Random bullets 0; under-developed thoughts

I don’t have time for this. But I’m going to write a couple of paragraphs anyway. In fact, I guess they could be called “Bullet Points 0”, were I that way inclined.

  • I’ve never really worked out the whole dual core thing. Mostly because Apple weren’t selling any systems with ‘em, and I didn’t want to get too disheartened by seemingly how far in front x86 was for that particular ball park.

Two processors have been known to be very nice for a long time now; less because apps were actually using both processes and being twice as fast (although in very rare cases this could be true) but rather because two apps could be running (and would be running, in Mac OS X) on the two separate processes. Provided that the whole system bus or RAM thing wasn’t being hogged or clogged by one half, you pretty much got multitasking for free without all the crustiness that my PowerBook experiences often.

But four? Is the kernel up to that much scheduling when the task isn’t embarrassing parallel? I’ll leave that question to the philosophers.

  • I’ve started learning MetaPost. I’ve been meaning to for a long time now (well, all of this year), but it’s never been enough of a priority. Well, I’ve had the need to draw a complex picture or two so I thought I’d try it out.

My first thoughts? Ah, crap, I can’t work out how to make it do what I want. No worries; I’m sure it’s just my ineptitude.

Anyway, once I’ve sorted out MetaPost, I can later (when, or if, ever) move onto MetaFont and MetaType1, which would be lots of fun. Conceivably.

  • In order to prevent myself from distractions (like the words I’m currently writing…er, never mind), I’ve developed, but not yet implemented, a system by which I mark a piece of paper whenever I would start doing something distracting, like starting out on all those unread feeds. Of course, the mark is in lieu of actually doing the distracting, so it may not prove as compelling.

Anyway, I can collate the results per day and hopefully reduce the number of times my mind wanders off. Good luck with that, I tell myself.

  • I’ve been slightly influenced by Markdown in my latest LaTeX documents. I’ve ended up removing the special-ness of the characters & , $ , and # , and implemented a scheme whereby I can emphasise words with surrounding _ characters.

There seem to be many such areas of simplification that I hope to collate a bunch of them and put together an “easy LaTeX” package. It’s been a long time since TeX processed pages at a rate of one per minute. Let’s spend some cycles making things easier for ourselves, huh?


iTunes annoyances

If iTunes is going to claim to be under active development, then I expect a better job. Let’s spend some bug time working through things I’ve been annoyed at for quite some time. I’m glad they spent so much time honing the application in its long journey from v5 to v6. Ahem.

Persistent questioning of my resolve

With a selection in the “browser”, hitting CMD-I to make changes to the whole group (all songs in an album, all songs by an artist, all songs in a genre, respectively) brings up a dialog “Are you sure you want to do this? Cancel / Yes”.

When multiple songs are selected, the dialog that asks if you’re sure has a “Don’t ask again” checkbox; I expect the browser dialog to respect that setting; but if not (worst case scenario) it should offer its own. Who needs the confirmation in the first place, anyway? Bug ID# 4306979.


iTMS and offline info

The Window menu’s “Get CD Track Names” only works for CDs; when importing, iTunes should save the CD info required for later retrieval in offline situations. iTunes should supply its own album art and lyrics, when available in the iTunes Music Store. Even if the country I live in isn’t yet supported by the iTMS. Bug ID# 4306999.

More metadata

Give me extensible song metadata, if it’s allowed in the MP3/MP4 spec. Let me label a song’s nationality (smart playlist example: all French songs). I guess this can be done with Grouping and Comments as it stands, but it’s a bit limiting.

Multiple items of metadata

More flexible metadata. Let me assign multiple values to fields; let me assign a song to multiple genres, multiple artists, multiple albums, even. Use those nice blue things from Mail.app if you like via NSTokenField. Bug ID# 4306992.


“Show:” in the General prefpane should include “Podcasts” and “Music Store”, from the Parental pane. It makes no sense to separate them. (And who comes up with the idea that parents would want to restrict their children from listening to Podcasts? I mean, when they’re having their meeting and they could fix bugs or add this specific feature…)

The zoom button

This is quite ridiculous. This button is the most non-standard thing that Apple’s ever done, arguably. And it sucks. iTunes window too big because of screen resolution changes? Want to make it as big as possible on your small 12” PowerBook screen? You’re out of luck, sorry. Try learning Applescript.

The ability to play videos

Get rid of the damn bloat. I want iTunes to play my music; if you’ve got bright ideas about an all in one media player, for God’s sake come at it fresh rather than tacking on features in an already weird-feeling app. Pierre Igot, who becomes more and more outspoken the longer I read his stuff (only occasionally, sorry), has similar things to say. That whole 1000 monkey syndrome again, I’m afraid.


Don’t forget that the project manager of iTunes was the original creator of SoundJam, which had theme support including ugly and uglier (Links courtesy of The True Story of Audion, the other app that could have been iTunes in another universe. Great story, that.)

I guess the hideous number of gradients all over the place in iTunes isn’t quite as bad as it could be. But really—get someone to redesign that main screen so that it looks awesome. This is your flagship application, Apple. If I had the time, I’d take a crack at a mock-up myself.

All those buttons at the bottom of the window

  • Eject: Get rid of it; put it next to the CD icon. Make it disabled when there’s no CD in the drive!
  • Visualiser: Don’t care. Get rid of it; it is never used.
  • Equaliser: I don’t use it, but I can see the point. May as well leave it.
  • AirTunes speakers: Gold. Love it. Leave it right there.
  • Shuffle & Repeat: Never use ‘em, but gotta have ‘em I suppose. Move them over next to the equaliser.
  • Add playlist and show album art? Now they’re by themselves, may as well leave them as is.


Let me remove those ugly words from the toolbar (“Search” and “Burn Disc”). I know what they mean by now!

Application support

iTunes doesn’t use the “Application Support” folder in ~/Library . Bug ID# 4306990.


Too many bugs, not enough time. Stay tuned, I suppose.

Update: a more thought out (less off the time of the head, in other words) criticism of iTunes is also available from Membranophonist's Ramblings.


Performa like it’s 2005

Okay, so I was going to write a pre-event article to try and sort things out in my head, but it obviously didn’t come together in time. And, benefit of hindsight and all, now I have more tangible things to say.

It was quite obvious to me that Apple wouldn’t hold a “One more thing” special event if the only thing debuting were updated PowerMacs (overdue, but not sexy) and last-legs updated PowerBooks (overdue, even less enticing). The question was: what?

That is a question easily answered by hordes upon hordes of fans who eagerly awaited the announcement. I’m very pleased to hear about the “Media-Centre” iMac, and I’m nicely surprised by the Video Store & Video iPod. I’m less pleased about the PowerMac/PowerBook situation, but that will surely rectify itself in time.

First, about the Media Centre iMac. I had incredible flashbacks back to, oh, 1997 or so, when I had my Perform 6400. This little beast was underpowered and overpriced, but there were two things it had that made it solid gold. One: IR remote control, that could even turn on the computer. Second: a TV Tuner, and software to record TV onto the hard drive.

Can you believe that it’s 2005 and we’re turning the corner on returning to this design? The computer industry rarely goes around in circles, but in this case I don’t know how else to describe the situation. I find it all quite amusing, at any rate.

Moving on to what is available in the 2005 Perform 6400 (on average, it’s exactly 10 times the clock speed, too. Coincidence? Well, probably.) Integrated iSight is nice, in a value-add kind of way. PCs have been including web-cams in their ridiculous bundle deals for years, now, but they’ve never really been that useful to that many people from what I gather. Even with broadband levels increasing as they are, will that change in the future? My guess is probably not really.

And what’s missing: TV connectivity. It is extremely true that this would make a great dorm room TV (but where’s the TV Tuner?), but a living room (much more common in space-available Adelaide) situation is another story entirely. I haven’t looked at the bandwidth figures, but if Apple could stream video à la Airport Express, I think they would have announced that today as well.

Now that I say that, of course, I realise I’m kind of lying. 320x240 movies from the iTunes Music Store will stream just fine, and higher quality wouldn’t be out of the question, either. I suspect the cost of integrating a Quicktime decoder into an Airport Express is a little expensive right now, given the hardware that would require.

And now that I’ve mentioned that thing where people who aren’t from Australia can buy music, I’d like to segue into the video iPod. Thinner, flat-faced (same as the iPod nano, if you didn’t notice) design with a bigger screen really is quite nice.

But whoever’s in charge of the iTunes division really needs to get a clue. The iTunes’ features are just been tacked on here and there, without any thought for what used to be the best-designed media interface in the world.

I’ll pay the thought that Apple didn’t really consider selling video too seriously when they started the iTunes Music Store, but now that they’re branching out, it would be a really great idea to stop with the damn music label for something that is now quite blatantly not exclusively related to music. Hell, even keeping podcasts in iTunes was a bit of a stretch, and now we’re (if we could) buying video there as well?

I respect that Apple has a huge brand in “iPod”, but I don’t think the same is true of the “iTunes Music Store”. I predict they’ll drop the “Music” part sooner rather than later, and probably about the same time that the video store becomes actually popular.

But what to do about iTunes? I suspect that there is a significant investment in that name, explaining Apple’s desire to piggy-back it with features that don’t make sense. This rapid version shift from 5 to 6 is certainly one of drunkenbatman’s “canaries”, from my point of view, and I simply don’t understand what they think they’re doing.

Two side notes that I’ll never manage to flesh out an entire article with

Apple’s earnings thing was certainly very interesting, and they seemed to display some great results. I don’t understand what the hell they’re doing with $8 BILLION cash when the Finder is still pain-inducing. And that’s pretty lucky they brought out the Mac mini: 202,000 sold out of 600,000ish desktops is well done in my eyes – Bill Palmer may end up not to have been proved correct after all. (I like the guy, don’t get me wrong.)

Finally: iPod has market share of 75% of all MP3 players? That’s some numbers. With the iPod nano, I’m sure they’ll keep it up. Let’s use some of that clout to get the iTMS down here in Australia already.


Will on Gruber

Today was money spending day. Don’t let anyone know. Actually, it wasn’t for much, but it was for two items that normally I wouldn’t consider buying. And they’re both related to feeds. (By feeds, I “mean” RSS, but I try and avoid acronyms and marketing terms as much as possible.)

Since NetNewsWire’s creator has joined ranks with NewsGator for new and wonderful things, Rory Prior over there with NewsMac Pro decided to announce a 40% off special for a little while to mark the occassion. Not sure exactly how those two events are linked, but I figured “Hey, I haven’t bought a feed reader yet (still on NNW Lite), and this is cheap (only $20 Australian), and I like the way Rory is experimental with interface design, so…why not?”. While I’m not enamoured at first touch, my thoughts on this app will follow at a later date. I’m reluctant to comment too much now, since I know new versions are around the corner.

And on to my second purchase. In a related way, I was browsing the internet (wasting time, as they say) and I finally got sick of reloading http://daringfireball.net/linked/ manually (Don’t miss that he mentioned my drunkenbatman-spread piece :) , and note that he did point me out for not really knowing anything. Which I confess to because it’s true—this man tells it like it is.) and coughed up $20 for membership to daringfireball. No, I won’t wear one of his t-shirts, no matter how much I like his writing.

The thing about John Gruber is that he’s one of those “perfect” writers with whom I so very rarely disagree. The money also goes in gratitude to Markdown, which I consider a very fine piece of work and which fundamentally made me reconsider how I wanted to write markup. Why indeed bother writing this is <em>empasised</em> text or this is \emph{empasised} text when it’s so much easier (and more natural) to write this is *empasised* text ?

Sure, there is always txt2tags, which is almost identical (it is slightly more powerful than Markdown, albeit with greater complexity), but I heard of Markdown first. It’s the first initial contact with an idea that creates the association.

Not to mention SmartyPants, without which my posts here would be much more tedious to write. And man, how I would hate to see no em-dashes and curly quotes here.

I do have mixed feelings about paying for membership to a single writer, which is why I didn’t sign up in the beginning. But really, everything this man writes is gold and I do want to be able to pay to continue reading that. Additionally, the linked list covers a broad amount of material while being (almost) infallibly interesting to me, and even small snippets of Gruber are better than nothing. Also, imagine if I end up one day (hey, 24 is still young) as clever as him and people pay me to do what I’m doing now? In the reverse situation, it would be kind of nice.



So this guy, drunkenbatman, is upset with the way Apple’s development process for Mac OS X has kind of exploded in breadth but at a cost of depth; not enough developers and too many apps to work on. Not enough time for each app means more bugs and less polish.

I pinged him my sad story about that tiny Preview bug, since I know he digs that kind of thing, and as a result, that bug has fallen across many more eyes than I would have really expected. Some people say its not even a bug; that inodes shouldn’t be used because they’re not portable across file systems; etc. But those comments are missing the big picture: that there are people writing applications at Apple who don’t know the way the Mac works.

The most interesting comment, in my eyes, demonstrated some understandings of Apple’s inner workings:

Well, if you have broad knowledge of Apple’s development team, this wouldn’t surprise you. There are critical parts of OS X Server written by interns. Apps like Preview have very small developer teams, so you really fall back on individual competencies. Apple has been adding developers as a pace that must have easily outstripped the supply of experienced and interested OS X developers long ago. So new hires are Windows/unix/open source experienced, Cocoa is a whole new animal to many of them, and Apple tends to hire rather talented and experienced developers, which means they want to do things their way.

This all sorts out, but it takes a version or two from what I can see.

Okay, so what to do about this sort of thing? On the one hand, responses from bugreport.apple.com that demonstrate inadequacy are reasons to hold the system in despair and make us want to reject the whole thing.

On the other hand, well, bugs do get fixed, even if the vast majority are simply marked duplicate and not fixed for another 18 months. And in the cases that the community can educate the developers in Apple (as backwards as that may be), the opportunity should be grasped as firmly as possible. The Radar bug reporting mechanism is the only crack in Apple’s closed-wall approach that the whole community can reach through, and as a whole it’s up to us to help them in the situations where/when it’s needed, rather than shooting down the only people actually capable of helping us.

Only through experience can these newly-minted Apple developers get a feel for how they should be writing their applications, and positive feedback from the community is a fantastic way to do this. I wondered about the applebugfriday meme for a while trying to decide if it would do more harm than good: lots and lots of extra bugs being reported in the system so much so that the infrastructure to deal with them collapses. I’ve come to conclusion, however, that this isn’t the case, and (provided that people actually file unique bugs, or at least re-submit bugs with new spin over ones they’ve read about) that applebugfriday is perhaps the only way to add the level of polish to Mac OS X and its apps that it is currently missing.

So let’s cross our fingers that there are people listening and learning, (and that applebugfriday is a well replicating meme) and file away our little insignificant bugs until the whole operating system sparkles.


Preview.app followup from Apple

Oh dear. I’m not encouraged. My reply (the fact that I received one being something that I’m quite pleased about) from engineering at Apple regarding my most recent bug report (that is, bug #4273090, about how bookmarks to PDF files within Preview.app break if their path changes) states that the behaviour I suggest (i.e., the bookmark doesn’t break) is impossible:

[Name removed out of consideration]: Engineering has determined this issue behaves as intended based on the following information:

If you move the file, how would Preview know where you’d moved it?  This kind of thing only works with applications because of the launch services mechanism and the Finder. Since Preview isn’t running all the time, it can’t receive notifications of when every file on your disk is moved, and you probably wouldn’t want Preview being launched every time you move or rename a file.

I can’t begin to describe how I feel about this. The first sentence destroys every hope that I had that Apple hires exclusively Really Clever People. Which is why I included the name that appeared in the email as well [UPDATE: actually, I’ve now removed it after the suggestion of someone more wise than myself]. It is unconscionable that a developer working for Apple doesn’t know that Mac OS X can refer to files in the file system via a unique ID that is independent of their location—haven’t these people been using aliases for years? Apparently not.

Poke around some of Apple’s documentation to read more: “On HFS and HFS+ file systems, each file and folder has a unique, persistent identity. Aliases use this identity along with pathname information to find files and folders on the same volume.”

And that was with just five minutes Googling. Sheesh. Let’s get our act together, okay?