November 4th, 2013
Filed under: General | Huibert @ 11:12 pm

LogoI started exercising about 18 months ago. At the time, I could barely walk for an hour at 5.6km/h. Today, I routinely walk 10km in under 1h20m and I often walk 12, 14 or even 16km per day. While I do not expect to win any medals at the next Olympics, what really strikes me is that back when I was sixteen, it took me about 40 minutes to run 5km (yes, I know, I have never been an athlete). Now, thirty years later, I can walk faster for at least twice that distance. Sure, I am probably bit taller now and also slimmer, but still, it is quite astounding what you can achieve by exercising regularly, no matter your age.

What I have learned is that while it is obvious that exercising is key to improve your fitness, collecting data about your progress is equally important. That is where Withings comes into the picture. I bought their Wi-Fi scale last year and was so pleased by the results that I later bought their new Pulse Activity tracker. I now have access to all my data on my iPhone or on their web site. It is easy to see what works and what doesn’t. For example, I used to believe that playing soccer with my colleagues was equivalent to playing Paddle. It turns out that playing Paddle is much more demanding. I also never imagined how little exercise I did on a normal work day. I now try to never go to bed without having walked at least 10,000 steps. It used to be “No pain, no gain”, today it is more like “No information, no gain”.

Right now I feel better than ever and I do not believe I could have achieved it without proper monitoring. I am sure that competing products from Nike or Fitbit work also very well, but what I like about Withings is that they also have a scale and even a blood pressure monitor that complete the solution. I do not endorse products very often, but I am so pleased with these products, that I really felt I had to.

My predictions for tomorrow

October 21st, 2013
Filed under: Apple, General, iPad, Mac OS X, Macintosh | Huibert @ 8:36 pm

UnknownEarlier today I laid out my expectations for tomorrow’s Apple Event. That said, the prediction game is extremely entertaining and I do not want to miss a great opportunity to play it. So, here we go, these are my predictions:

  • iPhone: As part of the introduction, Apple CEO Tim Cook will try to clarify that the iPhone 5S/5C has been a success and will provide some data to assure everyone that the iPhone 5C is not a failure. There will also be some talk about the quick adoption of iOS 7 and how this compares to the Android world. Apple will announce the availability dates for the new iPhones in additional countries.
  • iPad: For the first time Apple will try to clearly differentiate the iPad mini from the iPad. The iPad will be promoted as a tool for content creators, and that claim will be backed by a powerful processor, the A7, and a smart cover that will include a keyboard. In addition, the iPad will include the same fingerprint reader built in the iPhone 5S for additional security (no multiple accounts for now). That is also why the new iLife and iWork applications will be showed off on the large screen iPad. The iPad mini will be pitched as a tool for content consumption with a Retina Display to enjoy movies, books, magazines and games. Apple will showcase the mini with third party game controllers made for iOS and games updated for iOS 7 that support the new APIs. The new iPads will not be available in multiple colors.
  • iPods: This is no longer a strategic product category for Apple, and as a result I do not expect major changes to their 2013 lineup. That said, I believe that the iPod touch will be updated with an M7 chip, to prepare for the iWatch launch in the first half of 2014 (for more on this read my previous blog entry on this subject).
  • Mac Pro: This is the ultimate machine for video professionals. As a result, Apple will use it to demonstrate new versions of their Pro software tools in addition to OS X Mavericks (which will be launched over the next two weeks). The demo will run on multiple screens, which means updated Thunderbolt Displays that will include two Thunderbolt 2 ports. There is a good chance those displays will support 4K (although there may be two versions of these displays, one with regular resolution, the other with 4K). The Mac Pro will be a very expensive computer, with a low entry point below US$3,000 but with customization options that will bring that price easily around or above 10K. In order to sweeten the deal for their target audience (and to fight agains Adobe and Avid) Apple will offer bundles that include single user licences of their Pro software, preinstalled. An upgraded Mac mini will be quickly mentioned with 802.11ac, an updated Haswell processor and maybe (this is a long shot) Thunderbolt 2.
  • Mac Books: Apple will release updated Mac Books (including the Pro models) with 802.11ac and Haswell processors. The main selling point will be a significantly longer battery life. Retina screens may come to all models (this is also a long shot).
  • Apple TV/iWatch: There will be no new product announcements this year, but we may see a price drop on the current Apple TV in order to better compete during the holiday shopping season. We will have to wait for another three to six months.

And that is it. There will not be a new product category this year, but it will still leave Apple with a solid product lineup for Christmas that should allow them to have a successful quarter.

What do you think?

Update: I was definitively wrong about iPad differentiation. Choosing an iPad is harder than ever. Apple covered all the price points but did not explain why people should choose one model over another depending on their needs. I think this is a mistake, most people need to be guided and confusion can be a sales inhibitor. The iPod touch wasn’t updated either.

Apple’s October 22nd event

October 21st, 2013
Filed under: Apple, General, iPhone, iPod, Mac OS X | Huibert @ 9:52 am

Oct 22 2013 invite 2703661bNext Tuesday Apple will unveil a lot of goodies. It is widely expected that the Cupertino based company will unveil new iPads (probably with some new cover), updated MacBook Pros and a totally overhauled Mac Pro, as well as many software updates to both its consumer and professional software offerings. That should be more than enough to justify a lot of excitement among the Apple faithful.

That said, there are still many unanswered questions. Take me for example, I am looking to replace my first generation unibody iMac and would also want to buy a second monitor that I could use both as a second screen for the new computer and as the main screen for my Mac Book Pro when I need to do some work at home. The issue I have right now is that the 27” iMac does not align with the 27” Apple Thunderbolt Monitor. This is a big mistake that is preventing many iMac owners from buying a second monitor. Apple has to know about this issue, since there are complaints on its forums, and will most probably fix it at some point, hopefully on Tuesday.

Right now there is little chat about an update to the Apple Thunderbolt Display, but there are reasons to hope for an updated model. The first reason is that with the release a new Mac Pro with Thunderbolt 2, Apple needs to either update their Displays to support it or release some kind of Thunderbolt 2 dock. My money is on the first option. The second reason is that the current design of the Thunderbolt Display is reminiscent of the previous generation iMacs and that a slimmer design is long overdue. If Apple updates their monitors and they align nicely with the new iMacs, my problem is solved.

On the other hand, if Apple upgrades the Thunderbolt Display but does not fix the alignment issue, the solution is to buy two monitors and a Mac mini (or a Mac Pro, but that will likely fall out of my budget range). That is more slightly more expensive and I will get less bang for my bucks, unless the Mac mini is also updated on Tuesday (hopefully with Thunderbolt 2, a new Haswell processor and 802.11ac wireless networking, which would be nice. This is a possibility, but we don’t know for sure if this will happen, since no rumors point in that direction (although it would be logical to expect an update to the mini at this point).

Of course, there are other possibilities. Apple could choose to release new (expensive) 4K monitors for the Mac Pro and not update their current products. That would be great for pros, but would leave me wondering if I should invest my money in products that haven’t been updated in quite a while.

The fact is that even though we already know many details of what will be announced on Tuesday, for Mac users there still are many unanswered questions that will keep us excited. We may well be riding a truck in a car age, but what can I say, I still love my truck.

Update: It seems that i was overly optimistic. No new Mac mini and no new monitors. Who knows, there may be new monitors in store when Apple releases the Mac Pro in December. I will wait patiently…

We have the facts. Are we reaching the logical conclusions?

September 12th, 2013
Filed under: General | Huibert @ 1:18 am

20130910 134447 XL 540x303When I attended WWDC in 2006, Apple introduced Core Animation. It was a great technology for OS X that allowed to easily create dynamic interfaces. Everyone was wowed by the demos, but nobody was really sure how they could use the technology in their applications. Why? Because the technology had not been developed with the Mac in mind. That became painfully clear in January when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone at MacWorld. To this day I blame myself for not understanding what was happening. We had all the facts, we knew that Apple was working on a phone, we knew they were interested in touch technologies and we had seen Core Animation. Yet nobody, including myself, did make the connection.

When Apple introduced the iPhone 5S and its new M7 chip, I remembered what happened in 2006. Something did not sound right. So Apple is adding a new chip to its flagship phone just to allow Nike to develop a new app? Granted, this chip could be used  by other companies to develop innovative apps, but I think there is more to it.

Samsung just released a smart watch that is plagued by problems. The most obvious issue is the very limited battery life of the device. That is mainly due to the fact that the watch is a (slow) computer in its own right and that it includes a camera and sensors. The other problem is price, US$300 is quite expensive for a phone accessory. How can a company produce a cheaper, more powerful watch with better battery life? Simply by offloading most of its work to the phone. Could the M7 chip be the sign that Apple is moving closer to releasing a watch based on this design principle?

Most analysts seem to believe that Apple will release a smart watch in the first half of 2014. Nobody expects Apple to release a new iPhone until the second half of the year. That means that if Apple’s rumored smart watch relies on some kind of dedicated hardware it has to be included in the current generation of iPhones. I think that the M7 chip is that dedicated hardware.

I understand that my reasoning could be wishful thinking. I may still be obsessed by my failure to understand why Apple had developed Core Animation. Yes, maybe. On the other hand, the more I think about this, the more sense it makes to me. What do you think?

WWDC 2013

June 9th, 2013
Filed under: Apple, General, iPhone, iPod, Mac OS X | Huibert @ 1:53 pm

Wwdc13This year, for a third year in a row, I unfortunately won’t be able to attend WWDC. I certainly hope to be back next year though, as I really miss the excitement and the creative energy that you can feel during the week long event. When you are used to attend large customer events organized by corporations like Oracle, IBM or MS, a smaller event like WWDC, filled with passionate developers from all over the world, is a breeze of fresh air.

As a developer, I have a limited set of requests for Apple. First on the list is fixing iCloud. I have no doubts they fill finally get their act together and solve the issue. Second, I would love them to release a new charting API, both for OS X and iOS. Having a standard API everyone could use would certainly be great news for developers. Drawing charts is not difficult, but starting from scratch every time an app requires a nice looking chart is really a pain. Finally, I would like to have an improved JavaScript-Objective-C bridge that would make it simpler to script Cocoa apps, without having to use a WebView. The state of the union keynote tomorrow afternoon should give us a good idea of what Apple is planning for the future and it is in many ways much more interesting than what will be discussed during the morning address. I am really looking forward returning from work and listen to it while working out on the treadmill.

As a user, I have much higher expectations, though and I can imagine that this will be the case for most of the people who will listen to the keynote tomorrow. There will most likely be some hardware announcements, but given the fact that there have been no serious leaks from Apple’s supply chain, I wouldn’t set my expectations too high.That means no new iPhones, iPads or even iWatch tomorrow. There may be some upgrades to the laptop models, with faster wireless networking and new CPUs, but nothing really ground breaking. The lack of news seem to indicate that the announcements will come primarily from work performed at Apple’s HC in Cupertino, under a shadow of secrecy. That means new system software (we already know about iOS 7 and OS X 10.9) and new services (iRadio, which has now be rumored for months). While I do believe that much time will be devoted to iOS 7 (and a little less to OS X), I think most of the surprises will come from the services side. Apple has spent billions over the last few years on their data centers and we still don’t know exactly what they plan to do with them. While they serve billions of apps, movies, songs, notifications and iMessages every day, in addition to syncing devices and provide remote backups, there is a perception in the industry that the cloud services capacity they have been building is well above what they are delivering right now. As a result, I expect Apple to emerge tomorrow as a new Cloud powerhouse. What does that mean? Well, I am not sure, but I am convinced that they will announce an expanded and improved set of services as well as outline a vision for the future that will be both compelling and credible. Allow users to edit iWork documents in their browsers and offer improved collaboration options? Maybe. Share video on-line? Most probably. Improve syncing? Absolutely. A completely new service? I think we should count on it.

Tomorrow will be an important day for Apple. These announcements should allow them to further differentiate from the competition, making hardware even less important than it is today, while putting emphasis on the ecosystem. Users may be slightly disappointed in the short term, as many of the announcements will not be available immediately, but will benefit immensely as soon as the new OSes are released, in the Fall.

Mad at Oracle

January 15th, 2013
Filed under: Java | Huibert @ 1:41 pm

ImagesYesterday Oracle updated their Java JRE to fix yet another zero-day exploit. It seems that lately Java has become the new Flash, with new exploits being found on a daily or weekly basis. It really looks like they are dropping the ball on the security aspect of Java. This is specially upsetting since the whole idea of Java was built on security from day one, yet since Oracle acquired SUN it is obvious that the situation, far from improving, has gone downhill ever since.

It is true that Java has become a monster. I recall the early days were all you could do was perform simple animations on a browser, but there was no standard way to connect to a database. Those days are long gone, and now there are zillions of APIs to do almost anything you can dream of in Java. That is a strength of the platform, but also a weakness, as it is becoming harder and harder to spot bugs. I do understand, and it may be time to remove some APIs from the platform, but it doesn’t have to be like that. There are alternatives to the Oracle JRE and not all are affected by this bug. For example, IBM’s JRE does not have this bug. That is because IBM spends money to harden the security of its own product. It can therefore be done, it is just a matter o spending additional time and money on quality testing. My issue is not that there are no better options available, it is that Oracle’s failure to secure Java is casting a long shadow on the future of the platform, and all of us who have invested in it.

I think it is time for Oracle to clean their act. They have always to solve their problems through heavy marketing spending? Remember when they advertised their database as being Unbreakable? That, obviously wasn’t true. Their product wasn’t sub-par, but it hardly was above the pack, specially if you compare it to DB2 on the mainframe. The same can be said for their applications, which require regular fixes, which address serious security issues. Marketing, allowed them to enjoy a reputation they didn’t deserve. Now they have to deal with reality. I think this is something new for them. The only way out is to invest in their product and solve the issues. In other words, more engineering and less marketing. Otherwise, Java will go the way of the Dodo.

Disclaimer, I have always worked at companies that have competed with Oracle. However, this is personal, these problems do affect me and my career directly, as well as hundreds of thousands of fellow Java developers.

How I got my baby back

January 3rd, 2013
Filed under: Apple, General, iPhone, iPod | Huibert @ 2:03 pm

Find my iPhoneLast Friday I flew from Mexico City to Madrid to spend the New Year Celebration with my parents. I had loaded my iPad with plenty of games and videos to keep me busy during the 10 hours flight. Unfortunately, the plane couldn’t land at Barajas airport because of bad weather and we were rerouted to Valencia. Therefore, with no power left on my iPad, I had to switch devices and start using my iPhone to keep me entertained until we finally made it to Madrid, four hours late. It was a great opportunity to play Karateka, a great game that I first enjoyed on my Apple II as a teenager. The landing was rough and everything I had laying on the seat next to mine fell to the floor. I picked up my iPad as well as my headphones, but failed to realize that my iPhone had also fallen to the floor.

I left the plane, and moved to immigration. When I was searching for my passport, I realized I had left my iPhone on the plane. Since I wasn’t allowed to get back to the plane, I immediately moved to the Aeromexico counter. I explained the situation and they notified the airplane crew. After a few minutes they told me that they hadn’t found the phone, but that the cleaning crew would return it to me if they found it. As soon as I got home, I used Find my iPhone to lock it remotely and get a notification as soon as it was found.

The next day, Aeromexico informed me that the phone had not been found and that the plane had returned to Mexico.

The phone was in airplane mode when I lost it, which meant Find my iPhone would not work until that mode was switched off and after a day, the phone had likely run out of power. I kept checking Find my iPhone twice a day, but the phone kept appearing as turned off. My hopes of recovering my iPhone were quickly fading.

On Tuesday, four days after losing my phone, I was working on my MacBook Pro, while watching a movie on my iPad mini. Suddently, the following alert appeared on both devices.


As you can see, Messages was asking me if I wanted to add a new phone number to my iChat identity. I had the phone number of the person who had found my phone! Not only did I have his phone number, I had his full name (probably obtained from the SIM he inserted). I immediately used Find my iPhone on my iPad to try to obtain the location of this person, but the phone had already been turned off. I tried to call him, but nobody answered the phone.

At that point, I didn’t know if the person who was in possession of my iPhone was a passenger, a member of the crew or an employee of some company in charge of cleaning the plane, but I decided to go back to the airport and present the information I had collected. From there on, the events unfolded very quickly. The Aeromexico person that listened to my story knew the person who had my phone. He was a contractor working for the cleaning company. The manager said he would take care. The next day, they sent me my iPhone home. The only thing missing was my micro-SIM, which I assume was thrown away. I am very pleased with the way Aeromexico handled the situation.

I think this is an interesting story because I was able to recover my phone without using Find my iPhone. I fact, I never got an e-mail notification that my iPhone had been located from the iCloud service, nor was my phone locked remotely, probably because the person who “recovered” my phone removed its SIM. However, Messages notified me as soon as a new SIM was inserted. In this case, Messages clearly saved the day.

Pittsburgh’s smarter city challenge

October 25th, 2012
Filed under: General, IBM | Huibert @ 10:09 am

PittsburghThe Smarter Cities Challenge is a competitive grant program awarding $50 million worth of technology and services over 3 years to 100 cities around the globe. These grants are designed to address the wide range of financial and infrastructure challenges facing cities today. It is an opportunity for cities around the world to get free expert consulting. For more information on the IBM Challenge you can visit the IBM website

Last year, Pittsburgh, PA applied for such a grant to get ideas on how to solve their traffic congestion problems. After a thorough selection process, they were chosen to become one of 32 cities that would receive free consulting from IBM experts in 2012.

IBM built a team of six executives from around the world (India, Sweden, Mexico and the US) to work on the problem. I was chosen to be part of the team because of the work I had been doing on an internal white paper on traffic as well as my software experience as a senior certified executive IT architect, but each member brought a different skill set to the team. Most of us had never been to Pittsburgh before, and that was a conscious decision, as the program leadership wanted us to take a look at the situation with fresh eyes.

We spent the first ten days of our assignment performing over sixty interviews to a wide array of stakeholders. As expected, they all had their particular point of view on the challenges facing the city, even though several popular themes quickly emerged. During this period we didn’t have many opportunities to visit Pittsburgh, as most of our work was performed at the city Town Hall, located just a couple of blocks from our hotel. However, after we completed the interviews, we had the opportunity to tour the city and visit several boroughs, including East Liberty, Oakland, Shady Side, South Hills and South Side. This allowed us to better understand the complaints we had heard, as well as evaluate the proposals that had been made. By the way, if you have never been to Pittsburgh, you should. The city is really nice and deserves to rank higher as a tourist destination. Each borough has it’s own style and character. I am not surprised Pittsburgh was named the most livable city in the U.S., as it seems a great place to live, work and raise kids.

After completing our analysis, we spent the last days (and nights) of our stay working on our report. On our last day we presented a preview of our findings at a meeting hosted by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl at Carnegie Mellon University.

Producing a report in just three weeks, about a city we didn’t know was a real challenge. Despite all the hard work, and our experience, there are many topics we didn’t have the opportunity to dive deeply into. The city, the Allegheny Port Authority, the county and the state, to name just a few of the stakeholders, already have many experts who understand very well the issues at hand. The problem, as always with large organizations, is to get everyone to work together and to share information. I sincerely hope that our final report, to be published shortly, will help them reach that goal. Since everyone we met was so willing to help improve the city and work has already started on some of our recommendations, I am confident they are on the right track.

Update 1: The event was covered by the local press: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Trib LIVE

It’s finally over

October 23rd, 2012
Filed under: General | Huibert @ 8:09 pm

Graduation pictureAbout two years ago, on a Friday evening, one of the managers in my team asked me about the possibility to pursue an MBA. This is something that IBM will usually pay for their top talent employees, so I went to HR to ask about the deadline to submit requests. It turned out that the deadline was that very same day and that they had forgotten to notify me. My HR partner sent me a form, which I forwarded to the employee who had asked for it. Since I couldn’t leave the office because I had to wait for him to complete the form, I took a look at the different options that were available. The Executive MBA program at IPADE, which ranked among the best in LA, seemed interesting because it focused on people management, which is a set of important skills techies like myself usually don’t develop naturally . So, without spending too much time thinking about it, I decided to also submit my application.

A couple of days later, IBM’s local education board approved my application and the very next day I had an interview with the head of the program, as the selection process was already well under way. One day later, I passed the admission exam. Now that I think about it, since I had never attended a private school (public schools in Europe were very good back when I studied there), I honestly thought this was just a minor requirement and that anyone willing to pay the ridiculous tuition costs, would be automatically accepted. So, I wasn’t really surprised when I got my acceptance letter. I later learned that 9 in 10 candidates were turned down. That is when I realized that I had been extremely fortunate to be accepted and that I had to take this endeavor extremely seriously.

The fact is that this MBA program didn’t really seem that hard to me, but you certainly need to commit to it. You need to spend many hours a week reading and preparing cases. The school warns you, but I think that it is fair to say that nobody I spoke to realized the level of personal investment required to complete the degree, including my wife.

The Executive MBA program (MEDEX) was, in many ways, a refresher of my undergraduate degree in Economics. I feel that students who had law or engineering degrees had a much harder time than I did. For them, learning basic Economics and Accounting in a short amount of time was a real challenge. There were however, many new things I learned during these two years, and I must say that I really enjoyed most of the sessions.

One thing that the school should have told me is that in order to get my degree I had to present a recent birth certificate, proof that I had completed high-school as well as all my university credits. When I enrolled, they assured me  that my university diploma was enough and that turned out not to be true. Well, getting all those documents in time  for graduation is easier said than done when you were born in the Netherlands, completed high-school in France and got your undergrad degree in Spain, but looking at the bright side, it justified a nice European vacation.

If I had known about all the papers I needed, how hard it was to be accepted, and the amount of work required on top of an already demanding day job, I probably wouldn’t have considered enrolling. This shows once again that important decisions don’t always require much data. Now that it is over, I can say that I am extremely happy I completed the program. I learned a lot and made many new friends. I don’t expect this diploma to be a career changer, that was never my goal, but it certainly was a worthy experience.

So, you now all know why my blog went dark for the last two years. The good news is that I’m back now and that I should have time to update my site regularly.

MBA tuition, US$50,000. Wearing a ridiculous hat on graduation day, priceless…

Apple’s market cap surpasses IBM’s

September 16th, 2009
Filed under: Apple, IBM | Huibert @ 3:28 pm

Apple logoAlthough the markets haven’t closed yet, Right now Apple’s market cap stands at 156.9 billion, 400 million more than IBM’s. This is simply remarkable. After years of being the underdog, the Cupertino based company has left most of its current and past competitors in the dust. Dell, HP and now IBM have all been unable to keep up with the explosive growth of Apple since Steve Jobs returned to Apple.

If someone had told me back in the 90s, when converting someone to the Mac was nearly impossible, that Apple would be able to stage such a comeback, I simply wouldn’t have believed it. Even I who have been a loyal Apple customer since the early 80’s came extremely close to throwing the towel in the late nineties. Then came Steve Jobs, the iMac and the iPod and the rest is history. I am really happy to see a company that has always believed in innovation succeed in the market. Jason Calacanis summed it up very well in a recent TWIT episode saying that if you want to be rich you look up to Bill Gates, if you want to be great you look up to Steve Jobs.

However, market valuations do not always reflect the true health of a company. Apple’s revenue depends on the sales of a very small set of products and therefore is extremely vulnerable to sudden market changes. Companies like IBM which offer a wide selection of software, services and hardware can better adapt, and that is why they have been able to survive for so many decades. For Apple to continue growing they need to offer a wider range of products. They know it and that is why they are investing in a new datacenter in NC and why they will probably launch pretty soon their rumored tablet computer. When Steve Jobs said “See you soon” at the recent iPod media event, he probably meant it.