North Western Winds

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Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

iPhone 4

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I saw Steve Jobs’ demo of the iPhone 4 today and must admit I find this to be an interesting product, much more so than the 3Gs of last year. If memory serves, the 3Gs added speed (always welcome) and video recording. iPhone 4 adds a lot more – and it looks better too. Jobs referred to its’ style as reminiscent of a Leica camera, and that’s no lie. Leica products look fantastic and this new phone looks like it belongs at the same table.

I purchased a iPhone 3G two years ago. It was the first iPhone available in Canada and I have no regrets about that. It’s been a great product – a boon in many, many ways. I do regret that my Roger’s contract has another year to go before it expires and I can upgrade to a phone like this this without penalty.

Since my wife and I are both iPhone users, the Face Time video calling feature looks promising, even if it is limited to WiFi. I also have some hope that the new camera will be more useful than the toy that shipped with my 3G. Finally, I would love to have a look at that new display. In my experience Apple’s displays are phenomenal and this one looks like it will raise the bar.

The only disappointment I can see is that storage is limited to 32 GB. Anything would be an improvement over the 16 GB I’ve been stuck with, but 64 would have been a real hoot. I wonder if Apple stayed with the 16 for space and / or cost saving on the device or if they have some kind of cloud storage in the works.

My hope is that by next year, we’ll know the answer to that, and I can buy accordingly!

Written by Curt

June 9, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Posted in Cell phones, Tech

The future of text

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The New Yorker still does great prose:

The Google Library Project has so far received mixed reviews. Google shows the reader a scanned version of the page; it is generally accurate and readable. But Google also uses optical character recognition to produce a second version, for its search engine to use, and this double process has some quirks. In a scriptorium lit by the sun, a scribe could mistakenly transcribe a “u” as an “n,” or vice versa. Curiously, the computer makes the same mistake. If you enter qualitas—an important term in medieval philosophy—into Google Book Search, you’ll find almost two thousand appearances. But if you enter “qnalitas” you’ll be rewarded with more than five hundred references that you wouldn’t necessarily have found. Sometimes the scanner operators miss pages, or scan them out of order. Sometimes the copy is not in good condition. The cataloguing data that identify an item are often incomplete or confusing. And the key terms that Google provides in order to characterize individual books are sometimes unintentionally comic. It’s not all that helpful, when you’re thinking about how to use an 1878 Baedeker guide to Paris, to be told that one of its keywords is “fauteuils.”

Taken from a story about the future of text by Anthony Grafton. 

Written by Curt

November 2, 2007 at 3:59 pm

Posted in Tech, Uncategorized, Writing

Microsoft patents the mother of all adware systems

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Another reason – as if you needed another reason – to avoid Microsoft products.

Microsoft patents the mother of all adware systems

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Written by Curt

July 17, 2007 at 2:26 pm

Nisus Writer Express

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Today is my first day experimenting with Nisus Writer Express, a Mac Word-processor that has been around a while, but which is new to me. I have a number of word processing programs available to me but have to admit that all of them have issues to some degree or other that make them less than ideal homes for composition.

On the PC, I used to use the free and open-source Open Office suite. It wasn’t beautiful, but it fit into the Windows desktop and did everything I needed it to do. It was also reasonably quick. Open Office is available for Mac OS X in two forms, neither of which is what I want in a Mac word processor. The main port of Open Office for Mac runs in the Unix environment called X-11. That isn’t a terrible problem, but it does give it some behaviors that are unlike those of normal OS X programs. The menu-bar doesn’t function normally, for example. It also looks and behaves just like Open Office for Windows. That might be a bonus for people who work in both environments, but since I made the switch to Mac I have tried to work in the Mac environment whenever possible. In truth, I like it OS X such that in it’s wince inducing to go back.

There is an Open Office port that is designed to fit into the Mac environment and play nice, and I have taken a long look at it. Neo Office, as it is called, is getting better with every release but it is dogged by two problems. The first is that it is a terribly slow program to fire up. The other is that while it does play nice with the Mac, it still does not feel like a Mac program. It looks like an open source copy of MS Office running on a Mac. That’s probably because that’s exactly what it is. You can see this phenomenon in screenshots of various Linux distributions too. In trying to appeal to Windows refugees, the designers’ slogan appears to be something like “our gulag is better than their gulag.” As a result, their programs look like cheap-o versions of Windows. Crashes, bugs and security issues aside, the Windows environment is not something designed for the use and enjoyment of human beings and I’m loathe to let it find its’ way back into my life.

What about Apple’s light Office suite, iWork? The short and sweet answer is that it’s OK. Pages, the word processor, looks nice and behaves as one would expect from an Apple program. It’s clean, functional and not difficult to use. It’s strength appears to be document formating, so that you can quickly make shorter documents that look great and will play nice with Keynote, the other half of iWork. Pages isn’t, however, the trusty companion of the long distance writer.

I’ve been playing with Nisus Writer Express for all of about fifteen minutes and this feels like the best word processor I’ve used in some time. I’m writing in a razor sharp full screen mode. It’s easy on the eyes and offers no distractions. I haven’t had this feeling while writing since using Word on DOS, and that certainly wasn’t as pretty as this. If I had to run it windowed, Nisus Writer makes it very easy to knock out all of the toolbars so that you’re composing in a window that looks like it could be a simplified TextEdit. When you need to do formating, the toolbars come back with one or two clicks.

Nisus also offers four clipboards, for pasting frequently used text, and an “auto correct” feature that you can add words to. Or shortcuts to words. These two features are huge time savers and very sexy. They may not be original, but neither is sex. A replacement tool is available as a stand alone product called Textpander, which sells for $30. I suppose it has the benefit of working in all of your programs, but Nisus Writer Express costs only $45 and has a lot more functionality. Why not compose there and just export/import any text you need in another program?

Nisus Writer is also fast enough that it can plausibly serve as a notepad, a function that I sometimes like to have when I’m gathering information on the web. I had been auditioning Mac Notepad, which is not a bad little program, but it doesn’t have nearly the functionality and is expensive ($20) for what you get. Those two programs alone would be more than Nisus and still wouldn’t match it. Then there’s another thing I like about Mac software – you can often buy “family packs” and get more licenses (usually three) at a reduced rate. Nisus offers a three pack for $80, which works out to $27 per copy.

For someone like me, who likes to write, and with other family members who could use a good Mac word-processor, this looks like a good find.

Written by Curt

April 13, 2007 at 11:46 am


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John Gruber at Daring Fireball takes a look at “AAC means lock-in” arguments, which were only ever valid about music purchased at the iTunes store, in light of Apple’s no DRM deal with EMI. An easy thought experiment sets us right:

Daring Fireball:

Let’s imagine for one paragraph that Microsoft’s and Apple’s digital music positions were flipped: that it was Microsoft that shipped the world-changing Zune in 2001, that they had sold 100 million Zunes to date, and that Microsoft’s online music store had 85 percent market share for legal downloads — all of them protected by Microsoft’s proprietary DRM. Can you imagine, in this scenario, Steve Ballmer or Bill Gates publishing an open letter like Jobs’s “Thoughts on Music”? Can you imagine Microsoft volunteering to switch from DRM-protected songs to an unprotected industry standard file format?

Me neither.

Microsoft would have told EMI to stick their DRM-free tracks up their ass. And the classic Microsoft, the Microsoft with a set of balls, would have told EMI that if they wanted to sell DRM-free tracks elsewhere, at other stores, that they’d suddenly find the terms changed for their songs at the market-dominating Microsoft store.

Apple is not the “Microsoft of digital music”, and everyone ought to stop trying to view their actions as though they were. Alas, that’s too much to hope for, and so in the meantime, now that Apple has proven its commitment to DRM-free music downloads, keep your eye out for anti-AAC propaganda from those pushing an anti-iTunes or anti-Apple agenda


Follow up post here.

Written by Curt

April 10, 2007 at 8:35 pm

“A user interface for nihilism”

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Nicholas Carr, brilliant again.

Rough Type: Nicholas Carr’s Blog: Twitter dot dash:

Narcissism is just the user interface for nihilism, of course, and with artfully kitschy services like Twitter we’re allowed to both indulge our self-absorption and distance ourselves from it by acknowledging, with a coy digital wink, its essential emptiness. I love me! Just kidding!

The great paradox of “social networking” is that it uses narcissism as the glue for “community.” Being online means being alone, and being in an online community means being alone together. The community is purely symbolic, a pixellated simulation conjured up by software to feed the modern self’s bottomless hunger. Hunger for what? For verification of its existence? No, not even that. For verification that it has a role to play. As I walk down the street with thin white cords hanging from my ears, as I look at the display of khakis in the window of the Gap, as I sit in a Starbucks sipping a chai served up by a barista, I can’t quite bring myself to believe that I’m real. But if I send out to a theoretical audience of my peers 140 characters of text saying that I’m walking down the street, looking in a shop window, drinking tea, suddenly I become real. I have a voice. I exist, if only as a symbol speaking of symbols to other symbols.

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Written by Curt

March 20, 2007 at 4:47 pm


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I don’t know which is funnier:

1) Stealing expensive booze and leaving a picture of yourself doing it.
2) Stealing GPS systems and forgetting to turn them off.
3) Creating a web site advertising search sites other than Google and failing to index said site.

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Written by Curt

March 18, 2007 at 5:38 pm

Posted in Humor, Tech, Uncategorized

RSS is delicious

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Creating a folder of ‘daily’ feeds folder has been a big step in making my RSS reader more useful as a reading / blogging tool. I know it seems like an obvious move, but I had been trying to get my desired results through the creation of ‘smart’ folders based on a subject. I wanted to see headlines from a wider range of sources and pull stories out of the pile via keywords. I think, however, that searching out good aggregators is a more effective means until the smart folders options get more advanced (or I do). Andrew Coyne’s page is a good start.

Speaking of, I’m resurrecting something I tried for a short time with Google’s RSS reader, namely posting links to stories I want to share. These are stories that I either enjoyed and want to pass on, and / or stories that are candidates for my own reflection. Most of them won’t get written about here, but some of them will. That is the plan, in any case. You’ll find the link to my collection prominently placed at the top right.

Comments and suggestions are always welcome.

I crossed a tech milestone last week and bought my first cell phone. Oh, I’ve bought cell phones in the past, and even used them on occasion, but the fact is that I dislike phones – and cellphones in particular. I’ve never owned one. It’s not that cell phones are especially more disagreeable than land lines, but people are often such clods about using them. Prominently displaying your disregard for everyone actually present is nothing anyone should seek to emulate. Neither is telling everyone present your private business. The difference this time is that the phone is really for me, and not just used by me. I rationalized that my job requires a lot of time outside of the office and there are times when being able to take or make a call on the fly is terribly useful.

We broke down and signed up for a couples’ plan and got a pair of Sony Ericsson w810’s. We chose this phone because it had a reasonable price, large tactile controls and a large colour screen. It has a so-so camera, can play music files of many kinds (sadly not iTunes DRMed), and sports an FM radio. I’m happy to say that the calendar and address book functions synchronize with the Mac very well, the only glitch being that address cards marked as ‘business’ synch the number but not the name. You can overcome that by synching those cards one at a time. It’s fine as long as you don’t have too many of them to do.

Oh, and it plays games too. Not that that matters (yeah, right!).

I had been coveting both the Sony Ericsson k790 and the upcoming iPhone, but decided that they were both too expensive. In three years time, the features I’m lacking – the better camera and the iTunes integration – will be both cheaper and more refined, making the wait worthwhile, right?

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Written by Curt

March 18, 2007 at 1:29 pm

“Jesus was a techie”

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Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, sounds like an interesting guy and I certainly think he’s on to something. He’s threatening to write a book about it too.

Vatican Astronomer: ‘Big Science’ and ‘Big Religion’ at Peace:

He considers himself a member of the scientific class he calls “techies.” Techies, and how they practice religion, have consumed his thinking for almost two years, and he is in the process of writing a book about scientists and engineers and their religious beliefs.

Techies, he told the audience, see the world in terms of processes to be understood, jobs to be done and problems to be solved. Their orientation toward the world is pragmatic, logical and functional, and the common assumption is that most of them are atheists. “And no doubt about it, some of us are,” he said. “But, equally, a lot of us are not. There are an awful lot of scientists and engineers who also happen to be church-goers. And even the non-church attending among them are living in a culture that is saturated with religion and they are fascinated by it.”

However, there is a “serious misfit,” he said, between the typical techie and the typical church. American churches simply haven’t done much to understand techies and reach out to them in ways that would be meaningful.

Scientists and engineers don’t necessarily lack faith, he said, instead, they appear to be searching for a “comprehensive set of rules to live by,” which provides an opportunity for organized religion. Organized religion provides a template, just like the worked-out problems in a physics book, he said, against which techies can compare their spiritual experiences with those that are certified to have been experiences of the transcendent.

More on Consolmago’s story here.

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Written by Curt

January 29, 2007 at 9:49 pm

Windows 3.1 Add Font Dialog Still In Vista

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Aside from a growing reluctance to deal with MS’ often poorly concived and executed software, I long ago suspected that Vista wasn’t going to be any fun. Even if it is very shiny.

What can one say about this, for example?

Windows 3.1 Add Font Dialog Still In Vista – Forums

No? How about a more common interface problem?

At least I’m not alone in my apprehension. Chris Prillo describes Vista as ‘lipstick on a pig‘, or the OS iteration of the Phantom Menace.

Not that it will matter. People who think cases like these are cool will buy it in droves because it’s cheap – or so we thought. Here are a few bits to mull over:

Common retail price for Windows 95: $89.95

For Vista: Depends on user configuration. Upgrading a PC from Windows XP would cost as little as $99 for Vista Home Basic edition, up to $259 for Vista Ultimate. Suggested retail prices for those versions range from $199 to $399.

Number of lines of code in Windows 95: 11.2 million

In Vista: 50 million is a commonly cited figure, but Microsoft refuses to confirm that officially.

Approximate number of Windows 95 programmers: 200

For Vista: More than 2,000, according to one Microsoft developer’s blog, but Microsoft also won’t confirm that.

Too many chefs is a problem here, but the bigger underlying issue is that the PC/business world’s sense of design was stillborn long ago. It was once a given that a PC was the best buy. Is that still true when you can use web apps for simple stuff and Open Office for more substantial jobs – and share those files easily?

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Written by Curt

January 23, 2007 at 6:11 pm


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