Monday, August 30, 2010

A Theme Song for the Blog

I've found a theme song (well actually a whole CD) for the blog. At the weekend I stumbled across a piece of music by Jóhann Jóhannson  called "IBM 1401, A User's Manual". Somewhat unusually, it's music inspired by a computer that first shipped in 1959. If you're a fan of some modern classical music and ambient electronica then you may like it (think Michael Nyman and Brian Eno).

The IBM 1401
Don't worry I'm not going to make the music play each time the blog loads, first I hate music that plays when a web page loads, it's rude and second, I don't have the copyright to play the music.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Totally off message

No really this post is totally off message, it has nothing to do with computers whatsoever.
It's about bread baking.
I've been baking bread for years and consider my self quite good. I don't need a bread machine and do all the proving and kneading and shaping stuff. I have my tried and trusted recipes and methods and consider myself quite knowledgeable about bread baking. So I came across this book called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day and tried it's technique ..... WOW, totally amazing!!!

The basic idea is that you make a wetter than usual bread dough with the usual salt, yeast, flour and water, which you mix together with a spoon. You don't knead it at all, you leave it to prove for a few hours and then bung it in the fridge until the next day. Then you pull off a ball of dough, shape it into a loaf let it rise for a bit and bang it into a hot oven and presto, a perfect loaf with a crispy crust and fluffy crumb.

You leave the remaining dough in the fridge and each day you can pull of another chunk and bake a fresh loaf. The authors claim you can do this for two weeks if you start with a big enough bowl of dough. What is remarkable about this is that the conventional wisdom is that if you don't knead your bread you don't get gluten formation and your bread will not rise properly. Yet this technique really works. I'm a convert, highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

iPad: Consumption vs. Creation

So I've had the iPad over a week now and have observed how I (& others) use it. It is definitely a content consumption device rather than a content creation device. I can answer emails on it and I'm writing this blog post on it with no problem - I quite like its virtual keyboard. But, 99% of what I use it for is consumption. I've finished two books on the iBook reader and enjoyed them. I've used the iBook reader for PDFs of academic papers just fine as well. The zinio magazine app is great and magazines are really readable. Movies & TV shows & TED talks are great on it along with social media apps like TweetDeck.

It doesn't replace my laptop for what it is good for (content creation) but it has for consumption on the sofa or at a café table.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Mother of All Demos

The complete video of Doug Englebart's famous live demo of SRI's Online System, the first computer mouse, a graphical interface, file sharing and dynamic file links and even video conferencing from December 1968 is available online here. This demo has become so famous in computer history it's often called "the mother of all demos". It really would have seemed like science fiction in 1968 when most computer users were submitted batch process jobs via punch cards to mainframe computers and waiting hours or days for a print out of their results.

Monday, August 2, 2010

First thoughts on iPad

So I've had the iPad for a few days now and my first thoughts are: I love it, but it will not replace my laptop except, when I travel. The last point requires some explanation because isn't a laptop a portable computer? Well, yes but the iPad is just so light and well portable and since I can do almost everything on it, why would I want a heavy, bulky laptop weighing me down when I'm travelling. You should know though that I'm a fanatically light traveller. I never check luggage and can do a month overseas with less than 7kg of carry-on luggage. The iPad will be fantastic for traveling.
I'm enjoying the iBook reader, it's a very nice experience for reading ePub books and is also very good for pdfs. This latter ability will be very useful for reading academic papers on the move and other technical works.
An outstanding app for me that shows the true power and brilliance of the iPad's interface is, perhaps surprisingly, a backgammon app. Why, because for the first time I see a backgammon game on a computer that looks, feels and plays just like a real board. There is absolutely nothing on screen other than the board. You move the pieces with your fingers, not a mouse or cursor. It's so believable I forget that I'm using a computer. This is a wonderful experience. I'll probably never own a real backgammon set again, the iPad is better, you can play against a computer and stop and return to a game later on.
I think it's this "forgetting you're using a computer" feeling that is what is so special about the iPad.
I'm still waiting for my case to arrive which has limited the use of the iPad at breakfast for example; hard to eat and hold and navigate the iPad all at the same time, but once the case arrives it will lets me stand the iPad up in a variety of angles and I'll remove my laptop from the breakfast table. and read the newspaper with it. Finally, a very honourable mention to the New Zealand Herald. An excellent newspaper app, well done, I think it's one of the best media apps out there.