The opposite of thrifty

Spending is a key component of modern life. The biggest victory in post-war history was achieved not with guns and steel, but through spending: the United States successfully outspent the Soviet Union, as the latter went bankrupt trying to keep up with ever more extravagant and expensive military gadgets like stealth fighters and Reagan’s “SDI” space war initiative.

In recent years of economic crisis, spending has become more like a postmodern TV hero. He is the Magnificent Bastard who is also a Double Reverse Quadruple Agent: an inscrutable two-faced object of desire that plays the roles of angel and demon at the same time. On one hand, ever-increasing spending on credit is clearly the culprit behind the crushing debt woes faced by the United States and the eurozone countries. On the other hand, spending is a commonly accepted solution to avoid a looming recession. Opinions disagree whether it should be governments doing the spending to stimulate the economy, or whether we should figure out other ways to get individual consumers and companies to spend more, but the reasoning is fundamentally the same: spending equals growth.
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Why the Mac App Sandbox makes me sad

Apple announced today that, starting in March 2012, all apps on the Mac App Store will be required to run in the so-called “App Sandbox”.

The sandbox is an environment that locks down the Mac in ways that match (and exceed) the limitations found on iOS. A sandboxed app doesn’t have direct access to any files or frameworks on the system. It can’t access the network or any devices.

For the app, nothing else exists on the system except for those files and APIs that the operating system explicitly makes accessible to it:

By default, the sandboxed app doesn’t really have anything of its own. Even files in its own Application Support subfolder may be deleted by the operating system if it wants to e.g. reclaim some disk space. The sandbox analogy is quite fitting indeed — inside it, an app’s data has all the permanence of a sand castle.
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Posted in Business stuff, Mac-related | 126 Comments

Canvas smartphone support hits 100%, video slightly behind

Microsoft has finally given a date for the release of Windows Phone 7.5, also known as Mango. The update will start rolling out “in the next week or two”, depending on operator and hardware vendor processes. Hopefully it won’t be long until all Windows Phone 7 devices have been updated to Mango.

Windows Phone 7 is a fluid and appealing operating system, but that’s not why I’m posting about it. Mango’s release is significant for web developers because it includes Internet Explorer 9 and hence substantial improvements to HTML5 compatibility.

This calls for celebration: with Mango joining the fray, all currently shipping smartphone operating systems now have support for the <canvas> element! This means you can design animations in Radi using Canvas and deploy on mobile without worrying about missing API support.

The complete list of mobile platforms with Canvas support is as follows: Continue reading

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Why Radi uses Canvas – comparing CSS-based animation and immediate rendering

The market for HTML5 design apps has heated up lately. The number one question that I now get asked about my Radi application is: How does it compare to Edge and Hype? Isn’t it the same kind of app? On the surface that is the case – all three are animation tools that target the modern web. But there are important differences under the hood. Although the apps look similar, they answer a different need and have a different growth path going forward.

Comparing Radi to Edge and Hype is pretty much “apples to oranges”, as the old saying goes. Fruits are not a very informative analogy, though. Let’s think of these apps as akin to musical instruments that can be used either solo or in a band. If Edge and Hype are the electric guitar, then Radi is perhaps the synthesizer. Unless you’re a genre purist, neither kind of instrument is objectively “better”. Either can be used to create a brain-wrecking cover version of Stairway to Heaven, but that doesn’t mean they are inherently flawed instruments…

For more sophisticated uses, the guitar and the synthesizer are more likely to complement rather than overlap each other, and so there are many individuals and creative groups that will want to use both together for the best effect. In this post, I’ll try to explain how the difference between Radi and other HTML5 apps, and how they can complement each other. I’ve got some simple content examples to illustrate things. (I’m also planning to write a second part that will concentrate on Canvas performance and WebGL, so stay tuned for more.)

First, a brief overview of the apps under discussion. My own Radi is at radiapp.com; check out the details there. Edge is a new application by the world’s most venerable content creation software company, Adobe. It is available as a free preview from Adobe Labs, and is also cross-platform (Mac + Windows). Hype is also a new application, but Mac-only. It’s created by Tumult, a company founded by two ex-Apple software engineers (who clearly know the Mac better than their own pockets).

As mentioned, Edge is free for now, but it stands to reason that it will eventually be included in Adobe’s Creative Suite because it’s clearly meant to complement Adobe’s other products rather than stand on its own. (For example, it seems unlikely that Edge will ever have vector drawing tools, with Adobe preferring instead to leave that task to Illustrator). Meanwhile Hype is available on the Mac App Store for $29. This is a limited-time offer upon its first release, which presumably means that Hype will cost more in the future. Continue reading

Posted in Animation, Mac-related, Web | 5 Comments

The Ten Abominations

A site called Test Your Vocabulary was a small hit on Hacker News today. The test takes only a few minutes, and you get an estimate of the breadth of your English vocabulary as the approximate number of words you know. In other words, it’s the perfect Sunday entertainment for all of us who get strange kicks from having our intellectual capacity rated and quantified…

The site got me thinking about the last time when I encountered an English word that was completely unknown to me. This was a few days ago; the word was contumacy, and it appeared in a particularly famous telex written by George Kennan. An online search revealed that ‘contumacy’ is the stubborn refusal to obey orders, and more specifically refers to contempt of court in modern English-speaking law practice.

Well, nothing particularly interesting there. But thanks to the wonders of hypertext, the word led me to discover the Ten Abominations, of which contumacy is one. These Abominations are a list of offences that were considered most serious under traditional Chinese law. They were regarded as the most abhorrent and hence necessitated the gravest penalties, even including the omission of some legal processes that were otherwise given to an accused. The list of abominations derived mostly from the writings of Confucius and even older archaic Chinese tradition. For over two thousand years of Imperial rule, the Ten Abominations were recognized as a moral baseline for justice, not unlike the role of the Ten Commandments in Judeo-Christian tradition.

What’s striking about the Ten Abominations is how precisely described and entirely non-abstract these offenses are. The ancient Chinese certainly didn’t practice relativistic handwaving when it came to morals. Specifically listed offences include damaging royal palaces, murdering government officials, having fun during grief periods, and having a sexual affair with one’s grandfather’s concubine… At least you can’t say you weren’t warned if grandpa catches up.
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Radi updated to v0.6

I’ve just updated my Radi application to version 0.6. It’s still a free download.

If you’re interested in the possibilities of HTML5 content creation, give it a try!

There’s a bunch of interesting new stuff in this release — anchor points, keyframing improvements, publish for HTML embedding, a new popup help system, among others — so I figured the version number should be bumped to 0.6.

For more details, check out the release notes: What’s new in Radi 0.6 (…Now with 80% more screenshots of new features!)

I’m hoping to increase the release pace from now on. The 4-month lag between this release and the last was too long. I’ll try to concentrate primarily on bug fixes and manageable, incremental feature updates. If you have any ideas about what you’d like to see in Radi, don’t hesitate to contact me (my email is in the About page).

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On Naming Things, and the CEO-Programmer

I started this blog a few months back, but it didn’t have a title except for Pauli Olavi Ojala’s Notes. I’ve discovered that the lack of a title makes it extremely difficult for me to come up with things to write. In a way the title represents the audience, and the lack of a title makes it painfully obvious that I don’t really know whom I’m writing for.

Hence I’m renaming this blog to Naming Things. This title is directly borrowed from my favorite programming-related saying. It was coined by Phil Karlton, and slightly paraphrased it goes like this:

“The only real difficulties in programming are cache invalidation and naming things.”

(At Netscape Communications, Phil held the title of Principal Curmudgeon. He clearly took his advice about the importance of naming to heart.)

The wording of this aphorism is such that it remains utterly impenetrable to non-programmers. The concept of ‘cache invalidation’ and its applications and challenges are not part of most people’s daily experience, and perhaps that’s all for the best… Yet I feel there is a kernel of wisdom here that could benefit a wide range of disciplines outside of computer science. Programmers have accumulated tremendous practical experience in dealing with complexity and information flows using only the sticky, slow-but-wide tools of a single human brain. There are many fields where these lessons could be applied if they were translated to a more generic language.

Let’s take an example from the global shadow society of large enterprises. In a company of more than a hundred thousand employees and thousands of projects, how can a CEO hope to stay on top of the big picture, much less shape it?
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The rich old couple and the adopted prodigy (a parable of a tech romance)

Have you seen the Hollywood romance-drama everyone’s talking about this weekend?

It’s about two rich middle-aged people, a man and a woman. He is a very successful business executive; respected, even feared, yet he’s convinced that behind his back, the kids at the office are constantly mocking his old-world thinking, his lack of charisma and modern people skills, his ’70s style suits and fake hair, his I-let-it-go-two-decades-ago physical appearance. Buying the Harley-Davidson a couple of years ago seems to have done little to improve his faded outlook of himself.

She is a very successful shoe designer. Having barely escaped from Stalinist Russia as a kid, she’s a tough lady who has seen it all. She got her business started by making practical rubber shoes in the rainy town where her family had settled, and over the years her company’s range has grown to cover everything from faux-Italian business loafers to crystal-encrusted bridal accessories. She even successfully managed closing down the factories in her home state and moving all production to China. Her wares are now sold everywhere in the world.

But lately things have taken a wrong turn. People just don’t seem very interested in her products anymore. She’s puzzled. It’s as if everyone’s feet had suddenly changed shape — what else can explain why they suddenly don’t want her shoes? It can’t be for lack of selection, for she’s got a hundred different kinds on the shelves.

The two of them met years ago when their businesses were competing for the lease of an important factory property. They hated each other on sight. She thought that he’s a bludgeoning, sweaty, bossy idiot who can’t dress. In his eyes, she had merely got lucky on a fad and had no understanding of real business outside of shoes. Well, at least that’s what they told themselves — to an outside observer, a different kind of chemistry was obvious even back then…
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Day 1 for a $1 app on the Mac App Store

(A quick introduction to this new blog: my name is Pauli, I’m Finnish, and I make software. You can find out more on the About page. I started this blog today because I sort of promised that I would publish my App Store numbers. There’s already a blog for my company, but this stuff is not really relevant to the customers of that product. Hence, a new blog. I intend to use this blog as a personal soapbox that will probably deal with esoteric technical topics… Just like a million other programmers’ blogs out there.)

As you probably know, the Mac App Store launched yesterday. Like a prelude to Lion, the 10.6.6 update to the Mac operating system pushed the App Store icon onto the Docks of Mac users worldwide. There, glowing its cool blue light, the App Store icon patiently awaits your curious click, ready to siphon dollars from your iTunes account as you wander wide-eyed through the eye-candy store of a thousand apps and stumble upon impulse purchases too alluring to ignore.

That’s the theory, anyway. The mood in the Mac community before the launch seemed to be a mix of anticipation and anxiety. Most everyone agreed that the App Store would be a substantial usability improvement over how Mac OS X apps have been distributed for the past ten years — have you ever tried to explain disk image downloads to an average user whose only experience with files has probably been to keep everything on the Windows desktop?

On the other hand, there was widespread worry that the App Store would threaten the relatively high end-user prices that have allowed many Mac developers to make a living on the platform. When the iPhone App Store launched in mid-2008, there quickly began a race to the bottom that ended in a significant portion of apps costing $1 — while being worth even less. Would the Mac App Store suffer a similar price war and ensuing quality erosion? Continue reading

Posted in Business stuff, Mac-related | 5 Comments