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Jobs: Microsoft Zune is Girl Repellent

Newsweek has an interview with Steve Jobs where he discusses…aw, hell; let's just go straight to the pull quote everyone's using:

Microsoft has announced its new iPod competitor, Zune. It says that this device is all about building communities. Are you worried?
In a word, no. I've seen the demonstrations on the Internet about how you can find another person using a Zune and give them a song they can play three times. It takes forever. By the time you've gone through all that, the girl's got up and left! You're much better off to take one of your earbuds out and put it in her ear. Then you're connected with about two feet of headphone cable.

In other words, Microsoft's great community feature in Zune is all about how to connect with people in the same room without actually having to physically interact with them at all. Nerd heaven!

Otherwise, not many blockbuster confessions from Steve in the interview: simplicity is hard work, but people want elegant solutions; the iPod is still cool; the record companies need occasional beatings to prevent them from ripping off their customers; Steve likes Levis.

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Toshiba Sets Their Display to Ludicrous Size

The Daily Mail is running this
picture
which features Toshiba's “Head Dome Projector” display,
designed for very immersive computer interaction:

Toshiba's 'Head Dome Projector' display.

According to DailyTech, the display was presented at the Society for Information Display 2006 symposium, which took place in June in San Francisco. Here's what they wrote:

The system exhibits a wide viewing
angle of 120 degrees horizontally by 70 degrees vertically without head
tracking, and 360 degrees x 360 degrees with head tracking. We assume
the head tracking feature is afforded by the fact that it sits right
over your head.

I'm sure I'm not the only person who saw the Toshiba display and immediately thought of this:

Rick Moranis as 'Dark Helmet' from the movie 'Spaceballs'.

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Superspyware Me!

Last week, we reported on a red MP3 player whose proceeds go to help people suffering from infectious diseases. Now we have a story about a red MP3 player that comes with its own infection.

McDonald's soft drink cup with MP3 player promotional material.

The Register reports:

McDonalds Japan has launched a recall after discovering that MP3
players it offered as a prize were loaded with a particularly nasty
strain of malware. Up to 10,000 people might have been exposed to the
problem after claiming a Flash MP3 player pre-loaded with ten tunes and
a variant of the QQpass spyware Trojan.

“QQPass” is the name given to a family of trojans that capture password information and transmit it to a third party. It is believed that a machine contaminated with this malware was used in the process of filling the MP3 players with music.

If you can read Japanese, this page will provide the number of a help line you can call for details about returning your McPod and removing the trojan. If you can't, you'll find this Babelfish translation of the page amusing. A snippet:

As for this prize the marketing store corporation (Hong Kong) from it is something which is delivered. Concerning the cause of infection, presently it is in the midst of investigating. Being placed on the customer, very much, you say and do not divide, apologize deeply. As in the future similar thing does not occur, it starts strengthening company internal system more.

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Friendster's Recipe for Mediocrity

If you had to reduce the New York Times article on Friendster, Wallflower at the Web Party, down to a set of bullet points on how to destroy a promising social software application, it would look something like this:

  • Inflate your ego to Ellisonian proportions; emulate Larry's social graces at parties.
  • Make sure that all the decision makers don't understand the concept of your application, don't use it and are well outside your target demographic.
  • Focus on adding new features and reaching new markets instead of fixing basic problems such as glacial response times. There's no money in user experience.
  • Obsess over what Google and Yahoo! will do rather than what you're going to do
  • Micromanage your users: rigidly control what they can post on their pages (Pictures of the actual user only! No joke pics, no pet pics!) and whose profiles they can see (only friends and friends of friends).
  • Leave users with nothing to do once they've entered their profile and amassed a collection of friends.

The article misses a small but significant point that turned off a lot of early adopters: Friendster's infamous firing of programmer Joyce “Troutgirl” Park, simply for blogging that they had switched back-ends from J2EE to PHP, something that could easily be discerned from the filename extensions of its web pages.

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Back to the Future: Steve Jobs Demos NeXTSTEP 3

Steve Jobs in the 1992 NeXTSTEP 3 promo film.The first thing that you should keep in mind when watching this video of Steve Jobs demonstrating the features of NeXTSTEP 3 [YouTube — 35 minutes, 8 seconds] is that it was shot in 1992. Back then, the competing mainstream operating systems were System 7 on the Mac (George ran it on his IIvx, I ran it on my 660AV), and Wintel users could choose from Windows 3.1, OS/2 2.0 and the most popular one, the sad but ubiquitous MS-DOS 5.0.

If you want to see how far ahead of its time NeXTSTEP was, watch the video over your lunch break. In the first two-thirds of the video, Steve demonstrates the dock, the Mail app, dragging and dropping attachments directly into email messages, smooth window dragging, voice annotations, WYSIWYG word processing, index-based file search, seamless browsing of other directories on machines on the network and object linking. The machine appears to respond snappily, even though its processor ran around 33MHz and it had a only a few megabytes of RAM.

Being a developer, the bit that gets me the most starts at the 23:10 mark, when Steve uses Interface Builder (which lives on in the Mac OS X developer toolkit) to cobble together an client app that connects to NeXT's Sybase-based employee database and provides a master/detail view of employees, displaying both text and photo data. Windows developers wouldn't have this sort of toll available to them until 1995 when Borland released Delphi 1 and Microsoft pushed out version 4 of Visual Basic (I didn't think VB really got useful until version 5 in 1997). Mac users would have to wait even longer for REALBasic to give them the same capability.

In addition to the tech time travel aspect, the video also gives us a look at Steve's years “in the wilderness”: a skinnier, clean-shaven, IBM-ish shirt-and-tie guy honing that “presentation Zen” for which he is known today. We expect him to take shots at Microsoft's offering, but seeing him make jabs at Apple is priceless.

The video's inspired a fair bit of commentary: see these Reddit comments as well as these blog entries on programming musings and Rixstep.

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Flash Drive-Equipped Laptops Appear in Japan

32G fkash driveFlash drives — think of them as the SD cards in your digital camera, but faster and with more capacity — have several advantages over hard drives. Speed-wise, access times for flash drives are somewhere between your computer's onboard RAM and the fastest hard drive; data can be read 3 times faster from a flash drive than a hard drive, and you can write to a flash drive in two-thirds the time. A flash drive assembly weighs slightly less than a hard drive and it consumes slightly less power, which translates into less lugging and more battery life, which is good news for those of us who do a lot of business travel. Finally, for those who like to treat their equipment roughly — Cory Doctorow, I'm lookin' at you — their solid-state nature means that they're more resistant to impact. The current downsides are price and capacity — the premium for being an early adopter is slightly over US$1,000, which gets you the present maximum of 32 gigabytes of storage.

Fujitsu laptopDigital World Tokyo reports that flash drives are an option for their B- and Q-series computers, available later this month and in November, respectively. The article points to their early reports on Samsung's and Sony's flash drive-equipped oferrings. None of these firms have made any announcements about making them available here in North America, so for the time being, if you want a flash drive-equipped laptop, you'll either need to fly to Japan or Korea or buy it from Dynamism.

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Compare Rental Rates in Your 'Hood with Rentometer

Rentometer
is a Google Maps mashup that could come in handy if you're apartment-hunting. Give it a U.S. address and a few particulars about a
place for rent at that address (monthly rent, number of bedrooms,
number of units in the rental property) and it displays a “rentometer”
showing where it falls in the range of rents in the neighborhood and a
Google Map with markers showing how the rents at nearby rental
properties compare:

Screen capture of 'Rentometer' results.

Rentometer represents not only a useful service, but also some good UI choices:

  • Great visualization: Rentometer's display gives you a very clear picture of the range of neighbourhood rents at a glance, with the “dial” showing you where the given address falls in that range and the Google Map showing you where the cheaper, equivalent and more expensive places are. The old way to present this data would've been with a table; this shows that mashups can be used to deliver information in a more meaningful way.
  • Use of appropriate technologies: The Rentometer developers did a good job of playing tools to their strengths: the “rentometer” dial is rendered using Flash while the Google Map is DHTML and JavaScript.