5-day namespace collision

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Within a span of 5 days, I came across two projects named Mjolnir. One is an automation/configuration tool for OS X, while the other is an implementation of Clojure on top of LLVM.

I was initially confused as to why such a specific name would be used twice, but Wikipedia tells me it’s the name of Thor’s hammer in Norse mythology, so in retrospect I suppose it’s not too surprising.

MIPS to compete with ARM

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Looks like there will be some more competition in the mobile SoC space thanks to a company whose name is likely only familiar to older geeks. MIPS — previously acquired by Imagination Technologies — is launching an CPU family to compete with ARM. Since Imagination Technologies is well known for its PowerVR mobile GPUs (used by Apple and many others), they are promising aggressive pricing on CPU/GPU combos.

Three immediate thoughts on this:

  1. The largest challenge they’ll have is convincing software vendors to write software for the MIPS architecture. Android itself is already there, but many apps for it are not built for MIPS.

  2. Assuming they can make these CPU/GPU SoCs affordably and at scale, MIPS should get in touch with Nintendo about working together about powering a future portable or console (hey, it’s happened before). For a company like Nintendo that controls the entire stack, the compatibility-with-ARM issue goes away.

  3. The standoffish attitude of the MIPS PR rep in that article’s comment thread strikes me as very unprofessional. If the company want to be taken seriously, it’s representatives shouldn’t be getting in arguments about benchmarks on a popular technology website.

What can $5 billion buy you in the energy sector?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Either a Tesla electric vehicle battery plant producing batteries for 500,000 cars per year, or a 550-mile natural gas pipeline.

I ran across those two articles on the same day, so they make for an interesting comparison. Some other tidbits:

Fixing time drift in 10.9 Mavericks

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Marco Arment’s tweet earlier this evening reminded me that time drift continues to be a problem in OS X Mavericks. Here’s how I was able to fix it (standard disclaimer: be sure to have everything backed up before messing around with system files):

  1. Delete the file that keeps track of time drift: /var/db/ntp.drift
  2. Quit the pacemaker and ntpd processes, either through Terminal or Activity Monitor
  3. Log out, log in
  4. Toggle the “Set time and date automatically” checkbox off, then on again

I’m not sure if this is a universal fix, but I did it a few months ago and the system clock has stayed within a second of my iPhone ever since.

For more information on the ‘pacemaker’ process introduced by Apple in 10.9, here is the man page.

Praise for a small iPhone

Monday, September 08, 2014

It’s the evening before Apple’s September 9 event, and all signs points to, at the very least, new iPhones and a wearable of some kind. Before the pomp and circumstance of a heretofore-rare Flint Center-Level Apple Event redefines what we come to expect from mobile phones and watches, I wanted to write down a few thoughts about screen sizes and how they relate to different use-cases.

The predictions are for the iPhones to be larger than the current 4" models. Marco Arment has a good analysis of how both he and John Gruber were originally in favor of maintaining the original 3.5" iPhone screen size, and how progress in both technology and culture now makes a much stronger case for larger phones. The whole post is a good read, but here’s the crux of Marco’s argument:

The Apple fans who had previously defended the 3.5-inch screen — myself included — got the new one, got used to it, and never wanted to go back to the smaller screens. It turned out that while the larger screen did make the phone slightly taller, technological progress also let Apple make the phone thinner and much lighter. […]

Many buyers prefer a bigger phone to a phone-and-tablet combo (and it’s hard to argue with the price and convenience of one device instead of two), so much of what we thought would be done on tablets is really being done on phones.

But mostly, we’ve continued the inevitable progression of phones becoming most people’s primary computing device, rather than a thing in our pocket that’s mostly just for phone calls and messaging. When you only do a few things on your phone and it doesn’t really matter how big the screen is, you don’t demand bigger screens as much and it’s nice for the phone to be as small as possible. But bigger screens bring such substantial benefits to so many personal-computing tasks that as these devices become more capable and we use them for more, we’ll be more willing to carry around a bit more bulk for the benefits that it brings to what we actually care about.

I agree with Marco’s assessment of how phone use has evolved over the past several years, and it saddens me, because I am one of the people who only does “a few things” with their phone. Looking at my home screen, I can identify only a handful of things I use my iPhone for on a regular basis:

  1. Weather/radar
  2. Messaging
  3. Maps
  4. Mail
  5. Twitter
  6. Calendar
  7. Phone
  8. To-dos

For me, none of these use-cases really benefit from a larger screen. Maybe maps are enhanced, but for basic location lookup, a 3.5" screen more than suits my needs. With a relatively light workload, the size of the phone as it sits in my pocket and in my hand (especially quick one-handed operation) becomes more important than having a larger screen. Given my use-case, it’s probably no surprise that I wish Apple would make a 3.5" iPhone mini where, much like the current iPad lineup, they put the top-end parts in a smaller form factor (along with a lower price).

I know I’m not the only one out there who wants such a phone, but again, my hopes are kept in check by Marco’s observations. Most current and future iPhone customers are moving away from laptops and tablets and doing more work exclusively on their phones, and a larger screen will undoubtedly make the iPhone a more compelling product for them. Certainly, as an app developer, I should welcome the opportunities for personal computing-class apps on iOS that will arrive alongside larger screens. However, for my own needs, since I work from home and have access to a nice desktop with an ergonomic keyboard, the prospect of doing any serious work on a phone is just a non-starter for me.

I guess I’m just a little concerned about whether Apple will continue to make something for those who still see a phone as an accessory to one’s life, rather than the center of it. As someone who has used both an iPhone 4 and 5s for over a year, I definitely prefer the smaller form factor. That said, I bet the number of those who agree with me are shrinking rather than growing, which probably tells Apple all it needs to know on the matter of screen size.

Who knows, maybe tomorrow Apple will make an argument for larger phones that’s agreeable even to those who use a phone as a light-duty device. We’ll see in a little over 12 hours.

The need for more iOS Developer Program flexibility

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Tony Lenzi shares his experience about how the currently-available iOS Developer Program options aren’t a good fit for teaching high school students:

As an experienced iOS developer, I was troubled by something that became painfully obvious looking around at the students gathered for the event. Sure enough, there was a sea of iPhones and iPod Touch devices sitting on tables next to students. There were also a host of students working on Macs. However, most of the groups were opting to create Android applications. Many of these students did not even own an Android device, so why were they so interested in creating an Android application? […] There was something else preventing them from building an app for iOS — the lack of access to the device via the iOS Development programs made available by Apple.

Lenzi’s suggestion is an education-specific developer program that would allow students to run code on devices. I would go even further and suggest that Apple have a free ‘hobbyist’ tier for iOS development: No App Store submission, but allow hobbyists to run code on a limited number of devices.

The return of Frontier?

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Last month, Brent Simmons wrote about his time at UserLand in the late 90s/early 2000s. As a longtime reader of Brent’s blog, I was always curious to hear more about UserLand and particularly about Frontier, its primary product. As someone who was just getting online when Brent was working on Frontier, the concept of a piece of desktop software that provided an easily-malleable database that could interact with the web has always been intriguing to me, especially since my interaction with creating web content started with more traditional Windows programs like Dreamweaver and FrontPage.

Well, it looks like Brent still has back-burner ambitions to bring back Frontier as a Mac app, and I couldn’t be happier. As important as the web browser is to the internet, I think more custom applications like Frontier can make the web even more vibrant.

An app store for the electrical grid

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Rocky Mountain Institute has a news post about City of Boulder examining ways for the electric utility to change its business model in response to climate change. Given how much smart grid and renewable technologies differ from the old fossil fuel-centric approach, Boulder is considering modernizing the utility’s role:

A major breakthrough the team realized at Accelerator was the potential for the utility to provide a platform for innovation, allowing the private sector to engage in entrepreneurial actions resulting in an “energy services market.” The graphic below, developed at Accelerator, illustrates a new relationship between the utility and the private sector, similar to smartphone companies providing a platform for innovation by application developers

More articles & links