Sunday, May 15, 2011

What Android tablets could do better than the Ipad

How can Android beat the iPad 2?  Tough.  The iPad install base is large, and the iPad is simply a great product.  But the iPad 2 is not perfect.  In any case, if Android does not a better product, it will never catch on.  So, from the perspective of an adult user (i.e., not for primary use as a gaming machine), what could an Android tablet do better than the iPad 2, which would lead me to trade mine in?

  1. Better cameras.  The ipad 2 cameras are awful, even for skype.  I don't mean (just) the resolution.  I mean the lens angle.  It is not wide enough.  You have to hold the Ipad about 4 feet away from your face in order not to look like a moon face.  It also means that inevitable shaking makes the system worse.
  2. Better software developers.  For example, tap into better system software through outside ideas.  Allow awesome third-party system software to take control of the iPad--but only if it has been carefully checked and vetted.  (For example, I would buy a tablet that allowed me to set up a "point system" for my kids: if you do educational games for x hours, you get to play any kinds of games for y hours.  No one other than Apple can implement this on the iPad.)  Offer a venue for Android developers.  Oh, and build faith among your developers.  I don't mean be static in terms of always sticking religiously to legacy interfaces.  See, most external Apple developers do not trust Apple, and rightly so.  They understand that Apple may pull the rug out from under them at any moment if Apple finds it in its own interest.  Apple's predatory behavior vis-a-vis its developers is Android's single biggest asset, and Apple's single-biggest weakness.  If Android were just competitive, every developer would prefer putting their stakes with Android, and not with iOS.
  3. Better web browsing.  Safari sucks.  I want real tabs.  Background loading, even if I exit it.  (Flash is not half as important as the basic experience.)  Since I am at it, make sure the other base software for adults is better, too.  Offer a better skype and email client than what exists on the iPad.  (Skype, where is the iPad client?  Why am I running an iPhone skype??)  Lure all the magazine and book publishers to go to Android.  Work with Amazon.
  4. Offer some better technology.  Take some risks to lock up something unique.  Offer a truly foldable tablet, where the fold is seamless.  Or a flexible tablet.   Or a sun viewable tablet. Wireless charging. (Retina display?  Who cares.  The ipad is plenty readable, even today.  The resolution battle and battery life battles, like the CPU battles of old, are mostly over.  1000x1000 on a 10" tablet is decent.  8 hour battery life is decent.  Yes, you can be better, but this is not what will make or break the next system.)   There are plenty of better tech solutions that have failed.  But there are few solutions without a compelling advantage that were able to overtake a market leader.  Apple is a smart leader.  They learned how important market share is fighting Intel and Microsoft.  Apple now has the iOS software base.  They have the user base.  Business as usual just won't work for Android.  Android just has to become better than the iPad, or it will never catch on.
  5. Offer an optional "pen" mode for more accurate drawing with a stylus.  Offer voice recognition software deeply embedded in the system.  

Of course, the whole tablet experience has to be right, too.  Be as good when you can be.  The device should be as thin and nice (and crapware-free) as the iPad.

PS: This is also why google TV failed---it has to be simple and integrated.  A TV that has everything seamlessly integrated, without cables, complex menus, etc.  The DVD, Bluray, DVR, etc., all seamless.  One remote control.  My grandmother would have to be able to operate it.

The Secret To Making Great Movies

Sadly, there is no secret to making great movies.

The "secret" is having a good story.  A story that is interesting.  A story in which it is not obvious what will happen next, yet you can hardly wait to see what will happen next.  A story in which everything makes sense (in the end).  A story which is believable.  A world.

This is why good theater works, even though it is on a small stage in an obviously unbelievable setting.  The story must be engaging.  Think the "Usual Suspects."  Or "The Lives of the Others."  Or "No Country for Old Men."  Or "Snatch."  Or "The Wire."  Or "Downton Abbey."  Or many other movies and series that did not cost an arm and a leg to make.

You don't need a great director, great actors, high production budgets, or special effects.  Yes, these can help.  But a great story will make mediocre "everything else" appear great.  A boring story will make great "everything else" appear mediocre.

Of course, some stories may intrinsically require a great director, great actors, huge production budgets, or great special effects.  For Bladerunner, the feeling of future LA was vital.  For the series Rome, a believable Rome 2000 years ago was vital.  For the liquid metal robot in Terminator II, the special effect was vital.  (But note that Terminator I, which is just as good, was made on a shoestring.)  For Lawrence of Arabia, how could you film this, if not in the desert with hundreds of actors and extras?   For the Godfather, it had to be Martin Scorcese.  And Al Pacino.  And...

But, in the end, nothing other than a good story really matters.

So, why does Hollywood--and, worse, network television--produce so much shit?  It's because Hollywood is not out to make great movies.  It's out to sell movies.  If movies like "Independence Day" and reality TV sells, then this is what will be produced.

Of course, I think that Hollywood is also too short-sighted.  Making a good-story movie is a larger risk than making "The Matrix 5" or "Spiderman 8."  But, a new world with a new story can itself create more spinoffs.  Of course, even a good film (like Rocky 1) will then warp into a bad one (like Rocky 14), but I can live with this.

And, of course, convincing the folks providing the cash is easier said than done...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

(La)TeX Advantages and Disadvantages


  • In wide use.  Universal.  Free.  Easy to install everywhere.
  • Good Infrastructure (emacs support, typesetting stage, pdf output; many users)
  • Beautiful output
  • The LaTeX companion book
  • The only structured text-based word processing system (in wide use?) with good math support
  • "Easy typing" oriented---XML is painful
  • auctex support in emacs with nice highlighting 
  • Mature --- no bugs in base.  few if any bugs in packages
  • Many, many packages on ctan 
  • Many helpful souls on comp.text.tex
  • Defining simple user macros is easy
    There simply is no alternative with its feature set.  (There are alternatives for smaller tasks, e.g., WYSIWYG for letters, etc.)


    • Based on ancient macro language, which only very few wizards still understand.  When they disappear, TeX will die.  It is already happening slowly.
    • Insane syntax (or shall we say non-syntax).  User documents could instead be sanely defined with a grammar, while keeping TeX bowels hidden.  User text difficult to parse: not clear how many arguments each command has (see below).
    • Weird catcodes
    • Incomprehensible error messages
    • No easy to understand end user programming language for complex tasks
    • No clear hooks for external programs (e.g., a preprocessor)
    • No stdin support
    • Poor namespace in macros (no '.', digits, '_' in macro names)
    • Strange meta characters.  '%' for comment, '#' for macro expansion.  $ for math---why not \m{math} to free up the $ sign for what it is?
    • No clear separation of content and markup
    • Syntax changes require knowledge of both emacs auctex and tex macro language, neither of which are very easy to learn.  error messages would have to be sane.  usage would have to be wide.
    • Painful font installation  (No "drop font here and it will work.") 
    • No multithreading and multiprocessor support (even for multiple \include{} files)
    • No definitive authority.  Knuth has pretty much abandoned it, and TUG does not have the resources (nor believes that it has the right) to abandon old and obsolete features.  It's as if Larry had disappeared and perl remained stuck forever at version 1 or version 2.    
    Unfortunately, conTeXt is not ready (we spent a year trying to get a complex book to typeset, but ultimately gave up.)  conTeXt is also based on the TeX messy macro language.  thanks to Hans Hagen and his team for pushing the envelope, though.

    Small Syntax Gripes

    • $ should be the dollar symbol.  It is common enough.
    • math should be typeset with \[ \] or \m{ math }, instead of '$$' and '$'
    • # is an uncommon character.  good.  one or two of these should be the comment character, not %.  % should be percent.  It is a fairly common character.
    • I should know what an argument to a macro is by looking at it.  where is the argument to \sqrt3 ?  you can know this only if you know the definition of \sqrt.  what is the argument to \mymacro{1} ?  Is '{1}' an argument or a block following a macro?  Again, you need to find the definition of \mymacro. 

    What I Need

    A sane-syntax markup language designed for easy typing (i.e., not XML) with an auctex emacs plugin, with a syntax check BEFORE the typeset, with an extended namespace for commands (or macros),  with an ability to use most ctan packages..  Separation of markup from formatting.  HTML or pdf generation.  A user community for this.  Books written for it.

    Your mileage may vary, of course.  And to be clear, it is easy to point out weaknesses.  It is hard to put something together.  The folks who have made TeX and LaTeX what it is have to be commended.