Oct 082015

I love my Macbook Pro and I hate Apple :)

More or less a year ago I’ve bought a Mid 2014 15″ Retina Macbook Pro featuring a 2.5 GHz Intel Core i7 with 16 GB RAM and 512 GB SSD. That’s just a smidge slower than the fastest processor and it is not the voluminous 1 TB SSD, that would have allowed me to keep my complete music colletion with me. I regret having not taken the bigger SSD, but all in all the difference was something like 500 €, the equivalent of a good lens.

Well, the Macbook Pro is the best computer I’ve ever had. It’s faster than every desktop and of course much faster than every laptop. A similarly equipped Ultrabook from MSI, the alternative that I’d considered, felt and looked cheap in comparison. It was almost laughable.

So far, so good. What I didn’t like was Apple’s way of forcing their user interface style down my throat. I am used to Linux (and earlier UNIX workstations from DEC, HP and IBM). 20 years ago I began using virtual desktops extensively.

Do you know what a virtual desktop is? Basically it is a program or system extension, that allows you to switch between different desktops with different groups of windows open. The best of them had not only virtual desktops but also viewports, with a virtual desktop being a rectangular arrangement of viewports (fully configurable, for instance 6×5, just like tiles) and therefore a viewport being something like a window showing one part of the desktop, one such tile. I had configured keybindings to move the viewport left, right, up, down with CTRL+ALT and a cursor key.

I normally used three such desktops, with CTRL+ALT and PageUp/PageDown to move from desktop to desktop, keeping the viewport as it was in the previous desktop. You can imagine that as a three-dimensional arrangement of three layers of tiles.

I always kept my main windows in the middle layer. That way from each main window (for instance an open editor window with the most frequently edited file in a project) I could reach six neighboring (and related) windows with only one keyboard shortcut, 14 neighbors with at most two shortcuts, the whole cube of 26 neighbors with at maximum three shortcuts.

Yes, 90 screenfuls of windows sounds crazy, but as I used it, it was incredibly useful for a programmer with a visual mind. Flipping between open files for comparison or for looking up information was extremely fast and became almost automatic.

To set up such a session with 30 or 40 open windows took time and the session wouldn’t last. There was no way to save an arrangement of windows and automatically re-open it after a reboot. It does not even work on a modern Mac with all programs.

Persistence of sessions was no necessity either. It was Linux. You rebooted after an operating system upgrade to the next release or after a power failure. Program upgrades normally only required a restart of the program. Kernel upgrades could wait for the next OS upgrade. Security was not a concern.

Good things never last though, and user interface designers on Linux, in their constant desire to embrace Windows and Mac users, began to take away virtual desktops (the layers) and instead call the former viewports desktops. Gone was the third dimension, but I still had a rectangular plane. It made intuitive arrangements of related windows harder but still reasonably feasible. Four neighbors with one shortcut, twelve with two shortcuts, if you accepted having to use the same shortcut twice.

Then came Ubuntu and Gnome 3. They took away the second dimension, reducing the plane to a single string of desktops. You could only move left/right, going from the first desktop to the last took as many shortcuts as you had desktops (minus one). Of course you could use shortcuts like CTRL-1, CTRL-2 to CTRL-0 for the first 10 desktops, but that required you to know your windows by desktop number. It required you to think before switching desktops, instead of relying on muscle memory. It slowed me down, I hated it with a passion and I called it “The Most Stupid Idea” user interface designers have ever had. I tried it a few times and always reverted to alternative desktop software that at least gave me my two dimensional, rectangular arrangement. I even found a similar virtual desktop add-on for Windows.

Imagine my dismay when I found out that “The Most Stupid Idea” was actually the standard on the Mac. Ubuntu and Gnome 3 had just copied the UI style of OS X Mavericks!

When Apple had first given their users virtual desktops, they called them “Spaces”, and until Mavericks they were two-dimensional as it is a minimum requirement for a proper virtual desktop. Only with my first OS X version ever did they dumb the interface down. I was furious. I had the best hardware on the planet, but I was stuck with a non-customizable user interface nightmare. Hey, we’re Apple, we know better than you what you need!

TotalSpaces2 to the rescue. It was a clever operating system extension that restored the two-dimensional grid of desktops. After the first days of pain it was finally relieve.

Until El Capitan. The way TotalSpaces works is by hacking the operating system. The new “System Integrity Protection” makes that hack impossible, and because Apple refuses to make the window management system customizable via a supported API, I have to either disable “System Integrity Protection” (an actually important security feature) or I am back to “The Most Stupid Idea”.

The problem with Apple is the same as with the designers of Gnome: it’s arrogance and disregard for their users. Apple is a cult and surprisingly people even seem to love them for that.

What will I do? Install Linux on my Macbook Pro? I can’t. I need Lightroom and sometimes still Photoshop. Install Windows 10 instead? I am not yet ready for that, but somehow I think that’s a good idea :)

Oct 072015

It’s funny. While the layered architecture of modern computers enables tremendous progress by boosting developer productivity (both on the hard- as well as the software side), it also makes the systems brittle, unnecessarily complex, and – if things go wrong – impossible to diagnose for anybody but experts. Well, even becoming an expert (or maintaining that status, once reached) gets harder and harder.

Windows 10 is much more stable than Windows 7 and a Mac is a pretty awesome machine (as long as you play by its rules), but both will invariably fail in almost mystic ways. You won’t know why. They won’t tell you. Maybe you’ll find something on the Internet if your problem frequently occurs, but maybe you’ll just hunt from page to page, in search of the elusive hint.


Oct 062015

I’ve seen three upgrades from Windows 7 to Windows 10 now and one from Windows 8 to Windows 10. Three of them had some complications, in one case I could fix it by switching from an HDMI monitor cable to Display Port (Windows 10 insisted on 60Hz refresh rate for my 2560×1440 monitor, resulting in a bandwidth not supported by HDMI and forcing the resolution down), the other two were fixed by an upgrade respectively an uninstall of the anti-virus solution.

Sounds bad? Wouldn’t have happened with a Mac? Not so fast!

On Sunday I upgraded to OSX 10.11 – El Capitan. It went absolutely smooth, but only then did I learn, that the new security model does not permit TotalSpaces, my preferred virtual desktop solution, to work any more. OSX does not allow us to tweak its user interface style and it provides no official hook for programs to do that. TotalSpaces, a commercial product, mind you, used an undocumented hack, and now it fails and won’t ever work again. Oh my! When a key user interface component fails, that you’ve come to rely upon, you’re rightly pissed!

This is not the big problem though. The biggie is, that my USB mobile internet dongle stopped working. The modem was just not recognized any more. Today I was in a shop of my ISP, and because I wanted a quick solution, I bought a new stick, this time a Huawei. It looks better but still does not work.

Is this Apple’s fault? The ISP’s? Huawei’s? Maybe it’s the new OS and it’s just not supported yet. But then, wouldn’t it be Apple’s job to help third party vendors to finish their updates before the new OS gets available?

Whatever, it’s a mess. Sorry for the rant :)

Oct 042015

Every once in a while I post an image taken at Sternberg. Sternberg is a church on top of a small mountain in Carinthia, well, not a real mountain, more a big rock. It’s exposed on three sides and therefore can be seen from afar.

In winter it’s high enough that it frequently is above the fog. And it is near to Villach. Lot’s of reasons to bother you with it :)

3270 – Living In Boxes

 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO  Comments Off on 3270 – Living In Boxes
Oct 012015

Compression. Compassion?

Is this the best of times? The worst of times? No, the worst it is not. Maybe it’s even the best. Globally it may well be.

Let’s take a list of countries with population data, download it into a spreadsheet and do some reality checks. in 2014 the world’s total population was 7,260,652,256. In descending order of current population the first 20 countries in the list are

  1. China
  2. India
  3. United States
  4. Indonesia
  5. Brazil
  6. Pakistan
  7. Nigeria
  8. Bangladesh
  9. Russian Federation
  10. Japan
  11. Mexico
  12. Philippines
  13. Ethiopia
  14. Vietnam
  15. Egypt, Arab Rep.
  16. Germany
  17. Iran, Islamic Rep.
  18. Turkey
  19. Congo, Dem. Rep.
  20. Thailand

The first country in the list with a major armed conflict within its borders is the Ukraine at #29. That means the vast majority of the population of the first 28 countries lives in peace. Together they sum up to 5,606,797,236. Of course the conflict in Ukraine does not nearly affect the whole country.

Let’s look for the next country in deep trouble. That’s Iraq at #37. People in the countries above (without Ukraine) sum up to 5,884,244,372.

Afghanistan is #39, Yemen #45 and Syria #54. If we exclude them all and sum up the rest above, we are already at 6,272,630,949. The total including the war-torn countries would be 6,432,775,157. That means 97.5% of the population of the 54 most populated countries live in peace. I suppose that’s pretty good and has never been better throughout history. It seems as a species we make progress. All in all the population of the countries in “fragile and conflict affected situations” sums up to 472,954,698. That’s 6.5%.

Not being in a war does not mean that much when you starve to death. Let’s look at the “heavily indebted poor countries”. Here we have 701,714,118 or 9,7%. Not really great, but not everybody there starves. “Low income” is of course relative, but here we have 621,977,594 or 8.6%. These are obviously upper bounds for the total number of people affected by hunger.

Frequently I may sound pessimistic, but I think we have a lot of reason to be optimistic. Yes, there is tremendous inequality in the world, but if you just look at the conditions of living for the vast majority of people, our system seems to gradually improve them in terms of absolute values.

Is it good? No. Is it better than at any time in the past? Most likely yes.

3269 – Old Industry

 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO  Comments Off on 3269 – Old Industry
Sep 302015

This is how people used to work. Those people were our parents. Things used to change and they changed fast, but it was not in any way comparable to the crazy speed we move on today.

When industrialization began, we saw many of the same extremes we see now with the follies of globalized capitalism. Things changed slow enough to allow for adaption though. The abuse of workers was met by self-organization in the form of unions, and in many parts of the world a kind of social equilibrium was reached.

Globalization changes all that. Multi-national enterprises can evade all rules, the nation states are powerless to enforce what could guarantee welfare.

What do the nation states? They sign free-trade treaties that further codify their irrelevance and formally hand all power over to the multies.

What could the nation states do? They could use the power of international treaties – to reign in the power of globalized multi-nationals. After all, the power of globalized corporations is to blackmail the nation state by threatening to go elsewhere. That’s what treaties should really be about: making an end to corporate blackmail by ensuring that there is no “elsewhere”, that there are equal conditions everywhere.

Sep 292015

Living in Europe 70 years after “The War” often means forgetting what a war is. Look at this building in Gmünd, Carinthia. It’s part of our rich heritage, a building never damaged by a war, or if so, a building lovingly restored by people who had the time to spare and the surplus to spend. Now google “aleppo after war” and check out the images.

Hitler was a criminal and many Germans were. Most were not. They only earned the ruins. Same with Saddam Hussein and the people of Iraq, same with Assad and the people of Syria. Wars sometimes kill dictators, but most of all they kill innocents. Those who don’t get killed are left with the ruins of what generations before have built up.