Moving to Tumblr

I’m moving my blog over to Tumblr. Although RapidWeaver does a pretty good job of generating a nice set of static files, I think it is high time to switch over to a managed, cloud-based platform. Tumblr seems to offer the best combination of stability (both in terms of server reliability and corporate prospects for survival), ease of use, flexibility, and the ability to avoid hitching my blog to any of the giant tech firms.Permalink

Website update

It was pointed out to me that the links to PDF versions of my papers were not terribly obvious. Where are they? For each paper, the link to the PDF is below the abstract. These used to just be linked text. Worse, above each abstract, where there is a link to the category that the paper is filed in, there used to be an icon that looked like a file with a bright pink badge.

A couple of days ago I updated the design so that each PDF link is preceded by a little PDF icon, which stands out because it has a bright red badge. I also changed the category icon to look less like a file and more like a web page, with a blue color that doesn’t stand out as much. I hope this makes the website easier for everyone to use.Permalink

Goodbye Steve Jobs

I didn't know Steve Jobs, but I definitely feel an emotional connection because of how much he affected my life. As a middle-school kid in the mid-eighties, I learned BASIC on a Sinclair ZX-81, which attached to a black & white TV, used audio cassettes for storage, and came with 1K of RAM. We had the 16K RAM expansion pack. It was a piece of garbage, but it was fun to play with.

I knew people who had Apple IIs and Commodores, and I had used TRS-80s in computer labs. None of them were particularly impressive. My dad and I knew we would eventually have to get a real computer, and we were planning to get a Coleco Adam.

Then the Mac came out. (We weren't into football; I never saw the Superbowl ad. We learned about the Mac from the computer magazines we subscribed to.) It was love at first sight. It was obvious that this was how computers should be.

But an original Mac cost a boatload of money: $2495 (over $5000 today). My parents said we'd get a real computer when I started high school. So we passed on the original Mac, and the Mac 512, and the Mac XL ($3995 in 1985, over $8000 today). When I started high school in 1987, we bought a Mac Plus ($2599 in 1986, but I think about $1800 when we bought it in 1987).

For me it's been Macs ever since then. The darkest days, of course, were in the mid nineties. Especially for me: I graduated from college and got a job in 1995. At work I had to use Windows—Windows 3.1 at first, and then Windows 95, both disastrous, tasteless imitations. (Of course Steve wasn't at Apple anymore, but he had built something so good that Microsoft could not match it, no matter how much profit they made or how much market share they swallowed.) Worse, at that time it looked like Apple might not survive, and the future would be dominated by Windows. Even the lowest low point, Mac OS 8, was still so much better than the alternative that I vowed to go down with the sinking ship, among the last stragglers holding onto the last Macs.

But the ship didn't sink, and the rest is legendary.

Perhaps we shouldn't attribute the original Mac so entirely to Steve. There was a whole talented team behind it, much like the Apple of today (smaller, of course). But Steve definitely was the one who built Apple into a position where it could create the Mac, and he was the demanding, critical presence that made the Mac so good. By founding NEXT, he also kept himself in a position to push the computer industry forward even after he was forced out from Apple. And that enabled him to engineer Apple's comeback. I hope that Apple will maintain Steve's ideals and perfectionism for many years to come.


My history with Apple products

To illustrate the effect Steve Jobs has had on my life, here are the Apple hardware products I’ve had over the years.

My parents bought a Macintosh Plus for the family when I started high school. I think someone in my family used this Mac for almost 10 years. We bought it with a 10MB hard disk and an ImageWriter II printer.

When I went off to college in 1991, I got a Macintosh LC, with a color monitor. Around this time, my dad got a PowerBook 100, while my mom and my (younger) sister continued to use the Mac Plus.

I upgraded in my senior year of college (1994) to a Macintosh LC III. I kept this as my home computer for two more years after college, even while I was forced to use Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 at work.

In 1998, after more than 2 years of working full time, I knew I would be going to graduate school, and wouldn’t have to continue using Windows. That—plus the money I was earning—freed me up to start buying higher-end computers. At that time, the G3 Tower was the best you could buy.

In 2000 I got married, and around that time my wife bought an Indigo iMac. Ever since then we’ve tried to maintain a 1:1 or higher ratio of computers to family members.

Also in 2000, I was starting to work on my research and was using the computer intensively almost every waking hour. It was time to shift to a faster upgrade cycle. I sold my G3 and bought a PowerMac G4. I also bought an Apple 17-inch monitor, and have been an aficionado of big monitors ever since.

After a while it became clear that we needed a portable computer in the family. I still needed the desktop for my serious work, but it was too much for both of us to be tied to our desks all the time. So we handed the iMac off to my Mom and bought a white iBook, in 2002 I think. It became my wife’s main computer, but I would use it when giving presentations, particularly when I went on the job market in 2004.

When I started as a professor in 2004, I used my startup research funding to buy a PowerMac G5, along with a 23-inch Cinema Display. We also bought two iPods: the last FireWire iPod (the iPod Photo) for me and a pink iPod Mini for my wife. I still held onto the PowerMac G4 as my home computer.

In 2006 my wife upgraded to the first MacBook, together with a Mighty Mouse. I continued to borrow her computer for presentations.

In 2007 we got the original iPhone, for which I happily paid $599. I ditched my PowerMac G4 for a 15-inch MacBook Pro, and started using it as my main computer at both home and work. At home I hooked it into my 23-inch Cinema Display. At work I bought the 30-inch Cinema Display, which continues to wow people to this day. I kept the PowerMac G5 in my office to run background tasks, and even tried to use it as a server. (That didn’t work out.) We also got an AirPort Extreme at home.

In 2008 I upgraded to the iPhone 3G, and my wife took the original iPhone. My wife upgraded to a unibody MacBook, handing her old one down to her dad.

In 2009 we bought a Mac Mini as a home server, hooking it up to our TV and a Drobo. Also, my existing MacBook Pro turned out to be kind of a lemon, requiring multiple display and logic board replacements. Eventually the Apple Store just gave up on trying to repair it and handed me a brand new unibody MacBook Pro as a warranty replacement.

In 2010 I upgraded to the iPhone 4, handing my 3G over to my father-in-law. I also bought a Magic Mouse.

In 2011, my wife’s original iPhone stopped working, so my wife upgraded to an iPhone 4.Permalink

For PDF presentations on Mac, use Skim

Neither Adobe Reader nor Apple Preview does a good job with PDF presentations. There is a free, open-source program called Skim which is much better. Compared to Apple Preview, it doesn't default into slideshow mode, doesn't display a grey navigation bar over your slides, and works well with most presentation remotes. Compared to Adobe Reader, it does disable the screen saver and auto-sleep during a presentation, doesn't display the stupid hand cursor, and uses Apple's superior font rendering. It also has lots of other features for reading and annotating PDFs, but I really only use it for presentations.Permalink