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December 24, 2012

Mountain Lion Installation woes…

Filed under: Mac,Private,Work Related — Ivan Herman @ 15:38
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Cougar / Puma / Mountain Lion / Panther (Puma ...

Mountain Lion. Philadelphia Zoo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is December and, just as last year, it is the time for an upgrade of OS X. Last year it was Lion (and I did write down my experiences back then); this time it is Mountain Lion. I decided to make a short note of my experiences because, maybe, by sharing those I will save some time and energy to somebody else. In general, I have not hit any major issues, I must say, just nuisances, but it did take me some time to get around those…

1. The installation process itself was fairly straightforward except that… it was nerve wrecking some times. While installing, the screen duly had a progress bar with a text underneath, saying something like “the remaining time is 25 minutes”, “the remaining time is 5 minutes”, “the remaining time is less than a minute”, then… it stuck. Stuck for a long time. Nothing moved, the progress bar was full. And then an even stranger thing happened: it said something like “the remaining time is -20 minutes”. WTF? Because I have experienced quite some crashes in the 30 years that I am in this business, of course I got nervous. Should I reboot? What will happen then? Is my disk fully destroyed now?

Luckily, I had the instinct not to do anything but take my iPad and look up the Web. And sure thing: there are reports elsewhere saying that the progress bar implementation of the installer, including the time estimate, is buggy, and that I should just wait and things would turn out to be all right. And they did indeed, after around 30 extra minutes. Phew!

2. Everything installed, get to login… and it seems that there is still some installation and/or file adaptation to do at that time, because it took about 4-5 minutes after having typed in my password before any of my windows showed up. Again, WTF? I became wiser, and just waited, and things got back to normal. Note that, since then, everything is fine when I wake up the machine, although I have not rebooted it yet to see if a login would again lead to such a delay.

3. I knew that, in Mountain Lion, Apple decided to remove the simple system preference flag to start up a local apache automatically (having the local apache running is essential for me: I have a partial copy of a Web site on my machine to test pages before they go public). Although I never understood why this decision had been taken, I was prepared; there are a number of sites giving advice on what to do (e.g., the one I looked at), as well as an extra small preference that one can install.

What I did not count on is that that the installation would wipe out the old apache configuration file (i.e. /etc/apache2/httpd.conf). (I do not think the Lion installation did that, at least I do not remember.) To make things even more difficult, that director is not accessible through the time machine (why?) so I had to reproduce my changes. It took me a certain time because I adapted that file for my needs three years ago and I forgot all about it, of course. Advise: make a copy of that file before upgrading!

4. I need some command line tools like gcc or cvs. That means I had to install a new version of Xcode; I counted on that. However… cvs was still not there after installation. Sigh… did they remove cvs as an obsolete tool? But no, gcc was not available either.

As usual, the Web and Google are your friends; I found a note with an explanation. It turns out that Apple no longer installs the “developer” command line tools by default. That includes compilers, make, cvs, and the like. You have to install them explicitly: start up Xcode, and then look for Xcode→Preferences→Downloads→Components and click on the install button next to the command line tools. (Again the same question: why this arbitrary decision?)

5. I was pleased to see that the Note application is now available, and is supposed to synchronise with the note application on my iPhone and iPad. I knew that, and I was looking forward to that. On Lion, the notes were bound to the email accounts and appeared in the Mail application; I always found that setup odd.

But… things are not that simple because Apple again made some unexplainable decision. On Lion, I could assign notes to the various email accounts I had, I could do the same on, say, my iPhone, and things worked properly. Not so in Mountain Lion; indeed (as I understood after some google-ing…) Apple has discontinued this synchronisation except for iCloud. Ie, you have to regroup all your notes under the iCloud account (if you have one, that is) to achieve a smooth synchronisation with your mobile devices. It is not that bad at the end, because you can define folders for notes that you can use those for your own categorisation; but, until I realised all that and got everything running, I again lost quite some time, had some dead ends, etc. Sigh…

6. I also had some small woes with the latest Safari. For reasons that again I do not understand, there is no more preference setup in Safari to set the right font size. The only way is to do that is through a CSS style sheet (see also a relevant note I found). Although my personal problem was that the default character size was way too big for my taste, as the author of the note rightfully said, not having the possibility to adapt the size easily can be a major accessibility issue for some.

Frankly… I love my Mac, and I still find it vastly superior in usability than other machines. It is, nevertheless, disappointing to see Apple making such arbitrary decisions and making the transition to a new system unnecessarily tedious. This should not happen.

(By the way, this just reinforced me in my selfish decision not to upgrade to a new system right away. Having waited half a year meant that all my issues were solved relatively easily by looking at notes published by others…)

December 30, 2011

Mac OS Lion: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Filed under: Mac,Private — Ivan Herman @ 12:33
Tags: , , ,

The poster of the 'The Good the bad and the ugly' MovieI have made use of the winter recess to install Mac’s Lion on my powerbook. I must admit I hesitated for a while (I was not sure that it was worth the trouble) but then, partially driven by sheer  curiosity, I did it. And, as usual, there are pros and cons… Maybe others will find my experiences useful.

1. The Good

My tactic of waiting, i.e., not to install Lion when it was still a cub, paid off. I have seen many stories on the Web, mostly dated back in July, about installation difficulties (e.g., issues about the installation of Xcode). Well, none of these for me. It installed easily, relatively quickly (after download, the installation process was about an hour, with an additional round with the installation of Xcode). Most of the things worked without further ado, although I did have to update some programs (e.g., iTunes, Safari, mercurial, some additional tools for Mail like GPG or Mail Act-On). But these were to be expected and otherwise the system worked smoothly. For example, my local apache server started and worked as before, in contrast to the stories I saw on the Web. There were also some user interface adjustments I had to make (sorry Apple, I do not like the “natural” scrolling, and I also like to have the scrollbar always on), but the web is full of references to the necessary tricks to do these.

The system is faster. Not hugely, but faster in booting, in logging in, and also some applications, like Safari, got some speed improvements. That is always a welcome feature!

I quite like Mission Control. I used “Places” on Snow Leopard, but mission control is nicer, and works well with the full-screen feature. B.t.w., the full screen feature is also great.

I use Mail App as my primary mailer and there are (as far as I am concerned) two major improvements. On the one hand, it has a nice “conversation” feature; the particular aspect I like is that it manages conversations and “related” mails across mail folders (and I have loads of them) regardless of the fact that I use IMAP. This is great. The other nice feature is the improved search, both in speed and in the various options it gives you. Mail is my everyday workhorse, so such improvements made the upgrade to Lion already worthwhile.

I love the fact that, at last, I can resize my windows easily. I change screens often (I have an external screen at home, another one at my institute, and they are different in size…) and the fact that, on Snow Leopard, I had to grab the lower right hand corner of a window to resize it was really a drag.

At this moment I am not at my usual place, meaning I am without an external screen; I can just refer to what I read, namely that handling external screens became smoother in Lion, too. I hope that is true, the old way of closing, restarting, whatnot, was also a pain.

There are a number of additional small improvements (e.g., better spellcheck in Safari; really helpful as I write these lines:-). I am sure I will find out more as it goes.

2. The Bad

Of course, not everything is nice and rosy:-(

I miserably failed with iCloud. I tried to use it to synchronize my iPhone and iPad easily with my Mac. It simply did not work reliably as far as the calendar was concerned. I regularly ran into the problem of adding an event to my calendar on, say, my iPhone, and the result was not visible anywhere else (I tried explicit synchronization when it was clear how to do it, wait for half an hour, etc; no success). I tried it through the built-in calendar application on the iPhone (which I do not particularly like, b.t.w.) as well as some other calendar apps, to no avail. After a while I just gave up, and reversed back to my previous self, i.e., using iTunes’ synchronization. Taking into account that, with IOS 5, one can also sync from iTunes over the Wireless, it is so easy to synchronize that it does not really bother me. It is, nevertheless, surprising that Apple comes out with such a much heralded feature that simply does not work properly.

I did run into some awkwardness in the user interface of the Mail App, too. For example, one would think that this application is a prime candidate to be used full screen. However, beware: if you reply to a mail in full screen mode, you cannot switch windows (e.g., you cannot reply to two mails in parallel, stuff like that) which might make it awkward. In a sense it is understandable, but it was a surprise nevertheless. Another issue is with the conversation feature: I display my mails with increasing date order but, within a conversation, Mail keeps on using decreasing dates; I have not found a way to change that…

And then there is Launchpad. Having it is a great idea, in fact. If set up properly, it gives you an easy way to get to applications, it reduces the size of the Dock (which can be an issue on a small screen), etc. If set up properly, that is. But… I did run into several issues. Some examples:

  • At the start I saw loads of duplicate entries. This is because I organized my Application collection to my own taste before, with subdirectories, aliases, etc; I have too many applications to leave them as a flat list. This led to a bunch of duplicates. Which is understandable, but it is fairly difficult to remove application from Launchpad: although the “official” version is that one can do the same as on an iPhone (pressing an icon, and using a big X on it), but this method did not work for most of the applications. (No idea why.) Fortunately, I have found a program called Launchpad Control, which can do that for you (thank you, Andreas Ganske!)
  • There are missing entries. Hence the big question: how does one add an application to Launchpad? Answer: no idea. I have seen proposals on the Web (e.g., move the application’s icon on top of the Launchpad icon on the Dock or create alias and put it to ~/Applications): none worked for me (Maybe if I restart? I did logged out and in again, that did not change, and I did not want to restart the computer only for this.) For the time being, I gave up on that.
  • Launchpad is the typical case of an application that asks for a keyboard shortcut to start. I have found, after all, a way to do it; but does it have to be that complicated? (Actually, I saw some notes on the Web that the keyboard shortcut will disappear after reboot. I hope that will not be the case…)

Bottom-line: although I will use Launchpad, probably, it is not what it should be. Hopefully later releases will improve this.

3. The Ugly

No new item here, just a remark: it is really surprising to me that Apple would come out with such unfinished products like iCloud or Launchpad. It is perfectly o.k. to come out with Lion, add these programs in the state they are in, and make it clear to people that this is work in progress. Everybody would understand that. But doing it this way simply reduces the credibility of Apple… Pity.

October 31, 2008

ISWC2008, Karlsruhe

ISWC2008 has just finished (I am still at the hotel, leaving for home in a few hours). As usual, it is very difficult to give an exhaustive overview of the whole conference, not only because there were way too many parallel things going on, but everyone’s interests are different… These are just a few impressions. Still have to find time reading through some of the papers in more details.

Great keynote by John Giannanderea from Metaweb, ie, freebase. Freebase has always been an exciting project but the great news from the Semantic Web community’s point of view is that freebase has opened its database to the rest of the World in RDF, too. As such, freebase will soon become part of the Linking Open Data cloud (I guess there are still some details to be ironed out, and I saw John and Chris Bizer starting to discuss these). Actually, it was also interesting to hear again and again from John that the internal structure of freebase is based on a directed, labeled graph model, because that was the only viable option for them to build up what they needed. Sounds familiar?

An interesting point of the keynote was when John was wondering whether Metaweb is therefore a Semantic Web company or not. He thought that yes, it is, because the internal structure is compatible with RDF, it relies on identifiers with URIs, and is Web based. But he also thought that, well, it is not because… no description logic is in use, nor ontologies. Sigh… This still reflects the erronous view that one must use description logic to be on the Semantic Web. Wrong! So I went up to the mike and welcomed Metaweb in the growing club of Semantic Web companies…

Among the many papers I was interested in, let me refer to the one of Eyal Oren et al., “Anytime Query Answering in RDF through evolutionary algorithms” and, actually, a related submission from the same research group to the Billion Triple Challenge, called MaRVIN. In both cases the issue is that while handling very large datasets one might not necessarily want or is interested in _all_ solutions to a given query (or inferences, in case of MaRVIN) but, rather, whatever can be reached within a reasonable time. Ie, essentially, trading completeness for responsiveness. Whether genetic algorithms are the answer, as explored by Eyal and friends, or some other techniques, nobody knows; as Eyal clearly acknowledged, these are first attempts and we have to wait a few more years and furter results to get a feeling where it will lead. But the direction is really interesting.

This actually leads to what was, for me, the highlight of the conference, namely the SW Challenge, both the traditional Open Call as well as the new Billion Triple Challenge (there more details on both on the challenge’s web site). The entries were really impressive. As Peter Mika said in his closing comments on the challenge, long gone are the days when a challenge was some techie keyboard manipulation; the entries all had great user interface design, with the real regards to non-expert end users who may or may not know (and probably do not care) that the underlying technology is Semantic Web.

Among the finalists in the open call Chris Bizer presented DBPedia Mobile, (see also their site) ie, a system to access the full power of DBPedia (and, actually, the LOD cloud in general) from an iPhone via a proxy somewhere on the Web. The proxy is actually a hugely powerful environment, making use of Falcon and Sindice, and a bunch of query engines distributed over the network, all peeking into the LOD cloud and, actually, adding items to it, eg, photos taken on the iPhone. A few years ago all this would have had a SciFi edge to it, and now it was running at the conference…

Eero Hyvönen showed their HealthFinland portal (see also their site), soon to be deployed by the Finnish health authorities. Half of the system is, shall we say, more “traditional” (hm, well, what this means is that it would have been revolutionary two years ago:-), a number of serious ontologies governing health related data integration and search into the data. However, what I found exciting is the other half. Indeed, Eero and friends realized that search facets derived from serious ontologies are not really ideal for everyday end users. Therefore, they made a survey among users, derived a number of terms to be used on the user interface level, and bound these terms internally to the ontology. The result is a much more friendly system that still has the power offered by ontology directed search.

Actually, having Eero’s and Chris’ system presented side by side was also interesting from another point of view, namely to show that there are cases when using serious ontologies is important and there are cases when it isn’t. When I use an iPhone to navigate in a city and get information about, say, historical buildings then a bit of scruffiness is really not a problem. Speed, interaction, richness of data is more important. However, when it comes to, e.g., health issues, I must admit that I am prepared to wait a bit if I am sure that the results go through the rigorous inference and checking processes that one can achieve through the usage of formal ontologies. This is not the place when one should tolerate scruffiness. The stack (or, to quote Eric Miller, the “menu”) of Semantic Web technologies is rich enough to allow for both; choose what you need! All those discussions description logic vs. Semantic Web in general is futile in my view…

And then came benji’s paggr system (which actually won the Challenge in the Open Call track). Are you user of netvibes, iGoogle, or the new Yahoo user interface? Then you know what it means to quickly build up a Web page using small widgets accessing RSS feeds, stock quotes, clocks, etc. Now imagine that each of these widgets is in fact a small sparql query with some wrapper to present the result properly. Package that into a nice user interface that benji has always been a master of, and you get paggr. Not yet public, but I already signed up to play with it as soon as it is… This will really be cool!

As for the Billion Triples challenge: I already referred to MaRVIN, but there were a bunch of others like SearchWebDB or SemaPlorer, or SAOR. In some cases massively parallel storage approaches, not only offering near real time (federated) SPARQL query possibilities, but, in some cases, preprocessing it with a lower level RDFS or OWL fragment inferencing. All that done starting with millions of triples integrating all kinds of public datasets, yielding storages going beyond the 1 Billion triple mark. And let us not forget that this mark had already been reached by companies such as Tallis or OpenLink, so these new architectures just add to the lot… These were also particularly interesting with and eye to the new OWL RL profile that is being defined in the W3C OWL Working group and which aims at exactly such setups.

Let me finish with another remarkable entry, although this one did not win a price. i-MoCo created a small navigation system over a triple store containing “only” 250 million triples. So what is the big deal, you might say? Well, all the triples were stored on… an iPhone! So the next challenge will probably be to get, say, 10 billions of triples or more on your phone. Just wait a few years…

October 4, 2008

Internationalization and smart phones: an unhappy marriage?

Filed under: General,Private,Work Related — Ivan Herman @ 18:01
Tags: , , , , , ,

I recently went through the process of renewing my mobile contract which (in Europe) is usually a good opportunity to update one’s phone. Although my previous (smart) phone, a Nokia 9300i, served me well, an upgrade to a newer model is always a good idea. However, it turned out to be more complicated than I thought…

The complication is that I am a little bit off the beaten track, so to say. I live in the Netherlands, but I usually work using English, and I have text (addresses, data) on my smart phone in Hungarian. This also means using characters specific to this language (ie, ű, ő). Ie, I need a system in English, but with the possibility to, somehow, type in those characters, too. I have lists of all my books, CD-s, etc, that I have been maintaining for many years and I’d like to have around on my smart phone. I would not think this is too much to ask…

Of course, following the hype, I looked at the iPhone. Although I must admit I do not really sympathize with the business approach taken by Apple for iPhones and its applications, I thought I would have a look nevertheless. But… Apple doesn’t speak Hungarian. Neither does it speak Czech, Croatian, and other Central European languages for that matter, except for Polish. This means that there is no way one can type in those characters (and I am not sure it could display them all right). With all the hype around the user friendliness of Apple I was shocked to see them forgetting about cca. 30-35 million people who would simply want to use their own language properly. Exit Apple’s iPhone…

Next stage was Windows Mobile based smart phones; after all, it claims to be Unicode based! And there are some very sexy models out there these days (like, the HTC Touch Pro or Samsung’s Omnia), which try to compete with the iPhone. So I had a look. Using an English model the system gives you the possibility to use a virtual keyboard, and this indeed gives the option of using a “symbol” pad containing all kinds of characters including my Hungarian ones. A little bit awkward but, well, one can live with it. So, for a moment, I thought I was sold! But then came the shock: there is no way one can get a Windows Mobile phone with an English operating system in the Netherlands! Providers can give you Dutch systems only. To add insult to injury, for some reason or other, the Dutch system does not include that extra symbol key pad. (Why?) Ie, even if I accepted to use a Dutch system, it would not be usable. Exit all Windows Mobile devices…

My next target was Nokias E90. A slightly older concept than these sexy new breed of smart phones, no touch screen, no animation but, after all, who really cares if otherwise it does the job? It is sold as an upgrade of the old 9300i (where I had no problem with those characters), so I expected to have all features I was looking for without any problems. Wrong…:-( The E90 (ie, Symbian S60, the operating system) indeed offers you a way to type in accented characters. But, as a default, only the Western ones… Ie, no problem typing in œ, or ç, but no ű or ő (or characters like ř, č, ł, to refer to non-Hungarian ones, too). Ie, the E90 is actually a step back compared to its predecessor, where typing in all these characters was not a problem.

Dead end? Well, almost. Thanks to my colleague, Steven Pemberton, we found out that Symbian gives you the possibility to switch languages via what it calls “writing aids”. This changes the available character set. The models sold in the Netherlands have English, Dutch, and… Romanian. Why Romanian I have no idea. But I was lucky: although the Romanian language does not use ű or ő, it so happens that there is a significant Hungarian minority living in Romania, so the character set for Romanian included those two characters, too. Ie, I was off the hook, but that was shere luck, not design. If I want to type in a, say, Czech character (eg, if I buy a new CD of Dvořak) then, well, I will have to do some copy paste:-( But I had no choice so, after all, I decided to live with that, and I am now the happy owner of a Nokia E90. Story ends.

Don’t take me wrong. For a bunch of other things the E90 is a very very good smart phone, has a much faster processor than the 9300i, Web access is really a breeze (it uses Safari, afaik), it looks and feels great. Ie, it serves my purpose after all. But I dream of a time when internationalization is not a pain but a natural part of these devices (or any other device, for that matter)…

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