Intel supremacy days are over (it seems)

Hey, remember when you could buy a computer, or a workstation, or a server, that didn’t run on x86, or at least Intel? Remember those violet Sun Fire servers with SPARC processors? How about AMD Athlons and Opterons?

Some weeks ago I read an insightful article about the “untimely demise” of workstations and how the rise of commodity hardware killed vertically integrated, high-end computers, the same way it killed non-x86 servers. HN comments section came up with many explanations and arguments as to why this happened, naturally, but no one disputes the fact: even on the lower end of consumer desktop PCs, Intel reigned supreme for decades. Until now.

Continue reading “Intel supremacy days are over (it seems)”

Software utilities I cannot live without

CLI:

  • jq: you don’t need anything else than this to manipulate JSON data. Well perhaps gron if you need to grep through JSON, but for anything else jq does the job.
  • autojump: it’s a utility that learns path patterns in your filesystem. So if you frequently visit a very/nested/directory/with/long/path, all you have to do is j foo where foo is any part of the path name, to “jump” there.
  • fzf: a fast fuzzy finder. I use it with my shell (for browsing command history) and vim (for finding files or, yes, browsing history). I recently realized I rely on fzf to such a degree that I stopped writing down complex commands anywhere, I just enable maximum history size in my shell and fzf takes care of the rest. And yes, it’s that fast.
  • rg/ag: you can use either of those to search for a string in a given directory (recursively). Both utilities are very fast.
  • mc: I’m old ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

macOS:

  • divvy: of all the “tiling” window management utilities for macOS, I found divvy to best suit my needs because it’s simple and I can assign keyboard shortcuts to position windows on a grid. And it lets you define that grid, with padding and all. Unobtrusive, simple, fast, and just works.™
  • pastebot: the best clipboard manager for macOS.
  • backblaze: not a “utility” per se, but an off-site backup solution that, again, just works. It’s very simple, flat rate, reliable, and it backs up your whole drive and any external drives too, if you wish. They never let me down.
  • timeout: I can’t live without this in times of corona. Normally, you go to a meeting room every now and then during your day, or you go grab a coffee with your colleagues. But working remotely I notice I have a tendency to just sit my ass down for hours, and not move at all. Time Out reminds me to stretch for 15 seconds every 30 minutes, and to get up and walk around the house for 10 minutes every hour. You can of course customize everything in this app.

Sunk cost of my iPad Pro

In January 2019 I bought an 11-inch iPad Pro. It’s a magnificent piece of hardware that you can read many reviews of online. The screen is brilliant, the portability and battery life are unmatched, the performance is swift (until you’re trying to perform a long-running CPU-intensive operation, that is).

The iPad Pro was always meant to be my “personal computing” device. I don’t really code in my free time anymore, so issues of not being able to run VS Code on it are not my issues. I do some music production, lightweight photo editing and I write, that’s all I require from my personal computer. (ah yes, and the “occasional Netflix”) So at first glance the magnificent iPad Pro should be amazing, shouldn’t it? Turns out that for me, it wasn’t, for many tiny reasons. Tech reviewers sometimes refer to this as “the 10%” of things you need to be able to do on your computer, because indeed the iPad Pro can often handle that 90%. Yet even with iPadOS (aka iOS 13), which made it much more a real computer than any previous software upgrade, there’s still a ton of things that it either doesn’t do well, or doesn’t do at all. I agree with Gruber: the iPad didn’t fulfill the potential that was always in the hardware itself, even after 10 years of being on the market.

Continue reading “Sunk cost of my iPad Pro”

iPhone 7 Plus and its Two Lenses

To some, Apple’s yesterday keynote wasn’t all that impressive. After all, the new iPhone 7 doesn’t look all that new, the new Apple Watch looks exactly like the old one, and minor improvements aside (water resistance, GPS for the watch, new processors), there wasn’t really anything impressive shown in San Francisco last night. Except one small detail—the camera(s) on the upcoming iPhone 7 Plus.

This is the photograph Apple showed during the keynote, initially leading everyone to believe it’s been taken with a “high-end camera”:

iphone-7plus-sample

only to later explain it’s been shot with the upcoming iPhone 7 Plus, which features two lenses—one wide-angle, and one tele—that are then used by iPhone’s software to infer the depth of field, and to create the bokeh effect. While far from perfect (there’s something wrong with how the face of the model is separated from the background), this, to me, is a major breakthrough in smartphone photography. As the technology matures, we will see the “bokeh software” improve, and the dual-lens technology perhaps applied to other areas (VR?), but most importantly it’ll render cameras obsolete, to most people at least.

I can’t wait for this day to come.

Apple’s letter about the San Bernardino case

lazaroclapp:

There are basically two groups of large software companies around right now: those which make their business by collecting data, and those which make their business by licensing software. The first group has an overwhelming incentive to not support privacy too strongly. The second group has an overwhelming incentive to not allow too much openness. Until a better business model (or zero-knowledge machine learning) is found, no large for profit company can support both goals to their final conclusion. So we are left choosing one evil or the other.

Apple published a “message to customers” today, and while there’s a lot of questions this letter raises,1 the above HN comment (full thread, definitely worth reading) captures the essence of the issue at hand when it comes to computing these days. You either sell software/hardware/licenses and create incentive for the general public to pay you more money by selling things, or you give stuff away for free, and your users become the product. It appears that the situation didn’t really change much for the last couple of years, and in the end we choose what we are willing to tolerate.

update, Feb 22: Apple published some more details about the case today.


  1. What kind of backdoor does Tim Cook have in mind exactly? If it could be implemented, then how? Are other companies complying with such requests from the FBI or other agencies (wikileaks and Edward clearly point to some evidence that they do)? 

The 22 most important things Apple announced today | The Verge

The 22 most important things Apple announced today:

Today’s news for developers was surprisingly compelling, thanks to a brand-new programming language, a move into the smart home, and new tools for letting apps interact with one another on iOS.

— The Verge.

Exactly. Everyone was expecting new versions of OS X and iOS, and we got them, but the iOS SDK and the new programming language are the real big thing. iOS apps can finally talk to each other, and they don’t have to be written in Objective-C anymore. Finally.

Apple web services

Apple web services are a bit like Windows 98. You get non-sensical error messages every now and then, and your best strategy is to keep ignoring them until they stop popping up. And then at some point, stuff starts to work properly. Or not.

It’s baffling though that a company capable of producing such brilliant hardware and software cannot, for so many years, create robust and reliable web services.

iPhone 5S and 5C

Daring Fireball: The iPhone 5S and 5C

This is what innovation, real innovation, looks like. It’s like the Thomas Edison quote, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Innovation is missed by most people because it is so often incremental.

John Gruber writes about the new iPhones. A very insightful piece, you should read it especially if you hate Apple.

Google Now available for iOS

Google Now is about giving you just the right information at just the right time. It can show you the day’s weather as you get dressed in the morning, or alert you that there’s heavy traffic between you and your butterfly-inducing date—so you’d better leave now! It can also share news updates on a story you’ve been following, remind you to leave for the airport so you can make your flight and much more. There’s no digging required: cards appear at the moment you need them most—and the more you use Google Now, the more you get out of it.

via Official Blog: Google Now on your iPhone and iPad, with the Google Search app.

Ok, as much as I admire Google for making such a thing work, I am seriously creeped out.

I got used to the fact that (some of) my phone apps know my location1, but Google Now knows so much more. It learns my habits by analyzing search history (on every device on which I’m logged in), it extracts information from my emails (flight tickets and such), and in general provides me with information it knows I might be interested in. And all this from one of the biggest advertising companies in the world.

The fact that Amazon starts to know what kind of music I might be interested in better than me is one thing, but what Google Now does is just a bit too scary for me. My friends think I’m nuts because I’m using DDG as my search engine, and I pay for my email service instead of using free GMail, but somehow I’m starting to feel those were good choices…


  1. Not sure how this works on Android, but iOS apps always explicitly ask whether they can know my location. I like that.