Happy New Year

Depending on where you are in the world, it seems likely that any hangover you may have acquired in the service of ringing in the new year should have mostly subsided by now. I hope your year has started well and that it continues well. May your plans for the year survive first contact with the enemy.

Apple’s Wednesday announcement

What’s coming out of Apple on Wednesday?

iPad 3, duh

Not a whole lot to question about this prediction. The rumours that the iPad 3 will have retina display have been circulating for months, and the invitations to Wednesday’s event all but confirm that those rumours are correct. iPad 3 will be (probably) thinner, lighter, better resolution, and the same price as iPad 2.

For those looking for a cheaper tablet, iPad 2 may remain available at a lower price than before, the same way that iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS have done since iPhone 4S was released in October.

New iPad software

One of my favourite aspects of Apple events is that I very often get new toys to play with without having to fork over hundreds of pounds for new kit. Hardware announcements almost always come with at least a little bit of new software that existing users can take advantage of.

That said, there certainly won’t be an iOS update. iOS 5 is too new for that. Not to mention that Apple has to give developers a chance to update their apps before pushing a new system out, so we’re extremely unlikely ever to get one by surprise. But there’s a decent chance of us getting some new or updated apps.

Neven Mrgan predicts an overhaul of the iPad’s Photos app into something much more like iPhoto for Mac. That sounds like a nice improvement to me.

There’s also the outside chance of Siri making an appearance, although given her reportedly poor reliability while still confined to the iPhone 4S I’m not sure it would be a good idea to open up that system to the millions of existing iPad owners. If Siri makes up any part of this week’s announcement, I’d bet on it being for iPad 3 only.

Maps

Here are a few facts:

  • Apple is no longer on very friendly terms with Google, the supplier of mapping data for iOS maps.
  • Maps on iOS hasn’t seen a significant update in years.
  • Apple has been buying mapping technology for a while.
  • Apple likes to control every aspect of its products.

It’s easy to surmise that a new version of iOS Maps will appear eventually. Despite my loyalty to Google, I’m actually excited to see what Apple does with this. Maps is one of the areas in which Android trounces iOS right now, so it will be great to see what Apple comes up with.

As confident as I am that a new Maps is on its way, my bet is that it won’t be happening on Wednesday. It will form part of the next iPhone announcement instead. How often do you use Maps on your tablet versus on your phone?

Apple TV

Since Walter Isaacson’s Jobs biography came out people have been speculating about what Apple would do with the Apple TV. That’s because Jobs apparently let on to Isaacson that he had finally figured out what Apple needed to do to change the shape of the TV industry the way it has done with music.

I believe that something is happening with TV in Cupertino, but there’s no sign that this week’s event is where it will be unveiled. If it’s as big a change as people seem to think then there’s no sense overshadowing the iPad 3 launch with it. If it’s a smaller update, then it doesn’t merit time to dilute the main message of the event.

On the other hand, there have been stock shortages reported of Apple TV units, so an update isn’t out of the question.

Yes Please

Regular readers may know that I’m something of a fan of one Danny Wallace. Not just a fan, actually, but a subject—Danny is the king of his own micronation, The Kingdom of Lovely, of which I am a citizen. He’s also The Leader of my not-cult, Join Me (it’s not a cult; it’s a collective).

Danny has a new book out, called Friends Like These. It’s about a quest (oh yes! another one!) to track down a bunch of old friends Danny went to school with twenty years ago. To promote the book, the Danny Wallace Appreciation Society group on Facebook ran a competition in which people were asked to submit their stories of how one of Danny’s previous books—Yes Man—had affected them.

It seems I won. Nice one. I look forward to the copy of Friends Like These I won to join the other two I accidentally pre-ordered.

A Quote by Ryan Norbauer

Ryan Norbauer, on the desire to achieve:

My lifelong preoccupation with accomplishment has always been not so much motivated by a desire for praise or reward as an anxiety about having some concrete achievements to which I can point and say, “look there, you cold and unfeeling universe: something I’ve done, something I’ve made, something I shall leave behind.” In this way, accomplishment has always been my answer to mortality.

2007 in Cities

I have a pile of stuff to post about, both things I want to link to and a few observations and more journal-like things that Id like t post about. Right now I don’t have the mental bandwidth to accommodate that volume of joined-up thought, so I’m falling back on the blogging stalwarts of ripping off other bloggers and compiling lists. Real content to follow. This post is more for my own interest in years to come.

With that gripping lede out of the way, here’s a list—inspired by (i.e., copied from) Jason Kottke—of the cities I’ve visited in 2007.

  • Dublin (I actually moved here)
  • London (four times, not counting passing through Heathrow)
  • Nottingham
  • San Francisco
  • Mountain View
  • Las Vegas
  • San José
  • Liverpool
  • Paris
  • Manchester
  • Chester

My plans for 2008 already include all of these cities except Paris (though I wouldn’t be opposed), as well as Birmingham, New York, Zurich, Naples, Los Angeles, and Ankara. Doing my bit for climate change.

Hooptedoodle

Sometimes I feel like I have no reason to post about a subject because a story broke a few days ago and it’s been analysed by a crowd of eager bloggers since then. Other times I stumble on an article written over six years ago that grabs me enough to make me want to share it. Elmore Leonard writes on writing, covering his most important ten suggestions (or in today’s parlance “top ten tips”) for improving your writing by keeping it out of the way of what you’re trying to say.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…

…he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs.”

Maths Fun

If you watched the video of Randall Munroe at Google you might have heard him mention a site called Project Euler. It’s a cool collection of short but interesting mathematical problems that are intended to be solved with a computer. That said, there’s nothing stopping you from using good old practical mathematics.

The most solved puzzle on the site is this one:

If we list all the natural numbers below 10 that are multiples of 3 or 5, we get 3, 5, 6 and 9. The sum of these multiples is 23.

Find the sum of all the multiples of 3 or 5 below 1000.

Now, this didn’t look to me like a computer was required to solve it, so I nibbled the end of my pencil for a second and came up with the following solution:

There will be 333 numbers in that range which are divisible by three (every third number, so a third of the total). There will be 199 numbers in that range that are divisible by five (every fifth number, and a fifth of the total—it’s 199 rather than 200 because the top number, 1000, is excluded).

Now I don’t know offhand a way to calculate the sum of the first 333 numbers divisible by three. But I do know offhand a way to calculate the sum of the first 333 numbers. It’s 333 × 334 ÷ 2. Is that any help? It turns out it is. Consider the first five multiples of three: 3, 6, 9, 12, 15. The sum is 3 + 6 + 9 + 12 + 15 = (3 × 1) + (3 × 2) + (3 × 3) + (3 × 4) + (3 × 5) = 3 × (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5). That is, it’s three times the sum of the first five numbers. By the same reasoning, the sum of the first 333 multiples of three is equal to three times the sum of the numbers from one to 333, or 3 × 333 × 334 ÷ 2.

Applying the same reasoning again, the sum of the first 199 multiples of five is five times the sum of the first 199 numbers, or 5 × 199 × 200 ÷ 2.

There’s one more piece: in adding up all the multiples of three, and all the multiples of five, I’ve included some numbers twice. There are some numbers that are divisible by both three and five, i.e., those numbers divisible by fifteen. There are 66 of these, from 15 to 990 (again, by taking 1000 ÷ 15 and rounding down you get 66). So the total has to be reduced by 15 × 66 × 67 ÷ 2.

The final answer is: (3 × 333 × 334 ÷ 2) + (5 × 199 × 200 ÷ 2) – (15 × 66 × 67 ÷ 2) = 233168.

The easy way, of course, is:

$> python
>>> sum([i for i in range(1,1000) if i % 5 == 0 or i % 3 == 0])
233168

Break Down the Walls

This post is copied and pasted. It started life as a response to an email from Ronan asking for my take on a New Scientist article on the creation of passports to transfer avatars from one online world (like Second Life) to another.

Seems to be representative of the upcoming (or current?) shift from centralised social hubs to open standards for social interaction. Thisis why I keep saying Facebook should sell. It’s going to be dead in a year or two if it keeps the current walled garden design. The walled garden didn’t work for Adam and Steve and it’s not going to work here either.

We’re not going to have a single repository of friends lists and personal details which we laboriously migrate from one old and busted service to the new hotness every six months. The next round will be open protocols that let you describe your relationships once and use that in any service that supports it, whether that’s photo sharing, music recommendations, event invitations or whatever.

It all starts with OpenID for decentralised identity verification, which is already gaining traction. Every AOL subscriber already has an OpenID, whether they know it or not. So does every Live Journal user. How long before Yahoo!, Google, and MSN follow suit? Conservatively, I predict that by the end of next year there’ll be at least one university, probably in America, that assigns students an OpenID alongwith their email address.

It only makes sense that the virtual worlds would follow the same path, and for the same reasons.

I do not know what’s up with the Dutch.

Stephen Hawking: Idiot?

I’m using the new headline writing technique of writing something ridiculous and controversial and then putting a question mark in so I can get away with it. No Stephen Hawking isn’t an idiot. But he’s doing something that I disagree with, so I’m going to call him one. That’s how the Internet works.

Hawking intends to jump back in the popular science book arena in early 2008 with a new book on his favourite subject: the origin of the universe. Hawking is certainly qualified to write such a book, and his previous successes lead me to expect that it will do quite well. So why is he an idiot?

He’s only gone and called his new book "The Grand Design"! Let me be clear here. Stephen Hawking is clearly and evidently not a theist in any meaningful sense. Yes, he uses God as a convenient metaphor throughout his writing for a popular audience (at least; I haven’t read any of his academic writings so I can’t comment on them). But it should be clear to anyone familiar with his work that he is, at worst (or best, if that’s your perspective) a deist and most probably an atheist.

So why muddy people’s thoughts by using as a metaphor an idea that many people take to be literal truth? Even moderate religious people will no doubt interpret this title to mean that Hawking literally believes that the universe was consciously designed by some self-aware entity. Which will of course fuel the popular perception that there are a great many educated and influential scientists who hold such parochial views. They don’t.

Albert Einstein is often trotted out as a key figure in such an appeal to authority. While the argument from authority, familiar as it is to many believers, is fallacious, in this case it’s based on a faulty premise to boot. Like Hawking, Einstein used the metaphor of God extensively. But in his case it’s even clearer what his true views were. Citations and quotes abound that demonstrate beyond all doubt that Einstein did not believe in a personal god. But, like Hawking after him, he failed to realise the damaging effect of facilitating this misconception.

Metaphor is a powerful literary tool. And it is often based on myth. But surely it is prudent to wait for a myth to die before resurrecting it to spruce up book titles?

Finally, on a slight aside inspired by comments I have read about this story, when is someone going to write a book addressing the really difficult question: why do people have such trouble with Hawking’s name? It is Hawking, with a G. Not Hawkins. This has been a public service digression.