Wednesday, August 10, 2011

This Just In - Apple Sues Everyone on Earth!

"Apple Inc., makers of the Mac, iPhone, iPod, and iPad, announced today that they are suing everyone on Earth for infringement of their patent on various gestures including pinching or spreading fingers, rotating anything, touching anything with up to 10 fingers at a time, or sliding an index finger vertically or horizontally across any surface. Judges in Australia, Germany, and the United States have granted Apple an injunction barring individuals in those countries from using any of the gestures claimed by Apple. In a related suit Apple is suing the planet Earth itself for being round, claiming a trademark on circles in both Europe and the United States. Lawyers for the Earth countered that it is actually an 'oblate spheroid' and not a circle." - via Rooters News Service

I'm really disappointed in Apple these days due to the legal war they've declared on numerous other manufacturers - at last count Samsung, Motorla, HTC, JAY-tech, Kodak (which Apple lost) - and they're far from done. Apple has now won injunctions against Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 in two different courts, plus an injunction against German manufacturer JAY-tech. The local German court's decision applies to the entire European Union for some reason (even though local court decisions in many other matters don't appear to have such broad-reaching consequences).

First of all Apple should have enough confidence in its products and customer loyalty (I'm sure we've all met our share of adherents to the Cult of Apple) to compete in the marketplace. Preventing competitors from entering the market via lawsuits is dirty, underhanded, cowardly, and I doubt it's actually profitable in the end. I've worked for tech companies in the past that preferred to spend their war chest on litigation against competitors rather than pour it into R&D and actually improve their products and services. Think of the tons of cash Apple has blown on legal expenses pursuing these lawsuits in courts around the world! The shareholders would probably be angry if not for the fact that Apple's shares are overvalued - but as someone who got burned in the Dot.Bomb era (and especially with the current economic situation) that bubble is gonna burst. You'll also notice that Apple hasn't gone after Google itself over competition from Android devices - it's going after the device manufacturers. It's also not going after them over patent infringement - it's claiming infringement of trademarks, trade dress, "Community Design."

They are able to do this because of some obvious problems with the EU Community Design and USPTO. Problems which NEED to be reformed to prevent these ongoing legal battles, but of course will NEVER be reformed because the government makes money in court filings and most of our so-called representatives are lawyers by trade - it's their industry that is making out like bandits over these suits. Furthermore, at least here in the United States, our government seems perfectly happy to let corporations draft the legislation and let the politicians they arguably own introduce it. That legislation is, not surprisingly, going to be beneficial to the corporate interests that wrote the bill. Fox in the hen house kinda stuff.

In what way are Intellectual Property law and the agencies that register the claims broken? Well, for one Apple files "iterative" Community Design claims in Europe. They start with a rectangle, file that. Then add a round button. File that. Add a rectangular screen. File that. All the way up from generic drawings to actual photos of finished devices. And that allows them to sue other companies for infringement at any and every level of those iterative filings! If you think "Well, that's just silly Europe for ya'" think again. The USPTO granted Apple a trademark on any handheld electronic device with a rectangular shape and rounded corners. So, internationally, now Apple "owns" rectangles. You know, that ubiquitous shape for pretty much every phone and tablet computer available? Even when Apple isn't busy suing people to keep their allegedly "infringing" products out of the marketplace the government sometimes helps them out for free. I know of one person who purchased a large order of Chinese-made OEM (no name) 7" Android tablets for use at a school. US Customs seized them on the grounds that they were "counterfeit" iPads in violation of Apple's trademark. They were plastic, not aluminum. They were 7" 16:9 ratio screens, not a 4:3 9.7" screen. They were running a stock Android OS, not one "skinned" to look like iOS. Any FOOL could have been able to tell they weren't iPads, but that didn't matter apparently. Yet the FCC approved the Motorola Xoom, Galaxy Tab, Vizio Tablet, and a bunch of less well known products with exactly the SAME shape, and in some case the same size screen and aspect ratio. Such inconsistency in enforcement of IP rights is also indicative of how broken the system is.

A lot of this is down to the officials at the filing offices. They are granting IP claims to companies for some astonishingly broad and generic things - you know, like rectangles. This I really don't understand because if you were trying to apply for a trademark on a logo of equally spartan design it would be refused on the basis that you can't trademark simple geometric shapes as logos - yet for some reason you CAN trademark them as the shapes of devices?! The USPTO also grants patents on really general things like gestures and processes - without requiring any specifics like actual code. This happens in no small part because the USPTO (and the patent offices in many other countries) don't require you to supply a working model or limit the claim to a specific application. So someone goes to the trouble and expense of figuring out how to write code or build a device that does something or another and then they get sued by someone else who was granted a patent on that something or other and wants compensation - even though they never implemented it or even figured out HOW to implement it.

Of course companies claim they NEED to be able to apply for and protect an "idea" so they can secure investment money to implement it, and the patent (or pending patent) is an assurance to the investors that some other company isn't working on the same thing and might undercut them by coming to market first. But there seriously has to be a better way doesn't there?

Nobody really knows how to fix the IP laws because they're so convoluted and there are so many interests involved who would resist any change, or only advocate changes beneficial to their own position. A good start, though, would be to reject claims for trademark or trade dress on simple shapes and patents on general things anyone could do (like gestures). Software patents should also be limited to particular applications, languages, or platforms. The code itself should rightly be protected under copyright, not patent law. Last but not least would be the addition of a "loser pays" clause for civil lawsuits to discourage frivolous suits or patent trolls looking for an easy payday (which should be illegal anyway as "unjust enrichment"). I'd go one step further and outlaw the formation of IP holding companies, whose only sole purpose is to sue others for infringing on properties in their portfolio for financial gain while producing and innovating nothing.

Until such a mythical time arises, however, we're stuck with the current state of affairs. It appears Apple will continue to use it's gigantic multi-billion dollar war chest to launch attacks at any and every company they deem a potential competitor - and will continue to do so until they either run out of money to file the suits and/or the shareholders cry foul as Apple's product lines grow stagnant due to the lack of competition and the redirection of revenue away from product development and into the legal department.

People, of course, could boycott Apple products to convey their distaste for these tactics - not that huge corporations EVER really feel the sting of a boycott. They frankly don't seem to take notice at all. For my part I'm seriously considering never, ever buying another Apple product no matter how cool, or neat, or good it is. Even if it's the only product legally allowed on the shelves.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Too Many Commodores!

It sounds like some ol' Navy phrase - "Too many Commodores, not enough ships." No, I'm referring to the computer brand made famous by the Commodore 64 and Amiga in the 80's and early 90's.

I wrote a previous post titled "Too Many Amigas!" about the brand dilution that is occurring by having too many companies producing completely different products under the Amiga name. Commodore itself has a similar problem because it too became fragmented after the company went bankrupt.

The one you've probably heard about is Commodore USA, LLC. It's a Florida startup that is mostly using off-the-shelf components and systems and rebranding them. The only "original" thing they've got so far is a computer case that looks a lot like the original Commodore 64 filled with PC gear at a steep markup. They can do this because they have licensed the brand from Commodore International Licensing, BV which is in turn owned by a company named Asiarim (Asia Rim - get it?) who have actually changed their name to "Commodore Holdings Corporation" as of March 2011. But Commodore USA, LLC apparently does not have an exclusive license to the name. Consider what it says at the bottom of their website:

Commodore® trademark used under exclusive worldwide license by Commodore USA, LLC for its line of AIO (All-In-One) keyboard computers, and is the trademark of Commodore Licensing, BV, registered in the United States and other countries.

Notice the exclusivity is conditional "for it's line of AIO (All-In-One) keyboard computers." Now why would that be in there? Oh, maybe because Commodore Consumer Electronics in the Netherlands and Commodore Consumer Electronics USA are respectively the European and American sales offices for Asiarim/Commodore Holdings Corporation (though the web addresses for the individual sales office sites seem to have disappeared).

And what sort of things do they sell? Apparently several Commodore branded mobile devices, one of which I blogged about back in April of 2009. In addition to what I knew about they also have listed "Ultra Mobile" and "Mobile Internet" devices (the latter are kind of like smartphones without the phone part). As for where you could actually BUY these things? Probably nowhere. Those devices have apparently been listed for years and no products have actually ever shipped.

And last but not least (well maybe least, I don't know how you'd measure these things) is Commodore Gaming located in the Netherlands (a subsidiary of the The Content Factory, BV). They offer the official Commodore 64 game emulator app for the iPhone and Wii. They originally sold customized gaming PCs, but are no longer in the hardware business as I'm sure the app business is a lot more profitable. People seem a little confused as to what the deal is with this company.

I've read that they were involved in a joint venture with Commodore International Corporation in 2005-2006 (which predates Asiarim/Commodore Holdings Corporation and their subsidiary Commodore International Licensing, BV) which has led some to believe Commodore Gaming has joint rights to the brand name. Even Commodore USA, LLC thought so and initially approached them about licensing the name for hardware in the North American market. However Commodore Gaming informed them that they'd need to talk to Asiarim's subsidiary Commodore International Licensing, BV for that. Why? Well, according to the terms of the $22.7 million joint venture with Commodore International Corporation it was for a period of five years with an option to extend it another five years and it was CIC that would get a 49% stake in Commodore Gaming, not the other way around. However, during the term of this venture CIC ended up getting sold to Asiarim and one would assume the contract was simply transferred, meaning Commodore Gaming is, itself, nothing more than a licensee with only a few more years on the contract before they have to dissolve or negotiate a new license.

What does this all boil down to? Well, Asiarim/Commodore Holdings Corporation is the closest thing to a reunited Commodore International since the bankruptcy, but they've never shipped a product. Commodore USA, LLC is shipping hardware and is the first company to bring the Commodore and Amiga brand names back under one roof, but is only a licensee of both and doesn't actually own the intellectual property rights to either.

Of course this all could have probably been avoided if Irving Gould hadn't ousted Thomas Rattigan back in 1987. Rattigan turned the company around, not only steering it away from presumed inevitable bankruptcy but into the black $46 million in only a couple years at the helm. But suddenly Rattigan was replaced by Chairman Irving Gould. Rattigan later claimed he was ousted due to personality conflicts and Gould being upset that Rattigan got all the credit for saving the company. Gould, a venture-capitalist who'd been involved with the company for 20 odd years, believed that North American branch should be little more than a sales and marketing extension of the stronger European core of the company, rather than a semi-independent entity. His drastic downsizing and plant closings over his seven year reign ran the company into the ground, bankruptcy, and liquidation.

Ok, you may be wondering why I even give a damn. It was like a lifetime ago, right? Well my first computer was a Commodore 64 and if I hadn't been exposed to coding back then I might have been too intimidated to tackle HTML back in the mid-90's which led to a career in the Internet industry. A Commodore 64C saw me through many a late-night writing college papers while my classmates were jockeying for time in the school computer lab. I lusted after an "Video Toaster" Amiga for video production but could never afford one. I've got the same nostalgic soft spot in my heart for the brand that a lot of people do, and but for the bad decisions of Mr. Gould I might be typing this from my shiny new iAmiga running AmigaOS 6.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Too Many Amigas!

No, I'm not talking about my Facebook friends list. I'm talking about the brand name "Amiga" as in those fantastic computers Commodore used to make in the early 1990's.

Commodore may have gone bust, but Amiga never really went away. The properties have been bought and sold and passed around so much I'll just say if you want a lesson in how the vultures rip apart the carcass of a bankrupt tech company read the Wikipedia page.

If you didn't bother reading that just know ownership of Amiga passed through a number of companies (including Gateway) until ultimately culminating in Amiga Inc. But here's where things get tricky! The current version of Amiga OS (yes they kept developing it!) belongs to a Belgian company called Hyperion Entertainment. Rights to update the previous versions belongs to a German company called Haage & Partner. A new Amiga-compatible computer called the x1000 is being made by a Belgian company called A-Eon in partnership with Hyperion Entertainment and a British company called Varisys as the hardware partner actually delivering the goods.

So where, you may ask, is Amiga, Inc. in all of this? Well, in 2001 they had entered into an agreement with the AmigaOne Partners (collectively Hyperion Entertainment and Eyetech Group Ltd), but that license agreement was terminated in 2006. Today Amiga Inc. only sells rebranded Linux and Android tablets directly and through some kind of fundraising program for other organizations and has an embedded device software called "Amiga Anywhere" - thought exactly what it is and does is sort of vague. It apparently isn't vaporware as it was available on products from several "distributors, resellers, and marketing partners" - most of which no longer appear to be in business as their web sites are gone. Also, I think that 2007 support for Linux and Symbian devices isn't going to get anyone too excited (what with Symbian going the way of the dodo too).

Ah! But that's not all folks, we have yet another company in the mix: Commodore USA, LLC The Florida startup with the resurrected brand name says they have also secured the rights to sell Amiga branded computers from - wait for it - Amiga, Inc.! For some reason the new Commodore has chosen to give these new computers the same model numbers as original Amigas. Furthermore these computers are no more Amigas than a Mac or a Dell. The cases look pretty cool but are nothing new or unique either and have been available since 2005 from Karma Digital's distributors! You can buy the cases yourself for between $110 - $300, put in your own PC components, buy an Amiga sticker online and build your own better faux-Amiga and likely for less money. Commodore also says these will have "Commodore OS" on them, which I gather is just a Linux distro, and some mention of being AROS compatible (most likely the "Icaros Desktop" distro of that). But that's not hard to do since AROS has been ported to the Intel-compatible architecture. Heck, I can boot up Icaros Dekstop on most of my computers, and some of them are pretty old.

Side note: For the uninitiated AROS is a free open source operating system that is mostly compatible with AmigaOS 3.1. There are distributions of it (much like there are different distros of Linux) with the most popular being "Icaros Desktop." There is also "AROS Broadway" and "AROS Aspire." There is also "MorphOS" (which is gorgeous btw) that isn't a distro but uses parts of AROS (MorphOS is only for the PowerPC architecture).

If anyone from Commodore happens upon this blog post, well, I seriously want you guys to succeed because I loved my old C64 and lusted after an Amiga and want to see the company truly come back from the dead. But slapping some Commodore and Amiga stickers on off-the-shelf parts and rebranded systems and selling them for a huge markup to cash in on nostalgia isn't a sustainable business plan. Commodore was a true innovator who sold hardware that gave customers actual value. Maybe if they did that they'd have the revenue to BUY the name rather than just license it from Commodore Licensing, BV.

So, anyway to sum up we have:
Haage & Partner with the rights to update AmigaOS 3.x.
Hyperion Entertainment with the rights to AmigaOS 4.x.
A-Eon partnered with them and Varisys to make truly new Amiga computers.
Amiga Inc., selling rebranded tablets and licensing Commodore USA to pretty much do the same.

It would be so nice if it was all under one roof again (or had never been sent to the four corners of the Earth in the first place). This brand dilution is only going to lead to confusion over what's what and what is a "real" Amiga reborn.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"The Event" - More Hollywood Hackery

I've been watching NBC's "The Event" since the first episode. Until last night's airing, though, I had thought it a reasonably "intelligent" show, at least by network standards. But now it has proved to be just more crap from Hollywood hacks.

"Write what you know" is an old saying I bet most writers have heard, if not tried to employ. For some that means researching topics you don't know so you can write intelligently about them, for others it means sticking to what they already know. It's a good mantra because it becomes painfully obvious when a writer is talking out his ass and the only thing you're certain they DO know is how to tap the keys on their keyboard like one of those hypothetical monkeys banging out the Complete Works of Shakespeare.

The Bomb
The Aliens have resurrected a particularly lethal strain of the Spanish Flu, with which they intend to wipe out all of humanity and make room for their own people. In a prior episode the virus escaped a makeshift lab aboard a Russian ship and killed all the humans on board.

Sophia, the leader of the Aliens, says they need a better test case than the ship. The virus was "concentrated" and in an "enclosed space" so they don't know how truly lethal (or not) the strain is. If it kills people before they can spread it then it's of no use to the Aliens. So they hatch a plan to release the virus into a shopping mall full of people and monitor how long it takes people to die.

A couple of the humans, FBI Agent Collier (who acts more like CIA - but that's another issue) and fugative Sean Walker both know about the virus and plan to stop the field test. By the time they get to the mall the Aliens are connecting the device to the building's ventilation system. The "bio-bomb" consists of a pressurized canister into which the virus was introduced, an electronic timer, and some refrigeration lines. This, of course, would NEVER work.

First of all, the Aliens are immune to the virus, so what is the point of the timer on the bomb? Why did they even bother connecting it to the ventilation system at all? They could have literally walked through the mall exposing people to the virus (which is contained in the extracted lungs of a flu victim exhumed from the Siberian tundra). Furthermore, in order to put the virus in the pressurized canister, the Alien operative opens the container with the lungs in it outside on the roof of the mall - which should have released it into the atmosphere following the show's "logic" in how this virus spreads (more on that later). So the bomb itself is unnecessary for their field test, as is a timer to set it off after the Aliens are safely out of the area - because the virus doesn't affect them they're already safe!

Ok, for a moment lets assume the bomb were necessary because for some reason the Aliens didn't want to be at the scene when it went off. Plumbing it into the refrigeration lines on the air conditioning system wouldn't disperse it into the mall! Air conditioners do NOT work by blowing refrigerant into a room, the refrigerant is a self-contained loop system. All their device would do is release the virus into a pressurized closed-loop system. Why can't we beat these Aliens if they're such morons?

Oh yeah, because the humans are pretty stupid too. Sean Walker tries to disarm the bomb - and they've gone out of their way in the show to prove he's highly intelligent and resourceful. In fact they only knew where the Aliens were because he hacked into a rental car company's real-time GPS tracking to find the Alien's rental car. Walker starts pulling wires out of the bomb and can't make head nor tail of it, he reasons there must be a power source, there must be a solenoid that will open the valve - then as the counter ticks down he panics and SHOOTS THE BOMB! There is a pressurized container filled with the deadly virus screwed into the bottom of the bomb and he thinks shooting at it is a good idea? Ok, granted he admits he panicked, but he needn't have worried in the first place. After all, it was just going to release the virus into the pressurized refrigerant lines - but even if we suspend our disbelief further for a moment and assume that somehow those metal lines were capable of releasing the virus into the ventilation system, the easy solution would have been to just CRIMP THE LINES. Ever had a car with an A/C system that has a crushed line? Yeah, it doesn't do anything because it can't circulate the refrigerant.

Plan B
At the end of the episode we see that the Aliens scrubbed the field test at the mall and instead used a back-up plan - releasing the virus on a city bus. Um, but wait, didn't Sophia complain earlier that releasing the virus on the ship wasn't a good test because it was too concentrated and confined. It was an ocean-going freighter - vastly larger than a city bus. Releasing the virus on a bus would have been an even worse field test!

The Virus
But that's not all, folks, she then goes on to discuss the underlying problem with the virus. It's TOO deadly. It kills humans before they have a chance to infect others. They need to make the virus a little less deadly. At that point she and her chief scientist, Dr. Lu, discuss how viruses mutate in intermediary species before they "jump" to humans in a different form. Sophia might want to get a different doctor on this because her explanation was wrong. Dr. Lu mentions "Bird Flu" becoming "H1N1" when it jumped to humans. Except H1N1 is Swine Flu, it is H5N1 that is Bird Flu. Never mind that viruses can mutate within a species too, they don't HAVE to jump species to mutate, but they do have to mutate to jump species.

At the very end of the episode they decide to infect the only "hybrid" half-human-half-alien among them to create this less deadly version of the Spanish Flu. I assume the writers thought this made sense because humans die instantly from it, the Aliens are completely immune to it, so obviously the logical way to make the virus less deadly is to put it in a human-alien hybrid who theoretically is only partially immune, right? What?!

First of all the reason the Aliens are immune is most likely because they were exposed to either that virus or a similar one and have antibodies to it. There can also be a genetic predisposition to viral vulnerability, which is obviously what the writers were also thinking - that the hybrid (Sarah) has at least partially inherited this vulnerability from her human mother. Except that doesn't really make any sense either - one theory for why the Spanish Flu has never re-emerged is that it killed off everyone who was predisposed to be susceptible to it, meaning every human alive right now is likely immune to strains of the Spanish Flu anyway.

They've already established that the virus is delivered by airborne vectors, so why did they find it necessary to INJECT the hybrid with the virus? Oh yeah, because the writers totally don't understand how viruses, particularly flu strains, are transmitted through the air. When people sneeze or cough they aerosol sputum carrying the virus, that can subsequently be inhaled by others thus infecting them as well. But the writers have assumed this virus acts more like being exposed to gas. Granted the bio-bomb conceivably could have been set up to aerosol some kind of carrier medium laden with the virus, but it would still have been more effective to set that off in the middle of the mall rather than blowing it into the air ducts.

Lastly, their experiment to inject the hybrid girl with the virus is less likely to produce a less-deadly version of it and more likely to mutate into a strain deadly to the Aliens. Why didn't they inject it into a pig or a monkey, since they'd already discussed mutation occurring in lesser species than humans. The human-alien hybrid is genetically more advanced than a regular human - she represents a "lesser species" to the Aliens, and therefore would be a perfect incubator for a mutation that could jump into the Aliens and kill them as well. It is possibly the single most stupid thing they could have done.

Yeah, I think I'm probably done with this series.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Goodbye Sarah Jane :-(

Last night news came out of England that one of most loved companions of "Doctor Who" passed away from cancer. Nobody but her close family apparently even knew she was ill. Elizabeth Sladen was her name. Dead at just 63 years old, but any age would be too soon really.

"Sarah Jane Smith" was her character. She was the last companion to Jon Pertwee's "Doctor" and the first companion to Tom Baker's. Anyone who ever watched Doctor Who likely considered Sarah Jane the Doctor's "first love" - though they never once had any romantic scenes they had a chemistry that made you suspect there were deeper feelings. Turns out that's because Lis Sladen was adored by the entire cast and crew at the BBC.

When she left the show the Doctor materialized the TARDIS to let her out, not on Hillview Road as planned (and probably not even in South Croydon) but on a grassy hill in the middle of nowhere. She takes it in stride and heads off hopefully to civilization whistling a tune. The fans only knew she eventually made it home thanks to the failed "K-9 and Company" spin-off pitched in the 80's. It never got picked up despite testing rather well - but I've seen the pilot episode and it's terrible, so I can only assume it garnered 8.4 million viewers because they wanted to see more of Lis Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. Thankfully we don't have to remember her for that series.

In the new Doctor Who series they wanted to bring back one of the Doctor's old companions for an episode and there was no question it would be Sarah Jane Smith. She returned more than once to the role in the new series because the fans ate up every appearance. That lead to a deal with the CBBC (Childrens BBC) for her own spin-off series called the "Sarah Jane Adventures" reportedly one of the most popular kids' shows ever on the BBC.

Tom Baker wrote a wonderful tribute to her on his blog site recounting the first day he met her and how they immediately clicked. I always had this feeling that she was either a fantastic actress, or maybe she wasn't much of an actress at all and she was just playing herself. Turns out she wasn't far off from her character, which is probably why the fans felt she was so genuine. You just knew if you ever met her - either Sarah Smith or Lis Sladen - they were the same person and you'd instantly be friends with her. That's important when you're running for your life from Zygons I suppose. Her death took Tom Baker by surprise too - he had just signed a contract to do six new Doctor Who "audio drama" episodes with her at Big Finish.

The very first episode of Doctor Who I ever saw was "Pyramids of Mars" - which I regard as one of the best Tom Baker episodes ever made - and Sarah Jane was his companion in that. I know a lot of Whovians watch the show and wish they were from Gallifrey and had their own TARDIS. But the Doctor is such a big character - an alien, a genius, a hero - that those are big shoes to fill. Scary big. I found that, while I loved the Doctor, it was usually the companions with whom I identified. The companions were attainable role models - all they have to do is be who they are, have a sense for adventure, and when the TARDIS materializes a willingness to see what wonders the depth and breadth of time and space have to offer. Since Sarah Jane Smith so defined the role of a Timelord's traveling companion she became the yardstick by which I've measured all others.

I suppose that's why I always have considered her to be the "first" companion to the Doctor, even though I've since seen the earlier episodes in the series and know others came before her - but none could replace her.

Friday, February 4, 2011

iPad & Background Images

This is kind of annoying. I'm working on a website that has to work well on an iPad, so I've been checking things with the iOS Simulator and the iPad refuses to deal with full-coverage background images properly.

To be clear, it will position a background where you tell it, it will tile a background how you tell it, it will even keep a background image fixed if you tell it. What it won't do is expand a fixed, centered background image to fill the screen. The maximum inner window sizes are 981 px and 1208 px. Even if the image is FAR larger than that in both dimensions it sits there scaled down - and if it's centered also with a white border around it.

It completely ignores the -webkit CSS for fixed, centered, covering background images and uses the old CSS method, and it still doesn't do it right.

So far the only solution I've found is pretty slapped together, but it works (sort of):

1. Create a DIV and give it an ID something like "backdrop" (or whatever)
2. Put your background image inside it, in an image tag, with the height and width hard coded to ZERO. Why? If a user doesn't have CSS available they won't get this gigantic decorative image shoved in their face.
3. In your iPad stylesheet set the image like this:
#backdrop {position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0;height: 100%;width: 100%; margin: 0;}
#backdrop img {height: 105%;width: auto;margin:0;}

If you have a sticky footer you'll need to add the negative margin-bottom to the backdrop DIV as well. Why is it 105%? Because if it isn't then you'll get a white strip down the right-hand side when the iPad is rotated horizontally. At least the image aspect ratio is maintained doing it this way.

You'll want to make sure to hide the image for anything other than an iPad or it can become obvious what you've done in a desktop browser that can be resized. iPhone seems to do things properly, btw.

Lastly, the best solution for right now is probably to use a background PATTERN that you can just tile, since the iPad seems to handle that correctly.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

:hover is dead Jim.

The :hover pseudo-class is dead, it just hasn't fallen over yet. In fact it's not just dead, it was murdered. Killed by the touch interface.

I'm not exactly clear on when :hover was created or by whom. It was included in the May 1998 CSS2 specification and I believe Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5.5 beta in December 1999 was the first browser to implement it (but only for the "a" tag, which is still true today). I've seen reference to Microsoft having invented it and contributing it the CSS specification. It was subsequently supported in other browsers.

If you think about it the :hover pseudo-class is actually a pretty amazing little bit of shorthand. It tracks the pointer position when it is over the coordinates of the element to which it is applied and can perform actions based on that detection. Take something as simple as the very common image rollover on a button - with :hover it can be accomplished in one line of code that single line could create the rollover effect for EVERY button on the page. Try to accomplish the same thing with Javascript and you'd have to give unique IDs to each button, create custom functions that could be called from those buttons that defined variables for the height, width, and top+left coordinates of the button itself and then another function to track the mouse coordinates and yet another function that performed the swap-out on that button, but only if the mouse coordinates were within the same area defined for that particular button. That fact that :hover can accomplish all that in one line of code is frankly. . .beautiful.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Creating an Object VR in Google SketchUp and Kerkythea

You've seen them for product shots on online stores - nice little 360 degree views of a product as it rotates on a turntable. I've done some packaging mock-ups in Google Sketchup and have been trying to find a decent way to render them as Object VR images. It wasn't hard to find solutions for CubicVR panoramas, but finding a VR method looking inward rather than outward proved more of a challenge.


1. Click the "Front" view
2. Create an Animation Scene
3. Repeat Steps 1 & 2 for the right side, back, and left side

You'll now have 4 camera positions around your object and can animate between them as if walking around your object (or as if spinning your object on a turntable).

Go to File>Export>Animation and you can tell it how many frames per second and how big to render the images. You can either export it as a Quicktime video or as individual image files (keep in mind that is one image for each frame). At a bare minimum you only need the four views, but it makes for a very choppy rotation. The preset duration is 2 seconds from one camera to another so the lowest setting of 5 fps will add 9 frames between each of the ones you've created (the 1st frame is the scene you created for a total of 10 frames for each segment).

You can then take the images into VR software - I have VRworx Toolbox - and create an Object QTVR mov file that is truly interactive, rather than just a video. The images can also be used in other programs that can make VR files. If you want to reduce file size you can simply not use all the tween animation frames - just grab one out of the middle or a couple near the middle (depending on how smooth you want the transition from one view to another). I'd recommend not going fewer than 8 views (front, left side, back, right side, and one 3/4 view between each straight on view).

The problems with this method are, while it may be easy to do, it is limited to the default views and the animation path won't export to Kerkythea correctly and even trying to use the scenes with the Walkthrough Animation dialog doesn't work right (not sure why but the camera "swims" all over the place until it gets to the next scene) so you're stuck with the low quality "cartoon" images that Google SketchUp creates.


What we need is the ability to put our camera positions on a circle and precisely control the point at which each camera is focused. The video I found below is a good start!

In the video he wants an "ant eye" view of the car, so his cameras are positioned along the floor and looking upwards to a single point. He even raises the car model and updates his scenes at the end to make it more dramatic. In my case I have smaller objects like a candy box, which make more sense if you look downward at them. I grabbed my circle and raised it slightly above the height of my model then positioned each camera looking downward to the center.

However, as I said the images look sort of like cartoons. I want nice renders! The simple method I talked about doesn't export the animation to Kerkythea properly, but this precision method thankfully does. It takes a little more work, of course. . .


1. First, I need to modify the method outlined in the video slightly. Instead of moving my model to a new layer I need to keep it on the default layer (the one you can't delete). Why? If I don't my model wouldn't export. So I create my circle and central post on the secondary layer. Other than that I do what the video says up to the point of exporting the animation.

2. Instead of creating a Quicktime movie I go to Kerkythea Exporter > Export Model and open it up in Kerkythea. I can close SketchUp at this point.

3. In Kerkythea I go to Tools > Walkthrough Animation and it pops up a dialog box. Enter a name like "VR" in the first box.

4. In the Walkthrough Animation dialog click the "Add Node" button. In the drop-down list select the first scene.

5. Continue clicking "Add Node" and selecting the next scene in the sequence around your object.

6. Under "Duration" I enter a one. What?! Yep. You want a duration of 1 seconds for this.

7. Under "Rate" enter an 7. Click "OK"

8. Select the animation "camera" in the left pane of Kerkythea.

9. Go to the Render button, a dialog will pop up. It should already have the Walkthrough Animation name in the first box because it was selected in the left-hand pane. Decide how big and nice you want it to look and what rendering method to use. Click "OK"

10. It will open a Save dialog. Enter a file name. This will be appended with the frame numbers as each one is created. Click "SAVE" and sit back. This could take a while if you used a higher resolution setting.

Ok, to explain what I'm doing here I told it to make 8 frames (the current view + 7 frames) and run a total of 1 second (8 fps), which means I will get a sum total of just EIGHT fully rendered images. If I was rendering smaller resolution images I could enter something bigger like 16 or 24 for smoother rotation. If I was rendering these for video, though, I'd need a helluva lot more frames (if I left it at the default settings of 10 seconds @ 24 fps = 240 images).

Now I take my 8 views and import them into VR software to create an Object VR or I can put them in a web page and use a CSS Image Map to create a roll-over animation effect (as someone drags a mouse across the image it will swap out the views creating the illusion of a 3D object rotation). This way I can give viewers a nice, crisp, high quality photo render of the package design while only having to load 8 images.

End note: If you're familiar with Google SketchUp and Kerkythea you may have wondered why I didn't just export the animation path from SU to KT? Well, it appears that the Kerkythea exporter will only "see" objects on the default Layer 1 in SketchUp. So when I attempt to export my animation path it fails because, so far as the exporter is concerned, there isn't one. It doesn't matter anyway since it's so easy to recreate the animation path in Kerkythea with the Walkthrough Animation dialog. Now, if I had a really complex animation path (for example one created with the Bezier curve and Flightpath plugins) I'd probably want to move my animation path to the first layer so I could export it. But for something as simple as a circular orbit around an object why bother?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Unneeded Android Apps

Android is a phone OS. That much is clear if you own an Android Tablet. There's tons of phone-related stuff still on it. Worse yet the standby cell service is a notorious battery drainer (even if there is no cell radio present - don't ask me how that works). Here's how I got rid of it on my Haipad M701-R over ADB:

adb shell mount -o remount,rw /dev/block/mtdblock3 /system
adb shell mv /system/app/Phone.apk /system/app/Phone.OLD
adb shell mv /system/app/TelephonyProvider.apk /system/app/TelephonyProvider.OLD
adb reboot

Since my tablet came from China it has home market apps on it of no use to me. Some uninstall normally, others won't and need to be force removed. Here's how I got rid of EOE Market:

./adb remount busybox
./adb shell
rm /system/app/eoemarket.apk
cd /system/bin
sh pm uninstall
./adb reboot

Google Maps also has an issue that it won't update because the preinstalled version is locked down. A similar set of commands extricates it so I could install a newer version that will update properly:

adb remount busybox
rm /system/app/Maps.apk
cd /system/bin
sh pm uninstall
adb reboot

A word of warning, though, that there is always a possibility you could "brick" your tablet doing this and these commands are specific to my tablet - and all worked - but that is no guarantee they will work on yours. You should list the contents of the the folders first to make sure yours doesn't have a slightly different file name and also not all Android devices use the same naming convention for the mtdblock partitions.

Lastly, I have one app that shows up in the list when I filter by "all" in Settings>Manage Applications that I don't know what it is because the name is in a foreign language: