Archive for the 'Mac' Category

Java on MacOS

As you know, I’m extremely unhappy about the fact that Apple didn’t deign to finally provide us with a Mac version of Java 6 when they released Leopard. I’m so upset that I’m postponing to buy Leopard until they finally get their act together.

This is why I’m really happy about the fact that someone ported the FreeBSD version of OpenJDK, Sun’s recently open-sourced version of Java 6, to the Mac.  I’ve downloaded the Tiger version, and it even appears faster than the Apple Java developer preview that came out a year ago: Utool enumerates solved forms about 15% faster than before. :) This may just be due to a different JIT compilation strategy, but it’s still hella cool, and it’s even cooler that one guy ported this all in his spare time. The one big drawback is that the OpenJDK is limited to displaying Swing windows in X11, which looks just terrible after you’ve gotten used to Aqua Swing. But I’m sure it’s just a matter of time until we break free of Apple’s tyranny and can finally get new versions of Java as early as everyone else!

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Cyc and Google

In preparing for my ESSLLI course and evening lecture in two weeks, I’ve been trying to find out what state Cyc is in these days. I still can’t find any reasonable kind of technical documentation (if you know of any, let me know), but I did find a really cool talk that Doug Lenat, the founder of Cyc, gave at Google last year. I think everyone who works on knowledge-based AI should find an hour to watch this talk really soon. It has a fantastic motivating introduction on why we really need formalized commonsense knowledge, and shows a couple of things that Cyc can do. Of course, this doesn’t answer my original question, but perhaps I can use some of it for my talks anyway.

Now, the other thing that really impressed me is how easy it is to watch Google videos. I knew before that Google records the public talks that people give there and makes them available, but hadn’t really looked at any of them. But what’s really nifty is that you can use the Google Video Player (available for Windows and Mac) and have the video automatically downloaded for offline use, in much better quality than the online video. Now if I could just find a way to read just the subtitles (the entire video is subtitled) without watching the video in realtime, that would be even cooler.

Edit: I finally figured out how to access FACTory, an online game that asks users questions and uses their answers to add more stuff to the Cyc database. This seems like almost exactly the right thing to do, and gives you an idea of what sort of things Cyc knows about. You can find it here (your browser needs to support Java applets), and it’s really fun to play for a bit.

Speech acts in Mac ads

Whoo boy, am I ever behind in blogging. In the past few weeks, I have been doing a number of really fun things (looking at Mozart manuscripts at the Morgan Library, visiting a wolf reservation in New Jersey, seeing the Museum of Natural History, doing a day trip to Philadelphia), and I promise I’ll find the time soon to post about them.

For now, however, I’d just like to point out the new “Get a Mac” ad. It’s really nifty: They use speech acts to make fun of Vista’s security features. Who ever said that pragmatics would never pay the bills?

iPhone

In other news, I am as excited about the Apple iPhone that was announced on Tuesday. It’s teh shiny, and it seems to me that Apple has managed to make the programs that should work together smoothly work together smoothly.

But still, the phone is not what I had hoped for. What’s the point in making it run a mobile OS X if you can’t write your own applications? Why do I want wireless on a mobile phone if I can’t use it for Skype or something similar? Is it really necessary to lock me into a single possible carrier (Cingular), which happens not to provide a sufficiently strong signal in my apartment? And if it’s supposed to be a computing platform and not just a dumb but portable extension of my PC (which was Palm’s classical philosophy), why don’t I get the chance to attach peripherals? It would be so cool to have a USB port in the iPhone that I could use to attach a keyboard or an external hard drive or stuff like that. Don’t tell me that this would raise the power consumption by all that much.

But really, I am annoyed at Apple for claiming to know what’s best for me. The iPod was a masterstroke, because it did one thing and it did it well. The iPhone is a more ambitious thing, and at this point I don’t see how I would spend $500 for a mobile web browser with a two-year contract (considering that I already have a phone and an MP3 player, and it really isn’t that important to me to have them inside the same device). It is applications that define the true value of a computing platform; I would be less excited about OS X if it didn’t have things like OmniGraffle and Quicksilver and Parallels and Delicious Library and the Unix command-line tools and everything that I can imagine to need, and considering that the phone probably won’t have any of these, it’s really not so interesting to me.

Delicious Library

Oh my God. As you know, I really get a kick out of having the computer interact with the real world. I love scanners, which allow your computer to “see”, and I’m fascinated whenever I print something on a printer in a different building over a network.

Imagine my delight with Delicious Library. This is a tool (Mac-only) that works as follows: 1. Start the program; 2. hold a book or CD or DVD or video game in front of your iSight camera so that it can see the barcode on the back of the book; 3. the program reads the barcode and imports all relevant information on the book from Amazon or some such; 4. and adds it to your library so you can e.g. keep track of whom you lent the book. It will also let you assign due dates for books you lent out and put them into your iCal calendar, but that’s just sick.

It’s not like I’m going to use this in any major way, and certainly I won’t pay a $40 registration fee for being able to have a library with more than 25 entries or synchronise it with my iPod. But it sure beats the hell out of the book database that I wrote when I was 15. And imagine how helpful this tool would be for an actual small lending library. This is so awesome. :)

Now, back to work.

The Mac as a gaming machine

My new Macbook Pro is blazingly fast. When I look at Manhattan in Google Earth using the university’s fast internet connection, I can zoom through the skyscrapers without so much as a stutter in the movement. Nonetheless, it’s of course not an ideal gaming machine for me because all my computer games are Windows only, and I refuse to just buy them all again, even if they all existed for the Mac, which they don’t.

We have ways and means, of course. Yesterday I ordered a new, moderately legal copy of Windows XP to run with either Boot Camp or Parallels Desktop. Once that arrives, next week or so, the future will look rosy. But even at this point, I have collected quite a list of cool stuff that I can already play, and because I just know that you’re dying to learn about it, here you go:

  • The regular Windows version of Pharaoh runs on Codeweavers Crossover Mac, which is a commercial version of the old Wine project. You don’t need Windows to play it because Crossover contains a complete emulation layer that translates Windows API calls into Mac ones. It’s quite an amazing piece of technology.
  • All LucasArts adventures run on ScummVM, which is available for the Mac. Games I have with me include Monkey Island 1 and 2, Indiana Jones 3 and 4, Sam and Max, and Full Throttle.
  • Likewise, the Privateer Remake and Exult both run on the Mac as well as on Windows. Thank you, open source people, for making your applications cross platform!
  • Second Life runs natively on the Mac and is free. (But I’m stuck with my character and can’t get back to the Help Island, so I don’t know if I’ll ever really get into playing that.)
  • I’ve also experimented with FlightGear (a free, cross-platform flight simulator) and with the demo version of Civilization IV (which seems to run flawlessly), but don’t really see myself spending a lot of time with either. FlightGear seemed to be easier to use than the Microsoft Flight Simulator I played with in 1990 or so, when I had enough time to play out real-time flights between different cities in the US. At least, I managed to fly under the Golden Gate Bridge without crashing my plane after only minimal practice.

It’s not like I have that kind of time to play computer games today. But still, it’s nice to have choices, and once my Windows CD arrives, I should be able to waste as much time as I want again.

American Engineering

One of my favourite articles ever on the topic of intercultural relations was a collection in the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit of prejudices of Germans against Americans and vice versa, some years ago. I read what the Americans thought about the typical Germans, and there was an unpleasantly high number of things that I could identify with.

I’ve forgotten almost the entire list now, but one point that stays with me is that Americans think that Germans will always walk about knocking on walls, shaking their heads, and saying, “You shouldn’t even be allowed to build something like this.” I was shocked when I read this, because I do that all the time. I try to hide it better these days, but sometimes I just can’t resist.

Take this week’s experiences with my apartment, for example. It is getting pretty cold outside, and so people have started turning on the heating. Now heating in New York is typically done by water steam; incidentally, those pictures you know from movies where they have a hole in the street and steam comes out come from water evaporating on the underground steam pipes. Apparently the heating system of a house needs to “let off steam” every once in a while, and so they have these steam pipes that go up through all the floors of a house and end in a tiny chimney. I have two such pipes in my apartment. They can get very hot, which is good when it’s cold and I want heating and not so good when I find it too warm for heating, but you can always make like an American and open a window. The real catch is that each has some kind of valve which will periodically start clicking and hissing quite loudly for a few minutes until it falls silent again. This is annoying, because New York isn’t the quietest city in the world to begin with, and it would be nice to not have more noise pollution than necessary, but I guess there’s a perfectly good reason why those valves have to be there. Perfectly good from the perspective of American engineers, that is.

And then, my Internet connection just stopped working on Friday afternoon, between sending one email and another. I called the cable company to have it fixed, and they sent a technician over on Wednesday. It turns out that the boxes that connect the cable in the individual apartments of this house to the general grid are kept on the roofs of the houses. As a consequence, there is a thicket of cables lying around on the roof; I had never actually noticed them because they do keep them along the sides of the roof, but it’s quite amazing once you become aware of them. Furthermore, because you can go up on the roof and walk to the roofs of the adjacent buildings, you can (although you’re technically not supposed to) “borrow” a cable from your neighbour’s box. So what happened to my Net connection is that a neighbour from 338 put a splitter on my cable and set up his own cable connection by way of a really long cable that goes down into his window on the third floor. The cable guy will now have his company do an audit of the whole building to get the mess sorted out, but why they don’t just put the cable boxes into basements where they belong is something that you probably need to be an American engineer to understand.

There is one redeeming element in favour of American engineering this week, however, and that is my ooh-the-shiny new Macbook Pro that was delivered on Tuesday morning. I’ve waited a very long time for Apple to finally release the Core 2 Duo laptops, but I can say this: If I had had the chance to spend two days with a Mac like I have now (i.e. not removed from it except by physical force), I would have bought one years ago. This system is at the same time really pretty and feels almost a bit like WIndows in that you get to run professional applications with smooth GUIs, and almost a bit like Linux in that you have a real command line that’s integrated with everything else and not a weird addon like Cygwin. A lot of the things that I’ve wanted to do so far have just worked (once I found the secret documentation that tells me how to install X11 and gcc and things like this). The one thing that I’m a bit unhappy about is that the trackpad has only one button, but there are way too many function keys; it’s a Memory game to keep track of when you have to press Control versus Command versus Alt versus Fn. And then I managed to make one of my external hard disks incompatible with the Mac by unplugging it while the laptop was asleep. No idea what’s going on there (finding tech help online seems to be much harder for the Mac than for Linux or Windows), and I can still access the HD from my old Windows laptop, but it sure is annoying.


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