Robot 1-X

Six weeks ago Apple announced the iPad, a portable touch screen computer. It runs the same operating system and application software as the tremendously successful iPhone and iPod Touch devices, but it has a larger screen and faster processor. A lot of geeks panned it as just a big iPod Touch. Sure, an iPad is just a big iPod Touch in the same way a swimming pool is just a big bathtub.

The geeks didn’t get it. I got it, but that’s because I had actually used one. This device doesn’t do everything a geek would want to do with a computer, but it does everything a non-geek would want to do on a computer. And it does so in an easily understandable way, without software installation/configuration headaches, viruses, malware, etc. In other words, it’s not targeted at the geeks, it’s targeted at everyone except the geeks.

I love my new toy

Work has been ridiculously busy the last six weeks. I’ve been laboring, around the clock at times, to enhance my company’s iPhone app (WolframAlpha) to work as well as possible on an iPad. About halfway through that time we hired another employee to help with this project (and future projects). It was a little slow at first, as I had to spend some valuable time actually training the new guy. By the end he was working productively and actually made significant contributions to the project. We ended up with an app that works pretty well.

WolframAlpha on iPad

When the app was initially launched last October it was priced at a premium, $50. I only found out about this price literally minutes before the app went on sale. I was a bit upset. I figured nobody would buy it and all my hard work would have been wasted. I was wrong. It sold remarkably well (close to 10,000 copies), which completely blew away my meager expectations. It was a lot, and the company made money on the app, but the app wasn’t serving the exact purpose they wanted.

A few days ago the company announced a radical shift in the direction of the project. Instead of making money on the app directly they wanted to get more people using the service. Presumably they’re making money somewhere else. I don’t know about these things, I just write the code. Anyway, as of a few days ago the new price of the app is $2. It runs on both iPhones and iPads. Within hours of the announcement (humorously made on April 1st), the WolframAlpha iPhone app became the top selling application in the entire iTunes app store. A few hours later it became the top grossing app (total money earned) in the iTunes app store. It stayed at the top of the charts for a couple days. As of right now it’s still near the top, at #12. In other words, the response has been incredible.

On top of the tremendous success of the WolframAlpha app, I was somewhat involved in another side project. My boss, Theodore Gray, collects chemical element samples, photographs them, and writes books about them. Theo saw the potential of the iPad as the killer electronic book platform and put a huge effort into making a really amazing eBook: The Elements. The text and photos are largely the same as the printed edition of the book, but the images are not static, they are interactive, animated, and rotatable with the touch of a finger. It’s hard to describe, you really just have to see it.

Anyway, in addition to giving advice and answering technical questions, I worked to create an embedded version of the WolframAlpha app that pops up from within The Elements app.

It would be nice if that was the end of the story, but there is still much work to do, features to add, problems to fix. Hopefully the hours will be a little more sensible for the foreseeable future.

Robot 1-X is a character from Futurama. It is the new model of robot that immediately made all other robots obsolete.

Lights and such

I decided to take the plunge and invest a pair of inexpensive studio lights. The whole kit cost less than my portable Canon 580 EX II hot shoe flash (I italicized portable because that flash by itself is twice the size of most point-and-shoot cameras).

The studio lights arrived today. They run on AC power and put out more light than a typical flash, so I’ll be able to work with faster shutter speeds and smaller apertures indoors.

I’m no expert at lighting, so it’s going to take some practice.

Hoodie 1

2010 Rob

Or maybe not.

Fuss

The P6000

Last November I was very happy with my Canon 50D purchase. Melissa was a little stunned and confused when I started toying around with the idea of getting another new camera. I was taking more and more photos I wanted a little point and shoot camera I could take with me everywhere. I shopped around a lot and eventually settled on the Nikon P6000.

Has it lived up to my expectations?

Yes.

And no.

Nikon P6000

Let’s start with the pros. The P6000 is smaller and more portable than my than my DSLR, so I was able to take it with me more often than the 50D. The quality of photos is excellent. It’s not DSLR quality, but it’s better than any other point and shoot camera I’ve used.

Like DSLRs, it can shoot in RAW format, which I have used with this camera exclusively. This allows for better control when making adjustments (things like exposure, brightness, etc) on the computer after the fact.

It has built-in GPS. This was a big feature for me. It automatically embeds latitude/longitude when a photo is captured so I can later find the exact location where the photo was taken. This is the first mainstream consumer camera to have this feature, though it won’t be the last. This is such a wonderful feature it will only take a few years until cameras have it.

It has a built-in time lapse mode. Again, this is another feature so fantastic all cameras will come with it in the future. In fact, how is this not standard already?

Nikon P6000

Now on to the cons. It’s big. Well, it’s all relative I suppose. The primary reason I got this camera was I thought it would be small and I could take it with me everywhere. It’s somewhat small, but not small enough to take everywhere. It easily fits in a jacket pocket, but not as well in pants/shorts pocket. It also has enough weight to it that it pulls on the pocket noticeably. For most people this wouldn’t be a problem, but I was riding my bike with it every day and it just wasn’t ideal.

Next, GPS. Wait, didn’t I list that under the pros section? Yes. For you see, this is a wonderful feature, but the GPS in this particular camera doesn’t work as well as it should. Even with a perfectly clear, unobstructed view of the sky it takes a very long time to acquire a fix on the GPS satellites — at least a minute or so. That means even in perfect conditions for GPS you can’t just take the camera out, turn it on, snap a photo, and have GPS data embedded. The only way to get the GPS data is to take the camera out and turn it on well ahead of time, wait, wait, snap a photo, leave the camera on (because you don’t want to have to wait around again next time). I got it working sometimes, but it was a hassle. Next, when conditions were not ideal (i.e. obstructed view of sky, like in a forest) the GPS didn’t work at all. I tried several times in the forest and could not get signal no matter how long I waited. Grrrrrr.

The camera has a built-in ethernet jack. It works… so why is this a con? Because it’s a completely useless feature. Practically speaking it can only be used when your computer is nearby (in which case you could just as easily plug it into the computer). If it had wireless, rather than wired, networking perhaps someone might actually use it.

Finally, the battery life is quite poor (by my standards). This is probably mostly due to the GPS. When I was using this camera every day I had to charge it every other day, even with light use (only a couple photos per day).

These things said, it’s still a good camera… but I no longer use it. I have since purchased a smaller, lighter, (waterproof even) point and shoot camera which does not have GPS or take quite as good photos as the P6000… but I truly can take it with me everywhere.

This camera just wasn’t right for me. It could be right for other people though. If you want a high quality point and shoot camera, and you’re not concerned with ultimate mobility, and you accept the fact that the GPS is a nice bonus for the camera rather than a true selling point, I would have no problem recommending this camera. Anyone want to buy mine?

Anyway, here’s a few of my favorites from this camera:

Commute

Moon over Memorial Stadium

Red arrows mark the trail

Greenhouse

The lonliest cart

Puddle

Rob & Melissa say goodbye to Iris

The 50D

As long time readers may recall, I retired my beloved Canon Digital Rebel camera (which was a low end DSLR) last fall. I really, really wanted a high end Canon 5D mark II, but the price was simply prohibitively expensive (and they weren’t released yet). Instead I replaced my Rebel with the 5D mark II’s little sibling, the mid-range Canon 50D. The 50D has most of the features of the 5D mark II, really only lacking video and the full frame sensor, yet cost half the price.

When I got the 50D I immediately started shooting RAW instead of JPEG and switched from using iPhoto to Aperture to manage my photos. I’ve always been very interested in photography, but these three changes marked the point when I dove in more deeply.

At the same time I also purchased a pair of new lenses, a wide angle zoom (Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM) and a telephoto zoom (Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM). These are both on the low end of Canon’s top of the line L series of lenses, and they’re both much much nicer than any of the lenses I had used previously. In addition to the large apertures and great focusing, one of the neatest things about these two lenses is that the zoom mechanisms are internal to the lens on both. When you zoom in or out the lenses don’t change length.

The camera itself is relatively heavy, and these two lenses with their large glass are heavy as well. Whenever I hand the camera to someone else, the first thing they mention is how heavy the camera feels. I prefer to think of it as solid.

Canon 50D

The Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM quickly became my favorite lens

Canon 50D

The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM is great for sports

After eight months of use I can say that I’m quite happy with the camera. It’s not perfect, but it is very, very good. The resolution of the photos is very high. The focus is very fast and very sharp (particularly with the Canon L lenses).

The 50D (along with my newer lenses) have produced some of my favorite photos.

Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM (wide angle zoom)

The Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM is great indoors.

Garter toss

Piña

…and for portraits.

Musician Rob

Lemon

Dynamic duo

The Bassetts

…and outdoors

Luke & Mark

1503

It's that time of year

…and it’s perfect for landscapes

Shine

Sunrise at the Riddle Run

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM (telephoto zoom)

Marla & Brian

Happy holidays from the Ragfields

Icicles

The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM lens is great for sports.

50 Free

Sandra finishes the 23K with a smile

…and wildlife.

Bird on stick

Dragonflies

Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 USM Macro

The Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 USM Macro lens allows close-ups.

Bzzzzzzzz

Japanese beetle

…and landscapes.

Fence

an agile tree-dwelling rodent

…and portraits.

Ravage meets Fig

I love almost everything about this camera. I can only really think of a few complaints. First, I always leave the camera in Auto White Balance mode. When I shoot indoors (usually without a flash) the white balance almost always needs adjusted. This is simple enough to do (though I can’t always get it just right), but it’s a little annoying sometimes.

Second (and this one’s kind of big), is the camera is very noisy at higher ISO speeds. This model was supposedly much better than previous generation DSLRs, but it’s not good. In most cases 800 and above are unusable, so I rarely shoot higher than 400. That by itself isn’t atrocious. The bad part is that the automatic ISO mode will set the ISO up to 1600 (which is nearly always unusable), and it almost always errs on the side of setting the value too high. This means I can’t use the automatic ISO mode and instead I have to set it manually. I usually use 100-200 outdoors and 400 indoors. I switch between indoors and outdoors multiple times per week so I always have to remember to change the ISO settings, but I often forget. I have two cheaper cameras that solve this problem with a simple setting allowing you to choose the maximum ISO value for the automatic mode. I would love to have a similar setting on the 50D. It’s frustrating, but given that this is my biggest complaint about an extremely sophisticated piece of technology, it’s not that bad in the scheme of things.

Third, the live view focusing is very slow. Other camera manufacturers have made this work (live view focusing on my Olympus E-420 is much faster). Additionally, the traditional half-press of the shutter button does not activate autofocus in live view, a separate button is required. Perhaps they did this on purpose because they knew their live view focus was so slow. Who knows. Regardless, it has room for improvement here.

This is by far the nicest camera I’ve ever owned (or even used). Quibbles aside, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else (in the same general price range). I still dream of owning a full frame DSLR some day, but until that day comes, this one is a keeper.

The Scooter

Yes, I bought a scooter. No, I am not 12 years old. Let me explain.

As I mentioned, I’ve been having some knee problems lately. Weight-bearing isn’t a problem, but bending the knee is. Even riding my bike two short miles to work has been bothering it. The knee kept not getting better and not getting better. It was time to take drastic steps.

I drove to work on Monday. I loathe driving to work. I had to deal with traffic & parking, all while cramped up in a tin can, spewing toxic chemicals into the air. It took the same amount of time as riding my bike. Surely there’s another way.

Walking would take around 40 minutes each way, and it doesn’t really solve the bending-my-knee dilemma. I checked into taking the bus, but there’s not a good way to get there. I would have to go miles out of the way, change buses multiple times, and it would take the better part of an hour.

How could I travel a moderate distance under my own power with minimal bending of my problematic knee? The answer came to me while perusing the Wikipedia page for human powered vehicle: the kick scooter.

Scooty Puff Jr.

The Scooty Puff Jr. (cf. Futurama)

Kick scooters were a fad when I was a kid. This newer type has been popular with kids the past few years, though the kiddy models don’t support the weight of a full grown human male. Fortunately, Razor also makes an adult model with a higher load capacity and larger wheels for a smoother ride. I was so desperate for a solution I bought one.

Rob takes the scooter out for a test ride

It arrived on Monday and it took it for a quick test ride around the block, much to Melissa’s amusement. At first it was remarkably unstable. The platform is almost exactly the size of my right shoe and balancing is a little tricky. It definitely took some getting used to. I found it to be more stable the lower I adjusted the handle bars.

The “tires” on the 7″ wheels do not inflate, they’re a solid rubbery-platic material. The ride is not smooth, it’s much more jarring than riding a bike. I’ve learned to seek out smoother sections of pavement and to prefer concrete over asphalt.

Urbana welcomes you

I rode the scooter to and from work and the swimming pool three days this week, putting about 11 miles on it. I assume most of these cheap little scooters don’t see that much mileage over their entire lifetime. I wonder how long it will hold up. It takes 20 minutes each way, so it’s half the speed of leisurely cycling and twice the speed of walking.

While riding the scooter is somewhat enjoyable, I do get some strange looks. It’s not everyday you see a 30 year old man riding a tiny scooter wearing a backpack and helmet. I do not intend this to be a permanent solution. I just need to take a couple weeks to hopefully let my knee heal completely before starting to ride my bike again.

The iPhone

The original iPhone was announced at Macworld Expo in January 2007 while Melissa & I were living in Nicaragua. It was amazing, a phone that ran the same beautiful, wonderful operating system as my desktop and laptop computers. The crowd at the Macworld keynote was disappointed the device wouldn’t be available until June. No matter, I wouldn’t return to the U.S. until August.

I ordered my iPhone in July and had it shipped to my parents’ house so it would be waiting for me upon our return. Around the same time I also ordered a new (non-i) phone for Melissa. We arrived at my parents’ house on a Sunday evening. The iPhone was there, in all it’s glory, but I couldn’t actually use it yet. Apparently, because of the way I set up our account with AT&T, I needed to activate Melissa’s phone first. This required talking to AT&T customer service, which wasn’t open on a Sunday evening.

The disappointment only lasted a few short hours, which was nothing compared to the months of waiting I already endured. I got everything straightened out with AT&T first thing Monday morning and my iPhone was up and running. I loved it.

Cracked screen

Two months later, while I was locking up my bike at work, I dropped my padded carrying case about two feet onto the concrete. The phone slid out face down. I was concerned the concrete might scratch the glass. Even worse, the glass cracked. It was still usable, just less beautiful… but not enough to warrant $199 to replace the screen.

In April 2008 the iPhone (and iPod Touch) developer program was announced and I signed up right away. As a software developer I am exited by the prospect of running my own code on my phone/PDA (much as I did with three previous Palm OS devices, and three Windows Mobile devices). At first Apple highly recommended not using your primary phone for development purposes, so I bought a refurbished iPod Touch.

The iPhone 3G was unveiled in June 2008 to much fanfare. I didn’t really care that much as AT&T still does not offer 3G data service in Champaign-Urbana. I was excited about the built-in GPS and larger storage capacity, but not enough to upgrade. Fortunately, my employer acquired on which I have been able to use. Score. In the meantime I set up my old iPhone for Melissa.

Finally, earlier this month the iPhone 3GS was announced. More storage, better camera, video recording, built-in digital compass. My AT&T contract was nearly up so I qualified for upgrade pricing. It didn’t take much convincing for me to order one. It was Fig’s Father’s Day present for me. It arrived last night and I’ve been using it all day today.

All in the family

from left to right: my original iPhone (now used by Melissa), my iPod Touch (used for development), my employer’s iPhone 3G (soon to be returned), my new iPhone 3GS

The Cobb Park Crit

Yesterday was the Cobb Park Criterium in Kankakee. This is one of the closest bike races to Champaign-Urbana, so a lot of my Wild Card Cycling teammates participated. Unfortunately, I’ve been struggling with some knee pain the past two weeks. It finally seems to be getting better, but I definitely didn’t want to aggravate it by racing again too soon.

I still wanted to support the team so I went up to watch the category 4 race (the one I would have been riding). We had six guys in that race — Mark, Q., Chad, Thomas, Luke, and Nick. Earlier in the day Alexi, Scott, and Art rode in the cat 5 race, while Greg & Karl rode in the masters 50+ race. As with many other types of racing I’m much more accustomed to competing than spectating. I always forget how fun it is to watch friends race.

Mark jumps off the front

Chad in is first race with Wild Card

Just think how fast Luke would be without all that extra hair

Q. takes a flyer

Nick looked as cool as a cucumber the entire race

Thomas takes a flyer

One lap to go

Karl and Scott cheer on the team with one lap to go

I took a lot of photos of my friends (some of which can be seen here, or in the video below), as well as some video footage. I mounted my little Flip video camera to the hot shoe of my Canon 50D DSLR and captured video while I was taking pictures.

I planned to quickly throw together the video clips late last night and post it online. I thought it was kind of cool how the sound of my still camera’s shutter can be heard clicking in the video so I spliced in some of the still photos around the time they were taken. Once this was in place the video clearly needed a soundtrack, so I added the greatest cycling music from the greatest cycling movie (American Flyers). This took considerably more time. I finally finished around 2 a.m., but it was totally worth it.

If you can watch this without a huge smile on your face you clearly haven’t seen American Flyers enough times.

The Keynote

As I write, Melissa & I are at Chicago O’Hare airport waiting on our (delayed) flight to San Francisco. I am attending Apple‘s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) this week. Melissa is along for the ride.

Since I started working full time as the primary Mac OS X developer of Mathematica at Wolfram Research in 2001 I have attended this conference every year except 2006. That year the conference was scheduled (Apple has been really bad lately at waiting until the last minute to schedule this huge conference) during the week Melissa & I were moving to Nicaragua, so I missed out. The conference is exciting every year, but none was more exciting for me than 2005 when I (along with my boss Theo Gray) participated on stage during Steve Jobs’ keynote address.

Note: some of this information was confidential at the time, but is now mostly publicly known. I can’t imagine any of the details I mention below would still be considered sensitive information.

On Wednesday night the week before WWDC I got a call at 9:30 pm from Theo. I was almost ready to go to bed. He asked if I would be able (and willing… but more able :) ) to fly to California at 6 am the following morning. I suppose I could, but why? Theo went on to tell me that Apple had a super secret project and they wanted our help, but he wouldn’t tell me what the project was.

I have since learned that he actually knew what the project was at the time of that call, but he couldn’t tell me. Stephen Wolfram, the founder and president of Wolfram Research wouldn’t sign off on the idea until he knew what was going on. Steve Jobs told Stephen Wolfram & Theo what the project was and they agreed to take part… but they couldn’t tell anyone else.

I spent the next two hours packing (including the Dahon, my folding bike at the time) before going to bed. Early the next morning I arrived at the Champaign airport. Apple purchased my one-way ticket to San Jose (by way of Chicago). An Apple limo picked me up at the San Jose airport and drove me straight to Apple’s campus in neighboring Cupertino. Luggage still in hand I entered 3 Infinite Loop (I think). A few minutes later I was in a meeting with Ron Okamoto, Vice President of Worldwide Developer Relations.

Ron told me what the secret was, that Apple was building a Mac which used an Intel x86 processor. They had ported all of Mac OS X to this new architecture (Darwin, the open source core of Mac OS X, already ran on x86). They intended to demonstrate this new x86 version of Mac OS X on Monday’s WWDC keynote. They wanted do demo a 3rd party application running on the x86 Mac. They chose Mathematica to be that 3rd party application. He asked me if I thought it would be possible to get Mathematica up and running on Mac OS X Intel by Monday.

Uhhhh.

That’s a potentially huge task. Our code is fairly portable (at the time Mathematica ran on several Unix platforms in addition to Mac and Windows), but supporting new platforms usually takes a fair amount of time. Ron told me Apple was prepared to provide significant resources to make this happen, including a small team of Apple developers and immediate access to any other relevant Apple developers. I was cautiously optimistic.

(Now 30,000 feet over Iowa)

We travelled across De Anza Blvd (luggage still in hand) to a different Apple building where I was ushered into a conference room with a single desktop computer sitting on the conference table. It was in the same metal case as Apple’s high end desktop computers at the time, the PowerMac G5. I think the case even said “G5” on the side. From the outside you couldn’t tell the difference between this machine and a G5 unless you carefully peeked through the holes on the front and noticed it didn’t have the huge heat sink the G5’s had.

I was greeted by the team of Apple engineers (Matt, Eric, & Ronnie) who would be providing technical assistance in the porting process. This place was not only hidden from the public, but it was hidden from the rest of Apple. Very few people at Apple were even aware this project existed. The four of us got busy.

I sat down at the Macintel and immediately began working. The experience wasn’t just familiar it was identical to any other Mac I had used. I was blown away by how seamless Apple had made the transition. The whole OS was there it all its glory, including every bundled application (even Xcode). I could just work exactly like I do on any other Mac.

But wait, sometimes I use BBEdit to edit text. I guess I won’t be able to do that since it (or any other 3rd party application) hasn’t been ported yet. “Why don’t you just go ahead and try it?” Matt said to me as he tried to hold back a smile. It hit me immediately. “You’re kidding, right?” I downloaded BBEdit, double clicked the icon, and it ran. I ran just like it does on any other Mac. Apple had incorporated (with technology licensed from another company) a PowerPC translation layer into the OS. This meant that nearly all existing Mac applications would run on the new Intel machine, with a slight performance penalty. This was amazing news, as it meant the new machines could be adopted immediately by users rather than waiting until all their applications were ported. Very exciting.

Back to work. We started with MathLink. This is a low level library used by both the Mathematica user interface (FrontEnd) and the computation engine (Kernel). With one set of flags MathLink builds for Mac OS X PowerPC and with different flags it builds for x86 Linux (or Windows, etc.). It only took a few minutes of experimentation with the Makefile and headers to find the right set of flags to treat the OS as Mac OS X and the architecture as x86. The elapsed time from entering the conference room to having a built, fully functional MathLink library was probably around 20-25 minutes. As we progressed our excitement grew.

Xcode target architecture

Next was the Mathematica FrontEnd. I normally spend all my time working on the FrontEnd, so this part didn’t worry me much. The FrontEnd is built with Xcode, which had a new “architectures” setting checkbox. We checked the checkbox for the Intel architecture (actually, we didn’t because Intel was the default target architecture when building on Intel… but we did verify the checkbox was properly set). Within 4-5 minutes the FrontEnd built with only a couple of minor build errors which were easily fixable. After 10 minutes working on the FE we had it built and running. It wasn’t running flawlessly, but it was a very good start. I had only been at the secret Intel machine for around a half hour. This was getting really exciting.

The next step was the one which caused me the most concern, the Mathematica Kernel. The reason for my concern was that I don’t often work with the Kernel. I knew how to build it (the build system is somewhat complicated) and I knew roughly how the code was organized, but there are all sorts of minor details which could really slow down the process. It relies on many external libraries (open source and commercial) and custom build tools. Fortunately, the Kernel, like MathLink, already ran on Mac OS X PowerPC and Intel Linux & Windows. It took a while longer to figure out some of the proper build flags, and some of the build errors weren’t entirely obvious.

This is where Matt, Eric, & Ronnie really came through. They had each spent a lot of time porting open source applications to Mac OS X Intel to learn what types of issues developers might run into along the way. Each time we encountered some sort of problem in an open source library one of them would go off on their own for a few minutes to resolve the problem while the rest of us kept hammering away. Every few minutes we would get further and further along in the build process with new issues popping up all the time. It was like an assembly line. In parallel.

After about 90 minutes (2 hours from when I entered the room) we had the Kernel running, the FrontEnd running, and the two processes were able to talk to each other through MathLink. Again, it wasn’t perfect, but nearly everything just worked.

News spread up the ranks. Within minutes we had high level executives stopping by to see the first 3rd party commercial application running on Mac OS X Intel. By early evening Theo (who took a later flight) arrived frantically asking what he can do to help. He was a bit shocked, and very pleasantly surprised, that it was mostly done.

Friday we worked to fix bugs and showed off the software to an ever growing number of people. Since Mathematica already ran on Intel processors on other platforms, most of our cross platform code was byte order agnostic. There were a few cases where Mac specific code was assuming big endian byte order, particularly related to Quartz (bitmap drawing) and OpenGL. There were also some issues with Quickdraw PICT drawing.

Friday evening some of the Mac rumors sites (original CNET article appears to have been removed) reported that Apple would be announcing the switch to Intel processors at Monday’s keynote. Rumors like this had been published for years, so it wasn’t that out of the ordinary, but this report was different. It contained many specific (correct) details rather than just wild speculation (like every previous report like this). It was clear someone in the know had blabbed. The conference room was silent for a few moments. Oh well. Until Monday, it’s still just a rumor.

Saturday morning we drove up to San Francisco to prepare for the WWDC keynote. We had a rehearsal where I met and shook hands with Steve Jobs. I had heard horror stories about his temper, but he was in a great mood when I met him… sitting perfectly relaxed, legs crossed, smile from ear to ear. I could tell he was excited.

Theo practiced his speech, asking Jobs for feedback along the way. The funny thing was that Steve was so happy he kept telling Theo “say whatever you want” or “talk for as long as you want.” Meanwhile I set up the demo machine (and backup demo machine) with our freshly built Mathematica for Mac OS X Intel.

Monday morning before the keynote Theo & I hung out in the VIP lounge. Woz (Steve Wozniak, the other co-founder of Apple) was there, Sergey Brin (co-founder of Google and former Wolfram Research intern) was there, along with many other influential people in technology.

Once the keynote started we sat in the front row on the far right side. Midway through the keynote Jobs called us up to the stage. Theo described our experience porting Mathematica to Mac OS X Intel over the previous few days. I drove the demo machine as he talked. It was a big hit. Theo captivated the audience. At one point Theo mentioned my name, which immediately caused 4,000 people to turn their heads to stare at me. It was a little awkward (which is quite evident in the video). Had I known that was going to happen I think I could have played it a little more cool. Anyway the demo was a success. Mission accomplished.

Note that a few minutes of the demo were edited out of this video for some reason.

That wasn’t all for that WWDC. On Tuesday I gave a 10 minute presentation during Bud’s science session about Mathematica on Mac OS X, detailing how we utilize various OS features. This went more smoothly for me as I had actually been preparing for it for a few weeks. Later that week I spoke about Mathematica for a minute or two in Ernie’s 64-bit session. I went from participating in zero sessions my first four WWDC’s to three sessions in 2005, back to zero sessions every year since. Perhaps that was my 15 minutes of geek fame (actually, the total time I spent on stage was almost exactly 15 minutes).

Last year I attended a reunion for the non-profit organization where I worked in college, ASP. A guy who I hadn’t seen in 8 years came up to me and asked me if I was in a Steve Jobs keynote a few years ago. “I thought that was you…”

Anyway, tomorrow’s 2009 WWDC keynote won’t be as exciting for me, though I’m sure it will still be exciting. I won’t be participating in the keynote. At least, if I am they haven’t told me yet. Always with the secrecy.

The PowerBook 5300cs

For many years I acquired (either inexpensively or freely) a lot of computer parts and other miscellaneous electronic equipment. I’ve been hanging on to these things just in case I ever needed to use them.

I never needed to use them.

A lot of this stuff was sitting around for years at our old house. Then it was put into storage when we moved to Nicaragua. Then it was moved into our new house. Close to two years later it still hasn’t been used. So it’s time we parted ways.

Today was the annual free electronics recycling event in Champaign-Urbana. Over the past few weeks I’ve been cleaning out my office so I could take this stuff to be recycled.

Box of electronics for recycling

The large box of items I took for recycling included:

  • 1 desktop computer (a Mac IIci)
  • 2 laptop computers (a PowerBook 5300cs and a PowerBook Duo 250)
  • 3 PDAs (including 1 smartphone)
  • 2 keyboards
  • 2 ISA-slot modem cards
  • numerous hard drives (all erased, one with a hammer)
  • more obsolete cables and connecters than you can imagine

You get the idea.

Of note, the box contained my first PDA (a Palm iii) and my first smartphone (a Samsung SPH-I300).

Samsung SPH-I300

The most sentimentally valuable obsolete item in the box was my old PowerBook 5300cs. This was my second computer and my first laptop. I got it in the fall of 1996 and used it regularly until the fall of 2000, when its duties were usurped by my work-issued PowerBook G3.

PowerBook 5300cs

Everyone has a laptop now, but in 1996 it was somewhat rare. I took it to most of my college classes to take notes (I can type way faster than I can write). Being the only person with a laptop in a lecture hall with hundreds of students meant that I stood out like a sore thumb, but I didn’t particularly care.

PowerBook 5300cs

One funny story about this laptop occurred in the summer of 1998. I was finishing up coursework for my Math 285 class (differential equations) while I was working for ASP in southeastern Kentucky. I must have tripped over the power cord or something, because the power connector inside the laptop broke off from the motherboard. I had course work that had to be completed (using Mathematica, on my laptop) by a certain date… and I had about two hours of battery left and no way to recharge the battery.

I used what precious little battery power I had left to connect my external modem to the internet via a long distance phone call. I shopped online for 20-30 minutes until I found a replacement part that would solve my dilemma (an expansion bay power supply). I ordered it and received it a few days later via FedEx. I completed my work and received an A in the class.

This computer and I have been through a lot together.