Apple Store at Night

The Apple store is eerily empty at night. It’s only populated by reflections from the other side of the street.

apple-store-reflections

A typical Mac user is camping out even though there is no special event tomorrow.

typical-mac-user

Being Dead Wrong

I like to think that I have a great intuition and am very good at predicting things. I also sometimes feel that I suffer from the Cassandra syndrome, as people don’t listen to my prediction as much as I would like them to.

This made me think about the times when I made ridiculously bad predictions. Here’s a list of what comes to mind off the bat:

1. When I was young I thought that programmers will soon write a computer program for writing computer programs, and that computer programming as a profession does not have much of a future.

2. I thought that architectural drawings will always have to be done by hand, as you can’t print out plans on dot matrix printers (the only printers I’ve seen at the time). I thought, sure, you can program some straight lines and such, but you’ll never get beautiful detailed drawings with all kinds of details.

3. I thought that Handspring would become the dominant player on the handheld market the same way that IBM did: by opening up the peripheral standards.

4. I thought that Diamond Rio would be huuuge and that Diamond Multimedia would become the hottest company ever because they were first on the market with an mp3 player.

5. I thought that Apple would just shrivel up and die, and if not, that I would certainly never completely switch to Macs.

Whewww, man. Those are some doozies. How about you, my readers?

Adobe Photoshop CS3 for Photographers: A Professional Image Editor’s Guide to the Creative use of Photoshop for the Macintosh

Master the power of Photoshop CS3 with
an internationally renowned photographer by your side.

Adobes Photoshop CS3 comes with powerful new features with huge payoffs. But it can be overwhelming to learn, even for professional photographers, graphic designers, keen amateurs, and others who already have an initial grasp of Photoshop. Acclaimed photographer Martin Evening, who wrote the best-selling previous books, ‘Adobe Photoshop for Photographers’, makes it easy with this new, thoroughly updated edition.

* Illustrated throughout with before-and-after pictures more than 750 professional, color illustrations!
* Practical techniques and real-life assignments
* Step-by-step tutorials
* Keyboard shortcut reference guide

Includes FREE DVD with:
* QuickTime movie tutorials for MAC and PC
* Searchable tips on tools, palettes layer styles, and shortcuts
* Includes images selected for you to experiment with to get you up to speed with everything in the book, including the new Photoshop CS3 features, fast!
* Updated Camera Guide to help you decide which will best suit your needs, plus bonus Digital Capture chapter in printable PDF format

Uncover quickly exactly what Adobes CS3 now offers photographers. New tutorials focus on the key features introduced in CS3. You lose no time in finding out how to put your ideas to work with:

* Adobes Camera Raw 4 plug-in that can now also process TIFFs and JPEGs
* New Align controls for combining HDR images; Photomerge; new Clone Stamp; Curves dialog that now incorporates Levels functionality; and improved controls for Brightness/Contrast to match raw image processing controls
* The latest on Black and White adjustment, which provides all the black and white conversion tools you need for optimum monochrome conversions
* A pros scoop on choosing from among dozens of Photoshops image adjustment methods to get the results you want
* Tips on Bridge 2.0 and Lightroom when you should use each
* Top tactics for successful composite images, insider guidance on editing shadows and highlight adjustments, and lessons on how to preview and re-edit filter effects as many times as you want without complex workarounds

Get the preeminent advice from one photographer to another as Martin completely updates you on the core aspects of working with Photoshop, digital workflow, and improving accessibility. Real-life examples, diagrams, illustrations, and step-by-step explanations ensure that youre up to speed with the next generation of digital photography in no time!

Foreword by Adobe Systems’ key Director of Engineering, Digital Imaging, Marc Pawliger

* Over 750 professional, color images make this book stand above the rest
* New DVD! Searchable info explains tools, palettes & layer styles, also includes invaluable QuickTime movie tutorials
* Master the power of Photoshop CS3 under the instruction of an internationally recognised Photoshop expert & Adobe alpha tester

Hackers and Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age

“The computer world is like an intellectual Wild West, in which you can shoot anyone you wish with your ideas, if you’re willing to risk the consequences.” –from “Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age,” by Paul Graham We are living in the computer age, in a world increasingly designed and engineered by computer programmers and software designers, by people who call themselves hackers. Who are these people, what motivates them, and why should you care? Consider these facts: Everything around us is turning into computers. Your typewriter is gone, replaced by a computer. Your phone has turned into a computer. So has your camera. Soon your TV will. Your car was not only designed on computers, but has more processing power in it than a room-sized mainframe did in 1970. Letters, encyclopedias, newspapers, and even your local store are being replaced by the Internet. “Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age,” by Paul Graham, explains this world and the motivations of the people who occupy it. In clear, thoughtful prose that draws on illuminating historical examples, Graham takes readers on an unflinching exploration into what he calls “an intellectual Wild West.” The ideas discussed in this book will have a powerful and lasting impact on how we think, how we work, how we develop technology, and how we live. Topics include the importance of beauty in software design, how to make wealth, heresy and free speech, the programming language renaissance, the open-source movement, digital design, internet startups, and more. And here’s a taste of what you’ll find in “Hackers & Painters”: “In most fields the great work is done early on. The paintings made between 1430 and1500 are still unsurpassed. Shakespeare appeared just as professional theater was being born, and pushed the medium so far that every playwright since has had to live in his shadow. Albrecht Durer did the same thing with engraving, and Jane Austen with the novel. Over and over we see the same pattern. A new medium appears, and people are so excited about it that they explore most of its possibilities in the first couple generations. Hacking seems to be in this phase now. Painting was not, in Leonardo’s time, as cool as his work helped make it. How cool hacking turns out to be will depend on what we can do with this new medium.” Andy Hertzfeld, co-creator of the Macintosh computer, says about “Hackers & Painters”: “Paul Graham is a hacker, painter and a terrific writer. His lucid, humorous prose is brimming with contrarian insight and practical wisdom on writing great code at the intersection of art, science and commerce.” Paul Graham, designer of the new Arc language, was the creator of Yahoo Store, the first web-based application. In addition to his PhD in Computer Science from Harvard, Graham also studied painting at the Rhode Island School of Design and the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence.

Masonic Apple

It’s been a few months already that I haven’t used Windows. The unreal amount of time that it takes to make Ubuntu play sound or use a second monitor and then do it again after a software update drove me straight to Mac.

By the way, why does the “applications” icon look so masonic?

Optimus Mini Three Full Review

I once read a book called “The Mouse Driver Chronicles: The True-Life Adventures of Two First-Time Entrepreneurs” about two guys who started their own company with an unorthodox business plan: making a real, physical product and selling it. This happened during the dot com era, when everyone was making money hand over fist with immaterial products: websites, content, synergy and such. At the very most, bits and bytes would overlap with physical world in online stores – you could order something online and get it delivered, but there were very few companies that produced an actual product. Well, there was one place that would send a real dog turd to a recipient of your choice, but they went under and I can’t even find their website. “Brick and Mortar,” a metaphor for physical world (as opposed to online) stores became a pejorative.

So, these two guys embarked on creating a company with a single product: a mouse that is shaped like golf driver and selling it to big novelty stores and catalogs. Very not dot-com. Designing the product was easy: take a golf driver head, slap mouse buttons on it – there it is. Dealing with the manufacturer was a lot more difficult. These days most of electronic products are made in China, and flying there is pretty expensive. You have to deal with the language barrier, timezone shift, and cultural differences, while collaborating on making a physical product. A single miscommunication and a whole batch worth tens of thousands of dollars might be ruined.

This is the reason why so many great product ideas go unrealized. A great example of that is SiliconFilm: a film roll-sized device that would convert your regular SLR into a digital one. Many people would want to buy one, but it’s been a stady winner of Wired’s vaporware awards.

Mousedriver was a simple product: a stock mouse in a slightly different housing. When I’ve heard that Art. Lebedev studio was actually planning to make one an OLED custom input device, Optimus Mini Three, I had my doubts that it would ever become real, but plunked down 100 bucks (a special pre-order price, it’s $160 or so now) and was prepared to get my money back in a year or two. Instead, in less than half a year I got a parcel from Taiwan. Inside was a working Optimus Mini keyboard. A was dumbstruck.

Now, Art. Lebedev Studio is a slightly more serious outfit than the mousedriver guys. It’s a large (about 150 people) design firm lead by a brilliant designer Artemy Lebedev. This guy:

Artemy (aka Tema aka Art.) Lebedev is so notorious in Russian web design scene, that he goes by the moniker “Youknowwho.” The Studio is based in Moscow, with satellite offices in Latvia and Ukraine. Web design is their bread and butter, but lately they’ve been branching out into industrial design. Starting with a funky coffee mug called ColorShift Atmark, they’ve been steadily building their portfolio of actually manufactured objects.

There are only two other design companies that excite me as much, IDEO and Frog Design. Lebedev Studio in my mind is destined to be as great as IDEO. One day I found out that my favorite toothpaste tube(Crest Neat Squeeze) and toothbrush (the “fat” Oral-B one) were both designed by IDEO, as well as many other wonderful things. Good design is very important to me, and Art. Lebedev Studio is finally starting to come out with things that I can buy.

The concept design for a keyboard with buttons containing little OLED screens called Optimus recieved a lot press coverage. Lebedev would be crazy to attempt manufacturing something complicated like that, just as it would have been stupid to attempt to create Apollo spacecraft without building a Redstone rocket first. So Youknowwho decided to do a proof of concept – a three button OLED “keyboard” and called it Optimus Mini Three. As I mentioned before, mine arrived from Taiwan a short time ago.

I opened the box, plugged in the USB cable, installed the software and was up and running in about a minute. USB devices are supposed to be plug and play, but can be very finicky – refuse to be recognized, fail to install drivers, etc. Wasn’t the case with OM3 – the usb communication code is rock solid.

One thing you should know about the organic led screens is that they are extremely hard to photograph. They behave kind of like the old tv screens and computer monitors, having some sort of a refresh scan. Ideally, I would take pictures in a professional light tent with a camera on a tripod taking a lot of pictures with a slow shutter speed. I ended up taking a lot of pictures hand holding the camera with the exposure of 1/13th of a second. My lens has an anti-shake feature and I have very steady hands, but the pictures could be a touch sharper if I used a tripod. There are also problems with moire pattern that shows up in pictures, but is of course not visible to the human eye.

Here I loaded some sample images from the web. They look very crisp live, but even with all the camera artifacts, they look passable photographed. The contrast and resolution is very impressive. Also, the plastic that covers the screens gives off very little glare and does not hold fingerprints well. The only thing that shows up is light-colored specks of dust. I did not even bother wiping down the buttons after pressing them for the most part.

Here’s an example of the silly slot machine game that comes with the software.

Here’s a closeup of a single button. There is a bit of an issue with the pixels right at the top and bottom: they are a bit off.

The memory and processor resource tracking application shows a \little artifact: a small stripe of dead pixels. This seems to be a software issue though: these pixels work in other applets and images, and actually show up in the software preview. In resource monitor mode the software itself takes about 10% of processor time for itself. This can probably improved, but this is not much more than I would expect from any resource monitoring application. Overall the “configurator” software is in a pretty solid beta. It does not crash, but certain features need some work: the Windows Media Player widget keeps scrolling “Winamp” messages, time and weather widget does not change the weather and is hard to read, etc.

I could not resist opening the this thing up. I pried up the non-skid rubber and found two screws. Mr. Lebedev has a habit of leaving funny notes in code comments of most of his websites. I was looking for a message, or the design team’s signature on the inside of the case (like with the original Apple Macintosh), but did not find anything.

The keyboard is not completely silent – when in operation it generates a very faint buzzing sound and the buttons are slightly warm to the touch. I thought that there might a little fan inside, but did not find one.

The keyboard looks like it’s made out of metal, but it’s actually very high quality plastic. To make it more hefty, the designers used two strips of metal as wedges that hold the pcb in place.

I did not take apart the screen assembly, but unlike most electronic devices these days, the mini keyboard seems to have been designed with future service in mind. Replacing the screens is easily within the abilities of do-it-yourselfers. As you can see, the key mechanism is the soft, rather than clicky one. This is a matter of preference, of course, but a click, as a feedback mechanism would be nice.

A lot of message board nerds cry – “unlike the full keyboard it’s useless!” The usefulness of mini three is in the software, of course. Even in it’s present state with one minute of spare time I came up with at least one cool use for it – a three webcam viewer. The picture is worse than the original, but the idea is that the left button shows Mount Fuji (at the moment under the veil of the night), the middle one – the Empire State Building and the right one – a live seahore webcam that lets me know what the weather is at my favorite fishing hole. I haven’t played with the SDK kit that is available yet, but it seems to be super nice. “What can I do with this?” – whine some on digg and reddit message boards. A hacker’s reaction would be different – “what can’t I do with this!”

160 bucks seems like a lot of money for a three button keyboard. I’ll admit, it’s not for everyone. The thing is, people spend a lot more on stupid case modifications and other blinkenlghts. And this well-designed gem of an accessory would be the coolest thing as far as the eye can see in your personal hell of a cubefarm. It’s a little hackable art piece. Practical? Not very. Cool? You bet your squeedly-spootch. Is it a good deal? Well, a much lamer lcd display goes for 80 bucks. A very neat laser keyboard goes for 180. Shiny is expensive.

I have one gripe with the design. The keyboard is made so that it will lie flat. I’d like to have a little wedge, so I’d be able to see it at an angle (I think I’ll make one myself). What I do like, is that the screens are easily rotatable in software, so you can just lay it vertically.

Of course, it’s a bad idea to program Optimus Mini Three to trigger self destruct, as it’s not cat-proof. But I think I’ll program a cat toy sequence in it though. So far the plastic stood up very well to cat claws.

For sticking with this lengthy and rambling post, I’ll let you take a little glimpse in my geeky life. Here’s a snapshot of a part of my table, including my fancy input accessories, for which, as you might have noticed, I have a bit of a weakness.

What Do You Want to Drink Today?

I was always fascinated (yeah, yeah, I am easily fascinated) with project code names. There are lots of interesting stories connected with project names.

For instance, in the olden times Apple code named Power Macintosh 7100 “Sagan” in honor of Dr. Carl Sagan. He sued them for the use of his name. Apple developers renamed the project “BHA”. Which everybody knew stood for “Butt-Head Astronomer”. [by the way, I don’t know what the whole “Millions and millions” thing is about. I’ve never seen the show.]

Anyhoo, when I have some free time I will try to make a huge database of software, hardware project and military campaign name database. Oh, and server names. Those are a barrel of fun.

I searched for, but never found a list of all Microsoft project names. Tahoe, Longhorn, Chicago. I can never keep those straight.

One Microsoft project name in particular taught me something. One of the Pocket PC OS versions was code named “Talisker”. I did not know what “Talisker” was. I looked it up on the web, and then decided to try it. That’s how I got introduced to single malt scotch. And Talisker is still one of my favorites. :)

Stroking the Genius

Right now am pretty much obsessed with books about rise and fall of tech companies.

These are the most memorable books I’ve read this past year:
Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution
Insanely Great: The Life and Times of Macintosh, the Computer That Changed Everything
Dealers of Lightning: Xerox Parc and the Dawn of the Computer Age
Show-Stopper!: The Breakneck Race to Create Windows Nt and the Next Generation at Microsoft
The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison: Inside Oracle Corporation: God Doesn’t Think He’s Larry Ellison
High Stakes, No Prisoners : A Winner’s Tale of Greed and Glory in the Internet Wars
The Soul of a New Machine
The Supermen: The Story of Seymour Cray and the Technical Wizards Behind the Supercomputer

Awesome, awesome stuff. I should find time to write some reviews.

I purchased all of these books used (except “Soul of a New Machine” which I just _had_ to have at the time). Some were cheap, others surprisingly expensive. For instance my copy of “Hackers” set me back $30 or $40 because it was out of print at the time. A new edition came out very soon thereafter. Interestingly enough the same thing happened with “Alan Turing: The Enigma“. “The Supermen” was the most expensive at $50. I am still hunting for acceptably priced “The Legend of Amdahl“.

I just finished reading “Defying Gravity: The Making of Newton“. It was very good.

Right now I am reading “Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed“, which is orgasmically [spellchecker suggested “orgasmic ally” heh heh] good.

I really want to buy one of those highlighter scanners made by C-Pen so that I can keep notes for my livejournal as I read.

C-Pen’s slogan is “Stroke of Genius”. Beavis and Butthead would have a field day with them :)