Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Mountain cat that didn't quite roar...

I just couldn't wait. I have no reason to be an Apple 'developer', you see. Not on my age, anyways. Not even to mention that if I was one, I'd be among the least competent. Too impatient and sloppy to be a descent developer, that's for sure. I'm just the consultant 'type', you see. Got a lot of experience in 'talking' about things. Not doing them...
I'm only curious, plain and simple ! That's all. Curious about all things OSX. So, I pay a 79€ fee to Apple for a developer's annual subscription and I get to download preview releases of all their OSX goodies. Actually, in the last two years that I've been doing that, it's been only Lion and Mountain Lion final Previews that I looked at. None of their other code. Like SDKs and such. These are for those who make a living by developing apps to run in Apple's iOS devices and Macs. So, instead of waiting for Apple's commercial launch of their two 'bug free' Lions, and only counting no more than 30 or 20 € for each one respectively, I was kinda 'smart cookie' to pay 4X as much for the privilege of 'experiencing' the pleasure a month earlier. Talking about wasting dough, eh? Was it any worth? I doubt it. I can simply claim that I had this hands-on experience a short month before the rest of them lame crowds came to taste Apple's newness. I just couldn't wait anymore! Not in my dictionary, the 'waiting', I guess. Besides, I admit it, I am one of those Apple addicts, who live to swear by His Jobness (RIP). I got my reasons though. Trust me on this...
A Mountain cat is all we got in 2012! Will it be worth the 19.99 bucks they plan to sell it? I dunno... I guess... Nowadays you can hardly buy a pack of fags in some places for 20 bucks. And the mountain cat would be a healthier pastime, that's for sure. On the other hand. I still dunno... Well, what the heck? It's gotta be worth the 20 bucks.
Between you and I, it's not the individual functional improvements of OSX, or of any OS for that matter, that actually keep me 'awake' at nights. It's more about the grand vision of the Master(s) of computing that I am after, you see. How, us humans, are gonna be using computers and other devices in the future is the core that triggers my curiosity. This isn't such an easy question to answer, mind you. You gotta be able to look into the individual details of technologies, products, and overall trends, and pick-up guiding signals; try to draw conclusions next about those visionaries' intentions (whoever, and wherever they are, God bless 'em). Often, I wonder. Is there effectively one single individual, a sort of a Holy Visionary, anywhere at all, someone who's worked out a Grand Plan for the rest of us? About the ways that we shall lead our lives as they are being reshaped for ever by a handful of tiny silicon chips? I guess, El Jobso has already shown that, if anyone was ever the closest possible to be that 'person', i.e. deciding upon ways that 'CPU' based devices could and should change our lives, then, it's gotta be him. But he's passed! Who took over his role now then, and what has this individual, if anyone, got up his sleeves for the next ten years or so? Are folks like Page and Brin, or even Zuckerberg close at all to being the new visionaries? Or should he or she have to be found nowhere else than in Apple itself? Will he/she be able to execute on the Vision? Anybody can answer that question? I doubt it.
I wish someone could draw an orderly 'architecture' around an individual, surrounded by a plethora of CPU devices, living and interacting inside various eco-systems. Like, the family system. The career system. The leisure system. The interacting with the environment system. The system for self expression and knowledge acquisition! And, us humans being central in this intermingling of eco-systems, someone to tell us about the changes that we'll witness in the next 50 to 100 years if we continue like we have done in the past 40 years. What is it then that such devices will change our lives into? Augmented reality? More knowledge? Enhanced social activity? Shrinkage of time-space? All of the above? Somehow, these responses sound too familiar... Or is it gonna be something different altogether? Are we going to turn into SF cyborgs? Half men half machines? Will there be a place for human emotion at all, or are human emotions simply a banal ramification of Darwin's evolution of the species?
Actually computers started inside business and government organisations to improve worker productivity, take over repetitive and monotonous tasks from us, and do the age old boring stuff better than humans ever been able to. Not too creative though. Just the dull, necessary-evil bits and pieces. At least that's the way computers have been in the early days. It's gotta be quite different now, you might reckon. Or, is it? In any case, it is universally accepted that CPU based devices are nowadays quite pervasive and omnipresent in everything we do. Billy Joy even predicted that one day they'll take over the planet for good, and regulate human masses in the hands of a 'superior' human being, or a clan of those. Kinda like a 1984 Big Brother doom scenario. Inevitably, our free market capitalist system, led by the audacious and the bold, will have to eventually yield society to that point. It's even technically possible today!!! Do I believe this? Bullocks! I doubt it. But who am I to know better? I can't certainly measure against good ol' Bill. He co-invented UNIX and Java for cryin' out loud!
There's another thing that throws ash in our eyes, when we are trying to grasp the 'Grand Vision'. And we end up missing the forest from the trees. I always had serious fun with tech geeks (mostly bloggers of the worst kind) trying to convince their listeners and readers about the merits of Apple lookalikes sold by competitors. Such tech religious fanatics systematically pick individual functions and technology specs of competitors' products to prove that, say, the Samsung Galaxy, to mention one such device, is by all means 'superior' to Apple's iPhone, or that Nokia is going to crack the code by putting a 150 megapixels camera in their next gen pathetic 'windows-mobile' smartphone. So what? Why even bother buying a Hasselblad H4D-60 or the Canon pro EOS-1DX at all? For a fraction of the dollar amount you could buy a Nokia smartphone instead, you can even use the darn thing to 'call' people on the phone, and you're done! Gimme a break! Get real people. Sometimes I have the feeling that CEO's like Nokia's, and Microsoft's understand a rat's ass about technology's impact in shaping human lives. It's not about the individual specs, folks! Not at all! It's about entire eco-systems, kids, and about the proprietary platforms such systems are supported by. And about what it is we do with these things.
Back to Mountain Lion. Apple decided to release annually (give 'n take) a version of their operating systems. Improvements have always been incremental. Evolutionary so to say. Small things here and there, in the hundreds. With few quite visible and highly desirable add-ons that will usually impress the crowds, and which are permanently central in Apple's marketing campaigns for the new OS. This time over such are dictation (of impeccable quality mind you, it even understood my seriously lacking accent in speaking French!) and Airplay for OSX boxes (the Macs, so to say). Many improvements are so subtle that are hard to even recognise. Gee, is that a new gig, or was it there all the time, kinda thing. Rearranging regions in the left column of a Finder window is such an 'improvement'. Big deal! Worth mentioning? Well, maybe nice to have. If I hadn't read about it, I'd probably have never known about it, or let alone used it at all. Most of them small incremental improvements are kinda nice to have, I'd dare say. If you are looking for an extensive coverage read Apple's homepage announcement. There's even more than those 200+, that you can only experience after you start using ML yourself.
However, Apple's ulterior message is rather less conspicuous. You obviously see them trying to continuously harmonise OSX with iOS and, since those things are done with OO programming libraries and APIs, most of their functions are reusable and interchangeable. Meaning they won't have to spend too much R&D to provide future enhancements. This is the beauty of a standards based OOAD, dude! Thus, we increasingly see stuff that exist for years on iPhones and iPads find their way into OSX. The objective is obvious. Users must not waste too much grey matter to have their devices do what they want them to do. It's called being intuitive in their use. Natural and intuitive. His Jobness was a genuine Master in understanding the man-on-the-street's intuition and natural behavioural reaction to electronics appliances. Those whom he left Apple to after his death will hopefully continue his vision.
I haven't been able to test Airplay in ML because it presumably needs version 5.1 of the Apple TVs OS. I am running 5.0.4 now and it sez it's the latest available. I hope it's ready by the time they ship ML commercially. It will be bad press if they don't. Airplay is one of their best functions that brings a lot of user media assets together for the entire family to experience, at the convenience of the living room sofa and on a big ass HDTV!
Also, and this happens each time a new version comes out, installation of the new OSX has seriously accelerated the response times on my old (little more than a year old, that is) Lion install. Recently, the turtle slow processing of trivial tasks on a monster specs 27 inch Quad core i7 iMac, and its painfully uninterrupted drive spinning for just opening the mail app, to say something, drove me literally up the walls. Turned my last grey hair into snow-white! ML seems to have improved at least 2 to 3X my most recent performances on Lion. Let's hope it stays this way.
Conclusion: Those of you who have abandoned any other Mickey Mouse mobile and desktop/laptop computing for ever, and replaced it with Apple Macs, routers, apple TVs and iOS devices, the new OSX will bring you a step closer to the computing/media sharing/Living room nirvana. The quality is as expected Apple exquisite. Simply signed, Steven Jobs and Jonathan Ive. What is there else to say?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

How much Web 2.0 am I?

No clue what went through my mind today, but all of sudden, out of nowhere, I just wanted to remember when I joined some of the popular networks on the Net. It's kind of interesting to know that, because, finding out actually puts me inside the 'innovators ' and at worst 'early adopters' in all of the most popular out there. What does this mean? Not much really, but I'm just stating this because I'm sick and tired of some laggards trying to 'teach me' web shite. 

Well, for starters, I wrote my first Fortran II (!) programs as an engineering student in 1972, at the NTUA (Metsovion). Soon after that, in 1974 we started using Fortran IV. In 1975 and 1976 I did my thesis on a weird mini computer that our Naval Architecture prof acquired, one with those funny IBM printers with fonts moulded on a rotating hollow metal ball! IBM earned a fortune with these gadgets. They used to break in pieces. The noise that thing did... driven by a computer! Like a machine gun, it was. We were happy to use that computer instead of the school's 'mainframe' because we could enter code online via a keyboard and monitor, whereas the mainframe could only read punchcards. And IBM's punchers were made of pure cast iron and steel; you could easily cut a finger operating those basterds. I hated them. We also used to go use computer time at the Ministry of Finance in Athens (it wasn't bankrupt yet those days), but I avoided that as one day that I was carrying a box with punchcards, the darn thing fell off my hands and I had to spend hours to reassemble. 
I came to Ghent to do my PhD and tried the school's mainframes still running Siemens BS1000 in 1978, which was another disaster area. I was fed up losing so much time correcting a few lines of code and wasting whole mornings to wait for compile reports to come out. I was soon given CPU time on one faculty department's mini computer next door to ours, and spent the rest of my doc work on that box, working late nights, especially after the mini's regular users left the office... In 1979, I was stupid to convince my wife to buy me a Tandy micro computer. I rather bought some Apple stock then, instead. We spent almost two months of her salary, and I only used the darn thing for... less than 5 hours in all (I never really told her or she would hack me). A piece of crap it was! Like anything else coming out of Radio Shack. Eventually, my sister brought the wicked shite to Lagos, Nigeria (where she lived with her spouse working for Bell Telephone) and sold it to some other nutter for almost twice as much... She brought back two pieces of fake (plastic) ivory to me as a payment pretending it was genuine and we were all happy, that cost her less than half of what I paid for the Tandy. So, she pocketed the delta, of about 150% of its price, her soul rest in peace. See how us Greeks make money on our family? Don't tell me you didn't know, or I'll piss myself.
Ever since I left school in 1980, I was hired in technology depts and managed tech companies for the following 25 years. I also taught computer stuff at UFSIA since 1987. I worked on IBM PCs since their first commercial release at customer sites working for Andersen Consulting. I used to do email and word processing at CINB since 1980, and was asked to talk about my experiences a few times, in some of the earliest public talks about email in the country, at the University of Louvain in 1982* and in Antwerp Crest Hotel in 1984. I've used  Apple III and the first Mackintosh at Andersen's in 1984 and 1985 respectively. I first entered Internet via slow modems in the late 80ies and was one of the early browser users on HTML 1.0, I guess. What was the name again. It was definitely before Netscape. It took me years to figure out where to find a commercial ISP to buy me an Internet email account. Can you imagine? I spent a fortune on telephone charges calling US Bulletin Boards to downloading tiny less than 2 MB files waiting 30 min and more, whereby connections would break the last five secs and then all over again. It was a bitch! In 1980 we used to do email on a line by line electric teletype with acoustic couplers. You'd pick up the receiver of a regular landline phone and secure it on two rubber pockets of the coupler. That was then the modem. Slow and practical. I don't remember how many bauds it was on, but it must have been the slowest ever in the known history of mankind!
Problem is, I have never been a pro computer expert. I used to do a lot of shite, but mostly as an end-user and out of healthy curiosity. I always had a weak spot for software. I even taught customers methodologies about how to develop industrial strength computer apps but I've  never programmed a single line of COBOL that went into any real production system. In other words, I knew how to do stuff, but I never did them. But I managed hundreds of others who did. Maybe a few thousand in all. I guess, I always been a consultant. And a manager...
I also did a shitload of amateur sound and movie stuff, and all sorts of image processing and spent fortunes on gear that didn't work. I've been a Photoshop 2.5 user just to mention something. I also used Multimate, a lookalike for MS-DOS of Wang's proprietary Wordprocessor, and in spreadsheets, Visicalc and Lotus 123. I've used Microsoft's first versions of their Office (word and excel) on the early Macintosh. I even tested that piece of crap that eventually became windows (it was Windows V1.0 then, running on my portable MS DOS Toshiba... it's dead now, but I still have it somewhere in the loft picking up dust). What can I say? Been there done that. 
I upgraded my computing gear and moved entirely to Mac from 2001 onwards. Only at work I continued using Windows and swearing about it all the time. I loved Mac ever since that little Jobs marvel hit the road mid 80ies. I didn't have enough money to buy one then, and my first Mac eventually became the iMac with the funny colors. I bought a blue and a grey box. I gave them away later on. I never bought a cube or the iMac with the floating monitor on an arm standing on top of a half ball... I came in the Mac world on OS 9 and jumped on OSX 1.0 from day one. But I also tried a NEXT box for a few hours in 1992, when one of my Swiss customers was convinced by his Jobness himself to buy about a dozen. My customer later donated them to the EPFL in Lausanne as he couldn't do anything useful with them in his department at the BCV. 
Recently, I bought the iPad via a friend on the Monday following their first commercial launch the Friday before, somewhere in April, three-four years ago? I must have been one of the first dozens of iPad users in Europe then. When was that? I forgot. I was among the early flocks downloading podcasts and videocasts when amateurs were still dominating the scenery. Like I said. Been there, done that...
Last but not least, I learned to built my own PCs in the early nineties. I wasted months of my life literally fixing Windows crap. I must have installed hundreds of Windows installs for my own, family and friends. The life that I wasted on Windows makes me hate monkey boy even more. Bill was to blame in the first place, but I never managed to 'hate' Gates. I actually respect him a lot. But that P-o-S Ballmer?!?! I despise the fokker. Incompetent sob.
I wish I had studied computers from day one, instead of ship-building! With all the time I spent in the computing business, I might have made a fortune getting early enough in my career as a computer expert rather than a manager on the back of an MBA. But you know, like my pal John in Atlanta sez, it is only money. On its own it helps a wee bit, but it ain't gonna make you happy. Sort of...

* I was in charge of an office automation team inside the Bank then, and my Dutch wasn't that fluent yet. It was better than my French** though... I had to present my experiences in Dutch, I guess, to a Flemish audience on a Saturday. As I was talking, I noticed my audience having a good time by the way I was speaking. They seemed to think it was funny because they laughed a lot. Well email was not a subject for laughs, I suppose, but they did LTFAO indeed... I must have told them a lot of crap then, who knows?  I remember, there were even two nuns in the audience, and at a point in time, as I was explaining the impact on our female secretarial staff in the Bank of email and word-processing, I said : You know, at our place, we don't 'use' the secretaries anymore for 'typing' at all... Well, dirty basterds in the audience burst in laughter to the point that whatever I said after that seemed hilarious to them, even if there was nothing wrong with it. They wouldn't mind. Kept on laughing. It must have been my first ever appearance as a stand up comedian... I wasn't 30 yet. Start early they say... 

** True story. In the summer if '78 I worked as a student at my wife's employer, Citibank in Brussels. I did boring stuff all day long, stamping papers and counting the hours to the end of the working day. The first day at work at about 10 am a 'coffee lady' arrives with her chariot full of thermos with hot coffee. Those days companies used to spend money on staff doing just that, indeed. They were later replaced by coffee automata and the ladies went on living supported by unemployment benefits to their retirement... That one lady though comes to my desk and asks me in impeccable French: Du café, monsieur? So much I figured out and I proudly go, putting up my best French accent: Oui! What a performance! She probably thought I was born at the Cartier Latin. Damn her though, she continues: Au lait, cher monsieur? WTF was that again? What happened next would have made Faulty Towers Manuel a proud compatriot. I utter... Olé Olé Caramba!  My early stand up comedian steps. Like I said... An early starter.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Bonami display mannequins

I was invited yesterday to the showroom of this display mannequins business in Aalter Belgium. I have known of their work and their exquisite designs of (window-dressing) modeling 'dolls' already years ago, but I never imagined such an alien worlds aesthetically exquisite impact this venue would have upon me. In less than an hour I must have shot almost 200 frames and still couldn't stop. It was rather warm and humid during the whole day and my carrying of several kgs of photo-shooting gear made me feel sweaty and miserable. Nevertheless I continued the shoot. The Bonamis have their showroom extend over two floors (ground and first), and have created some interesting spaces in a building that used to be a gym before they acquired it in their business. Space lighting would only turn on when they sensed your movement, which is kind of nice and 'green', as it saves energy for them and the rest of us. 

The Bonami display mannequins have been developed by a team of three extremely talented sculptors with a passion for exceptional work under the creative guidance and style choices of the founder and General Manager, Nico Bonami. One of the three artists was Philip Heath, the famous British doll designer, a sculptor with phenomenal talent. I said 'was' because, unfortunately, he recently passed. His work is still with us though, and, via the Bonami mannequins, it can be seen in up-market fashion shops in London, Paris, Düsseldorf and New York, to mention a few, and in the 'better' shopping areas of this country, where mostly 'old' money usually does its shopping (obviously Knokke, etc..).

You didn't have the feeling that you were stepping inside a commercial showroom at all. The objects are genuine works of modern art. The showroom was more impressive than an arts' gallery, or any contemporary museum for argument's sake. You felt like it would be a shame to use those artifacts for fashion modeling, and dress them up in pret-à-porter or haute couture pieces.

I shot the slideshow pictures and processed them later as unique frames. If you watch the show, make sure you judge each and every frame on its own merit, like no other shots were there before and after it. I believe these pictures reproduced the sphere of the moment quite well. I felt like I was surrounded by 'people' of the fourth millennium, inside worlds experiencing augmented reality, where human bodies were shaped in much more organic, functional, and aesthetically attractive ways. There was a sense of something 'erotic' in the air, and a sexual sensuality that was only spoiled by the occasional presence of fellow visitors strolling among the dolls, and shooting photographs, like I did. 

It was indeed a unique experience; a travel into the future of another... thousand years! When people might choose the color of their skin before birth, to be a saturated red and yellow and magenta or green and blue, metallic or white and, why not, transparent to let the light come through!

I would strongly recommend you to pay a visit... if it was a museum indeed, and accepted unqualified visitors. Unfortunately it isn't... it is a regular business, and only customers and prospects are welcome. In the meantime, enjoy my photographs in the slideshow, and if you happen to be the happy owner of one of these big-ass smart HDTVs that can play directly from YouTube, then do just that. The slideshow is posted on YT in HD-Ready resolution and can be replayed like nothing you seen before; also the accompanying music is superb; I borrowed it from an old Vangelis P. album, called "the City". The particular track is called Procession, it's 9'33" long, and I couldn't think of anything else to use as a soundtrack for this...

If you still wanted to see each of the photographs shown in the slide show on its own, in higher resolution, and for as long as you desired, check out my Flickr set here. 
Also, if you care to watch a slideshow of Bonami's factory and workshop in Aalter, check out this other Youtube clip, I just uploaded.