Saturday in Miniature.

Sunday, January 23rd, 2005

I’m both chagrined and pleased to say that I stood in line early Saturday morning with Bill Ambrose outside the Apple Store Lenox and chatted with people who were similarly excited to get their hands on the new Mac Mini. (iPod Shuffle enthusiasts had to wait–the store didn’t have any in stock.)

And in the best consumer tradition, I walked out with the cute package that contained a cute package, which, when plugged in, just worked…quite well for having a tiny 256 MB of RAM. And as part os some strange sort of discipline or science experiment, I’m gonna stick with the stock memory allocation for now.

This small box with a hardwired 10/100 Ethernet cable is playing (using VLC) DVDs and Divx videos over our local network without complaint. It plays Keynote presentations happily…as long as the screen size isn’t gigantic. Yeah, I probably wouldn’t edit videos on it, but I would have it sit in our living room and serve up the world.

So we’re all iLifed and iWorked and networked. Digital hub realized.

Tipped off.

Friday, January 14th, 2005

The hoopla of Tuesday’s Macworld announcements has come and gone, and now we’re left with that interesting interregnum where we wait for the products to be actually available in our malls or in our living rooms (Apple’s saying January 22nd, Bill Ambrose has checked the Atlanta Apple Store and he says more like the actual end of the month.)

And one guy—Paul Nixon—has put together a terrific infographic called Apple’s Tipping Point: Macs for the Masses that analyzes how that clever fruit/computer company places products in the marketplace that overcome the psychological resistance most of us have to price versus the natural attraction many (not most) of us have toward the coolness of the new.

He says “These things do not happen by accident. The graphic [linked above] illustrates extreme patience and foresight from Apple to bring users to the platform by innovating increasingly towards the mass market over time without sacrificing the middle or high-end markets.”

Meanwhile, speaking of tipping, the lawsuit filed against the long-time proprietor of a Mac rumors site is beginning to show signs of being a public relations nightmare for Apple. We’ve learned (out here on the internet) that “Nick de Plume” is in fact a 19 year old Harvard undergrad (!) who has been doing this since he was 13 (!!). He’s positioning himself well to be the David to Jobs and company’s Goliath. Danger, danger. Me, I think sites like this are protected speech, especially against big confidentiality-obsessed corporations, even as I acknowledge that they can take some of “the fun”, whatever that is, out of surprise announcements. So maybe the “hold everything til Steve’s keynote” approach isn’t that great a plan, year-to-year? Jobs himself seemed a bit tired of running through OS X Tiger’s new features (“behold! the Dashboard!”) which are terrific, but are great mostly in a greater context that doesn’t involve surprise. Apple’s greatness now, is revealed more in the sense that it has a roadmap (as Paul Nixon has shown, above.)

And although a 99 dollar iPod is a very neat thing (that I might pick up as an impulse buy), my niece, who has been saving up for a big purchase, is still drawn to the pink iPod Mini, because (need you ask), it’s pink.

Christmas day, the 11th of January.

Tuesday, January 11th, 2005

Most of you know that the Apple Macintosh has been an important part of the tools I use since 1984, and my admiration for the machines Apple makes extends back to the Apple ][ days.

And since the Second Coming of Steve Jobs, the annual announcements in January from Jobs-san, onstage, clad in blue jeans and a black turtleneck, have been eagerly (to say the least) anticipated by the Mac faithful.

Mac faithful! That, of course, is the phrase everyone uses. In fact, the jargon of religion and cults seems to suffuse most online writing about Apple, the Mac, the iPod, and the people who buy and advocate them. I guess in some ways it’s easier to shortcut understanding of this kind of enthusiastic loyalty over a company and products that are, after all, American consumer goods, designed to be manufactured and sold at a profit, to the benefit of stockholders. It’s just a company, like Ford or BMW or Sony, right?

Well, yes and no. There doesn’t seem to be a single company out there that does as good and consistent a job of providing the opportunity to purchase a 21st century future in the form of hardware and software that, for the most part, just works…no muss or fuss. And it works in a cool way, in cool dress. Yes, the Consumer Electronics Show just concluded in Las Vegas has, taken together, more cool stuff from more cool places—but there’s a lot of crap in there, and it takes several dozen companies gathered together to generate the buzz that one fruit-named company can in one presentation.

And that presentation—the Steve Jobs keynote at the annual Macworld show, with what up until this year has been a live webcast of the product unveiling, has been a special day in the lives of Mac folk. Here, in a cascade of wonderment, was “the new this, and the upgraded that, and oh yeah, just one more thing–this doohickey here may well change your life.”

Ooh. Aah! And the 2005 version of that event happens today, at noon eastern time, in San Francisco. And the rumor websites have it that this year, well, boy oh boy, this year the thingies and doohickies and doodahs are going to be more spectacular and life-changing and ultimately cool than ever.

But this year, immediate gratification has been delayed by nine hours, to 9 pm eastern time. Rumors abound as to the reason for the delay, but it might be as simple as Steve doesn’t want to spend the money on the extra bandwidth a live webcast consumes, with the technological flakiness that might result. or, like David Letterman and unlike Bill Gates (who keynoted at CES), he’d like some hours in post to tighten up his performance and remove any flubs or blue screens of death. One guy (nicknamed ‘blueflame’) commented on MacRumors that the delay “sucks, i usually look foreward [sic] to this day more than christmas.”

Yes, well, perhaps that’s a symptom. It might not be a good thing to let today’s even become too special in your life. And don’t forget, the only gift Steve is giving us is the opportunity to hand over some cash in exchange for coolness. Hmm…where did I put that cash, anyway?

So gather ye collections of rumors and possibilities, and settle down…relax! …for what on the east coast will be an after-dinner treat.

Soggy in Southeast Ohio.

Sunday, January 9th, 2005

Back in the late sixties, the US Army Corps of Engineers spent a bundle moving the Hocking River out from the center of Athens Ohio, the home of Ohio University. They assured the town, with characteristic bravado, that its flooding problems were over. Over, I tell you! Well, apparently it didn’t work.

According to data from the National Weather Service, the Hocking River near Athens had reached 22.28 feet early [Thursday], more than two feet above the flood elevation level of 20 feet. The flood elevation level is the point at which water begins to come over the riverbank, said Ray Hazlett, assistant service/safety director for the city of Athens.

Cold and soggy…glad I’m not in classes there this winter. Of course, I think I’m glad I’m not in classes anywhere…I’m fortunate I can lead a life of downloading obscure academic papers (that’s a PDF) referred to me by my wife and jumping around on the internet trying to figure out what the heck an exploratoid is (see first paper under ‘preprints.’) Yes, an education worth every penny I pay for it.

The life quixotic.

Tuesday, January 4th, 2005

Calendar flips, and I had the experience this year of being at a New Year’s gathering where, to be frank, I really didn’t know these folks all that well and they really didn’t come from the same world that I inhabit…and so I found it all the more profound that as the seconds ticked off on CNN or on the Regis-as-Dick-Clark show or wherever the heck the TV was at year’s end, I heard a general and profound sentiment–expressed, right out there in the room–of good riddance to 2004 and to all the godawful stuff that happened in that year and maybe we could all just do a bit better for ourselves and each other in this bright shiny new year we’ve just popped the bubble wrap on.

A murmered plurality of “let’s move on.” A basic human optimism that things will be better in the next time period than in the last. A sarcastic, under-the-breath “they couldn’t get much worse, now could they?”

And so we shall. I’ve been getting back into some beginning of the year, short-deadline, get-it-done design work, there have been sounds of writing productivity from the archaeologist’s office upstairs, and there are reports of fine, fine new Mac products about to be announced just around the corner.

And here in (positively) Atlanta, it’s warm outside. An optimist would find that reassuring…