Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Post-Modern Equivalent of Brass Candlesticks

In this day and age, not many folks still have brass candlesticks to polish. But we apparently have a replacement activity: Apple nano polishing

via: Make. .


The highlight of an interview with Jeff Jones of IBM Analyst Relations:
What are things you would change?

I would rewrite PowerPoint to allow no more than 10 charts in any presentation. I would rewrite Notes' calendar feature to disallow the creation of meeting invitations that lack at least five sentences of explanation as to the purpose of the meeting. I would also remove the recurring meetings feature of Notes' calendar.

I don't mind the recurring feature so much. (Although when I worked for a vendor, I did accumulate a lot of pointless weekly meetings over time so I know where he's coming from.) But "no more than 10 charts." Yes!


Knowing Cultural Context

Tokyo-based blogger Sean Kinsell eviscerates this WaPost story purporting to find a new girlyness among Japanese men. For a primer on how important local knowledge is to understanding any supposed trend, this post is hard to beat.

Worthwhile reading. I don't have any good links handy but I can't count the number of times that I've read something which drew broad brush conclusions about behaviors or trends in a city or place. (Of course, local reporters do this too.)

via Virginia Postrel

Friday, September 23, 2005

Opting In and Opting Out

We're starting to hear the "Opt Out" defense a lot in some recent copyright cases, first with the Internet Library (which I discussed here, here, and here) and now with Google's tussle with the Author's Guild. As Tim at O'Reilly Radar comments:
Google's opt-out position is exactly the right one. If we were to wait for publishers to opt in, only current, in print works would get into the index.

I think he's almost certainly right. Because inertia and fear of losing control of their IP, most publishers would probably think it simpler and safer to do nothing. However, as I commented earlier in the Internet Library situation, it hard to see the legal significance of providing an opt-out mechanism. The sort of archiving that Google is doing may or may not fall under fair use (I don't really have an opinion on that, but let publishers opt-out is just a courtesy. Here's what an expert has to say (The Patry Copyright Blog--a great, if very detailed and technical source, for copyright discussions):
The legal issue remains the same, however: whether copying of an entire work without authorization is an infringement where the ultimate user is able to see only a few sentences of the original. Since fair use is an unconsented to use, the fact that publishers object doesn't matter, regardless of the chutzpadik way Google may have handled the issue (The Second Circuit is divided on whether bad faith is a fair use factor). And whether Google is actually an advertising behemoth that doesn't want its own service to be used to investigate itself, whether it is, therefore, a false great white knight in the culture wars (if there are any) shouldn't matter either.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

More Wikipedia Weakness

It's often tempting to give Wikipedia a pass. After all, many of its most egregious errors get fixed over time--at least if the topic isn't controversial and the article has had enough time to "settle down" from breaking news or changing facts. But, as I've commented before here, here, and here, when Wikipedia is bad, it can be pretty bad.

Case in point, the other day I happened to run across an article on Data General AViiON servers, a topic with which I have a more than passing acquaintance. I was the product manager for the first AViiONs and handled marketing for many products of successive generations. Now this is the type of article on which one would probably be inclined to trust Wikipedia to get things more or less right. After all, it's an uncontroversial technical topic of the dead (but not too distant) past.

Don't trust those instincts. Apparently the article is also sufficiently off the beaten path that it hasn't had a chance to benefit from the Wikipedia "community" because it's rife with howling factual errors. It has SCO writing DG/UX (Data General's flavor of Unix) for example, contains basic misconceptions about Non-Uniform Memory Access (NUMA) architectures (an important piece of the AViiON line), and its storyline about DG's historical competition with DEC is pretty far off-base. But my intent here isn't to belabor the details--many will probably be fixed eventually, perhaps by me. And, I've seen trade press articles almost as bad. But this serves as yet another cautionary tale. Even where Wikipedia "should" be good, it often is not. Exercise appropriate caution.

Monday, September 19, 2005

DVD Wars

I'm not an expert on this stuff, but this writeup from Engadget seems to do a nice job of cutting to the basics of the Blu-ray vs, HD DVD fight (with a nice precis of DVD history into the bargain). Bottom line?
Still with us? No? Blu-ray discs are more expensive, but hold more data; there, that's all.

So now that you know why Blu-ray discs cost more and why Sony/Philips and Toshiba are all harshing on one another so much, we can get to the really important stuff: the numbers, and who’s supporting who.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Disk To Flash

Yes, it's been a while since I've posted. My bad. Lots of travel in various permutations of business and pleasure and the organizational wreckage that comes from such. (Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, hiking around Mt. Shasta and Point Reyes, Sun's "Galaxy" launch in NY, etc.) But I'm more or less dug out now.

To me, one of the more interesting aspects of the iPod nano announcement was that it's replacing the mini in Apple's product line--and thereby, in a single stroke, shifting a huge chunk of portable MP3 player volumes from disk to flash. (The iPod mini uses a hard disk while the nano uses flash memory.) Does this presage even more shifts from spinning steel to silicon?

The short answer is probably yes. The longer one is a bit more complicated.

Certainly it's hard to see the shift as anything but a complete one for many, many years to come. This post by Illuminata colleague Tom Deane gives some of the reasons. Price per bit is one big issue. Limited read/write cycles are another. Just as tape continues to exist alongside disks, disks will continue to exist alongside flash.

However, flash is well on its way to eclipsing disk for most really portable applications. Advantages like size, ruggedness, and lower power trump somewhat higher per-bit costs for the most part. The nano's a classic case study of the tradeoffs. Apple's taken the somewhat daring move of replacing its wildly popular mini with a device that's more expensive per capacity today. It's betting that the svelteness and longer batter life of the nano make up for giving up storage. One can reasonably argue with the timing; I would probably disagree, but it's a plausible argument that Apple could have waited until some price crossover point was reached. But there can be little dispute that flash continues to take over disk territory in these handheld (and smaller) devices.

That's because Moore's Law is outpacing usage models. Human hearing isn't getting better. We're not better able to watch movies on a small LCD screen. Useful digital photo resolution ahsn't plateaued yet but it's probably getting close. In other words, we're rapidly moving towards points where additional capacity in many types of devices becomes less and less important relative to other characteristics such as lightness of weight. As flash memories rapidly head into the multi-GB range, the size and number of MP3 files aren't increasing apace.

The replacement of disk by flash is one implication of these intersecting curves. Another is that silicon technology will increasingly not be a factor in how many functions can be crammed into a single device. Which isn't to say that everything will be. There are certainly user interface issues (which Apple can probably solve as well as anyone) as well as more subtle and less rationalist issues of style and brand.