Monthly Archives: January 2008

MacBook Air and Europe trip

The MacBook Air is the first Apple product to come along in years that I don’t want to buy. It looks great, the multi-touch trackpad is cool and unexpected, and I like Remote Disk. But it’s just not significantly different than a MacBook to me, and I don’t travel enough to make the thinness or weight really matter. To “upgrade” from a regular MacBook to an Air just seems wasteful.

The “new Apple” has been doing a great job of eliminating duplicates in their product line (only one tower, only one of each size of iPod). If the Air had an 11-inch or 12-inch screen it would be a much easier sell because it becomes clear why the product exists: buy this if you want something small.

For two months in 1999, my wife and I travelled through Europe with only a backpack each and a PowerBook 520c to share between us. That machine was very small (just a 9.5-inch screen), yet she did contract work for Apple on it and I coded and released new versions of Mac software, dialed up to the net via modem from hotel rooms and hostels in the days before wi-fi. It was much heavier than an Air but for traveling light it was still a great choice.

It feels like Apple missed an opportunity at Macworld yesterday. I’m not particularly disappointed, though, since I wasn’t one of those hoping for a sub-notebook.

Give us a tablet already

I’m going to skip the usual Macworld predictions and cut straight to the good stuff: Apple needs a tablet for the huge numbers of artists and creative professionals who have stuck with the Mac for so long, or who are finally coming back to the platform. I hope for this every year, but the evidence is starting to mount that yes, Apple is working on something.

John Gruber doesn’t see a tablet happening:

“But why force software UI’s designed for traditional hardware form factors upon a totally different device? A successful tablet-like device from Apple, I think, would clearly be designed as a secondary computing device — a satellite attached and synched to a Mac or PC (probably, of course, through iTunes).”

I think his reasoning is exactly correct if you think about a tablet as just a Newton or large iPhone, but as I say above I don’t think that’s the market at all. Honestly as much as I loved the Newton, the iPhone works great as a replacement. The primary market for a Mac tablet is the millions of people who look at the Wacom Cintiq and drool. An Apple tablet has to run full Mac OS X because it has to run Photoshop, Acorn, and Painter.

(Both Gruber and Dan Benjamin also discuss predictions during the latest The Talk Show episode, just posted. While you’re listening, also check out the Hivelogic comprehensive podcasting guide.)

So what about this: what if the MacBook sub-notebook and the tablet are one and the same? Imagine a beautiful slim MacBook with a detachable keyboard and touch-sensitive display, for example. Avoid the weird connections by making the keyboard Bluetooth only, with all the guts of the machine (including flash-based hard drive) behind the screen. I have a first-generation Toshiba Tablet PC and the hardware design is just bulky and terrible because they tried to make it all things to all people. A MacBook Nano-Tablet-Air could embrace “thin” and “tablet” and ignore everything else to achieve a truly great design.

But who knows. We’ll see in about 30 minutes.

New and old posts about NetNewsWire

“NetNewsWire is free”: (congrats again Brent!) and reaction is coming in from other indie developers.

“Rory Prior”: “It’s hard to compete with a product that’s as well known and frankly as good as NNW, it’s damn near impossible to compete with it when it’s free.”

“Paul Kafasis”: “When something is given away for free, its perceived value is lowered. If software is treated as valueless, it becomes much, much harder to sell.”

Ultimately I don’t think it’s going to have a significant negative impact as far as devaluating other software (except of course other news readers) because most people paying attention should connect that it supports Newsgator’s core business model. But rather than debate the issue I searched my archives to see what else I had said about the product. It must be one of the most-blogged-about apps ever, right? I’m limiting it to 1 post per year.

2002: “Moving to NetNewsWire”:

2003: “NetNewsWire as a platform”:

2004: “Google and the great apps to come”:

2005: “Tabs are a hack”:

2006: “Time for thinking”:

2007: “New software releases (plus screencast)”:

2008: “New and old posts about NetNewsWire”: (you’re reading it!)

More on Kindle

I received a lot of feedback after “I first wrote about the Kindle”:, so here’s an update. I admit I’m still trying to understand the device; it has not immediately fallen into a spot in my routine the way the iPod and iPhone did.

“Dan Benjamin”: pointed out that it’s wrong to compare the Kindle and iPhone because they are two completely separate kinds of devices, and that’s true. But the fact remains that Amazon could have partnered with AT&T and required a monthly fee for connectivity. Instead they chose to eat that cost to provide a seamless user experience.

“Willie Abrams”: bought a Kindle and then returned it, unhappy with both the contrast on the device and the slow page turns. As I pointed out in my original post, the page turns are annoying, but they won’t ruin the device for most people.

“Andy Ihnatko”: wrote glowingly about the Kindle and spoke at length on MacBreak Weekly about the free wireless and adequate web browser. Personally I have found the web browser to be extremely poor and the slow refresh inappropriate for modern, interactive sites. I didn’t even realize it came with a browser when I ordered it, though, so I consider it a nice bonus.

When I left town to take a week and a half holiday road trip with my family, I decided to leave the Kindle at home. After all, I already had my MacBook, iPhone, Nintendo DS, and a hardback book that would easily fill the week. The Kindle is small but it would just be wasted clutter in my backpack.

This turned out to be a mistake. For one, I had spotty Edge coverage in middle-of-nowhere West Texas, and it would have been an interesting experiment to see how the Kindle’s EVDO faired in other cities. But more importantly, while checking blogs someone recommended a book that I was interested in. I clicked through to Amazon and noticed that it was available in Kindle format. It would have been the perfect opportunity to buy it and start reading right away.

That is what the Kindle brings to the table. The hardware design is not an improvement over the Sony Reader (the Kindle’s keyboard remains a definite mistake), but the integration with Amazon and the convenient downloads from anywhere are both well implemented. I think Amazon has a history of tinkering in public view (home page design, shipping experiments), and the Kindle is no exception. They’re no doubt already working on version 2.

Rails on shared hosts

“David Heinemeier Hansson writes in detail”: on the problems with Rails in shared hosts:

“Most Rails contributors are not big users of shared hosting and they tend to work on problems or enhancements that’ll benefit their own usage of the framework. You don’t have to have a degree in formal logic to deduce that work to improve life on shared hosting is not exactly a top priority for these people, myself included.”

Although I’ve been building Rails apps for a couple years, and will continue to do so, I made the choice with “Riverfold”: to go PHP-only so that I could deploy on inexpensive shared hosts and easily move my sites. Fact is, you need to dedicate a significant portion of your time to being a system administrator if you run a Rails site.

I find the general “we don’t owe you anything” attitude in the Rails community off-putting. What it means is quite simple: Rails is not a product, despite what it might look like when you “visit the web site”: This is fine and consistent with the opinionated nature of Rails (which from a design perspective is what makes Rails excellent), but it also means that features like backwards compatibility are not just ignored but actively discouraged. The message this sends is that the core team values their own personal productivity over the productivity of the general Rails userbase.

Also, make no mistake, the performance questions surrounding Rails are directly related to the web shared host issue. Rails can’t be hosted in the same way that PHP is hosted because it takes so long for a Rails application to be initialized, requiring dedicated long-running app instances and an ever-changing array of “best practice” solutions starting with mod_ruby to FCGI to Mongrel to “Thin”:

My friends and “co-workers”: are no doubt sick of me bashing Rails (see “this post on the priorities of the community”:, but I still admire Rails and do want to see these problems solved. I would love to use “PotionStore”: to power the Riverfold site, or to base my registration database and sales tracking in Rails.

Why I support Hillary

Obama is passionate, thoughtful, centrist enough for broad appeal, and a brilliant speaker. If he’s the nominee I’ll support him fully with every bit of strength I have. There is something special about him, and it comes around rarely in a candidate.

“Dave Winer wrote”: “Obama, like Carter in 1976, may be our pennance for having re-elected Bush in 2004. We’re taking the medicine we deserve for having been crazy enough to re-elect someone who was so bad for us.”

But what about Hillary? She’s part of the establishment, and I volunteered heavily for the Howard Dean campaign. Could I support someone as traditional as Hillary? As “Mike Cohen said”: “I oppose her very strongly, not only because of all the baggage she brings, but for her anti-progressive record.”

And yet.

“I posted to Twitter”: on election night that something had changed between the Iowa vote and New Hampshire: Hillary had found her voice, and it surprised me. Turns out she knows what is at stake. I always knew she was a fighter; after 2000 and 2004, we need the Democrats to show some backbone again. But I think she’s been underestimated even more deeply than that, in her ability to speak to the core Democratic base while drawing upon her new experience and record in the Senate that most people aren’t familiar with yet.

And then there is the woman factor. Some people will say this matters but they don’t really understand unless they have daughters of their own, daughters who will grow up and become teenagers, the defining moment of their lives, during a woman presidency. This is both personal and huge and it could spread like wildfire. For me, it tips the balance.

My family is throwing its support — our money for donations, our phones for getting out the vote, and our voice — behind Hillary. Thank you New Hampshire for making this a real primary election again.