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Archives for : June2011

No launch-day Final Cut Pro X for me

Well, this was an unpleasant surprise:

Mac App Store rejects my purchase of Final Cut Pro X due to inadequate video card

I’ve never really given a lot of thought to my video card… I usually just get the default option for the Mac Pro when I buy it. It’s not like I do any gaming on my Mac (that’s what the Wii, PS2, iPhone, and iPad are for)

So here’s what System Profiler tells me I have:


ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT:

  Chipset Model:	ATI Radeon HD 2600
  Type:	GPU
  Bus:	PCIe
  Slot:	Slot-1
  PCIe Lane Width:	x16
  VRAM (Total):	256 MB
  Vendor:	ATI (0x1002)
  Device ID:	0x9588
  Revision ID:	0x0000
  ROM Revision:	113-B1480A-252
  EFI Driver Version:	01.00.252
  Displays:
SMEX2220:
  Resolution:	1920 x 1080 @ 60 Hz
  Pixel Depth:	32-Bit Color (ARGB8888)
  Main Display:	Yes
  Mirror:	Off
  Online:	Yes
  Rotation:	Supported
  Television:	Yes
Display Connector:
  Status:	No Display Connected

Guess I’m in the market for a better video card for an Early 2008 Mac Pro… what should I get, given that all I need it for is FCP?

An Illusory WWDC

Random collection of thoughs from my trip to WWDC 2011:

Pre-Trip: Japantown

I always make sure to find time on San Francisco trips to visit Japantown (as I’ve noted before, I often stay in a B&B adjoining J-town). Since last time, a Daiso store has gone in and it’s probably my new favorite thing there. As I described it on Twitter, it’s “like a Japanese Dollar Tree that got drunk and doubled down on the tacky.” Everything’s $1.50, and the amount of odd novelty borders on the infinite. I grabbed my kids some arbitrary little items from here (a tiny LED lantern, mini bike reflectors, etc.) and they were duly amused.

My usual stops are Moritaya toys, Japan Video, and of course Kinokuniya books, which expanded down a floor a few years back and now has a manga department the size of a Waldenbooks. The curation is knoweldgable and thorough, highlighted by an entire shelf of Osamu Tezuka manga, probably the one place in the US where you could buy the entire 8-volume set of Buddha in its entirety. Unfortunately, the set of Phoenix on display was incomplete, likely owing to Viz’s failed release of the series and its subsequent demotion to out-of-print status. As handsome as Veritcal’s Tezuka releases are, I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d happily re-buy all of Phoenix if Vertical could get the rights to re-do it.

Hey, don’t drift off yet… I’m getting back to tech stuff. Also on display at Kinokuniya was an entire table of Hastune Miku and general Vocaloid artbooks and CDs. Miku is the name given to a synthetic singing program, based on the Yamaha “Vocaloid 2” engine. In an act of shrewd marketing, the different voices are sold as distinct characters, with names, appearances, and personalities that have been further fleshed out by a community of digital media artists who create songs and videos with the characters (a feat made possible by generous licensing terms and/or the traditional tolerance of Japanese business for fan-created works… something that would never be allowed in the litigous U.S. of A.). It’s kind of a shame there isn’t more of substance written in English about this entire Miku phenomenon and its collaborative fan-culture… the best stuff I’ve found so far are the captions to a 10-minute TV Asahi report, and the cover story to the latest Tokyo Kawaii Mag e-magazine.

And the idea of singing software that creates a vocal track by entering pitch and lyrics… am I the only person who thinks this fills an obvious hole in Garage Band, with the novelty that the Western mainstream media has no idea that Miku and her fellow Vocaloids exist? If the English could be improved (and it clearly has a long way to go), it could be a mind-blowing demo at the annual Fall Apple Event. Granted, I wouldn’t necessarily expect Steve Jobs — a guy who dated Joan Baez after all — to be OK with the idea of synthetic singing. But considering that Miku already has 2,000 songs on iTunes and 10,000 on Amazon MP3, there are clearly plenty of people who are already enamored with this non-existent pop-star. And with Vocaloid3 coming in September, the timing would be ideal.

I’m a fan, too. I grabbed “The World Is Mine” when it charted on iTunes a few weeks back, and will be picking up the full Supercell/Miku album when it drops this week. So yeah, I did indulge a $30 Hastune Miku artbook.

[release release];

The talk of the conference itself can only be hinted at without violating NDA. If you watch the video and inspect the slide for the many iOS 5 features that weren’t specifically called out in the keynote, you’ll see the term “automatic reference counting”.

You might already be aware that iOS programming involves a system of tracking memory use by counting references to Foundation objects. You might also be aware that getting this system right drives many otherwise sane developers to the brink of slitting their wrists, because it is so hard to get right. And you might also be aware that OS X has garbage collection, but that this slide didn’t say “garbage collection”, it said “automatic reference counting”.

Yeah, ponder on that for a while. Or get the docs if you’re in the developer program. If it does what the name says, it’s another fantastic illusion: the ease of a GC language, without the compromises and slop of GC.

The Core Audio book, and the other one

I had a chance to meet with Chuck and Kevin, editor and co-author respectively, of the Core Audio book. As noted in my last blog post, Pearson just did a massive drop of three new chapters to the Rough Cut on Safari Books Online. The sample code is all there too. This gives us a clean slate to get to the end (finally!). The plan from here is for me to do an iOS chapter (which will need some iOS 5 tweaks when the NDA drops… not sure how the timing will work out), while Kevin finishes up MIDI. We’ve left space for a final chapter on advanced topics, but we may not end up needing it. Kevin felt that the Audio Unit chapters went about as far on the topic as he planned or expected, and aside from custom units, the only thing I wanted to get in here is static buffering for OpenAL. So this chapter might go away, meaning that we could be in tech review by the end of the Summer. And only, what, a year late?

Oh, and there’s another book that I’ve signed, but I can’t identify the co-author and there’s not enough there to really talk about. But if you know me and made the obvious guesses, you’d have about a 50-50 chance of being right. And if I confirmed that I’m not writing a book on AV Foundation yet, the odds should go into the high 90s. Let’s just say that this is something I was more or less embarrassed into writing.

The iPad-only Experience

As mentioned before, I used WWDC as an experiment in going laptop-free, taking only my iPad and iPhone. Overall, it went about as I expected: I wasn’t able to download the iOS 5 or Lion SDKs or update my devices, but between sessions, labs, and social events, I would barely have had time to use them during my week in San Francisco anyways. I did look up some essential documentation on developer.apple.com and threw the PDF versions over to iBooks for offline reading, which is likely as much as I would have done with a laptop anyways.

The labs still had a handful of iMacs available, though most of the space was clearly set aside for people with their own laptops. I pulled down code for my never-fully-working VTM iPhone 2011 editing/effects demo as a zip and managed to not solve its problems, even with the help of two AV Foundation engineers, though they did give me some advice for some iOS 5 APIs that could perhaps diagnose the problem. I’m also thinking of rewriting my AV Foundation talks anyways, from the bland “introduction” and “advanced” to something more audacious, like “Let’s Write QuickTime Player. On iOS. In An Hour” and “Let’s Write Final Cut Pro. On iOS. In An Hour”. At any rate, between fetching code from the web and from backup zips on my iPad’s AirSharing, even lab time didn’t really require me to bring a laptop.

Where I do think working on the iPad is challenging is where it’s always a problem: when you need to manage several things at once. Writing a blog, for example, is a total hassle, because you have to switch entire apps (not just move between windows), to pick up a URL to copy-and-paste. Moving documents between applications is still touch-and-go, but by design: rather than exposing a file system, apps have to opt-in to accepting files, and many don’t.

But then again, you’d have these same problems if you were using a full-screen mode text editor on the desktop, too. Like these apps, the iPad focuses you on doing one thing at a time, and for that, it’s great. But there are times when I need more than that. Or, to use the vehicle analogy, every now and then I need a real truck, not just a car.

Also, the iPad’s battery life is insane. If we all brought iPads, Apple could have left the power strips in Cupertino. Charge overnight, pound on it all day, repeat.

The Myth of Moscone’s Miraculous Bandwidth

Something else about downloading the SDKs and betas of iOS 5. Everyone’s duly knocked out by the speed of these. What took me five hours to download over 6 MBps DSL back in Grand Rapids took most people about five minutes to download over the ethernet cables at Moscone West. Many took this as evidence of phenomenal bandwidth going through the building.

Then it hit me this afternoon: No, dumbass, they had an edge server in the second floor NOC. They weren’t sending 5,000 attendees times 10 gigabytes of data dozens of miles from Cupertino, or thousands of miles from North Carolina; they were sending it hundreds of feet, over gigabit ethernet gear that you could easily buy at Fry’s. It doesn’t prove the power of the internet, it proves the power of the LAN.

I don’t doubt that Moscone West has extraordinary internet access (people posted screenshots from SpeedTest.net to prove it)… but I also don’t doubt that they charge dearly for it. With everyone hitting the same files, Apple would be nuts to not just bring their data with them.

What would have been interesting, had I thought of it, would have been to try getting a similarly-large (multi-GB) file that’s unlikely to be on an Apple server inside the LAN, like a Linux .iso or something. If the Apple bits remained phenomenally faster, I’d take that as evidence they were already in the building.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again

OK, grumpy bit: I’d never done “Stump the Experts” before, and by all appearances and accounts it has a long and hilarious history at WWDC. And a shambling mess that refuses to take itself seriously is often a grand time.

But really, this event came off as a waste of time. Organizers collected onstage a glorious assemblage of luminaries who shaped Apple’s history… and then promptly did nothing with them. Only a handful of audience questions (6, maybe?) were posed to the experts, the best of which was a rhetorical question. The experts themselves were never even identified, or given a chance to be applauded for their contributions over the years. Some of the questions asked of the audience were deviously clever, but if that’s the best part, maybe that should be the form the event takes in the future.

I’m sure it’s great. So are World Cup soccer, scripting languages, and Kate Bush. But that doesn’t mean they do anything for me.

Latin for “fail”

My goodness the nearly-vacant Metreon looks pathetic. And turning it into a Target, in the middle of the city’s convention district, is going to be just plain weird.

And that’s coming from someone who started this article talking about his affection for a virtual pop singer, so I think I know weird when I see it.

Boom?

As I’ve been writing, I got word that iOS 5 breaks my iPod sample-reading example, which apparently a lot of people have been trying out (thank you!). I’ve joined the forum thread and promised to look at it tomorrow. My first guess is just a bug and not nefarious skullduggery!… but working with Apple, you never know when you’ll be knifed in the back, so… sure, maybe.

I’m going to get some sleep and pick up on that, and client work, in the morning. Like all WWDCs, we return with much to do. A good problem to have.

Core Audio book actually updated

Just in time for WWDC, we have two bits of news about the Core Audio book.

  • First, the next three chapters are finally available on the Safari Online Books “Rough Cut”, so those subscribers can now read chapters 7-9, covering Audio Units, advanced Audio Units, and OpenAL. This is some of the hardest material in the book, and as we thought that units were important and underserved by existing documentations, we just let things run long and get deep, ultimately walking through four example programs.

  • Our editor has been working on a big WWDC-week promotion, an enormous iOS/Mac development EPUB sampler from various Pearson imprints (Addison-Wesley Professional, Prentice-Hall, Sam’s, etc.). The thing is over 400 pages when opened in iBooks, and contains complete chapters from eight books, including chapter 7 from Core Audio. Yeah, the first half of the just-released Audio Units material. 60 pages of the stuff. Freebies. You’re welcome.

Plan from here is to do three more chapters: Core Audio on iOS, MIDI, and Advanced Grab Bag of Fun and/or Evil. I can’t publicly avoid the fact that this has been a troubled project – our last update was in, what, September? But a splash of visibility and viability may be what we need to finally make the final push to get this title wrapped up, rewritten and polished, and off to the printer.

And no, I don’t know where the download code is. I sent it to Chuck two months ago. If it continues to be a problem for readers, I’ll probably put a second copy on my Dropbox next week and just point people there.

AppleTV SDK? Please say yes.

I’m writing this in flight, Grand Rapids to Denver, connecting from there to SFO and WWDC 2011. Screen typing isn’t the most fun thing in the world, but the small size of the iPad, combined with its shape (no fold open screen like on a laptop, which would only collide with the reclined seat in front of me) makes it reasonably practical.

Lots of people precede WWDC with predictions and wish lists… I’m going to use this blog for a justification, in other words, why the thing I’m hoping for might make sense.

The surprise I’m hoping for is an Apple TV SDK. Not that I’m the biggest Apple TV fan… not only do I not have an Apple TV, I don’t even have a TV that will accept its HDMI connection.

But man, would I get on board quickly if there were an SDK.

And no, not to play Angry Birds on the TV. If anything, the potential for general-purpose apps on the TV is badly overstated, and has been for years, if not decades. QUBE, WebTV, various cable box standards (what was that Java one that I used to write about at java.net and was roundly ignored?)… the space has been an unbroken string of failures.

But let’s narrow our foucus. What if the SDK was optimized for streaming AV content, and providing just enough UI for browsing and choosing content (i.e., nothing more than Electronic Programming Guides [EPGs]), ignoring most of the power and elegance of the underlying iOS frameworks? What if Apple only allowed apps in this genre, rejecting anything that wasn’t an AV streaming client?

It would be awesome.

Here’s the thing: the iPhone and iPad gold rushes have motivated a lot of content providers to make their stuff available in iOS formats. Movies, TV shows, live sports, niche programming, tons of stuff. More variety and depth than you can get from a cable TV subscription, without the tyranny of the cable company taking away your favorite channel in a carriage dispute, with no recourse for viewers. And it’s a la carte: buying the Major League Baseball app doesn’t require you pay for a CourtTV or Lifetime app.

Yeah, you see where I’m going with this. Using apps as a content delivery platform, Apple TV could grab a lot of those monthly subscriptions that are currently going to cable and satellite television. And with providers taking 70% of content subscriptions sold through in-app purchase (or 100%, if users can be convinced to purchase via the provider’s website instead), there’s huge money to be made in cutting out the middle man.

More content for viewers, just the stuff they actually want, and more money for the people who actually make the stuff. Win-win. The only loser is the middle man – the hated cable companies – who get cut out of the equation because they’re no longer necessary.

So what’s the case against? Apple is careful to pick its battles, and this may not be a hornet’s nest it wants to kick up this year. Let’s war-game it: what would cablers do in response? They’re dreadfully afraid of becoming “dumb pipes” (even though that is clearly their destiny), so they can be counted on to fight this as hard as possible. They might want to block the offending streams, but the nature of HTTP Live Streaming makes that difficult: you can’t just switch off port 80, nor can you block content delivery networks without collateral damage. So they could be counted on to revive the “content providers are getting a free ride off us” spin.

More importantly, cable companies by their nature are whores of local governments, and could get legislative and regulatory attention by pointing out how much cable fees go into local government coffers. An Internet TV world is one without public access channels, without the goddamned useless “city council meeting that lasts forever” channel, and who would want to live in a world like that? Well, pretty much everyone, actually, but good luck getting a bureaucrat to listen to that when their paycheck is partially funded by Charter.

Local cable franchises are a relic, but a lot of parties have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Apple would have to be eager for a thousand little battles to pull this off.

Provided, of course, that cable sees it coming. They might not.

Leaving the Laptop

Trying an experiment for next week’s WWDC: I’m leaving the laptop at home and taking just my iPad.

In part, this is motivated by my preference to max out and not compromise my computing environments. I’ve come to see laptops as inherently compromised: not as powerful as a desktop, not as portable as a tablet, but more expensive than either. So when I’m at my desk, I have an 8-core Mac Pro with gobs of RAM and four drive bays, and when I’m moving around, I have the one-pound iPad. Of course, there are trade-offs, but they don’t always matter: the MacPro, monitor and associated gear probably weighs 70 pounds… but it’s not going anywhere. The iPad isn’t exceptionally powerful, but it’s not like I’m authoring Blu-Ray discs with it.

The iPad has long since become my preferred means of checking web and e-mail around the house, and I’m trying to push what I can do with it in terms of productivity. As I’ve mentioned before, I wrote chapter 9 of Core Audio almost entirely on the iPad with Textastic and a dock keyboard. I even wrote a few functions for the code examples with Textastic, fixing them up once I got back to Xcode on the Mac.

So for the kinds of things I will need to do at WWDC, mostly note-taking and keeping up with mail, Twitter, Facebook, etc., the iPad is perfectly capable, and a fraction of the weight of a laptop. Plus, the iPad and dock keyboard will fit nicely in the small attaché case we got at WWDC 2008, meaning I don’t need my enormous JavaOne backpack for laptop, cables, and gear (I hated JavaOne as a conference, but I’ve gotten a lot of use out of their laptop-friendly backpacks).

I also need to work on my books, but as I’ve said above, I have a system for this. On my Mac, I’ve checked out the sources to Core Audio and the other one we’re not talking about yet into my Dropbox, so it’s easy enough to pull those files into Textastic, or any of the other Dropbox-based editors (iA Writer, the official Dropbox app, etc.). So as long as I remember to push my edits from the iPad back to Dropbox, and then svn commit from the Dropbox folder on the Mac, I’m good. Yes, direct Subversion and Git support in the iPad text editors would be preferable, but this will do.

Overall, the weird thing about trying to push productivity on iPad is the decision they made to hide the file system. It makes sense that 95% of files are opened only by a single application (if the user even “opens” them at all… consider browser bookmarks and mail messages), so it’s sensible to make that app own those files outright, and eliminate the need for a Finder. But that really does complicate the other 5% of cases, like when you want to post a picture to web page, or share files between applications. Whether you accept this depends, I think, on your ability to see the unseen: can you appreciate how much hassle the other apps save by not expecting you to serve as the wise, all-knowing administrator of a file system? Don’t you have parents or grandparents who don’t even know the difference between the home, Documents, and Desktop folders? We may not really know if this is the right paradigm until and unless we have kids who grow up primarily in a filesystem-free app-and-cloud world. But it does make a lot of sense when you think about it.

So what won’t I be able to do? It occurred to me that I can’t build code on the iPad, so that means I won’t get much use out of the WWDC labs. Or can I? The labs always have iMacs with Xcode, so it seems like I could put my projects into AirSharing on the iPad, then open them up from the lab iMacs. So that should be covered.

And I bet I’m not the only person who’s holding out some hope that Apple will actually bring Xcode to the iPad. They’ve brought over a number of their other marquee applications, and Xcode 4’s redesign into a single window makes it far more suitable for being adapted to iOS. It’s not at all hard to imagine some of the appearing/disappearing views like the inspector pane being implemented as popovers on an iPad. It would be a hell of a surprise this year, but in the long run… why not?