Looking back over the blog can be a bit dispiriting. Many of the arguments we are having now were being conducted, in much the same terms, back in 2002. There is, however, at least one exception, even if it’s a relatively minor one. When I started, I included a category “Mac and other computers”, planned to express my position as a member of the beleaguered but enthusiastic minority of Macintosh users.
I’m posting this in a Starbucks in Washington DC and every customer in the store, including me obviously, is working on either a MacBook or an iPhone. That’s fairly typical of my recent experience, so I think I can safely say that this issue has been settled. Of course, now that Apple is no longer the underdog, there are plenty of reasons for concern about its corporate policies, but those are more related to issues like Intellectual “property”
So, this is the last post in the “Mac and other computers” category. If only I could say the same for “Boneheaded stupidity”.
fn1. Not the kind of place I’d ever go in Australia, but decent independent coffee shops are just about non-existent here.
I’ve now had a look at the study by Chris and Robert Kenny, Superfast: Is It Really Worth a Subsidy?. Some immediate responses
* The study starts from a presumption that broadband policy is an intervention, which may be compared to a putatively natural market outcome. This assumption is clearly inapplicable to Australia, where Telstra used as a regulatory bargaining chip its monopoly position as the only plausible supplier of new broadband infrastructure on a large scale. The NBN was the only way to move forward
* The study finds a variety of reasons to discount estimates of the benefits of superfast broadband, without giving any basis for lower estimates
* (Very important, I think) The study lacks any sense of quantitative magnitudes. Looking at the (upper bound) estimate of $40 billion for the NBN, what would be a reasonable social return? Allowing for fairly rapid depreciation (say a 10-year lifetime) and a 5 per cent real rate of return, we would want a net service flow of $6 billion per year, about 0.5 per cent of GDP (the right measure in this case, since depreciation is taken into account). If we assume the network is implemented over 5 years, we need additional growth of 0.1 percentage points per year. The estimates criticised in the report are far higher then this
* While the report discounts various possible sources of demand (eg home nursing) it trivialises the obvious commercial benefits of faster and sharper video-on-demand, video telephony, immersive gaming and so on, and disregards the point that, on the basis of past experience, we can expect new uses of high-speed internet even if we can’t yet identify them
From my hotel room in London, I read this SMH report, headlined “NBN benefits ‘grossly overstated'” which in turn refers to a report by “British telecommunications consultant Robert Kenny and Charles Kenny from the US Centre for Global Development” released (in London, as it happens) a couple of days ago.
Five minutes with Google is enough to determine that
* the Centre for Global Development is a genuine and reputable thinktank, with no particular axe to grind
* Charles Kenny is not what you might call an Internet enthusiast, having written, in 2002, a piece entitled Should we Try to Bridge the Global Digital Divide.
It’s striking that we have to declare a special National go Home on Time Day, and also striking (to me anyway) that I have only just found time to blog about it. My own chronic state of overcommitment is more of a personal choice than an imposition from above, but I have to take constant care not to expect a similar overcommitment from the members of my research team. On the whole, Australian bosses and managers are failing in that obligation, or don’t even recognise it. Anyway, knock-off time is coming up soon, so everyone, head for home, beach or pub as the fancy takes you.
The right-left Culture Wars have sputtered to a halt, and now, one of the longest-running of culture wars, that of Mac vs PC (or rather, Mac OS vs MS-DOS and then Windows) can finally be declared at an end. After this piece by Charlie Brooker, nothing more need ever be written on the subject (hat tip, Nancy Wallace).
The Macintosh computer just turned 25
. I bought one of the original 128K Macs not long after they came out. I remember being reluctation to shell out $50 for a box of 10 400k floppy disks (these were the the 3.5″ type that weren’t actually floppy, and became standard on IBM PCs quite a few years later). I thought I was unlikely ever to need 4 megabytes of storage, so I got the store to sell me what was left in a box they’d already opened. And I was pretty dubious that anyone could really use the 512K of RAM offered in w the top-of-the-line “Fat Mac” which came out soon afterwards. It didn’t take me long to discover my error and upgrade.
I’ve owned just about every model since then**, and Macs have been a huge part of my life. I’d find it hard to estimate the increase in my productivity* associated with using Macs instead of typewriters or command-line computers back in the 1980s and early 1990s. This question was the subject of long-running religious wars which persisted until quite recently, but after the emergence of Windows it became pretty clear that the Mac style of computing was the only serious option, and that people who didn’t want to use Apple Macs for one reason or another would only have to wait a few years for the MS knockoff (next instalment, Windows 7).
For a while in the 90s, it seemed likely that Windows would prevail, but the return of Steve Jobs to Apple changed all that. Now, there’s a lot of talk that minimal net-based computers will take over, but such talk has been round many times before (smart terminals, thin clients and so on) and never gone anywhere. At this point in my life, I’m pretty confident Macs will be around as long as I am.
* That was before blogs which soaked up an awful lot of that excess productivity, though with lots of compensating benefits.
** Though not, IIRC, the Mac SE/30, listed here as the best Mac ever. At the time it came out, I was using a Mac II at work, and a much-upgraded original Mac at home.
Reference to The Day After Tomorrow in the write-off and the subeditor’s choice of headline “Our world really will end”, made my latest contribution to the Financial Review a little more apocalyptic than I intended, but I suppose two days before an election is not the time for subtlety. And it’s very likely that unless we act soon to stop it, climate change will mean the end for large parts of the biosphere, including coral reefs, the Australian Alps, the Arctic, and a large proportion of all animal and plant species now alive.
You can read it over the fold. As I note at the end, I’ve also done a ACF report (Word doc) for ACF connecting the (fairly obvious) dots between climate change, more severe droughts and higher food prices.
I installed Mac OS X Leopard on my laptop a couple of weeks ago, and tried out the spiffy new Time Machine feature which does differential backups to a hard drive. On the first run, of course, it had to back up the whole machine and I was a bit startled to see that it was copying over a million files. Of course, lots of those are system and applications files, but my documents folder, which is mostly stuff I’ve created myself, has over 250 000 files. And today I got a message from Eudora telling me (not for the first time) that my Inbox could only hold 32000 messages.
I can remember when I knew, by name, every file on the computer, and what it did. It was not that hard with a machine (128k Mac) that ran off a couple of 400k floppy disks.
I’ve been trying out various new technologies lately, with mixed results
My first attempt to present a paper using videoconferencing from my desktop Mac came to grief as a result of software incompatibilities, so I’ll be using standard videoconference methods again, to present a paper on Urban Water Pricing to a seminar at LaTrobe Uni, Albury-Wodonga, on Thursday. I’ll get started earlier next time and see if I can’t get these problems overcome.
During my recent visit to Canberra, I hired a Prius, which was an interesting experience. A few random thoughts about implications.
* I was particularly struck by the way it sits silently at traffic lights, and more generally how much quieter it is, most of theh time. than a standard car. That alone would be a big plus in a move towards electric cars.
* As this piece in Salon points out, a hybrid is not necessarily more fuel-efficient than smaller conventional cars. Then again, you can save even more just by driving less. The more options there are the better. I expect the price differential noted in the article will decline over time as production volumes increase.
* Looking at how easy it would be to switch to hybrids, I’m more convinced than ever that a peak in oil production (which may already have been passed) will not been the end of industrial civilisation as we know it, or even a major change in our way of life.
* s regards the more serious problem of global warming, a hybrid still uses electricity, so the gains aren’t as great. Still, many small reductions add up to big reductions Reader canberra boy points out that the Prius is not a plug-in hybrid as I thought . Rather the battery is recharged entirely by regenerative braking or, when that falls short, by the engine. As usual, Wikipedia has the details
Finally, I upgraded my Mac OS to OS 10.5 (Leopard), and am a bit grumpy. It seems as if it went smoothly for everyone but me, and in fact I nearly always have trouble with system upgrades. But, in between I really love my Mac, and my experience running Windows XP under virtualisation has only confirmed me in this.
This survey says I’m an Internet Omnivore, but reading the descriptions I’m more of a Lackluster Veteran. I don’t like mobiles/cellphones much, because they’re fiddly and unintuitive, and I only rarely send text messages – I keep forgetting where the space bar is. However, once the iPhone comes out, I expect to be properly omnivorous. (H/T Edumacation* – Also an Omnivore)
* While I’m at it, can anyone point me to the origin of constructions like Edumacation, Journamalism and so on. Wikipedia isn’t much help, and Uncyclopedia’s entry, while edumacational, gives no etymamology.
I’ve used hundreds of different programs in the 20+ years I’ve owned a Mac (I’ve got 15 running right now), but the two I’ve used most consistently, for more than a decade have been the word processor NisusWriter and the email package Eudora. I’ve just downloaded the last commercial version of Eudora for the Mac (6.2.4, the Windows version went to 7.1.
The pill has been sweetened by the announcement that the Eudora code will be released as open source, but I can’t see anyone stepping forward to work on this, at least for the Mac, given that Mail is freely bundled with OS X and there are several excellent free or low-cost alternatives.
Of course, the program still works, so there’s no need to change it any time soon. And Nisus made a successful transition to OS X quite a while ago, with the new name Nisus Writer Express.
Christopher Breen writes
Far and away, Playlistâ€™s most popular story is Two-way Street: Moving Music Off the iPod, a tutorial, as the name hints, on copying music from an iPod to a computer. (Who knew iPod users were so plagued by hard drive crashes that forced them to use these techniques for recovering their music libraries? I mean, why else would you need to do this?)
He’s teasing, I know, but you can count me as an example. I had a hard disk crash and lost all my music files, and had huge problems recovering them from the iPod.
I know there’s a word for this, but I’m still holding out against it. I’m hoping someone will be able to help me with a computing problem.
My approach to security is to keep three copies of my Documents folder (about 20GB) synchronized twice daily (often about 500Mb of changed files). One copy is on the home computer, one at work, and the third is on my 40Gb iPod. My problem is that the iPod is filling up, and it doesn’t look as if Apple has any plans to bring out a substantially larger one with Firewire, as I had hoped. One possibility is to find one of the 60Gb models, but it struck me that if Apple can fit a Firewire drive into a lightweight package and make it play music as well, someone must have produced a FireWire equivalent of the ubiquitous USB memory stick. I don’t need something that big, but I’d like something that can be powered from the Firewire drive rather than external power and is small enough to fit into a shirt pocket, with capacity, say 80Gb. Oh, and a frickin’ laser beam attached to the front panel. Is that too much to ask?
Other suggestions gratefully received. My feeling is that synchronizing over USB or an Internet connection is going to be too slow, but maybe there are some clever strategies for increasing efficiency here.
Thanks in advance
I’ve been too busy thinking about all the fun I’ll have with my magic pony, designing my private planet and so on, to write up a proper review of Ray Kurzweil’s book, The Singularity is Near. The general response seems to have been a polite version of DD’s “bollocks”, and the book certainly has a high nonsense to signal ratio. Kurzweil lost me on biotech, for example, when he revealed that he had invented his own cure for middle age, involving the daily consumption of a vast range of pills and supplements, supposedly keeping his biological age at 40 for the last 15 years (the photo on the dustjacket is that of a man in his early 50s). In any case, I haven’t seen anything coming out of biotech in the last few decades remotely comparable to penicillin and the Pill for medical and social impact.
But Kurzweil’s appeal to Moore’s Law seems worth taking seriously. There’s no sign that the rate of progress in computer technology is slowing down noticeably. A doubling time of two years for chip speed, memory capacity and so on implies a thousand-fold increase over twenty years. There are two very different things this could mean. One is that computers in twenty years time will do mostly the same things as at present, but very fast and at almost zero cost. The other is that digital technologies will displace analog for a steadily growing proportion of productive activity, in both the economy and the household sector, as has already happened with communications, photography, music and so on. Once that transition is made these sectors share the rapid growth of the computer sector.
Today’s big news, for me at least, is that Apple will be moving to use Intel chips in Macs, in place of the PowerPC chip that’s been used for the last ten years or so. This isn’t good news for Mac users, since the required transitions are always messy and painful. The reason for the shift is that IBM, which produces the PowerPC, has been unwilling or unable to produce a low-heat version of the G5 chip for use in Powerbooks. The shift marks the end of the PowerPC strategy, which began as an alliance between Apple, IBM and Motorola and seemed at first likely to produce a serious alternative to Intel’s dominance of the CPU market.
The good news for Mac users is that, thanks to the massive success of the iPod and the flow-on effects to Mac sales, Apple is in a stronger position to make this move than at any time in years. In addition, the Mac OS itself is easily portable. Still, I expect some of my favorite obscure applications will struggle to make the change.
Another item in the positive column is that this ought to make it easier to run Windows on the occasions I need it (I currently use the Virtual PC emulator which is impressive, considering, but still problematic), and may also reduce the difficulty of porting Windows software to Mac.
I’ve been working to restore normal service under WordPress 1.5. Both “recently commented on” and “Live preview” are back.
Meanwhile the good news (touch silicon) is that comment and trackback spam seems to have stopped altogether. The “nofollow” attribute in WordPress makes it pointless, since URLs in comments are not used by Google.
I’m still planning some cosmetic changes, and am happy to take suggestions for plugins.
Meanwhile, I’ve upgraded my Mac to OS 10.4 (Tiger) and am having fun with the new features, and I’ve also done a complete backup, so I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself, at least as far as computing is going.
Update People seem to be having trouble commenting (though it works fine for me), so I’ve turned Live Preview back off for the moment.
When I first started using Macs, back in 1984, one of the big selling points was desktop publishing. The resulting explosion in amateur publishing produced some pretty awful results, but the net impact was a huge increase in the quality of computer-generated output, which went from being almost unreadably awful to quite pleasant to read. I produced a bunch of things in the 80s, including various newsletters and even a book of satirical songs, using long-dead packages like ReadySetGo and Deluxe Music Construction Set.
But once the real professionals started using packages like Quark and Pagemaker, the competition got a bit too hard, and I stopped worrying about page layout. Now however, I’ve started having some real fun with Apple’s iWork package, consisting of Keynote, a presentation package, and Pages, a page layout program. They produce really nice output, but are still easy and fun to use.
I’ve been working on the annual report for the Risk and Sustainable Management Group which is the little team I’ve set up to run my ARC Federation Fellowship and Discovery projects. If I can get the PDF file down to a manageable size, I’ll post the report here when it’s done. In the meantime, feel free to check out what we’ve been up to here and here.
fn1. Having picked the minority platform, I showed a fairly unerring instinct for minority software packages. I still use NisusWriter rather than the ubiquitous and awful MS Word for most of my word processing, and Bookends rather than Endnote for bibliographic stuff. Both well worth a look if you’re a Mac user unhappy with the usual offerings.
Macintosh fans will want to read this 15-year retrospective from Adam Engst who’s the leading figure behind on of the longest-running online publications in existence, Mac newsletter TidBITS
I bought one of the first 128K Macs in 1984, and like Adam, I’ve bought 20 or so of them in the intervening period, seven or eight of which are alive and in use among my extended family (the oldest, a PowerMac 8500 from 1995 is in use solely as a floppy disk reader, but most of the others are used on a daily basis). I can endorse Adam’s observation that the working life of a Mac, at around seven years, is quite a bit longer than that of the average Windows machine.
The last fifteen years have seen highs and lows for the Mac, but with the massive cash flow from the iPod and the apparent crossover effect on Mac sales, the future looks pretty bright.
Matthew Yglesias wants an iPod that doubles as a mobile phone. Doesn’t everyone?
The latest trend in comment spam, at least on my blog, is self-referential stuff of the form
2 much spam in here 🙁
The links appear to be to sites that try to download viruses or spyware as .exe files (having a Mac, I’m largely immune, so I sometimes do risky things like clicking on dubious links).
It’s not the death penalty as demanded by Stephen Landsburg for hackers, but the nine-year sentence handed down to megaspammer Jeremy Jaynes should mark the beginning of the end for spammers physically located in the US. But that’s small comfort, since spam can be sent from anywhere. A less mobile target can be found in the businesses that ultimately sell stuff through spam. These include some very large firms indeed.
If you’ve spent any time around the blogosphere, or looking at thinktank websites, you’ll be aware that the following opinions tend to go together:
* widespread ownership of guns saves lives
* tobacco smoke is harmless (if not to smokers then to anyone who breathes it second-hand)
* global warming is a myth
There’s not too much mystery about this. The kinds of characteristics that would encourage the adoption of any one of these beliefs (make your own list) obviously encourage the others. What’s surprising to me is how frequently, at least among thinktanks these opinions are correlated with support for Microsoft, and, more particularly, denunciation of open-source software.
Among the offerings in today’s special edition of TidBITS, the long-running online Macintosh magazine, I found this item particularly appealing.
Canned Spam Can Can Spam with CAN-SPAM — Hormel is expected to announce today their campaign to can spam using their canned Spam with the aid of the CAN-SPAM legislation. Starting today, Hormel will print the phone number, email addresses, and other information about unsolicited email senders on cans of Spam along the lines of the “Have you seen me?” photographs published on milk cartons. Canned Spam buyers who help to can spam by canning spammers can receive cans of Spam as a reward.
Other important news includes a report that the US Department of Homeland Security is responding to the threat of Windows-specific cyberterrorism, most notably through Trojans such as Phatbot by standardising on Macs.
Microsoft’s core business is under attack
Matt at Bright Cold Day posted a couple of weeks ago on A function I wish Microsoft Word had, and set up this impressive mockup
A cool post, but I can just imagine how this would actually turn out. The function would be set on by default. Adjectives would be inserted based on some lookup function derived from a database of purple passages. In the manner of Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss, it would turn short, stubby sentences into elegant multi-topic ones. Before long, the world would be overwhelmed in Redmond’s idea of scintillating prose.
Update Kieran Healy tempts fate with an even more ambitious wish. I suspect that anyone granted the wish of a boss mind-reading function would be doomed to endless administrative work.
My occasional correspondent, Graeme Bond, is as far as I know, the only other person in Australia to have pointed out in public (and in advance) that the Y2K panic was based on patently spurious arguments.
Not surprisingly, Graeme is also a sceptic about cyberterrorism and sent me this link to a story headed ASIO slams cyberterror ‘hype’. I’ve been a sporadic reader of The Crypt Newsletter, a debunker of computer-related panics, and can particularly recommend this story on how U.S. infowar commandos smuggled a deadly computer virus into Iraq inside a printer. Set to go off on April 1 of course.
UpdateLooking over my files, I realise that I forgot to mention Stewart Fist of The Australian who also debunked Y2K , and whose judgement in matters technological is usually reliable. Feel free to remind me of others I’ve omitted.
I just got my new version of iTunes which lets you connect directly to the Apple Music Store and download songs at $US0.99 a pop. Except that I got this message
The iTunes Music Store is not available in your country yet. You will be able to browse music and listen to previews (sic), but you won’t be able to purchase music unless your billing address is in the United States.
This is putting Australians on the same level as (gasp …) Windows users.