iWant


After a lot of intrigue, gossip and anticipation details of the much awaited Apple ‘tablet’ was announced overnight. The iPad as they’re calling it, is a predictably gorgeous piece of hardware. It’s got the same touch screen functionality of the iPod and iPhone, and is clearly their big brother. Judging by what I've seen and read it's about the size of a trade paperback I figure, and about the thickness of a 80 page novella – it’s less than a centimetre thick. It’s got all the functionality and connectivity of the iPhone, except you can’t make a call on it (which, less face it, is the most boring of the iPhone functionality), and like the iPhone and iPod uses the iTunes store as the one stop shop for all manner of goodies, from the plethora of apps, to music and movies, and, I presume, soon to be ebooks.

In actual fact the iPad rides the crest of a fair to middling wave for ebook readers. Amazon’s Kindle has been out a few years and is a reasonably elegant if plain piece of work. Sony has been in the market for a while also, and by all reports there is about to be an explosion of ebook readers hitting the market.

It’s hard to believe that they haven’t missed their chance. The iPad is about to blow them all out of the water you would think, with only the low-cost models having a market. 

The iPad isn’t a PC, but it’s not far short of it. You can browse the web and read your email and listen to your music – and read ebooks – while taking advantage of the myriad apps you can download to it. Unlike the specialised ebook readers this is multi-functional, and therefore likely to be used more more widely and more often, making it better value for money in the long term. And it’s prettied up in that beautiful Apple way.

In terms of the ebook market,l you would have to think given their experience and expertise that iTunes will soon become the pre-eminent portal for ebooks across the web.  Seriously, I don’t know how the likes of Amazon can compete unless they corner the cheap end of the market, or they value-add somehow.

In actual fact this is the product I’ve been after for years. Yonks ago the Apple Newton came out – a very rough predecessor – and died in the arse in a big way. The time wasn’t right then, it is now. For years I’ve been travelling OS with a laptop in my bag. Even the lightest are towards 2 kilograms, and all that for a few basic functions I wanted to perform away. The iPad has all I need for my travel needs, and more, and is 0.7 of a kilo, with inbuilt connectivity. I want one, I want one bad, but I’m going to try and restrain myself from being first in. Won’t be long after though.
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Uncharted 2


U2_art

I remember when I went to uni a mate and I would spend half our free time playing Galaga and other games at a nearby video arcade. He was an expert who took it very seriously, for me it was a bit of fun and a lot better than studying.

In later years I got into the odd computer game. Most I could take or leave, but I liked the strategy games, and in particular the various iterations of Sid Meier's very famous Civilisation franchise. I'm not sure whether it spoke to the latent empire builder in me, or the gung-ho conqueror, but I recall many times playing well into the wee hours of the night, expanding my empire, conquering neighbouring countries and attempting to make life better for the happy citizens of H-ville.

Last year I got myself a PS3. I bought a variety of games to go with it, Need For Speed, The Godfather, Tiger Woods Golf, a Boxing game, and a few others. I happily played them for a few hours here and there, a welcome distraction but not a real passion.

In the last couple of weeks I've been playing Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. This is a mind-blowing game for people like me. For a start the graphics are great. It's a far cry from the very raw and basic graphics of Civilisation and the Age of Empires and so on. That's how much the technology has pushed on with every passing year. Now it's almost like watching a movie, and you're part of it. It's a pleasure simply to behold.

But then there is the gameplay. I became very quickly addicted to Uncharted 2 because it is my sort of game taken to an extreme of entertainment and challenge. For those who don't know the game is pretty much about the adventures of Nate Drake, a kind of Indiana Jones figure out to make his fortune in a variety of cliff-hangar type adventures. It's addictive stuff even if you're not playing the game. I get caught up in it. The hours roll by. I sit on the edge of my couch manipulating the action and figuring out the best way forward. At the end of it I hope to get to the next level, and then the next level beyond that. 

Great stuff. Makes you wonder how far all this will go. When will it end?

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The new Windows


I got Windows 7 delivered yesterday. Haven't installed it yet, and given I'm now running a Mac it'll be going into my laptop. Will report of anything interesting, but am quite keen to check it out.

iLove


Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase

I got the new iPhone about a week ago and have been gleefully playing with it ever since. It's a beautiful thing, more than a phone, more than a phone that plays music, it's a lifestyle accessory, a pocket computer with which you can connect to the world in so many different ways.

That's one of the great beauties of Apple. They have a breathtaking imagination and ambition that only appears obvious after the event. They gave Nokia and Motorola and Sony Ericsson years head start and yet in the space of a couple of years and the advent of the revolutionary iPhone they sweep the market. Sure, there's a fair bit of sex and hype in the whole thing, but the reality is in the 3GS they've produced a killer product that is genuinely good. Makes you wonder what these other companies have been doing all these years – I'm betting they're wondering the same thing.

As a piece of hardware the iPhone is characteristically elegant. Apple never put out anything less than pretty to look at, and intuitive in it's use. Here they've combined the iPod with a phone and upped the ante by opening the store up with the multitude of developers out there with all their clever applications.

Of course not all the apps are elegant and not all the developers as clever as they wish, but in the sheer breadth of offerings there are some gems which make the iPhone the lifestyle accessory you can't live without. I spent about 2 hours the night before I got my phone delivered browsing through the apps store and downloading anything that seemed remotely interesting. As I speak I have about 40 apps loaded, from translation programs to wiki's to cocktail and food recipes to local guides to restaurants and bars to music programs to GPS…

A week down the track and I'm still sorting out what's good and what's not. By and large it's surprising how much practical use I've got from it. I checked the live footy scores over the weekend. Last week over breakfast I caught up with the news via the NYT, not to mention the local ABC. I've prepared tonights dinner using one of the recipes on the Allrecipes app. And I've followed my tweets online. And so on.

Sure, I'm raving a bit now like a lovestruck apple geek, but I think in the iPhone we are seeing something genuinely radical – from here the bar is raised, the direction changes. And this is not the first time Apple have done this.

About 6 weeks ago I took the big plunge and for the first time ever bought a Mac as my desktop replacement. It's something I had thought about over many years, and the only thing that had really stopped me from doing this were queries about software. Thankfully most of those queries have resolved in recent years. The Mac environment is much friendlier to windows apps now they are using Intel chips, and virtualisation applications make it possible to run both.

I'm happy. For a start the iMac I'm working on is gorgeous to look at – big screen, inside of which is housed all the workings so that I've done away with the box that used to sit by my knees. Then there are the native Apple applications, which are clean and pretty and elegantly useful. There is little of the clutter I associate with Microsoft products in particular.

A big thing for me was the necessity to run and use the MS Office products on the Mac. Most of my business is conducted on those apps. I now run a virtual windows desktop which has allowed me to do this. At the same time Apple have iWork, which is largely compatible with Office.

Now iWork is not nearly as full featured as the Office applications, and as it stands will never be a replacement for Office (except for Keynote, which is way ahead of Powerpoint). What it does though it does extremely well, and with customary simplicity.

Here's an example of what I think of as Apple thoroughness. In Pages, their Word equivalent, they have about 20 letter templates ready to go. These are very pretty and well put together, but what really impressed me were the small touches. I randomly opened up a template or two from curiosity, and found to my surprise that they had already imported my details – name and address – and all I had to do was write the letter and print it out. Microsoft doesn't do that. Microsoft doesn't bother to do that. It's a small thing perhaps, but telling. It is indicative of a different approach.

When I look at the differences between Apple and Microsoft it seems to me that one runs on imagination and the other on unimaginative graft. One is an artist, the other an undiscerning machine. One finds elegant solutions, the other generally effective but more clumsy solutions. There seems to be a distinct in state of mind, or philosophy, demonstrated most clearly in the end by the gleaming attention to detail that Apple have and Microsoft don't.

This is not meant to be a Microsoft bashing session. They have been very successful based on basic principles. They have swallowed up most of their opposition and perpetually worked to evolve their offerings. And, if you discount the PR value of the two companies, where Apple is well ahead, Microsoft have won in many key areas.

Looking at computers Microsoft – and Windows – have most of the business market tied up. That's a huge market. Apple is popular with design firms and artists and a loyal minority of home users. Why did this happen?

My contention is that Microsoft's success can be largely attributed to the success of their Office suite. Once upon a time they were not first. Looking back to when most of this was still bubbling up Lotus 1-2-3 was probably numero uno. There was also Quattro Pro by memory, and no doubt other contenders, and Office. I don't even know if Apple had a stake in this market.

Who now remembers Lotus 1-2-3? Or Quattro Pro? Microsoft kept developing their Office offering whilst acquiring the little companies with big ideas who could be added into the mix. They did this very strategically, and with a single-mindedness which is typical of Microsoft – love 'em or hate 'em they keep on coming.

Microsoft cornered the business market with Office, thus securing the future of their OS, Windows, now, and perhaps forever, dominant. Hard to believe now but Apple had a bad patch where they struggled, and it was only on the return of Steve Jobs that they found their way again, and reason for being. In the meantime the battle for the business market had been lost.

Now of course there is nothing sexier than Apple, and they have a slew of truly revolutionary products which powers them ahead. They're not c
omplaining. They run on imagination, and it's your guess or mine as where they turn next. Stay tuned.

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Imperfect worlds


It was inevitable, and the bad day I predicted came yesterday.

Like most days I woke with a full agenda of things to do. I had to review some documents sent to me, add in my recommendations and then forward them on. I had to pay for a contacts database. There was a white paper I wanted to edit. In the back of my mind I hoped to actually do some creative writing. And I needed to work on my PC's.

I haven't made mention of this till now, but I upgraded from a PC to an Apple iMac last week. That entailed some excitement for me not just because it was new, but because it was unfamiliar. I've always had PC's, always worked on a PC, but always taken a great interest in Apple and everything it does (who doesn't these days?). So anyway I'd been mulling over the option before signing on the dotted line, and I've got no regrets. It's a lovely machine in every way and I hope to write a lot more about sometime soon.

I may have gone to the light side but I can't totally divorce myself from the world of Windows. If for no other reason I need Windows so I can run MS Office, essential in my line of work, and very puny in the Mac version. Cut a long story short that means I had to create a virtual desktop where I could install Windows and my Windows programs side by side with Leopard. It's quite easy, and pretty elegant.

So I've spent the week transferring files and setting up programs and so on, and all was tickety boo. That is until the Windows update runs overnight and I find my virtual desktop wont open. Twice this has happened, and each time I've had to start from scratch and recreate the desktop and re-install my windows programs. Very frustrating. And something I had to do again yesterday.

Unfortunately for reasons I've yet to understand I've been unable to reinstall Office. This is more than frustrating, it's a problem. I tried all sorts of tricks, done Google searches, rebooted etc, and so on – no dice.

At the same time I'm setting my old PC as a Media Centre PC which I'll hook up to the TV to record programs and connect wirelessly to the home network. That's the idea anyway. Unfortunately there is some issue with the BIOS which means the Media Server CD can't be read for installation. Ok, I think, why don't I reformat the PC and try and install from blank? Fine except no matter what I do I can't seem to reformat the HD for the above mentioned reason.

So I'm doing these things in parallel yesterday morning, turning from one PC to the other and totally neglecting the more important tasks I'd set myself. Unfortunately my nature is that I can't let things go. I seem to take these obstacles as a personal affront and the more I'm denied the more I want to beat it. That's how it was yesterday morning. I was fierce to the point of distraction, and sadly, found no solution – yet.

Some sense prevailed in the afternoon and I attended to at least some of the tasks I had to do, I reviewed the documents and sent them off, I started on the white paper. Then I organised to pay the bill for a contacts database I am renting – $750 – and discovered to my shock that I had about $8,000 less than what I expected in my account. Upon investigation I found that some EOFY prepayments had gone through automatically without any reference to me. And then discovered that these organisations had sent the relevant correspondence to my previous address despite being advised of my current address.

Well, I was fuming. I was also worried. It leaves me with a skinny bank balance with about another $4,000 committed to different things and reliant upon rent coming in and any work I invoice between now and then to cover it. 

I needed a drink. Whisky came by and picked me up and drove to his new home in Fitzroy. We wandered down the road and had a couple of beers at a bar called Libation in Brunswick Street. It was about 5.30. Then we hopped on the tram and got off at the corner of Gertrude and had another couple of full strength beers at the Newport Workers Club. We walked back the way we had came, picked up a kebab on the way, met up with JV, and then proceeded to Polly, where we had a couple of bottles of good red between us.

I was meant to go to the football, but somewhere in all the drinking that slipped away – just as well really, as it turned out. I pulled up stumps at about 11. It was damn cold. I jumped into a cab stopped at the lights and directed to Hawthorn. 

Every time I go to Fitzoy I have a sense of nostalgia. It is all very familiar to me over many years, but particularly because of that year I spent working around the corner from the main drag. I don't feel greatly sentimental, but I do remember things, and at times find myself sliding off into some kind of reverie. Funny how times change and life moves on.

Last night it was perhaps keener than usual. I think it's probably because it was Friday night and it reminded me of the many times we would go to one – or a few – of the local pubs for our end of week drinks. At one stage sitting in Libation I almost felt like sending Amy an SMS: Having a drink in Brunswick Street. Come and join us. I even speculatively checked my phone address book while Whisky was in the gents, only to discover I don't have her number any more. Probably just as well.

In the end my nostalgia was more general than particular. It was as if the memory of Amy had set off other, similar memories. At the same time the return to these familiar places reminded me of those times in my life time stamped by those occasions.

A few weeks back heading for Red Hill for the wine tasting I was powerfully reminded of the matching visit 12 months before, and how much as changed since. Last night walking by the Black Pearl I remembered a night 18 months ago when I had a very large night ending there at about 2am, remembered the money splashed around on wine and cocktails. Once more I thought, how times have changed.

I guess that's the thing I realised most last night, or perhaps was reminded of – that no matter how settled and stable our life may seem we are always really in a  state of perpetual flux. Things change, that's the nature of life, challenges are thrown at us and people will come into and leave our circle.

I was reminded of a lot of things last night, but it was this last point that resonated strongest with me. How odd it seemed, that we could become so closely connected with a person to the point that we cannot imagine them out of our life, only for that to actually happen. There were a roll call of names and faces. I didn't feel sad remembering – I'm past that – and I don't think it was even regret. More than anything I thought in a perfect world I could make my peace with those I parted with unhappily. It's strange to me that that is the thing that lingers most.

Today is another day, and all this soon forgotten and that fleeting desire for reconciliation dismissed as irrelevant fantasy. End of the day it doesn't change anything really. I've got these PC's to mend.

Is there something wrong with Firefox?


I've been a Firefox user for years, partly because I have a genetic disposition against monolithic corporations like Microsoft (notwithstanding the fact I use Office every day, and am in fact a MS partner), but more so because I found Firefox to be a much more user-friendly and capable browser.

Unfortunately since updating Firefox to the latest version (3.0.8) I've had all sorts of problems, to the point I am now typing this post in Explorer. It'll frequently stop with a 'Not Responding' message. Pages are slow to load, and I've found it is a huge memory hog. I'm not sure if it is Firefox itself, a conflict with other loaded programs, or if one of the extensions I've loaded is causing it problems. I've ben unable to isolate the problem, and so have been forced to move on.

This is a pity as there is a lot to like about Firefox, and the great variety of extensions are a favourite. I love that I can customise my internet experience with these versatile applications. I hope I can go back to Firefox soon.

Having said that I am finding the new version of Internet Explorer much improved. It's learnt a thing or two from Firefox (and Chrome for that matter), and put their own Microsoft spin on it. It's still not as convenient or as customisable as Firefox, but it is perfectly adequate.

On the way out?


There are many things that happen through the week that I never bother to make mention of here in these pages. It’s impossible to record everything, and besides this is a journal, not a diary. It’s not a daily record of all I have done in dreary detail, rather it is a collection of occasional and not entirely random observations and thoughts. It’s less about the things that happen than my experience of the things that happen. That’s what interests me.

That’s not to say there are many things of note that don’t go unrecorded. By necessity – given that I am mostly rushed for time – that there are things that I might normally write of but never manage to. There are large gaps either by design or by circumstance in this record, which, by and large, suits me fine.

For example I am probably out 3-4 nights in the average week. I won’t likely write anything of those unless I’ve been to an interesting venue, or if something different occurs. I’m seeing a lot of women – last week I was out with 2, the week before 4 (though two were in one sitting). For the most part there is nothing remarkable to impart about that either, sadly, except perhaps to comment that whatever attractions I hold for women are undiminished, and could even be said to be unsurpassed at this stage of my life. Pity the women that really count remain elusive, though that is the way of things I’ve discovered.

Occasionally I touch on things about work, but in general it is purely job related. There are things that go on outside of that. I have lunch with the Financial Controller each week. The CFO, who is an affable guy, is annoying by being so moderate and pragmatic, when at times he needs to stand for something. There is a girl at work I should possibly have written more about, but haven’t bothered. I have coffee and lunch with her, we do drinks and occasionally dinner. She likes me more than she makes out and I like her, though not in any permanent way. Naturally she has a boyfriend. Then there is another colleague with whom I share a great deal of mutual respect and affection, who Eskimo kissed me on Friday night.

I’ve been pretty quiet on the girl too, though there are snippets of news and the odd thing happening all the way through. My silence there has been deliberate, on the basis of letting time take it’s course.

I have hardly written about my battles as IT manager, which has been a largely enjoyable experience, though challenging. That’s been good for 15-20 hours of my working week, coordinating staff and planning for issues and slowly realigning the area to be more business focussed. I’ve put together a charter, am promoting a SLA to the business, and presented a future structure for the department which has been accepted and acted upon. And here’s the rub.

In my structure I put myself above and outside of the IT department. Front and centre I proposed a new permanent IT manager to manage all the daily IT tasks, and to take on an expanded role which could be summarised as engaging the business – something not always done by IT departments, and rarely well. That’s where I might have entered the picture, providing guidance and setting a strategic direction. In any case my hands on involvement would greatly diminish.

You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to figure out the potential implications of that, and I’ve been awake to the dire possibilities for some time now. Last week I sought a meeting with the CFO. Now that I’ve finally put some big-time projects to bed my time has been freeing up. With an IT Manager to be appointed within 2-3 months a further block of time will be become available. In another place that might mean opportunities to do some work of deeper substance. That’s not the way the wind has been blowing here though, and I walked into my meeting with a fair idea of what might happen.

There were no surprises. Bottom line is with my workload diminishing and the prevailing current that the chances are I’ll be made redundant in the next few months. That was by no means certain I was told, but on balance most likely. I nodded my head. I figured I had until the new IT man came on board, then anything was possible. The company is going through a retracting phase, and many more people are leaving – either resigning or made redundant – than are coming on board.

I was not surprised, but it did feel odd. While I appreciate their honesty with me, I recognised there was some method to it. It’s cheaper for them if I resign, and they made it clear they would support me in searching for new work. I don’t intend to resign though, unless the perfect job comes along. And as one of the more senior people here I’ll be arguing for a more substantial payout than the standard.

As it stands I don’t know when it will happen, or if it will at all, but I’m guessing by September I’ll be back on the market. And I’m thinking to myself that if I get the package I desire then the time might be right to make that trip to London – but anything can happen before now and then.