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All posts for the month March, 2012

Okay,

Quickly: This month has been a “lurning [sic] experience.” I am juggling multiple projects which are all related only by the fact that they’re simply making me a better designer. New tricks are being learned, etc. Sites are going up and being moved, and I’ll be updating everything and essentially leveraging what I learn in one place and using it in another.

I finally figured out I needed to buy more RAM for my laptop: sometimes there is less than 16MB of free RAM and over 700K page-outs in a few days of heavy use. The thing would slow to glacial pace during heavy loads. It’s really been holding me back. Who knew 4GB wasn’t enough!?!? So, I broke down and ordered a few more gigs. Luckily, installing is a piece of cake on my MBP. I was in and out of a friend’s machine in less than 15 minutes without cutting any safety corners. I also need to get another HD and replace the optical drive. OR I can just breakdown and backup over WiFi and offload some files. But I like the idea of having everything with me.

Another, non-web, but information related project is advancing slowly, but it is way too soon to even talk about. I am still researching to decide the best approach. Some of my closest friends know about it, and I think about it all the time. It is currently possible: all the building blocks are there, but no one has put them together yet. I should probably stop spouting off about it to people who work for huge computer companies though. But for all I know someone has already patented it? I dunno, I heard if you research a patent it is worse if you get sued. :

Anyway, my plan is to release it under a non-commercial open licensing scheme, so that pizza fueled one man ops can use it freely, and large corps that can pay may license it. But as I said, someone might have already patented the pieces, but I think this would probably fall under derivative works. I’m not sure because I am not a patent lawyer. It sucks that I have to keep the cards close to my vest because copyright: originally designed to encourage innovation, is now a club that large corporations use on each other daily. Recently I read about a patent lawsuit about emoticons in a pull down menu on Ars, It seems silly to anyone, but that’s how whacked patent law is. The funny thing is, within my circle of friends I probably have all the people I would need to start developing this thing in earnest, but first I’ll go in sideways with build-up projects.

A big thanks to those people with everything from bachelors to PhD degrees in CS and related fields that I have the greatest conversations with. I learn something new every time I get a chance to pick one of these people’s brains.

Apologies about any incorrect punctuation marks or typos. I’m typing this on the fly before heading off somewhere. Cheers!

Every time I hear about a new Used electronics seller offering to buy my old electronics, I check them out and usually find their prices are not very good. I knew the parts alone for my old iPhone were worth more than the pittance they offered over a year ago. The screen alone is worth about $50, and they offered less than that for the entire device with everything but the shrink-wrap. Instead of selling it, I offered it up on Craigslist. It didn’t sell, despite its great condition. So, I held on to it.

About 9 months later my girlfriend’s Blackberry Storm—which was buggy and unusable as a smartphone as hell for the 3 months she had it—decided to take a swim by falling out of her pocket in the restroom after a movie we went to on her birthday. After her friend’s quick thinking, we managed to “save” it using a combination of rice, a blowdryer and the Bernoulli principle. (Though it took an argument where a guy that works with lasers, asserted that because of his laser expertise there was no way someone could use a hairdryer effectively—basically calling me a liar—for me to realize that was why I was taught to aim the air stream over the surface of the submerged device.) Anyway, in the 3 days we let the device dry out in rice after the Blackberry’s styling, I lent her my old iPhone.

She initially purchased the Blackberry Storm because it had a keyboard and she said she always seemed to have problems getting touch screens to recognize her touches. I jokingly told her that’s because you need a soul for the capacitance to be disrupted on the screen. That and most touch screens she tried were probably the old resistive type that mis-registers frequently.

After using the iPhone for a few weeks, and finding the Storm’s touchscreen less responsive (there was a pinhead sized water bubble that managed to survive the 3 day dry off on the screen), she stayed with the iPhone, despite its slower Edge (2.5G) performance. We dubbed the Blackberry Storm “The Toilet Phone”—fitting because it always crashed during web browser usage, even after applying several updates. Though my own codename for it is “Crapberry.” It crashed so often, she gave up trying to use the web browser almost completely eliminating the whole point of a smartphone. At least the slow and pokey Edge network eventually might load if you stood still and sacrificed a few bits and time to the radio frequency gods that control Edge’s band frequencies.

Then the phone finally, after a good 3 years of heavy service, it died a noble death—or so we thought. She called me from her work’s landline, to tell me the touchscreen started glitching out, its home button became non-responsive and then would no longer power up. Because she was very dependent on having a working phone for work, I lent her my iPhone 4 that night and temporarily had all calls forward to it. The next day (December 31), we walking into an AT&T store and devised a plan that got her a new 4S and consolidated phone plans. She was going to just get a 3GS, but I told her friends don’t let friends buy soon-to-be-obsolete (unsupported) tech. I paid for the price differential, and told her to consider it a New Year’s or a Hanukah super 7 day “we don’t need no stink in’ new socks” gift. “Hell, toss in Winter solstice, Kwanza and Flying Spaghetti Monster day while we’re at it,” I told her. A few days after New Year’s, the old iPhone booted up just fine and wanted to know where its sim card was. We hadn’t the heart to tell it it had been retired. Not bad for a 4.5 year old phone.

The point? Well, I have found I get more “value” out of old electronics by handing them down and keeping them as backups. Something has to keel over before I toss it. and even then I might keep it for parts. I hand down my laptops, amps and other devices to my relatives that could use them. Currently, I am trying to find a way to afford a new MBP with a processor that I can’t peg for an hours at a CPU 12.x load (yes, I know I need more RAM). I wasn’t planning on upgrading this year, but my girlfriend’s HP netbook is a flaming pile of slow, buggy and intrusive crap that I keep offering to overhaul. She practically broke out into loud obscenities at the library a few days back when she thought it crashed. It eventually force quit a program, and she lost a few paragraphs of a missive she was working on. Meanwhile, I sat across from her and stared at my CPU’s load hoping it could finish the large audio processing job I gave it before the meter ran out and we had to move the car to avoid a parking ticket.

Incidentally, library WiFi kicks much ass in my experience. At my local library, I had a 1MB/s upload speed and a 200KB/s download speed. Weird, but whatever. I am going there anytime I need to upload a few dozen gigs from now on. Screw fighting for low latency to play an OLRPG at Starbuck’s! “Damn YouTube Hipsters! Soaking up all the bandwidth!” is the new “Hey you kids, get off my digital lawn!” war cry for me. Now If you’ll excuse me I think I see a high gain antenna sticking out of a car crawling by my place… “Slackers!” {ref: Back to the Future 2} It’s not easy living in the future and commuting to the past. ;) Until next rant, may all your bits be in parity.

Apple has really turned the corner in the last 6 months. They finally settled a court case to replace the defective design of the first generation mag-safe adapters.
When one I had was intermittently failing, I took it in (after being forced to make an appointment and wait a week) and was told that because it was currently working, I could not get it replaced, despite the fact that the court case settlement was to do just that.
Next, I tried to find information in their online pages, including their knowledge base and about a particular issue. When all documents lead to a less than helpful landing page, I was seriously discouraged.
Then, my 2 year old MacBook Pro lost a little plastic foot, and I can see the hard drive beneath it. I called Apple requesting a replacement be sent. Even though I have AppleCare the help desk person on the other side didn’t care about the problem and refused to send me a foot. I told him I could install it myself, and it was a 50 cent part at most and to send the laptop in for service was a huge waste of time and money. When I asked to speak to a supervisor, he refused to patch me through. The call ended with him hanging up on me. I haven’t called back, and oddly the usual email that Apple sends out asking how my support experience was, never came.
Now, I found a glitch in iOS that caches passwords even after a person logs out of the iTMS apps section on an iOS device. I tried to report it, and I didn’t hear back for a few days. My only recourse was to pull all my account info. I do not think I will be reentering it. When support finally did get back to me I took the time to explain what happened. The response I got was something other computer companies are infamous for doing: it was a cut and paste set of links to very basic knowledge base articles that did not address my problem. I wrote back and the support rep then copy and pasted the exact same basic “newbie” article into the email. When I wrote back and told “Trina” (no last name to protect horrid service) that none of this addressed the problem, I got another canned response. I didn’t realize Apple was hiring illiterate email support people. Either that or Siri is now handling email parsing: this would explain the lack of human responses and concern.
I have been an Apple Customer for about 25 years, and this is worse than when I had to strong-arm Apple into replacing my friend’s faulty 7200 logic board, that was among a series of defective boards.
Sadly their software is probably the most efficient for getting things done in a GUI environment, and the integration of things like Tapbot’s Pastebot, their own Airplay, and tons of donation-ware—including set and forget backup apps that are better than commercial Windows small network backup apps. Let’s not even mention the apps in my recommended list. I depend on these apps many times a day.
I am not tied into he ecosystem because I ripped virtually all my own media from hard copies. Also, after working with Windows, Linux and Macs for years at various companies, I have no doubt I could fix any problems. But the thing is, I know the added hassle that come with the other 2 platforms. So, I could leave, but where would I go?
If HP hadn’t completely bungled WebOS it might be a potential replacement. Linux is too much of a patchwork OS as is its mobile equivalent: Android. Every year the companies that make Android phones promise to update current models to the new OS when they are released, and many times the companies retract that after the models are discontinued. So, that is out as well, considering timely updates are a crapshoot. I feel I would have better odds breaking even in Vegas.
Windows 8? Not a chance. I know how horrid the underpinnings of the OS are. The second to have to do anything a tech would do the settings to do it are still buried, and some only easily accessible via a command prompt. Also, despite what novices and the unexperienced think, without purchasing subscription software to manage and protect he machine, it would be only a matter of time before I either lost or had data stolen.
Also, the interface to Windows 8 is a joke. Really? Tiles with seemingly arbitrary colors with small thin text in them that updates. I can do the same thing by tiling 8 console windows, changing the background color and tailing the logs of 8 programs. But to make is as unreadable as Windows 8’s tiles, I would have to chose the lightest version of a font with an awkward x-height.
I would probably also have to do what my old roommate did: wipe the HD every 6 months to keep the Windows stable and speedy with the number of programs that I have to test. Unless I missed the memo, Microsoft still relies on a monolithic single point of failure file that is written to all the time and is in control of the entire system.
About testing: I can test Mac, Linux and Windows apps on one machine. This is not the case for either Linux nor Windows boxes (which are identical).
So, I’ll have to wait until a better OS comes out (doubtful, considering all the OSes are getting facelifts to look thrice as stupid as their predecessors, and 9 times less efficient.) It is no wonder browser based OSes are gaining mindshare: all the big OS’s UIs are being driven by Toonces and browsers are great for inefficient local computing paradigms.

UPDATE: Looks like others are cluing in on this as well: Bad Apple
Also, on the 19th, I spoke to a DSL field technician that makes anywhere from 5-10 house calls a day and he commented that people are starting to notice Apple is turning into Microsoft. Sad.

The third generation iPad was unveiled today, and being the semi-anonymous person I am, I did not get an invite. So I did the next best thing: I followed the event on Ars Technica. I was going to follow on other outlets as well but their coverage was spotty.

Aside from the conspicuous absence of a number, most of the specs of the new mobile computer have been tweeted and blogged like crazy. So by now, you know the third iPad’s specs, 9–10 hour battery life, a Retina display, A5X dual-core CPU and quad-core graphics, 5MP camera with 1080HD video, AirPlay video streaming to Apple TV (3rd generation) at up to 1080p, and—most important to investors and pundits—4G LTE. Oh, and what no one mentioned: BlueTooth 4.0 whose inclusion is probably more important than faster internet over the communications carriers networks. But let’s look at what it doesn’t have? Thunderbolt, any new interfaces such as an SDXC slot, and a lack any new accessibility features for my friends that do not have full mobility. As some of you know, I have been trying for months to find supported devices for non-physical for Siri activation.

But does the lack of any of these things matter? Not to most people, and certainly not to investors. Immediately after the event, the Apple Store was mostly unreachable for at least an hour unless you got lucky. Most people I talked to that pre-ordered one after the event had to try at least 4 times before being able to place their order. I have a few people asking me about it as well. The question is not “Should I get one?” but “which model should I get?” Before diving into that, let’s look at what was said try to use that to forecast Apple’s future a bit.

Apple will probably continue the trend of taking last year’s iOS models and discounting the price on the base model and offering that for budget customers from now on as with the 3GS and iPhone 4. That will address their lack of product offerings and price complaints that many pundits use to ding Apple. Apple still thinks 16GB is a good entry point, unfortunately. Interconnectivity is now embedded in their DNA: all the new features emphasize wireless sharing between your other iOS devices, Macs or PCs. Apple realizes that they have to synchronize their iOS and OS X offerings by migrating applications and features between the two, but still change the UI to match the use context paradigm. Finally, Apple is not about to rest on its laurels. Android is racing to catch up, and Windows 8 is just around the corner. It will use the same strategy that revived the Mac business: build on standards, continue to vertically integrate an expanded their lineup of interconnected devices, innovate and not compromise quality for the sake of market share. Also, most importantly, not be afraid to cannibalize their own market share. So, that should put to rest the constant low-price Mac or iPhone rumors. Next year’s low cost iOS device is last year’s ground breaking device. Remember that if you can’t afford this year’s hot iOS offering and can wait a year.

If you cannot wait, read on. To decide what model to get, you can do what I do: take your current needs, add 20%-30% head room for 3+ years growth and go from there. To assess your current needs, take your most demanding use of your computers: audio/video creation, large movie or audio libraries, etc. and figure out how much storage you use and how fast it is growing. Unfortunately, my laptop drive is packed with full bit-rate audio ripped from my CD collection, so it made more sense to join iTunes Match than to buy a 64GB model. (For the $100 difference* I can pay for 4 years of iTunes match and have all my ~140GB of music in reach.) However, since I discovered AppAdvice.coms AppsGoneFree, my application footprint on my iPhone has gone from 2–3GBs to just over 10GB in about 6 months. So, it looks like the 32GB model will be my buy-in point. However if it wasn’t for the apps,  there are now WiFi friendly portable Hard drives that can add additional video or audio storage as long as you have a WiFi connection. (Coincidentally, the WiFi Drive nullifies the need for any storage expansion slots.)

Speaking of networking, let’s look at 4G LTE and AT&T vs. Verizon. I am not a cheapskate (or else I would probably only be using the triple-boot PC I built myself 5 years ago), but I am frugal. I realize that if I buy into a carrier by chosing either the Verizon or the AT&T model, they have the leverage and can hike prices leaving me with no recourse. So I will forego the 4G LTE models entirely, get the WiFi only model and then purchase a hotspot so I can use all my iDevices and my laptop anywhere there is coverage. T-Mobile offers a no contract month-to-month 5GB/$50 hotspot plan, but I have not checked how their coverage is in my region nor their data rate and latency. But that’s what suits me.

If you want simplicity, have a small media collection and will probably not download a ton of apps—even if they are free—then you might be better served with a less expensive model. If you are just using your computer for email, web browsing, music and video streaming at home and have no interest in content creation, faster 3D games, full 1080p streaming to your TV via a third generation AppleTV, or a higher resolution display, then an iPad2 might suit you until you discover other uses. $400 for an entry-level—yet still snappy—iPad2 is fine. It’s still a good machine.

Also, I realize I am biased when it comes to iOS/OS X. I have been using Macs since the 128K Macintosh. My loyalty is not to Apple, but the most reliable and time-efficient platform. In every company I have worked for I noticed the Windows machines required around thrice the support resources, no matter how responsive and proactive the IT department. If you are a true gearhead like some of my friends, want to be able to hack freely and can solve technical glitches yourself, then stick with Android and Linux. I hear that the new Android 4.0 ICS is pretty good. But if you want to save money in the long run, the upfront costs are the least of your considerations. That’s why I recommend iPads to first time tablet buyers.

RAM Speed Calculation

I see a lot of confusion about this subject so here is a quick guide for finding out what sort of RAM your computer takes. Let’s say you are out at a store, and see what looks like a great deal on some more RAM for your computer, but you don’t know what type to get. To find out what memory “PC#-XXXX{X}” your computer needs but you don’t have a manual handy, do the following:

If you know your data rate (1066 or more commonly 1333 these days) multiply it by 8 and round to the nearest hundred (but most manufacturers round down) and you can figure out what goes in the XXXX{X}. A data rate of 1333 * 8 = 10664 or “10600,” the “#” is for the data rate type. So  PC3-10600 (SO-204pin) is what 2011 MacBook Pros take. It is DDR3  1333 Memory.

My MacBook Pro (2009: 5,5) takes DDR3 – 1066. Using a quick bit o’ Math, that translates to PC3-8500

Macs Are Easy

If you happen to have your computer handy and you are on a Mac, you can also open the System Information Application located in

Applications/Utility/System Information (System Profiler in previous OS X releases)>Memory

or

Apple Menu>About This Mac>More Info…>Memory and it will tell you what type of DRAM it takes and how many slots are full.

Where to Buy

Among my favorite Mac hardware resources is Other World Computing because their prices are competitive and they stand behind their products. I had purchased RAM from OWC that ended up being defective. I did not find this out until my new installation of Leopard started crashing under heavy memory loads. (they change how OS X uses memory to use more of it if available, and when I upgraded the memory that was usually not used in 10.4, was activated in 10.5 to speed the system up.) But this discovery took place over a year after I purchased the memory from them. I was hoping “lifetime guaranty” meant what it suggested—a hassle free exchange. It took one phone call, my invoice number and about 10 minutes for them to cross ship a replacement set out to me. It was truly hassle free. Since then they are my first consideration when buying new memory. So, if their prices are within $10–15 of competitors, I go with them.