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Andrew Richardson
Software engineer, business owner, husband, runner and member of my pack of four-legged girls.
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October 30, 2011

Oh Wow. Oh Wow. Oh Wow.

Steve Jobs’ last words, the final ‘graph of his sister Mona Simpson’s eulogy to him after his passing.

It’s a ten-minute read, and one of my two favorite pieces written about Jobs after his death, alongside Gruber’s.

If only all our exits were so amazing.

October 28, 2011

Apps Are the New Channels

John Gruber, writing for Daring Fireball:

"Imagine watching a baseball game on a TV where ESPN is a smart app, not a dumb channel. When you’re watching a game, you could tell the TV to show you the career statistics for the current batter. You could ask the HBO app which other movies this actress has been in. Point is: it’d be better for both viewers and the networks if a TV “channel” were an interactive app rather than a mere single stream of video.

Collect them in a Newsstand-like folder on iPhones and iPads, and make them the “home screen” of a future Apple TV."

Gruber nails it. I have a laptop in my lap most evenings to look up stuff like that. Imagine if the TV could do it for me, and I could call for the information by voice using the Siri AI software already available in the iPhone 4s.

∴ No @Hyundai Today

Today I heard from Ally, the service manager at Brown’s Leesburg Hyundai, who informed me that my car wouldn’t make it back to their lot until at least 4 PM. My last conversation with a Hyundai representative was this past Wednesday, when the service advisor called to say that my car would finally return from a third-party body shop today.

It’s taken about four weeks to repair what appears to be a design defect in the 2012 Sonata’s panoramic sunroof, the second of three nagging problems I’ve faced with my new car. They've also replaced the rear seat and headliner damaged by the body shop technicians.

I’m concerned about the quality and efficacy of the roof repair. The repair went beyond a simple disassembly - reassembly, involving “additional bracing” to dampen a loud creaking sound that developed about a month after I took delivery of the car. I wonder if the roof will retain the same strength in the event of a rollover. I wonder, too, how they will handle a repeat of the problem if the third-party body shop’s repair work breaks after the car is out of warranty.

Ally will test drive the car for the third issue after it returns, hopefully reproducing the cruise control problem. We’re expecting light snow in the northern Virginia area tomorrow so no testing will occur, but testing will continue Monday.

The cruise control problem intermittently manifests when it ignores repeated presses of the CANCEL button, or occasionally fails to engage when the SET button is pressed. Occasionally, too, when these problems arise, the radio volume buttons on the other side of the steering wheel also fail to work correctly. There is no pattern to these problems. Clearly, a cruise control that fails to disengage is a safety problem.

I asked what they will do if the cruise control problem can’t be reproduced in their hands. I’m told it will be up to a Hyundai engineer and a company representative who will be on hand Monday. The problem, which occurs sporadically, has not appeared throughout the time the dealer has had the car. The dealer’s initial plan to return the car to me, unrepaired, after their technician could not replicate the malfunction has lead to some acrimony.

It’s worth noting that I’ve found instances of other owners discussing the very same problems on their 2012 Hyundai Sonatas. I forwarded that information to Chris, the general manager of Brown’s. Here’s hoping they use it and my problems are permanently solved.

Invisible Glass May Solve Screen Reflection Problems

Matthew Humphries, writing for geek.com:

"The days of dealing with a very reflective glass panel may soon be behind us, though. Nippon Electric Glass has used the FPD International 2011 conference in Japan this week to show off its new “invisible glass” panel.

What NEG has done is added an anti-reflection film to both the front and back of the glass that are only nanometers thick. By doing this luminance reflectance is only diminished by 0.1% over a more typical sheet of glass. But the real benefit comes in how much reflections are reduced."

(Via Slashdot.)

The trick to making an LCD provide color-rich, sharp images is polishing the glass surface. The trouble is that the glass reflects everything behind the viewer, particularly lights and windows.

The alternative is a matte finish LCD, which reflects much less incident light but also slightly blurs the image sharpness and dulls its colors.

A true non-relective glass will be a huge improvement.

Defusing the Population Bomb

Fred Pearce, writing for cnn.com:

"Women today are having half as many children as their mothers and grandmothers. The global average is now down to 2.5 children per woman, and it continues to fall."
"Falling fertility happens faster if countries get richer and if women are better educated. Similarly urbanization helps a lot. While even young children can be an economic asset on an African peasant farm, they are an economic liability in cities, where they require education before they can get a job. The teeming megacities of the poor world may look like symbols of overpopulation, but they are part of the solution, too."

Another contributing factor, especially in poor areas, is food scarcity. As with the rest of the Earth's animal population, humans can only continue to increase their numbers where there is sufficient food to nourish. Once the carrying capacity of the local environment is exceeded nature's equilibrium takes over, limiting population growth.

My Dad Taught Me Cashflow By Making Me Run A Soda Machine

Rob Fitzpatrick (Silicon Alley Insiderwrote a terrific piece about how his dad taught him to manage a small business’s cash flow at a very young age. Five-minute read, worth it.

October 27, 2011

What's Really Next for Apple in Television

Nick Bilton, writing for his New York Times weblog:

" The company is now close enough that it could announce the product by late 2012, releasing it to consumers by 2013."

The pieces are falling into place. A 2012-2013 release for a television incorporating Siri AI technology could explain why the iPhone 4s was released with a "beta" version of Siri this month. Another year or so of tweaking Siri's responses to millions of voice commands will doubtlessly lead to a more refined product, ready for the living room.

PBS to Air Lost Steve Jobs Interview

Dylan Love, writing for Silicon Alley Insider:

"PBS indicates that it will show a never-before-seen interview with Jobs from 1994 in which he talks about his philosophy on life, saying, "You tend to get told that the world is the way it is, but life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact; and that is that everything around you that you call life was made up by people no smarter than you...Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.""

That philosophy has been key to the successes I've had in life. More than half the effort of accomplishing a goal is asking "why not?" and just doing it. Permission is not required.

October 26, 2011

∴ @Hyundai Dealer Updates On My Sonata

Just heard from the service advisor at Brown's Leesburg Hyundai. My Sonata will return from the body shop Friday. I guess they managed to dampen out the creaking sound from the sunroof area with additional bracing.

The car will be road tested by the service manager. If she can replicate the cruise control problem they will work on it. If not, they're asking that I drive up to the dealership and walk the technician through the sequence of events that happen when the cruise control fails to respond to the CANCEL button.

Which will reveal probably nothing. The problem presents itself intermittently, maybe one time in thirty or forty uses. What will most likely happen is that the problem will not manifest when I'm pushing the buttons, either. Then they'll again tell me that they cannot fix what they cannot see. And I'll be right back where I started.

We'll see. Maybe they'll surprise me. Nothing has, yet, though.

∴ More @Hyundai Folks Chime In

I received a nice call from Ben, the southeast regional consumer affairs representative for Hyundai, today. He asked about the problems I've encountered with my Sonata, both the car issues as well as how I've been treated by the dealer.

I explained the problems I've had with the car, but he seemed more interested in how the dealer relationship was working. After telling him about the call I received from Chris, the general manager of Brown's Leesburg Hyundai, we agreed that things were moving along well for now.

I still have misgivings about "additional bracing" being applied to the roof of my car. It seems they're grasping at straws, re-engineering the roof in the field to solve what appears to be an endemic, structural problem. I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt about that, as well as what they'll come up with for the cruise control. We're getting fairly close to a time limit, though.

More news when I get it.

Cowher, Gruden Linked to Dolphins Job

Mike Florio (Pro Football Talk) says the Miami Dolphins will be looking for a new head coach soon:

"Short of luring Bill Belichick or Sean Payton or Mike Tomlin or Mike McCarthy — all of whom are under contract with other teams and beyond all doubt not available — to town, the list would consist of three names:  Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy, and Jon Gruden."

Dungy isn't leaving his NBC gig, which became his professional home after he retired as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

Cowher is a terrific choice for whipping that team into shape. He made the Pittsburgh Steelers Superbowl champs during his tenure as their head coach, and he's made noises about returning to the sidelines since his wife passed away and his daughter graduated high school.

My hopes are on Gruden, though. Making him the head coach of Miami gets him out of the Monday Night Football broadcast booth. Finally.

Condé Nast Digital Subs Soar Via iPad

Electronista:

“Condé Nast suggested on Tuesday that tablet magazines might have turned a corner with the launch of iOS 5. Since the iPad received access to Newsstand, subscriptions across titles like GQ and The New Yorker climbed 268 percent. Single issues reaped their own rewards and spiked 142 percent, the publisher said.”

The reason: concentrating periodicals in one application on the main screen of iOS 5. It’s akin to posting the most popular songs on iTunes’ front page, encouraging the casual browser to try one or more offerings.

The test will play out over the coming months, after the Newsstand app’s novelty has worn off. Subscription acceleration should taper. Will readers continue to browse Newsstand, selecting more content?

Come this time next year it’ll be interesting to see if today’s one-year subscriptions are renewed. The question for subscribers will be whether they prefer the digital version to a paper magazine.

I’ve enjoyed reading Wired on my iPad for the past few months, but there is a palpable difference between that and leafing through a paper copy. As much as I enjoy the benefits of my electronic copy, I feel I’m losing something of almost equal value. The content is the same. Accessing it through iPad’s touch interface is convenient and keeps my various reading interests in one place. The feel of a paper magazine, though, provides a tactile feedback not replicated by a tablet. Perhaps akin to the mechanical addiction that accompanies cigarette use, holding paper reading material in your hands has its own value, lost in the electronic version.

October 24, 2011

∴ My @Hyundai Sonata Problems, Noted

I received an interesting phone call this afternoon. Apparently my last update about the ongoing problems with my 2012 Hyundai Sonata drew some attention. Chris, the general manager of the Brown’s chain of dealerships, contacted me. He objected to my use of the word “lie,” as in ‘I was lied to.’ He also wanted to hear my impressions of the ordeal.

So I went over the contact I’d had with Brown’s Leesburg Hyundai service department: that I was told my car would be returned from the body shop “soon,” two weeks ago, and that the service manager would then drive it on her daily commute in an attempt to reproduce the cruise control issue. And that I found out late last week the car had not been returned, and had not been extensively test driven during the intervening weeks. That it had sat on the body shop’s lot. That I felt someone was lying, either Brown’s two weeks ago or Brown’s last Friday when they spoke with a Hyundai representative.

There was some miscommunication. The car is still at the body shop, awaiting parts. The mechanic there not only punched a hole in the rear seat leather (I was told about that), he also damaged the headliner (that was today’s news). Those parts took a while shipping from Hyundai and will only come together this week.

There was no intentional lie. The information I was given was incomplete and there had been no follow-up. I assumed that what I had been told would happen actually did so.

The creaking sunroof has defied attempts to silence it, despite repairs. Chris told me that additional bracing may be employed to stiffen the crossbar and prevent chassis flex from producing the offending sound. This increasingly sounds like a poorly engineered design. I wonder how many other 2012 Sonata owners are encountering the same problem?

He also asked me for a detailed description of the cruise control problem, which I provided. In a nut, it intermittently won’t disengage when the CANCEL button is pressed, once or repeatedly, and intermittently won’t engage when the SET button is pressed, again once or multiple times.

In either case, pressing the other button first, then the desired function button, produces the correct result. So when it’s acting up I have to press the SET button once, then CANCEL to disengage the cruise control. Of course I can always tap the brake to disengage, but a safety-critical component should work as designed, every time.

Chris also objected to something I said, both in a previous piece here and in our conversation today: when the service advisor told me that they intended to give me back my car with the cruise control unrepaired, because they couldn’t replicate the problem, I told him I was leaving with his loaner and wouldn’t return it until my car was fixed.

What’s more objectionable is hearing from a Hyundai service advisor that my car, with a potentially dangerous malfunction, isn’t going to be repaired and that I could bring it back if and when it acts up enough that the technician can replicate the problem. To his credit, Chris agreed that a safety problem must be repaired right away. As I explained, I don’t want their loaner, I want my car fixed. I shouldn’t have had to threaten keeping their property to get this level of attention.

Chris explained that a Hyundai representative will be looking at the car this week, along with a field engineer, and that a decision on how to attack the cruise control problem will be forthcoming. They will also work more on the sunroof problem. He reiterated that one cruise control malfunction was one too many, no matter how intermittent. I’ll have another update from the dealership Wednesday or Thursday.

I thanked Chris for the call. I got the impression from him that my problems have gotten a higher-than-expected level of attention. Suits me. The service department at Brown’s Leesburg Hyundai should have taken the cruise control problem this seriously from the beginning.

October 23, 2011

∴ New Brew for You

Lost Rhino, the newest microbrewer in northern Virginia, has put a new beer on tap: Navigator Amber Lager. They're billing this 4.5 ABV brew as a "session" beer, meaning you could drink a few in a session of beer enjoyment.

Navigator is a lot like Rhino's recent RhinO'fest beer. It carries a solid malt base with just enough hops to produce an even balance. Where 'Fest was malt-heavy, this one is malt-neutral. It's what an American macro lager would taste like if the usual suspects tweaked their recipes for flavor, rather than profit.

Navigator goes down easy, and like most lagers, the colder the better. I'm enjoying a pint watching the Redskins get beaten again. If they bottled this one it could be a lager lover's go-to house beer.

Lost Rhino is located in an industrial park just north of Dulles airport, near the huge Verizon offices and AOL. They've got two more beers in their tanks, biding time for a November debut. One's a Belgian, and I don't recall the other. The great thing about a craft brewer like Rhino, which employs the talents of experienced brewmasters, is their willingness to experiment with a variety of styles. I'm loving the results.

October 22, 2011

‘Steve Jobs’ by Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs book cover

Janet Maslin, writing for The New York Times:

"Mr. Jobs promised not to look over Mr. Isaacson’s shoulder, and not to meddle with anything but the book’s cover."

(Via Business Insider.)

And it shows. The book's cover, at right, looks like nothing so much as an Apple product, or the box one came in. Right down to the Helvetica typeface.

Pre-orders have been selling like iPhones, too. Fitting.

iCloud Oops

Ted Landau, writing about iCloud sync for macworld.com:

"While it generally works well when syncing documents among iOS devices, syncing to and from Macs is another story. Even when syncing among iOS devices, there is potential danger—including a chance that all of your documents will vanish."

(Via Dave Nanian.)

The short version: iCloud does not sync documents with OS X devices (MacBooks, iMacs, Mac minis) in any meaningful way. Documents must be manually copied to a user's iCloud account by dragging and dropping from the Finder to the iCloud web app. Documents are converted to mobile iWork format upon opening them with an iOS device running mobile iWork apps, and that iOS formatted version will automatically sync among a user's iOS devices. It will not sync back to the OS X platform in any useful way.

Note, too, that if you use some other document processing software, such as Microsoft Office for Mac, libreoffice.org or openoffice.org, you're currently SOL. You can't access the documents from your Mac once they're in iCloud, because there are no iOS apps for your chosen office suite. If you open the docs in mobile iWork you'll again end up with one version in the cloud and a separate, unsynced version on your Mac.

Wow. Apple appears to have really blown this aspect of iCloud. The one aspect that I personally found interesting, because truth be told why would anyone need to put their music "in the cloud?" My music is already on my iPhone and kept in perfect sync wirelessly with my Mac every time I plug it in to charge the battery (thanks to iOS 5 wireless sync).

∴ Another @Hyundai Update

Got a phone message last evening from someone at the Hyundai southern regional office, telling me that he was personally tracking my Sonata's problems and that he'd be in contact with a field engineer Monday. I should be hearing from him again buy Monday afternoon.

I'm encouraged to hear that, but still so utterly disappointed by the poor response from my dealer's service department that I'm taking a wait-and-see attitude.

Hyundai: impress me. Because you've damn near lost my business at this point.

October 21, 2011

Horse Race Politics

Slate has a terrific animated graphic of the horse race for the Republican presidential nomination. Each candidate is represented by a horse, racing through the past year of months, gaining and losing position as his or her poll numbers rise and fall.

Slick. Give it a look.

And a picture is worth a thousand sound bites: this is Romney's race to lose. He's been the most consistent leader in the polls and only improves his debate and campaign style as the months roll along. He'd be a formidable opponent for President Obama next year if he got the nod.

And frankly, the others don't stand a chance. Most are buffoons. The other stand-out among them is Huntsman, but GOPers don't seem to like his politics.

October 20, 2011

∴ Lies That My @Hyundai Dealer Told Me

I’ve previously written about my two-month old 2012 Hyundai Sonata’s ongoing problems, and the contact I’ve had with both my dealer’s service department and Hyundai Motors USA. I heard back from HMUSA today, in a follow-up phone call to my mail of last evening.

A nice fellow by the name of Steve called my home at around noon today. I was at work and returned his call this evening. He acknowledged my mail and the complaints I had lodged. He had opened a ticket with regional Hyundai management, he said. He arranged for a field service engineer to visit my dealer’s service department and examine my car. He had then called and spoken with the service manager at Brown’s Leesburg Hyundai.

Steve spoke with “Ally,” whom I assume is Alicia Thomas. Thomas is the contact for Brown’s service department. Ally told him that my car was still at the body shop, having the creaking sunroof repaired. And therein lies some dishonesty. Either she lied to him, or the service advisor lied to me two weeks ago.

The service advisor had called me on October 9 to inform me that their technician had accidentally punched a hole in my leather seat, and that it would be replaced. I asked where the car was, and he said it would be back from the body shop “soon,” at which time the service manager (“Ally,” I guess) would drive it on her routine commute for a few days to try and replicate the cruise control problem.

And now, through Steve, I learn that no test driving has taken place at all, that the car is still at the body shop. Is the car really still at the body shop two weeks later, for a job that takes a day or two to complete? Or did the car return to the dealer from the body shop two weeks ago and sit on the dealer’s lot all along, forgotten?

Why hasn’t my car gotten the level of care I was promised when I purchased it? Or was that the first lie?

I can’t blame Hyundai USA for my service woes. I blame the dealer, Brown’s Leesburg Hyundai. I blame the service manager, Ally. It’s her shop, and they’re failing. This is the single worst experience I’ve had with a service department in twenty-eight years of driving.

At this point I don’t know whether I’ll ever purchase another Hyundai product. I know for certain that I’ll never again do business with Brown’s Leesburg Hyundai.

The World Will (Not) End Tomorrow

Harold Camping

Henry Blodget, writing for Silicon Alley Insider:

"The prognosticator who predicted that the world would end this spring, Harold Camping, has updated his forecast, and the new End Date is October 21."

Harold's picture is visual proof that ignorance is, indeed, bliss.

The fact that Harold suffered a stroke in the months since his first prediction for the end of the world would seem to indicate that tomorrow has an elevated probability to be the of the world for Harold, if not the rest of us.

October 19, 2011

∴ More @Hyundai Fun

I’ve previously written about my problematic new Hyundai Sonata. Here's an update.

I periodically post mildly annoying Tweets to the @Hyundai user on Twitter, usually in response to a gushing marketing Tweet from them.

This evening I received a direct message reply from them.

Mr Richardson we’d like to help. Call us at 714.965.3165 or send us an e-mail (HyundaiDigital@hmausa.com) and we’ll do all we can to assist.

I took them up on their offer and mailed them the following.

Hi,
I was directed to contact you via your corporate Twitter account, @Hyundai. I’ve had an ongoing problem with my two-month old 2012 Sonata since picking it up from the dealer, new. This problem is only one of three issues I’ve encountered with the car, all within the first month of ownership. You can read about my experience on my weblog at


Bazinga Journal: @Hynudai, Challenged


In a nutshell, as a first-time Hyundai customer I’m very disappointed in both the initial quality of my Sonata and the service rendered by your dealer at Brown’s Leesburg Hyundai in Leesburg, Virginia.


The car was delivered to me with a mis-aligned front end. It strongly pulled to the right. After being asked several times whether I had hit a curb they agreed to align it, free. I don’t understand why a “no” from me the first time required additional questioning. The car should have arrived from the assembly plant properly aligned. Grilling the customer just pisses him off.


The sunroof developed a loud creaking sound when the chassis flexed through a turn. The technician replicated the problem. The car ended up in a body shop. A two-month old $26,000 vehicle should not require that kind of service. And since the body shop doesn’t have a Hyundai sign out front, I’m concerned about both the quality of the service and its implications for my warranty coverage.


The service department advisor was planning to return the vehicle to me with a safety-threatening problem unrepaired. The cruise control periodically would not disengage despite repeatedly pressing the cancel button. The technician didn’t see the problem during his short test drive, so they wouldn’t test the control module for defects. It was only after I told the service advisor that I was leaving with his loaner and wasn’t coming back, and that they could keep my Sonata for a month if that’s what it took to replicate the cruise control problem, that he and his manager decided to turn over the problem to a “field engineer.”


I dropped off the car September 29. I told them to keep the Sonata on October 4. I heard from the dealer on October 7, when I was informed that the technician had punched a hole in my rear seat leather, and as a result I’d be getting a new seat.


That was a week and a half ago. I don’t know how busy the “field engineer” is, whether or not he or she has looked at my car, or if it will be repaired this week or next, if at all. By the end of next week it will be just about a month since I dropped off the car.


Initial quality problems are one thing, but handing back a car to a customer with a safety problem is just foolish. Your service department has established a paper trail on this problem. What if I get into an accident with it after taking it back?


I was enthusiastic about my new car when I took delivery, but this experience has frankly soured me on your company’s products. My wife’s car is up for replacement next and she’s already looking elsewhere.


I’ve publicly written about my Sonata’s problems, and I’ll be posting this and any replies to my weblog as well. I hope we can get my car fixed, soon. At this point I’d be glad to take my money back and call it even.

We’ll see how this plays out. At this point I’m pessimistic about the outcome. I suspect they’ll shrug, tell me they couldn’t replicate the problem, and hand me the key.

I’ll follow up here in any event.

October 14, 2011

Ball Camera Takes Panoramic Photos

Dylan Love, writing for Silicon Alley Insider:

“This ball is loaded with an array of 36 regular cameras and it takes a panoramic picture when you throw it into the air and it reaches the highest point of the toss. The 360-degree photographs are fully viewable using special software on your computer.”

Really neat device designed for the creator’s thesis project. He’s got a patent on it, so maybe we’ll see them for sale one day. Think of all the fun uses you could come up with!

October 13, 2011

Shit That Siri Says

A Tumblr blog collects the odd and humorous ramblings of Siri, iPhone 4S's new intelligent assistant technology. My favorite:

user: "Open the pod bay doors."

Siri: "I'm sorry Joshua, I'm afraid I can't do that."

then ...

"Are you happy now?"

The-good,-bad-and-ugly-of-Apple’s-iOS

Andy Ihnatko, writing for The Chicago Sun-Times:

"There are new apps and new features and new behaviors, yes . . . but primarily, iOS 5 represents a basic shift in how Apple wants to think about their mobile devices."

Andy's thorough look at Apple's new mobile OS, available now for iPad, iPhone 3GS and newer, and third generation and newer iPod Touch devices.

I wish I could write as engagingly and thoughtfully as Andy. Great stuff.

Apple's update and activation servers were getting hammered by millions of users yesterday, leading to annoying delays and failure messages. You should be ok to try it now, however.

October 11, 2011

Skin Cell Gun

Jason Kottke, writing for kottke.org:

"Scientists have developed a spray gun that sprays the burn victim's own skin cells onto the affected area heals them within a matter of days, not weeks or months."

Click through for a 3.5-minute video showing how well this new medical device works. It's really stunning, nothing short of a breakthrough in burn care.

iCloud a No-Go for Windows XP Machines

9To5Mac has posted a purloined copy of internal Apple employee instructional documents. The documents help employees explain iOS 5 and iCloud to customers, in the form of a bullet list overview.

When iCloud was unveiled this past June, one interesting feature was integration of the new service with Windows PCs. Users could enjoy seamless sync of their files across operating systems by installing an iCloud client on their Windows machines. Today's documents indicate, however, that only newer Windows operating systems, from Vista onward, will be supported. Windows XP-based machines will not make the cut.

Also of note, the document indicates that iCloud sync is free for iOS 5 and OS X users. If you're considering using iCloud with a Windows-only setup (not sure why you would, with the availability and usefulness of Dropbox), you may be out of luck.

October 10, 2011

Steve Jobs' COD

AppleInsider:

"Apple co-founder Steve Job died of respiratory arrest caused by a pancreatic tumor, according to a copy of his death certificate."

A less aggressive tumor was removed from Steve-o during his first medical leave of absence in 2004. I guess this one wasn't so benign.

Shame. The light that burns brightest, and all that. I'm a computer geek; Steve is a giant among my kind. I truly hate to see him go.

I don't believe he had any grand vision for a computing future when he co-invented the first Apple machines. But I do believe he had a long-term vision this past decade, as the iPhone, iPad and soon, iCloud were launched. And I want to see that vision made real.

October 8, 2011

Oakland Raiders Owner Al Davis Dies

Jim Trotter, via :

“Raiders.com reports that Al Davis has passed away. Few people had as big an impact on the league. RIP, Mr. Davis.”

Wow. Al’s been around the NFL a long, long time.

The good: he hired Madden, the consummate coach. The bad: he failed to invest enough over the past decades to make his team more than a fluke winner. Maybe the next owner will take a more aggressive approach to acquiring talent.

October 7, 2011

Computer Virus Hits U.S. Drone Fleet

Noah Shachtman, writing for Wired.com's Danger Room:

"A computer virus has infected the cockpits of America’s Predator and Reaper drones, logging pilots’ every keystroke as they remotely fly missions over Afghanistan and other warzones."

And so it begins. Just last week, the FAA announced that it will have regulations in place by the end of this year allowing UAVs to fly within the US national airspace system, alongside passenger, freight and manned military aircraft. There is a significant, plausible threat in the intersection of these facts.

(Via @ejacqui.)

October 6, 2011

ESPN to Hank Williams Jr.: You're Fired

CNN.com:

"ESPN says it has severed its relationship with singer Hank Williams Jr.

Can't say that I'll miss that yahoo, or his song, regardless of his political opinions.

Now if they'd just unload John Gruden ...

Gruber: Universe Dented, Grass Underfoot

John Gruber, long one of my favorite technology writers, at his best. Keen eye, and tight, evocative prose. I couldn't excerpt any of it, because like an Apple product, there are no extraneous bits.

After the WWDC keynote four months ago, I saw Steve, up close.

He looked old. Not old in a way that could be measured in years or even decades, but impossibly old. Not tired, but weary; not ill or unwell, but rather, somehow, ancient. But not his eyes. His eyes were young and bright, their weapons-grade intensity intact. His sweater was well-worn, his jeans frayed at the cuffs.

But the thing that struck me were his shoes, those famous gray New Balance 991s. They too were well-worn. But also this: fresh bright green grass stains all over the heels.

Those grass stains filled my mind with questions. How did he get them? When? They looked fresh, two, three days old, at the most. Apple keynote preparation is notoriously and unsurprisingly intense. But not so intense, those stains suggested, as to consume the entirety of Jobs’s days. There is no grass in Moscone West.

Surely, my mind raced, surely he has more than one pair of those shoes. He could afford to buy the factory that made them. Why wear this grass-stained pair for the keynote, a rare and immeasurably high-profile public appearance? My guess: he didn’t notice, didn’t care. One of Jobs’s many gifts was that he knew what to give a shit about. He knew how to focus and prioritize his time and attention. Grass stains on his sneakers didn’t make the cut.


Late last night, long hours after the news broke that he was gone, my thoughts returned to those grass stains on his shoes back in June. I realize only now why they caught my eye. Those grass stained sneakers were the product of limited time, well spent. And so the story I’ve told myself is this:

I like to think that in the run-up to his final keynote, Steve made time for a long, peaceful walk. Somewhere beautiful, where there are no footpaths and the grass grows thick. Hand-in-hand with his wife and family, the sun warm on their backs, smiles on their faces, love in their hearts, at peace with their fate.

(from Daring Fireball)

October 5, 2011

∴ Who Cares About iPhone, Steve Jobs Has Died

Such brilliance. Prime of life. Huge loss. No words.

 

Mets, Yankees, and the Space Between

Michele Catalano, writing for American McCarver., after finding for sale a Yankees cap in Mets colors:

"Who would buy such a thing? Who would wear it? I am willing to bet my signed Dan Pasqua bat that there is not a person on this earth who declares an allegiance to both teams. And if there is, that person is a jerk"

I grew up on Long Island, where you were either a Mets fan (guilty) or a Yankees fan, if you cared about baseball at all. Sure, the sports freaks followed both, but I'm talking fans here.

I remember tuning into a TV broadcast to watch the Mets play the Astros in the 1986 NLCS in the midst of a house party, shortly before they went on to beat Bill Buchner in the World Series. Yet I can just as clearly recall that until I tuned into a playoff game decades later, I had never seen a Yankees game on TV or at the stadium. Why would I?

So to Michele's point, who on Earth would buy a Yankees cap in Mets colors?

∴ Thinking About iPhone 4S

So a lot of people were disappointed about Apple’s iPhone 4S, unveiled yesterday in Cupertino. That disappointment is misplaced. Here are a few thoughts about it.

From a strictly feature set perspective, the 4S is a significant upgrade from last year’s iPhone 4. Faster processor, faster graphics, more memory to keep more web pages and apps in memory, faster Bluetooth, better camera, world-phone capability, a white color option. But feature sets aren’t how Apple or its customers keep score. That’s a chump’s game. So the 4S is, in the Apple realm, a minor update to an existing product. There’s the seed of disappointment, but it’s wrong-headed.

Minor updates have permeated Apple’s year to date. The new iMacs and MacBook Airs were evolutionary, not revolutionary. Processor upgrades, SSD availability, new super-fast data port called Thunderbolt. Great products made one or two ticks better still.

From a software perspective, the value of iOS 5, iCloud and Siri, to be delivered just before the new phone hits the streets, cannot be overestimated. This new OS will provide a seamless way of syncing user content over all iOS and OS X devices, and Siri’s natural language capability frankly looks mind-blowing. There is simply no other device with such deeply embedded capability on the market.

This mirrors what Apple has done with OS X this year, too. Their desktop operating system has been enhanced with some of the mobile OS’s features, and prepared for its connection to the iCloud environment. That establishes a bridgehead from the traditional side of the computing world that will meet the mobile world in the iCloud middle.

Yesterday’s downfall? I think many were disappointed because the mythical teardrop-shaped device with a slightly larger retina display didn’t materialize. The outward appearance of the new phone wasn’t dazzlingly new, it was identical to last year’s model. A device that was widely praised when it appeared, and is still the thinnest, sleekest example of wireless phone industrial design on the market, to be sure. But last year’s design none-the-less.

Apple has raised expectations for their product unveilings by knocking it out of the park with the iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Air. But only in hindsight sometimes, a la iPad 2. Disappointment with iPhone 4S betrays a fetish for eye candy spawned by those heightened expectations. It’s a false malaise, too. Here’s why:

The brief history of iPhone models:

  • iPhone: a star is born. Many are impressed.
  • iPhone 3G: star gets a speed upgrade with 3G capability. Significant update.
  • iPhone 3GS: star gets a minor update, including faster processor.
  • iPhone 4: a new star is born, crowd goes wild. Significant update.
  • iPhone 4S: star gets a minor update, including a faster processor.
  • iPhone 5: what do you think comes next?

The only difficulty ahead, really, is which wireless provider to choose.

October 4, 2011

AT&Ts New App Will Let You Get a New iPhone -- From Your Existing iPhone

Ina Fried, writing for All Things Digital:

“AT&T subscribers eligible for an upgrade will soon be able to get a new phone right from their existing device and have the new one shipped directly to their house, AllThingsD has learned.”

If the new iPhone 4S looks tasty enough to upgrade from your existing iPhone, and you’re an AT&T customer, you may be able to use this new app to pull the trigger on a new toy.

Click through for the news. The app isn’t available just yet.

∴ iCloud, Day Zero

Notes from Tim Cook's product launch in Cupertino, today. Just highlights of the new stuff:

  • iOS 5 will be available October 12.
  • iTunes Match, which matches all of your songs with high-fidelity versions in iCloud, or uploads your copy if a match isn't available, goes live by the end of October for $25/year.
  • iPod Touch will be available in 8, 16 and 32 GB models, black or white, priced at $199, $299 and $399, respectively. Still available: iPod Nano in 8 and 16 GB for $129 and $149, respectively, and iPod Shuffle in 2 GB for $49. No mention of the aging, 160 GB hard drive-based iPod Classic.
  • Follow-up to iPhone 4 is the new iPhone 4S. Same A5 CPU as the iPad 2, retina display, dual-core graphics processor. Same form factor as the existing iPhone 4. Available in 16, 32 and 64 GB, black or white, for $199, $299 and $399, respectively. Available October 14 for Verizon, AT&T and Sprint customers. All prices are with a two-year wireless service contract.
  • iPhone 4S adds diverse antennas for send vs. receive. Data bandwidth double the previous model.
  • iPhone 4S is a "world phone," containing radio chips for both GSM (AT&T and the rest of the world) and CDMA (Verizon, Sprint) wireless capability.
  • iPhone 4S has an 8 megapixel camera. f2.4, five element lens. Face detection. Fast startup. 1080p video recording with image stabilization. Throw away your point-and-shoot camera, this will likely be better, and more likely to be in your pocket when you need a camera.
  • Siri: intelligent assistant is part of iOS 5 on iPhone 4S (not previous phones running iOS 5). Command your phone with your voice. Ask how is the weather, get a forecast. Ask for Greek restaurants, get a list of five. Tell Siri to schedule a reminder, it does. This feature must be seen to be believed. Slick.
  • Existing iPhone 4, in 8 GB, will be $99, and the existing iPhone 3GS in 8 GB will be free (with contract).
  • No iPhone 5 … like the Red Sox, wait 'til next year.

∴ @Hyundai, Challenged

I spent a lot of time mulling my choices for a new car a few months ago, eventually deciding on a Hyundai Sonata. It not only looks great, it’s comfortable and the price is at least $10k less than other, similarly equipped sedans. And it’s quite a nice ride, too. But it hasn’t turned out all sweetness and light.

I’ve run across a trio of problems, from minor to safety-threatening. This isn’t what I expected from my new car.

The first problem emerged immediately upon leaving the dealer’s lot. The steering wheel wasn’t straight when the car rolled straight on the road, regardless of lane or road crowning.

The other two issues are more serious. About two weeks after I took delivery I began noticing a moderately loud creaking sound coming from the sunroof, whenever the car was driven slowly over an uneven surface. A surface like our gravel driveway, or the intersection at the end of our street where the road dips through the corner.

The third issue is more annoying, partly because it makes the car somewhat dangerous to operate and partly because it appears to be a software problem. I spend a lot of time diagnosing and fixing software-related problems in my day job. Buggy software should never make it to real-time processing environments. Even before the roof started creaking, the cruise control was failing to recognize a pressed cancel button.

I discovered this problem as I zipped along I-66 in Virginia one afternoon. As I overtook another vehicle I saw that I couldn’t change lanes to pass. I hit the cruise control cancel button, but it wouldn’t disengage. I tapped the brake to disengage and slowed, late, a little more rapidly than I had expected to have to.

The same happened again as I descended a winding hill, when I wanted to slow for the curves. Again, multiple button presses did nothing to disengage the cruise control. This time I hit the master on/off button, shutting it  off altogether.

This has happened several time now, sometimes at higher rates of speed. I’ve also had the cruise control fail to engage, but that’s less of a problem than failing to disengage.

I brought the car to my Hyundai dealer last week. After I assured them twice that I hadn’t hit a curb, and they failed to find any impact damage, they agreed to align the front end free. I’ve since found other Sonata owners online with the same complaint, so I know this is an emerging issue for Hyundai.

The technician was able to replicate the sunroof creak during his test drive, took apart the headliner, but couldn’t identify any broken welds or other problems with the roof assembly. So they’re jobbing out the problem to a local body shop. I’m really unimpressed with the need to put a new car through this kind of service. Even more-so that the car is still at the body shop five days later, without word from them as to what’s going on. Hopefully the direction for this came from Hyundai corporate, and isn’t a shot in the dark to fix an unrecognized issue. Others are reporting the same problem online, and the fix appears to be re-torquing the crossbar bolts. I don’t understand why my car is still at a body shop.

The cruise control problem is intermittent, though. Sure enough, the technician couldn’t replicate the problem and the plan right now is to return the car to me, unrepaired.

This problem rears its head at the precise moment I’ve decided that I need to slow the hell down. It’s a safety issue. A safety issue that others are reporting in online discussion forums, and have managed to get fixed, free, with a control module replacement. So I’m not being served very well at my dealership.

I made that last point clear this morning when I stopped by the dealership. They simply weren’t going to deal with the cruise control problem at all, because the technician couldn’t replicate it during his short test drive. That is, right up until I told the service advisor that I was going to drive the loaner vehicle off their lot and not return until the problem was fixed. He conferred with his manager, and suddenly a field engineer is going to take a look at the problem. I’m waiting on a phone call later today.

Hyundai is fond of their latest ad campaign, calling it the Hyundai Challenge. I’d be pleased if they put a microphone in my car to pick up what I have to say when the cruise control fails to disengage as I’m rapidly approaching another vehicle at highway speeds. It would be decidedly different from what we all hear in the television commercials.

I have a pair of friends looking around for their next car. One is eying the Sonata for the same reasons I did. After finding these three problems I have to say that Hyundai’s initial quality is poor. And their service response to safety-related issues is equally poor. I shouldn’t have to threaten keeping their loaner to get better attention, especially when the problem I’m reporting is an issue known to other customers, who openly discuss it online. My experience isn’t helping Hyundai sell cars to my friends.

October 3, 2011

MG Siegler to Leave TechCrunch

MG Siegler, writing for himself:

"Enough with burying the lede: yes, I’m becoming a VC. I couldn’t be happier to announce that I’m joining CrunchFund as a general partner. It’s my honor to join Mike and Pat in that role. And I thank them for the opportunity."

MG is leaving TechCrunch, one of the top tech and startup blogs, to join CrunchFund, a venture capital partnership. Great gain for them; huge loss for the rest of us. MG is among the top writers in the tech arena, and one of my personal top two.

Aw, maaaan ...

∴ The Night Before iPhone

It's been sixteen months since iPhone 4 debuted as the newest Apple product on the AT&T network. That device's successor appears tomorrow at 1 PM, EDT. Engadget, Gizmodo, TechCrunch, Boy Genius Report, pick your poison, they'll all be live-blogging the event. No matter what Apple unveils tomorrow, though, here are a few points worth considering before you jump into the new device(s):

  • Wait for a point upgrade to iOS 5. Apple has a solid reputation for not "gamma testing" their software on unsuspecting customers, but the expansion of the iOS 5 user base from developers and beta testers to the wider public will stress test that new operating system beyond what Apple could accomplish. Every new OS release brings with it a handful of bugs, some benign, some disabling. iOS 3 debuted with a bug that prevented some iPhones from ringing on incoming calls. Every call went to voicemail. Apple fixed it about a month later in the first subsequent point release, in fact, Apple reserves the first point release number (.0.1) for that first, quick update to every new operating system about one month after it first appears.
  • Wait before jumping into the iCloud service. You, me, and everyone else who use iOS devices are eagerly awaiting the first multi-device sync service to tie together all of Apple's computing devices. We all have documents, spreadsheets, photos, music and more to upload to the cloud and redistribute to all of our iOS and OS X devices. And every one of us who adopts iOS 5 this week will begin a data flow to Apple's data centers at about the same time. Unless Apple decides to roll out iCloud service in waves, expect it to suffer periodic slowness until the glut of new users passes. There's the possibility of initial bugginess, too. Save yourself the disappointment of the new Christmas toy that arrives broken by waiting for the first iOS 5 point release before jumping in.
  • Use that waiting period to decide to which carrier you want to commit two years of expensive monthly fees. Many iPhone and non-iPhone wireless customers had planned to jump on an iPhone when it first debuted on Verizon, earlier this year. They were disappointed when the new device was just an iPhone 4 with a different radio chip, and patiently waited for tomorrow's debut of the new iPhone. If the rumors prove correct, we'll all have a choice of AT&T, Verizon or Sprint for the next phone. So which is best? AT&T has had problems with voice call disconnects, but unless tomorrow's phones bring 4G capability (probably not) they're still the only service to allow for simultaneous voice and data use. And their voice service has improved over the past couple of years. Verizon has a solid voice and data network, but their voice quality is of somewhat lesser quality than AT&T's, and there's the either-voice-or-data issue. Both of these companies provide widely available native voice and 3G data availability, although Verizon has the edge on 3G coverage. The new player will be Sprint. They have a spottier voice footprint and their 3G footprint is akin to Swiss cheese, but they're the only carrier offering truly unlimited data plans. So there's a lot to consider before leaping into a new plan. Take the month before iOS 5.0.1 appears to survey what Sprint iPhone customers have to say about their service, and if 4G is part of the new iPhone, how it works on AT&T and Verizon's networks.

The Steve Jobs reality distortion field may not obtain from a non-Jobs product announcement, but it'll be mighty tempting to jump into a new iPhone/iOS combination anyway. Resist that urge and come November, or later, you'll be glad you did. Then enjoy your new gadget.

∴ Home Search, Simplified

We took a brief driving trip down to Georgia a week or two ago, for our first look at potential retirement destinations. Neither of us is hanging it up any time soon, but we'd like to have a few solid ideas for where we want to live when we do.

I didn't want to waste a real estate agent's time looking at properties, since we weren't buying right away. Instead, we used Google Maps to drive around the neighborhoods surrounding Athens and other communities. It was a hit-or-miss way of finding homes we'd want to live in. Mostly "miss."

About halfway through the trip I stumbled upon a terrific assistant for finding and viewing properties: the iOS app from realtor.com. It comes in a universal version for iPhone and iPad, differing only in layout. Each is tailored for the available display area on each device.

The app uses Google Maps as a foundation. You can set a filter to refine the property search, defining price range, home features, location and open house status. Available properties fitting your filtered requirements appear as a layer on the map. An additional feature called Scout can label each property with its price, and uses the device's GPS chip to array them around your current position. Drive through a community and the properties for sale stream past your moving location. A well-crafted filter setting can eliminate most of the properties from the display, letting you drive directly to the communities and homes that fit your needs.

Tap any property to drill down into its details. Photos, property listing sheet, agent contact information; all the information you'd get from a multiple listing service book is at your fingertips. We used the app on a drive through Charlottesville, Virginia and with judicious use of the filter were able to pare down the available properties from dozens to just the few that fit our wants and needs.

The app is free, and available for iPhone and iPad in the Apple App Store. It'll change how you go about looking for a new home.

October 2, 2011

'Arrested Development' Coming Back for One More Season

TMZ.com:

""Arrested Development" creator Mitch Hurwitz announced today that the show will be coming back to television -- five years after it was cancelled."

One of my all-time favorite TV shows! From the article, it sounds like this will be a short "season" to act as a promo for the forthcoming movie.

Burning Out on Burning Man

Meredith May, writing for SFGate.com:

"as the crowd steadily has grown from 23,000 my first year to 54,000 today, Black Rock City has become increasingly like trying to navigate the frenzy of buses, bikes, cars and pedestrians in downtown San Francisco at rush hour. A whole lotta "me," and very little "us.""

A short tale of what happens when the annual Woodstock for self-obsessed art freaks turns into an annual Woodstock for self-obsessed greed-heads and hangers-on. The weird becomes ugly.

Circled RVs, along with their attendant water and sewer trucks and droning generators, renders a vivid image. Rather than muddy, naked people taking a dump in the barren desert, attendees could watch $100,000 bloated, sand-blasted recreational vehicles belching black water into a septic vacuum.

Ain't technology grand?