Remains of 2010, going into 2011
Well, that’s it, we’re almost through. I’m going to step in a plane that will take me back to France, if everything turns right, and it’s a good time to reflect on this past year. Or as good a time as any. Edit: completed that one on the plane, it’s raw and not edited since then. Enjoy!
Let’s start with the one thing I can be proud of, the most important: this year, as the last, and the next, I have loved my wife and my son with all my hearth. And will keep going on until theme of times. Beyond a few sicknesses, mostly brought back from School, we have been ok. Just a small alert for Ivanna at the end of the year, but this small surgery went all right. We have bought a car and a rabbit, Attila, who is missed dearly when we are traveling. Vlad is surprising us everyday, he’s doing better and better in school, actually much better than I was (I’ve never been social, won’t surprise anyone). That’s it for the main points, and I’m not into letting too many details about our life on the internet.
Professionally, the year has been interesting… and quite deceitful as well. We’ve been able to launch 3 products on the market, two of which have found customers. I am deeply thankful for our customers, it means a lot to us that you believed in the first versions of these softwares.
The rotten fruit: where is NIL going?
The bad product, by which I mean the one that did not sell at all, was an online journal, a compilation of the patents that are coming out related to Nanoimprint lithography. We did put up an online store for it, and sold: zero copies in the first two months! Given that about 50 people were downloading each issue, which had the first and last page free, this was a bit of a disappointment. I’m not sure whether we did something wrong or there was just no market for this. The only comparison I have is the online newsletter from our friends at NILT, which has stopped as well (as far as I can see). This is really problematic to me, as it shows poor involvement from the community - is there a NIL community out there? The last NNT conference seems to disprove that, as most of the US participants stayed in the US. True, they’ve been hit harder by the financial crisis than others, but they started it. Talking about the financial crisis, despite all the bullshit we have heard, most Europe and the US have not yet recovered. Asia is different altogether. Indeed we got our first customers from Asia, and would probably move to open a permanent outlet there if our research was not mainly funded by the European Commission. Anyway, 0 copies was too little for the two days it took to put the webzine together, so I axed it quickly and neatly. In the same vein, I started a group in LinkedIn for NIL, that a few people seem to follow, but very loosely. No one really reports progress, asks questions, and after a few months being the only voice in there I gently quieted up. My message there: scientists are not social, which we knew, I just did not realize that they were so stubborn and uninterested people. It seems that anything that does not go their way is a bad thing, to be ignored first and foremost. Which is funny, because this technology, which is one of the most promising out there for future nano-enabled products, may just fail because of this: poor management of tech, poor interactions, too many patents competing on poorly chosen grounds, and in the end a very poor representation towards industry and thus general public. You would need to scan the faces of most of my estimated colleagues when they are told that they should disseminate to the general public to see what I mean… This inevitably appears like a burden to people who are, I agree, already stretched thin (very thin) between research, publications and conferences, and writing grants to fund further research. I do not think that 2011 will see any advances in the way research is funded, but honestly the balance between seeking funding and actually doing the work is less than easy to find these days. And it’s going to get worse with all those management goons now involved — I will put together a real post on management of research and the issues it raises, promised. But that’s the way things go, we’ll see how this story ends.
One software out, one!
That said, we got our first product out this year, the NIL Simulation Suite, which is quite revolutionary. While we are working towards extending it in 2011, it is full of good ideas, a really powerful solution to simulate a whole NIL process in less than a minute, and should do great in the near future. Sales were not as high as expected, but our major customers in the US dropped out due to funding restraints following their financial crisis. That was not so cool, but encouraged us to look for other revenue streams. Meanwhile we have worked a lot to get a full 3D solution for the NIL problem, have succeeded. So, the next version will have both 2D1/2 and 3D, from which we will only build additional services - the basis being there. We have worked a lot on 3D representation of datasets, and feel we are going the right way. We have a few exciting ideas for 2011, which I hope will see the day. That said, again, we got our first customers from Asia, with good returns on the usability and performance of the software. Importantly, we got very little requests for help, which means that the product is robust enough, and that I do not need to be waken up every night (due to time difference… If you love to sleep, do not offer 24/7 phone support). With another few good leads on the way, Sales should increase this year. In fact, we have done so much this year that it seems like it was forever when we released version 1.0 of the NSS, when it was only this year. All together, kind of good, and I am really excited to build a few critical 3D cases that enable to distinguish between coupled effects. We’ll see more (a lot more) about this in 2011.
I’m not sure I’ll ever get done with this book
The only regret I have is for not having more time. All things put together, I think I have a basis for at least 6 full papers, which I haven’t been able to write. Then there are these book deals: I agreed to write one a few years ago, and am half-way done only, and have been approached by two other editors to get something going. Now the first deal was OK, but the publisher sold to another company, which meant that I had to change editor. Which I did not. As to the others: no time, and without wanting to be mean: you are not going to milk me with a 10% deal anymore guys, even though I’m not doing that for money, I hate being taken for an idiot. But anyway, those are remnants of our life in England, and we’re up to more exciting stuff. Particularly about tech!
I do have one idea about it though, and it’s pretty much tied to iDevices publishing. Take it that way: now that I’ve put together a good text editor, I’m wondering if it could not be turned into a web-learning publication assistant. And it’s a good exercise probably to try and extend Edito in that sense. We’ll see.
2010 tech has been great
It’s hard, like really hard, to think that last year at the same time the tech pundits were still speculating about a possible Apple tablet. That’s right, last year, when 2010 hit the clock, no one was sure that the iPad was coming. If there is one piece of tech that has changed the world, it is the iPad. It appears so obvious today that a touch interface should be just like this, with a screen about this size and this sensitivity, with apps launching this fast in one single mode: full screen, the beauty and simplicity of split-view controllers, pop-over controllers and the way they dismiss each other, the way interface rotation is handled, the long battery life and crisp screen, all these things….. All these things came out this year! When Steve said that the device was (among other superlatives) “magical”! He probably meant it, but we were not listening. After holding one for about 5 minutes in an Apple store, I knew that 1- it is magical, and 2- I wanted one. Here is the thing: if you have ever used a tablet PC and think that you know what an iPad is, you are very wrong. It would be like a guy claiming to know how it feels to drive a Porsche 911 turbo when all he’s ever driven is a Ford Focus: it’s got nothing to do, even in the same sentence.
Wanna know how much it changed things? I’m on a plane right now, got about 10 hrs of battery life to just type this blog. It’s easy to pull out, and I don’t feel like I’m using a computer. I don’t feel like I’m using an oversized iPod touch, either. You had to be a jealous moron to write that, but such is life. To tell the truth, I’m not sure people in Cupertino even expected this device to be so successful. But you’ve got to give it to them, it was perfectly addressing a gap in the market. Fr us, the iPad has become the take everywhere device, or have movies for our Son on it, games aplenty, books and magazines for us, and I’ve been developing for it, of course. Thinking about it, I’m not often thinking about it. Here I am, just read two comics, watched a movie and killed a few feral trolls on the way, and coming back to the blog entry.
But yes, that last point is also new this year: when I held that iPad for the first time, I knew that I had to program it. That must be the touch interface and the way you are immersed in the environment that drove me to it. That was a quite sweet experience.
Well, this one was long awaited, and finally came through quite ok. What did not come out is the new version of Xcode, which is still in beta. That’s a bit of a pain, because we’re running concurrent versions of it on several machines, but it should come out next year anyway. Now, I have taught myself objective-c this year, which is maybe the best thing I’ve done. It is simply a beautiful language. Do not listen to c-nerds or c++-nerds, or anyone telling you that this or that language is much superior. Coming from the more immediate background of java development, I can assure you that if objective-c ran on all the other platforms, ie. non-Apple, I would never use another programming language. A few things seem a bit odd at first, and then after a few days of programming, when everything starts falling into it’s rightful place, it is just a pleasure to see how intuitive this language can be.
Edito (3 versions)
I’m currently typing this post in Edito, the missing Markdown editor. Well, it was missing for like 3 days because the competitors cam out right after, or maybe right before for one of them. There are a few guys who got the same idea as I did, and I cannot blame them. Honestly, when you have used a regular text editor such as Pages on the iPad, you know that something is missing. I’ve long been interested in markup languages, being myself a LaTeX user forever and a famous MSWord hater1. So I went on and took a month or so to learn obj-c as I programmer a Markdown implementation for the iPad. The goal: teach myself obj-c essentially, and sell some licenses if possible.
A few very positive things have happened beyond simple learning, the most important being that I have made some new Friends and relations, and been able to share and exchange with some really great people. Bloggers and the Apple community as a whole have been outstanding in helping me along the way, that includes dev a little, constructive criticism, beta testing, reviewing the app… Really you have to live through it to realize how great this community is, which is a new feeling for me 2. That’s the main reason why I am not going to port Edito to any other platform: our early adopters have been really encouraging us and supportive, to the point that after the first glitch of version 1.0 was corrected (in version 1.1), we introduced some nice ameliorations in version 1.2 as well. I must confess that this app has become quite practical, with TextExpander Touch support - seriously you need to check that out! - and a bunch of other cool features. I’m not even sure I’m porting it to iPhone. Ivanna keeps breaking my balls with going for an iPhone implementation, but honestly I do not see myself typing this blog post on an iPhone. Yet, she does! Since I’ve bought a wireless keyboard I must have been able to use it twice? Otherwise she has completely confiscated it, and is using it with her iPod touch to type most of her writings. And she’s writing a book. She just said that being a mother, she needs to pull the device from her bag whenever she has time, and there you go, for her the comfort of the keyboard is much more important than the size of the screen.
Edito in 2011
Our next update will see Multi-markdown, the extension of Fletcher Penney, partly implemented. At the moment I got the footnotes working nicely, the equations thanks to MathJax, and I’m trying to sort out the references to bibliography, although it is hard to understand why anyone would use those in an HTML document — notice that MMD is also suited to convert to LaTeX, this is probably why they are supported. And then I’ll get close to the heart of my users and provide DropBox support. This is the single most requested feature, but I must confess that 1- it has been difficult to implement and 2- I hate 3rd party services like this: what happens if they decide to close it down, or get acquired by Yahoo3? Add to that importing pictures, importing your own styles, and printing/exporting to PDF and you’ll have a clear vision of where we will be at the end of the year. I’m also quite convinced that Apple is going to surprise us again, particularly with that huge data center, which I hope will raise the bar of the iDisk. Which honestly needs raising!
The top fuck-ups
We’re no longer in ‘95, and Microsoft deserves the palm of bad choices this year. I can’t even begin to understand how they got to that point. Lazy or stupid? Indigent or sufficient?
I talked about the short lived “NIL outsider news”, but that was still a much longer life than the kin, whatever the spelling, we did not have the time to catch it anyway. This Microsoft device came and went in about a month, I don’t even think it has been available in Europe. I think they sold less than 10’000 devices or so. And while I’m offline right now, it seems to me that this came after CES2010, so it was this year. Seems like prehistory. Who in his rightful mind would put out a device that is essentially a pager — a technology that RIM replaced 10 years ago.
Then same player shoot again: who in his rightful mind would show a shit tablet PC running a PC system just to be the first to show the Tablet? Well, Ballmer did. Of course, Steve’s demo a month later of the iPad must have left him sobbing or self-reassuring himself. I find it funny in retrospect that even when MS was almighty, Ballmer never got his first name back in the industry: there is only one Steve. To MS’s credit, though, they came up with a new OS for mobile devices that is not a rip-off of the iPhone OS, and that does not suck too much, although it’s really late. Man that must be hard to be a MS employee nowadays, when all the creativity is swallowed by a giant vortex of bad management. I’m with you guys, been there, done that, it sucks, move out and choose your next gig carefully. I’ll tell you the positive of it: never again you will be surprised when management fuck up comes to tip the balance in an unfavorable position. I’m able to smell it from afar now, the first sign is that all internal decisions motivated by rational choices and very highly qualified panels, a few hundred to thousands man-hours spent in meetings (know what I mean, right?), all those would not be logic to a 5-6 year old4. You’re embarked in the bad-logic tunnel, can’t seem to get back on the right track. Worse thing of all: each time there’s a split, you’re taking the wrong way and your guys are pissed because the all said take left and you went right. So that’s life.
Then pretty high on my list there’s that CEO of HP who got thrown out because he had his mistress on the payroll. Man, you’re serious? Come on, don’t give me that crap! I bet that all the board has some flesh on the payroll, one way or another. Wouldn’t that be that this guy fucked up the computer division so bad that they had to ‘let him go’. Or “sunset” him, as you wish.
By thus way, talking about HP, Yahoo is another big fuck up. Cant understand how these guys bought companies, honestly. Must have been a bunch of incompetents who saw everything as fine as long as the money came in. Now, is it me, or the worst CEOs of the story of the electronics industry have been two (women) bitch on wheels? Carol Barz and Carly Fiorina. Carly was quite a winner on all counts. From day one, people new that she was going to kill the company. They still have not recovered. But that’s a giant of the industry, so they will eventually recover, having been stripped from their scientific instruments (no one seems to remember that Agilent was part of HP before at nutter decided to cut it - another good move Carly) and probably the computer division (seriously, look how they’re made nowadays, they look like cheap plastic. I’m ashamed to see that, when I think about the workstations they were delivering to my office 10 years ago for testing). I’m not sure that Yahoo will survive Carol though. I sort of fail to see where their assets are right now. Apparently they still represent a lot of traffic, but that’s so easily gone… And Google is out for blood.
One of the most surprising things to me, year after year, is that everyone is looking at the Apple-Google riff and thinking “Google wanna kill Apple, that’s the whole Apple vs MS going on again, Apple is gonna die”. Now now, there are a number of mistakes in this statement. First of all, like all good geeks, the Google board is playing a giant game of Risk, where they end with world domination. They do not dominate Apple, nope. They end with dominating everyone. Meaning that Android effectively went after WindowsPhone7, Palm OS (another big fuck up for now), RIM and the webos, symbian, etc… I’m not sure that iOS was even top of their list when they decided to get into the mobile market.
I’m quite dubious on the future of Android as well. See, Google technologies do not fare well after a few years. Is there something that survived the past 5 years beyond the search engine and gmail? Maybe google docs, but honestly: there is no contract between you and Goo to support the software that helps you open your documents or access them. It’s free and you are paying with you time and attention — these guys are marketing YOU. In any case, Goo and others can withdraw and/or close their free servers anytime without telling you, and they’re most unlikely to flinch about the idea that you are pissed. But I digress. Again, I sort of fail to see where Goo can find the interest to give away it’s OS and maintain it for x different handsets. In the short term, yes definitely, can do, but the long run: no interest. And by the way, MSWindows 3.1 was more opened than Android, even though we did not get the source code. I don’t know why I’m thinking about that right now, if only because my latest analysis of the mobile OSes would tend to give two winners in the end: Microsoft and Apple. We will see in 2011, but if MS allies with Nokia for real, we have a big contender there. And seriously, WP7 is not that bad, the market place is a complete rip-off of the iTunes store, and the SDK is ok if you like visual-c++. But basically, devs will be able to make money on that store, and you can trust MS for easing the pain to sell licenses and bundling apps no one will ever use with essentials. I don’t really care anyway.
Some engineering goodies
2010 has been a year of revival for the Mac, with two essential pieces of software: Autocad and Rhino3D. While the former has been out for a few months now, the latter remains in Beta, but is quite close from release. So here’s my tip: if you are an architect (first I don’t see what you are doing here) go get yourself a 15”MBP with a decent, 24” minimum screen, and run Autocad on it. The speed and the interface are just amazing compared to the PC counterpart. I can’t be sure why, my best guess is that they started from scratch and rewrote most of the software instead of porting it. Without the overhead from the past, one’s got a pretty nifty tool. And the interface is gorgeous. Really, really gorgeous. One recommendation though: use the magic trackpad if you really want to achieve the best control of Autocad on the mac, the magic mouse if way too erratic for this kind of software control. Rhino isn’t a bad software either, I really enjoy the interface, and despite a few bugs still there, will keep on trying it. The thing is, Rhino will probably never be an engineering tool per se: no libraries of parts, standards, no BOM, etc… But it enables very fast drawing of 3D shapes using NURBS, which is perfect for a quick rendering (I like the new engine) or rapid prototyping. And of course, to produce complex 3D shapes. If only SolidWorks and ANSYS went the same way, we would have everything one ever needs for good engineering work. But no, they’re putting up a strong resistance. Yet, for 2010, that’s not too bad — particularly after such a long wait. It remains to be seen when we will be getting Stark “Iron Man” technology, with interactive 3D displays. And by the way, 2010 was also the year of Iron Man 2, a great sequel. Haven’t seen many good movies this year… And the other much awaited sequel, Tron Legacy, really did suck.
seriously Guys, that’s not a tool this thing, it’s just a shame. Even secretaries should not be using it, everything is wrong in that software; spacing, type, styles… Everything! ↩
by contrast, the pure scientist community seems dead and buried, an assembly of zombies in the best case… ↩
yes, I know, it’s the same… Not even funny after they’ve played at trick on us a few times! ↩
or anyone, for that matter. ↩
The A2Z of Movies: A for “American Beauty”
I cannot really remember whether _American Beauty_ was critically acclaimed when it came out, but could not care less. It looks like an exercise in art, an intimate movie, a “life” movie, although I do not like this expression. I personally think that this is a true masterpiece… Second vision is as good as the first one, and more, better things come to mind. See, I’m now 40 years old, and I sort of pulled this one out to watch it on the iPad again. Forgot that Lester (Kevin Spacey) is 42 y.o. in the movie and going through mid-life crisis like one another. Ever more touching now than it was when I watched it first. Why? The visuals are still strong, starting with the rose petals in the bed suspended to the ceiling (a very Dali vision, by any mean), or the rose petals in the bathtub. Yet, if I had to keep in mind one picture, that would be Ricky’s reflection in the pool of blood, while he’s trying to mimic the last faint smile on Lester’s face. This comes as a close call with the black and white animated pictures that flash before the eyes of Lester as he’s dying at the end — the picture of 5 years old Jenny in a fairy costume is damn cute and touching!
Is it about the music? That little xylophone jingle? Tap tap tap… tap tap tap… kind of stays in your mind. There’s a naughty note in this theme that is amusing and refreshing.
The actors serve the movie more than well. I discovered Kevin Spacey in “Usual Suspects” (another great movie!), and was truly smacked by two of his performances later: _American Beauty_ and _K-Pax_. That’s when you understand that there is more to acting than just going on with the lines: Spacey somewhat always seem to just strip down and wear the character, just as if he put himself in his skin. Come to think about it, I haven’t seen many bad movies with Spacey, if we except a few scifi, which are probably not his best but enabled him to do more indie movies given the commercial success. I also found the character of Ricky, played by Wes Bentley, very interesting in that he is the catalyst of Lester’s resurrection. And he’s got eyes that pierce through the screen.
To make a great movie, you also need a great quote that you’ll remember for a long time. The movie is full of great dialogs, but my pick for this one comes right at the end of the movie, in Lester’s monologue:
_”I guessed I could be pretty pissed off at what happened to me, but it’s hard to stay mad when there is so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. And then I remember to relax and stop hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain, and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea of what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry, you will someday.”_
Hmmm. Let me tell you about one of my magic moment. I’m all awake, having coffee, and my wife and son are all asleep in our bed, still, quiet. The morning light dimly reflects on their faces, and I see beauty in this peace and my world. And I can let it all go, like a handful of sand that you’re just going to slowly flatten by waving your hand. I’m not mad anymore, just angry at times…