February 29, 2012

NASCAR Suspends Jimmy Johnson Crew Chief Knaus Six Races

And the hammer falls.

"Cheat."

ESPN.com:

“Crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec of Jimmy Johnson’s No. 48 team have been suspended from the next six Sprint Cup Series races, a result of rules infractions found on Feb. 17 during opening day inspection for the Daytona 500.”

Windows 8 Consumer Preview Hands On: No Going Back

Matt Homan has an early review of today’s Windows 8 Consumer Preview. He loves it.

There are several touches in the new Metro UI garnered from Apple’s OS X Lion and iOS. Full screen apps, multi-touch gestures and and icon-driven launch screen are just a few. Microsoft has implemented them in their own way, though, and that invokes a tension between the new Windows OS on the one hand, and OS X and iOS on the other.

Consumers will have a tough choice of flavor in their gesture- and icon-based OS.  Meanwhile, we’re back to the good ol’ days of Microsoft vs. Apple, only in a good way this time because they’re both strong, consumer-focused companies.

The new mobile computing era is shaping up quite nicely.

The Windows 8 Consumer Preview Is Out

Peter Bright, writing for Ars Technica, spills the beans on how to grab a copy of the most technically interesting and, for Microsoft, bet-the-company important Windows release since Windows 95. Remember when people lined up at midnight for something other than an iPhone?

Microsoft might actually create a strong competitor to Apple's OS X here. It's a genuinely exciting time to be a technology geek.

February 28, 2012

CNBC: Apple To Announce Quad-Core, 4G LTE iPad Next Week… In NYC!

Matt Burns, writing for TechCrunch, shows us why we shouldn’t get our tech news from CNBC (or any other mainstream news organization). They’re usually wrong right up until the news is old.

February 22, 2012

Lenovo Leads Reliability Ratings, Apple Drops to Fourth

Electronista:

“Lenovo has climbed to the top of Rescuecom’s computer reliability ratings for the beginning of 2012, achieving a significantly higher score than its competitors. Apple has fallen to fourth in the lineup, despite maintaining a stronger rating in past years and achieving a surge in overall market share, with a score that is just over half of Lenovo’s rating.”

This report emerged the day after my previously reliable Lenovo Thinkpad’s hard drive failed. ‘Twas a fine machine while it lived, but it needs a new main storage drive and cooling fan now.

Our Apple products continue to chug along just fine, though.

This brings up thoughts of replacement cycles. Well-managed (and well-funded) IT departments put their machines on a life cycle clock. Three years is a common lifespan; when a machine is approaching its fourth year there is a replacement order made, client software installed, local data transferred and the old asset retired.

Major manufacturers often buy used equipment by the pound, crediting owners for retired products against the purchase of new. In that way the manufacturer locks in customers.

It’s less likely an individual will adhere to a computer life cycle. Who wants to plan for another computer purchase when they’re still paying off their current machine?

Think of it as insurance. That new machine is going to fail at some point, sooner the more it’s used. Laptops will fail sooner than desktops from reduced cooling capacity and wear from physical movement. A hardware failure, particularly a main storage drive failure, is usually more disruptive than a software fault because it renders the machine useless.

How to deal with this eventuality? Begin by implementing a smart backup strategy. Ensure that you can recover from a failure in a day or less. That entails daily (or nightly) backups to an external drive and some means of booting from CD or USB drive.

There are many good software solutions available for this, and both Windows and OS X ship with built-in backup software. There’s no excuse for not enabling and using it.

The better products are set-and-forget. Plug in an external drive, answer a few questions and you’re all set. Be sure to test your backup periodically to make sure it’ll be useable when you need it.

Consider putting away a few dollars each month after buying a new machine. It need not be much. Five or ten dollars a month is enough to replace an internal hard drive after a couple of years. A drive that makes it through the first month of use is not likely to die in the next couple of years.

At some point replacing a failed drive won’t satisfy the urge for a new machine, even if the replacement drive is a speedy SSD. Sock away more money if you want your next machine paid for when the current machine’s life is up. Divide the purchase price of your most recent machine by twelve, then again by three or four. That’s your monthly saving target against a three or four year life cycle.

Doing this is not any more interesting than paying your monthly car insurance premium, but you’ll find purchasing your next machine so much more palatable when you already have the money in hand to do so.

What to do with a retired machine? Services like Gazelle will buy your old equipment. The payout varies by the age and condition of the old equipment, so a three-year replacement cycle will net you more for your old machine than will a four-year cycle. Taking care to reduce physical wear of a mobile device such as a laptop will bump up what you’ll be paid when you’re through with it. Just be sure to securely wipe the contents of the storage drive before sending it off.

By putting your new machine on a life cycle replacement schedule and adopting a systematic backup scheme you’ll make hardware failure or the urge to buy a new machine much less painful.

February 20, 2012

Ron Jaworski On Peyton Manning's Future

Eric Schmoldt, writing for ESPN Sports Radio Interviews:

“I think Peyton Manning ends up playing somewhere else.
...
The New York Jets. … I love Mark Sanchez and there are 25 other quarterbacks in this league that I would take Peyton Manning over. There's a turf war in New York. The Giants just won the Super Bowl. The Jets are fighting for every inch of space they can get in the newspaper. How do you get that inch? How do you get the headlines? You sign Peyton Manning.”

Hmm. The Jets have done better with Sanchez at QB than other teams have done with their quarterbacks. I think that makes other teams hungrier for a free agent Manning.

I wouldn't put making a play for Manning past the Washington Redskins' owner Dan Snyder. He has a long history of grabbing aging Pro Bowlers on the downhill side of their career, paying them too much and getting too little in return. Donovan McNabb and Deion Sanders, to name a couple.

And what's up with ESPN cutting Jaws from the MNF broadcast booth, yet leaving Jon Gruden on the air? Gruden is the reason that broadcast is nearly unwatchable!

Chinese Court: Stores Should Stop Selling iPads

Christian Zibreg, writing for 9 to 5 Mac:

“According to a Hong Kong court ruling from last July, Apple founded a United Kingdom-based company to snap up rights to the iPad trademark in various markets without revealing Apple was the purchaser.

However, a mainland China court ruled in December that Proview was not bound by that sale, opening doors for Proview to threaten a country-wide ban on iPad imports and exports in China.”

A Hong Kong court has upheld Apple's purchase of the iPad trademark, but the mainland China court has not. That begs the question, how many Chinas are there?

The mainland Chinese government has been quick to claim 'one China' in matters related to Taiwan since that province became a haven for Nationalist partisans.

Britain relinquished sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1999, creating a second Taiwan-like region where Chinese hegemony is in doubt. One would think that, as with Taiwan, the mainland Chinese government would be quick to enforce the Hong Kong court's decision across all of their 'one China.'

Here's a way to a quick solution: should a US State Department official openly wonder at how in the court's view there are apparently two Chinas, mainland and Hong Kong, the mainland government would quickly intervene and end this ridiculous two-court, two-China dispute.

Or maybe there are multiple Chinas.

February 19, 2012

Sunday Evening Reads: Who's Afraid of a Little Inflation?

Kevin Drum, writing for Mother Jones, discusses Dylan Matthews' Washington Post piece about Modern Monetary Theory. That theory, like that of John Maynard Keynes, prescribes government deficit spending during recessionary periods as a means to stimulate economic activity.

While Keynes' theory eschews continued deficits after a recession has passed, MMT claims that deficits don't hardly matter at all. It's an interesting claim, born out by recent US economic history.

Paul Krugman begs to differ, though, in a short piece on his blog last year.

Fifteen minutes of accessible economic discussion, with links to more. Turn off the tube and learn something.

February 18, 2012

Ritholtz: Less Than Meets the Eye at Facebook

Barry Ritholtz, writing for The Washington Post:

“What I learned from Facebook’s filing was that they have 161 million active users who actually go to Facebook.com each month. That’s not shabby — but it’s a far cry from the MAU claims of 850 million. That definition of active users is probably overstated by a factor of 500 percent. I suspect that the $100 billion valuation may be overstated by nearly as much.”

(via The Big Picture.)

Barry found these detailed numbers by examining the company’s S1 filing, the document announcing to the Securities and Exchange Commission Facebook’s IPO intentions.

Ritholtz is guilty of mis-reading the S1. The 161 million number is Facebook’s reported monthly active users (MAU) figure for the US alone in December, 2011. (Go here and scroll down to “Trends in Our User Metrics” for a discussion of what constitutes an MAU.) He appears to quote it as MAU ex-third party application access, in other words, actual facebook.com web site access by human users. That’s not the case.

The point remains, though, that Facebook reports a very large number of monthly users (~850 million), but is only logging a fraction of that as actual marketable eyeballs.

How can Facebook claim an active user number higher than a count of actual active users? By counting every click of a Like button, anywhere on the Internet, as an active use. A user need never go to Facebook’s web site to be counted as an active user.

Such users don’t expose themselves to Facebook’s advertising and other monetization methods, but they do increase the cost of maintaining Facebook’s infrastructure. They’re a reason Facebook makes less revenue per user than other popular services.

Investors expecting to buy into an 800,000,000-user service are really buying into a much less-used product, a fact worth considering before investing.

February 17, 2012

NASCAR: Modifications Found on Johnson's Car

David Newton, writing for ESPN.com:

“Crew chief Chad Knaus and other members of five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson’s Daytona 500 team face possible suspensions after NASCAR said it found modifications on the rear quarter panel of Johnson’s No. 48 car.”

This should surprise no-one. Knaus has been suspended twice for cheating infractions.

I've often wondered how many championships Johnson would have won had Knaus been caught and suspended every time his crew snuck a cheater car past technical inspectors, and eventually banned. My guess is less than what he won.

February 14, 2012

A History Lesson for Americans

Don Brown, writing for Get the Flick:

“If you don’t know this part of American history, it is vital that you learn it and understand it, so that you may understand today’s events.”

Don's piece makes an astute connection between today's politics and those from another time of crisis in America, and the world. It's a short read, and well worth the few minutes it'll take to realize that we've seen all of this before. Or, perhaps more accurately, our grandparents have seen all of this before.

Ultrabooks? Customers Only Want The MacBook Air

John Brownlee, writing for Cult of Mac (referring to a JP Morgan analyst note as reported by Apple Insider):

“Unfortunately, now that PC makers are trying to emulate the Air, they are now competing with Apple on their home turf. An ultrabook is defined by solid-state drives, low-voltage but fast processors, and cases made of higher-quality materials like aluminum, carbon fiber, or fiberglass… and Apple’s got major deals in place to guarantee themselves the lowest prices on all of those materials.

What this means is that most PC makers can’t meaningfully undermine the MacBook Air’s price. And if ultrabook makers can’t beat the MacBook Air in price, what’s the bloody point in buying anything but an Air?”

When Apple’s iconic laptop commands not only consumers’ imagination, but the price point as well, the only buying advice is buy the Mac, and be happy.

Windows, if needed at all, can be run in a virtual machine such as the terrific Parallels 7. Users can even pay for, download and install Windows 7 from within the Parallels software.

Apple made its latest fortune and reputation by creating aesthetically pleasing hardware designs packaging mostly commodity parts, then layering on custom software to make their products work as well as they look.

Ultrabook makers are playing copycat with design specs from Intel’s playbook. Thing is, a copy is almost never as good as the original. Not even a freshly-produced copy.

February 13, 2012

An Economic Look at the End of Football

Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier, writing for Grantland:

“Before you say that football is far too big to ever disappear, consider the history: If you look at the stocks in the Fortune 500 from 1983, for example, 40 percent of those companies no longer exist.
...
The most plausible route to the death of football starts with liability suits. Precollegiate football is already sustaining 90,000 or more concussions each year.
...
This slow death march could easily take 10 to 15 years. Imagine the timeline. A couple more college players — or worse, high schoolers — commit suicide with autopsies showing CTE. A jury makes a huge award of $20 million to a family. A class-action suit shapes up with real legs, the NFL keeps changing its rules, but it turns out that less than concussion levels of constant head contact still produce CTE. Technological solutions (new helmets, pads) are tried and they fail to solve the problem. Soon high schools decide it isn't worth it. The Ivy League quits football, then California shuts down its participation, busting up the Pac-12. Then the Big Ten calls it quits, followed by the East Coast schools. Now it's mainly a regional sport in the southeast and Texas/Oklahoma. The socioeconomic picture of a football player becomes more homogeneous: poor, weak home life, poorly educated. Ford and Chevy pull their advertising, as does IBM and eventually the beer companies.
There's a lot less money in the sport, and at first it's "the next hockey" and then it's "the next rugby," and finally the franchises start to shutter.”

(Via kottke.org.)

Hard to believe coming true, but not all that hard to imagine. Those head injuries are a bomb waiting to go off.

Why else did the NFL respond to them with significant rule changes this past season? From the goodness of its owner's hearts?

Fair Labor Association To Conduct Special Foxconn Audits

Peter Cohen, writing for The Loop:

“Apple announced Monday that the Fair Labor Association (FLA) will conduct special audits of Apple’s final assembly suppliers, including Foxconn factories in Shenzhen and Chengdu, China.”

Apple is alone among its peers pursuing better conditions for the subcontract workers who assemble their products. For that they should be lauded, and in equal measure to the condemnation they received from the recent The New York Times article.

Their latest act could have two significant consequences. First, better working conditions for workers at those contract factories where the FLA finds them lacking.

Second, and perhaps more directly affecting Apple’s customers, higher product prices as Asian manufacturers pass along increased costs associated with meeting more rigorous working condition standards.

We get what we ask for. Sometimes it’s hard to know the cause from a result when it comes.

February 11, 2012

Let the Robot Drive: The Autonomous Car of the Future Is Here

Tom Vanderbilt, writing for Wired:

“I was briefly nervous when Urmson first took his hands off the wheel and a synthy woman’s voice announced coolly, “Autodrive.”

Can't come soon enough for me.

Two New Nuclear Reactors To Be Built In Georgia

Maggie Koerth-Baker, writing for Boing Boing:

“Yesterday, the United States’ Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the construction of the first two nuclear reactors to be built in this country since 1978. They’re both part of the same power plant complex, near Augusta, Georgia.”

These reactors are two of just five to be completed this decade. The Scientific American article Maggie quotes goes on to explain that US electricity demand isn’t growing, making nuclear plants an expensive political football in the face of cheaper and arguably safer natural gas-fired generation plants.

Safer, that is, unless you live in a community in which natural gas is recovered by fracking. There’s no argument once the fuels reach their respective plant, though. Natural gas burns cleanly, leaving no hazardous spent fuel to be discarded.

I’d argue with the notion that electrical energy demand isn’t growing, though. True, demand has decreased over the past couple of years in a recessionary economy, but is expected to rise by 10% over the coming quarter-century.

As a parenthetical issue, the switch from incandescent lighting is likely having an effect on the demand curve, too. This effect will no doubt increase as the remaining incandescents are replaced with newer bulbs. The coming era of LED lighting will make switching from incandescents safer, too, making no use of mercury as do florescent bulbs.

February 9, 2012

Skin Cancer Drug Reverses Alzheimer's in Mice

Elizabeth Cohen, writing for CNN.com:

“In the study, researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine gave mice mega-doses of bexarotene, a drug used to treat a type of skin cancer called cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. Within 72 hours, the mice showed dramatic improvements in memory and more than 50% of amyloid plaque — a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease — had been removed from the brain.”

This was a study on mice. Similar studies have improved the health of Alzheimer's-suffering mice before, yet failed to show efficacy among human subjects. So maybe this won't pan out. But holy crap, what an opportunity.

Where's Romney?

David Frum:

“While walking around the CPAC hotel, I've seen a lot people wearing Santorum and Gingrich stickers, but not a single Romney sticker.”

Telling.

Tweetbot vs. Twitterrific vs. Twitter: iPad Twitter App Shootout!

Rene Ritchie, writing for TiPb:

“We’ve often said iOS and Twitter and like chocolate and peanut butter, two great tastes that taste even better together. And it’s true. Time after time, platform after platform, the best developers and designers always seem to gravitate towards making Twitter clients, and nothing proves that more than Twitterrific, Twitter, and Tweetbot.”

Rene has a good, side-by-side comparison of the big three iOS Twitter clients. Worth a read if you're wondering whether the grass is greener elsewhere.

I'll be sticking with Twitterific. It has a cleaner UI, easy workflow and can make use of Tweet Marker.

That last item lets me keep my MacBook Pro, iPhone and iPad Twitter clients in sync. Where I leave off with one I can pick up with either of the others. The last-read tweet is automatically placed at the top of my timeline.

February 8, 2012

Auditions Remain 'American Idol's' Weakest Link

Craig Berman, writing for MSNBC.com:

““Idol’s” auditions blatantly manipulate audience emotions by playing up the life stories of people who will eventually wind up being stealth eliminations in Hollywood, getting the viewers to care for a few minutes about folks they will never hear from again. It’s just a nonstop series of home videos with the occasional two minutes of music sprinkled in-between.

This year’s were the worst, because the episodes were so formulaic that the show looked like it had been done on autopilot: The credits begin. Ryan stands in front of a big crowd. The judges walk into the hotel. Steven Tyler shows up dressed in something random that he fished out of the costume closet and says something wacky. All three agree on the first singer, who usually moves on. Commercial break. Touching footage of the obstacles that the next contestant faces. Repeat for 60 minutes.”

We've skipped the auditions round in our living room this season, and we'll likely skip the Hollywood round, too. We'll tune in when Idol is down to twenty-four, or even 12 contestants and watch through the end.

Our reasoning is similar to Berman's account. The treacly personal stories and poor performances aren't worth watching, and most of the contestants will be gone by then anyway.

Apple's $90 Billion Run

Philip Elmer-Dewitt:

“On Oct. 4, the day before Steve Jobs passed away, Apple (AAPL) shares closed at $372.50 and its market cap stood at $347 billion.

Four months later, the stock is up nearly $100 and it’s market cap is $437 billion. To put that $90 billion gain in perspective, it’s nine tenths the value analysts have placed on Facebook in advance of its initial public offering.”

Facebook’s real value is debatable, because they’ve not yet been traded on the open market. So using analysts’ valuation in this computation is an arguable step to determining how Apple has fared since the death of Steve Jobs.

We can agree, though, that Facebook is wildly popular and surely worth a great deal. That Apple has gained in value an amount nearly equal to the most recent guess at Facebook’s value is remarkable. Doubly so when you consider pundits’ predictions of Apple’s imminent downfall even before Steve’s image was off the Apple web site.

Coming up later this year: a new iPhone, a new iPad, and updates to Apple’s popular laptop lines. Rumored is a 15-inch MacBook Air. No doubt Apple’s market cap will expand further by year’s end.

Apple fans are living in a golden age no-one expected.

Watchdog Orders Checks on Every Airbus A380

MSNBC.com:

“Europe’s aviation watchdog called for checks Wednesday on the entire worldwide fleet of Airbus A380 superjumbo jets for cracks on parts inside the wings.

The European Aviation Safety Agency’s move to inspect all 68 A380s in service came as Qantas Airways grounded one of its planes, saying engineers had found 36 wing cracks after the aircraft encountered severe turbulence.”

So, first off, severe turbulence: ugh.

More critical than that, though, is the carbon fiber wing parts' performance under stress. Cracks were first claimed to be a result of the manufacturing process, but this latest discovery appears to come as a result of normal, if heavy stress on the wing.

In other words, the A380 wing appears to develop cracks when stressed as it was designed to do. That's a far more serious problem, because if normal loading causes the wing to deteriorate it can also cause it to fail.

Airbus will ground these aircraft if normal loading is found to cause these cracks. There's no way they'll risk, or be allowed to risk, a wing failure in flight. Imagine the cost to Airbus of such a grounding.

February 7, 2012

The Komen Foundation's Even Bigger PR Problem

Kevin Drum, writing for Mother Jones:

“for a lot of people it seems like it was just a long-awaited excuse to finally blow up over their long-simmering dislike of the Komen Foundation and its seemingly endless commercialization of all things breast cancer related. I don’t really have much to say about this since I’m pretty removed from the whole thing, but one PR lesson Komen should learn is that apparently there’s long been a helluva lot of unvoiced annoyance/discontent/exasperation/anger/etc. toward the Komen Foundation among a lot of women. And now that it’s finally out, it’s going to be hard to stuff it back into its bottle. I wonder if they had any idea before this that they were so heartily disliked by so many people who — until now — just didn’t feel like it was OK to say so out loud?”

I wasn't aware there was much discontent about Komen among women. I've not heard any from my wife or the women who work for or shop our small business, nor anything in the media.

I guess time will tell. Fundraising will be the measure of whether Komen repairs the damage done to their reputation and brand.

February 3, 2012

Dropbox Offers Up To 5GB of Free Space (If You're Willing To Try a Beta Version)

Amar Toor, writing for Engadget:

“Here’s some good news for all you Dropboxers out there: the company is offering a bundle of free storage space to anyone who tries the beta version of its new Experimental software.”

Easy-peasy. Click here, follow the simple steps and more than double your free Dropbox space.

February 2, 2012

∴ Great Listens

I've been spending my commute listening to a handful of podcasts these past couple of years. Some have come and gone from my sub list, but these six endure:

  • The Talk Show with John Gruber and Dan Benjamin. Gruber. The world around Apple.
  • Hypercritical with John Siracusa and Dan Benjamin. Thorough dissection of technology issues. And toaster ovens.
  • Build and Analyze with Marco Arment and Dan Benjamin. Software dev. Coffee. Chuckles. Don't email Marco.
  • Back to Work with Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin. Merlin is a nut. Neurotic. Yet every podcast spirals into something profound.
  • The Ihnatko Almanac with Andy Ihnatko and Dan Benjamin. Andy loves him some geekery, and wants you to hear all about it.
  • Bagel Tech Mac with Ewen Rankin and the crew. These mates are all up in it. This one's fun, start to finish.

Dan's network of podcasts has grown since I began listening. His latest, 5by5 At the Movies, has carried on in the tradition of the 5byBond series begun by Dan and Gruber last year with a three-hour-plus review of Goodfellas. It (the podcast) was great!

It's the golden age of geekdom, with new editions of these shows appearing weekly. You can even listen (or watch) live.

Dig in!

Swarm of Little Flying Robots Is Amazing, Terrifying

Andrew Couts, writing for Digital Trends:

“In few instances is our love-hate relationship with our mechanical brethren so fully realized as in this video (below) of a swarm of “nano qudrotors” performing advanced maneuvers. The whole thing is both amazing and chilling, all at once.”

(Via @siracusa.)

Against the Wall

Marco Arment connects the dots in Google's long-term slide from stand-out tech startup to dominant yet flailing giant:

“People with very strong values can maintain their standards and dignity even under immense pressure. But that’s no easy feat. And every time we get a peek into Google’s leadership, from intentional patent infringement and anticompetitive aggression to selling out net neutrality and now tarnishing search relevance, it’s increasingly clear that Google’s upper management is willing to do a lot of “evil”, even by Google’s own previous standards, to get their way when they’re not winning.“

Google, in the persons of Brin and Page, embodied what geeks aspire to: two smart guys with a great idea, building it in a garage and wildly succeeding. They're Hewlett and Packard, Gates and Allen, Jobs and Woz for the modern age.

Google has become HP, Microsoft and Apple, and not in a good way. Like those companies, they'll begin putting out crappy products at some point. Not products that don't catch on, like Wave, but truly crappy stuff like Microsoft Bob and many of the peripheral products Apple produced in the early nineties. Perhaps there will be a corporate executive revolving door, a la HP over the past decade.

Microsoft has found redemption in Windows Phone 7 and 8, and Windows 7. Their Office product is a productivity mainstay. Apple returned to greatness, creating insanely great products like the iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air. We're still waiting to see what HP does with itself. The key for the former two was heads-down hard work, with no shortcuts. Why can't the Googlers see that?

February 1, 2012

World Is Getting Better, IPA Dept

James Fallows writes about the pleasures of finding new craft brews. I sampled the Sierra Nevada brew mentioned here while visiting my sister's family last month. It's a terrific spring seasonal, made all the more interesting by the use of rye malt rather than the traditional barley.

Beer geeks know we're living in the golden age of craft brew today. For that we say, "cheers."