Sunday, June 27, 2010

Would you rather buy a lizard pet or an iPhone?

And the winner is: the Iphone! What did you expect?

This is the funniest story I heard in weeks. It happened to John, a ex-colleague from the late nineties to about the millennium turn, whom I briefly met after all these years in Brussels, yesterday. John lives in Atlanta, Georgia, but he was born and raised in Motown. His dad was one of the top execs at Ford Motor Cy, many years ago. As the story goes, it was him that fired Lee Iacocca's ass from Ford, as the boss, Ford Jr didn't have the testicles to do it! Probably the best thing to happen in Lee's career, as he later became iconic inside Chrysler, in the times when CEOs of the traditional Big brick and mortar companies, like Harold Geneen and Jack Welsh, were calling the (management guru) shots! Followed by the Gates and Jobses of our days.

So goes the story... John's youngest daughter turned ten recently and as a house rule, she was entitled to a cell phone. However, the girl has been long planning her birthday present not particularly with any cell-phones or smart-phones occurring in her planning thoughts. Instead she wanted a lizard. She's been all over the Internet to find out stuff about the animals and convince dad and mom that the pets didn't bite and were friendly and clean and quite, low maintenance etc... John wouldn't hear any of it. They already had a couple of dogs and it was a burden every time the family would leave them pets under the care of friendly families in the neigborhood, but who in his sane mind would a put a lizard to care for on this lot of pets? The day before her birthday, John, following his very own cunning plan (Black Adder style), took the girl for a window-shopping walk to the local AT&T store, and let her try the iPhones on display. The lizard image started fading away... for good! Long story short, the lizard's still waitin' at the pet shop. Mind you, John is no Apple geek as I am. Far from. He uses an iPhone but that's all. And he knows tech stuff far better than you and I, that's for sure. A seasoned IT and business professional by all counts. The kind of folks we need supporting our beloved Apple products! Capice?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fans scramble for Apple's iPhone upgrade

I'm getting old. I almost forgot it was June 24th today. The day of the launch! Until my eyes fell upon this... Fun, innit?

BTW, Apple was today 25 Billion green bucks more capitalized than Microsoft. Will Jobs eventually get richer than His Gateship? I doubt it. Bill is after the Peace Nobel prize these days and wouldn't care less. He's also the first person that reached a paper money wealth status of more than 100B, once upon a time... so long ago that I don't even remember when. MSFT was more than half a trillion worth in market cap then, along with the likes of GE, CSCO and even INTC of all people. Where are all these guys these days? I doubt they reach half a trillion all of them put together, unless you add AAPL to the sum.

Like the Greek national anthem lyrics go: περασμένα μεγαλεία και διηγώντας τα να κλαίς...(Glories for ever lost and you weep when you talk about them...)

World Sucker Cup 2010

For more than 10 days now hundreds of millions soccer fans of all colors and shapes are glued to their TV screens to watch their favorite teams and players kicking each other's butts like modern gladiators. Only difference with ancient Rome, conform to the pretentious habits and rules of the current era, no blood drops are allowed on the grass carpet. In the times of gladiators it was exactly that fans loved to see.

I'm not an expert in soccer... far from; I can tell an off-side, I think. I'm mostly watching the matches because of the HD TV factor especially in close-ups, and few ultra slow motion images, real pleasure to watch. What are these shot at in terms of speed? Ten times normal? I have no clue... but it's fabulous...

I must say, I'm not too impressed with what I saw so far. Most European favorites suck very badly! Especially the English. I hope the Krauts teach them a lesson this weekend.

Oh, yes, the English... They went to South Africa with big slogans that they'd get to the final and maybe win the Cup first time since 1964, but... they almost didn't make it to the following round. Whereas, Team USA, the underdogs, playing wonderful game, no fuss (or dirty soccer player tricks), or any C.Ronaldo-like show-offs, and no hooligan players like that Rooney dude, smoothly made it to the next round as a 'surprise'! Believe me, in a few World-Cups from now the Cup will end up in the US. I kid you not!

What irritates me the most though is the lack of looking at the facts objectively by match commentators and round table reporters, and "experts" discussing the game between halftimes, and after the game. Especially the so-called experts piss me off big time. Know what? They all know it better, they would all have done it much better, they all feel entitled to blame some team or player of being useless. How arrogant these a-holes can be! Makes Dick Cheney a pussy cat!

Let me give you an example: On BBC, the anchor reporter for many years, Gary Lineker, top scorer of the English team in the Mexico World Cup in 1984, is regularly accompanied by Alan Shearer, another UK team International. Both are more or less descent... There's this other guy though, whose name I don't know (and don't even wanna know), who's got a big mouth full of shit! He probably played ball some time ago too. My Gosh! The way he comments about teams and players! All things English of course are the best possible football could buy! All the rest are good for nothing. A small sample of this attitude: His comments before the game Argentina vs. Greece. "Greeks are useless... I hope Mesi scores many goals... I hope Argentina breaks the current Portuguese record against North Korea... I wanna see many goals in this game...". After the game, it was all the fault of the Greeks and their solid defense that the Argentina superstars could only score twice, and this by mistakes of the Greeks. They shouldn't allow teams building Greek defense walls in the game. In other words, if the English would play Argentina, they'd be heros if they did what the Greeks did. Now that the 'bleedin' Greeks played like this, it was bad... they took away his orgasmic wet dream fantasies to see them lose like North Korea and have the Maradona stars kick ball into their goalpost in double digits, right?

A Dutch commentator on the Flemish channel Canvas Sport had a similar remark : "The Greek coach..." who happens to be German and led Greece to winning the European Cup in 2004, I think, he urged, "took the bricks off the Berlin wall after the breakdown and moved them to Athens to build a Greek wall in the National squad." How insane can someone be to make a public statement like that?

You don't even wanna hear what I witnessed during the Portugal-North Korea match. The number of times commentators cynically referred to the 'Great Leader', the upper Chief of Korea that every brainwashed Westerner loves to hate, is beyond count. They all 'felt sorry' for those poor suckers (the Korean squad) who would end up in jail or face death upon return to the country including all the members of their (up to third degree) families, for the shame they inflicted upon the Nation... C'm on folks! Get a life! These reporters need to see a shrink real quick! Do I pay my radio and TV tax to hear this shit on my screen? Dear me! That's why the other day I stopped watching a game and saw a movie instead. Invictus! Also playing in South Africa. Rugby this time...

This tells you a story. Soccer fan(atic)s and their experts are brainless morons, violent bloodthirsty suckers, cynical nitwits, full of arrogance and unfair sarcasm, who know all things soccer better than God, and when their team sucks it's always the fault of the referee, the ball or the other team's sneaky tricks! How sad!

Where is the problem here?

Who ever said that mobile devices are only for fun and not educational? That's a nice one from a free iPad app called Optical illusions. Can you find why this is not possible?

Posted from VJK Diaries iPad...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The times they are a-changin'

But the NMBS in Belgium, that is the National Railways company, has never appreciated Dylan's music, obviously. Like many other National Railways elsewhere, mostly government owned or likely with large government (majority) participation, the NMBS in this country is run by not what you'd consider management geniuses. Like elsewhere. Or, like the Post to mention another example of 'outstanding' management skill. Now, why am I gettin' in a rant about them buggers, and this on a Sunday, you might wonder. Well, listen carefully.

Those who know me, or read some of my other posts on the upcoming computing paradigm (so-called 'curated computing' and pioneered by Apple), will easily understand my rage.

You see, content consumption by the masses today is all about visualization of versatile data residing in huge databases inside so-called server farms. Personal computers, these days, don't need to have much local storage. Good quality, safe, updated data are better off staying in the 'cloud' (geeky slang for Internet-connected servers) than in local computers (on solid state, magnetic or optical disk storage). This is especially true for casual users who can't tell the difference between a mouse and a cursor.

What do casual users do with computer devices at the end of the first decade of the new millennium, after all? They simply email or instant message their friends and for the rest they surf the web. This is what I called 'content consumption' above. Reading of articles online, listening to streaming music, watching Youtube and streaming video clips or whole episodes and movies, flipping thru millions of images and photographs, or any combination of the above.

So, this is the trend. Modern CPU baring devices (whatever you can think of) are by design Internet connectable and most are very light and mobile. Also, other devices that traditionally were CPU-less, like TV's, will soon find their roles change to part-time PCs and running TV-OSes provided by the likes of Google and others like Google... The traditional desktop PCs and laptops as we know them will be further specialized and upgraded to serve more powerfully but only those IT 'experts' who need the power, and will almost disappear from the vocabulary of casual users of the coming generations, born after the millennium turn... mark my words. Instead, these kids will learn to live and use what we currently call smartphones and slate computers.

Since the introduction of the iPhone and iPad there's something else that changed fundamentally though. Never before in the history of computer addicted mankind there was a market of so many useful software applications for mobile devices that are so easy to acquire and use, and which cost next to nothing. The Apple owned AppStore has more than 220,000 such applications and counting, a large percentage of which are free and gratis, whereas the remaining won't cost you typically more than a few bucks. How come? Various reasons. 1) The 'Free' business model gains increasingly higher tract among key market players. 2) The effort to create apps is sub-minimal, compared to traditional software development, due to the richness of Apple's available SDK. And 3) like I mentioned earlier, most of these are 'visualization' apps looking at data residing in the cloud. In other words, they don't share the burden of creating and maintaining such massive data inside their server farms. They just look at them. They visualize data in compelling ways, and by so doing, they get rid of the usual noise 'elements' that fog the space between consumer and content. Therefore, the creation cost (in effort and needed infrastructure) to make and distribute such apps is so tiny small that many noble souls, especially young geeks and startups who typically love this stuff, simply choose to offer their apps for free, or at an extremely low price point, pretty close to 'free'. They drive the market and company profitability via high volume / low price, as His Jobness admitted in his recent Mossberg interview at D8. That's today's most popular business model.

Now, what does this have to do with my rant on NMBS? You'll understand... I promise you. NMBS has also got a homepage of course that shows train schedules, PR and other info. They also sell tickets which you can print on your home printer. That's not a bad alternative to queueing at the station, waiting for a not overly motivated, middle aged, counting his days to retirement, NMBS ticket-seller to print your miserable ticket while the train's entering the station... and soon about to depart... Problem is though (and I heard it from the spouse, the Belgian stereotype of the casual PC user who can't tell the difference etc... etc...) that the NMBS homepage is like any other page we find in Public Services homepages (ministries and all), or any other inefficient 'old' brick and mortar organization that just happened to have discovered the Internet! Your eyes don't know where to rest first, your temper's getting agitated, your entire ego intimidated, and you just then walk away from the bleedin' homepage, preferring (OMG) to wait in queue in front of the miserable ticket seller instead.

What is the problem, then? Well, you see, the NMBS data is fine, residing on their precious servers, connected to the Internet, no problems there (more or less)... However, their interface designers (these are ICT 'experts' who create the visualization component that looks at their precious data via a browser, pointing to their Home URL), are simply too old fashioned, who have never understood and will never ever understand the mind of a casual user. Why? Because that's the way it is! Poor management. At the top and all the way to the bottom. In other words, any sane IT expert in this country can certainly do much better than that. Once he or she gets employed into the NMBS structures, he/she is painted in the national NMBS colors and turn overnight into the poor buggers we see 'serving' us!

Never mind... we are used to it. Thank God, there's still a huge hope in the new generations of geeks and geniuses in the country to cover for the shortcomings of the large Public Services Homepages. One such kid, whose brain-ware I enormously respect as I happen to know some of the mechanics behind creating iPhone apps, went out in 2008 to create an app for the iPhone that would provide the Belgian railways time schedule, simply and efficient (and he even told NMBS that, naively waiting back for a word of appreciation). Like I said earlier, access the useful data easily with no noise between consumer and content. See the picture posted above to see what I mean. And see the kid too. His name, Yeri Tiete! IT student, 22 year old. He was two years younger when he wrote the app, too. iRail.Be I thought its name was. Well done kiddo.

Don't go look for the app at the AppStore though. Recently, the kid received a big-ass letter, written by some 'expert' lawyers (Jeez I thought they all ended up chained in the bottom of the Ocean), threatening court actions on behalf of NMBS, if the kid didn't pull the app off the AppStore immediately! For data copyright infringement reasons, that is. Because he accessed the NMBS servers with their precious and wholly owned (OMG) scheduling data to present them (after working on his app for a couple of evenings he said) to poor casual users like myself and my spouse in a simple and 'human' fashion. They even dare treat him as a criminal! It's not only RIAA that's full of morons then. We got our fair share in this country too...

It's been said that NMBS made the whole fuss in order to boost usage of their own smartphone app, that happens to have been launched recently, two years after Yeri's iRail was released. I reckon that project alone cost them a few million euro's to say the least, and two years of waking up before they realized the need! Jeez, what a geniuses! That's the most stupid excuse I heard in decades. Proves the point I made earlier. There's nothing worse in a company's fortunes than being led by a bunch of incompetent managers at the steering wheel. Lord save us from their wrongdoings...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Fry Paper

"Your Royal Highness, Your Grace, My Lord Bishop, Your Excellencies, Honoured President, Academicians, Lords, Ladies, Gentlemen, artists, art lovers, friends, trustees, donors, distinguished guests and assorted media scum."

Typical Fry! I was pleasantly surprised by a new iPad app created by one of my faves British comedians of the better sort. Stephen Fry. We have seen him in Black Adder, Fry and Laurie (yep, that's House MD to the rest of you), and recently on a tour documentary across the US, starting in New England and ending in Hawaii. The above opening of his speech was given in a recent event two weeks ago, at a Dinner for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.

Fry has good connections with Apple (he knows Johnny Ive, he sez) and he even met His Jobness recently. The model of his app is very much identical to one of the first apps demoed, namely the NYT Editor's choice. Fry did the inevitable thing like we'll see so many others do in the near future. He brought into the iPad a targeted view of his brilliant blog as a case study of iPad enabled curated computing. Fun to read other than he omitted some accessibility facilities, like text enlargement and copy/paste ability. I had to go to the same article (speech) in his blog to copy his speech opening statement...

Nevertheless, Fry's got the whole 'curated' paradigm just right. See what he writes in his "No Comments" blogpost:

"...You may, rightly, think that this FryPaper app is rather simple and unexciting. Indeed it is. There are the device, the content and you and we are not very interested in clouding the interaction between the three. We might add this bell or that whistle from time to time and as occasion and opportunity might suggest, but for the moment we are happy to offer this as no more than a little something. If the mood strikes me to blog, microblog or blessay the app can suck that content from the site and let you know that it has done so and you can read it in an iPaddy sort of way. That is all there is to it..."

A Fry detail... In the few secs necessary to load his homepage inside his app, instead of displaying the usual "Loading" next to the spinning wheel, Fry displays "just clearing my throat...". You get the idea...

Very nice gig, Mr. Fry! I pray other famous bloggers follow your lead.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Go check this report, folks and have a blast. Whereas Apple haters and Computing agnostics enjoy taking the piss on everything coming out of Infinite Loop 1, Cupertino, CA, the broader consumer Public overwhelms the ill prepared ATT and Apple eCommerce sites that were supposed to accept incoming pre-orders of the new iPhone, since yesterday.

Now then, I can't get it how the ICT departments in such high profile business cases handle their loads and system functionality. Apparently, ATT thought of nothing better to do this weekend than implement an update of their Customer DB systems without proper testing. Well done dudes! You sound like you all been bribed by non-evil Google and Monkey Boy! In 2010 of all times! How is this all possible!?!  I hope their management gets seriously axed! To see what it means to part from luxury pay-slips and company cars! What a load of morons!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Awesome iPad app to SMS anyone, from Obama to the Pope!

Looks very much like the typical iPhone SMS app
Even my grannie (R.I.P.) knows that iPads are not built to work as phones, right? So, supposedly, iPads couldn't send SMSs to regular mobile phones, innit? Won't receive them either!

Well, turns out there's this awesome app, Global AQ Pro (or Lite), that can do all this. It even generates a dedicated phone number for buyers of the app. The numbers used are located in Antarctica, along with them penguins! This app also works on iPhones and the iPod Touch, but I only have it on the iPad.

Cost per SMS is ridiculously cheap, regardless where you send your message. Costs me a wee few cents -- or less than a few, what is it again, one point something € cents? -- to message anyone in China, the US or my next door neighbor in Oudenaarde, Belgium -- you get the picture... Buying Credits for messages is done in-app without hassle or anything, with the iTunes store guaranteeing security and discretion to the max.

Theoretically it can receive SMSs on the obnoxious Antarctica number too, if your recipient uses it from his/her end. Only problem, many operators (among whom mine too) won't deliver SMSs to the penguins -- I mean, the international telephone zone in Antarctica! Screw them, morons!

The iPad's growing larger by the minute... increasingly chewing my Macbook to obsoleteness.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Developer freedoms

In yesterday's WWDC keynote Steve Jobs talked about the three foremost reasons Apple rejects submitted apps from the App Store. These were: apps that don't do what they are supposed to, apps that crash, and finally apps that use private APIs.

The rationale Steve gave for the API related rejections was simple. If Apple introduces changes to its OS, they make sure that all their SDK APIs get tested in advance and work properly. Very likely however, many private APIs won't work after the update. Not necessarily, but often very likely. To avoid the hassle and blames by end users that it's all again Apple's fault, they decided to reject apps using 'private' APIs. Is that so wrong?

I don't think so. Apple is long known for writing splendid software that fits perfectly their own hardware and is extremely efficient and easy to use. Interface elements like fonts, buttons, controls, animation effects, functions, menus, are all very consistent. Therefore, Apple's applications are easy to learn [especially by first time users], and work with intuitively. The way to do that is by creating an (extremely) API rich development platform (SDK), whereby developers eventually put their creativity to better use [that is, developing the actual functionality of their own apps, rather than reinventing the wheel, doing things Apple already put in the SDK]. As an example, the new iOS 4 will be adding in excess of 1500 new APIs to the already crowded SDK. So, whereas a skilled J2EE developer memorises a great deal of framework APIs, a skilled ObjC developer is an expert in searching Apple's API library for the right programming component that fits his/her design... Makes sense, doesn't it?

However, many developers think otherwise. Open source developers love to do the job of the 'platform authors' instead, creating cool interface elements and putting them out there in the 'cloud' for free GPL use and enhancements, whereas the majority of the developers' community works within frameworks like Apple's SDK and try to adhere to the imposed rules and standards. However, most available frameworks, (like .Net and Android) will tolerate many more freedoms than Apple... Apple is rather obsessed about using it's own APIs in the very strict sense.

On the long run, His Jobness is right, however. The most terminal cancer of any computer code is proprietary and undocumented logic encoded in private APIs (subroutines to the oldies among us) that look like Mama Leone's sauced spaghetti... The billions of dollars spent in the maintenance of such systems in the last fifty years would be enough to get us out of the current financial mess, both in Europe and the US. And will still be enough left to go clean BP's oil spill in the Gulf!

IMHO, El Jobso's obsession about blindly and unequivocally using the thousands of Apple libraries and components as the only mechanism to develop apps for Apple's devices may bother some 'creative' developers but is the right strategy. Compare to this... Java, Windows, Linux and Android are all platforms focused upon developers, their freedoms and their creative expression, and much less upon the rest of us, unfortunate end users. Such platforms allow developers to create their own worlds, often from the ground up, (I worked once during three months for such a company offering CRM 'solutions' and eventually decided to quit instead of wasting any more of my precious life trying to make them think otherwise) and then end users are left with many different things to learn, to accommodate the developers' views of the world.

Unfortunately, casual app users have usually far less "power" than developers. Developers call the shots and poor users have got to eat what they get served on the plate. Therefore, for all practical reasons, the world is dominated by libertarian developers who always think they know it better than anybody else and enjoy the freedoms offered to them by opportunistic platform creators. Microsoft is notorious about this (developer stroking)... I was naively hoping Google would be far better on this issue and would start a new wave of proper development habits, but in vain. They just copied the status quo, and, other than offering many of their their goodies in a mostly 'free' business model, they are just like Microsoft and all the rest...

And this is why, despite initial market penetration successes, Android will never become like any of the iconic trendsetters that Apple's iOS or most of its other products always have been. This, despite how much more dough evil Largey and Squirrel Boy are going to pour into the project. Monkey Boy could write volumes about his experiences on that...

I have a rather simplistic way to describe the problem to the silent crowd: Computer languages are like alphabets. APIs are like words. You use the letters of an alphabet (programming languages) to write down spoken words (the APIs). We, humans, tend to communicate with each other using known words of a given natural language (thesaurus). We don't make up our own words just for kicks! Nobody would be able to understand what we're talking about if we did, right? Text Authors do not usually invent new words either; as a rule, and as sophisticated in their expression they wanna be, they will still use the alphabet and thesaurus of the natural language they use to express their ideas and arguments. When Jobs urges developers to use Apple's APIs, he actually sez to them: dudes, use our alphabet and dictionary, with the words it contains, like you won't be inventing new words if you were to describe your app in any given natural language, right? It's not much to ask, innit?