Commentary

The Bell Tolls for IE6

Do I hear correctly? Is that the sound of millions of IE6 voices suddenly crying out in terror and being silenced?

After spending years of griping about IE6’s staying power and lamenting Microsoft’s earlier decision to advocate against upgrading to IE7 (a decision they didn’t stick with, thankfully), Microsoft has turned a new leaf today, announcing that they will be pushing updates to IE to anyone who takes part in their Windows Update service.

What does this mean? Well, it means that grandma will be upgraded to IE8 if she’s still on Windows XP or IE9 if she’s on Vista or Windows 7.

I hope this is correct. Just in case, however, I think Microsoft needs a way of pulling a double-tap on IE6. I keep thinking it will return from the dead. Am I the only one?

Computer Science: STEM’s Bastard Child

“The basic issue is that the nation is understanding rightfully the importance of STEM education, and computer science is being largely left out of the conversation,” he told me, “although if you were to look where the job demand is going to be and what drives the economy, … computer science is huge.”

I’m trying to teach Computer Science, but everywhere around me, computer science programs are being cut, teachers are being let go, and those of us still around feel like a dying breed. States are ramping up their core curriculum standards and emphasizing STEM, but they are all leaving out the “T” (for Technology).

I’m guessing part of it is because at some point, some idiot thought that giving kids access to computers was going to turn them all into computer scientists or innovators or something like that, and then they thought “there, we did our job.” 

Unfortunately, learning how to navigate to a web site, or do a google search or write a paper on a word processor does little to teach computational thinking, software engineering or information technology.

Computer Science is the underlying foundation of our economy, and yet it’s just an elective that can be placed on the chopping block when times get tough. A professor at the University of Oregon told me that Biology graduates cannot get hired if they don’t have a computer science background. What’s the point of Science and Math if you can’t figure out how to apply it or harness the essential processing power of computers to conduct the much needed analysis of huge chunks of data that is core to most, if not all, science disciplines.

Help save computer science, take computer science classes, encourage your friends and friends’ children and neighbors to take computer science courses or join robotics clubs. Tell Obama that it’s not just about funding green energy.

I have another idea, download Scratch, or Alice or Python or something and get your kids creating video games and animations. What they won’t realize is they’ll be learning fundamental computer science concepts at the same time.

Is Failure the Crazy Uncle?

Nerdgirls.com posted a great article from Katy Williams, titled, “If Necessity is the Mother of Invention, Is Failure the Crazy Uncle?”

Failure is just an intrinsic part of the innovation process…For, if you are hard at work on a problem, and are busy discovering all of the things that your work is not, you might finally stumble upon that which it is. Through your stumbling, you may come to understand the intricacy of your subject in a greater depth – or an entirely different light – that would not have been possible had the path been straight and unencumbered.

I wholeheartedly agree with the article. As Randy Pousch once said,

The person who failed often knows how to avoid future failures. The person who knows only success can be more oblivious to all the pitfalls.

and

Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.

One Giant Step for IE: One Baby Step for the Web

It looks like I’ll be calling IE Internet Exploder for years to come. The reports are coming out, and it looks like even though IE9 supports the main HTML5 and some CSS3 technologies, they left out some of the best: like transitions (animations), border-image (it’s a lot of fun, but can be tricky at first), text shadows & gradients.  

Microsoft has opted for a conservative approach to new web technologies in IE9. While the nearly complete Firefox 4 and the recently released Chrome 10 support more of the HTML5, CSS 3 and web API stack, IE9 is a huge step forward for Microsoft. IE9 offers support for the most widely used elements of HTML5 — like the new audio, video, canvas and semantic tags. Still, Microsoft has decided to pass on many of the new APIs. Cutting edge web tools like the offline web applications API, the File API, Web Workers API and the Web Notifications API won’t work in IE9. That’s bad news for web developers, but it’s also bad news for IE users since the web shows no signs of slowing down to accommodate IE.

If you want the full list of IE9 features, go to the IE9 Guide for Developers. Designing websites for Internet Explorer (all of them, even v9), is like paying alimony: the marriage was a bad idea to begin with, and we’ll be paying for it for years to come.

A few posts ago, I defined a layout that degrades gracefully is one that works on Internet Explorer, now I classify Internet Explorer 9 as legacy software.

A comparison between Chrome9 (scored 242) and IE9 (scored 116) from Feb. of 2011 -
Here are the results of an HTML5 test comparing Chrome9 beta build and the release candidate of IE9.

Emmy Nominees

I just had to post on the Emmy nominees to point out a few, LOST-related nods. I’m hoping that the Emmy voters (who are they anyway) do what the Oscars did for Return of the King, where since the series is over, they will shower LOST with Emmys to show their appreciation for what the show has done to our culture (and prime time for that matter). 

Outstanding Art Direction For A Single-Camera Series: Ab Aeterno

“Ab Aeterno” is pitted against Glee (should not stand a chance), Modern Family’s “Moon Landing” (which I must say was hilarious, but not on par), Heroes “Brave New World” (is that show still on?), and HBO’s “True Blood” (I think this is the only one that might give LOST a run for its money).   

Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series: Jack Bender

This nominee was for Jack Bender’s work on “The End.” Just like the Oscars gave a nod to Peter Jackson with Return of the King, the Emmys should give a nod to Jack Bender. I hope we haven’t seen the last of him. 

Outstanding Music Composition For A Series (Original Dramatic Score)

Whom else but Michael Giacchino deserves an Emmy for his compositions? When he gets his Emmy (he must receive one), it will truly be a nod to his body of LOST work, seeing as the Emmy will be for “The End” and Giacchino weaved all of the beloved LOST musical themes so deftly in that episode. 

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

As much of a LOSTie as I am, I want to point out that I’m not so into LOST that I’m blind to other talent out there, and just to prove it, I’m going to concede that I’m not sure if Matthew Fox will pull this one off. If he does, it’s got to be for his two (count them: two) great man cry scenes (on the beach after his realization that Jin and Sun died, and with his father at the church). He has his work cut out for him though because he’s going against the Dexter guy as well as Hugh Laurie (House). I still think he most probably will, and if he does it’s more because of the fact that it’s the last chance to award Emmys for LOST. 

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

The Emmys are standing in between Scylla and Charybdis here. Like Sophie’s choice, the Emmys must decide between the two best actors on television…IN HISTORY! Michael Emerson as Ben or Terry O’Quinn as The Man in Black posing as Locke (or Faux Locke or just Flocke). I hate to even consider choosing between the two. I think if I had to make a choice (let’s say a gun was pointed to my head), then I would have to go for Michael Emerson (but just barely). I hope Terry will forgive me if he reads this. 

Terry’s strength is his range (from confident hunter and gatherer Locke to cowering unsteady Locke who just lost his faith in the island to the duplicitous “it was all their fault that I killed everyone in the temple” Flocke). Michael Emerson’s strength is in the nuance and the subtle details. Only a rare handful of actors could ever pull off a character like Ben. If you aren’t sure, just rewatch the episode in season 2 (The Whole Truth) when “Henry” tells the LOSTies that if he were an other, he would have led the LOSTies to a secluded place where they would be ambushed by his people so they could trade the LOSTies for him. He says it with such a cat and mouse type toying that you cannot tell if that’s his real plan or he’s just messing with them (and it’s all played with such subtlety). 

Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series

Is there any doubt who deserves the Emmy. If they could award an Oscar, they should do it for the writing of LOST as well (who cares if it was made for television, it’s better than many movies).

Outstanding Guest Actress In A Drama Series

Elizabeth Mitchell as Juliet in “The End” got the nomination here. I don’t think I watched any of her rivals in the list of nominees. It’s lucky she got nominated seeing as she only made a few minor appearances in the rest of the season. She has always done a great job, so I’m not surprised, but I might not be too shocked if she doesn’t get the award. 

Outstanding Drama Series

No question in my mind. Emmy people, you know what to do. 

Outstanding Special Class Programs

This one goes to the Mysteries of the Universe – The Dharma Initiative, and I have to say that it should get it because of its inventiveness. If you ever saw In Search Of… (hosted by Leonard Nimoy), then you know exactly where the inspiration came from. What a great way to extend the “mythology” of LOST! I loved it. 

Other Nominations

Let’s just say they should all go to LOST: 

  • Outstanding Sound Editing For A Series
  • Outstanding Sound Mixing For A Comedy Or Drama Series (One Hour)

The LOST Fans Are Livid

There are many angry folk out there who are complaining about tonight’s LOST episode: Across the Sea. Much of the chatter seems to be saying things like “it looks like the writers never planned this from the beginning,” or “they’re just making stuff up because the fans figured out the island was Purgatory, so the writers changed it to try to throw off the fan base.”

I’m not so livid. I actually kind of liked the episode, but I do think the way they answered who the “Adam and Eve” were from the cave in season one was a bad call. They basically recycled the scenes where Jack and Kate are looking at the bodies and Locke comes in and says the island has its own “Adam and Eve.”

This was clearly an attempt to pander to the more casual LOST viewer.  If fans can at least stick through to the final season then either a) they will already remember that scene or b) be used to “unsolved” mysteries. I guess I’m mostly upset about it because the thing that drew me to the show was that they never seemed to have a problem with making us figure things out on our own. Heck, it wasn’t until the final two seasons that they revealed the nature of the smoke monster.

I guess we just have to realize that this is a TV show, not a movie, not the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I think I can live with that, and my response to those who continue to complain is…

Whatever happened, happened. Deal with it!

Remember When We Used to Use Keyboards?

Well, sonny, you think you have it bad. I remember when we used to use keyboards and mice with our computers…and we liked it!

Jobs is at it again: picking on poor Adobe Flash. In his “Thoughts on Flash” essay, he writes…

Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.

Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.

Keyboards and Mice are An Endangered Species

Did you notice what he said? “the mobile era is about…touch interfaces.” As much as I hate to admit it, the iPhone was the first device to successfully break users of the keyboard/mouse paradigm. He makes it even more distasteful to admit, as I write this with my relic of a human-computer interface called a keyboard.

The fact that Jobs, the captain of the i-device revolution, claims all non-touch devices to be in the past (guilt by association), drives one more nail into the old-school interface coffin (i.e. mice and keyboards).

And now, riding on Apple’s coattails are a cadre of touch devices: the droid, Palm devices, and just about every new phone on your mobile plan (at least the ones where you have to pay a nominal fee). This is not to mention all future devices that will build off of the touch concept.

Someone Has to Pay

Humor me on my tangent here, but I must get my own Apple digs in. In his
“Thoughts on Flash,” Jobs slams Adobe for being proprietary and pats himself on the back for Apple’s “open standards.” It’s true; Flash is proprietary, and authors of most Flash aps must use a pricey development tool.

What he doesn’t mention is that Adobe Flash aps are cross-platform and ubiquitous across the web. He also fails to mention that the AIR SDK (also known as Flex: the underlying technology of Flash) is free.

The irony is that the Apple platform is a closed system. Yes, for developers, the standards are open for the developers, but the platform (the part that costs users a bundle) are strictly Apple. Someone has to pay somewhere.

Speaking of paying…

What Does that iPhone 3G Cost Anyway?

A new iPhone 3G with 8GB of storage sells for $199. That’s a savings of $200 over the old iPhone, and the new model comes with 3G data service and built-in GPS, among other features.

The least-expensive service plan for the iPhone 3G costs $70 per month. That includes 450 voice minutes and unlimited data. The plan with 900 voice minutes is now $90 per month and the option that includes 1,350 voice minutes has climbed to $110 per month.

And none of these plans include text messaging: A text plan that includes 200 messages per month will cost you $5. If you don’t opt for a text plan, you’ll be charged 20 cents per text message.

And the answer is…drumroll please…$1999 for two years (you need to sign a 2-year contract), and that is for the cheapskate who pays for the least-expensive service plan (with 200 text messages a month).

Don’t Drink the Apple Juice

If I were to give Apple a report card, I would have to check the box that says, “doesn’t play well with others” after their decision not to support Flash content with its iPad.

The controversy has been developing over the past few months, and just a week ago, they took another step to close the door on Adobe Flash CS5.

John Gruber of Daring Fireball pointed out the change in the new iPhone Software Developer Kit license for iPhone OS 4. This provision was added: “Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool [cough–Flash] are prohibited).”

Notice how they sneaked the little example in the parenthetical at the end? At least they are open to developers in C and C++ and JavaScript (go figure).

I do give Apple credit to the way they spanked all other mobile devices with their iTouch and iPhone. They sent everyone reeling with their killer ap (and killer ap it is). I admire that. I don’t want to downplay the effect they had on innovation. They completely changed the way we interact with technology, and the savvy they showed through their marketing of iPhone aps took everyone by storm.

That being said, their decision to not support Flash is one of a series of moves to monopolize personal technology that smells a lot like Microsoft in the 90s (remember what Internet Explorer did to Netscape?).

I know what’s going on here. Apple knows that the only technology that comes close to competing with their new slick animations and aps is Flash. They also know that Flash is ubiquitous. If they want market domination, they need to take out their competitors. I know what you’re thinking:

“wait a minute, Flash is proprietary technology, and the authoring tools are egregiously expensive.”

That’s true, but the Flash “aps” (i.e. Shockwave files) are found in virtually every corner of the free and open internet. You don’t need AT&T, an iPad, iTouch, or iPhone, and there’s no additional monthly charge to access Flash content. Not only that, but now the core SDK (aka Flex) is open-source and free, and there are open tools to compile ActionScript now (Flash Develop 3).

I first smelled something fishy with iTunes and their m4a format. I was happy to buy all those songs on iTunes; that is until I tried playing them off of my cell phone, and I realized that it wouldn’t play that format. I either had to pay for an application that would convert the songs to mp3s or worse, I had to burn them on a CD and then rip them to mp3s, or worse still fork over a wad of cash to buy an iPod.