Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Time to Let Go?
I was introduced to computing in the 5th grade. My first computer class was in the school's brand-new Apple IIe computer lab. On that first day we had no idea what to expect. Our teacher held up a 5¼" floppy disk and proceeded to demonstrate how not to treat it. He threw the disk across the room, he crumpled it in his fist, tossed it on the floor and jumped on it. He then attempted to rip the disk open with his bare hands. He let loose on the disk with a pair of scissors, dropped it into a metal waste-paper-basket and set it on fire. The folks at Verbatim would have been horrified; we thought it was funny. And from that moment on, the teacher had our attention.

I probably still have a bunch of floppys sitting in a box somewhere. I used floppy disks all through university, so I still may have some assignments I wrote using Zardax, an Apple IIc word processor. Alas, the floppy disk is a relic of a bygone era. File sizes have far surpassed the capabilities of the faithful floppy - a single digital photo today exceeds the miniscule storage limit of a floppy disk. And if you have floppy disks, what would you do with them? Modern motherboards no longer support floppy drives. Your best bet is eBay where you might be able to find a floppy drive that connects to your computer via USB. Look in the "antiquities" category.

The other day I was having lunch with my co-workers and I posed the following question: If you had to replace the classic floppy-disk Save icon with something more contemporary, what would you choose? The rules are that the new icon would have to be:
Intuitive - if an alien was to try to use the software, he/she/it would immediately recognize the save button.
Future-proof - in 20, 30, 50 years we would still recognize this as the Save command.

All of the following suggestions (some tongue-in-cheek) were knocked out of contention:
  • safe (knocked out of contention because it is associated with backup)
  • lifebuoy (knocked out of contention because it is associated with restoring data)
  • elephant (because elephants never forget)
  • hard-disk (knocked out of contention because today we save to HDDs, optical media, flash drives, networks, the cloud, etc.)
  • check-mark (knocked out of contention because it could mean any number of things)
After much discussion, we determined that there isn't a better icon. Like the ubiquitous telephone graphic for placing a voice or video call, the image of a 20th-century data storage medium is a universally recognized symbol, dated, perhaps, but culturally accepted.

It's true that an alien wouldn't intuitively know to press the floppy disk icon, but if in 50 years time we still need to save information via a GUI, even earthly humans who have never held a 1.44 MB floppy disk will know what the graphic means.

It seems that the floppy disk icon is here to stay. I don't think it's time to let go. Not just yet.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Yesterday's Champion

After quite some time in an irrationally self-inflicted exile on the bench, I started jogging again. No, really, it's true. Over the last two years it's been an on-again, off-again affair, but I think I'm jogging consistently enough to consider myself back on track.

I recently read through my Jerusalem marathon training blogs from 2009 and 2010. They were very inspiring. I read how I started off on the treadmill at the gym and then progressed to running on the street. I read of how I completed my first 5 km run, my first 10 km run and ultimately how I smashed my PB in the marathon by about 4 minutes. I didn't blog about this, but in September 2010 I took a leisurely 20 km jog around Ramat Beit Shemesh, just for the fun of it.

Since then I lost momentum and added weight. Now I'm back at the beginning - I have to do it all over again.

For the last few weeks I've been schlepping myself around Ramat Beit Shemesh, trying to recapture my former glory. I'm working really hard, exercising almost every night, pushing my body to its (current) limits. I know I'm two years older, but I'm determined to get back to at least where I was before. I'm already feeling stronger, and I've had some success.

New shoes. The first thing about running, like any sport, is to have the right equipment. My Brooks Adrenaline GTS 9s wore out and so I sprung for a black pair of the updated Brooks GTS 12s. They're not as ugly as the GTS 9s and they provide more support. That's two pluses right there. Also, investing money in the sport is one way to get me out of the house and onto the pavement.

I have a regular 10 km route around my neighborhood - the same one I've been running since 2009. I can easily break it up into two 5 km routes - each 5 km route brings me back home. They are both challenging in their own right. The easier of the two includes a 1.22 km steady incline, followed by a stiff 200 meter uphill at about the 3.5 km mark. The more difficult route starts off nice and flat but about 2 km in there's a killer 700 m uphill that taxes each and every leg muscle, and some other muscles I didn't know I had. My goal this week was to run each route in under 30 minutes. At first I failed, completing the more difficult route in 30:09. But, I didn't give up. I really wanted the win, so on the second attempt I pushed myself and ran the more difficult 5 km in 29:59 - just made it! I finished the easier route in a surprising 28:40. It's funny that at my peak in 2010, I considered these times to be slow:
...but I didn't want to push myself too hard, so I completed it in a reasonable, but slow, 28:59.
Another challenge I set myself for this week was to run the full 10 km, which I did on Tuesday night. I wasn't aiming to get a good time; all I wanted was to complete the distance. Having said that, it took me 1:07:03 to complete the 10 km (a respectable 31:30 for the first 5 km and a less respectable 35:33 for the second 5 km). That isn't my worst time (which was 1:10:00) but it's also far from my best time on this route (56:05). I'm nowhere near completing the Jerusalem 10 km marathon within my personal best time of 52:14. If I decide to compete in March 2013, I'd better keep working hard. It's going to take quite a bit of effort to get back to peak physical condition.

I'm also mixing up the running a bit with upper-body exercise. Our local park has exercise equipment that uses body-weight as resistance, similar to these machines. I run about 4.5 km along my regular route and end at the park. I then do a variety of exercises, including rowing, lateral pull-ups, lateral pull-downs, chess-presses and parallel bar exercises. I then take a slow jog back home, finishing off the 5 km. I haven't yet figured out the best exercises to do, how many reps to do or the optimal frequency. But suffice it to say that when I feel the burn, I know I'm doing something.

But the best achievement this week was that I comfortably wore a size L shirt that I haven't been able to fit into for the last year and a half. So my efforts are amounting to something. Problem is, I upgraded all my shirts to XL, so does this mean I'm going to have to buy a whole new wardrobe? I hope so.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

It Would Take an Action Hero to Save Music

When I was growing up, an afternoon at the library, browsing through a seemingly infinite number of books, was a common Sunday activity. Mostly, the library was a quiet, air-conditioned sanctuary where everyone had equal access to as many books as they could poke a library card at.

St. Kilda Public Library, Melbourne, Australia
(Click to enlarge)
Considering the number of librarians employed at the local library, it doesn't take much to realize that to own all those books would be an expensive undertaking and an organizational nightmare.

My father once built a huge floor-to-ceiling bookshelf and my mother cataloged all of our books, Dewey Decimal System-style. Alas, with the rest of us kids running (around) the house, maintaining this private library was nigh on impossible. But it was a valiant attempt.

Today, e-books are cheap and sometimes even free. One hand-held device can contain thousands of books, easily sorted according to title, author, genre, subject, date or even publisher. More importantly, there's ample time to read through all of these books. You can take them wherever you go, instantly flip to your bookmark and read a page or two while waiting in line to order your morning latte.

The chilling design on the spine of Stephen King's horror novels need never torment you from the bookshelf again. The teetering pile of unread novels you bought on a whim at Sefer v'Sefel will no longer threaten to topple from the top shelf. You have no need for a physical bookshelf; all of your books are digital. However, the question is, are they really yours?

Ownership of e-media is a contentious and sometimes emotional issue, especially when it requires a sea change in long-held practices and perceptions. In December 2010, Fortune Magazine's Seth Greenstein wrote:
Perhaps it is ironic that the very flexibility that makes digital technology so compelling – the ease of copying and transmission – in the end may deprive consumers of basic economic rights they have enjoyed for centuries. 
Earlier this week it was falsely reported that actor, Bruce Willis is mulling the possibility of challenging Apple's claim that music downloaded from iTunes is rented, not bought. The reports claimed that Willis would like to bequeath his extensive digital music library to his children, but that Apple terms and conditions state that the files are non-transferable.

Like digital music, paid e-books are likely also not yours - they are usually purchased under a licensing agreement (read the fine print). However, as Mathew Ingram of Gigaom wrote in November 2011, there are up-sides and down-sides to licensing media:

"...rental or streaming of content such as books, movies and music has a lot of potential benefits: It can save money and be more convenient, and it can free us from having to worry about where the content is. But at the same time, it also removes certain rights and abilities that we’ve grown used to — just as renting a home instead of owning does — and that is something we are all going to have to learn more about as the world becomes increasingly digital."
Bruce Willis
So, aside from avoiding your Library's "two book limit" rule, accumulating e-books is just a fancy (and more expensive) way to borrow books - although the late-return policy is somewhat more generous.

It's a pity that the Bruce Willis v. Apple story simply isn't true because had he really challenged Apple and won, he would have set a precedent for all sorts of electronic media. Also, the headlines would have read, "Action Hero Saves Music, Books, World", or "Willis Wins: Electronic Media Dies Harder".

For Willis, however, it's all moot. Even if he would sue Apple and win, his kids would never inherit his music collection because Bruce Willis is not the sort of person to die. Ever.