The threat of closed digital devices, iPad version

Today the lame jokes about Steve Jobs being Moses carrying the iTablet down from the mountain turned quickly to much lamer jokes about iPads and feminine hygiene. But I think the name was not the only reason for this negative response. There are various ways that the iPad delivered less than was expected and definitely less than it could have. Instead of an open platform, like Apple’s superb Mac line of computers, it is an overgrown iPod Touch. It restricts you to the applications Apple approves. I don’t care that there are 140,000 of them; I care about the ones that will never be because of the Appstore Cerberus. Also, what’s with the refusal to allow multitasking? Under the constraints of a device as small as the iPhone, this is perhaps acceptable (but why can Droid phones do it so easily?) but for such a device it seems like a really stupid restriction.

What’s much worse, in my mind, is that the iPad may succeed wildly (Dave Parry, @academicdave on Twitter, tweeted today: “The problem with the iPad, is it just might succeed. http://bit.ly/c1DUPo (via @Chanders)”). Then we will have DRM’d e-books all over the place, competitors will try to have the same closed mentality embedded in their devices, people will begin to forget the freedom to install any program on your computer. I fervently hope we are not witnessing the beginning of the end of the consumer-oriented computer as an open platform.

Apple did choose temptingly low prices for the various versions of the iPad and I can see lots of attractions for students and book/textbook publishers. The device is not all bad. It’s truly tempting me, which made me sit down and articulate the above to stay level-headed.

Ideas for the above, and lots of good discussions, can be found at createdigitalmusic.com, siliconAngle, Ars Technica, CNET, the New York Times, and Gizmodo on (more than) eight things that suck about the iPad.

UPDATE: See this post for the point that the iPad does allow unrestricted Web apps, and these are truly open with HTML5 and other free technologies. Point taken, but why only web apps are unrestricted?

Incidentally, I am going to pay attention to the State of the Union Address, which is on right now, but not by watching it. My desire to hear oratory, even excellent oratory from people I respect, is non-existent any more. When it’s all summarized in a newspaper online so I can get the main points in less than five minutes.

Semester’s on…

All my projects are behind schedule. The semester started too early! Of course I have not improved my book-reading habits, so now I have more books I’ve started to add to that long list: My Name Is Red, by Turkish Nobel winner Orhan Pamuk, and Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, by Tony Judt. I will be sure to report here when I finish a book (I hope it won’t take months and months…)

On the positive side, I am enjoying making all new lecture notes for my undergraduate mathematical economics class, as it has been several years since the last time I developed my teaching materials for that. There are now many more cheap and very capable software applications for making useful graphs, for instance. Of course math and math econ don’t change all that much from year to year, but the ability to illustrate the topic better is now very tempting and, really, needs to be put to good use.

Book read: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

On the trip to Florida, I read one book from cover to cover. It helped that the weather was so-so at the beginning and that the book is quite the page-turner. The author, Stieg Larsson, is no longer with us, having died in 2004 shortly after delivering The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and two more books to his publisher. This is just too sad; his approach to a murder mystery thriller is original and irresistible.

I was drawn to Larsson by a review in the Economist, as I wrote in a previous post. Now I intend to restart this again, as many details make much better sense after reading the Tattoo book. I suspect that the revelation about the meaning of “when all the evil happened” will come in the third book, which is not even published yet in English, as far as I know—OK, Amazon says it’s called The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, and is expected to be published in May.

I recommend Larsson’s books highly, but be sure that you have the necessary block of time to read each one right through, as you will probably be compelled to do. Lisbeth Salander, the Girl of all three titles, is truly sui generis, a terrific invention, and you can’t help but root for her to succeed (which you suspect will happen, as in all such books) and find personal fulfilment (the odds for this are even or worse).

Back from Florida

We visited St. Pete Beach from January 11 to the 15th to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. The first two days we had cold weather, but it gradually warmed up and by the last day (why does it have to be so?) it was full-blown beach/pool weather. Since I was trying out Qik on my iPhone, there are plenty of little video clips to see from the trip, at my Qik site.

Aargh, why a new theme?

I really liked the previous theme, but it was experimental and I found some glitches. So now I’m trying the one you see, Simple Chrome, by Beysim Ali.

And who am I, as in the personal pronoun in this and several other posts? Dimitrios. I often post as “admin” for uninteresting reasons, so the only thing to note regarding the “I” is that in the infrequent cases when Marianne posts, it will be clear it’s a post by her.

Today’s reading

Non-work reading, that is.

  • Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug, second edition, 2006. This is a very enjoyable book on how to design easy-to-use web sites. Got it as an e-book, and the clunky process of downloading Adob’e e-book reading software before I could download the book was ironically exactly contrary to the main message of the book.
  • WordPress 2.8 Theme Design by Tessa Blakeley Silver, 2009. This version of a book I already have in hard copy covers a more recent WordPress release than the one my hard copy book covers. Pleasingly, the publishers, Packt publishing, allow you to download an unrestricted PDF, as opposed to the publishers of Krug book, who does not deserve a link here. It’s OK, book publishers, like iTunes has shown (after too long a time), there is no reason to panic and only release DRMed digital copies. Most of your buyers are law-abiding. Seriously.

You only get one guess at what my main activity revolved around for the better part of today.