Dash Board, Revisited

On June 30, 1998, I released Dash Board 1.0 for the Newton.

Last night, fifteen years to the day later, I finally open-sourced it.

It was a fun weekend project, despite involving a lot of tedious fuckery setting up ancient software tools (documented in the GitHub readme linked above, and not worth getting into here). It was fun because the memories it brought back were in such high resolution (even if the software itself wasn't).

"People come up to me, and they try to talk shit, man... I was advancing the state of the art in tablet computing when you were sucking your mother's dick."

Mason Mark, 2013
paraphrasing our revered spiritual leader Adam Yauch (1964 ~ 2012, R.I.P.)

In 1998, I was a college student and a wanna-be programmer who knew just enough to be dangerous.

I was studying journalism, riding my motorscooter to school by day, and then commuting an hour each way by train to my part time job in the evenings.

It was the worst fucking train -- the orange Chuo Line, the leading suicide train line in all of Japan at the time. Some sadsack asshole would get sick of being alive (probably, I always imagined, due to having to ride that train, packed in like a sardine, 90 minutes to and from work every day) and he'd jump in front of the train and get splooshed all over the tracks like a cockroach. And then that train, and all the trains stuck behind it on the line, would stop. For like fucking hours. No way to get off.

Cloud Backup Sucks Less Now

In the (very) boring world of backing up your computer(s), something genuinely cool happened recently: it finally became feasible to back up the whole computer to the cloud. Feasible, at least, for people with a first-world income and a decent Internet connection. (Sorry, bandwidth-challenged US residents! (Where by sorry, I of course mean neener neener.))

Until the end of 2012, there were two problems with trying to back up all one’s bits to the cloud:

  • too fucking slow, or:
  • too fucking expensive

Happily, it is now 2013, and both of those problems have been ameliorated!

Why iCloud Can't Ever Be as Good as Dropbox

John Gruber has a blurb on DF today about how Apple should buy Dropbox, in part because iCloud sucks major asshole and Dropbox is OK (to paraphrase).

That second bit, at least, is accurate, and even if iCloud is someday engineered to synchronize files more quickly, easily, and reliably than Dropbox, it will still always be fundamentally worse than Dropbox. That is because iCloud comes with an intrinsic show-stopping, shit-splattering, critical flaw: vendor lock-in.

There are a lot of good things about Apple's integrated-hardware-and-software way of doing things. It is a key reason that they've consistently made the best PCs in the world for almost a decade now, and also the least-shitty overall smartphone OS yet developed.

But, of course, this approach isn't optimal for every possible goal. Competing with a product[1] like Dropbox is something that Apple is fundamentally disincentivized to do, and consequently sucks at (cf. every online service and every cross-platform app that Apple has ever produced).

Dropbox is awesome because -- even with some fairly glaring flaws (sporadically abysmal performance, data duplication/corruption on platforms that have symlinks) -- it provides this awesome cloud filesystem that works across all kinds of devices and platforms. I can create a document on my Dell XPS notebook running Ubuttnu 12.4, edit it on my toilet using my iPad, then later email it to somebody from my Nexus 7, incorporate their feedback while on the train with my iPhone, and then open it on my Mac Pro when I get to work. Oh, and if I had to boot Windows 8 for some reason, the document would be there, too.

iCloud will never work well on other platforms. I'd love to be proven wrong about that, but I'm not wrong, so I won't. Furthermore, iCloud doesn't even fully work on Apple's own OS X platform -- it only works for apps that submit to the fairly onerous financial terms and severe technical limitations dictated by Apple's app store.

Apple wants their awesome features to be available exclusively on their platforms, and exclusively on their terms. That innate characteristic of Apple completely prevents them from making certain kinds of awesome in the first place. Like the Dropbox kind.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with that; it's just the difference between a platform vendor wanting a feature, and a software vendor trying to reach a larger audience. But, for this kind of idea at least, one approach produces something a lot more useful and interesting than the other.

So if Apple were to buy Dropbox, that might help Apple, but it would be bad for the world, and a fucking disaster for Dropbox users. Gruber frets that Dropbox might get acquired by Google, Microsoft, Amazon, or Facebook. But as a daily Dropbox user, I'd be more concerned for its future if it were acquired by Apple than any of the first three of those companies[2]. Dropbox is the kind of product that Apple just wouldn't be able to restrain itself from fucking up.

-----

[1]: Steve Jobs was completely wrong (or perhaps more likely, lying) about Dropbox being a 'feature' instead of a product. It is exactly because it is not a feature of one device or OS that makes it really cool, and life-changing for a lot of people (like the guy Gruber is linking to in the piece above)

[2]: Of course, if Facebook bought Dropbox I would just cancel my account and switch to Google Drive or something.

Version 2.0a1

Although admittedly a dilettante when it comes to evolutionary algorithms, I’ve been poking around (ahem) in that area, and recently managed to produce a new release.

Strictly pre-alpha functionality at this point, but I expect the final 2.0 to be ready around Q3 2047.

QRWTF

So let’s talk about the weird hating on QR codes thing that’s going on.

As a former (and future(!) (just not this year (sigh))) Mac software developer, I tend to end up on a lot of Mac-related websites when out traversing the tubes.

Via these sites, I’ve gradually become aware me of a strange memetic condition that seems to be metastasizing to various organs of the macosphere: “Dude, QR codes are like, lame-o robot barf, dude.” (I think the epidemiology of this outbreak of hateritus probably goes back to a mass googallergenic reaction to the QR code that was printed on the back of the original Nexus One, but that’s speculation.)

At any rate, I was reminded of this while shirking some boring responsibilities and plowing through my RSS feeds earlier today. I came across this opinion from Brent Simmons, on his inessential blog:

Here’s the thing about the CueCat: it wasn’t that the hardware sucked, it’s that people aren’t going to scan things to go to a web page

And yet now we have QR codes, which we’re laughing at, and which will disappear like an American Idol contestant.

I like Brent (everybody likes Brent), but I think he’s wrong on this one. (And, judging from the hilarious wtfqrcodes.com, perhaps America as a whole is doing QR codes wrong.)

I don’t think QR codes are going away, nor would I want them to.

Because here’s the thing: QR codes are simple and great.

Originally for Toyota to track vehicles throughout the manufacturing process, they were popularized (in Japan, years ago) for the purpose of avoiding having to type shit into your phone on its dinky and shitty little keypad.

And they’ve been working great for years and years, here in Japan; long before the iPhone existed — before ‘smartphone’ was even a thing, really — pretty much every phone in Japan could point its camera at a QR code and bookmark the URL. (Virtually always a URL, though QR codes can carry an arbitrary text payload.)

So I’d say that it was the CueCat hardware that sucked. Or rather, the concept of needing special hardware to scan URLs sucks. But when it can be done easily with the one generic piece of hardware that everybody carries with them all the time, I think that a 2-second barcode scan beats fucking around with a dinky little keyboard hands down.

Yes, yes, QR codes are for machines, not humans. But machines are for serving humans. So I don’t see an inherent problem. Just like with karaoke, maybe Americans are discovering the QR code a decade late and aren’t good at it. Plastering your promo — or your clothing for fuck’s sake — with QR codes doesn’t make you look like a hip high-tech badass the way some seem to think it does. But blaming the harmless and useful QR code for that is like blaming the colors green and pink for this guy.

One of the quirky deficiencies of the iPhone is that it’s the only phone I know of (in Japan) that doesn’t grok QR codes out of the box. A plethora of QR code scanning apps are available for iOS (most of them insufferably shitty and ad-ridden, of course). The app I use is Scan — mostly because I can easily remember its name, the three or four times per year that I actually want to bookmark a website that I see on an ad in the subway. But it’s also fast[☠], simple, and fuckery-free — much like the Quick Response Code itself.

UPDATE 2012-03-16: Horf tells me that many US or Korean Android phones sold in Japan also tend to make you install an app to get QR code scanning functionality.


[☠] So fast that it took me five tries to take that screen shot above, because the first four times by the time I could snap the shot, it had already recognized the code and moved on to the website.

More Xcode4 Fuckery...

2012-01-17 after work: updated for ranty tone, petulance, spelling

This post describes a bug in Xcode 4.2.1, and a way to work around it. If you find it useful (for debugging the source code of your IDE, say) please come to my house and clean the grout in my shower.

This is not what a day’s work should look like:

A day wasted.

Today I enountered a [expletive] bug in Xcode, uncomfortably similar to the last serious Xcode bug that submitted me via rear naked choke.

Executive summary:

Xcode 4.2.1 (and I think maybe all 4.x versions so far released) will shit all over itself and become unable to edit .xib files, if there is header file that exists somewhere in your source tree (even one not actually included in your project), that contains an unterminated comment in it.

The symptoms are that you add an outlet to a class in code (e.g. in a MyViewController.h), but the outlet does not appear in the UI editor. So you cannot connect the outlet to whatever view or entity it is supposed to point to. If you quit and re-launch Xcode it tends to fix the problem. But you will end up having to quit and re-launch Xcode every single time you add any outlet to anything.

That’s a workaround much like eating a piece of dogshit is a workaround for being hungry.

UFC 141 Predictions

I’ve been meaning to commit my predictions to the ether for the last few UFCs, but this is the first time I’ve managed to do it. I think this is largely because the UFC FINALL-FUCKING-LY has a decent web-based pay-per-view system. It’s really great; the adaptive quality claims to support up to 3000Kbps and on my typical Japanese fiber line it looks great—as good or better than the bootleg 720p PPV rips that one might find out there on the interweb tubes.

The UFC’s new system means that I can reliably watch the bouts LIVE (for $20, which feels a lot more reasonable than $50), whereas before I was always having to somehow procure a decent copy of the event after the fact, meaning that the matches had actually already happened by the time I got around to thinking about who would win, at which point ‘predicting’ them seemed pretty stupid, even if I knew not the outcome.

So without further ado:

Alistair Overeem will beat Brock Lesnar

Overeem will dominate Lesnar, exposing him for what he actually is: a massive, ultra-athletic monster of a human specimen — but still an inexperienced fighter who gets concerned and loses his focus when he starts getting smashed in the face by another huge man’s fists (or kicks). Gotta think Overeem’s strikes are gonna be the actual killing advantage, even if it ends up that a barrage of strikes leads to a sumbmission. Overeem is bulkier than I remembered, too: 263 lbs (119.3 kg) at the weigh-in to Lesnar’s maximum allowed fighter weight of 265 lbs (120.2 kg).

'Droid Ragers Make Me Sigh

Mini-Gruber Siegler, over on his personal blog, gets his panties all knotted and sticky over Andy Rubin apparently deleting a comment he had posted on Walmart.com or somewhere like that, about Android being open and how to check out the source code.

220 melodramatic and pointless words and one failed attempt at a snarky joke about 'open' later, we find out that yep, the comment was deleted, because the open source repo had been relocated and the instructions included in the comment were no longer accurate.

Of course, Android is still open, for any reasonable value of open, and you can still check out the source if you're so inclined.

(Unfortunately, though, Android's still not that great at running one's pocket computer/phone gizmo. Maybe in Android 5.0, Turducken Potato Pizza? Here's hoping.)

[via professional Apple frother John Gruber]

Merry Atheistmas! ♬


2011 was a good one for me... we enjoyed a secular xmas celebrated in the finest Japanese tradition: by flying to Hawaii to play in the ocean and buy ourselves lavish and unneccessary presents in an orgy of 円高-fueled consumerism. A+++ WOLUD LUXURIATE AGIAN!!!


"Holy shit, fifty feet from shore and I'm already exhausted... maybe Heineken and Sno-balls isn't the breakfast of champions??"

The Interwebs Are Down

OMG github is down:

AAIHHGH!

OMFG downforeveryoneorjustme.com is ALSO down!!

AIEEEGGH!

Maybe the US government's internet kill switch installation isn't going as planned?