Friday, August 19, 2011

Using Launchpad as Applications folder replacement on Mac OS X Lion

Hey what a beautiful title...

So in case you're like me and decided to give Launchpad a chance, I give you a small tutorial on how to make the transition as painless as possible.

As Apple obviously does not want me to use a Folder but an App (...blah blah...killing the desktop metaphor...blah blah blah....) I thought, I want the Launchpad App EXACTLY at the same position as I had my Applications Folder, meaning the first item in the Dock, right of that boundary line (no pictures for that, I'm sure you know what I mean).

Ok so the most obvious attempt was, simply trying to drag the Launchpad App over the boundary line, but that does not work (why should it be THAT easy anyway...).

So, second try, lets see whats in the Dock Plist (a Plist, or "Property List", on Mac OS X is a XML structured Config file which Apple uses throughout the whole system). This time, as you will see, I was more lucky.

The Plist file for the Dock is named and can be found in ~/Library/Preferences. In Mac OS X Lion, the Library Folder is hidden, so its not too easy to mess up the system.
Before starting (to make things easier for you when using this Tutorial), make sure the Launchpad App is actually in your Dock, so it looks something like this:

Our goal will be to move the Launchpad App to the right of the boundary line:

1. Open Finder and press CMD+Shift+G which opens the "Go to Folder" dialogue and enter "~/Library/Preferences" and hit Enter. This will move you to your Preferences Folder (surprise, surprise).

2. Hooray, we are in the Preferences Folder, now look for the File

3. Open the Plist File, there are 2 properties that are of special interest to us, the array "persistent-apps" and the array "persistent-others". persistent-apps is the list of Apps in your Dock (everything left of the boundary line), persistent-others is the list of Items right of the boundary line. So what we are doing is moving the Launchpad item from the persistent-apps array to the persistent others array. The Launchpad App has the bundle identifier, go and find it!

4. When you found it simply mark the whole Item, in my case I would mark Item 0, then copy it (CMD+C) and paste it to the persistent-others array (CMD+V). Afterwards you can delete the Item in the persistent-apps array (simply by Backspace)

5. We're almost finished now, first save the Plist (CMD+S) and close it (CMD+Q) and finally we need to restart the Dock so the changes have an effect. For that open Terminal, enter "killall Dock" and hit Enter.

6. Watch your Dock restarting and voila, Launchpad is in the correct place. So in case everything went right, your Dock should look something like this:

7. Finally, to get the best out of Launchpad and to increase your productivity another bit, set a Keyboard shortcut for launching Launchpad. I'm using CMD+`, which makes it easy to quickly fire up Launchpad with my left hand. You do that via System Preferences/Keyboard on the Tab Keyboard Shortcuts.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mac OS Kernel Panic after Update to Mac OS X 10.6.8

If your Mac is not booting after updating to Mac OS X 10.6.8 (like it just happened to me), you can try the following for a quick troubleshooting:

  • Start your Mac in Safe mode (pressing shift during startup), if it that doesn't work, try the verbose mode which should be pressing CMD + V during startup
  • After startup you should get a System Crash Report, indicating what caused the mess-up. My Crash Report looked something like this:Screen shot 2011 06 25 at 12 16 38 AM
  • The important information here is right on top, com.metakine.handsoff.driver, so its a pretty good guess that Hands Off is fucking the Kernel in an unpleasant way during startup.
  • Well after you got a similiar information about (most likely) some driver problems you have 2 options:
    • Get out your Time Machine Volume and move back in time before the Update, reboot in normal mode, install an update for the driver/App that is causing the Crash (in my case, I installed an Update for Hands Off, gladly they had one...) and finally redo the Mac OS X Update
    • If you don't have a Time Machine Volume (which you really should have, and if not, GET ONE NOW!!!!), you could try to install an Update while in Safe Mode (which you really should ONLY do if you know what risk that implies or you are REALLY, REALLY desperate....) and reboot again in normal mode.
  • If everything is up & running again, relax, congratulate yourself and have a beer!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

On Artificial Intelligence

Whenever you read an article or a book about AI, 2 questions or arguments are, explicitly or inexplicitly, mentioned or discussed in it.

1. What is intelligence?
2. What is Consciousness?

In the field of AI, it is common to say that a machine is intelligent or comes close to human intelligence when it would pass the famous Turing Test. The Turing Test is as simple as it is ingenious. You have 2 test subjects, 1 human, 1 machine and 1 interrogator who interviews both. The machines task is to convince the interrogator that it is not a machine and the human test subject tries to convince the interrogator that he or she is indeed a human. The interrogators task is to figure out who is who. An intelligent system would pass the Turing Test if the interrogator refers to it as human (On more and better information about the Turing Test, read Turings paper:

I would consider the Turing Test as a valid indicator whether or not a machine is intelligent, however, I don't think even all humans could pass it. Take that example, we are not considering machines, who are able to solve painful equations and proof punishingly hard theorems as intelligent. Why? Because they are machines and are supposed to be able of such incredible math magic, AND because they won't pass a Turing Test. Just think of Deep Blue, an incredible chess machine, yet would not be able to answer the simple question: Whats your favourite music band? (Well, it may answer, "Queen"...;-)). Or take Watson, a machine capable of natural language processing, but I strongly doubt it would make it through Turings Sonnet example or even the chess example. Now to humans, take Grigori Perelman, or other mathematical geniuses. I really do doubt if they could pass the Turing Test. The main point is, we take those humans as absolute geniuses and often take their inability of participating in a normal conversation as another proof of their ingenuity.

Another aspect of why we consider machines as not intelligent are our expectations to the capabilities of machines. We often expect them to know everything and that instantly, which I think is just plain wrong. Intelligence is something that needs time to evolve, as in humans, humans are no nobel laureates by birth, neither are machines. Just take genetic algorithms or neural networks, both need time to come to correct results, but if you give them their time, they become truly intelligent.

But lets come back to the question of what intelligence really is. I think intelligence is a lot about diversity, great diversity, learning and a good amount of randomness. From mathematicians to painters to comedians is the form of how intelligence manifests itself in one person hugely diverse. Through genetic inheritance also comes a lot of randomness and finally our knowledge, which is a result of intelligence comes mainly from learning. At its heart, intelligence may be reduced to pattern recognition and statistics (= experience). When we have to make a decision, we try to find similar situations in our memory (pattern recognition) and try to recall our decisions of what had worked and what not, and derive from that an answer or a decision to our current situation (statistical analysis). The result of our decision, as well as the whole situation, is instantly stored in our memory again, thus, we have again learned something and gained more experience.

What about consciousness? Humans are aware of themselves, and they are aware that they are aware of themselves, and so on. But are we aware of ourselves when we are born? Or is our self consciousness simply a result of other people interacting with us, therefore an evolutionary process? We are a species capable of language, therefore our interactions can be considered as more complex than of say, cows for example. Is our infinite strange loop of consciousness simply a result of these high-sophisticated interactions? I believe it is.

What about the future?

I believe the Turing Test will remain valid as an indicator whether or not a machine deserves the honour to be called intelligent. But at a certain point we may have to fine-tune the Turing Test a little, for example to test the learning and pattern recognition capabilities of test subjects. For example, in a Turing Test interview, the interrogator includes the story of a little riddle (e.g. one of those milk can riddles) into a question about history. The interrogator also tells the test subject one solution of the riddle, but not the optimal one. A few questions later, the interrogator then asks that riddle question in a little different form, say, not milk cans, but oil barrels. For a machine, it would be a simple straightforward logical task to solve the riddle and find the optimal solution. However a human test subject, will recognise the riddle as the one just heard a few questions before and will most likely tell the interrogator the solution heard in the story told before.

With that point reached, Ray Kurzweils prediction about the point of Singularity will be REALLY near.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Apps - The Webs Librarians

Why is the iPhone so successful? I believe the most important reason are Apps.
Why are other Smartphones as Blackberry losing market share? I believe the most important reason, again, are Apps.
Why is Android generally only considered to be 'second choice'? I believe the most important reason is that the Apps are not of the same quality. No way its because of the OS - Android is fantastic. Also not because of the phones. Some of the HTC's may even be better than the iPhone.
The difference are simply Apps.

The slick User Interface and the unbelievable usability of the iPhone in particular and other Smartphones with Touchscreen in general are only the foundations for funny, entertaining, supporting and intelligent Apps and the full user experience.

This and the upcoming Mac App Store (eventually followed by an equivalent Windows market) are reasons enough to think about the role Apps play nowadays. By the way, I purposely call them Apps and not Applications or anything, because in my view, they are no fully featured Applications, but well, simply Apps. They serve a single purpose or fulfill a few very specific Tasks (Hotel Finder, Flight/Train Connections, Facebook, Weather). I don't think I use any App for more than 2-3 minutes per session (maybe some games, but by far not all).

The fact that, so far any mobile Web Browser sucks in some way (Surfing the Web on a Smartphone is horrible, all this zooming and scrolling and totally naked "mobile optimised" Websites) and the fact that I have around 100 Apps on my phone which are all little helping goblins made me believe that Apps are actually the librarians of the World Wide Web.

This is totally awesome, because instead of starting your notebook, starting your Web Browser and opening a few Tabs to look for a route or a restaurant near your girlfriends place you just use an App, what is just way more convenient.

Most (helpful) Apps work as follows:
a) They offer you a simple and clean GUI (sure, they are built around 1 main functionality)
b) They search for what you want, through the whole Web, through APIs, through everything
c) They neatly display you what you wanted

After that process which perhaps took around 40 seconds, you close the App and are enlightened. I think this is the same as a librarian is doing:

Most (helpful) Librarians work as follows:
a) They offer you a human UI (you should be able to get on with that)
b) They search the whole library for what you want, or give you further information on where to find your desired stuff
c) They give you what you wanted (Your books or at least a note with some further information)

I think Apps are the main reason why mobile internet is so exciting and popular nowadays. Simplicity and information rich, just a tap & swipe away. And Apps really are a driving factor of the semantic web (lots of stuff is communicating via APIs with each other) as well, because thats pretty much the essence of their workings, you tap search and the App is doing the rest.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Smartphones, Foursquare and the Long Tail of Real Life

As more and more people are owning Smartphones, such as the iPhone or any Android phone, and location based applications such as Foursquare gain more popularity, an interesting consequence results, which I like to call, the Long Tail of Real Life. In case you are not familiar with the principle of a Long Tail Economy, you should read Chris Andersons famous book on the very topic.

Essentially, a Long Tail Economy, which can be observed on the Web (e.g. at Amazon), can be described as the rise of the niches. For example, in a normal book store, only the most popular books are sold, as in a physical shop, there is limited space, and thus, niche products are only hardly to be found at a normal book retailer. The reason is simply, that only a few people buy those special interest books, whereas the large majority buys books, that are on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Amazon for example, has no retail shop. So every book they offer online is just another record in their extensive database. They are able to offer any book that is being published, because they are not restricted by physical shelf space. As having a special interest is not really unusual, we are buying those books on Amazon, as they are easy to find there. This is again resulting in serious sales numbers of large amounts of special interest books - many niche products that sell few numbers.

With handheld GPS devices, such as every modern Smartphone is, and with fun applications as Foursquare or others, this Long Tail behaviour also shifts to the real life in the sense of places. The more people you follow on Foursquare the more places you haven't known yet - even if its in the city you live in - you are likely to explore.

Also, as on Foursquare you have pretty much the same Follower-principle as on Twitter, meaning you are following people you haven't even met in real life, you are very likely to explore completely new places (as you perhaps know the majority of places your real friends visit). Thus, a simple Foursquare check-in at a nice little Cafe is a pretty mighty marketing tool, way better than, say, a poster in a train station near that little Cafe.

So a Foursquare check-in pretty much is like an oral recommendation, a word of mouth. As Foursquare is not only a location based service but also has gaming features, your are pretty likely to add a certain location to the map (say your little hidden Cafe), because you get points for it and because maybe, you are going to have another mayorship.

Of course you have to filter a the interesting places a little as many check-ins are at ones home, work or at train stations, but if Foursquare manages it to filter out the interesting places, such as shops, restaurants, clubs and cafes, the Long Tail of Real Life will be reality. So with this, the rise of the niches is also happening in Real Life, with the consequence of being able to explore many new places, in your own city.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

GeekTours - Bruges: Simon Stevin statue

If you are travelling with the Geek Atlas by John Graham-Cumming in your bags and are just visiting Brusselles or Paris, the beautiful flemish city of Bruges and the statue of 16th century flemish mathematician Simon Stevin is not far away from you.

Bruges is comfortably reached by train from Brusselles (about 1 hour, 12,90€ for 1 way) or from Paris with the high-speed Thalys train (2 1/2 hours, 25€ if you book early enough for 1 way).

Bruges itself is easily discovered by foot on 1 day. The Simon Stevinplein is a little way South-East from the market square (the large central square which is dominated by the Belfort), down the Steenstraat. Get the Google Maps directions here.

Simon Stevin (1548/49 – 1620) himself was a flemish mathematician and engineer who is perhaps most famous for his proof of the law of equilibrium on an inclined plane. Indeed this proof is also visible on his statue in his left hand. There are also other interesting scientific engravings at his monument.

Unlike the Geek Atlas, I won't, and can't 100% reliably respectively, provide you with a little science as I don't want to give you any wrong information on the subject. So just follow the Wikipedia Link to get some more information on Simon Stevin and his works.

The statue is dominating the Simon Stevinplein and is flanked by a nice alley, various shops and cafes. The Steenstraat is one of the main tourist routes leaving from the main square but the statue is, in majority, passed by the many "normal" tourists, so you can have a quiet view on his proof and relax a little on the square.

PS: Belgium is famous for its tasty beer and its special double deep-fried chips (see the picture of my special-chips with ketchup, mayonaise and a huge load of onions...).

GeekTours - Review: Eiffel Tower, Paris

Ok, so this is my first hands on review and its also a warning. I've only recently visited Paris, and of course, the Eiffel Tower is a must see for every tourist and, as John Graham-Cumming says in the Geek Atlas, also for every geek. He is right as the whole Tower can be seen as a monument for science, with the names of famous french scientists (Foucault, Arago, Fresnel,...) written around the Tower and a bust of Gustave Eiffel at its foot.

Now the warning: If you decide to go up, you spend 99,99% of your time with waiting. Waiting to buy a ticket to go to the first balcony, waiting to get into the elevator to get onto the first balcony, waiting to buy a ticket to get to the top, waiting to get into the elevator to get to the top, waiting to take the picture, you want to take at the top and finally waiting for the elevators to get down again.

Of course, the view over Paris is magnificent but there are other places from which you can get an equally good and cheaper view over Paris (e.g. from the Arc de Triomphe, the Pantheon or Sacre-Coeur).

The whole Eiffel Tower journey took me around 5 hours (with the majority spend in queues) and cost around 17€ (12€ to get to the first balcony, another 5€ to get to the top). My recommendation would be to either visit the Eiffel Tower in the coldest Winter (assuming that their will be less tourists, but it will have felt -50C° on the top) or to just enjoy the Eiffel Tower and the Park behind it from the bottom. I have to admit that it was more impressive to stand right underneath the Tower (the Tower is massive, around 326m in height) than on top of it.