December 23, 2012

Boiling Water Freezes in Mid-Air

Russian winter, where it doesn’t take long for water to freeze. -41C = -41.8F.

No need for sub-titles, here.

McDonnell: We Should not be Afraid of Drones

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (R-surprise, surprise):

“‘We should not be afraid of any new technologies consistent with our civil liberty,’ says Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Virginia isn’t using any drone technology right now, but McDonnell says they could use it in the future.”

… because law enforcement has never misused technology to violate citizen’s civil liberties. Ever.

A clue, Bob. It’s not the drones we’re concerned with so much as the government agency personnel using them.

December 22, 2012

Bizarro

Go here. Subscribe. Read these comics. Laugh!

You're welcome.

Drum: If You Want to Regulate Guns, Talk About Guns. Period.

Kevin Drum, in a brief piece for Mother Jones:

“Keep this firmly in mind. LaPierre’s only goal yesterday was to hijack the media narrative. “

The NRA is not noble in its cause or patriotic in its duty. It is a professional lobbying firm, same as the rest of the crowd on K Street, Washington DC. See them in that context and much of their rhetoric falls away, like last year's campaign speeches.

Tell me what you do, and I'll tell you what you are. Wayne LaPierre is a slight-of-hand artist.

Frum: "I Was Adam Lanza"

Words from someone who lived them, via David Frum's weblog. If understanding leads to healing, this seems to be a good place to start.

December 21, 2012

Microsoft Goes for the Gimmick

Ken Segall raises an issue I've long wondered about Microsoft's (and the Android clones') advertising. Who the hell are they targeting?

Apple ads: practical demonstration of people using Apple products in ways that non-geek, non-hipsters might. Upbeat, even cheerful tone.

Says: "Buy this. It's great."

Microsoft ads: surreal, choreographed demonstration of big company advertising budget. Dancers swing and sway with Surface tablets, attaching and disconnecting keyboards while not actually doing anything with the device. The selling point appears to be the magnetic click of attaching the keyboard, which is of admittedly nice design.

Says: "We have no idea what we're doing, but we're having fun doing it. We should have stuck to phones."

Android ads: frightening, frat boy inspired demonstration of robotic equipment, cyborgs and wanna-be geeks attempting to pick up women by showing off their mobile devices. Yup, that'll work. Gets 'em every time.

Says: I have no idea. I can't figure out who this is supposed to appeal to. My wife says, "frat boys who like gadgets." Close enough.

The Politics of Budget Negotiations

Because I get a kick out of how the sausage is made, here's Kevin Drum writing about House Speaker John Boehner's "failed" Plan B for Mother Jones:

“A second possibility—and I honestly don’t know how likely this is—is that Boehner now knows he can’t get the tea partiers to vote for anything, so he’ll give up on the idea of bringing them into the fold. Instead of trying to craft a bill that can get 218 Republican votes, he’ll round up fifty or a hundred of the non-crazies and pass a compromise bill along with 150 Democrats. On this reading, today’s failure actually makes a fiscal cliff compromise more likely.”

The simplest explanation is often the right one, but politics rarely follows science's simpler methods. Perhaps the true intent of Speaker Boehner's Plan B was to expose the GOP caucus's more intransigent members, allowing him to move beyond the rightest of wingers in fashioning a deal palatable to Democrats and the more moderate (yes, there are still some out there) Republicans.

If that's the case, there's quite a lot of politicking going on among Republican back benchers right now. That would make for an interesting few days of political news next week.

December 15, 2012

Credible Perspective

… from someone who grew up gaining deep knowledge of firearms.

Haven't we had enough of this, America?

Ebert: How the Press Reports Mass Killings

Somehow none of what Ebert wrote surprises me. You?

(via BoingBoing.)

Video Tour of the ISS

Departing International Space Station commander Sunny Williams gives a fascinating, 25-minute tour of the International Space Station. (via Slate.)

December 12, 2012

WSJ: Apple Developing a TV

Apple smoke signals in The Wall Street Journal almost always mean there’s a fire burning somewhere, because the Journal doesn’t report rumor. I guess we’ll see the result of any such development in the spring of 2013, earliest.

Recall that Apple refreshed or reintroduced almost their entire product line-up this past fall, leaving no obvious announcements, save the Mac Pro, for the next six months leading up to WWDC 2013. WWDC usually brings the unveiling of OS X’s next version.

How interesting is a new television? Not very. The market is saturated with fine examples this many years after the US switch to digital broadcast. Indeed, high definition TVs have become commodity items.

Interest in an Apple television stems from the crappy viewing and recording experience we’re currently stuck with, and how the company has “cracked” the problem of making a TV experience that doesn’t suck. A television that plugs into my local computer network and allows both live and view-on-demand from my cable Internet provider would go a long way to removing the suck.

(via BGR.)

December 6, 2012

Washington Post Plans a Paywall

Keach Hagey, writing for The Wall Street Journal:

“The Washington Post, one of the last holdouts against the trend of charging readers for online access to newspaper articles, is likely to reverse that decision in 2013, according to people familiar with the matter.”

I wondered how long it would take the Post to raise a web paywall after canceling our newspaper subscription a few years ago. The Post web site was giving away all of the paper’s content, even syndicating it by section through RSS feeds. Why pay for what could be had free, especially if I could tailor the content to just what I wanted, and nothing I didn’t?

The New York Times, a rival publication to the Post, raised a similar paywall a couple of years ago. So far it appears to be making money for them without unduly restricting readership. The Post’s effort will likely have the same effect. It’ll give them a little more time to figure out how better to compete in the online news market, if nothing else.

December 3, 2012

Charlie Batch Also Had To Put His Dog To Sleep Last Week

Made me cry.

News Corp to Split Off Fox Group Entertainment Business

Dan Seifert, writing for The Verge:

“Rupert Murdoch’s media conglomerate, News Corporation, announced today that the two new companies being formed from its split will be called Fox Group and News Corporation. The company is being split to separate the media and entertainment side of the business from its news coverage.”

Mildly amusing to note that while news sources such The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones will stay with News Corp, Fox "News" Channel will go to the new Fox Group along with the rest of Rupert's entertainment properties, such as Fox Sports, the movie studio and the Fox television network. Everything in its place.

December 2, 2012

Daily Kos: Raising the Social Security Retirement Age

Laura Clawson, writing for Daily Kos:

“Many people who work behind desks and think raising the Social Security eligibility age would be a reasonable solution to the crisis they’re told exists in the program are just suffering from a lack of imagination.”

Adjustments must be made to the Social Security program, of that there is no question. What changes will be made is up for grabs. Here's a thought-provoking, fact-backed piece on why raising the SS eligibility age isn't the right choice.

It made me re-think my convictions, because raising the eligibility age is among those ideas I'd get behind. And yes, I work a desk job.

December 1, 2012

USS Enterprise Ends Service

WTOP has a neat write-up of the decommissioning ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk.

Bond Reconsidered

I couldn’t shake the ill feeling I had about Skyfall as I drove south to visit my mom last week, nor could I put a finger on why I felt that way. Mostly, I think, I was irritated that the film squandered the tight, engaging storytelling of the first and (arguably) second Daniel Craig-as-Bond flicks. Skyfall was a mess of plot, like a clown car driven willy-nilly around a circus ring. There was, too, its radical jump from the just-made-double-oh-status Bond in the previous two outings to the tired, near-retirement Bond of today. Are we done so quickly with the roguish, charming and deadly super-spy?

But there is, apparently, more. Giles Coren wrote a short piece for the Times of London that was spiked by his editor, who begged off claiming there were already too many Bond pieces in the press. There could have been this one more, though. He published it on his wife’s weblog, to which I’ve linked.

I, too, noticed the Giles’s plot points as the movie played and, despite being caught up in the story, felt a twinge of regret. “Shouldn’t have gone there,” I thought. And especially the last bit of the final scene, when Eve traded years of training for not only a desk job, but that of a secretary. Yes, that’s a spoiler. Sue me.

Dieter Bohn makes a similar argument, linking back to the Giles Coren piece and extending it a bit. Did it occur to you that by the film’s end, the villain had won?

Yeah, I’m beating this to death. I wouldn’t bother if I hadn’t gotten so much enjoyment from Craig’s first two turns as a character I’ve followed since I was a kid. I blame the writers, Purvis and Wade, who despite having written Casino Royale didn’t give me much to want to see again, as much as I do director Sam Mendes. Directors exist to give films a distinctive voice and weave the plot around a theme or two. Mendes, for my money, utterly failed.

November 28, 2012

Case-Shiller Home Price Rise for 6th Month

Barry Ritholtz has the data. Artificially low mortgage rates have much to do with this, but a bottom is still a bottom. The housing market has finally stabilized.

Given that housing is the single most expensive consumer purchase, and that consumers make up about 70% of the US economy, I believe this is a rough indicator of where consumer sentiment is headed.

Final numbers on the post-Thanksgiving weekend's purchasing aren't out quite yet, but my expectation is a solid increase over last year. There's pent-up consumer demand in our economy just waiting for a trigger. Positive sentiment, indicated by holiday shopping and buoyed by a stabilized housing market might be that trigger.

November 27, 2012

Dreaming of Apple Television

The Verge has a collection of mocked-up Apple Television product images, created by one of their readers. I want one of those!

November 26, 2012

A Bond Devoid of Style, Charm and Wit

We took in the latest James Bond film, Skyfall, today, with great expectation. It starred Daniel Craig, my favorite of the franchise players (yep, he edges Sean Connery for me). It was set in London, Shanghai and Macau, and co-starred Javier Bardem as the villain. What could go wrong?

On the plus side, there was Craig, and he was terrific as usual. But at least the first third of the film was about Bond losing his touch. He was out of circulation for just six months of movie time, but he couldn’t shoot or do pull-ups, and he was gray at the beard.

We know Craig has two more Bond films ahead of him. Will the final installment feature him with a cane?

Javier Bardem’s Silva was a quiet, seething, yet meticulous maniac, and I like that in a villain. Somehow, though, his character was never as engaging as Mads Mikkelson’s Le Chiffre from Casino Royale. I got the feeling that Bardem’s Silva could easily have been his equal, but his part never reached that level.

There were exotic locations in the film replete with gleaming towers and bright city lights, but most of the footage shot in Macau and Shanghai must have been left on the cutting room floor. That’s a shame, because what we did see was visually stunning. The bar scene with the concubine was quite well-done, and Bérénice Marlohe was arresting as a tightly-wound, terrified kept woman. It’s another shame that we didn’t get to see more of her before she was dead.

The sole reference to “Bond style” was his remarked admiration as a female bartender mixed a “perfect” martini for him. Really. The here-to-fore slightly bemused British agent was seen only fleetingly this time, during a scene with Eve in the otherwise grim underground headquarters of an MI6 under siege.

That word, grim, best describes the overall tone of the film from the time Bond plunges from the train until he is seen standing atop MI6's headquarters building in triumph.

On the flip side, we got a world-changing reveal in the final scene, in fact, the final scenes were among the best of the 2-hour, 23-minute film. The revealed plot point was left satisfyingly enigmatic, letting you wonder if, in fact, you saw what you just saw. You’re left to connect the dots later. It’s such a chestnut that you probably haven’t read the details anywhere. Don't go looking for it … it's a gem best uncovered within the film context.

I left the movie house mildly confused. I had entered wanting to like this film as much as I had Casino Royale, or even Quantum of Solace. That didn’t happen for me. If every bit of matter has an opposite, this film was essentially an anti-Casino Royale. This Bond, this M, this MI6 and, indeed, this England were lions in winter, and I have no use for that. Bond always rose above the debris of an empire in ruin. He does again this time, but barely.

I’m sure I’ll see Skyfall again, and again. Maybe it’ll grow on me. In contrast, I left this summer’s Dark Knight Rises wanting to see it again, and right away.

I went looking for movie reviews after we got home. I wanted to know if anyone else felt as I did; I wondered what was wrong with me. Rotten Tomatoes had given Skyfall a 92% rating. All the opening week reviews I had read were glowing. Then I found the SFGate film review. It captured what I felt about this film:

“Part of the romance of James Bond, what has kept it thriving for 50 years, is that the Bond life has seemed enviable: sex and danger and thrills and beautiful women and exotic locations and great clothes … but not this time. ‘Skyfall’ is a different kind of Bond movie, one that works just fine on its own terms, but a steady diet of this might kill the franchise. One ‘Skyfall’ is enough.”

Well-put. The rest of the review is worth a read if you were left wondering about Skyfall.

Take my opinion with a grain of salt, though. I’m the same guy who really didn’t like this summer’s The Avengers at all. Most who saw it, though, loved it. My trouble is that I'm always looking for the home run, the film that will blow off my socks. I got very lucky with Chris Nolan's Batman trilogy. Alas, Skyfall was not among their kind.

And yes, there were the inevitable (for me) reasons to never return to a theater. The older, somewhat hard-of-hearing couple who, of all the seats in the theater left after we other three movie-goers were seated, had to sit in our row and LOUDLY discuss each trailer as it was showing. And the couple who brought AN INFANT to the theater with fifteen minutes left in the film. I mean, WTF?

Skyfall: three stars out of five.

November 24, 2012

Black Friday Online Sales Up 23 Percent

Leena Rao, writing for TechCrunch:

“As of 11 am PST, PayPal is already seeing almost a 3-fold increase (190%) in global mobile payment volume on Black Friday 2012 compared to the same time period on Black Friday 2011.“

Lots of detail in this article. These numbers are very early, but are trending in the right direction. Note these are online sales, and the numbers likely include a shift from brick-and-mortar purchases as well as outright year-over-year gains.

I had a sneaking suspicion we’d see outsized increases in Black Friday sales this year after our own annual shop-hop a couple of weeks ago showed a 100%-gain over last year. There’s a LOT of pent-up demand in consumerland.

My take: when people decry the poor state of the US economy, don’t believe it. Economies don’t stay down forever, and ours has been in recovery for 13 quarters. It’s about time we see positive effect.

Netflix Is Bluffing And It Will Be Their Downfall

Armando Kirwin, writing for TechCrunch:

“I mean, come on! How could Netflix ever compete with the largest ecommerce company, the largest retailer, the largest advertising company (yeah I went there; sorry Google, just being honest), and the largest movie studios in Hollywood, all at the same time?”

Kirwin comes to an unsurprising conclusion. Read through to the last paragraph for his idea of what comes next, and no cheating!  It’s a short read, and worth it for the reasoned conclusion.

November 23, 2012

The Origin of "Black Friday"

Kevin Drum, writing for Mother Jones, pens a piece on the origins of the term "black Friday:"

“According to the retail industry, ‘Black Friday’ is the day when retail profits for the year go from red to black. Are you skeptical that this is really the origin of the term? You should be. “

I didn't have reason to question the common explanation until Kelly and I got into a business of our own. Suffice to say that if it took until late November to turn an annual profit, running a business would hardly be worth the struggle.

In fact, most businesses are in the black most quarters. What matters to a business's health is less bottom-line profit, which is fairly easy to attain, and more positive cash flow, which is more difficult after re-stocking, credits and owner's draws are factored in.

Worth a read.

November 20, 2012

Krugman: The New Republicans

Paul Krugman tells us how he really feels:

”today’s Republican party is an alliance between the plutocrats and the preachers, plus some opportunists along for the ride — full stop.”

The heyday for old-school Republicans died when Ronald Reagan took the presidential oath of office. His "three-legged stool" brought social conservatives (largely Christian fundamentalists) into the big tent, and thus began the era of Federal intervention into our bedrooms.

Kruggo doesn't believe there's any true soul-searching going on within the party. I'd say there's a re-strategizing going on, one that recognizes that the old formulas no longer hold true. No political party willingly goes extinct.

The GOP's next chapter: Bobby Jindal, Friend of Immigrants, Women and Gays Everywhere™.

A GOP that remains aligned with the preachers and plutocrats (read: the Koch brothers, et al) will fail to greater degrees as the coming years progress. I'm counting on wiser heads prevailing, and not letting that happen. US politics best serve Americans when all parties are rational, fact-backed and well-grounded in issues that resonate with more than the fringe.

Who knows, maybe David Frum has a future with tomorrow's Republican party. I don't agree with all of his politics, but he's a smart guy and an honest broker, and that goes a long way with me.

November 13, 2012

Gruber: Best Dell Ad Ever

John Gruber, writing for Daring Fireball:

“The device in question doesn’t actually look much at all like a MacBook Air or an iPad. It looks like a broken chair.”

Dell is out with a new device, a laptop that converts into a tablet.

I’ve seen images of it since it was teased a while back (maybe last CES?), and the word that first came to mind was “rickety.”

The display frame is a disaster waiting to happen. Or a service call. Given that every Dell laptop I’ve ever used needed at least one set of hinges replaced, that’s par for the course.

Click through for a photo.

November 12, 2012

November 11, 2012

On Veterans Day

Dfr

A simple thank-you to every man and woman who served, struggled or laid down their life for our freedom and the enjoyment of these United States.

We are ignorant occasionally and fools often, but we can pause and agree on the debt we owe to our veterans, including this guy. Thanks, Dad.

And So It Begins

Sahil Kapur, writing for TPM:

“‘Senator Graham and I have talked, and we are resuming the talks that were broken off two years ago,’ Schumer said on NBC’s ‘Meet The Press.’ ‘We had put together a comprehensive detailed blueprint on immigration reform. It had the real potential for bipartisan support.’

‘Graham and I are talking to our colleagues about this right now,’ he said, ‘and I think we have a darn good chance using this blueprint to get something done this year.’”

President George W. Bush put forward legislation for immigration reform and was rebuffed by his own party. Here we are, eight years later, and bipartisanship finally joins the cause.

See what you can do after you have your ass handed to you?

November 9, 2012

Divining the Future

David R. Kotok of Cumberland Advisors has an enlightening piece on investing for the rest of this decade. It’s a plainly written discussion backed by knowledgeable research and, importantly, explanation of known fact. Wondering how the Federal Reserve will handle interest rate policy through President Obama’s second term? Kotok has the goods.

I may be guilty of confirmation bias in this, but Kotok’s ideas echo my own and his optimism is mine. The sparks to ignite our next secular bull market and a thriving economy are already lit. (Most obviously: the crash of natural gas prices after the successful introduction of new extraction techniques. The US is a leader in newly-proven natgas reserves. If cheap energy and cheap money don’t spark economic recovery, nothing will.)

At the same time, markets are throwing a fit over the fiscal cliff and Euro debt. I don’t believe the rhetoric about imminent demise, however. I never have. The US has survived far - worse - times, recovered and prospered. It shall again.

(via The Big Picture.)

November 8, 2012

Frum: Four Things Republicans Can Do To Better Obamacare

David Frum proposed four ideas for reforming the now all-but-permanent Affordabe Care Act, aka Obamacare. Two out of four ain't bad. Click through for his full reasoning.

We need to start thinking now about how to get rid of these new taxes on work, saving and investment -- if necessary by finding other sources of revenue, including carbon taxes.

Carbon taxes have a salutary effect: providing incentive to reduce the use of fossil fuels and the emissions they produce. Cap carbon emissions, allow for trading of carbon allowances and tax those who exceed the limit, passing the revenue on to reformed medical entitlement programs such as Medicare and block grants to state Medicaid. Periodically reduce carbon limits, just as we periodically increase auto fuel efficiency requirements. Repeat. Create a market and police it.

We should quit defending employment-based health care.

Benefits like health care policies are good bargaining chips for luring new employees, but our aging system of tying health insurance to employment should be jettisoned. Obamacare is the first step.

We should call for reducing regulation of the policies sold inside the health care exchanges. The Democrats' plans require every policy sold within the exchanges to meet certain strict conditions.

Hmm. One of those conditions is preventing insurers from rejecting claims on pre-existing conditions, and another is letting dependent children remain on their parent's policy until age 26. These are good requirements. There's always room for argument, but this idea is likely a non-starter for a few years. Obamacare is, after all, nothing but regulation, as there is no government single-payer option. (That's the reason Obamacare isn't socialism, but Medicare kinda-sorta is.)

The Democratic plan requires businesses with payrolls more than $500,000 to buy health insurance for their workers or face fines of $2,000 per worker.

The teeth in the law. It's on the shoulders of those who don't approve of it to come up with another solution, an incentive program, maybe, to make the law enforceable. I'm sure some market-oriented legislator will come up with something. Until then the teeth must stay.

November 7, 2012

Barack Obama And The Death Of Normal

David Simon, creator of Homicide: Life on the Street, The Wire and Treme, wrote a short essay in the wake of last night's election results. It's an interesting, thoughtful piece on the meaning of those results. It explains a lot of the right-of-center angst, their anger, frustration and pain, and rings true to my ear.

It's not about taxes, debt, Obamacare or any of the other issues that were kicked around this past year. The anger and frustration have been with us for a while, and have at their core a recognition that the America they so treasure and wish to conserve no longer exists.

Mitt and the GOP lost more than a handful of races, they lost mindshare. They ran a race for Reagan's America, a place we haven't lived in for a quarter century now.

The essay is worth a read.

(Via DF.)

(I hear that David Frum, a reliable mainstream conservative, will be out with a new, short ebook this Friday titled Why Romney Lost. He's been writing it for about six weeks. It can be pre-ordered on Amazon. Clues to a viable future for the Republican party can probably be found within.)

(BTW, Frum has articles appearing here and there nearly nonstop, and links to them from his Twitter stream. Tonight he had a link to a short piece covering four useful ideas for conservative reforms to Obamacare. He's a smart, moderate thinker with good ideas. Go follow him now.)

November 5, 2012

Achieving Fusion: Ars Tears Open Apple’s Fusion Drive

Ars Technica has the most in-depth dig into Apple's Fusion Drive technology to date. Part SSD, part HDD, the Fusion Drive is the answer for speed plus capacity.

I'm patiently waiting for Apple to drop an updated Disk Utility onto OS X Mountain Lion, giving everyone the opportunity to fashion a Fusion Drive of their own.

Apple Paying Less Than 2% Tax on Overseas Profits

Chris Oldroyd, writing for iMore:

“Apple is paying less than 2% tax on its profits from overseas sales which are thought to be in the region of 37 billion dollars. The details were revealed in Apple’s 10K filing which was presented to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. The news comes for UK newspaper The Guardian

… and those profits cannot be re-patriated to the US without incurring our 35% corporate tax rate. Translation: income that cannot be re-invested in new product development or employment.

Apple isn't alone in this. The US corporate tax rate is the highest among developed nations. Any company with multi-national sales faces the same choice: book the income here and pay through the nose or keep the money overseas and pay less. What would you do?

Both presidential candidates propose cutting the corporate tax rate to 25%-28%, depending upon industry. Let's see if either of those plans make it into next year's tax and budget agreement.

November 4, 2012

Teardown Shows Apple iPad Mini Costs at Least $188 to Build

Arik Hesseldahl, writing for AllThingsD:

“Previously known as iSuppli, and widely known for its so-called ‘teardown’ analysis reports, IHS has just completed its teardown report on the Apple’s newest iteration of the tablet. The verdict: The base model, a Wi-Fi-only 16 gigabyte iPad mini, which sells for a starting retail price of $329, costs about $188 to build.”

That's about a 43% profit margin, about par for Apple computing products.

The company was criticized for pricing the new iPad mini at over $100 above competing 7-inch tablets, which misses the point. Apple doesn't compete in the usual race-to-the-bottom. They sell to people willing to pay for a finer product. It appears to be working.

USS Enterprise Completes Final Cruise

End of an era for the second-oldest US Navy ship.

iPhone 5 Misses North American Time Change

If your iPhone 5 was showing the wrong time when you awoke this morning, you’re not alone. We here in the eastern time zone found our phones indicating daylight savings time despite the overnight change.

A quick Twitter search shows others having the same trouble.

Upon closer examination it appears my time zone setting, set for “automatic,” picked up the wrong zone from Verizon. I suspect AT&T iPhone 5 owners experienced the same problem.

Examining the rest of my mobile Apple inventory, my wife’s iPad 2 with iOS 6 and Verizon service had the right time. My original iPad, with iOS 5 and AT&T service, had the right time. An iPhone 3GS with iOS 6 and  AT&T service had the right time. So I’m calling this an iPhone 5 problem.

Here’s how to get your phone back on track if this happened to you. Tap the Settings app, then select General, then Date & Time. Note the time zone setting, which is likely wrong despite the default automatic setting. Turn “Set Automatically” off. Then turn it back on. You should see a different time zone setting now, and your clock should be correct.

November 1, 2012

Frum: Why I'll Vote for Romney

David Frum has written a cogent, thought-provoking essay on why he’ll vote for Mitt Romney in the upcoming election. He’s essentially hoping to elect Massachusetts Mitt, not the Tea Party toady we’ve heard from over the past year.

Yet here, in Frum’s own words, is the reason I and many like me could never share his support for Romney, no matter how thoughtful, intelligent and consensus-building was his past governance:

“Would Mitt Romney be an improvement over President Obama? I’d like to believe the David Brooks theory of the Romney presidency: that Romney will pivot away from Tea Party Republicanism as soon as he is elected. I don’t see much evidence in support of that theory, alas. George Romney, I’m told, liked to say, ‘As you campaign, so shall you govern.’ Mitt Romney’s campaign has been one long appeasement of the most selfish and stupid elements of the Republican coalition, and the instinct for appeasement will not terminate with the counting of the votes next Tuesday.”

I’d like to find a national candidate like David Frum, or one not afraid to run with his politics. His conservatism suits some of my sensibilities, though not all. Sadly, there is no such candidate today. Mitt Romney could be that candidate, but he’s apparently waiting for someone to give him permission. And the only voices he hears from his party were paid for by the Koch brothers.

The GOP will have to suffer repeated, near-catastrophic defeats every couple of years for the next cycle or two before their supporters throw off the “selfish and stupid elements” in their party. Just as the Democrats finally wised up to Americans’ distaste for never-ending welfare and abridgment of gun owner’s rights, the GOP needs a better political plan that obstruction, obfuscation and FUD.

And if this is just a choice between the lesser of two evils (it’s not), I’ll take the one neither selfish nor stupid.

October 31, 2012

Apple's New Fusion Drive Works on Older Macs

MacRumors reports developer Patrick Stein's successful experiment to create a Fusion Drive on an older Mac Pro. It looks like all we need is an updated Disk Utility to make this easy for anyone to do. Anyone with both an SSD and an HDD installed, that is!

Fusion Drive is a just-announced Apple technology that binds an SSD and a traditional hard drive into a single volume, and moves application and data files to the SSD for faster access as needed. It was announced last week as a build-to-order option on the new iMacs.

Hit the link for an overview, or drill down to Stein's Tumblr blog for the nitty-gritty details.

October 30, 2012

Who's On the Bridge at Apple?

All you need to know about who's running Apple (Dan Moren, MacWorld) for CEO Tim Cook today. Keep a geek-eye on Bob Mansfield's new Skunk Works, which owns semiconductor and wireless development. Semis are the chips that power Apple's gadgets, and wireless is how those gadgets connect to your world.

If you've come to love the minimalist aesthetic of Apple's hardware, you're a fan of Jony Ive. He's headed the Industrial Design group at Apple since before Steve Jobs returned to the company in 1997. Jony will now count software interface design among his responsibilities. That's a very good thing for Apple customers.

Apple Delays iTunes Refresh Until November

All Things D reports that Apple has delayed their iTunes refresh until next month. I was wondering what happened to that … 

I’ve been using essentially the same iTunes software since I got my first Apple product, an iPod Shuffle, replacing an older MP3 player.

The software was a little wonky on Windows. I was pleasantly surprised at how solid it’s been on OS X since moving to a Mac. Still, an update is welcome. Now I know why I don’t already have it.

(Via Mac Stories.)

October 29, 2012

Shakeup at Apple

Apple:

“Apple also announced that Scott Forstall will be leaving Apple next year and will serve as an advisor to CEO Tim Cook in the interim.”

(Via 512 Pixels.)

Forstall was the head of iOS software development, which will now be lead by Craig Federighi, who also helms the OS X group. His portfolio included Apple Maps (poorly received due to errors in the map backing data) and Siri (labeled “beta” upon release and for some, not useful). Philip Elmer-Dewitt covered the situation for Fortune last month.

Forstall was once seen as a possible heir to Steve Jobs. Apple doesn’t well tolerate poor performance.

Jony Ive, head of Industrial Design, will pick up duties overseeing human interface design across the company’s product lines. That’s very good news. Ive is the creative mind behind Apple’s iconic iPod, iPhone and iPad mobile device hardware design. I like to think of Jony as Steve Jobs’ spiritual successor at Apple.

October 28, 2012

NYSE to Shut Trading Floor Monday, Trade Electronically

NBCNews:

“NYSE said on Sunday afternoon that it will close its physical trading floor operations for the first time in nearly three decades due to a weather-related emergency, but would move trading of NYSE-listed stocks to its fully electronic exchange. This is also the first time NYSE has ever gone fully electronic.”

Major change often comes from times of upheaval. How long will it be until NYSE Euronext decides tomorrow was a successful demonstration and permanently moves to a more profitable operation, one without trading posts, floor space or the building in which they’re housed? NASDAQ has been electronic-only since it opened.

Venus, Steve Jobs' Yacht, Launches in the Netherlands

Unique, like the man.

(via iMore.)

Dr. Drang: My Next iMac

Dr. Drang has published a well-reasoned piece on choosing his next iMac.

I’m curious about Apple’s new Fusion Drive option, whether Drang goes for it and how that choice turns out. I did a little surgery shortly after taking delivery of my MacBook Pro last year, removing the optical Superdrive and replacing it with a hard drive. I’m holding out hope that Apple updates Disk Utility and I can use it to merge my SSD and HDD into one. Drang’s experience with a Fusion drive will be a useful guide.

October 27, 2012

Microsoft Surface Tablet: An Alternate Universe

Marco Arment:

“The Surface is partially for Microsoft’s world of denial
In that world, this is a groundbreaking new tablet that you can finally use at work and leave your big creaky plastic Dell laptop behind when you go to the conference room to have a conference call on the starfish phone with all of the wires and dysfunctional communication.”

Jeez, sounds like Marco has been to my workplace.

He goes on:

But it’s not for me at all. Not even for testing, experimenting, or curiosity. It feels too much like using a Windows PC, which was exactly Microsoft’s intention, and it will appeal to people who want that. But that’s a world I fled 8 years ago with no intention of returning.

The Windows universe and the Surface tablet experience are akin to something I discovered a long time ago. I had lived the first two decades of my life in and around my home town, but my career choice would likely have me move away. My parents were contemplating leaving in retirement, too. About those ideas I had heard many people remark 'Why leave? We have everything right here.'

What I found after I left was so much nicer in intangible ways that I've never regretted the act. My parents, who left the area five years later, had the same experience in a different direction. And what I've heard from others who left the same home town area at various phases of their life is wonder at why they didn't do so sooner.

That's exactly what I found when I wandered away from the Windows universe. The clunky, glitchy, gradually slowing-to-a-crawl world of computing I had known for twenty years was just a tired, dismal blot on an otherwise bright, comfortable landscape.

I wish Microsoft well with its new OS and hardware. To everyone else I'd say, move away. It's nicer here.

October 24, 2012

iPad Resales Surge Over 700%

That headline is about re-sales … not exactly what comes to mind the day after Apple debuts two new iPad models.

Quentin Fottrell, writing for MarketWatch:

“While some people are trading in first and second generation iPads, both Nextworth and Gazelle say that nearly 70% of their resellers are dumping the iPad 3. In fact, the third generation iPad 32-gigabyte with Wi-Fi is the most popular device being traded in, according to Gazelle.com. Why? ‘Consumers can fetch up to $495 for an old iPad,’ Scarsella says. In other words, they can swap the used tablet for the mini and walk away with over $160.”

(via Cult of Mac.)

Interesting angle. Get a new iPad mini and pocket some cash at the same time.

Not sure I’d trade a Retina display iPad 3 with a faster, A6 processor for a smaller, slower and lower resolution iPad mini, but hey, I’m still happily using a first-generation iPad, so what do I know?

Apple's Fusion Drive - What is It?

Lee Hutchinson, writing for Ars Technica:

“Apple’s Fusion Drive does not appear to function like an SSD-backed disk cache, but rather seems more like a file-level implementation of a feature that has existed for some time in big enterprise disk arrays: automatic tiering.”

Translation: Fusion Drive storage will be faster than Seagate’s hybrid SSD/HDD drives, because OS X’s Core Storage actively manages the arrangement of files between the SSD component and the hard drive platters. Seagate’s hybrid technology simply uses flash memory as a cache for frequently accessed files. The files never fully “live” on the SSD component, frequently falling out of cache.

Apple has slowly rolled out new features based upon Core Storage, their storage management software delivered in OS X Lion. Their revamped File Vault full disk encryption is an example. The Fusion Drive, a hardware technology, relies upon Core Storage capabilities as well. All of this is invisible to users.

Early indications are that the hardware packaging is two separate drives: an SSD chip array and a familiar, 2.5-inch hard drive. If that’s the case, customers who purchased last year’s iMac with both SSD and HDD storage should be able to marry them into a Fusion Drive with OS X’s Disk Utility. There’s no obvious menu item for that right now, but stay tuned.

Is this a transitional technology, or will solid state drives eventually fully replace spinning hard drives? The first Fusion Drive incorporates a 1TB or 3TB hard drive. We’ll be hard-pressed to see solid state storage of that size at reasonable prices any time soon.

Why reinvent the wheel, anyway? Fusion Drive technology plays to the strengths of both storage types. Perhaps the answer is SSD-only for mobile platforms, and Fusion Drives for iMacs, Mac minis and Mac Pros where users are more likely to need or desire much larger volumes, and physical space can accommodate larger drive packages.

October 23, 2012

Moon Thinks Criticism of Newton is Off-base, Possibly Racist

Pro Football Talk:

“‘I don’t understand it,’ Moon said. ‘I heard somebody compare him to Vince Young. It’s the same old crap – it’s always a comparison of one black to another black. I get tired of it. I get tired of defending it.”

Warren Moon is saying that criticism of the Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton is race-based, that he’s compared to Vince Young only happens because they’re both black. That a more apt comparison would be to Jay Cutler. I call bullshit.

Young was a head case. Anyone watching Newton The Drama Queen’s post-game interview last Sunday would agree, he’s a head case, too. Newton is erratic. The Panthers are 1-5 with him under Center. Those two aspects justify comparison, and critics are right to point the finger.

Nothing succeeds like success. Want a terrific (and yes, black) comparison? How about the Washington Redskins’ RG3? The ‘skins are only 3-4, last in the NFC East, but no-one is criticizing Griffin. ‘skins fans love him. Something great is going to come from this guy, because he so obviously busts his ass.

Here’s a thought, Cam. Work your ass off, too. Struggle. Take your lumps. Persevere. Win. ‘cause this is the NFL, where wins and losses know no race.

Apple Threw a Media Event Today. Here's What They Introduced.

No other company builds anticipation for new products like Apple, and they do it without saying a word about their new offerings until they’re ready to ship. Today’s highlights:

  • A new MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display was announced. The base model sports 8GB RAM and SSD storage starting at $1699. Shipping today. All the goodness of the previously announced 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, for $500 less.
  • The Mac mini was refreshed with faster processors, USB 3 ports, more memory and larger SSD storage. Shipping today.
  • There are two new iMacs, and holy crap are they thin. 80% thinner than last year’s model. Still available in 21.5-inch and 27-inch sizes. Starts at $1299/$1799, ships in November/December, respectively.
  • New Apple “Fusion Drive” available in iMac and Mac mini. It’s a combination 128 GB SSD + 1TB or 3TB hard drive in one, seamless volume managed by Mac OS X. Near the performance of a flash-only SSD, but with the storage of a big HDD. I speculated on such a product a while back (the last paragraph killed it). This is worth strong consideration in a new machine.
  • Apple has sold 100 million iPads as of two weeks ago, all in 2-1/2 years.
  • A new, 4th-generation iPad powered by the new, faster A6X CPU was announced. This comes only six months after the 3rd-gen iPad. It sports 2x WiFi performance and the Lightning connector. Same colors, same prices for the same capacities as the 3rd-gen device. This is a minor set of bumps, not a major new product rev, though the A6X chip is interesting. When the A5 went to an A5X it gained a third GPU. Wonder what’s behind the A6’s “X?” 3rd-gen iPad device is phased out. iPad 2 will still sell in 16GB model for a reduced price.
  • The big news: The all-new iPad mini was announced. Extremely thin, manufactured similarly to the iPhone 5. Looks like a bigger iPod Touch. 7.2mm thin, 25%-thinner than today’s new, 4th-gen iPad. As thin as a pencil. 0.68 pounds, as light as a pad of paper. Black or white in contrasting slate, silver rear colors like iPhone 5. 7.9-inch diagonal display. Not Retina. A5 CPU, same as iPad 2. FaceTime cameras front and back; back camera is 720p HD. WiFi and LTE cellular. Lightning connector. 10-hour battery life, same as full-sized iPad 4. This new device is beautiful, a jewel not unlike the new iPhone and iPod Touch. Smart covers available. $329/$429/$529 for 16GB/32GB/64GB storage, $130 more each for cellular LTE and GPS. Pre-order this Friday. WiFi-only ships November 2, WiFi + LTE ships two weeks later.

In a nut, both MacBook Pros now possess Retina displays, a thinner chassis and no optical drive. iPads are 9.7-inches for the 4th-gen, 7.9-inches for the mini. Both possess WiFi with LTE as an option. iPad mini is $170 less than the full-size device at the same capacities and capabilities. iMac is much thinner, possesses a new, Apple-only Fusion drive and loses its optical drive.

Are you sensing a theme? Thin and light, and optical is yesterday’s news.

October 22, 2012

Arlington Cemetery Debuts New Interactive Map

Matthew Barakat, writing for The AP:

“the cemetery debuted an interactive map available through its website and through a free smartphone app. It uses geospatial technology to hone in on specific graves and can also be searched by name.

It can be accessed through the cemetery’s website.

When a name is called up, a viewer can see when the person was buried and the dates of their birth and death. Photos of the front and back of the headstone can also be viewed. Monuments and memorials that commemorate the service of specific military units are also included in the database.”

(Via WTOP.)

This is quite a comeback after the recent controversy over "who's buried where." There's even a set of mobile apps available! This is a smart use of technology to help families and visitors learn where their loved ones and Americans of great stature have been laid to rest.

Great, good stuff.

October 20, 2012

Skyfall Trailer #2

Opens November 9 in the US. Hell yeah!

BP Says Everything Is Fine … Scientists Aren’t So Sure

There's apparently been an additional release of oil from the site of BP's rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and knowledgable speculation pegs it on more well damage than originally thought. The Washington's Blog republished here by The Big Picture includes great graphics and photographs of equipment tried and abandoned in the process of capping the leak, and makes for a good Saturday read.

October 19, 2012

Honan: Why Windows Just Can't Win

Mat Honan, always a good read, has issues with Microsoft’s forthcoming Windows 8 OS. I’m genuinely bummed.

The new “Windows 8 style UI,” nee Metro, looks great. Microsoft's decisive move putting mobile on equal footing with desktop is a winner, if a bit me-too-ish. But they've muddied the waters by holding over the classic Windows desktop, trying to be all things to all users.

I hope Microsoft doesn't blow it this month. There's room in the market for three mobile competitors. Apple's iOS and Google's Android are one and two. Microsoft can swim to number three or sink, making way for Amazon's cash machine-Kindle tablets to capture that position.

Used to be, a new Microsoft OS was a guaranteed win. Then came Vista. That was my and many others' reason to jump to a Mac, or Linux. Windows 7 was a solid product, though the last of its kind: a Microsoft desktop-centric OS. Windows 8 is a very different beast, one with a learning curve. Mat Honan thinks it's out of the gate with a handicap.

What do you think will happen?

I Guess We Have Our Answer

Joshua Brown, writing for The Reformed Broker:

“How’s earnings season going? Only 42.3% of S&P 500 reported companies beat Q3 revenue expectations and 57.7% have missed. 64.9% have beat EPS estimates. Sucks.

On Monday, I laid out the only question that I felt mattered for the markets. And based on this week’s earnings reports and today’s catching-up reaction, I think we have our answer…”

Joshua asked "Is the weak earnings picture for Q3 the start of a new trend toward lower profitability or a bump on the road to full recovery?"

I say lower profitability. Corporate profits are at a record level, thanks mainly to manageable debt and reduced payroll expenses (read: laid off workers). Looking at a chart of corporate profits, a reversion to the mean seems likely.

How to push profits back up? Hire more workers who turn out more goods and services, which in turn brings in more revenue. Managed correctly that translates to increased profits. But companies won't go on a hiring spree until they see the economy improve. While sentiment has improved lately we're still not yet to the promised land. I think none of this will change until the president and Congress resolve the looming "fiscal cliff" scenario facing us this January.

October 18, 2012

Gruber's Thoughts on the Forthcoming (Smaller) iPad

John Gruber opines on the smaller iPad’s display, price and name before next Tuesday’s debut. He might be eating claim chowder by Wednesday, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Will you be buying one?

October 14, 2012

Skyfall Approaches

Early reviews are very good (thanks, Kenning).

After my theater-going experience for the Batman I swore off going out to the movies, but for this one I might have to break out the ear plugs.

October 13, 2012

∴ The Magazine

A new thing appeared in the iOS App Store last week. Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper, published his latest creation, The Magazine.

The Magazine begins with the premise that today's tablet- and phone-based periodicals are but hand-recoded versions of their paper forebears. Accordingly, that content feels encumbered with print model constraints. Ads and editorial graphics designed to consume attention distract from each author's work. Navigation varies by publication, and some content is no more than stitched-together PDF's.

Available only on the iOS Newsstand app for iPhone and iPad, and requiring the newly minted iOS 6 at that, The Magazine at long last redefines that publishing model for the digital universe by making content simply accessible and exclusively available for mobile use.

Witness Wired Magazine: the paper version, first published twenty years ago, was a visual festival of color, shape and new-thinking design. Today's electronic version, while carrying the same relevant and thought-provoking content, is ungainly to navigate and devoid of common digital publishing niceties. No copy-paste, no highlighting and no send-article-to. It carries a substantial advertising load, though apparently not enough to bring the tablet-only subscription fee down to that of the paper copy. It is, in short, a less-pleasant read for its complexity, a holdover from high-design print.

The Magazine, in contrast, is a picture of elegant simplicity. Four ten-minute-read articles per issue, published and automatically delivered every two weeks for $2 per month. The first editions' authors are well-known in the geek world, among them Guy English, Jason Snell, Alex Payne and Michael Lopp. Article ownership remains in the authors' hands, allowing their re-use elsewhere after a one-month interval.

The Magazine eschews all but the simplest graphics, hewing to prose-only content in a one-column format. There are two font sizes and two contrasting color schemes, one fit for daylight and one bedtime-friendly dark. Nothing stands between the reader and text.

It is subscription supported at present. In his foreword, Marco holds open the possibility of moving to an ad-based model as needs dictate. Given his use of The Deck for supporting his personal web site I fully expect any ad content in The Magazine to be both minimal and tasteful.

It is a modest beginning; the ways forward from here are many. Longer-format and serial content come to mind. Marco holds open the possibility of eventually publishing the articles to the web. Pondering it, there is an exciting sense of building the future to The Magazine.

I enjoyed the first edition and so will allow my one-week trial subscription to morph into a regular payment, handled through iTunes. Marco's reputation, borne of his excellent Instapaper and the always-fun Build and Analyze podcast was more than enough to bring me to the trough. His early crop of content is enough to keep my here.

October 7, 2012

iOS Passbook

I used the new iOS Passbook app this AM to check in and check a bag at the airport. It worked great: I checked in for the flight with the United app yesterday, tapped the "send to Passbook" button, and that set me up for today.

To check my bag and pass through security I woke the phone and swiped the United notification, which was alerting me to my flight. I use a passcode on my phone, but Passbook bypassed that and simply displayed my boarding pass. I didn't have to worry about locking orientation of the display, either. The boarding pass displays only one way, so it was easily picked up by the scanner.

United isn't the only airline to link their iOS app to Passbook. It's worth a try the next time you fly with your iPhone!

October 4, 2012

Former Manson Follower Recommended for Parole After 40 Years

NBCNews:

“Davis is serving two life sentences.”

Bad recommendation?

Free Birth Control Cuts Abortion Rate Dramatically, Study Finds

Brian Alexander, writing for NBCNews:

“When more than 9,000 women ages 14 to 45 in the St. Louis area were given no-cost contraception for three years, abortion rates dropped from two-thirds to three-quarters lower than the national rate, according to a new report by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis researchers.”

Paging Sandra Fluke, paging Sandra Fluke. Rush Limbaugh, eating his foot on line one.

Maybe free contraceptives for poor women aren't so expensive, after all.

What Tweets Say About The Denver Debate

Julie Bort, writing for Business Insider:

”Even though yesterday’s presidential debate looked like a big win for Romney, the tweets tell a different story.

Researchers at SAP, a software company, tallied the tweets and analyzed their sentiment and discovered some surprises.

Folks on Twitter generally thought that Romney won the debate. But he didn’t win their hearts.

The negative sentiment towards Governor Romney far outweighed the positive.

Hard to say whether what people tweet is any indication of how they really feel or how they’ll vote. Romney has been dogged by the “not personable” label throughout the GOP primaries, though.

Statistic graphs appear in the article.

Why Obama Lost (Last Night's Debate)

David Frum:

“In Denver, Romney executed his long-awaited pivot to the center. Obama by contrast neither talked purposefully about his record nor effectively attacked Romney’s proposals.”

President Obama was far too conciliatory throughout. There were a number of points at which he could and should have pointed out contradictions in Governor Romney’s oratory. Opportunities missed.

I’m in agreement with Frum’s final comment (click through for the article). Romney has long been a moderate Republican, which is why he succeeded in Massachusetts. His tone changed after a resounding defeat at the hands of his own party base in the 2008 GOP primaries. As with Frum, I like the Romney I saw last night, though I’d like him better if he could effectively answer the criticisms Frum claims the president should have made.

Yet there-in lies my problem with modern Republicans in general. As with George W. Bush in 2000, what you hear during the campaign isn’t what you get for the next four years. Remember compassionate conservatism? Bullshit. Remember “no nation-building?” Ditto. Remember the balanced budget he was handed by the Clinton administration? Never to be heard from again.

At least we have a four-year track record from Barack Obama to go by. Like or dislike his politics, there’s no doubt about the overall direction of his next administration.

If you think the Republican base will allow a President Romney to govern as we saw him debate last night, I have a bridge to sell you.

October 2, 2012

Winter Storms to be Named by Weather Channel

Tom Niziol, writing for weather.com:

“During the upcoming 2012-13 winter season, The Weather Channel will name noteworthy winter storms. Our goal is to better communicate the threat and the timing of the significant impacts that accompany these events.”

The story includes this year's inaugural list of names. I have to admit to mild surprise at not seeing brand names among them. Seems like a prime opportunity to raise revenue, and if any organization is going to commercialize weather, it's The Weather Channel.

October 1, 2012

Bond in Blues

(MG Siegler)

Two things that make my world better: Daniel Craig’s James Bond and the sultry voice of Adele. This November 9 they come together as her voice graces the theme song to Skyfall, the twenty-third Bond film.

Ohhhh yeahhhh.

DeAngelo Hall Calls Redskins’ Defensive Performance ‘Average’

Mark Maske, writing about yesterday's 'skins' defense performance for The Washington Post:

“Cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who had a first-half interception to set up a Redskins’ touchdown, called the overall play of the defense ‘average.’”

Nope. Below average, if we're measuring against past 'skins teams. The Washington team used to have a top-5 or -6 defense year-in, year-out. Their Achilles heel was a porous offensive line, which let the other team's defenders through to clobber our often-mediocre quarterback. The 4-3 defense strategy under Gregg Williams was a winner, even if the offense failed to score.

The 'skins switched to a 3-4 defense upon Mike Shanahan's arrival and hasn't been as effective since.

Here's a thought: what if Jim Haslett, the 'skins defensive coordinator, moved back to the 4-3 formation? While there's no guarantee the team would return to strong defensive performances, imagine an effective defense coupled with the newly-exciting offense under Kyle Shanahan, with the top-notch rookie RGIII at quarterback. That's where Washington's best potential lies.

The iPad 1

Marco Arment:

“everyone who bought an iPad at least 19 months ago has an iPad 1, and their unsubsidized, non-contract, $500+ tablet is going to grow much less useful over the next year as apps start to require iOS 6. This has naturally angered a lot of iPad 1 owners.”

That would be me. My iPad 1, an anniversary gift from Kelly, is my in-car GPS, book reader, travel computer and all-around handy gadget. According to Marco, though, Apple's choice to build it with less memory a few years ago means it's locked out from new iOS versions, and the app updates that will require them. iOS 6 marks the beginning of the end for it.

Only a fool expects technology to hold value indefinitely, but a mere year-and-a-half is ridiculous for a $500+ device. Frankly I'd prefer to suffer balky operation under iOS 6 than enforced obsolescence so soon.

Despite the urge to get the most sale value from it, though, I'll hang onto my iPad 1 at least until next spring, when we'll likely see the next generation iPad. We managed to wring three years of heavy use out of our old iPhones, until they were no longer useful. That's the future for my iPad, too.

In the mean time, though, I have a pair of recently-retired iPhone 3GS's now collecting dust. The batteries require a recharge so often that they're best used as music players in a speaker dock. I wonder what use I can find for a washed-up iPad?

September 30, 2012

Janet Napolitano Doesn't Use Email

Joseph Straw, writing for The NY Daily News:

“‘I don’t have any of my own accounts,’ she told a cybersecurity conference hosted by National Journal. ‘I’m very secure.’ Asked if her reasons for sticking to other forms of communication had to do with concerns about email security, she hedged and said she avoids email for ‘a whole host of reasons.’”

The Secretary is privy to intelligence sources such as the NSA’s Echelon program, and knowledgable about the massive data center that agency is building in the Utah desert.

Do you think Nepolitano’s insider knowledge of privacy-invading government technology programs informed her choice to avoid email, much? What does that say for the rest of us?

September 29, 2012

Chalk Art by David Zinn

Imagine living with this art scattered about outside your home. What a whimsical little community that would be. (Via The Loop.)

Underwater Pistol Demo

High-frame rate video of firing both a revolver and a semi-auto pistol under water. Pretty neat.

The expanding gas bubble emitted from the barrel of the semi-auto is quite beautiful … it emerges at just after the 3:00 minute mark. (via kottke.org.)

Know Your States

This is kinda fun.

September 28, 2012

∴ Goodell Letter to Fans: 'You deserve better'

ESPN:

“NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell tells fans ‘you deserve better’ than games worked by replacement officials.”

Which he might have followed with “I hereby tender my resignation as commissioner of the National Football League.”

I’d had a generally high opinion of Goodell until last year’s player lockout, born more of enjoyment of the game over which he presides than appreciation of his management style.

He’s done a fair job of preventing the NFL from descending into the thug squad that the NBA threatened to become a decade ago. The league has taken steps to reduce the likelihood of traumatic head injury in a game built around hard knocks, too. And every year like clockwork, the NFL has moved from training camp to pre-season to regular season to playoffs to championship, taken a couple months’ breather and re-started with OTAs.

Everyone can appreciate a well-oiled machine.

Mostly, though, I was happy with the league and its commissioner because I was happy watching the game, and the games were mostly good and as fair as human, professional officials could make them.

Between the players’ lockout and this season’s officials’ lockout, though, it’s become clear that Goodell and some of the owners he represents don’t deserve admiration. The aphorism “if you’re not paying for something, you are the product” has never been more clearly true than in the regard the league has displayed for its fans this season. That is, not much.

As in: here’s a product, it’s not as good a product this year because it’s making almost everyone unhappy, but we’re still getting season ticket and broadcast revenues in the billions, so bugger off while we thrash the officials’ union at the bargaining table.

Pro sports is a business. Business exists to make a profit. More profit is better, until it comes at the expense of the producer, product or customer. There is a balance to be maintained between profiteering and spreading the wealth in any business endeavor, a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Goodell and the NFL ownership crossed that line this season, in fact, they went so far past the line that there no longer is a line. There’s just what the league can get away with while keeping up revenues and the queasy feeling that comes from knowing it.

That was the league’s biggest mistake: letting fans know that their enjoyment isn’t their goal. Hence the commissioner’s “letter.” He needs to mend a few fences, if only symbolically. What a bunch of assholes.

Maybe I’ll start watching hockey. Oh, wait.

Wow

Apple CEO Tim Cook:

“At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.”

(Via The Verge.)

Click through for the full note from Cook.

The first paragraph is the primary thing any business should do when faced with unsatisfied customers: apologize and explain what will be done about the problem. Even when there is nothing a business can do to fix a problem, an apology goes a long way with most customers.

It'll be interesting to hear how far Tim's apology goes with Apple customers.

The Google C-suite must be having a good day today.

September 27, 2012

Apple Removes iPod Socks From Online Store

AppleInsider:

“iPod Socks, a cloth accessory that Apple has sold for years to protect its portable music players, have been removed from the company’s online store.”

I don't know what's worse: that Apple discontinued this oddball accessory, or that I've labored under the mistaken impression until now that they were, ya know, socks. For your feet.

Jeez.

Herbert Lom, Boss in Pink Panther Movies, Dies

MSNBC:

“The actor played the increasingly crazed Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus alongside Peter Sellers’ hapless Inspector Clouseau in the film series.”

I remember first seeing one of the Pink Panther movies at a drive-in theater as a kid. My dad was partial to Lom's Dreyfus character, who had an eye twitch and a propensity to attempt the murder of Clouseau. He'd play-act Lom's part for weeks after seeing the film, crazily mumbling "kill Clouseau" when someone mentioned the movie or one of the characters. He was a real card.

Malicious Code Can Wipe Out Some Samsung Phones

Brian X. Chen, writing for The NYT:

“A simple line of malicious code embedded in a Web page can cause some Samsung Galaxy smartphones to lose all their data, security researchers revealed this week. But Samsung says a fix has been out for months.”

The Android phone market is going to be an Achilles heal in getting this fixed. Carriers are notoriously slow in rolling out system software updates, and 'droid phone owners are notoriously slow adopting them.

A few hard data losses among the user base should provide motivation to update sooner, though.

September 26, 2012

Apple Had Over a Year Left On Google Maps Contract

Chris Ziegler, writing for The Verge:

“Apple’s decision to ship its own mapping system in the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 was made over a year before the company’s agreement to use Google Maps expired, according to two independent sources familiar with the matter.”

Classic case of tearing off the band-aid.

Apple’s millions of customers have provided valuable feedback to Google mapping engineers for years, immeasurably improving Google’s map product. The company faced a decision: when to jump from a mature, much-loved app that benefited its competitor to a young, flawed product in need of customer feedback, which also breaks their reliance on a competitor. They chose now.

Today the Apple map app is a source of derision, but a year from now no-one will care. Apple’s map app will have benefited from use. In the mean time we’ll see a steady stream of aging, not-as-funny-for-the-repeated-telling stories about vertical highways and half-constructed stadiums.

Google is reportedly moving to build an iOS map app of their own. No surprise there. With 100,000,000 devices already upgraded to iOS6 and Apple’s own map app, Google has suddenly experienced a marked decline in mobile use of their mapping product. They need an iOS app in the hands of iPhone users yesterday. As of September 19, really.

RIM CEO: "We're Not Sleeping Much"

Ina Fried, writing for All Things Digital:

“RIM Chief Executive Thorsten Heins says the BlackBerry maker is gearing up for a big launch for the first BlackBerry 10 devices in the first quarter of next year.

‘I think we have a clear shot at being the No. 3 mobile ecosystem in the world,’ Heins said.”

Ouch. Aiming high, huh?

Remember when Blackberry phones were the hot item? Before the original iPhone set the smartphone world on fire, a "crackberry" was the device to have. News stories abounded about users unable to put down their Blackberrys, rising mid-night to check mail messages and toting them along on vacation. How times have changed.

By refusing to evolve their basic design, relying instead upon the Blackberry messenger technology that let users avoid wireless carrier messaging fees and mind-share momentum to sell phones, Research In Motion let the smartphone world pass it by.

All of which points to a long-held truth in technology development: innovate or die. Steve Jobs saved Apple when that company was circling the drain fifteen years ago. Who will save RIM?

Robot Cars Now Officially Legal In California

Cyrus Farivar, writing for Ars Technica:

“The new law obliges the California Department of Motor Vehicles to draft regulations for autonomous vehicles by January 1, 2015.”

DMV may not be the timeliest agent for change, but the legislature is moving California into the future anyway. Joining Nevada as a testbed for autonomous vehicles, California’s roads will provide a more complex test for Google and other software makers.

We’re slowly moving toward a Minority Report future for our highways. Can’t wait.

September 24, 2012

How Far "Back" Has Apple Come From the Dead?

Macworld (among others) reports that 100 million iOS devices have been upgraded to iOS 6, released just five days ago.

How's that again? 100 million upgrades in five days.

They sold a few new iPhones, too.

I gave up Apple for dead when I read that Steve Jobs had returned to the company back in 1997. I've never been so pleased to be so wrong.

Apple's Map App - Where the Effort Went

Anthony Drendel:

“It seems like people really hate the new Maps in iOS 6. Now, I’m not disputing that Maps does give a lot of strange results to a lot of people all around the world, but for a large, large number of people, iOS 6 Maps has been a huge improvement over Google Maps. I’m talking about those of us who live in China (you know, the place with 1.3+ billion people and the second-largest economy in the world). Google Maps was always pretty terrible here. In the big cities and tourist centers, it was passable. Once you left China’s large metropolises, however, you were pretty much on your own. You could usually see expressways, highways, and even a lot of smaller roads, but there were very, very few shops, restaurants, banks, ATMs, etc. listed. That has changed with iOS 6. “

(Via DF.)

Very telling. Apple has put a lot of effort into selling in China. We're now seeing some of the behind-the-scenes work, as well.

Review: US population, 0.312 billion, give or take. China population, 1.34 billion, same. I'm sure Apple cares about US vertical freeways and disjoint communities in their new maps app. I'm sure, too, that they focused more engineering effort to include Chinese details than US complainers realize.

∴ What's Today? iPhone 5 Day.

Today is the day the box arrived. After a 3 AM ordering frenzy and last week’s delayed delivery (due to intervening vacation plans), the long-awaited replacement for my aging iPhone 3Gs arrived from Fedex.

The step-up from my old phone, now three generations aged, is revelatory. I’d forgotten how responsive these phones can be, and the new (to me) display is a beauty.

And the battery. My old iPhone, running continuously for three years, was good for about 50% of the charge, after which it would promptly shut down hard. Sooner if I ran an app employing 3G networking (Foursquare and Instagram, I’m looking at you). I’d have to let it “rest” a bit before a cold re-boot.

No mo’. I expect to be back to a full day on a single charge despite using the phone, browsing, checking email and listening to podcasts.

And the camera. Better that the battery repeatedly killed Instagram during a recent vacation than keep photos made with blurry-cam. Nothing like seeing your Facebook photos, shot on an older cell phone camera, blown up on a laptop display. Ugh. The new camera shoots a full 8 mega-pixels of data.

So, to iPhone 5. In a nut: fast enough processing to seem like magic again, with a display of deep, rich color. This is my first Retina device, so again, it’s a revelation. This model sports 32GB DRAM so I can no longer see a storage horizon. I have yet to tap LTE networking, but early reviews claim similarity to WiFi. Wow.

Setup was a breeze: turn on, provide WiFi password, select from among new, restore backup from iCloud or restore from iTunes. Enable location services, enable Siri, done. After restoring from a just-made iTunes backup my new phone was a mirror of the old. Everything was in its place and operational.

The new phone has a new connector, and despite obsoleting my nearly-new Elevation dock I like it. It’s small, connects to USB and plugs into the phone with a satisfying “thunk.”

iPhone 5 comes with those new ear pods you might have seen on TV. They fit better than those nasty round thingies that came with previous iPhones and iPod Touches, the ones that hurt my ear after a half-hour and never stayed put. I haven’t tried out the new ones for sound yet. I read good things about them, though it’s useful to recall that they sell for $30, and that’s an Apple-$30, so don’t compare them to a $100+ pair of Etymotics.

Worth the wait, the hype and the early wake-up.

∴ Crowd Calls Bullsh*t On Replacement Officials

If you stayed tuned to last night's Ravens - Pats game through the fourth quarter (I tuned out for a Dark Knight fix in the third) you were witness to what sounded like the entire city of Baltimore chanting "bullshit" at the ref's call. The crowd seemingly spoke with one voice. It was downright remarkable.

What's even more remarkable is the NFL's disregard for the game, the players and the fans for letting this go on so long. The replacement officials are clearly out of their depth. Their calls are all over the place (in one instance a team was awarded two extra coach's challenges yesterday) and in many cases, in error. There is no timeliness to their officiating. The gameplay is suffering.

I cannot believe the cause is anything more than a very greedy league letting their product suffer rather than come to terms with that critical element of their product. The owners simply don't care about poor officiating any more than they care about perpetual poor game play from teams whose owners milk their franchise for every dollar by not paying better players to join them, TV blackouts despite empty stadium seats, and highway robbery prices on souvenirs.

What's at work here is an employer refusing to bargain in a meaningful way for fear of setting a precedent. This is what happens when a monopoly is allowed to continue … the NFL doesn't moderate their position because they don't have to. Where else will fans and players turn for pro football play?

QE Infinity and US Stock Market

David Kotok:

“For US stock market investors, these facts lead to only one conclusion: the bias has to be toward fully diversified investing in US stocks.”

David takes a short, winding road through US Fed policy, the unemployment rate and investment practices to come to that conclusion. His thoughtful commentary points to a simple truth: if you're fortunate enough to have stabile employment and careful enough with your finances, hard economic times present as much potential for gain as good times.

In other words, keep your head down, your mind engaged and keep doing what you do.

September 19, 2012

Quick, Easy and (Relatively) Cheap

I did a quick and easy upgrade to my wife’s 2009 MacBook Pro today. We bought her machine before solid state drives (SSDs) were available from Apple, so until today she’s been computing with a hard drive.

The machine was built with a quick CPU and plenty of memory, but the mechanical hard drive created a bottleneck. That became obvious after I began using a later-model MacBook Pro last year, which was by then available with an SSD.

We waited for economy of scale to kick in, when prices would plummet. Replacement SSDs have cost about triple an equivalent-sized hard drive until recently.

The solid state memory vendor Crucial came out with a lower-priced SSD line, the M4, this year. Last week I found a 256GB model on sale at Amazon for $165. That’s by far the cheapest per-gigabyte price I’ve seen.

Swapping the drives was made easy by SuperDuper!, the excellent backup application from software vendor Shirt Pocket. We’ve used it to make nightly backups of our primary drives for years, but in this case our backup would become the data source for Kelly’s new SSD. I used SuperDuper!’s Smart Update feature to bring the USB-connected external backup drive’s contents equal to the boot drive, which took about ten minutes.

Ten screws and the laptop’s lower panel was off, two more and the stock hard drive was out. A quick swap and more screwdriver action had everything back together in less than five minutes. I put aside the old hard drive, just in case.

The difference between SuperDuper! and other backup solutions is mainly in the recovery phase. SuperDuper! creates bootable backups, which let you get back up and running from the backup drive in just a couple of minutes, rather than hours or days later after replacing the failed internal drive. Such a backup can then be used to populate a new internal drive. That was the second half of today’s project.

I restarted the laptop, booting from the external drive this time, then ran Disk Utility from there to partition and format the new SSD. SuperDuper! then cloned the external drive’s contents to the new drive. About an hour later I rebooted, this time from the SSD. Job complete.

Total time to upgrade: about an hour and a half, much of it spent doing other things while cloning the backup to the SSD. Total expense: $165 for the SSD, plus $28 for a copy of SuperDuper! three years ago.

Man, that SSD is fast.

Mike’s Tax Notes

Michael Arrington:

“I’ve been spouting off a bit lately on politics and I keep making the same arguments to people, one at a time, on Twitter and Facebook. I’m aggregating some of them here so I can point to it later.”

Mike ruminates on taxes, wealth and democracy. Worth a read.

If you're in agreement, call yourself a libertarian.

September 17, 2012

Mitt Romney: Half of You are Losers

Joshua M Brown, writing for The Reformed Broker:

“Republicans will say he’s telling the truth, Dems will say he’s a monster. Independents (like me) will shrug and political commentators will say ‘it’s pretty tough to be the President with this much disdain for half the country.’”

The video.

Are you one of the losers, or one of the suckers he expects to vote for him?

Dogs, Explained

Makes sense to me. Mine is laying on her back, staring at the wall.

Beer of the Weekend: Sixpoint's Sweet Action

This week’s Beer of the Weekend was brought to you by the good people of Sixpoint Brewery of Brooklyn, New York, and the number four.

I picked up a four-pack (see what I did there?) of this brew on a flyer this past Friday after the weekly beer-tasting at Cork and Fork of Gainesville, Virginia (Facebook link, because even though they don’t know an IPO from a hole in the ground they currently define social media). The sampled beers were a gamut of interesting (the Scottish dark brew aged in single-malt Scotch barrels at $12 per 12-ouncer) to “meh” (the forgettable Oktoberfest) so I took a stroll along the wall of beer, settling upon a variety of offerings from Sixpoint Brewery. I selected Sweet Action, their first, and now I need to discover their entire line.

Sixpoint’s Sweet Action is an ale of ample malty sweetness, balanced by enough hop bitterness to remind you that 1. the reinheitsgebot specifies four ingredients and this example provides plenty of each, and 2. hops don’t mean your beer need taste of grapefruit.

Sweet Action is a yummy (yes, yummy is the right adjective. You beer geeks know what I mean.) beer good for a late summer afternoon when you’ve put another hurt on your body painting the bathroom ceiling and just want to unwind before heading back to those weekday bastards, when dinner is still just an idea and there are good tunes on the satellite music channel and the Internet is full of interesting things to read and you’re pondering 1. the arrival in your home of Apple’s next generation phone and 2. the kidney-rattling, fear-inducing roller-coaster ride that is modern air travel to a far-northern, perpetually under-the-glacier destination you’ve paid to “enjoy” in a few weeks. It’s good for run-on sentences. It’s good for relishing the brewer’s art. It’s just good.

I think I could make Sweet Action my house beer. It’s a rounded brew dialed up to eleven, a reminder that beer should foremost be a taste sensation and a labor of love. You should taste the love. I taste that in Sweet Action. I know these guys are downright proud of this beer.

Look for Sixpoint’s brew in pint cans (yep, cans) at your better beer merchants. I like it, and if you like beer you’ll like it, too.

Court To Rule On Topless Duchess Kate Photos Tuesday

MSNBC, aka NBCNews, or whatever they're calling their multi-zillion-dollar online venture with Microsoft, the company that routinely loses billions, yes, BILLIONS with their online division:

“A French court will announce on Tuesday whether it will enforce an injunction that Britain’s Prince William and his wife Kate have sought against magazine Closer to prevent further publication of topless photos of her.”

Here's a thought: if you, as one of Earth's most sought-after people don't want to be seen sunbathing topless, perhaps you shouldn't do so where cameras can find you.

Surely you've heard of these so-called "tele-photo lenses," no? They teach that in the finer British schools now, right?

Rick Santorum's Candid Assessment

David Frum, writing for The Daily Beast:

“Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum made a bit of news this weekend, declaring that ‘we will never have the elite, smart people on our side’ at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C.”

Aw, you already have them, Rick. Palin, Limbaugh, Hannity, Bachmann, Ingraham, etc. You know, the elite, smart people.

September 15, 2012

iPhone 5's A6 CPU: a Custom Apple Core Instead

Anand Lal Shimpi, writing for Anandtech:

“The A6 is the first Apple SoC to use its own ARMv7 based processor design. The CPU core(s) aren’t based on a vanilla A9 or A15 design from ARM IP, but instead are something of Apple’s own creation.”

This is Steve Jobs' legacy: bit by bit, Apple reduces its dependance upon others. This time around, iPhone's silicon is home-made IP.

September 14, 2012

Windows Phone 8 Has Officially Gone Gold

Daniel Rubino has the story.

Interesting timing. Apple sells out the first wave of iPhone 5s in an hour, carriers bump out availability by two weeks, and here comes Redmond.

(Via Rene Ritchie.)

Meg Whitman: We Are Going To Release A Smartphone At HP

Jay Yarow, writing for Silicon Alley Insider:

“Speaking with Fox Business, Whitman says, ‘We ultimately have to offer a smartphone,’ because the future of computing is smartphones. In developing countries people aren’t going to buy HP desktops or laptops. If HP doesn’t want to be hosed, it has to deliver a smartphone.”

Great, another Android clone. Just what the market needs.

The only company making smartphone money (other than Apple) is Samsung, and they just lost a billion-dollar lawsuit to Apple for copying the iPhone’s design and operation. The rest of the Android clone makers are, well, the rest. One more is just one more also-ran.

We haven’t yet heard from Microsoft, whose Windows Phone 8 OS should appear before year’s end. Their technology previews look promising. I’ll bet their phones are a viable alternative to Apple’s iPhone 5/iOS 6 combination.

What’s left for HP? Maybe they’ll innovate and offer something truly new in the smartphone space. Skull implant? Wearable communications? Pay-by-touch? What?

Preorders of iPhone 5 Sell Out In Less Than An Hour At Apple

Zach Epstein, writing for Boy Genius Report:

“Apple (AAPL) made preorders of its new iPhone available on apple.com at 3:01 a.m. EDT, 12:01 a.m. PDT and in less than one hour, the company’s initial stock of new iPhones for Verizon Wireless (VZ), AT&T (T) and Sprint (S) was depleted.”

One hour.

iPhone 5 Lightning Connector, Explained

Rainer Brockerhoff has a very informative dissection of Apple's new digital connection and charging technology, called Lightning.

I'm glad Apple went with a new, though proprietary design for their new connector, rather than micro-USB. Lightning is much more capable than USB 2, and promises greater speeds than even USB 3 if and when it's connectible with Apple's Thunderbolt port.

(Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very frightening me. Gallileo, Gallileo … sorry. Couldn't resist. Poor Freddie.)

I'm glad, too, I went against my initial geek instinct to buy into the Android ecosphere three years ago. Apple's iPhone and related technologies have been not only technically superior in hardware, software and user interface, but more elegantly designed for easy, natural user experience, too. Android and the clones have steadily improved, and version 4 of the Android OS is reportedly very good. iPhone and iOS have been at least that good for the three years I've been a customer. Great stuff.

September 13, 2012

Fed To Buy More Bonds Until Jobs Rebound

Between this (Reuters):

“The Federal Reserve launched another aggressive stimulus program on Thursday, saying it will buy $40 billion of mortgage-related debt per month until the outlook for jobs improves substantially as long as inflation remains contained.”

and this:

“policymakers said they would not likely raise rates from current rock-bottom lows until at least mid-2015. Previously, it had set such guidance at late 2014.”

it’s a safe bet that mortgage rates will remain at current, historical lows or decline over the next three years, unless inflation takes off in the mean time. That’s good news for anyone holding an adjustable rate mortgage, and those closing in on eligibility for a refi on their current, higher-rate mortgage. Not so much for those relying on fixed-income securities for retirement income.

September 12, 2012

∴ Live Blog-Following the Apple iPhone Event

Just a quick aside about today’s media coverage of the iPhone event. As most hardcore Apple fans know, the company doesn’t provide live audio or video coverage of their public keynotes, and only delayed, recorded video coverage of WWDC developer sessions. Real-time coverage happens via “live blogging.”

A media outlet’s reporter writes second-by-second updates to a weblog, narrating what he or she hears to a scrolling, time-stamped page on the outlet’s web site. At the same time, one or more photographers snap and upload images that are immediately incorporated into the stream. All data moves over 3G or 4G cellular wireless connections.

But the photos are usually interspersed among the text items on the web page, so it gets a little tedious scrolling up and down as large images rapidly scroll away what you’re reading. One of today’s media outlets did something new, and better, though.

I usually follow these events through live blogs at four or more sites, in case one or another chokes from heavy readership. Today’s lineup included The Verge, Anandtech, Macworld and Engadget. Anandtech was the newbie this time around. Hands-down, Engadget had the best live blog presentation.

The photos were presented across the top of the page in a Cover Flow-like progression. Engadget must have had multiple photographers continuously shooting, because the rapid succession of images was almost like slow-scan TV. And the images didn’t interrupt the flow of text, which occupied its own half of the page.

I could flip back and forth through the photos as the text continued to update, and the images didn’t return to automatically updating until I flipped back to the last one.

And most importantly of all, Engadget’s live blog stream didn’t choke. I didn’t have to reload the page once during an hour and forty minutes of coverage.

Very well done, Engadget. You’re my go-to live blog resource. Your Apple coverage technology was … Apple-like in its simplicity and effectiveness.