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Software engineer, business owner, husband, runner and member of my pack of four-legged girls.

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February 28, 2011

New iPads Imminent

From 9to5Mac:
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but Apple has stopped production of the original iPads and cut of supplies to the channel. We are getting reports that global retailers are no longer able to get their hands on iPads. We’ve been told that this indicates Apple have halted production of 1st gen iPads and ceased shipments.
As it was with the MacBook Pro, so it is with the iPad. Apple is holding an iPad-centric press conference Wednesday, March 2, which dovetails nicely with this news.

Charlie Sheen Loses Mind on Today

From MSNBC:
In an interview with NBC’s Jeff Rossen that aired on TODAY Monday morning, Charlie Sheen, the combative star of long-running hit “Two and a Half Men,” demanded a raise from approximately $2 million to $3 million per episode to come back to the set of the show.
I caught the interview this morning. The title of it should be Addict In Denial, Ego Intact.

Sheen has yet to hit bottom. It's only a matter of time.

∴ The Switch: Moving My Stuff to Mac OS X

I'm still not settled on which machine to purchase, but I've been thinking about the move from my Thinkpad for a while. Setup of a new machine used to be a multi-hour ordeal, but I've changed up how I use my machine so this time it should be fairly quick.

Most of the software I use is open-source and available in Mac OS as well as Windows versions. Installing those few applications shouldn't take long. My computing day is largely spent in a browser with a half-dozen tabs for mail, RSS feeds, weather radar, calendar, etc. Install the Chrome browser and it all syncs and opens automatically. All of my document files live in a Dropbox folder and will sync to the new Mac automatically, as well. Movies and music live on a storage array, or will shortly. There's not much else.

Many computer users keep all of their files on the local hard drive, though, and moving to a new machine can be a royal pain. Developers perusing the latest beta release of Lion, Apple's next version of Mac OS X, report (AppleInsider, via Gizmodo) that Apple's Migration Assistant tool has been enhanced to make moving from a Windows-based machine easier.

Migration Assistant is one of those technologies you wish Microsoft would adopt. The first time you fire up a new Mac, one of the initial screens asks if you're moving from an older Mac, and if so, whether or not you'd like to migrate your complete environment from that machine. Not just documents and setting, like the Windows Migration Wizard. User account, docs, settings, programs. You end up with very little to set up on the new machine. And, if you're using a Firewire cable (or the new Thunderbolt connector), it's fast. Apparently now that process will work for users moving from a Windows-based machine, too, though probably without the software transfer.

That's the Apple benefit. They refine the user experience to take away the unpleasant parts of using technology.

∴ The Switch: Doing the Homework, or, Due Diligence

From Cult of Mac:

AppleCare Gives Up As MacBook Air Video Problems Persist

Late 2010-MacBook Airs suffered from video display problems right out of the gate. Usually related to waking the machine from a sleep state, the 11-inch and 13-inch LCD would show a flickering, distorted screen and freeze when the lid was lifted. Re-sleeping and re-waking, or re-booting the machine altogether would temporarily resolve the problem. Apple distributed three software fixes to customers, largely resolving this nagging issue. Now comes word that it persists for some when they hook up to an external display.

I rarely connect a personal laptop to an external display. The machine exists to sit in my lap at home and go with me on the road. I can't say that the machine's persistent video issues would be a problem for me, but being on the front side of buy a new machine it gives me pause.

I'm already leaning toward the 13-inch MacBook Pro. This pushes me a little further in that direction. I hate to give up the slim, light form of the Air, and its higher-resolution display, but the Pro offers incrementally more in almost all categories and doesn't exhibit this video problem. Another plus for the Pro.

 

February 27, 2011

Gordon Wins Phoenix

From ESPN:
Jeff Gordon passed Kyle Busch with eight laps left and stretched his lead from there at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, ending his winless streak at 66 races.
I used to detest this guy. His first race in the top NASCAR series was Richard Petty's last. He roundly trounced a Darrell Waltrip in the downhill slide of his career. He beat the late, great Dale Earnhardt to the checkers a few times, earning a doughnut on his fender and the advice to "ride that horse as long as you can."

He won four championships, but the victories have been few and far between lately. He's had eight second-place finishes over the past two years, and today he managed to eek out a victory. Not bad for a near twenty-year career.

Robert Plant, After All These Years

Watching "Robert Plant and the Band of Joy" on HDNet. Plant performs songs from across his thirty years of making music, from Band of Joy through Led Zeppelin to his duet album with Alison Krauss, Raising Sand.

Much is made of Led Zep's rock, but their roots were in Folk and the Blues. Hear it here. There's some fine music in this concert, and it's available on iTunes.

Sweet.

∴ Sunday Hacking

I spent a few hours fooling around with the web site for our shop. My idea of a good time: Sunday afternoon race on the TV, hacking on a web site CMS, enjoying a good beer. In this case a 2 Below from New Belgium Brewing.

We'll be opening an online store to accompany our Warrenton storefront in the next week or two. This will be our third stab at the online market, which is crowded with fabric and quilting supply retailers. Our first effort involved my writing the storefront code in PHP and MySQL, which was fun. We did ok, but not stellar, and it was ultimately not worth the effort.

Our second attempt was running an eBay storefront. If you have any notion of going the easy route to sell stuff online, do it with eBay and PayPal. They make it ridiculously easy to set up a store and sell stuff. Our intent that time was to unload non-selling items from our Warrenton store. Again, we did ok, and ended with a 100% customer rating. I hated to let that rating go, but the store was doing just ok on sales, so I shuttered it.

This time around we're working with an established web host, a very handy CMS (content management system) for the main web site, and a nicely flexible online store and shopping cart interface. Shopping cart interfaces aren't easy to get right. Amazon, the king of the hill, is run by freaking geniuses. They make the selling process slide on oil (hat tip, Jeff). This one should give us a pretty face to go with our great, custom-made kits. We'll let the customers decide.

Yes, I'm watching NASCAR while I do this. No, it's not just a dumb-ass redneck sport. We used to attend a couple of races each year, beginning with the Las Vegas race in March and often including Charlotte (great track) and Richmond (another great, shorter track). We even made it to both nights of the Bristol night race BEFORE they repaved the track, which (if you're a NASCAR fan) you know was The Cat's Ass. They dropped the green flag and about a ton of debris covered the first several rows as 43 cars came down the front stretch. We were in the eighth-or-so row. That was a super experience.

NASCAR isn't quite as much fun these days, but it'll suffice now that the NFL season is (sob) over.

Hope your Sunday was as good as mine.

Cheers!

Ill Rumor for Apple

From the Times of London (via BGR):
The Times of London is reporting that Jonathan Ive, Apple’s senior vice president of product design, could be itching to cash out his Apple’s option grant from 2008 and move with his wife and two kids to the UK.
Jony Ive is Apple's head of industrial design. He designed the iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air machines, among others. The iPhone was the "It Phone" because of his vision. If true, and with Steve Jobs on an indefinite medical leave of absence, this rumor bodes ill for Apple's surging dominance of the portable computing market.

An Apple spokesman called the rumor "speculation." Hmm.

∴ The Death of Publishing

I've been thinking about the so-called death of publishing lately, as I transition my reading to iPhone, iPad, and Audible. How electronic media, beginning with television and greatly accelerating with the advent of the internet, will be the end of traditional mass publishing. Book sellers, magazines and newspapers have suffered in the internet era, offering proof. But is publishing really dying? Who are the real victims of modern publishing?

Newspapers
I used to take a subscription to the local paper: the Nashua Telegraph, the Manchester Union Leader, the Washington Post. The writing was good-to-great, the information mildly stale, my feeling of being informed intact. Then I discovered Google Reader and RSS feeds. It turned out the Post publishes all of their content not only to their web site, but serialized through RSS. A few clicks and all of their stories appeared in an orderly list, broken down by category, on a single web page updated by-the-minute. I read the paper less, and eventually canceled the subscription. Newspapers, blogs, journals, updated by-the-minute, sprinkled with ads; I subscribe to just under seventy RSS feeds now and that's my daily news intake. I found that I could even subscribe to RSS feeds through a Facebook account, further consolidating my information feed.

The Post hasn't lost its need for journalists and editors, though. They increasingly are paid to publish their work in forms other than print. The "newspaper" draws income from advertising on its web site, and could add interstitial ads to their RSS feeds. The New York Times is already erecting a sliding-scale pay wall which, when activated, will require a payment from readers who make more than occasional use of their content. Rupert Murdoch recently launched The Daily, an iPad-only daily "newspaper." At 99-cents per week it's cheap, though the once-a-day update begs the question why anyone would pay for stale, short-form reporting. The app needs a rapid-update component.

But are pay walls and subscriptions necessary? Subscriptions have largely gone to defray the cost of distribution; it's advertising that has paid for production. Well-placed, tasteful ads aren't intrusive and have made Google a very successful business, for example.

Small-town newspapers need to re-discover their value, which doesn't lie in buying and publishing an Associated Press feed. That news can be found anywhere, free. As more national and international reporting goes online, none of those outlets are covering the local community. Local newspapers should take a note from the larger dailies and publish a relevant, often-updated online journal of the local community. Save the press expenses and give readers a place to find local news, with well-placed local advertising paying the bill.

Book Sellers
We used to peruse the aisles of a terrific used book store in Manassas, Virginia. They bought AND sold used paperbacks (and the occasional hard cover). We enjoyed years of reading through them. We used to visit the nearby Barnes & Noble, too. Then I discovered Audible audio books and the iPad Kindle app. I can listen on my iPhone to what I don't read on my iPad. The Kindle device offers a lower-priced, arguably better reading experience than the iPad. Any music player can double as an audio book player. We don't visit the book stores much, anymore.

Authors don't need book stores when they can publish to electronic format, though. Publishing houses still need editors, but they don't need to pay the bill for printing, binding or shipping. As with newspapers, they still need to market their wares, so the sales department still has a job.

Magazines
Magazines will be the last to fall for me. I can already read the monthly edition of Wired on my iPad, and other print titles are appearing. Prices are higher for their electronic versions, but will decrease as advertising increasingly appears alongside editorial content. Or offer a higher-priced subscription without the advertising. Consider how much is saved by serving content without paper, press, and retailer. Publishers complaining about Apple's 30%-share of App Store subscription fees are crying crocodile tears.

The real victims of the electronic publishing trend are the people who do physical publishing and distribution of paper. Not the editors, journalists, authors, columnists; the losers here are the pressmen. The men and women who build, sell, operate and repair the presses, the distribution network, the newsstand. There's no electronic equivalent of those jobs.

Online publications need editors and writers. Authors need not care if their work appears in paper or bits to earn a living, but the people who create printed media do. Print publishing is a dying profession. Eventually the trade and the equipment will be like that of the cooper. Remember them?

February 26, 2011

Free Kindle?

From Kevin Kelly (via DF):
In October 2009 John Walkenbach noticed that the price of the Kindle was falling at a consistent rate, lowering almost on a schedule. By June 2010, the rate was so unwavering that he could easily forecast the date at which the Kindle would be free: November 2011.
Since then I've mentioned this forecast to all kinds of folks. In August, 2010 I had the chance to point it out to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. He merely smiled and said, "Oh, you noticed that!" And then smiled again.
The entire article is only another couple of paragraphs, and worth the thought-provoking read. If wireless providers can give away feature phones free, why not the Kindle? Click through for the rest.

Discovery Launch From Altitude

Youtube video of the launch of space shuttle Discovery, shot from a passenger jet (via BoingBoing):
Check out how quickly it climbs above the videographer, who is likely cruising in the mid-30,000s.

∴ The Switch, Screen Size

I did a brief comparison of Kelly's 13-inch MacBook Pro display to my Thinkpad 12-incher this morning. I should note that my Thinkpad is one of the last laptops manufactured with a standard, 4x3 (non-widescreen) display. That's one of the reasons I like it. Result: I re-learned that knowing a thing isn't the same as seeing it live. Also: widescreen format (16x9, 16x10) displays are largely a waste of pixels for everything other than movies.

Computer displays are measured in the same way as television screens: diagonally. In the US, the measurement is taken of viewable screen space only, whereas in Canada it includes the little bit tucked under the bezel. That's the thin plastic border that runs around the edge of the display. This is an important fact because the US and Canadian markets share manufactured parts, so the measurement you see on the box must always include at least one number labeled "viewable," or both the viewable and total numbers. Always go by the viewable metric.

Knowing that while thinking through how an 11-inch widescreen LCD will compare to a standard 12-inch, I expected them to be roughly the same, just horizontally stretched. It turns out that the 12-inch display is equally tall compared to a 13-inch widescreen display, meaning that the 13-inch MacBook Air or Pro will be very close to what I'm using now (plus more horizontal real estate). The 11-inch would be a step down in size, and even though it's still a beautiful Apple-quality display, it's still going to be smaller. That's because we use computers vertically for just about everything other than movies. And there will be fewer vertical inches on the 11-inch model.

So the 11-inch MacBook Air is out of the running.

Utter Crap

Leave it to McDonald's to screw up oatmeal, a simple, nutritious breakfast item. From The New York Times blog (via BoingBoing):
Incredibly, the McDonald's product contains more sugar than a Snickers bar and only 10 fewer calories than a McDonald's cheeseburger or Egg McMuffin. (Even without the brown sugar it has more calories than a McDonald's hamburger.)
And then there's the eleven ingredients that have nothing to do with oatmeal. How hard is this: oatmeal, water and a pinch of salt?
February 25, 2011

∴ The Switch, First Take

Apple Moves Christmas, Only Costs $1500
Apple introduced this year's lineup of MacBook Pros yesterday. The rumored changes boiled down to three factual items: much faster processors, a new, blindingly fast input/output connection technology (think major upgrade from USB and FireWire), and the option to equip the machine with a solid state drive (SSD) in place of a traditional mechanical hard drive. Note that Apple touts advanced AMD Radeon graphics as item number three on the Pro 15- and 17-inch models, but I don't give a rat's ass about gaming, so the integrated graphics of the 13-inch Pro are just fine. The MacBook Air's SSD vaulted that model's late-2010 refresh far above the previous model's performance, so the MacBook Pro's SSD becomes important item number three for me.

The chassis design remains the same as last year, despite rumored Liquid Metal replacement and rumored Intel-leaked black chassis image. Who cares? Apple's industrial design is inarguably the finest in computing technology, so the existing chassis is good enough.

It's time to mull the choice between the new 13-inch Pro model and the two late-2010 MacBook Airs, now that all details are known. (The 15- and 17-inch models are just too big, a slab of computing aluminum, and too expensive. Pass.) My first pass through the Apple online store reveals a pleasant surprise: similarly-equipped 11-inch Air, 13-inch Air and 13-inch Pro laptops are priced within $25 of one another. That neatly, and happily, takes price out of the decision process. It's always a downer when you find you'd really like model A rather than B, if only A didn't cost so much more. No such trouble, this time.

My requirements are simple: get as much memory as possible while not wasting money on the fastest processor. Unless I'm rendering a lot of video, which I'm not, it won't be missed. And the main storage drive must be solid state. As John Gruber attested on The Talk Show, it's not worth buying a new machine with a mechanical hard drive after experiencing an older MacBook Pro upgraded to SSD.

Memory
The Air models' memory tops out at 4 gigabytes, which is completely adequate, but the Pro allows for 8 gigabytes. I'll occasionally make use of Parallels to run Quickbooks for Windows and other Windows-only software, and virtual machines take a LOT of resources. Apple wants $200 for the memory bump to 8 gigabytes, but that can be cut in half by buying memory from crucial.com and installing it myself. This isn't a clear win for the Pro, but could be a tie-breaker later.

CPU
The base CPU on the 11-inch Air model is a little anemic, a Core 2 Duo at 1.4 gigahertz compared to what's available on the Pro (Core i5 at 2.3 Ghz, base). That Dell laptop I had years ago, the one that required so much warranty work that only the original palm rests were left, came with a single-core 1.2 Ghz processor. Fortunately there's an upgrade to 1.6 Ghz available, which will do. The 13-inch Air comes with a 1.8 Ghz Core 2 Duo processor, which is better. Advantage, Pro.

Side Issue - Display
Every Apple machine I've seen has a beautiful display. It's as if Apple invented LCD technology, they're that good at producing bright, high-contrast, reliable panels. Given that they're all excellent, I can only pick-over minor details. The 13-inch Air bests the 11-inch with a superior display. Not only bigger than its little brother, but with more resolution than the Pro. Looks like the 11-incher is getting muscled out, huh?

SSD
All three machines come with an SSD; the Air pair don't offer a mechanical hard drive option at all. The Pro comes with an SSD as an option. 128 gigabytes is the sweet spot for me; with all my music and movies residing on a storage array in the basement, or on my iPhone, I don't even need that much. No advantage to any machine, here.

What's missing, and where? The Airs don't have an ethernet port. If I'm in a hotel room that offers a choice, or offers only a hard-wired network connection, I'm using an ethernet connection and the Airs require me to purchase a USB adapter. Not a big deal unless I'm trying to use that ethernet port to connect the machine to my home network for a full backup to the storage array...a USB ethernet adapter tops out at 100 megabits per second, one-tenth the bandwidth of the standard gigabit ethernet port on the Pro. Real-world it works out to about half speed, but it's something to think about. Extremely small advantage to the Pro.

Also MIA: no internal optical drive on the Airs. The Pro comes with a Superdrive, Apple's name for a drive that reads and burns any format short of BluRay. This is a deal-breaker for some, but having used a Thinkpad without an internal optical drive for nearly three years it doesn't make much difference to me. I found that I only use an external, USB-connected optical drive about once a year and that drive will work with any MacBook. I'd rather give up the weight and bulk needed for an internal model, though I have a project in mind for the internal optical drive's space if I end up buying the Pro. No advantage here.

The new Pro model includes Intel's new Thunderbolt (previously known as Light Peak) connector, which promises to connect peripherals at speeds double the fastest USB technology. Sounds great. No products I'm interested in currently exist, and about the only one I'd contemplate for a laptop would be a simple external hard drive. USB2 will suffice for that. Thunderbolt will be an awesome, does-everything connection technology for my NEXT MacBook. So no advantage here.

Apple doesn't leave much room for further configuration; most of a Windows clone machine's options are standard on these laptops. Advantage, Apple. Anyway, everything else on the online store page is software and I have plenty of that.

Inconclusive Conclusion
I like the 11-inch MacBook Air's size, it closely mirrors the 12-inch display of my existing Thinkpad and that display is a good size for my use. I like the 13-inch display on Kelly's machine quite a bit, and the 13-inch Air's display is a step better than that. If I give up the small size that I like, I gain a higher-resolution display, and a slightly quicker processor, and a half-pound of weight. If I'm stepping up in size to a 13-incher, though, the Pro adds an optical drive (that will likely be moved out for a second storage drive), a significantly quicker processor, and about a pound and a half of weight. So I give up slim and light for...built-in optical or backup storage. Clearly I haven't made up my mind. And clearly, too, Apple has thought through all of this before me.

February 24, 2011

Two and a Half Men: Done

Charlie Sheen's on-air rant and later call to TMZ today were a race to the bottom. And he won!
From MSNBC:
The hit CBS show is immediately stopping production for the rest of the season, even though Sheen was originally scheduled to return to the set next week.
"Based on the totality of Charlie Sheen's statements, conduct and condition, CBS and Warner Bros. Television have decided to discontinue production of 'Two and a Half Men' for the remainder of the season," the network said in a statement.
Two-to-one says the show never re-starts production.

∴ USA, Inc.

From Business Insider:
Long-time financial analyst and recent Kleiner Perkins venture capital partner Mary Meeker has just published a 460-page report looking at the United States as a business, providing analysis of the nation's performance and a plan to improve it. Her thesis: technology, infrastructure and education investment have driven 90% of productivity gains over the last 30 years. We should invest public money more heavily in those areas to kick our economy into another era of growth. She cautions that trimming expenses is less effective than raising revenue. In other words, higher and/or more effective taxation, and to a lesser extent, less spending in areas of entitlement.

Everyone agrees with her goals; I agree with her means. Meeker makes a good case for applying business-oriented rules to the problems of stagnant growth, increasing debt and unemployment.

The trouble for her plan is that governments are about people, not profits, and are not run according to business rules. They're run according to politics. When you're tinkering with people and their desires, politics rules the day.

If we were to apply Meeker's logic, we'd not only increase the social security tax, for example, we'd also apply a means test for medicare benefits to eliminate public payment for patients who have their own insurance coverage past age 65. We'd do a lot of things that make good intellectual sense but won't pass political muster.

Government is not business and never will be. We should do smart things, like raising income taxation rates back to the levels employed during the 1990s (remember, we balanced the budget and there was talk of paying down the debt back then as a result) and stop paying for services already available in the private sector, but those actions take political will and a long-term outlook. With a divided government and the political theater taking place today, those things won't likely happen.

February 23, 2011

American Idol Discovers the Internet

Via Mashable:
You’ll soon be able to use a dedicated page on Facebook to vote for your favorites on American Idol.
Online voting for your favorite Idol begins March 1.

Tiger's Best Days, Well...

From ESPN:
Coming off the worst season of his career, most of that from the crisis in his personal life, Woods does not appear to be making any progress. Through three tournaments this year, he has failed to crack the top 20.
and now...
Tiger Woods eliminated from Match Play
Further evidence that when mama's not happy, NOBODY is happy.

Ah, well, it was great while it lasted. Note to the kiddies: taking your eye off the ball doesn't always involve a ball.
February 22, 2011

What I'm Talking About

From Ars Technica:
Monday, Microsoft started rolling out the first update to Windows Phone 7.
Except it doesn't actually work. The two Samsung handsets on the market—the Omnia 7 and possibly the Focus (which are, or were, my pick of the Windows Phone 7 crop, thanks to the way their AMOLED screens make the operating system look so delightful)—are both experiencing "difficulties" with installing the update. The updates are failing to install in two ways.
Technical difficulties. Common problem for software developers. That's why you test, test, test. Put beta code in front of testers and let them beat on it. Millions of paying customers are the wrong venue for this to turn up.

But hey, there's always the iPhone on AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Oh wait, Windows Phone 7 customers signed up with a two-year contract. So they're stuck with more of what we've gotten from Microsoft for nearly thirty years.

If you're going to sign up for a smartphone on a two-year contract, why on Earth would you buy something other than an iPhone or an Android handset? Did Windows 7 really please these customers so much that they jumped at the chance to own it on a mobile handset? Couldn't they expect about the same as we've all gotten for over two decades?

Good PR is not an excuse for not paying attention. Not when you're paying for it. Caveat, well, you know.

Asking For It

I found a simple set of instructions at Publetariat for automatically publishing my blog posts to my Facebook account, where I otherwise rarely visit these days. It's a means of putting words in front of people from what is otherwise me talking to an empty room. And, yes, I guess it's also asking for it.

So if you're reading this on Facebook and wondering why this post is apropos of nothing, it's coming from over here, where the mix is decidedly different.

The Road From Windows to Mac OS

As previously mentioned, I'll be making "the switch" in the coming weeks, after Apple unveils their new MacBook Pro line and I have a chance to mull the available choices in the Pro and Air lines together. Long a Windows user, programmer and hardware assembler, I'm making the move to the Mac OS platform for a number of reasons, but primarily two: functional integration and design. The former is a reflection of age and experience, the latter, a nascient and diminutive taste for finer things. You wouldn't know it to look at me, but I do enjoy a little refinement now and then (see Hendricks gin, Thinkpad laptops, my wife's cooking).

This year marks thirty years for me playing with computers. Admittedly, my interest in computing began with programming, not gaming (such as it was at the time: Pong), but it still qualifies as entertainment for my mind. Over that period I've owned, built or otherwise used the Tandy Color Computer and CC 2, Commodore Amiga 500, a self-built pc clone or six for me, my family and friends, a series of employer-purchased Winbook and Dell laptops and desktop machines, a self-purchased Thinkpad and a MacBook Pro for my wife. For employment I've worked on IBM mainframes and rack servers. I've run Color Basic, AmigaDOS, MSDOS, Windows of varying version and reliability and Mac OS X on those hardware platforms at home, MVS, NAS, AIX and ERAM at work. Add to that a long list of arcane application software going back to Dillon UUCP on the Amiga. (That machine was one-hop connected to the legendary DECVAX for a USENET feed and email.) This is a long way of saying I've been fooling with these devices, and making a living off them for a while and have gained some muscle memory for what works, and works well, and what I like about it. "The switch" is about spending less time getting a device to do what I want and more time simply using it. It's about leaving behind the need to constantly fiddle with a machine long after the hobbyist phase of computing became a matter of history and lore.

In every case of new hardware, I've spent hours configuring and connecting devices to get them up to speed with what I already had everything else in my computing environment doing. Printers, network connections, air cards, software. There were the inevitable struggles with device drivers that didn't drive, network connections that timed out waiting for a remote directory scan, peripherals that worked one day but not the next. Things improved over time, as you'd expect, but in general my experience in the Windows world was one that whispered at design-by-engineer. As a software engineer, I can say you don't want software user interfaces, or any hardware or software feature that touches the user, that wasn't at least run past usability designers. What satisfies a hardware or software engineer will likely leave the casual user confused and unhappy with the product, and eventually even the engineer-as-user will get tired of devices that require fiddling.

Save the latest two, I've also never owned or used a laptop machine that didn't require one or more warranty visits to replace loose hinges, broken motherboard, distorted display. One Dell laptop required three visits over two years, and eventually everything but the palm rests was replaced. Try making money selling that level of quality.

From this sort of experience comes a desire for computing solutions that just work, quickly and pleasantly conveying the user from opening the box to use and bypassing as much as possible the dreaded configuration phase, as backlash from years of dealing with difficult computing products. At the very least, I want to set it once and use it.

Over the past two years I've been playing with a couple of hardware/software platforms that fit this requirement. The first is the MacBook hardware and Mac OS X combination. In my opinion, Thinkpad makes the best non-Apple laptop hardware and has been a reliable tool for me over this period, but as good as their industrial design is Lenovo takes a back seat to Apple for build quality and eye-pleasing appearance. Just as your hand knows a quality tool when you pick it up, so too your hand and mind will understand the design quality of an Apple product when you heft it. Turn it on and you are presented with a simple, occasionally sparse user interface conveying you to your task or entertainment without requiring a search for the right software tool, another to select how it will work for you, and still more to get it talking to your peripherals.

Data Robotics has produced a line of storage arrays that take the complexity out of RAID (redundant array of inexpensive disks), leaving you with a device that packs a great deal of crash-tolerant, data-protecting storage into an almost management-free device. Their recently-expanded FS line plugs that device into your local network, putting all that storage in view of all machines in your home or business. Their proprietary storage software, running on a Linux variant, provides a reliable, trustworthy repository for all of your data, and an easy-to-use backup destination. There is so little to manage about these devices that you'll go from box to use in under a half-hour. You'll get a red light on the unit's face if a drive fails; just pull it and replace with another of any size at your leisure. No data loss. Expandable as drive sizes increase. And if you like to fiddle out of curiosity, rather than necessity (you know who you are), the Drobo FS is Linux, after all, and adding tools like ssh and rsync lets you sync a pair of these devices for ultimate fault tolerance.

"The switch" is, for me, about embracing a vision of usability. It's about enjoying a device for its simplicity, as in the iPad and its revolutionary user interface, or its physically comfortable design, well-integrated operating system and eye-catching display, as in the Mac line and Mac OS X, rather than having to be an eternal hobbyist just to keep it working. You can buy cheaper hardware, you can play with cheaper (free) operating system software. In all things, though, you get what you pay for.

As a friend once advised about looking for a finer gin, "cast your eyes upward."

Apple and the Enterprise

Bob Cringely published mild speculation on the future of Apple Mac-based enterprise computing today. The gist: this week's impending MacBook Pro update will include not only the new Light Peak connection technology, allowing for 10-gigabit transfer speeds, but also a new Mac Mini with the same connection technology. The Mac Mini, a drop-in replacement for desktop computing that ships without keyboard, mouse or display, also fits a 2U rack chassis when stood on-end. This is important for data center applications.

Apple announced last year that they would no longer produce their xServe Mac server platform, effectively pulling out of the enterprise computing market. By adding Light Peak to the Mini, Apple effectively re-enters that market by selling a plug-in server that already ships with distributed computing scheduling built into the OS. Need more computing power? Plug in another brick and Grand Central, via Light Peak, automatically configures more high-bandwidth computing availability.

According to Cringely, one 2U rack space of Minis runs rings around a single 1U rack of xServe, with plug-in expandability. Today's (or this week's) 10-gigabit, 3-meter limit Light Peak, implemented with copper, will eventually give way to a 100-gigabit, 100-meter optical make-up. Sweet.
February 21, 2011

Apple Stops Selling Macbook Pros

From 9to5Mac:
You can no longer get your hands on a MacBook Pro from the Apple online store until after the refresh expected to be on Thursday this week.
This will be the occasion for "the switch." It's time for a laptop replacement for me, and a scheme for rotating my existing machines to other tasks is planned. All that remains is the question, Pro or Air?

I can't leave old machines unused or purposeless. I need a sound, reasoned plan for how the old equipment will be further used. There's no reason to buy something new if the old machine can't be moved to another task, disassembled and re-purposed in part, or completely scrapped due to age, ill repair or obsolescence.

In this case, the Thinkpad will rotate up to my office to provide a telework, printing and scanning workstation. A pair of USB display adapters will make it an expansive, three-monitor environment for software development, test, ERAM adaptation and database work. The existing (old) Dell laptop will cycle out to our business, where it will become a vpn server and remote access desktop. That allows us to use point-of-sale and accounting software on the local network from elsewhere without disturbing sales machine use. Our existing vpn server here at the house will likely be scrapped, its 1-terabyte hard drives added to a pair of Drobo FS net attached storage arrays. Not sure what I'll do with its other drives, motherboard and case.

Having made the decision to abandon the Windows world, and further to dive in at this point, this week will begin the final decision-making between the second-generation Macbook Air and the forthcoming Macbook Pro. Yes, I sweat blood from my eyeballs before making a significant purchase. It's never easy, but usually satisfying when completed.

Flying From the Front Seat

I've been following a pilot-written blog for a couple of years, Flight Level 390. Written by a current airline pilot with a readable, entertaining style, it describes the daily grind of flying a commercial airliner around the United States. It's less glamorous than you might think. A sprinkling of well-explained technical detail makes it all the more interesting. It's a low-volume blog, maybe one post per week, and well worth the read.

Today's post gives Captain Dave's opinion of a recent Nova episode, which investigated the loss of an Air France Airbus 330 over the Atlantic a couple of years ago. He gives a professional pilot's view of what's known and what might have happened. If you've ever wondered how the pros feel about thunderstorms, here's your chance to find out.

This Is Not a Cult. No, Not at All...

From MSNBC:
Faithful attending the beatification of Pope John Paul in Rome will be able to pray before his coffin, which will be exhumed for the event, the Vatican said on Friday.
February 15, 2011

Subscriptions Come To the iPhone App Store

Apple announced today the immediate availability of a subscription purchase model for its iPhone app store. An update to iOS is apparently not required. What this means is that any available app may be offered by the author on a subscription basis. Don't expect every app to come this way, instead, this model will be applied where it makes sense: iPad magazines and newspapers (The Daily is a prime example) and other periodically-updated content. This should kickstart a more-affordable slew of magazine content, since the app author can be assured of an ongoing relationship with a large portion of subscribers. The existing purchase model requires a new in-app purchase for each edition, which presents a new opportunity to lose buyers each time.

The exact details of how this works aren't clear. I'm guessing that your subscription payment buys you an app, which in turn updates with new content as it becomes available. If you stop paying, your app stops updating. You keep past content.
February 14, 2011

Macbook Pro Refresh Coming March 1?

CultofMac is reporting that Danish Apple resellers say March 1 is the release date for the next generation of Macbook Pro laptops. We've already seen reports of constrained supplies of 15- and 17-inch Macbook Pros, so a refresh appears likely and March 1 is as good a date as any.

With the runaway success of the newest generation of Macbook Air laptops, it's an even money bet that Apple will include as standard the item most associated with that success: SSD drives. It'll be a tough choice between the models if they do...the sleek Air with an eleven-inch screen or the larger, but likely faster with a Sandy Bridge CPU and chipset, Pro. Can't wait.
February 13, 2011

iPhone Nano

Apple is rumored to be readying a smaller, less expensive iPhone for this summer. From 9to5Mac:
The WSJ also claims the new, smaller iPhone will be available “at about half the price of Apple’s main line of iPhones.” The smaller iPhone is said to be sold alongside Apple’s main line of phones so maybe this summer’s lineup will be the iPhone 5 at $199/$299, iPhone 4 at $99 and iPhone nano at $49.
New Macbook Pros are apparently imminent, building on the terrific Macbook Airs of late last year. Also rumored is the debut of Apple's North Carolina data center in a revamp of their Mobile Me cloud service. It will be a very good year for Apple, I think.

The Godfather II

Watching The Godfather II after a long afternoon of bathroom refurb. I've never watched this, or the first, movie start-to-finish, just bits and pieces over the years. It's one of those movies you can sit down in the middle of and enjoy just for the acting, the direction, the costuming, the story. No point of reference, just dive in.

Sublime.
February 8, 2011

Google Translate

Via Engadget:
iPhone users have been able to use a mobile-optimized HTML5 version of Google Translate for some time now, but they can now finally also get an honest-to-goodness app of their own just like their Android-using friends. That brings with it a number of enhancements over the basic web app, including a speak-to-translate feature with support for 15 languages, the ability to listen to your translations in 23 different languages, and a full-screen mode that lets you show your translated text to others with large, easy-to-read text.
Excellent app.

Is Skynet Next?

From Engadget:
The evil geniuses at Northrop Grumman successfully completed the first flight of its X-47B unmanned [emphasis mine -ed.] stealth bomber a few days ago at Edwards Air Force Base in Edwards, California. In the air for a full twenty-nine minutes, the tailless, fighter-sized UAV flew to 5,000 feet and completed several racetrack-type patterns
February 6, 2011

Packers Win!

...Super Bowl 45, 31-25, and beat the spread. Sorta one-sided, though. The Steelers never lead. But I liked both teams and someone had to lose, so we'll just enjoy the Packers' win.

Brett who?

Schmidt To Apple?

True, yet somewhat cozy phrasing from Eric Schmidt, speaking about computer science and technology in modern culture:
The rise of Google, the rise of Facebook, the rise of Apple, I think are proof that there is a place for computer science as something that solves problems that people face every day. There was only one company that saw that a decade before anybody else and that company is Apple. If you look even through the Nineties -- Sun, Microsoft, Novell, Cisco -- they were fundamentally infrastructure companies based around corporations. That is where the money was. There was almost no consumer use with the exception of Apple in people's daily lives.
It's not unusual for a corporate leader to praise a rival company's execution. Schmidt is Chairman of Google, and he recently stepped down as CEO of that company. Google is Apple's main competitor in the mobile space with its Android platform. Speculation has begun about how long he has left at Google, and with Steve Jobs's medical leave of absence, his second in two years, whether or not Schmidt might be in line for the CEO job at Apple.

Is this interview the first hint of such a move?

Subscription Model Immanent For iPad/iPhone

Rupert Murdock's The Daily debuted this past week. The value of an iPad-only "newspaper" that updates once per day in a world of constantly updating, free news sources is debatable. The real value for iPad users will come from the iOS underpinnings enabling a subscription-based purchase model.

Today's iOS (and Android) purchase model is a simple transaction. You pay, you get product. It works that way for applications, music, movies, books and television programs. The ability to pay once and get ongoing delivery of new versions, with no user intervention, and receive an optional automatic renewal doesn't yet exist. A promotional announcement made at The Daily's debut gives a clue as to when it will, though.

Verizon Wireless is sponsoring the first two weeks of free delivery of The Daily. After that, users must pay $.99 per week. That tells us that the subscription purchase model bits must be in place at the end of the two-week promotion. At the same time, Apple is in the late beta stages of producing iOS version 4.3. Look for that version to become available in the next week or so, and include subscription bits.

Maybe then, Wired magazine can produce an iPad version of their publication for less than quadruple the newsstand price.
February 2, 2011

Geek Podcasts

I've been listening to a couple of podcasts produced by Dan Benjamin at 5by5.com. Dan produces twenty podcasts covering a wide variety of topics, from web design to photography to Ruby programming to detailed Apple news to daily internet rumor, gossip and news items. All of them have a low-key, no-nonsense tone that will appeal to your inner geek: straight-up talk on subjects you care about.

My favorites, so far: The Talk Show with John Gruber and Dan, where the most recent talk has covered the impending Verizon iPhone, Google's executive split and the early Bond films; Hypercritical with John Siracusa and Dan, where the first three shows covered backup schemes and the forthcoming Mac OS X Lion. Geeky enough for you?