28 May 2010

iMac apps vs. iPad apps

In a comment to I’ve Changed My Mind About The iPad, Joeflambe wrote:

yuck, an iPad, really?

not a real computer since there are no real apps that you use daily on your current computer.

This seems like an interesting exercise. Let’s look at the most used apps on my iMac and whether there is an iPad equivalent.

  • Safari: Check

I have a Flash blocker installed on my iMac, so lack of Flash on the iPad isn’t much of a change for me.

  • Mail: Check
  • iChat: Check (AIM)
  • iCal: Check
  • Address Book: Check
  • iTunes: Check
  • iPhoto: Check
  • GarageBand: Check (StudioTrack)
  • Evernote: Check

Now, to be fair, the iPad equivalents of the above do not always have all the features of their Mac counterparts. The main functionality is there. The rest...well, the iPad isn’t even a year old yet.

  • Preview (as PDF reader): Check

The iPad has PDF reading built in, but no specific app for it. I do most of my PDF reading/referencing in GoodReader.

  • iWork: Check

Some people will say matter-of-factly that nobody is going to want to write a term paper or create a spreadsheet on an iPad. shrug

OK, Pages for iPad doesn’t have footnotes...yet. It can’t print directly from the iPad—though Jobs himself has allegedly acknowledged that printing is in the works. (Yes, I’ve seen the photocopier pic. I LOL’d...the first time.) With my Bluetooth keyboard, I can’t see why I wouldn’t write a lengthy document with Pages for iPad. Even if I currently have to move it to my iMac for the finishing touches.

The whole keyboard + iPad topic is fodder for its own post.

I’ve created a few spreadsheets on the iPad. No less complex than those I would have created on my iMac. Although, I’m not that much of a spreadsheet user.

The iPad actually seems like a fine platform for creating presentations. We’ll see how it goes when I next need to create one.

I recently bought this Mac app. In fact, I bought it—in part—to produce content for the excellent TabToolkit iPad/iPhone app. (The fact that I can’t use it for that at the moment could be another post.) This is another app—like Keynote—that might actually work as well, if not better, on the iPad.

Unfortunately, Apple’s rules don’t allow for an equivalent to DrScheme.

What if? Well, if it were a fairly straight port, it probably wouldn’t work very well without a keyboard. (Which is OK; I have one.) I can imagine a visual/touch interface for editing Scheme source code, though. (I’m imagining something like what I imagine the Viaweb editor was like.)

I think you could do a “DrEcmaScript” within Apple’s rules, though. As either an app (if it used WebKit) or a web app. I suppose a Scheme interpreter written in Javascript would be allowed, though perhaps not practical.

So...only two strikes.

It might be interesting to look through my iPad apps and see which ones don’t have Mac equivalents...or those for which I wouldn’t want a Mac equivalent.

Is the iPad going to replace my iMac? No, I don’t think so. Not anytime soon. It can, I think, come astonishingly close, however. There is a lot of overlap between the Mac, iPad, and iPhone; but there’s also enough outside those overlaps to justify each. The overlaps mean more flexibility.

The iPad may not replace my iMac, but imagine an iPhone OS desktop device. That might. Of course, being a programmer, I might still want a Linux/FreeBSD system for tinkering. (One of the nice things—for me—about Mac OS X is that I can get to the BSD personality underneath it when I want to.) For getting things done, however, I’m happy to use “app consoles”.

22 May 2010

...hath no whining like Adobe spurned

It’s really sad to see a company like Adobe whining so publicly about not being welcome on the iPad. If anyone has any doubts that the iPad is more just clever marketing, this ought to be it.

Apple’s policy against Flash apps in the App Store seems a bit childish too but not as much.

(For the record, I think that no plug-ins in Mobile Safari is a good decision but keeping Flas—and similar “middleware”—apps out of the App Store is a mistake.)

21 May 2010

What business is Microsoft in?

Gruber asks this:

Think about that observation as applied to Microsoft’s executive leadership: Do they think they’re in the software business, or the Windows business?

Microsoft used to be in the software business. The old Microsoft would have announced Microsoft Office for iPad by now. Today’s Microsoft only has two free iPhone apps, neither of which have be enhanced for the iPad.

20 May 2010

Free RPGs

After hearing Chris Pramas talk about Green Ronin’s Dragon Age (tabletop) RPG on The Game’s the Thing, I was sold...


I’ve got some really great RPGs that are free.

(“Free” can mean a lot of things. In this instance, I mainly mean that anyone with Internet access can download the game legally at no monetary cost beyond what they’re paying for Internet service.)

  1. Labyrinth Lord
  2. GORE
  3. The (3.5) d20 SRD

Just to name three. There are many, many more.

Is Dragon Age really worth choosing over all of them? It’s “stunt system” looks worthy of consideration and possibly emulation. Other than that, though... It does look like the kind of introductory system we haven’t had since Frank Mentzer’s Basic/Expert/Companion/Master sets. Worth gifting perhaps.

I even come up against the same question with games I already own. I really like Dragon Warriors, but it’s really not so different than Labyrinth Lord.

With Labyrinth Lord...

  1. I have a print version
  2. I can print more hardcopies myself or go to a print shop and have hardcopies printed and bound
  3. I can put it on my iPad and iPhone and whatever device I have a decade hence
  4. I can search it
  5. I can copy & paste the rules to make up my own customized version
  6. My players would have free access to the rules and could do all those things as well
  7. If I wanted to publish something for the game (either for free or at a price), I could legally do so without having to pay for the right
  8. I can do all of this forever

With Dragon Warriors or Dragon Age...

  1. I have a print version (DW) or could buy a print version (DA)
  2. I could buy a PDF version for an additional cost

What’s more, Labyrinth Lord is based on my favorite edition of D&D. It has an expansion that makes it easy to import as much or as little AD&D flavor as I wish. It has a similar expansion for the flavor of original D&D. There’s a compatible post-apocalyptic game, Mutant Future. There will soon be a compatible version of Starships & Spacemen.

As you can tell, I’m a big fan of what Goblinoid Games is doing, but there are a lot of other really good free RPGs out there too.

Is any non-free system better enough than the free systems to bother with?

Even if they were, I don’t think I want a system that is that different.

15 May 2010

The Story of Bottled Water

The Story of Bottled Water

The problem with this:

I don’t believe that bottled water is cleaner or tastier than tap water. I know that the bottled water I buy is filtered tap water. I don’t buy tap water because of “manufactured demand”.

I buy it because it is convenient.

So, this presentation—which tries to make me associate drinking bottled water with smoking—comes off as “manufactured discontent”.

If you want to convince me not to buy bottled water, don’t spend so much time on a straw-man argument that essentially calls me stupid.

11 May 2010

3D movies

I like 3D movies. I find that 3D does add something to a film. It makes me feel like I’m actually in a place. It makes me feel that I am actually looking at the characters. Ever notice that a photo of someone sometimes seems really different from when you see them in person? Part of that is the loss of depth in the photo.

Of course, if it is “fake 3D”—added in post-production rather than actually shooting with a pair of cameras—then there’s really no point. Like anything, if it’s reduced to a bullet-point check-box to make some executive happy, there’s no point. Not every film should be 3D. Some films exploit 2D. For those, 3D isn’t appropriate. 3D can cause headaches and other problems for some people, so that is something to consider too. I’m also not a fan of most gimmicky 3D shots either. A film could take advantage of 3D to create a shot you couldn’t do in 2D, but—in general—just adding 3D to regular shots is what I like to see.

Yes, 3D is dimmer than 2D. That, however, is fixable. Even with it, though, I find that the 3D experience makes up for it.

Of course, 3D isn’t necessary to make a good film. A lot of things aren’t necessary. Give Scorsese a flip camera and a shoe-string budget, and he’ll probably still make a Scorsese film. That it isn’t necessary isn’t an argument against it. If you don’t find that it adds anything, then—yes—it is extraneous...for you, but that is a matter of opinion.

I think 3D also increases the imperative to move movies up to a decent frame-rate. That’s something that should’ve been done for all movies by now.

Yeah, theaters are using 3D as an excuse to charge even more. I’m fine with that. 3D gives me a reason to go to a theatre, because I’m not going to get a comparable 3D experience at home any time soon. It’s a value-add, and I’m willing to pay for it. It’s better than a lot of the other ways theaters have and could try to make it in the tough spot they’ve been put into.

08 May 2010

Scratch (no longer) on iDevices

More iPhone PL lockdown...Goodbye Scratch!

My wife has taught a couple of classes using Scratch with young kids, and to see the pride they feel at their creations is a marvelous thing. I think restricting their ability to share that feeling is really reprehensible. And the damage done to the programmers of tomorrow? Hard to say...


Should Apple allow Scratch on iDevices? Yes, I think they should. Does the lack of Scratch on iDevices mean that kids are prevented from programming for iDevices? No. I looked over Scratch, and everything important that it does could be done in Javascript and work with Mobile Safari.

Is Javascript slow on iDevices? Yes. Is it slow enough to make something like Scratch impractical? I doubt it.

Standing for freedom sometimes means missing out

Freedom From Relevance:

Sullivan is more or less arguing the FSF party line, that both Apple and Adobe are unethical because both are promoting things that aren’t free-as-in-freedom. That’s great. So what mobile phone should an FSF devotee buy? Good luck with that.

Probably none. That’s one of the consequences of sticking by your principles. Sometimes you have to not do things that go against your principles. I admire the FSF guys for actually doing that.

Stuart Green on Gizmodo and the iPhone Prototype

iPhone, Gizmodo, and moral clarity about crime:

So what explains this apparent sympathy for Hogan and Chen, and hostility toward Apple and the San Mateo police? One possibility is a basic confusion about the fact that finding and failing to return lost property is a crime, a confusion that may be a vestige of the common, but legally mistaken, schoolyard adage, “finders keepers, losers weepers.”

Sympathy doesn’t have to obey the law. Disagreeing with the law doesn’t (necessarily) mean one is confused or mistaken. Heck, you don’t even have to outright disagree with the law to feel sympathy here.

Finally, there’s the misguided idea, long espoused by many in the tech community, that “information wants to be free.” But whether it’s in the form of proprietary trade secrets embodied by Apple’s latest iPhone or intellectual property subject to seemingly endless illegal downloading and file sharing every second of every day, information is not free.

It takes a lot of time and energy and money to write books, compose music, create movies, and design and market electronic devices like iPhones. Such information deserves legal protection, even when it’s been lost in a bar.

(Sarcasm ahead:) Yeah. Apple is going to lose so much money because they let some trade secrets slip here. They’ll probably just get out of the iPhone business now. Without legal protection of their trade secrets, they’d be forced out of business altogether.

That information wants to be free and that there are costs to produce information are not incompatible. Strike all the intellectual property laws off the books, and there will still be books, music, movies, and iPhones. They people who produce those things will still be making money.

Surely trade secrets are the least kind of intellectual property when it comes to the need for legal protection.

07 May 2010

Rush and keys

Like Van Halen, Rush drew criticism for the increasing use of keyboards. Unlike Van Halen, more keyboards actually did seem to mean less success for Rush.

Counterparts (after the “synth era”) made it to #2 on the charts. Tied with Moving Pictures (before/early “synth era”). 2112 (before the “synth era”) only made it to #61, but went triple platinum. Power Windows and Hold Your Fire—considered the peaks of Rush’s “synth era”—didn’t score as well by either measure.

Having been a more avid Rush than Van Halen fan, I can say that—personally—instrumentation means little to me. I like both their guitar-driven and “synth era” albums.

Apple’s mistakes

From the iPhone OS 4 SDK, section 3.3.1 of the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement:

3.3.1 — Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).

This is one of the ways that Apple is keeping Flash off iDevices. It—intentionally—keeps more than Flash off of them. (See “Thoughts on Flash”.)

It is, unfortunately true, that cross-platform frameworks often have lousy user experiences. Not merely “un-Mac-like” but just plain bad. It’s true that they often only end up supporting the lowest common denominator. It doesn’t have to be like that, however. Cross platform frameworks can support platform-specific features. I’ve worked on ones that have. It is all too rare though.

There’s also the fact that some apps—especially some games—don’t really need standard user interface elements. Flash (and other options) can work well for these things. If anyone chooses to use Flash for another sort of app, they’ll quickly lose to non-Flash apps. I’m glad not to have Flash in Safari on my iPhone or my iPad, but I don’t mind Flash apps.

Section 3.3.1, however, doesn’t only ban cross-platform frameworks. It bans writing honest-to-goodness Cocoa Touch apps written in any but the specified languages. (“Platform Control” by Mark Bernstein.)

It has been suggested that a compromise might be to require any frameworks to be open source. (“A reconciling proposal” by Michel Fortin.) That way, any developer that needs access to a specific feature can add it to the framework. That’s a good idea. Yet, the truth is that such extensions to a framework can be a lot of work—especially for someone who normally only uses the framework.

Ian Bogost has written that “Flash is not a Right”. He is right, I suppose.

Putting aside rights, however, I have to wonder if this is really in Apple’s best interest. I have to wonder if this is really in the best interest of Apple’s customers. Apple’s biggest mistakes, I believe, are when they try to compete via the law. Whether through intellectual property or license agreements. They compete and win in the market. They don’t need to play the legal games.

Rolling dice

In “Playing with the Sword-and-Board Fighter”, Trollsmyth wrote:

The other issue is something I’ve been harping on lately: when you’re rolling the dice, you’re not playing the game. Dice rolls are what happens when the game stops and we wait to see what sort of curveball randomness is going to throw us. People think dice rolls are the game because that’s mostly what we see in the books. But games are about making choices, not rolling dice; the game of craps is in the betting; rolling of the dice only tells you who won.

From “If the thief is rolling the dice he is already dead” over at the Ode to Black Dougal:

If the thief-player is using his head, the find traps ability becomes the last resort—the “holy crap I hope this saves me”—dice roll that a saving throw represents. If the player describes what precautions he is taking and how he is protecting himself, the percentage roll to find traps becomes an after-thought except in the more devious of circumstances.

I usually don’t get a lot of satisfaction out of succeeding at a die roll. Even if I role-played the action. I get satisfaction out of succeeding based on my decisions. (Sometimes from failing based on my decisions.) Oh, sure. I like rolling dice when the time comes. Yet, I generally want to avoid die rolls. When I can’t, I want to do everything I can to tilt the odds in my favor first.