x64 to ARM, come in ARM

It’s been rumored for a while, but today even Bloomberg is reporting on a possible platform change coming in 2020 to macOS; supposedly Apple is seriously considering making its own chips for Macs, just like it has been doing for phones and tablets for a while now. While in the iOS the transition from Samsung to self-designed SOCs didn’t mean breaking compatibility because just about anyone can use the ARM architecture and build on it, laptops and desktops are a different story.

You see, there are only three entities allowed to build x86 and x64 CPUs, and the Big Fruit is not one of them. What that means is that Apple will almost certainly transition macOS to ARM if it starts making its own CPUs. Now, most discussions I have read on the interwebs focus almost entirely on performance and whether the “mobile” chips will be able to keep up with “laptop” and “desktop” chips. In my opinion, there would not be a problem in that department; especially with higher TDPs Apple’s chips should be just fine. Also, all frequently updated software (think browsers, Netflix, MS Office) should be operational pretty quickly, although there will be some hell to pay in the bug department as there always is with such a major operation.

The real problems will be affecting a small subset of users, among which are a LOT of people I know. This is because there is a whole subset of software that does NOT get updated frequently or at all; I’m talking about Audio Production software. If I had a dollar for every Mac user I’ve heard complain about what happened when Apple went from the G5 to Intel chips…. great plugins, like the Native Instruments B4, were never updated, Spectrasonics stuff was the same. Mind you, on Windows I can and still DO use them (there hasn’t been released anything better!). Now look at Pro Tools: the list of which versions work on which OS is a mind-bender! It’s such a mess that I occasionally get calls from Mac users to see if I can help them, and now the musical director at my church told me he’s fed up with Apple and asked me to help him transition to Windows. There’s simply nothing worse than a company forcing you to give up the tools you already know and love, because of arbitrary reasons. Windows has shown the way for years now; I can still run software from the 1990’s for goodness’ sake.

Death by machine: part deux

Amazingly, two videos of the first fatal autonomous Uber crash have been released to the public. I’m sure we’ll have quite the extended debate over them, and the human ‘safety’ driver, who is supposed to make sure the machine doesn’t make mistakes, or at least take over when it does; this dude failed spectacularly, that’s for sure. He was simply not even looking out the window, instead looking down at something in his lap until a split second before the crash occurred. The most interesting legal question is how much liability he has in this disaster.

When watching the dashcam of the car, one thing becomes clear: the victim made a move that just begged for a correction in the population that only natural selection can provide. There’s most likely no way the car could have been controlled to NOT hit her, certainly not by a person, but probably not even by a machine with infinitely faster response. She just came out of the dark in THE most stupid place to cross, in addition hampered in her mobility by the bike she was dragging along. It seems hard to believe she didn’t jump in front of the car on purpose but let’s assume she didn’t. In my opinion it would be unreasonable to put the blame for her death on anyone or anything other than her.

At the same time, there’s something very very interesting about the video and the little info about what happened that we do have. Apparently, the brakes were not applied at all! That the knucklehead behind the wheel didn’t is perhaps somewhat understandable, he had literally a fraction of a second, but for a machine that’s an eternity. Once she came out of the shadows, in those 2 frames, she’s clearly visible, and clearly in the path of the car. Did its sensors not notice her at all? Did it decide it was too late to start braking? Amazingly what the car was ‘thinking’ will be known, at least to the engineers with access to it. At the same time, I can’t shake the feeling that Google’s cars would have done better. In either case, it’s yet another data set, another set of circumstances that future Uber cars have in their experience.

Finally, to all the doubters of autonomous vehicles: just look at how utterly relaxed and trusting the safety driver was. Amazingly, it has to be prove of how well this tech already works, and Google is significantly ahead in its capabilities. Dead lady or not, this tech is coming quickly; you can improve computers, but you can’t fix stupid!

Death by machine

So, it happened. A self-driving car struck and killed a pedestrian. If I had a dollar for every person I ever discussed this tech with that said “one death, lawsuits will shut it down…..”, I’d be able to pay the families legal fees. Except that’s not what’s gonna happen. You see, these machines record every single detail all the time; if that’s not admissible evidence,  I don’t know what is.

Already police have said it seems the woman jumped out of the shadows onto a dark road,  away from a legal crosswalk, and that a human driver likely could not have prevented hitting her. These cars have 360 degree vision, radar, lidar and who knows what else. Their reaction time is a fraction of the fastest human’s; they don’t get tired, or distracted. I’m not saying they’re flawless, of course not, but every machine of a particular brand has all the knowledge of all the ones that came before it! Every human that has to learn how to drive has to start over. Just think about that for a second..

 

Flat

Honestly, I thought it wasn’t possible, that a person of normal intelligence, in a normal job, could truly believe the earth is flat. How wrong I was….. unfortunately, this post is not a joke in any way. Here’s a pretty smart dude, smart enough to buy CPUs and build gaming systems for high FPS. Nice guy, always trying to lift the mood. Knew he has a knack for conspiracy theories, but I just found out he’s gone all in. “Bet you believe in evolution right? OK, so you’re on that side of the spectrum!”….. “How come NASA only ever shows the exact same side of the earth from space?”…that one seemed easy enough to disprove, but the myriad of photos on Nasa.GOV where no match for the Kool-Aid: “check out Nasabait…….”…..WOW……..he actually believes the earth is flat….as a pancake….I ask him if he’s ever flown..”Don’t you see it?”…nope, it’s flat…..”millions of dollars”……”How come the earth fits exactly in an eclipse?”………….I ….am…….speechless……

Feelings 2016

What is going on here? Here’s the leader of the 50+ party in Holland talking about poverty among seniors; when the interviewer states that the numbers show that only about 2% of old folks there have that problem, Henk Krol says that it doesn’t “feel” that way! Same thing with so many in the rust belt: forget that the US GDP is higher than ever, that companies are making more money than ever, it doesn’t feel right. Feelings over facts, that’s the world we live in.

I guess it’s a first world problem, isn’t it? We spend a good part of the last 100 years in the Western world building our paradise. Part of it was getting to a place in which there is no need for worrying so much about plain survival, but instead examining our humanity, listening to our feelings. From Oprah to Dr. Phil, from self-help books to endless counseling, we’ve put ourselves in the luxurious position to be able to spend more and more time on exploring our emotions. In the US it could reasonably be argued that it’s mainly a thing of Liberal origins, but now everybody has jumped on this bandwagon. It’s brought a lot of good, no doubt, although it doesn’t seem it has brought us more happiness per se. Perhaps that’s something further out in the future, because it does seem like we’ve swung too far.

It’s certainly led to eating disorders, people ‘feeling’ effects on their bodies from foods that are clearly psychological, and now to a general dismissal of just about any truth. The election of Trump was almost entirely caused by an overtaking of pragmatism by a guidance through emotion. It just reminds me of the much reviled Dr. Laura Schlessinger; on her radio show, she would always force people to cut through their feelings in a relationship and get to the practical parts. Don’t get me wrong, there’s great value in how someone else makes you feel, but in the long term actual concrete analysis and careful consideration of patterns and such is far more useful. There certainly is no shortage of people making the same relationship choices over and over and over to the same detrimental result.

Perhaps it’s a result from all of the wealth we have accumulated over the last couple of centuries; we’ve achieved a point in our culture where we can live like children really. We are safer than ever, everything made as idiot-proof as humanly possible, we throw away as much food as we consume, are SO far from basic survival that we can afford to almost live carelessly. We’ve categorized everything in to good and evil, just like a children’s story! For most, the path has been quite defined for quite a while now: just do as you’re told and you’ll be fine, follow the endless instructions (don’t put a pan in the microwave!) and you’ll be safe. It’s resulted in an ever larger part of the population that has no savings! I’m not talking about poor folks, I’m talking about bartender making good money, who  spend every last dime on iPhones, video games and big screen TVs. It’s great for economic growth, but it leads to a lack of foundation for long term stability, which we should be enjoying right now. We are collectively living like people in the Garden of Eden, and we all know how that ended!

Household help

Oh my GOODNESS, Boston Dynamics is at it again! Google seems to be afraid of looking creepy and thus selling the company, but boy is the future approaching fast! The newest member of the family, and it really is a family, is named Spotmini. It’s fully electric and the most silent model BD has done so far.

Just watch and imagine what is possible two or three years from now. I’ve been saying by 2020 we’ll be able to buy a household robot at Best Buy, but watching Spot putting a glass into the dishwasher, it seems that it might even be sooner!

The weirdest thing is how watching this machine slip on a banana peel (no kidding, at 1:28 it really DOES slip and fall on a banana peel!) awakens feelings of empathy. Why would a human feel bad for a machine that has no feelings of its own? Because the damn thing just seems so biological, it appears alive……wow, just incredible.

Build 2016

Last night I watch a 2 hour video of the Keynote Presentation at Microsoft’s 2016 Build conference; I came away MOST impressed! The forward vision presented, the focus on collaboration and cross-platform compatibility and the brilliance of Hololens definitely reaffirmed my feeling that I made the right choice in choosing Windows over Mac OS.

I’ll talk about what I saw a little bit later, but just for shits and giggles I decided to watch Apple’s version of the same thing: the keynote at WWDC. This year’s hasn’t happened yet, so it was from 2015, but still. The most hilarious parts were the announcements (to big applause mind you!) of the addition of a ‘mute’ function in Safari to quickly silence tabs making noise, and the ability to go full screen in an app! Are you kidding me? So you’re saying that Microsoft was right all along? You are adding a feature that your competitor has had since the 1990’s and you’re proud?

All the little details aside, it’s becoming clear what a great move the Universal Windows Application idea was: now any work a developer does pays off on many platforms. Your app will run not only on PCs, but without modification on tablets and XBOX as well! It makes it painfully obvious what a mistake it was for Apple to create yet another OS for its tablet ecosystem. And then there’s the Watch too, with its own OS.

Have you checked out Windows Ink? Not only does it already work amazingly well, it’ll allow developers to add annotation and drawing to apps so easily it’s mind-blowing. Microsoft has been adding more and more super advanced APIs and tools to its development environment. And guess what: it allows you to develop apps for ALL major platforms, Windows, Android and iOS. This is a crucial part to their strategy; when discussing Cortana, their digital assistant, the important statement was: your assistant should never be tied to one device, or even one brand. Microsoft believes in the power of its software so much it makes it available for competitor’s operating systems! Apple tries to make sure you’re so reliant on their software, you “can’t” buy anything from another brand if you don’t want major problems.

I have to say, Windows 10 has been amazing to me. I’ve now upgraded 10 or so systems to it, including my friend’s OLD Acer AS1410, and machine with a single core 1.3 GHz Celeron (from the Core 2 Solo days) and 3GBs of RAM. The Windows 7 install that had been on there since 2010 was getting unusable, partly because it was on a slow HDD, and partly because Avast antivirus that was on there was pegging the CPU at 100% most of the time. It has no malware, but opening any app would take so long it seemed broken. I uninstalled Avast, and ran an in-place Win10 upgrade overnight. The next morning I was greeted to a perfectly usable machine! It struggles with some things (1080P Youtube) but even though it has a chipset from 2009 and a turtle for a CPU it decodes local 1080P content perfectly fine! Startup and shutdown is quick, sleep works properly! This is a machine that cost $400 in 2010, (<3lbs, ultraportable when that was still extra expensive) that runs the newest OS in 2016! Apple machines from that era, even ones 4 times as fast are left to run OSX 10.7, or one that stopped being developed in 2012.

Now let’s talk about problems. As I’ve written on these pages over the years, Apple does not have a great track record for reliable software, except perhaps in the beginning of iOS. Starting fresh meant no legacy code, and thus simple and predictable operation. I’ve explained here that, because of the lack of forward thinking in the design of the foundation of its software, Apple always ends up resorting to workarounds, add-ons, and Jerry-rigging to catch up to others. This leads to incomprehensible code, and very hard to fix bugs in operation; OS9 at the end of its life was perhaps the worst OS in history, with more crashing and incompatibilities than anything I’ve ever seen before.  It’s happening again with both OSX and iOS! From iTunes deleting people’s local library, to iPads bricking, from every damn new version of OSX breaking compatibility with numerous applications (“it just works!”)  to the entire computer freezing up like Windows used to 15 years ago, the fact it it doesn’t just work anymore. I can’t begin to tell you how many people I know that are many, many versions behind because of all these issues and so they still can’t enjoy ground-breaking features like running an App full screen!

Going forward, I believe it’s gonna keep getting worse; if Apple were smart, it would incorporate touch into OSX and turn iOS into a part of it, just like AMIDuos allows you to run Android within Windows (amazingly well I might add! Yay for working together!). Do I need to bring up iTunes? Quicktime is dead…..It still blows my mind that anyone would consider an iPad Pro a good idea, when the Surface clearly shows what’s possible. Alas, it seems like Jobs’ DNA is so strong that his decision to split up the two paradigms is here to stay and that’s bad for consumers. Both operating systems will become less reliable, in addition to less compatible with the world outside of the walled garden that is Apple. As Google and especially Microsoft’s voice recognition and AI improves by leaps and bounds, Siri will be stuck on the slow bus; most iPhone users I know are quite disappointed with it even now, while Cortana is getting more amazing every day AND can be used on ALL platforms! Apple can’t even get Siri to work great with itself. As iOS adds more multi-tasking features, more complexity is added, and more problems arise, in addition to the fact that so many apps don’t work with it to begin with, because Apple simplified the base of the OS so much in the beginning; do I even need to make the comparison to MS’s bet at the time on Windows to be able to run on tablets in the future?

I’ll leave you with this, perhaps the most innovative and exciting product in the pipeline at any company: Microsoft’s Hololens. It’s been discussed and shown for more than a year now, but amazingly many people have never heard of it or seen it. This is what happens when www.apple.com is your homepage! All kidding aside, it’s a little disturbing when you’re surround by people who consider themselves ‘techies’, but they’ve never even heard of perhaps the most revolutionary thing out there. In this day and age of maximum information, it seems that we’re not getting the most important of it, collectively. Don’t forget that part of the magic of Apple and companies like it is to keep their users in the dark about what others are doing! That way you can feel great about the decisions you made……

Jazz Bot

In the many discussions about artificial intelligence and robotics I’ve had with people over the years, many of which were musicians of course, a common expectation voiced was that it would be a LONG time before our jobs would be taken by the machine. It seems hard enough to get a computer to talk like a human being, although many rapid advances lately are fascinating enough, but getting a collection of electronic parts to learn how to play Jazz, how to improvise and play with others, seems downright impossible to most. If one were to analyze what goes into attaining that skill for a human, something that arguably many of us could never even, one would find thousands of hours of practice, deep philosophical analysis and seemingly endless exploration. How in the world could you ‘program’ a machine to do that? Except, it’s not going to be done through traditional ‘programming’ and that’s why I think we will be (un)pleasantly surprised sooner rather than later..

You see, learning how to play music is done much more through a process of conditioning, by doing along with others who already know how to do it, where to place that note; it’s done by listening, and then internalizing in a way that does not require, or mostly doesn’t even involve rules and regulations. And that’s exactly how these ‘artificial’ jazz players will grow: through machine learning. I expect the results to be quite astonishing quite soon actually. Imagine having the ability to absorb all solos that Charlie Parker played, to train your neural network the intricacies and range of Coltrane, not in a lifetime like a human, but in the 5 minutes it takes an advanced A.I. to listen to the same.

It’s exactly the kind of paradigm shift Kurzweil described years and years ago; the mimicking of natural learning processes, with the added advantage of electronic processing speed. It’s been proven to work, nowhere more obviously as when one of Google’s machines, and this is really true, taught itself to play and master several classic Atari games! You read that right: it was not even explained the rules of the games, or what the controls did, it just started playing and eventually taught itself to play it better than any human ever could! Interestingly it was not able to figure out all the games, it had its limitations. There must have been some basic ‘instincts’ like a desire to score points, in order to steer it towards victory; the analogy to what’s in our DNA is more than a coincidence. We’re getting to the basic structure of the universe here…..

iO 9 Ad Block

After thinking and reading about it more last night, I decided to write a little more about what is in my opinion the most interesting new feature of iOS: Apple allowing AdBlockers. The consequences are much further reaching than one might initially realize and here’s why: it’s all part of the Big Fruit’s plan to control you! That’s right, I said it!

Let me explain. When the internet was first envisioned and designed, it was all about standards; HTTP for instance allowed anyone with a standards compliant browser to access the same information, without the need for a proprietary program, while still allowing much flexibility in the consumption of the device. Laptops or desktops of ANY brand could access ANY information and service. What a glorious concept, and it worked amazingly well too. When new form factors came to be, all the needed was an Internet Browser and the world was at their disposal. It’s kind of a like a standard formulation for gasoline or motor oil: any car that sticks to the standards can run on fuel from any brand.

And then Apple had a great idea: let’s not cooperate with all other tech companies in expanding capabilities of the standards (HTML5 etc.), but create our own infrastructure. Let’s try to provide as much functionality on our platform that can NOT be used on another, and the App Store was born. Of course simplicity was its main selling point and on that front it certainly delivered. If you can only buy gasoline from one brand, your choice of where to pump becomes a lot simpler doesn’t it? Never mind that that first iPhone didn’t do half the shit others did at the time, it was moron proof and anyone can figure out how to point at what he or she wants. All of a sudden, Apple was in the middle of almost everything you do, controlling just about every aspect.

Of course the rest of the tech world wasn’t gonna sit by idly and kept developing. Google jump on the App bandwagon and created its own proprietary world, as people all over sang the praises of simplicity! At the same time, forward thinking engineers all over the world pressed on improving standardized protocols and methods, in the original spirit of the internet, but most businesses put way more effort into developing Apps for the big two platforms, than into creating a portal that can be universally accessed. You see, for super high-performance things like games, there’s no way around getting native optimized applications, but there are many many examples in which we the people would have been much better off with a proper website.

So where are we now? 8 years after the introduction of iPhone, more than 80% of smartphones in the world run Android, Apple is below %15 and Windows Phone, arguably the most elegant and modern is stuck in single digits, with miserable app support! With all this bitching about ‘the man’ keeping the little guy down, this time we’ve clearly done it to ourselves! You can buy a perfectly modern Lumia for under $100, but we’ve gimped its capabilities by supporting Apple, and now it’s about to get worse.

You see, allowing AdBlockers is a direct attack on Google, which makes its money from ads, but it also hurts the companies doing the advertising. Who would pay money for serving a message that doesn’t get delivered? So what is the solution? Forget about advertising on the web, make an App for the iPhone, because that’s where the AdBlockers don’t work! In turn that leads to less development for the World Wide Web, which leads to less functionality for possible new competitors until they ‘catch up’ in the app department, or exactly what the original inventors of the internet tried to prevent!

As I write this I’m just amazed at how quickly this is already coming to a head. The path towards this was laid out while ago, and the oddest thing is how quickly Apple has turned into the bad guys from 1984 they so famously warned us for! The bottom line is that proprietary stuff is something that should be avoided as much as possible. Apple has already proven repeatedly it often bets on the wrong horse (G5 cpu anyone? Firewire? 3.5 inch screens?) and now we find people invested in that eco-system limiting themselves because they’re trapped; and it’s only starting…..