Monthly Archive for January, 2007

HD Photo will be awesome… In 2010?

John Nack’s post on HD Photo reminded me that I wanted to write something about this. HD Photo is part of Vista and used to be called Windows Meda Photo. It’s a new file format for representing images, which looks to be superior to JPEG in every way except one. Apparently, Microsoft holds some patents on HD Photo which don’t expire until (at least) 2010. That means that it won’t be possible to build open source implementations of HD Photo. There is a lot of code out in the world that relies on an open source JPEG decompressor, and that code isn’t going to be able to do HD Photo for quite some time.

Technically HD Photo sounds great, and as a photographer I can easily appreciate the benefits of the new format. But this reminds me of the whole proprietary RAW format issue. People are recording their life in their photos, and it’s important for them to know that they will be able to bring those photographs forward with them no matter what file format they chose. I think that Microsoft could set themselves apart as a leader here by changing the licensing of HD Photo. They’ve already done it once.

Adobe opened up PDF this week. It would be awesome for photographers and the users of digital pictures if Microsoft would do the same for HD Photo.

Dreaming in Code

Scott Rosenberg mailed me a copy of of his book, Dreaming in Code, as a thank you for an interview that I did with him. This is a book about why software development is hard, and it features the Chandler project as a case study. It feels odd to open up a book and see someone else’s description of part of your life. Of course, I wanted to know what Scott had written about me, so tracing through the index was the first thing that I did. It was interesting to see which events Scott thought were noteworthy: the half-phone/half-IRC demo, the 2005 PyCon sprint, and my memo to Mitch Kapor on the state of the OSAF communites. I was relieved to see that everything about me was accurate. Well, except for one small thing. In my initial mention, I’m credited with “some of the early work on the XML data standard”. I did work on IBM’s XML4J parser, which became Apache’s Xerces-J parser, but I never did any work on the XML spec or standard itself. About half of the book takes place before I worked at OSAF, and I really can’t comment on the accuracy of the stuff that happened before I got there. I wasn’t there, and while I’ve heard some stories I also know that there’s so much more that happened that isn’t in the stories that I’ve been told.

Unfortunately, Dreaming in Code leaves the reader hanging. Scott had to wrap up his book project before we were able to ship a version of Chandler suitable for general usage (there are bleeding edge people using it now), and we are still at least several months away from reaching that goal. One of the reasons that I came to OSAF was to build open source software that non-technical people would want to use, and I (and everyone else working on Chandler and Cosmo) am acutely aware that we haven’t reached that mark yet. Quite a bit has changed since Scott had to leave us, and he posted a follow up that tries to fill in the gap between when the book left off and the present, and Katie Parlante has posted a status update for all of the OSAF projects on the OSAF blog. If you are interested in how the story of Chandler and Cosmo continues, I think that the best thing to do is to look at the mailing lists for the Chandler and Cosmo projects, as well as the OSAF wiki, where you can be up to date on the latest developments.

Growlified Tweet

I’ve updated Tweet, the Applescript Quicksilver action for Twitter, so that it sends a Growl notification when it completes. The code is here.

Social social networking

It seems like I’ve been doing a lot of stuff involving social networks recently.

Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/twleung)
Most of the fun activity in Flickr revolves around finding people that inspire me or who share some common interest. Sometimes that is even extending into the real world, as it did during last week’s SFlickr meetup.

Upcoming (http://upcoming.org/user/12327/)
Also last week was the first time that I really used Upcoming.org in any major way. I got an account when I went to the SFlickr meetup last May, but besides that use, I hadn’t done anything – no friends, no nothing. Since Macworld turned out to be the same week, I ended up following a number of the events at Macworld using Upcoming. I took the trouble to add friends, and subscribe to a few Upcoming RSS feeds, and this gave me no shortage of options for activities during the week. The combination of friends and locations seems to be a good fit for the way that I’d like to find out about events, especially while I am travelling.

LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/in/tedleung)
Guy Kawasaki has written a pair of great posts on how to use LinkedIn more effectively. Of all the job or professional social networks, LinkedIn is the only one that has actually been any good for me. I’ve had several solicitations for contract work (even though I am not consulting any more) and I’ve seen some reasonable jobs go by (not that I am looking). I definitely feel that it is worthwhile to maintain my LinkedIn information, and to add people to my network. I’ve been much more stringent about letting people into the network, particularly since I’ve been asked to recommend people to each other, and I want to feel comfortable about doing that.

Twitter (http://twitter.com/twleung)
The most recent of the social applications is Twitter. Twitter is an app for letting you put your status out into the cloud. Your status will be recorded on a web page that people can see, and it will also be pushed to people via IM (I was having terrible luck getting IM notifications until I switched to the Jabber IM bot) or SMS (I turned this off early on before I exceeded my text message limit). You can also post status updates via the web, IM, or SMS.

It might seem like IM status messages would be enough, but they turn out not to be. At OSAF, we have a decently distributed staff using a number of communications media: IM (on multiple networks), IRC, and Skype. When I go away from my computer for lunch or an errand, I want to let people in the community know. Today, I have to go update the status of all those media. Also, in some of those media, your status information could turn into a message that scrolls off screen and gets missed. The fact that Twitter archives your updates on a web page is a great thing. For distributed working groups it provides a kind of status glue that makes up for some of the lost in person interactions. Up to a point — I’ve noticed that some people are using Twitter as if it were IM, having entire conversations through it. If you are using some kind of realtime monitoring, like IM, then this turns annoying very quickly, as you are privy to all kinds of conversations that don’t affect you, complete with IM notification sounds. If Twitter had the ability to send Tweets to groups of people, that would really help a lot. I also wish that it was easier to find people. The little pictures of people are cute but hard to read, and having to mouse over them individually to get more detail is RSI inducing.

There’s a small ecosystem springing up around Twitter. There are Ruby command line tools (sadly, I couldn’t get them to work because Ruby Gems is messed up on OS 10.4), Python/Growl notifiers (works, but high maintenance), and shiny Mac tools like twitterific. Someone has even written an Applescript Quicksilver action, Tweet, for posting. There are still a few things on my wishlist: 1) for Twitterific to both have it’s little history window and to deliver changes via Growl, and 2) to be able to set my status in Adium, Snak, and Skype based on Tweets.

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SFlickr 20070111

My trip to OSAF last week was “bingo” kind of week. Not only did the week overlap with Macworld, but it also overlapped with the San Francisco Flickr (SFlickr) meeting. Of all the Web 2.0/social networking sites, Flickr seems to have done the best job of actually extending the network into the real world. There are a bunch of these local gatherings all around the country. We have one in Seattle, which I’ve gotten to once and almost gotten to a bunch of times.

This was the second time that I’ve made it to the SFlickr meetup, and I got to see/participate in the community a bit more this time. During the scheduled meeting there was the usual mad meta photographing, as well as discussion of people’s work, and equipment. Many of the people that I met last May were not around, but I did add a bunch of new people to my contacts list, and I found it just as easy to meet people as I did last time.

I was particularly interested in the ST-E2′s that Maximum Mitch and John Curley were using. I’ve been considering getting one of these to trigger my 580EX remotely. I’ve got my Strobist SB-24 and sync cord, but something is broken with that setup at the moment, and I need to sort that all out. But the corded setup is unwieldy for some of the situtations that I’d like to be in. After watching Mitch goofing around with it during the meeting, I am pretty sure that I am going to get one of these.

After the meeting ended, a group of us went to Skylark to hang out and keep on talking. Oh, and to shoot. The patrons at Skylark must have thought that they were the subject of some kind of magazine shoot. Flashes were going off all over, and a number of us were asked what magazine all of this was going to be in. There was also a scary kind of moment when an unhappy patron warned us not to take his picture, but the owner of the bar and the bouncers seemed to be totally into our presence, so we didn’t end up in any trouble. Mitch let me borrow his ST-E2 so that I could see for myself how it worked — which is to say very well. I didn’t have any flash failures except for the times when I covered the sensor on the 580 with my hand, and I forgot that the ST-E2 acts as an autofocus assist even if you don’t have a flash. John was using his mostly for this purpose and got some beautiful low light shots.

To top it all off, after we left Skylark and were heading back to the car, we encountered a band that was walking the street, on their way somewhere. We convinced them to stop and do some posing for us. Beware the SF Flickrazzi! Special thanks thanks to ms_trouble, tshane, maidelba (for the ST-E2 time), picsfromj (for the ride to Skylark) and jay_que (John Curley) (for making sure I got home)

My set from the night is here.

Thoughts on Macworld

I’m in San Francisco, but not expressly for the purpose of attending Macworld. Moscone Center is on the way from my hotel to the OSAF offices, and it’s easy to get a free exhibit pass, so I managed to drop into Macworld for an hour. When I was in college, I used to go to the Macworld that was in Boston, and when we lived in Silicon Valley, I used to go to Macworld for a day. During the years that I worked at Apple, I even worked booth duty in the Apple/Newton booth. In that sense, I’m not a stranger to Macworld. At the same time, I’ve been doing stuff related to Java or open source since I left Apple, and I think that this is the first Macworld that I’ve been to (if you can count an hour) since then. It’s also the first Macworld that I’ve been to since the iPod came out. So I felt a little bit of culture shock as I went in to the exhibits. It feels, well, very commercial. There were tons of companies who were just selling stuff at discounts. B&H Photo had two separate booth areas. I’d say that about half of the booths were iPod related. I don’t remember Shure and Etymotics having booths at previous Macworlds, but they are there this year. Of course, there were also the usual Macintosh hardware and software vendors, with their large booths and theaters. And it goes without saying that the biggest and most centrally located booth belonged to Apple. Since it was the second day of the exhibits, there were no surprise discoveries to be made. Due to RSS, I’d already heard about the products that were being announced, so I took brief glances, and refused most of the product literature sheets. There were a few times when I stopped to look at products that just have to be seen. Things like monitors and color printers just need to be seen in person to get an accurate feel for them. Since Duncan has been writing about the HP 9180, I stopped to see what the fuss was about. One the whole, though, the web has drastically reduced my need to go stalk the floor at Macworld.

What the web can’t replace, however, is the social component that surrounds an event like Macworld. Tuesday night I was fortunate enough to go to dinner with a small number of Macintosh developers. The setting was small enough that you could hear all the conversations and ask questions (if you dared). Again, it was a bit of a culture shock (although not totally foreign, as I have done my share of commercial software development in the past), and it was interesting to me to listen to the conversations and hear the experiences. I’m not sure I’ve ever been in on something like this before — I worked at Apple and big companies, and I worked for myself as a small business owner, but I appreciated the chance to hear about the life of the small software developers that make the Mac software ecosystem great.

What is iPhone?

So a very odd keynote at Macworld yesterday. There was nothing said about Macintosh related products at all, which surprised everyone, and probably annoyed a number of people. Clearly Steve Jobs wanted to send a very direct message about the future of Apple.

As I said before, I wasn’t really that excited about the idea of an iPhone, because I didn’t (and don’t) consider a cross between and iPod and a telephone to be very interesting. I think that how you react to iPhone depends on how you view it. Even though it is a converged device, I think that people still view it through a primary modality: widescreen/video iPod, telephone, or internet device.

As an iPod, there are cool features: the touch screen based interface, the quality and resolution of the display, CoverFlow, the ability to play video. But there also drawbacks, the biggest being the amount of storage being offered.

Most of the coverage that I have read emphasizes the telephone aspects of iPhone. The iPhone UI works the way that I would like a phone to work. The interface for call management, putting people on hold, the ability to use e-mail and the web browser while on a call, and the visual voicemail feature, are the kinds of features that any mobile telephone ought to have, and just about every other phone UI is clunky in comparison. I know that the Series 60 in my Nokia 6600 does. The ability to seamlessly switch between the Wifi network and the cellphone network is also a big plus, although we didn’t see that in action. Perhaps we’ll see this capability in a future Macintosh as well.

There are a lot of issues around the telephone features. Many people will be unhappy with iPhone being locked to Cingular, although the choice of GSM means that the only additional options in the US would be T-Mobile. Part of this is due to the collaboration between Apple and Cingular on visual voicemail, which is one of phone features that appeals to me the most, since I hate voice mail interfaces with a passion. There’s also a big question around the pricing of data plans, but more on that shortly. As a phone device, there are some scary features. Battery life is a short if you look at being able to fully use that converged device throughout the course of an 8-12 hour day. The battery is not replaceable, which seems to ignore the physics/chemistry of battery wear. As a phone, I think that there are some questions about single handed use, although I think the use case is more for texting than for one handed use while driving (scary). The durability of the screen is also an issue since the interface is completely dependent on the screen.

I personally view the iPhone as an Internet access device. This is the functionality that interests me the most, since it is the functionality that I wish for the most when I am untethered.

The promise of having Safari on a phone and being able to run AJAX apps on that form factor is very appealing, and I was very excited about this until I watched the keynote video. In the video, Google Maps is a separate application from Safari. It’s possible that this is a widget style application, which would be okay, but not great. So from what I’ve seen so far, the jury is out on whether we can really do AJAX on iPhone, which I think is important. Also, there doesn’t appear to be a GPS in the iPhone, which is curious given the promotion of Google Maps. I’m sure there must be some hardware related limitation here, but location information is pretty important to mobile applications.

I also liked what I saw of the mail client, especially support for IMAP, since I do a lot of e-mail. The touchscreen isn’t a real keyboard, but I think it’s a step up from a phone keypad.

Steve demo’ed an iChat like interface to SMS, which is definitely and improvement in my mind. It doesn’t look like iChat was present on the phone, and that’s something that I’d like to see. SMS is cool, but in the US, they charge for those messages, and if you want to have things like twitterbot, you’ll go broke inside of a week.

Many people have pointed out the 2G/3G issues and the uncertainty around Cingular’s data plan pricing. Lack of 3G is definitely disappointing. iPhone would be awesome at EVDO speeds, but it doesn’t look like we are going to get that. My 6600 is on GPRS, and the the speed is definitely an issue. You might have Safari, but if the pipe is slow, that’s not much help. You also want unlimited bandwidth usage, so Cingular’s data pricing is going to influence the success of the iPhone, and I can only hope that Steve Jobs managed to work some deal for iPhone subscribers.

The last and perhaps biggest problem is the third party applications issue. Right now it appears that 3rd party applications will not be allowed on iPhone. All the reports that I’ve read say that users won’t be able to install applications. I’ve had a few conversations in person that suggest that this may not be a permanent situation, but until it changes, this is a problem. Couple this with uncertainty about AJAX support in the iPhone Safari, and things start to look a bit less cool.

I was pretty excited about the iPhone. When I was at Apple and the disposition of the Newton division was uncertain, there was a cell handset company that was interested in acquiring Newton, but it didn’t work out. I was really disappointed when that didn’t work out. The concept of the iPhone that we saw yesterday is what Newton should have become, but I think that there are still a few things that will hold the initial iPhone back. I think that all those issues will get fixed in time, but it’s frustrating to see that they weren’t addressed in the initial product.

I’ll end with some good iPhone links:
Engadget’s keynote reportage
David Pogue’s hands on time
Time’s coverage
Some perspectives from Europe
Updated: I incorrectly attributed the Microsoft Watch post to Mary Jo Foley – my apologies!
Microsoft Watch’s view

Obligatory Pre-Macworld Post

‘Tis the season for MacWorld predictions. I’m not going to predict much, but I am going to comment on what I’d like to see at MacWorld and some of that will overlap with popular rumors.

New Macs
I don’t think there’s much excitement here. One of the results of the transition to Intel is that you can get pretty decent visibility into the basic skeleton of future Mac by looking at the Intel roadmaps. So we might see an 8 core MacPro, although it’s seems like it would be awkwardly positioned, since the clock speed on the 8 way machines is relatively slow, and it doesn’t seem like there are many apps, even Photoshop (see this excellent post at John Nack’s blog), that could really take advantage of the cores at this point. Still we know that the 4 core Xeons exist, and that they can work in the Mac Pro as it exist today. So maybe it will happen just because it can.

On the notebook front, you have the availability of Intel’s Centrino Pro/Santa Rosa chipset, which includes Robson flash technology. This might combine with the rumors about LED backlit notebooks, which could mean new laptops, and possibly that top to bottom Pro laptop refresh that I wished for last year. The only problem with this theory is that Centrino Pro hasn’t shipped yet.

There are a few things that could happen that would get my attention. I’m likely in the market for a Mac Pro sometime this year – primarily for the memory expansion capability. A notebook that went to 4GB or more would be interesting, and a smaller Mac Pro would also probably get my attention. Since I am looking for a machine to do lots of Aperture (and Photoshop and general hacking), a GeForce 8800 series video card option on Mac Pro would be cool, as would some better hardware RAID support so that you could make really good use of those new 1TB drives. Blu-Ray or HD-DVD burners are interesting as backup solutions. But these are all at the periphery of the system because Apple is constrained to what Intel has today. Unless Steve has charmed Paul Otellini into holding out on the whole rest of the world, which I think unlikely.

New Displays
New LCD displays with iSight’s aren’t interesting in and of themselves, but if they have the increased color gamut of the Dell 3007WFP-HC or the HP LP-3065, then that would be noteworthy.

Leopard
Mostly what I am looking for is a ship date. We saw a bunch of stuff at WWDC, and I know there is the secret stuff, but I don’t have many expectations here. If there is something cool, that would be fine. The biggest things I want from OS X are more performance and more stability. In particular, I want Spotlight to be usable — it is just too slow now.

iLife/iWork
We all know this is coming, I mean the products have the year in them, after all. The only piece of iLife that I used to use was iPhoto, and now I have Aperture. I will be paying attention, though, because Julie is using both iPhoto and iMovie.

Wide screen video iPod
I have a 3G iPod that’s still going strong. If the thing is really wide and full screen, it might be a great way to take a photographic portfolio around, but I’m not really in the market for that yet. It would be cool, but I won’t be lining up with my credit card if it launches.

iPhone
I’m not sure what I think about this. Replacing a phone and and iPod sounds cool, except that what I want from a phone and what I want from an iPod are different. What I want from an iPod is wide-video. What I want from a phone is clamshell (small size), very tight, wireless, integration with my computer (ala Parliant’s PhoneValet or even further), ability to run apps, GPS, long battery life, and being on a clueful 3G/EVDO carrier. Music isn’t that high on the list.

Not very high expectations, but that ought to make it easy to impress me. I’m more interested in the Canon PMA announcements than I am about MacWorld. Other than for standard extrapolations of current systems, things are working pretty well for me in Mac land.

Hats off to the iTerm folks

Hat’s off to the iTerm folks. During my PowerPC OS X days, there were very few updates of iTerm, and while I used and liked iTerm, I despaired of ever getting any bugs fixes or enhancements. Recently though, things have really picked up. Not only did iTerm go Unversal, but it also included Sparkle for automatic updates. And boy does it update now. It seems like everytime I start iTerm (which isn’t that often because it’s gotten pretty stable), there’s a new update.

So to the iTerm team: Thanks from a happy user.

Photoshop and Switching

For the most part, I’ve been very happy with Apple’s Aperture photo post production app. Of course, it’s also the only such program that I’ve ever used. When I got started in photography, I was convinced that I was not going to modify my pictures in a computer, and therefore I wasn’t that concerned with the image modification capabilities of Aperture.

However, as I’ve learned more about the art and craft of photography, I’ve also learned that many many modern photographs were altered in the darkroom, or with filters, or by some other means. One particularly important moment for me was a scene in the movie War Photographer, where James Nachtwey is working with someone in a darkroom on how to print a photo. The scene shows the actual dodging and burning being done to a wall sized print. So as I’ve learned more, I’ve accepted that someday I was going to come to the point where I would want a program like Photoshop, which could perform edits and modifications to portions of a photograph, instead of all of a photograph.

Funny thing is, that I already have a copy of Photoshop, or should I say, had. Back when we lived in Silicon Valley, I won a copy of Photoshop at a trade show. I took it home and installed it on my WIndows box, but I didn’t really have the interest or pressing need to learn how to use Photoshop. Of course, that’s all different now. And now I am back on the Mac, not on WIndows. So that copy of Windows Photoshop wasn’t really doing me any good.

I figured that I would be stuck buying a brand new copy of Photoshop once the Intel Mac version came out. On some of the photography forums that I read, some people were saying that they had convinced Adobe to allow them to upgrade a Windows Photoshop to the Mac version. I took heart from this, but didn’t do anything about it. When the Beta of Photoshop CS3 came out, I learned that Adobe was going to restrict the set of versions that would be allowed to upgrade to CS3, and version 5.5, the version that I had, was going to be dropped from the list.

I figured that two upgrades of Photoshop were still cheaper than buying a brand new copy, and finally picked up the phone and hoped that Adobe would let me upgrade. It turns out to be ridiculously easy. I called the Adobe sales phone line listed at http://www.adobe.com/buy/. The person that I talked to was very helpful and there was a clearly defined procedure for doing what I wanted. In addition to my order information, I had to fax back a form where I promised to get rid of my copy of the Windows version – no problem there. After that I was all set. Yesterday my copy of Photoshop CS2 arrived, and I installed a copy of CS3 as well. I haven’t had any time to play with them yet, but I figured that there might be a few people out there that might benefit from my experience.

Props to Adobe for making this possible – in fact, you can do this for any Adobe product that has a Mac and Windows version, and you can do it the reverse direction as well. I wish Microsoft would let me do the same from an old Office for Windows version.