them. If anyone can give the OEM market an alternative with polish and backing, it’s Google.

Interesting times ahead, for sure.

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19 November 2009 5:27 pm

Miéville on Tolkien

Hell freezes over: China Miéville (better known for excoriating Tolkien in the past) has a piece out with 5 reasons Tolkien rocks. Money quote: “Tolk gives good monster”.

(Also, if you haven’t already, go read Miéville’s new book The City and the City. Now.)

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16 June 2009 10:34 pm

Useful Windows Shortcuts: Win+B

Lifehacker recently pointed to a very useful new Windows 7 shortcut that vertically maximizes windows — really useful on laptops with 800 pixels or less of vertical real estate.

In that spirit, here’s another useful “shortcut”: Win+B gives focus to the “show hidden icons” button on the system tray.
Win+B gives focus to the "Show Hidden Icons" button on the Taskbar

This works on Windows XP and Vista as well, but is especially useful on Windows 7 because 7 corrals tray icons into their own box, where they’re not easily visible.
Then, pressing Enter will reveal the hidden icons

After pressing Win+B, press Enter to reveal the hidden icons and press the cursor keys to cycle through them (caveat, the highlight effect is really quite subtle on the RC and easy to miss).

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9 June 2009 10:02 am

Installing Ubuntu Jaunty Jackalope on a Sony Vaio

Installing Linux on laptops still isn’t as easy as it should be. I installed Ubuntu 9.04 (“Jaunty”) on a Sony Vaio today, only to find that

  • WiFi — on an Atheros AR242x controller — was working, but very slowly. I got no more than 23-80kB/sec on a 12Mb/sec connection, and frequently got as little as 1 kB/sec.
  • Video effects weren’t supported on the Intel GM965/GL960 Integrated Graphics Controller (they were supported on Vista and Windows 7) because of a known bug.

I fixed the wifi by using the Windows driver for the Atheros AR242x with ndiswrapper as described here. (Although the page says Jaunty doesn’t have this problem, it did.)

The video effects were fixed by following this thread from UbuntuForums.

Looks like the year of Linux on the desktop/laptop is still a few years off.


8 June 2009 4:41 pm

Google UK as a Search Provider in Firefox and IE

The default Google search built into Firefox (at least in British builds) goes off to google.com and is then redirected to google.co.uk. Problem is, sometimes the redirection stops working and it stays with google.com — usually clearing cookies solves this problem. This means you lose the benefits of country-specific search. Installing this Google UK Search Provider will make sure that searches from the Firefox search bar go to Google UK every time. Also works with IE 8 (and any browser that supports OpenSearchDescription files).

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5 June 2009 11:57 pm

Using the Flickr API with Python’s FlickrAPI

Python FlickrAPI is an easy-to-use library for accessing Flickr from Python apps. Here’s a simple app prints the thumbnail URL for a photo, give a list of photo URLs.


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11:51 pm

The Perils of Grammatical Gender

Language Log:

At lunch a couple of weeks ago, I asked a bunch of doctoral students and postdocs what the gender of Schorle is. Much inconclusive discussion resulted. For one postdoc they’re both feminine (die Apfelschorle, die Weinschorle); for another, they’re both neuter (das Apfelschorle, das Weinschorle); and still another has die Apfelschorle but das Weinschorle. The German Wikipedia, de.wikipedia.org, says that the term Schorle, in a different formation, dates back to the 18th century, and that the word is feminine, except in southern Germany — where Freiburg is — where occasionally, rarely, it is neuter.

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27 March 2009 7:25 pm

Visions in the Tundra

Michael Lewis has an excellent, long (16 pages) article about Iceland in Vanity Fair — Wall Street on the Tundra (via Paul Kedrosky). Read it all:

…you can’t help but notice something really strange about it: the people have cultivated themselves to the point where they are unsuited for the work available to them. All these exquisitely schooled, sophisticated people, each and every one of whom feels special, are presented with two mainly horrible ways to earn a living: trawler fishing and aluminum smelting. … At the dawn of the 21st century, Icelanders were still waiting for some task more suited to their filigreed minds to turn up inside their economy so they might do it. Enter investment banking.

And don’t miss the little gem about Iceland’s huldufolk (hidden people) tucked away in there:

[Iceland's President] Olafur Ragnar Grimsson theorizes that the surfeit of spirit-beings stems from Icelanders’ abiding sense of loneliness and isolation … Public opinion polls and academic studies show more than half of all inhabitants think it possible or probable — 10 percent call it “certain” — they share their island with otherly beings, ranging from grumpy glacier-dwelling trolls to occasionally gregarious hidden people. … Earlier this year, Iceland’s highway agency had to change the course of a new road leading out of Reykjavik after citizens protested that the original route would disturb an elf’s lair under a big rock. “There are people who believe in elves, and we try to show respect for people’s beliefs,” said Viktor Ingolfsson, an official of the department. “If that means building around an elf stone, we try to accommodate.”

As superstitions go, huldufolk are pretty innocuous. But you have to wonder if the commonplace acceptance of illusory beings made it slightly easier for them to believe in illusory wealth.

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5 March 2009 7:43 am


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