October 2007
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Month October 2007

Java on Leopard: Is it “Horribly Broken?”

Early reports concerning Java 5 on Leopard aren’t encouraging. John Gruber and Adrian Sutton hit back with blog entries, variously arguing either that the breakage isn’t important given shipping compromises, or that it isn’t really broken and that whiners should shut up.

My personal experience is that it’s broken in some significant ways. I’m not that concerned, given the scientific and mathematical programming I do, with Cocoa pipelines and graphics, but overall my fairly simple numerical simulations using RepastJ 3.1 run several orders of magnitude slower in Leopard than Tiger, given Log4J text logging in debug mode.

You can argue, as Sutton probably would, that nothing fundamental is wrong and that I shouldn’t judge “brokenness” by the performance of text I/O, but hey, let’s face it, if you can’t write ASCII text to a bloody text file before protons decay and the sun burns out, then Java 5 is horribly broken in Leopard.

Which sucks, because although Gruber doesn’t see any “significant” software being written in Java for the Mac, there sure are a lot of us using IntelliJ IDEA doing Java development on Intel Macs, and the compile and test cycle just got a lot worse. A *lot* worse.

Leopard was late, and compromises needed to be made, and sure Apple took a lot of flak for announcing the delay, but this OS needed more time in the oven.

UPDATE: This turns out to be the Quartz rendering pipeline switch, and is “fixed” by passing the following to the JVM as command line arguments:

-Dapple.awt.graphics.UseQuartz=true

My guess is that Apple might release a separate download to restore the Quartz pipeline as the default, but in the meantime this seems work. I would like to thank Pratik from Apple, who saw my post a couple of minutes ago and pointed me in the right direction.

Maybe Gruber and Sutton are right, it’s possible we all need to chill out a bit. This here upgrade might turn out to be alright, though I did follow Siracusa’s lead and turn off the pseudo-3D dock using the “no-glass” attribute — I have a zillion program icons and they’re incredibly hard to distinguish at very small sizes in pseudo-3D. Siracusa is also right, it’s almost impossible to read the very-similar grey “stacks” folder icons when my dock is so small….

First Reactions to Leopard

I’ve been using OS X 10.5 (Leopard) for a couple of days now, and here’s a couple of reactions. On the positive side, I love the new Mail.app and how it ties into iCal with to-do items. Auto-recognition of addresses, phone numbers and contact info is brilliant. And of course I like Spaces, though since I’ve been using third-party versions for years on both Mac and Windows, and have always had multiple desktops in my Unix window managers, it’s not a big leap to have it built-in.

I haven’t set up Time Machine yet because I need to devote a whole external disk to it, but if it works well I’ll be switching from SuperDuper! to the built-in backup very soon.

Stacks and the new Finder bits are nice organizational tools and fine eye candy, which I’m sure will be second nature soon but I haven’t done much with them as yet.

On the whole I like it. But I have some negative points as well, that point to this release not quite being as fully baked as it should be given the hype.

First, the upgrade wiped out all my printer settings. No printers at all. I cannot imagine why this would be an intentional “feature” — the name, IP address or ports, and driver name for my printers isn’t exactly core to the operating system, so why did Apple decide they needed to be wiped out? And it’s not a ten-second fix here — I have printers at home and at work, at my place in Seattle, so setting all of them up and testing involves being in three different buildings and finding half a dozen sets of drivers (assuming Leopard doesn’t have them already).

Second, there’s some performance issues here. I’m not talking about the sluggishness while Spotlight rebuilt the index from scratch — that’s expected. I’m talking about a generally higher use of CPU all around, probably given all the QuickLook stuff going on anytime I’m in the Finder. Though I don’t really know the source.

Third, Apple needed to run the QA cycle a bit longer. I’ve had to Force Quit a bunch of apps quite a bit — and at least half were Apple’s own apps. System Preferences has spun off into the vortex a couple of times, as has Activity Monitor. C’mon guys — I know I have a lot of software on this machine, and sure, I’m used to Parallels with Vista vortexing occasionally, but I’m killing off hung apps quite a bit for a well-polished major OS release. The goal here is for you to be better than the average Microsoft Windows release, not emulate it.

So that’s where things stand. We’ll see if they improve. Time Machine and Mail.app might be worth the irritations mentioned above. I hope so. And I hope there’s some software updates to fix some of the other bits fairly soon. Because at the end of the day, Time Machine and Mail.app are just apps — the notion that I had to upgrade the OS itself for such functionality is a bit suspect, unless Leopard gives me better stability and performance in the long run.

A New Gig at GridNetworks

I’ve been fairly busy lately with some changes, and haven’t had time to write, but the situation is this: I’m un-retired, and working at GridNetworks, in downtown Seattle. Grid is a startup company, begun by Jeff Payne of RealNetworks and Spry/Compuserve, and now involving my business partners Tony Naughtin and Christopher Wheeler, from Internap Network Services and Network Clarity. Jon Miller, formerly of RealNetworks, Internap, and Getty Images, has joined up as well, and thus from my perspective the company is a combination of a “dream team” and a reunion of favorite coworkers from companies spanning a decade.

Our mission is to power the next generation of Internet-based television, delivering high-definition and DVD quality video to computers and a veritable forest of home theatre devices. The slow convergence of real computers, televison, and home theatre setups is well underway, with devices like Tivo HD representing today’s state of the art. GridNetworks delivers the advantages of a traditional CDN (content distribution network) and a new-style P2P (peer-to-peer) network, allowing scalable distribution of the highest quality media. Today, you can download the 1.1 version of our player and GridCasting technology, and soon we’ll talk about the next two generations of our system.

My role is to augment our core technology team by building compelling services for media and content owners of all sizes, from the largest networks to small companies with content that would benefit from high-definition, high-quality distribution. As Product Unit Manager for Content Delivery Services, my role will be to understand each of these markets and tailor services which meet a variety of needs. It’s a different role for me, given that I’ve usually been on the sharp end of core technology in the past, but I’m excited about the company and the job, and I’m sure I’ll talk further after we’ve made additional announcements in coming months.

All of this means that I’m now a long-distance commuter, shuttling back and forth between the island and downtown Seattle. Thanks to Kenmore Air, this isn’t nearly as onerous as it sounds, and often I get to finish off a day at the office with a gorgeous, low-altitude flight over Puget Sound and the myriad of forested islands and coastlines. But it’s an adjustment, as I try to remember whether I left my shaving kit in Seattle or up north, or where I left the latest draft of my dissertation proposal during my free moments. I’ll figure it out soon enough, and settle back into the high-tech world I thought I’d left behind.

Remembering Marc

My friend Marc Olson died two weeks ago.  Although his funeral was well attended by family and friends, the process of remembering and honoring those who pass doesn’t stop there.  Marc and I knew each other for about a decade, brought together by a shared love of wine and food and cooking, but we also worked in the same business (once even at the same company, briefly) and our conversations over the years ranged widely. 

Marcpeterhermitage1999

The picture shown here (Marc is on the right) is from our first trip to France together, in the autumn of 1999.  Marc, myself, and Peter Glidden met up in Lyons and drove down the Rhone River, eating terrific food, drinking amazing wine, and getting to know winemakers.  In the picture, we’re standing on a hill on the west bank of the Rhone River, looking across to the Hermitage hill and vineyards, where the Rhone makes a bend and exposes the steep rocky vineyards to wind and sun, causing the Syrah to struggle and thus gain complexity beyond that normally seen in southern or especially domestic wines.  Hermitage was Marc’s "home" in the wine world.

This trip was our first visit to the cellars of Jean-Louis Chave, the incomparable maker of Hermitage, St. Joseph, vin de Paille, and now the Mon Coeur Cotes du Rhone.  Our first dinner together on that trip, at Le Beau Rivage in Condrieu, was terrific, but merely a taste of things to come.  While staying at Les Florets in Gigondas, we nearly plunged our mini-van off the narrow, steep road leading up the Dentelles de Montmirail, and had to be pulled back onto the road.  The car was insured, but its cargo of wines was not, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. 

But our best evening was at the end of our trip, with dinner at Beaugraviere, in Mondragon.  Beaugraviere, a classic French country restaurant run by chef Guy Jullien, makes a particular specialty of truffles, and at the time had the most spectacular wine list I’d ever seen.  Each of us, as wine enthusiasts, was given a weighty novel-sized book, with each page listing a different producer, with a long list of the vintages available.  Marc, Peter, and I read in silence for minutes, each compiling a list of likely candidates.  Most of the bottles hadn’t moved since their purchase or release, meaning that old vintages from the 50’s, 60’s or older would still be in pristine condition.  Our choices, to complement Jullien’s cuisine, were the 1978 Guigal La Landonne to start, the incomparable 1961 Jaboulet La Chapelle, and an incredibly rare bottle of 1929 Chave Hermitage.  The three of us couldn’t believe our luck in having such an amazing ending to our trip.   After the restaurant closed, we sat and shared the last of our wines with Jullien, who broke out an amazing and rare oddity — a sweet marc (or grappa) made by Chateau Rayas in 1945 but never commercially released.  A perfect end to our trip together. 

Given busy lives and responsibilities, we didn’t see each other as often as we’d have liked, although oddly enough my moving to San Juan Island and Marc’s plane crash earlier this summer brought us together much more lately than otherwise would have been the case, and I’m grateful for that.   Several times lately, I’ve found myself reading something and thinking, "I should send this to Marc."  But our conversations are done now, and Marc lives now in the memories of his friends and family.  These will be memories of energy and exuberance and a passion for life.  None of us who knew and loved him will easily or quickly forget how he brought all of these qualities into our lives in abundance.