Phill Ryu's blog was one I had not heard of until his interview last week with Adam Bets. Well there is good reason for this: his blog is only in the second week of existence. Frankly, if Phill continues to create content like this, he is going to have quite the traffic bill at the end of the month. This week, Ryu has announced a contest with real winners, losers and prizes. Intrigued? We thought you would be. The contest, entitled the Fake Leopard Screenshot Contest, comes from his desire to see better fake screenshots.
Ok. iTunes style metal UI? Sounds good. Multiple desktops support? Sweet. Virtualization of Windows apps? I’m hoping for it. But let’s be honest, Leopard could be sooo much cooler, and so could the fakes.
The contest's tagline: "A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a fake one is worth nearly a thousand bucks of software!" describes not only the contest fairly well but the boatload of prizes that are available for the winners. Oddly enough, first, second, and third place prizes are the same (except for the virtual trophy) bringing the winners' licenses to almost US$1,000 worth of software licenses. Included in the prize package are such popular applications as Delicious Library, Shape Shifter, News Fire, App Zapper, CSSEdit, and a nice little package from The Iconfactory among others. Oh and there is the coup de grâce, the virtual hardware:
The contest runs through July 22nd and submissions can be viewed here. The Ars community is full of mad talent ("mad" having a multitude of meanings in this instance) and we love to see one of our own bring home the "hardware," so have at it!
Musical instruments are generally a product of excitation and resonance. For instance, a violin relies on the slip-stick action of the bow to excite the string. However, the string and the box select the tone, thus you can think of the musician as exciting all possible tones and the instrument choosing the right tone. Now, a new type of instrument has been discovered; the common sand dune. As far back as Marco Polo, Europeans have known about singing sand dunes. It appears that some sand dunes under the right conditions will emit tones with a constant frequency for a few minutes. However, no one has really been able to explain why they generate the pure tones they do, or even why they generate any tone at all instead of noise.
Lets start with what was already known. The sound that a dune makes depends only on the size of the grain. Thus, the sand dune must have big patches where the grains are all about the same size, which happens naturally due to the different flow rates of the large and small grains. The sound only occurs during sand avalanches. Finally, when the pitch is very low, they can be felt for quite some distance before they are heard. Now some new research has thrown some uh… light on the physics behind the singing sand dunes. What they have discovered is that if the grains are all about the same size, then in an avalanche the speed of the grains varies in a particular way with depth. In fact, the way the speed of the grains varies means that the relative speed between grains that are likely to come in contact with each other is constant. Thus, they bang together at a constant rate, which produces the tone. However, this is not enough because even if all the grains bang together at the same rate, they are not doing it together (i.e., the grains don't all come together at the same time), which means the sound should be just be a rustle. Again, the speed profile of the avalanche comes to the rescue. Associated with every flow is a shear force that creates the speed profile. A side effect of this is to provide a coupling mechanism through which the bouncing of the sand particles can synchronize. The synchronization means that the effective pressures reached within the avalanche become very large, indicating a very loud sound wave. However, the disturbance on the surface is often quite small so the sound in the air is quiet compared to the internal sound, explaining why it is felt before it is heard.
Some researchers have all the luck. Not only did they get to build a very cool sand box with a mechanical bucket and spade to produce experimental verification of their models, they also got to travel to many different locations around the world to measure the sound properties of various singing sand dunes. I think I'll go hide in my windowless, basement lab for a while…
The ability of the newer consoles to play next-generation media, from Blu-Ray to HD-DVD, is a big selling point to the more A/V focused early-adopters. If you have a nice HDTV and don't want to drop US$500 or more for a new DVD player, the 360 add-on is attractive. If you want Blu-Ray, the US$600 PS3 may even look affordable. There was a lot of talk about the HD-DVD add-on giving the XBox 360 an HDMI port, and now there's a rumor going around that newer 360s may have the port standard.
You could say that early adopters would be upset, the same way you could say that space is pretty big.
There isn't much to the rumor right now, just a fuzzy picture and some emails sent out from an unnamed source. There could be meat here, or there may not be; at this stage it's not really worth worrying about. The bigger question is how Microsoft would handle the complaints if tomorrow they announced that all new 360 systems would have the HMDI port on them. Would they allow those of us who bought the system on launch day to send ours in and get the upgrade? Would that even be feasible? It's one thing to do a revision, but if they added such a nice feature to the system this soon after they launched it, you're going to have a lot of angry hardcore gamers on your hands. These are people who hold a grudge, and spend a lot of money on product.
It's clear that Microsoft is watching Sony's multimedia plans closely, but I think they would be shortsighted to think of launching such a big update without a plan to deal with the millions of people who have already purchased systems. To repeat: I don't think we'll see an HDMI port added onto the 360 any time soon, but if they did, how angry would you be if you were stuck with your current system and new users got the goods?
I'm certain that a large percentage of our readers on Infinite Loop have been using their Macs for quite a while and we've probably got a sizable contingent of people who've been down with OS X since the start. However, from time to time we should keep in mind that we also have a strong contingent of readers who aren't nearly as saavy. They haven't suffered through 10.0 and 10.1 and might not know all the cool bits about the operating system, and we should take time to introduce them to all the stuff that makes using OS X a joy.
When I came across this "Guide to OS X Software for OS X" I immediately wanted to point it out. Many guides focus on how OS X differs from Windows, but few actually show those users where they can find equivielnt features and applications to replace their old standbys:
I have yet to see a Switcher's Guide that actually focuses on the Switcher. Most seem more concerned with listing a few personal favorite programs or touting some of the wonderful features of OS X itself. My goal is to simply outline those applications that are not only the most useful, but have direct bearing on the life of those who have recently made the jump from Windows. I will also include links to several Mac-friendly websites as well a few extremely helpful keystrokes.
The guide goes on to detail several of Apple's built-in, useful, and perhaps under-utilised (by switchers) applications like Disk Utility and Activity Monitor; transitions to downloads that should probably be a part of your "core" day-to-day applications (like Transmit, Adium, Flip4Mac); gets down to applications that'll make your life easier (like TextPander and Jumpcut); and applications that are "just for fun" (like M-bear and Candybar). The guide even enumerates the highlights of the galaxy of available text editors. So if you're still new to the OS (and hell, even if you're not) and you haven't found that perfect app you've been looking for, have a read through the aforementioned article and see if you find something new. If all else fails, you will be sure to find several reccomendations here in the comments.
Firefox has become quite a popular browser, quickly eclipsing its older brother Mozilla and gaining a 10 percent market share on the web. There is much anticipation for version 2.0, and the Mozilla organization has released a candidate for Beta 1 on their FTP site. Versions are available for Windows, Mac OS X (Universal Binary), and Linux.
The beta candidate is code named Bon Echo, after Bon Echo Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. Mozilla is hoping that users find this release to be a “good echo” of what they have gotten used to. Firefox 2 hasn’t changed much, interface-wise, from the original. Existing users will be instantly familiar with the standard button bar, links bar, and the row of tabs. One minor change is the ability to scroll the tab bar horizontally when it gets too large. Tabs also have small “X” boxes attached, making them easier to close. Under the hood, however, there have been numerous bugfixes and improvements, in addition to some welcome new features.
One of the new features is a built-in antiphishing filter, which we reported on earlier. It automatically checks sites against a locally-stored blacklist of known phishers, although an option to “ask Google” to check is also available. The ability to use remote antiphishing sites other than Google is planned but not currently implemented (the dropdown selection list is grayed out).
Firefox 2.0 Beta Candidate 1. Click for larger version.
A very neat feature is an integrated spelling checker for web-based text input forms. This is a boon for anyone who posts on a lot of forums. There have been other add-ins that check spelling in browser forms, such as IESpell for Internet Explorer and GNU ASpell (which I currently use with Opera) but these require user intervention to start the spell check for each field. Firefox 2’s checker automatically highlights misspelled words with a dotted red line. While this is nothing new for OS X users, who have been able to use the system-wide spell checker in this manner with web browsers like Safari and Omniweb for some time now, it is a welcome addition for people browsing on other platforms.
As with earlier versions of Firefox, when you install the beta of 2.0 it checks to see if you have any browser extensions that are incompatible with the current release. There is an option to search for updates for any extensions that have been broken, but it was not able to update any of the extensions I had installed. Fortunately, Firefox has been integrating many useful extensions (like the ability to drag and drop tabs to new locations) along its development, so this is not as big of a problem as it might seem.
The browser seemed quite fast and stable, although I did not perform any benchmarking tests. I found one really obscure bug, where if the user clicks on a help link when a preferences dialog box is open, a new copy of Firefox will load without the user being able to switch back to the original either through Alt-Tab or the Windows task bar.
Is the new release really deserving of the 2.0 moniker? It’s hard to say, given the fact that it looks and feels very much like 1.x. Is it a better browser than 1.x? Definitely. The spell checking feature alone makes it a must-have upgrade. While personally I’m very happy with the new Opera 9, it’s good to see that there is such healthy competition in the browser market.
Raise your hand: who here has ever booth-squatted for hours in a Panera, nursing that bottomless cup of coffee, using the restaurant’s free WiFi connection the entire time? It’s a common enough scenario that cafe and coffee shop owners, long used to offering free WiFi as a way to get customers in the door, are fighting back.
The Boston Globe has an interesting piece on these “WiFi wars.” Cafe owners have found that WiFi brings customers, but also a host of problems. Some people purchase nothing at all, some buy the cheapest item on the menu, and most stay for hours at a time, tying up tables that are especially needed during the lunch rush. Others park outside and surf the Net from the comfort of their vehicles—for months on end.
But the issue is not just an economic one; it has a cultural side as well. Cafe owners and traditional patrons are concerned that the shops are becoming offices. Confronted by a sea of laptops and hard-working coffee sippers, other guests may feel less able to talk, laugh, and be sociable. The forest of raised laptop screens might also keep patrons from talking with one another, and that social element has long been a part of cafe culture. It was this problem that led one Seattle coffee shop to start shutting off the WiFi on weekends last year. Not only did revenue go up, but the atmosphere in the cafe changed as well.
Coffee shops raise, in miniature, the essential political question: what sort of society do we want to create? Not surprisingly, there’s a difference of opinion. Customers who use cafes to meet others and to socialize with friends are disappointed by the many laptops and by the shortage of tables. Those working on laptops find themselves wishing that the retired friends at the next table could talk about their golf game in lower tones. And each owner has a vision of her own.
Personal experience suggests that most laptop users who work at coffee shops don’t do so because they are too cheap to rent an office. No, people whose work involves the solitary punching of laptop keys enjoy being around other people, and coffee shops and cafes provide a comfortable and inexpensive environment where one can feel less isolated while working. Looked at in this way, the “WiFi wars” are less over Internet access and more about the type of jobs that we do—jobs that require little human interaction but do require the constant tether of a network connection.
Opera is planning to turn to its users as it attempts to determine which features should be prioritized for the next major release of its flagship product.
Although the popularity of Opera is difficult to gauge (due to the fact that many Opera users customize the agent string), the Norwegian-made web browser has not been able to achieve the popularity or momentum that Firefox enjoys on the desktop. In an attempt to boost stagnant market share, the company decided to make the desktop version available for free, as the embedded versions of Opera available for mobile phones, PDAs, and other portable devices generate a majority of the company’s revenue. Opera recently gained a potent new ally when Nintendo decided to integrate the browser into its next-generation gaming console, the Wii, and create an Opera cartridge for the Nintendo DS portable system.
While I am primarily a Firefox user, I regularly install new Opera releases and I spend a considerable amount of time with the browser. I have considered switching full time in the past, particularly during those revelatory moments of suffering when I open up my system monitor utility and realize that Firefox has managed to consume 700 or 800 MB of memory. Now that Opera is easily accessible in Ubuntu (the Linux distribution of choice here in the Strategic Penguin Command Center of the Ars Orbiting HQ), the big switch is really starting to look appealing. When I learned about Opera’s interest in user input, I asked myself this question: what features would it take for Opera 10 to crush my will to resist?
With integrated support for IRC, RSS, e-mail, BitTorrent, desktop gadgets, and enough features to make half of the applications on my desktop redundant, the Opera web browser is practically one lisp interpreter short of being the next Emacs. With all of that, what is it still missing? I think Opera needs better tools for web developers. For script analysis and debugging, I rely on the popular Venkman and Firebug extensions for Firefox. Until I can do graphical, breakpoint debugging in Opera, I wont be able to use it for serious web development. I frequently use the Beagle search tool to find pages I have visited based on their text content. This features depends on the Beagle Indexer extension for Firefox. I would like to see Opera 10 include an optional indexing system that will enable users to find pages in their history by searching the content of the pages rather than just the title. Ideally, the browser could also make it possible for external services like Google Desktop, Beagle, and Spotlight to leverage this index.
As long as we are talking about the future of Opera, let’s take the opportunity to gaze further into the future. The XBL 2.0 working draft was published last month, and now is the time for Opera to get involved and start participating in the draft refinement process. I for one would love to eventually see XUL and XBL fully implemented in the Opera web browser. I have been working frequently with XULRunner, and I am convinced that XUL technology has lot of potential for portable application development in the future. The biggest problems with XULRunner are the hefty size of the runtime environment and its excessive resource consumption. What if the folks at Opera leveraged their expertise and made a commercial XUL runtime that is compact, portable, and resource efficient enough to facilitate deployment of XUL applications on an enormous variety of mobile devices? I know I would certainly pay for a developer license.
What features would you like to see in Opera 10?
Here in the Orbiting HQ, we usually keep our rumor-spreading efforts to products that are big (Leopard), very near release (widescreen video iPod), or notorious (widescreen video iPod). Pages is really none of these but with Think Secret offering up pages of speculation about the upcoming version of Apple's word processing package, we'll make an exception so we can pass the juicy rumors on to you.
According to Think Secret, version 3 of Pages will come out with iLife '07 (and as the name suggests, will be rolled out sometime around the beginning of next year). Its biggest new feature will be specialized Word Processing and Layout modes " that will each be optimized for their respective tasks as opposed to Pages' current handling of both types of documents with one common set of templates and tools." Precisely how these modes will work isn't stated. I doubt Apple is trying to use Pages to take down Adobe's InDesign or Quark XPress, but a Layout mode could be just the thing to get room mothers, block captains, and church bulletin writers to fire up Pages to give their handouts a bit of polish.
Think Secret also expects the new version of Pages to bundle a thesaurus as well as integration with Spotlight, Wikipedia, and Google. Again, few details are offered as to how this would work precisely, but if you listen closely you can hear high school and college instructors screaming in horror at the inevitable influx of Wikipedia-researched term papers.
Finally, Apple is said to be improving Pages' collaborative capabilities, allowing comments to be left on any object in a document and tracking changes from multiple users as well. Despite its unique ability to annoy coworkers, collaboration has become quite the rage lately as Google's recent success with Writely has shown. It should be interesting to see Apple's take on it.
It's no secret that, for me, the last great word processor was WordPerfect 5.1 (go ahead, roll your eyes now). Word-processing has been a point of frustration for me for many years (what you see is never what you get!) to the point where I've resorted to using InDesign, or even Photoshop to get the results I wanted. Thus far, Pages has been adequate, but not strong enough to replace MS Word. Some of these new features would warrant giving it a second look, so it'll be interesting to see what actually comes out in Pages 3. What features would you like to see? And what would be the "killer" feature that would get you using Pages over Word?
Give customers what they want and they will open their wallets. That seems to be the story behind the newest figures from Nielsen SoundScan, which paint a more positive picture of the music industry than the RIAA’s gloomy prognostications often suggest.
The figures from the first half of this year show that CD sales, not surprisingly, are falling. Compared to the first half of last year, they are down by more than 4 percent. More than making up for that decrease is the tremendous growth in digital downloads. Downloads of complete albums soared by 126 percent, while downloads of individual tracks grew by a mere 77 percent. As you might imagine, individual track downloads still dwarf those of complete albums, lending credence to the theory that the album as an art form is dying.
Oddly enough, the year’s biggest smash comes from the soundtrack to Disney’s TV movie, High School Musical, which has moved 2.6 million copies. And you wonder why marketers target children.
The study can also be used to get a sense of the independent music market. The AP calculates that indie labels control 12.79 percent of the market, while the Hollywood Reporter tots up the figures a bit differently to arrive at 19.3 percent (they include independent distributors which are operated by major labels). Overall, the music industry has actually grown in the last year, selling 0.1 percent more than it did in the first half of 2005. That’s not massive growth, but neither is it the jobs-killing decline that the industry used to moan about a few years ago.
Though the general public is sometimes portrayed as a greedy mass of pirates, the new figures show that the eyepatch-wearing demographic is only one part of the equation. Giving good legal alternatives, consumers are happy to stay legit if that means that they can conveniently cherry-pick digital hits for their own collections.
Finding a good app for your Mac can be harrowing process. Sift through Apple's download pages, hit Versiontracker (or some similar site), rely on word-of-mouth, or just plain luck to find what you need. Sometimes the application just isn't out there. Other times, you can't shake the disconcerting feeling that it was out there and you just hopelessly failed to find it.
Sometimes, problems just need a new viewpoint. i use this is a new OS X application tracker that heavily borrows Digg's effective formula to quickly create an impressive listing of available OS X applications and their popularity. Applications are tagged by their function (utility, itunes, video, web, etc.) and registered users click to note "i use this" for the applications they use. Their FAQ explains the theory:
We believe that iusethis.com uses a much more democratic way to rate apps, by counting the number of users you can define the value of an app to a much higher degree then using ratings.
Each listing also includes a short description, current version information, license information, and release-date, as well as a link to the application's site (for downloading ease) and user "opinions." Pretty standard fare, but the site's organization shows how strongly Digg influenced it. There are some differences, however. Unlike Digg, i use this's front page showcases the newest submissions instead of the most popular. Hopefully, this will keep great new applications from getting buried by all the iTunes and Adium love.
i use this is still in beta, which is why Quicktime currently seems to have only 16 users and iChat 17. Users seem to be frantically adding new applications, so it'll be interesting to see what applications rise to the top and what sinks to the bottom after a few months of use. The site is already fun to browse, though I can't shake the unsettling feeling that I'll wake up in the morning, wipe the drool off my keyboard, and stare in horror at the questionable applications I giddily downloaded the night before.