MonthMarch 2006

Hey, MarsEdit, lay off my CPU already

greedy MarsEditThis has to stop. MarsEdit – the blog-posting software from Ranchero – has a bug, a bad bug (or else I’m just cursed). I’m using v1.1.2, the most recent.
Here’s what happens. You can compose a post, and MarsEdit will (if you like) give you a preview window showing how your brilliant thoughts are going to appear online. It’s an HTML window that uses the Safari Webkit HTML engine.

And it sucks – CPU, that is. That screenshot above is a little section from top, showing what processes are using what percent of CPU.

In MarsEdit when you start a new post and have a preview window open, it updates even if you don’t have “Live Preview” (which ought to show how your post will look as you type) selected.

Result of all this: my CPU locks up. That’s unreasonable for a start. But what’s worse is that I’ve got no Javascript or Java in the post that’s being previewed. There’s no active links to outside stuff, just passive links.

And what’s even worse is that there seems to be a bug which stops one from stopping the live preview. You can click that little box in the window all you like – it still updates, live.

It is, to say the least, disappointing. Look, guys, I’m buying your software (see VoodooPad there, Gus? I use it each day). But it’s abusing my CPU. Please, let’s sort it.

Update: what makes this problem even worse is that once you post something and go away, it sometimes pops up a preview window – without you asking – for any other post you’ve been editing. Until you notice that the machine is running slow as hell, and come back to MarsEdit…

Further updated: Gus Mueller acknowledges that there’s a problem already found with preview windows here. Still chasing the rest..

Would you want your child to be born deaf? Some would

It’s been a while since the piece appeared, but it seemed like I should comment on the article “I hoped our baby would be deaf“.

I began it expecting that I’d disagree strongly with them. Having a deaf child is hard work. It’s not just all the books you have to read. It’s the constant appointments: social services (who are helpful), the hospital’s audiology appointment (fortnightly, but really needs to be weekly because infant ears grow so quickly), the cochlear implant team (for assessments that seem to go on for ever). And it’s all slightly more complex in terms of thinking what you have to do than with a hearing child.

“When I was pregnant I did hope the baby would be deaf. Obviously, I would have loved a hearing baby equally, but inside, I really hoped she would be deaf like me.”

So I started it feeling more than a little sceptical. But actually it’s a great piece (tribute to Rebecca Atkinson, who wrote it, and got inside all the ins and outs of the deaf community. Well, at least as far as I understand it.) And they make their point. If you’re a deaf parent and you have a deaf child, then you understand what the challenges are; you can bring them up on equal terms.

Being deaf is not about being disabled, or medically incomplete – it’s about being part of a linguistic minority. We’re proud, not of the medical aspect of deafness, but of the language we use and the community we live in.

At this point I was going to come up with all sorts of very bad similes; about what if we all had X-ray vision but some children were born without it. You’d say “But isn’t it awful not being able to see what’s through that brick wall?” and they’d reply “It’s fine as it is.” But it doesn’t quite work. The simile isn’t precise.

However I finished it agreeing with them. They’ve got their position and they’re happy with it, and their baby seems pretty happy too. (Tomato – great name.)

Being observations on the beta of NetNewsWire

Aha – Brent has at last brought the rest of us into the tent, and produced a public beta of NetNewsWire 2.1 (b17 at the time of writing).

What’s new and good:

  1. it’s a Universal binary. Unfortunately I’m still only galactic, so doesn’t make any difference. But it runs fine.
  2. It’s faster than 2.0.1: the fixes he describes (moving to binary detailing, not updating article lists unnecessarily, putting the “Mark as Read” details into a separate thread) have clearly worked.
  3. Beta? It hasn’t crashed on me (yet). Though I have had to do a force-restart of the whole machine which I think is due either to Camino (1.0) or NNW. Or maybe Windowserver.
  4. He fixed the bug that I noticed. Which is nice.
  5. The “sort by attention” feature is quite interesting, though personally I usually sort my 500-odd feeds manually; the “attention” listing is all over the place, meaning I’m scrolling up and down trying to find feeds I want to quote. But it’s a fun addition, and sometimes software should be about fun.
  6. Having the Dinosaur feeds coloured differently in the feeds list is an excellent feature.

What’s wanted and/or missing (so far):

  1. No Applescript command to let you script how often a feed should be refreshed. (You can work out how frequently a feed updates, and you could script it accordingly, which would speed up feed downloading and reduce CPU demand. Hell, a future NNW could work this out for itself; if it’s clever enough to work out your attention, it could figure out how often a feed gets updated.
  2. It still really whacks the CPU when the feed download hits a smart list. It can be ticking over while downloading normal feeds at 10-20% of CPU, and then hits a smart list: CPU load rockets and the processor maxes out. I don’t like that.
  3. Actually, it really whacks the CPU at fairly random times.
  4. No option yet in smart lists to choose from feeds based on how old/new a headline is.

Roll on more betas.. Still, he does have a low-priced (we don’t say “cheap”) upgrade path for NNW Lite users while 2.1 is in beta. Sounds like a good deal.

Dell sells; Sun and HP wait for your call (and then put you on hold)

  • The Sun Doesn’t Shine on Me

    I can’t seem to be able to buy any Sun servers.

    I’ve tried.

    I’ve been trying since July of 2005.

    So let me tackle this in two parts.

    Part one, we’ll roll back to July of 2005 when I, a person coming from a “you buy Dell desktops and laptops when you think you are saving money from buying Macs but all the servers are Suns, Compaqs, and SGIs” world, attempted to buy about 50ish servers and terabytes of storage from Sun or HP.

    Part two, we’ll talk about my recent adventures that started immediately after reading “The Death of the Cold Call”.

    Jason Hoffman of Joyent details his experiences trying to buy Serious Big Iron from (a) Dell (b) Sun (c) HP. Based on this, I would never buy shares in Sun (in fact I’d dump them if I owned any) and prefer Dell far before HP. Dell’s sales process works. Simple as that. (Seen at Joyeur)

Nicholas Carr on MySpace; audiophile MIDI leads (yup)

  • Pretty vacant

    When I look around MySpace I don’t see much that’s “strange and wonderful” – or “deeply disturbing,” either. I wish I did. What I see is a dreary sameness, a vast assembly of interchangeable parts. Everything feels secondhand: the pimps-and-hos poses before the cameraphone, the ham-fisted, cliche-choked blog-prose. It’s sad to see so much effort put into self-expression with so little to express. Humanity in the raw? No, this is humanity boiled to blandness in the tin pot of personalization.

    Another thoughtful post from Nicholas Carr (actually, he doesn’t do any other sort). Journalists have long experience that writing stuff is hard; that people find repetition easier than innovation. Why do you think cliches get such wide use? Because people don’t make up their own. As he says, what scares him about MySpace is “not how dangerous it is, but how safe”. (Seen at Rough Type: Nicholas Carr’s Blog)

  • Sucking less, on a budget: Audiophile MIDI!??!?

    So I went to my local music store looking for a cheap MIDI cable. At said music store, they told me they only carry the expensive cables from their supplier because the people who buy MIDI cables demand audiophile quality sound reproduction. WHAT?!?!?!?! Wait….WHAT?!?!?!?

    Ok, let’s back up for a second. We’re talking about MIDI; only control signals go over the wire. There is no audio signal transmitted, period. The MIDI notes either get there, or they don’t. The punk behind the counter is just another moron, and I wasn’t about to pay $20 each for a cable.

    Following Ben Goldacre’s (not completed I think) examination of “audiophile” power supplies – not signal cables, but mains cables – is there a whole category to be written about the cables sold as “audiophile” which have no useful signal to be deployed over them?

Yeah, that might be a bug in Microsoft Word. Just, you know, guessing

I updated MS Office because it wanted to be updated. And 57MB later, there it is, in fine fettle.

And now, let’s open an RTF document.

Hmm. Empty. That’s not good.

Let’s open it in TextEdit. Hmm. Full of text.

Word says: empty. TextEdit and Tex-Edit Plus say: full of text. Open document with Word? Empty. (Update: not reproducible in all cases. Just saved an RTF from Notes and it opened like a charm. What the..)

Yeah, I think I might have to file a bug there on version 11.2 (060202). Anyone know where you file bugs on Word? Maybe Office Rocker!. (Who I note here is very proud of the word counter in Word. Um, yes, except it sucks up so much CPU – about 10% when nothing is happening – that I have to turn it off, and remap the keystrokes to do wordcount with a key combo. Plus, as I’ve said in a note to the post, a word count on the status bar is actually not useful, even if it is longstanding; it’s a classic example of Programmer’s Triumph, which I might write about some time soon.)

OK, make that two bugs then.

Update: make that three bugs. You can no longer replace paragraph marks using the “^p” mark in the Find/Replace box on documents saved from RTF in TextEdit to Word format. I’m getting close to binning this release and reinstalling the whole thing. (Later… Or am I searching for the wrong thing? Perhaps TextEdit changes all the line endings to ASCII 10 – ^l, or ^r – and Word is looking for ASCII 13 – ^c. Could happen…)

You know you are a journalist and not a blogger when…

Tom Foremski crystallizes lots of stuff for me with his post You know you are a journalist and not a blogger when…. “You start getting pitches from PR folk and companies” – which, he points out, has started happening to Robert Scoble.:

Don’t send me more email pitches please. Don’t beg for me to try out your software. Don’t wait for me to blog about your company or your team or your product or you. That’s what comments here are for. You have direct access to anyone who is reading this post. Pitch in the comments! If your stuff is good, someone will try it out and say so. Maybe even me.

More at Scobleizer…
(Note: do read the whole post – it has the story I haven’t heard before of why Jimmy Wales started Wikipedia. I can relate to it.)
As Foremski says:

BTW, I am always amazed when bloggers such as Mr Scoble and others, start becoming very irritated at the hundreds of emails they start getting from PR people and others wanting a plug. Welcome to the world of the journalist–we have to deal with this stuff every day, it comes with the territory.

He also makes a really good point about journalists who now blog at work: his quote of a quote:

Editors at the Washington Post are wrestling with discontent from reporters who think they should be paid extra for contributing to a group Web log. The Washington City Paper reported staffers on the Post’s metro section asked for extra money after learning some prominent byliners were being paid for Web logs while they would not be.

More at Bloggersblog… And his advice?

I used to tell my colleagues in the mainstream media ‘start blogging as soon as you can otherwise you will have to blog for your employer and build its media brand instead of yours!’ I don’t like to have to say I told you so…

I have to admit that was my plan in starting this blog. Why write a blog for the Independent – which I might not be working at forever – when I’m fairly certain that I’ll be the same person all my life?

And as for extra cash for extra work? Forgetaboutit. It would just accelerate the decline of your newspaper because your newspaper cannot monetise your extra work anyway.

Seen at Silicon Valley Watcher–Tom Foremski on the business and culture of innovation

The four things meme continues here

Hey, the ever-fragrant Bourgeois Wife (I assume she’s fragrant, nobody could write like that without having a shower regularly) has tagged me. OK then..

Four jobs I’ve had:
Lawnmower (person who mows lawns, not being a sheep). Hot and fairly dull.
Very bored civil servant – but I learnt about computers in organisations, and got to play with an Apple Lisa (not Mac)
Very trainee avionics engineer. Happily, Happily someone else always looked at what I’d done when I’d avionic’d the G-clusters or whatever I did do to the little planes.
Er, journalist (is that a job?).

Four movies I can watch over and over:
Brazil. I saw one of the first showings in Leicester Square and felt disappointed that nobody else seemed to want to give it a standing ovation.
Alien. Saw it when I began university (I’m so ooooollllddd) and was stunned by the vision of a future where space tubs were a mess and the crew was a mess but they all got a jolting reminder of the violence of evolution.
The Third Man. Not just the music, but Welles’s brilliantly underhand Harry Lime, the cinematography, the plot, everything.
Citizen Kane. Welles had that assured touch and it’s just so big.

Four places I’ve lived:
Barbados. Yeah, yeah. Father’s job moved around a lot, though you can guess he wasn’t a spy – else it would have been something like Russia, Albania, Berlin, wouldn’t it? They were all nice in their way but it was a long time ago and I was young.

Four TV shows I love:
Futurama. I like sci-fi; this is Simpsons sci-fi.
Homicide: Life On The Street. Simply brilliant, but takes a lot of getting into. I discovered Soul Coughing through this series – a 20-second clip of music where they were investigating a character’s death – so it deserves to be here just for that.
Columbo. Because the structure of each episode is so clever, and many big names got a start on it: Steven Spielberg directed some Columbo episodes. My favourite is the one where his first appearance is walking out of a locked safe. The writers clearly competed to have ever-stranger first scenes for the main character.)
Friends. Got to have something to talk to Jennifer Aniston about when she drops by.

Four places I’ve been to on holiday:
Kenya. Managed to fail to windsurf for hours on end.
Cornwall. Lovely climbing in quarries.
California. Wanted to climb El Cap. Got baby instead.
Les Deux Alpes. First time ever skiing. Excellent.

Four of my favorite dishes:
Chili con carne. Simple. Filling. Nutritious.
Rhubarb crumble (made by wife, yum)
Lasagne. When I was younger and had had a crap day I used to go home and make a lasagne.
Chocolate ice cream. It’s highly nutritious, you know.

Four sites I visit daily: Daring Fireball’s Linked List: great Mac stuff. Nicholas Carr’s blog: an interesting, sceptical but realistic voice. John Naughton’s blog: often ahead of what’s happening, which I obviously find scary. Alphagalileo – European science and technology from academia. (Roughly speaking.) Semper novum.

Four places I would rather be right now:
At home with the family (actually, I am)
Pembroke, climbing
The Peak District, climbing

Four bloggers I am tagging:
Neil McIntosh; Antony Mayfield; Bobbie Johnson; John Naughton (let’s see if they all read their trackbacks, then).

Sorry BW it’s taken me so long to do this. You’ll understand one day..

Comets and dinosaurs: are PR people or hacks the dinosaurs? Or both?

  • Silicon Valley Watcher–Tom Foremski on the business and culture of innovation

    Robert mentioned a startup company that collected 400,000 beta users in one week from a mention on just a few key tech blogs. I thought it a good time to stand up and join the conversation and make an important point that many people don’t understand about blogging.

    I said that blogging is not disrupting the mainstream media – blogging will disrupt public relations. The company geting [sic – CA] its message out to 400,000 beta users is a great example, and I’ve been collecting many more.

    It’s easy for journalists to feel happy about this, until you realise that the company probably reached those 400,000 people without going through any media organisations either. (Well, apart from those that have blogs, of course.) As GMSV puts it, “[Rupert] Murdoch explains comets to dinosaurs“. We’re all standing around thinking that it’s the other guys who are the dinosaurs.

Ants ate the readership

OK,put these together. / Comment & analysis / Comment – Digital ants wreck the music industry’s picnic

This can happen because the traditional benefits of marketing scale are a little less relevant in a Google age. Power is shifting from aggregators to navigators. In other words, those that collected creative works and stood between the creator and the audience – studios, broadcasters and record companies – are losing their primacy to those that help you find the content.

What has happened in television illustrates the force that is affecting every traditional media company. Each new entrant is an ant at the picnic; enough ants and the picnic ends. Google is an ant trail enhancer and change is not sudden, but gradual, crumb by crumb.

Adam Singer (he used to work at Telewest) with an interesting take on how disaggregation is affecting content industries. He wrote it about the music business, but you could narrow your eyes and put “newspapers” or “radio” in there too. Does it apply though to films? (Article probably paywalled by now. But this is the key paragraph.)

And then, seen at the Fullrunner:

The latest in a long series of grim circulation statements for newssta computer titles emerged last week.

According to Media Week, ABC data showed the aggregate circulations of six PC business titles declining by 14.8% YOY. The relevant titles releasing data for 6-month or 12-month periods ending on 31st December 2005 included PC Pro, Computer Buyer and Computer Shopper from Dennis; PC Plus from Future; and VNU’s Personal Computer World.
Personal Computer World, the VNU monthly, suffered a particularly nasty drop, down by 18.3% to 76,020. PC Pro, published by Dennis, declined by 5.5% YOY to 102,010.

The circulation of so-called PC leisure titles fell, on average, by 15.3%. ABC’s definition of “PC leisure” titles includes Custom PC (Dennis); Microsoft Windows XP, PC Answers and PC Format (Future), as well as PC Live (Mediateam).

Relatively speaking, there were a few bright spots. VNU’s Computeractive, the biggest print title in the sector, saw its circulation drop by a mere 1.3% YOY to 233,060. Future’s Mac Format recorded a pleasing 13.5% jump in circulation to 17,191. (Interestingly, Dennis Publishing’s MacUser dropped 7.3% to 18,906.)

(Media Week | Free access):

The internet magazine sector continued to dwindle toward extinction. According to the ABC, the circulation of Internet-focused newsstand magazines is declining by nearly 20% YOY.

I think we can take it that people are buying fewer of these general-purpose magazines. Question: what are they buying? Anything?

My guess is – broadband access. And getting their news and other kicks online. Why wait for a monthly magazine when the same content could have been online, analysed, picked apart and revised and turned over six weeks earlier? As for a weekly internet magazine – as people get online more, who’s it appearing to? I’m only amazed that there are 76,000 people who are prepared to shell out on PCW.

And for the Mac mags – MacFormat rose (by those numbers) from 15,146 while MacUser fell from 20,395: aggregate market moves from 35,541 to 36,907 – up by a whole 1,450 copies aggregate! Woo-hooo! Or something. (Though is MacUser fortnightly? That complicates it – from 55,936 total monthly to 55003, which is actually a fall of 900-odd, or about 2%.)

Still, look at Computeractive – still selling nearly a quarter of a million. That’s remarkable, I’d say.