Frank's Blog

Unevitable Bugs 

Now that I'm using my Mac for writing anything regarding to my thesis (my personal "notebook"), I also have a more demanding use for Keynote. Before I only used it for short presentations, say 15 slides, like the one I gave at the BPM2005 in Nancy, France. The last couple of weeks, however, I'm busily preparing some 90 minute lectures about my current research. Together they contain around 150 slides split into three Keynote files. Each Keynote file includes around 100 formulas dropped as PDFs from Equation Editor. And now there is this bug after working for some time with such (big) presentations: Used from Microsoft Powerpoint under Windows where the slide previews turned very coarse just before the software gave up, Keynote presented me the spinning beach ball each time I wanted to change the slide. Even worser, the text inside my PDFs suddenly turned crazy looking! Finally, the only things I saw in Keynote was that beach ball!

However, what I wanted to say is that either 1) Keynote and Powerpoint share virtually the same code or 2) writing a working presentation program is indeed an NP-complete problem. Have I talked about OpenOffice Impress 1.x yet? No? This software even has unsolvable problems with time and switching to the next slide while actually giving the presentation! Maybe it all gets better with the 2.0 release coming next week.
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Scientific Writing & Mac 

This time I came across some nice links regarding scientific writing with the Mac. Typically, scientific people use LaTeX for typesetting their notes, papers, articles, thesis, etc. However, sometimes you just might want a simple page, maybe a letter or slide, with a nice formula within. Then you can use software like Equation Editor. This little piece of software accepts a LaTeX math formula and creates a nice looking PDF containing the rendered formula. This formula can then be drag-and-dropped to its target location - Pages, Keynote, OmniGraffle, whatever program supports PDF (Microsoft Word works very ugly, it converts the vector graphics to a low resolution bitmap). Another nice solution is Equation Service that works the same way like Equation Editor but adds an entry to your Macs service menu. If you use an application that is integrated with this Mac-special-feature you can simply type your LaTeX equation and convert it with some keystrokes to an embedded PDF. You just need to fire up you text editor, e.g. Pages, type in your LaTeX formula, e.g. \Sum_{i=1}^x di press Alt+Shift+Left (to select the formula), and then press Option+\ to invoke the service. More useful hints about scientific writing at the Mac can be found here.
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Old New Apples 

Finally Apple did it. After a long, long, long, endless long wait, new iBooks and Mac minis are out. So what were the first voices at the Heise Newsticker?

"ICH WARTE 2 MONATE, 2 VERDAMMTE MONATE, 2 MONATE IN DENEN MIR DER PC SOWAS VON ZUM HALS RAUSHING, 2 BESCHISSENE SCHEISS MONATE, DAFÜR, DASS ICH AM ENDE 40 EURO - 40 GOTTVERDAMMTE EURO - 80 MARK - MEHR BEZAHLEN DARF. DANKE APPLE!"

This one was from a reader nicknamed atari_vcs. What a holy sh*t! For those of you who prefer English: "I WAITED 2 MONTH, 2 DAMN MONTH, 2 MONTH I'M SICK AND TIRED OF MY PC, TWO SHITTY MONTH, FOR THAT I CAN PAY AT THE END 40 EURO - 40 GODDAMNED EURO - 80 GERMAN MARKS - MORE. THANKS APPLE!".

What made this man (and many others) so annoyed? To understand the deeper feelings we have to dive a bit into the psyche of a typical apple fanatics (or wannabe switchers): Apple is just about a hype-company. Its all about marketing. This guy Steve tells you that they sell the best - the very best and only - computers you can buy for money. Of course the price is almost unimportant after Steve's product promotion hypnosis has washed your brain away. But then you simply want to belong to the hype - become a part of it. Still, however, some people managed to wait a bit after the big show was over (however they did this - likely they had no more creditworthiness), others bought immediately. Both kind of Apple fanatics then have no other things to do then check for hardware updates - hourly. The first one to look out when it is the right time to swap his money to Steve, the second one to see how ugly his Mac will look like when something new arrives.

And - Apple managed - for the first time in IT history (at least for as last as I can remember) - to basically change the default configuration for a seven month old product (the Mac mini), rises the entry price above a psychological border (over 500 Euro, before 499 Euro, at least in Germany) and sells this as a new computer for the next months to come. Besides, the hardware inside the Mac mini was already quite outdated the day it was introduced...

The iBook was updated with a little more care - but why Apple didn't managed to build a wide screen into the 14 inch model - only God - uh I mean - Steve - knows (at least he should know). So while the iBook is still a nice bargain for an entry level laptop (especially the 12 inch one), the Mac mini engineers should be ashamed - at least for this update.

What did I learn from this story? Well, at least my immediately bought Mac mini is still the top-of-the-line computer - now proudly called "Superdrive Mac mini" (but time is ticking):


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Myself 

Please excuse me, I still haven't introduced myself - beside a picture below.

My name is Frank Puhlmann and I live in the beautiful city of Potsdam, Germany. A walk over the street brings me to the Studio Babelsberg, where once famous movies like Fritz Langs Metropolis have been produced. Some minutes longer, and a thereby a walk straight through Berlin, take me to my work, the Hasso-Plattner-Institute.

I'm currently employed in a german research project called PESOA, which tries to integrate things called software product lines and process-orientation. While I'm there I'm also focusing on researching some stuff like dynamic, interoperational workflow by the use of some highly interesting algebra called the pi-calculus. If that's not enough, I also prepare lectures and supervise seminars and practices. You'll certainly read more about that in the future.

As this blog is subtitled "tech, work, life, and all the rest", I'll try to keep this order. However, that doesn't mean it's the order of the world they I personally have. But still, tech is a very important thing in my life. I've been hanging on computer keyboards since I was twelve, luckily starting with a Commodore 64 (Yes, that was that kind of computer where you could dump the memory instead of using a search function). Afterward, I've came a long way about every Windows version that was somehow useable (for me it was 3.1) as well as OS/2, Linux, and a short try out of BeOS. However, this winter I switched to what I think is the coolest Unix on earth - MacOS X. Whenever I tried to use Linux seriously, it started out to be the ultimate "frickelware", where just even my hardware was not directly supported. By the way, not to mention some two, or three year old programs which simple won't run without recompiling them (if that were this easy). Luckily, I've ordered a Mac mini (you remember, BYODKM) as a birthday present for myself, and sometimes after a 12" PowerBook, which I also use at work (BYOL - means Bring Your Own Laptop). Now I'm one of those Mac fanatics, even if they announced the switch to Intel (Thanks again to Hagen). So, this is what this blog will mostly be all about: computers and other tech related stuff; things I've experienced, or researched, as well as some rare reviews on music and movies. If I get my digi-cam ready before something interesting happens, I'll also post it here.
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Orientation Less? 

Today I've tried a nice little feature of my PowerBook: SMS. The Sudden Motion Sensor detects the physical orientation of the device. Originally build into the Book for detecting sudden motions, as when it's abruptly going down, and quickly parking the heads of the hard drive, some guy has figured out other nice uses.

One nice feature is to rotate the windows, so that they are always aligned with the horizon. If that's not enaugh, in combination with "the physical orientation of the PowerBook, the amount of resources consumed by the application, and how much the user is using the application", the orientations of all windows can change in realtime... might be a bit tricky to use that thing.

Beside some app that visualizes the current orientation of the Book in a window, there is also a human interface device driver. The Book's orientation can now be used to move the mouse pointer or simulate key strokes. A quite interesting app to test it with is Neverball. In Neverball you direct a ball by changing the orientation of the underlying floor while collecting coins and at the same time try to keep the ball inside the borders. Also quite tricky, especially as the sensor has a low granularity. Reminds me of playing Moto Cross Madness with my Sidewinder Freestyle Pro (now already good old times).
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