December 31, 2011

∴ Who Gets Your Vote

Have you noticed how many candidates spend all of their time tearing down and denigrating the efforts and institutions we've built up over years, without uttering a word about what they'd work for, create or spend our money to build up, themselves?

It's easy to point out the failings of those who have come before. It's much harder to assemble a plan and carry through on it, and harder still for that plan to benefit individuals and the nation as a whole.

Think about that when you head to the polls later next year. Ask who's talked more about what they want to sustain, build and create, versus what they'd repeal, eliminate and destroy. And who will benefit from all the "necessary" destruction.

F-35B Suitability Tests

Cool video from Lockheed Martin documenting F-35B STO/VL suitability tests. Reminiscent of Marine Harrier jets, but with stealthier design.

Watch for the engine nozzle to rotate down as the jet pushes off the deck after a short roll.

Really stunning if you switch to HD mode.

December 30, 2011

Verizon Reverses Decision To Charge $2 Fee

Steve Kovach, writing for Silicon Alley Insider:

“After a flood of backlash from customers and reports of an FCC investigation, Verizon has decided to cancel its policy of charging a $2 “convenience fee” for bill payments made over the phone and online.”

Saw that one coming a mile away ...

Still, I wonder how relevant the fee would have been. It was only to be charged on payments made manually on Verizon Wireless's web site, meaning it wouldn't apply to most customers.

I'm assuming here that most customers either write a check, use their bank's online bill payer feature, or authorize an automatic payment from their checking account. Could be wrong about that.

Keynes, and Krugman, Were Right

Paul Krugman:

“The bottom line is that 2011 was a year in which our political elite obsessed over short-term deficits that aren’t actually a problem and, in the process, made the real problem — a depressed economy and mass unemployment — worse.”

Putting aside rampant political rhetoric and paying attention to economic details yields benefits. Krugman, in Keynes' manner, did the math, and the math was right.

December 29, 2011

Would You Meet Here?

Conference room

Awesome conference room. Scary location.

(via The Loop.)



Shawn Blanc, writing for Tools and Toys:

“Agloves are building a reputation as being one of the best touchscreen gloves out there. They were sold out of the original for a while, but it is back in stock and also they have a new design of glove that is a bit more sporty and thicker.”

I've had a pair of Agloves for about a year, and they're terrific. They stand up to moderately cold and windy days for quick trips in and out of the car, though not so much if you're spending more than a few minutes outside. They're perfect for a cold morning commute.

The best part about them, of course, is that they let you use an iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch without taking off your gloves. I'm glad my wife bought me a pair every time my iPhone rings and I don't need to remove a glove to answer it.

Robert Reich: It's Obama-Clinton 2012

Robert Reich:

“My political prediction for 2012 (based on absolutely no inside information): Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden swap places. Biden becomes Secretary of State — a position he’s apparently coveted for years. And Hillary Clinton, Vice President.”


I’ll believe it when I see it, but this speculation does have the advantage of explaining why, after three successful years as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton announced in January that she will step down at the end of President Obama’s first term.

I agree with Reich, too, that an Obama/Clinton ticket would be unbeatable. Hell, I’d take odds on it.

December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas from Andrew, Kelly, Zele and Stella!

A very Merry Christmas and best wishes for a great 2012 to all!

Here's hoping your new gadgets keep you enthralled for at least a week, and that 2012 brings us more tech news to obsess over.

What would geekhood and nerdery be without a little obsession? Dweebery, apparently. Ugh!

December 24, 2011

Chinese Restaurant Sign Thanks Jews for Eating There on Christmas

Jewish Christmas Cuisine

Growing up on Long Island there was a Chinese food place on every other corner, with a pizza parlor in between. And not a lot to do on Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day, if you weren't celebrating the holiday. With a large Jewish population on the Island, the Chinese food places got heavy traffic those evenings.

My family celebrated Christmas, though, a tradition Kelly and I keep today. We like good food, too. We’re enjoying a modified version of the non-traditional Christmas Eve/Christmas Day feast here tonight: Chocolate Martinis, followed by take-out Thai.

Enjoy your feast this Christmas Eve!

(photo via boingboing.)

A Leg Up On Bad Customer Service With Insidr

Esther Dyson, writing for Project Syndicate:’s answer is not special access or a Twitter feed that will work until the volume overwhelms it, but rather a market for connecting current customers with former insiders who can tell them how to work the system. In other words, it is an open market for information, operating more or less parallel to the closed, non-market systems run by most companies.”

(Via Marginal Revolution.)

Insidr is a tool for getting what you expect from companies whose paid customer service agents are less than helpful. The list of companies you can get help with are a who’s who of consumer complaint magnets:

  • all four US wireless carriers. No surprise there.
  • Bank of America, known these days as Foreclosures-Я-Us.
  • Comcast, DirecTV and Dish Network. Companies for whom the customer relationship appears to end when you sign a contract. You’re on the hook for two years’ payments. They’ll get to your problems sometime between 9 and 5. Maybe. Maybe. And maybe.
  • United Airlines. I’m surprised they’re the only one listed, downright stunned that USAirways isn’t on the list. It was a step up when I switched away from USAirways years ago.

I haven’t tried Insidr, but I can imagine it’s useful for ending frustration before it overwhelms. Solving a service problem always comes down to finding that one customer service agent who both knows what she’s doing and is willing to be helpful. Insidr lets consumers shortcut the process when they can’t find that person.

December 23, 2011

A Bit of Christmas Silliness

by Terry Gilliam. (Thanks, Kenning!)

I miss those guys ...

Samsung: No ICS Upgrade for Galaxy S and Galaxy Tab

Vlad Savov, writing for The Verge:

“Samsung has just distributed the worst news of this Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade cycle: the popular Galaxy S smartphone that sold 10 million units last year and the 7-inch Galaxy Tab tablet won’t be upgraded to Android 4.0. “

The Galaxy S wireless phone was announced in March, 2010. The Galaxy Tab tablet was announced in September, 2010. Neither will see the newest version of the Android operating system, 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), yet that’s the first follow-on update since the version those devices shipped with. For the new features found in that update users will have to buy a new phone or tablet.

Think about that. Tablets are often described as the future of computing, yet the flagship tablet of the Android product universe has an OS life span of just one version, and one year. Users should be outraged.

Sure, the Tab will continue to function as a useful computing and entertainment device for a while yet. But OS upgrades come along to provide users with new and enhanced features. When you rock an Android device, apparently, you don’t upgrade. You pay.

Contrast that with Apple’s tablet, the iPad, announced March, 2010. An eighteen-month old iPad has seen two major upgrades of iOS, Apple’s mobile OS, and a few minor bumps. It remains useful with the latest software and will likely see at least one more major upgrade. Customers paid once and continue to enjoy new features, like FaceTime (not on iPad 1. Thanks, Oday!), iMessage, iCloud, iBooks and Game Center.

Consider, too, the Apple iPhone 3GS. Introduced in June, 2009, it is still for sale priced at 99-cents and has seen three major iOS updates, plus several minor bumps. New features abound. New customers can get one for nearly nothing with a two-year contract.

It’s occasionally helpful to remind oneself who’s the customer in a business relationship. The answer often explains much.

For Android users, the customer relationship is between device manufacturers and wireless service providers. The purpose of Android platform development is providing a foundation for the carriers to license and sell. The end users of Android-based devices, though they willingly pay for their gadget purchases, are apparently an afterthought. That's what they should be outraged about.

Want new Android features? Pay up, sucker.

No Ice Cream Sandwich For Galaxy S And Galaxy Tab

Chris Velazco, writing for TechCrunch:

“Sorry Galaxy S owners — even though your device has a near-identical spec sheet to the ICS-friendly Nexus S, Samsung has announced on their corporate blog that the company’s first Galaxy device won’t be getting the offical bump to Android 4.0.
The original Galaxy S isn’t the only one to get the snub, as the 7-inch Galaxy Tab won’t be able to join in the fun either.”

Makes you wonder how the shiny, new Nexus S will fare in the coming year. Will it receive the follow-on version of Android?

Here's a handy chart showing Android device manufacturer's track record, and Apple's. Not looking too good for customers using the "open" mobile OS.

Shawn Blanc Reviews Galaxy Nexus S

Shawn Blanc’s Galaxy Nexus review, distilled to the critical hardware flaws:

I never got comfortable with the Galaxy Nexus. I cannot comfortably use the Nexus with one hand because it is just too big. It is too tall and too wide for a comfortable grip, and so the phone never feels balanced and safe in my hand. Professional basketball players may prefer the Galaxy Nexus and its 4.65-inch screen, but I prefer the size of the iPhone.

This is the most subjective of the flaws Shawn found. A larger screen makes watching video more comfortable, but that’s the only benefit for a mobile phone device.

Personally, I’d just use an iPad for video on-the-go and leave my phone in my pocket. Three inches, four inches, they’re both too damn small for extended video viewing.

“On average, however, the 4G speeds on Verizon’s LTE network turned out to be comparable to the 3G speeds of AT&T’s network (at least here at my house in Kansas City).”

That’s damning. There’s less appeal to Verizon’s 4G if AT&T’s 3G provides nearly the same speed (Shawn cites his test numbers). Why suffer the battery drain of 4G for little better speed?

The default of the Galaxy Nexus is to run on LTE and fallback on CDMA. But you can turn off the LTE connection altogether if you want. Which is your only hope if you like battery life.

It’s bad enough having to manage computers. I don’t want to have to manage my phone. I want it to work when I need it without fiddling.

With 4G simply being enabled, even if I am at home where I have Wi-Fi, and if I use the Nexus very little, the battery will be dead by the end of my day (about 10 hours). With 4G disabled the phone would last for more than 20 hours with light usage.

Here’s the crazy part: when I am actually using the 4G network for tasks — such as turn-by-turn navigation or video streaming — it will drain 1-percent or more of battery life per minute.

Shawn goes on to note that his car charger could not keep up with the battery drain of using turn-by-turn GPS navigation on a Nexus with 4G enabled. Imagine that … the battery does not last for an extended period when the device is used as designed.

And all these were hardware problems. He hadn’t gotten to the operating system, Android 4.0, but the time I decided I’d never buy one of these phones.

Now consider all the Verizon customers whose purchases are swayed not by thoughtful reviews, but rather by marketing. They walk into a Verizon store looking for the latest, fastest, flashiest phone and walk out with one of these.

What I’d really like to see is the rate of return numbers for this (and other) Android phones. That’s likely the only metric a new customer would need to know.

Mysterious Metal Ball From Space Falls in Namibia

Brad Lendon, writing for

“A large metal ball that fell from space into the Namibian grasslands last month is not alien, officials say, but that’s about all they know for certain about the object.”

“such reports of metallic spheres falling from space are common in the Southern Hemisphere.”

(Via boingboing.)

It’s not so much that a metal object fell from the sky that’s surprising. There are thousands of objects in low Earth orbit. Gravity eventually has its way with them and they return home.

It’s the observed commonness of objects falling to Earth in the southern hemisphere that’s striking.

Objects in orbit are in constant motion. Their re-entries, over time, form a random distribution over the face of the globe. It’s just as likely for them to crash down in the northern hemisphere as the southern.

Given the greater distribution of open ocean in the southern hemisphere, it makes sense to find these objects less often in the southern hemisphere than the northern, where greater land mass provides more non-liquid covered resting places.

And then there’s this

December 20, 2011

James Bond Producers Want Daniel Craig For Five More Films

Russ Fischer, writing for /Film:

“How good is Daniel Craig in Skyfall? So good that producer Michael G. Wilson reportedly wants Craig to play James Bond for another five films, bringing him to a grand total of eight.”

(Via parislemon.)

Craig is my favorite Bond actor of the modern era. He captures the quiet, yet explosively sociopathic aspect of MI6’s assassin, with just the right dash of style and humor. I’d rate his Bond equal to Sean Connery’s, overall, though there’s a feel to the early sixties films that has never been re-captured.

Even better, then: producer Michael G. Wilson’s description of the upcoming Skyfall:

The director Sam Mendes and Daniel are taking it back to a 60s feel – more Sean. I think that’s what the fans wanted. There’s a magical “Goldfinger” feel surrounding it all. It’s all very exciting. I can’t wait for people to see the movie because I think we’re making a very special Bond.

Daniel Craig playing Bond with a Sean Connery flair. How awesome is this film going to be?

Skyfall is set to open in the US November 9, 2012.

NBC Will Stream Super Bowl Broadcast Live

Peter Kafka, writing for All Things Digital:

“A first for pro football: It will put its biggest game of the year on the Web, live, for free. The NFL says February’s NBC broadcast will also be available on Verizon phones; NBC already streams its Sunday night games on the Web. The move parallels other broadcasters’ moves to put some of their big games on the Web, most notably CBS’s broadcast of the March Madness tournament.”

Good test for NBC's streaming media partners. Sunday night games are popular, but there's nothing like the Super Bowl for drawing a massive audience. Well, maybe the Daytona 500.

I'm willing to wager that NBC's stream stays up for most if not all users throughout the game. They've gotten good practice at this throughout the season. I think they're going to scale their efforts well.

December 17, 2011

Well, It Sure Seems Like Keynes Was Right

Henry Blodget, writing for Silicon Alley Insider:

“But let’s face it: Austerity doesn’t work.

At least, austerity doesn’t work to quickly fix the problem.

The reason austerity doesn’t work to quickly fix the problem is that, when the economy is already struggling, and you cut government spending, you also further damage the economy. And when you further damage the economy, you further reduce tax revenue, which has already been clobbered by the stumbling economy. And when you further reduce tax revenue, you increase the deficit and create the need for more austerity. And that even further clobbers the economy and tax revenue. And so on.”

Ya think?

Blodget is a firebrand, but he's a smart firebrand. US voters need to realize that today's inflamed talk about deficits and debt is nothing more than a political weapon, a smokescreen to conceal from voters what would clearly swing the upcoming elections in the Democrats' favor.

Deficits and debt were in check when Republican president George W. Bush was elected. His party controlled the White House and both houses of Congress for six of his eight years in office, until US voters woke up and realized that they had been lied to about the need for war in Iraq.

During Bush's tenure, federal tax revenue was slashed while spending increased. Lending and bank investment regulation were kept lax at the hands of Republican legislators, allowing unqualified borrowers to drown themselves in debt and investment banks to drown themselves in liability for that debt in the form of naked credit default swaps.

Current president Obama applied Keynesian principles in the form of economic stimulus to fight the resulting recession. That stimulus was far too small to fill the GDP gap because it was fought tooth-and-nail by the very political actors who had brought near-ruin upon the economy.

And now those bad actors blame the current president for the results of their ill behavior, preach austerity despite clear indication that similar practice is failing in Great Britain, and seek election (or re-election) to office to wreak that havoc here.

Except a clear-eyed assessment of the past decade reveals their duplicity and incompetence, just as Blodget's review finds about the virtues of John Maynard Keynes' theory.

To be clear: the US electorate should hand the GOP a minority in both houses of Congress next November, reject the lineup of (mostly) buffoons seeking the Republican nomination to run for the presidency, and give president Obama a strong mandate to finish the work he began in 2008, unfettered by an obstructionist Republican party.

And the GOP really, really needs to rid itself of the lunatics driving their party. They can offer no competent alternative to Democrats until they do.

Why the iPad Is the Most Hated Gadget Ever

Mike Elgan, writing for Cult of Mac:

“As the Apple iPad succeeds beyond expectations, it leaves in its wake an enormous body count of dead and dying products. While consumers love it, several major industries have grown to hate it. And for very good reason.”

Mike’s detailed piece is perhaps overstated in the case of the Kindle Fire, but on the whole a succinct account of the disruption caused by the iPad and iPad 2, to date. I believe the Fire will improve over successive iterations to sell on its own merits, beyond price.

Devastated product lines (netbooks, other tablets), huge competitor losses (HP, RIM), cultural shift (kids’ number one Christmas list item? Not toys, but iPad 2), it’s all here.

Apple is, with its iPad line, literally crushing the competition.

December 16, 2011

Marissa Mayer Is Off Larry Page's Special Advisory Team

Matt Rosoff, writing for Silicon Alley Insider:

“Marissa Mayer has been dropped from the team of top Google execs who advise Larry Page directly, a little more than a year after she was appointed to it.”

Marissa Mayer: next RIM CEO?

Mayer was a high-flyer among the top-level Googlers. She was moved out of her job as "chief of search" a while back. Now this. Sounds like she could use a change of scenery.

Young Couple Buried Under Tons of Coal in Florida


“Artes, who grew up in Baltimore, hopscotched the country on trains, his family said. He met Hendershot in South Carolina.”

Modern-day hobos, spiritual descendants of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, take one last ride on the rails and end up under several thousand tons of coal.


Apples A5 Processors Made on Samsung Production Line in Texas

Jamie Keene, writing for The Verge:

“Samsung’s factory in Austin, Texas has been operational since 1996, and until recently only produced NAND flash memory chips. However, a report from Reuters published today suggests that the factory is also responsible for Apple’s A5 processor, used in both the iPhone 4S and the iPad 2.”

There’s anecdotal evidence all around that select manufacturing is slowly returning to the US, including this story by Brendan I. Koerner for Wired magazine.

Reduced shipping costs, reduced lag between prototype and finished product, and better quality make this the smart option for a growing number of companies who make things, but lack factories. Outsourcing to the US is good business.

December 14, 2011

Could Netflix Bring Firefly Back From The Dead?

Marc Bernardin:

“Ever since Joss Whedon’s space western was canceled back in 2003, its fans — at first, a relatively small contingent, but as time and DVD sales grew, so did the ranks swell — have wondered what could possibly rescue it from the tightly clenched jaws of death. And until now, nothing could. But with Netflix resuscitating other long-canceled shows, and greenlighting original programming, what had been a firm NO is now a wobbly MAYBE.”

(Via Nathan Fillion.)

Arrested Development is a definite yes.

Firefly? We can only hope ...

Four HMMVs, Inbound

Dropping four HMMVs like it’s just another day at the office.

Not sure if they're being deployed, or discarded.

(via Dean Putney at BoingBoing.)

American Airlines First To Allow Pilot iPads on the Flight Deck

Devin Coldewey, writing for TechCrunch:

“If you’re flying American on Friday, there’s a chance your pilot will be using an iPad instead of the traditional paper flight charts. The airline has reportedly become the first major one to get FAA approval for the device, though smaller charter lines have had it for a while. American announced their intention to make the switch back in June, joining Alaska and Delta and probably a few others by now.”

Great news.

Digital, video-displayed instruments replaced analog dials and indicators on the flight decks of modern aircraft years ago. It only makes sense that charting and aircraft manuals follow in that way, appearing in electronic form on the popular iPad.

Presumably these iPads will be used after the doors are closed and the aircraft is moving about the airport, and during the critical departure and arrival and departure phases of flight. The same periods when passengers are admonished to fully shut off anything with a power switch.

It's evident, then, that the prohibition against using electronic devices during critical periods of flight, and during the taxi out to the runway, is all about getting and keeping passengers' attention, and has nothing whatsoever to do with interfering with cockpit equipment.

Getting and keeping passenger attention is essential for effectively communicating emergency instructions on the first try. Why don't airlines just come out and say so?

December 13, 2011

TextMate 2.0 Public Alpha


“Following a complete rewrite of the program, developer Allan Odgaard has finally released a “public alpha” of TextMate 2.0, available only to current TextMate license holders”

Alpha software should never wind up in customer’s hands.

Gruber, via Twitter, after installing the new alpha and attempting to load a file, only to see the application lock up twice:

“So I force quit, relaunched, and TextMate helpfully wedged itself in the same way again. Is this a prank?”

Macromates has come in for criticism of late for letting the well-regarded Textmate application lapse, while other text editors were incrementally improved. Releasing an alpha of the next version smacks of desperation to keep straying customers loyal.

Some say there’s no such thing as negative press. Think so?

Why Apps Are Not the Future

Dave Winer:

“I’ll keep playing here while the rest of you flirt with apps. I’ll be here when you come back. I know it’s going to happen. Here’s why.


Dave's smart take: the simple feature that makes the web The Web is what you can't get from apps. It's about sharing and exploration. It's the feature that keeps people coming back for more.

Verizon Rumored Serious About Netflix Bid

Todd Haselton, writing the answer to the question "how can Netflix make customers even less happy in 2012?" for Boy Genius Report:

“Mediatech Capital managing partner Porter Bibb believes Verizon Communications is seriously considering making a bid for Netflix.”

Keep in mind that Bibb is a VC, playing the part of an analyst here. So, this is a crapshoot.

Still, I can't think of a better way to disappoint their customers than for Netflix to sell themselves to a cell phone service provider whose customers uniformly detest them.

Ok, back to reality. Verizon will not buy Netflix, because Netflix won't sell themselves to Verizon. Or anyone else.

Granderson: Gingrich Has it Wrong About the Poor

LZ Granderson, responding to Newt Gingrich's assertion (CBS News) that residents of poor neighborhoods lack a sound work ethic for CNN Opinion:

“When I was growing up in Detroit, it never occurred to me to equate a person’s net worth with his or her worth as a person, or look at it as a snapshot of a value system. No one around me did. That’s because we saw so many people working hard for a better life. With that as your backdrop, it is hard to see poor as a four-letter word.”

Gingrich is campaigning not for the presidency these days, but for the GOP nomination to run for the presidency. Maybe his arguments ring true for Republicans. I can't believe they will for the bulk of US voters during the general election campaign.

December 9, 2011

Two Zero-day Vulnerabilities Found in Flash Player

What else is new …

Lucian Constantin, writing for Macworld:

“Two newly discovered vulnerabilities in Adobe’s Flash Player can be exploited to execute arbitrary code remotely, according to advisories from the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) and various security research companies.”

When I bought my MacBook Pro earlier this year the one software item I purposely avoided installing was Flash player. It’s too much a CPU hog, and too riddled with security holes.

What am I missing out on? Inane YouTube videos and over-designed restaurant home pages.

I have a minor cheat going on, though, in the super Chrome browser from Google. Its built-in Flash player, which Google scrupulously maintains it to keep as up-to-date and exploit-free as possible, works well.

With a viable alternative available and repeated evidence of Flash player’s danger, why is anyone still using this relic from the wild west days of the Internet?

Followup: Air Force Dumped Troops' Remains in Landfill

I wrote about the US Air Force’s egregious practice of disposing deceased veterans’ remains in a landfill yesterday, noting that there seemed to be information missing. Something didn’t add up.

Last evening’s news programs added a bit more perspective. While it still appears there was a violation of honor in the way these veterans’ remains were treated, it’s not quite as clear-cut as earlier reporting indicated.

It is apparently not the case that service members died in action, their bodies were returned to the US and disposed, intact, in a landfill.

It’s more like service members were violently killed in action, their bodies mutilated beyond recognition, and their remains gathered and returned to the US. Samples of the remains were taken for DNA testing in order to make positive identification. The rest of the remains were transferred to next of kin for burial.

The samples taken for DNA testing, but not needed, as well as samples not identified were cremated and discarded in a Virginia landfill.

CNN has additional detail:

When bodies are not intact — for instance, in the aftermath of a crash or explosion — a body may be released to the family before some parts have been identified by the Air Force Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Families can elect to be notified when parts are identified or leave it up to the military to dispose of them appropriately. Since the policy was changed in 2008, the unclaimed body parts are buried at sea.

There’s plenty of shame to be had in this unfolding story, not the least of which was evident on the face of a uniformed Pentagon officer who stopped cold after describing the discarded remains as “medical waste” to reporters.

That may well have been an accurate description for remains not needed for identification, but it’s a cold way of describing a soldier’s remains after he’s given his life in combat.

The 5 Best Toys of All Time

Jonathan Liu, writing for

“I’ve worked really hard to narrow down this list to five items that no kid should be without. All five should fit easily within any budget, and are appropriate for a wide age range so you get the most play out of each one. These are time-tested and kid-approved! And as a bonus, these five can be combined for extra-super-happy-fun-time.”

(Via The Loop.)

This is good for a chuckle. I got a lot of mileage out of all of these, especially number five.

My parents had an above-ground swimming pool installed when I was about 9. Our back yard was fairly level, but not completely flat, so they had someone create a foundation for the pool with a payloader. The resulting dirt pile in the corner of the yard provided hundreds of hours of enjoyable, daydreaming play.

December 8, 2011

Why the GOP Field Is So Weak

James Carville, writing for CNN Opinion:

“Perhaps the Republicans are getting exactly the kind of candidates that best match the intellectual composition of the majority of the people in their party”


"The majority of the people in the Republican Party who were going to pick their nominee had been so overwhelmed by misinformation, unworkable simplistic solutions -- e.g., electrifying border fences -- and anti-science, right-wing pandering"


"We have watched GOP debates where audience members booed gay soldiers and cheered the prospect of someone dying without health insurance."


"Maybe Bush, Daniels, Christie, Barbour and Thune figured out ahead of time what Fairleigh Dickinson University uncovered just recently: that people who watch Fox News are actually more ignorant than people who watch no news at all."

Here's the story on that Dickinson University study.

Apple TV Updates Stream Purchased TV shows to Australia, Canada and the UK

Richard Lawler, writing for Engadget:

“Apple TV users (the hockey puck, not the pie in the sky rumored flat panel with magic fairy dust inside and an extra unaired season of Firefly) in Canada, Australia and the UK were gifted a download today, bringing iCloud-streamed TV show purchases (which debuted back in August Stateside) out to their box.”

Interesting development, because purchased TV shows streaming from iCloud is a step toward purchased movies doing the same.

Best of the Unimpressed Astronaut Meme

Jeff Wysaski:

“Hey, if you’ve walked on the moon, then you’ve earned the right to be a little condescending…”

(via @chartier.)

Twenty snarky images to set us non-astronauts in our place. Heh.

S&P: Entire 27-nation EU is At Risk of Downgrade


“Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s injected urgency into talks aimed at saving the euro currency from collapsing under the weight of huge state debt by warning Thursday that it may downgrade the bonds of all 27 EU nations.
The ratings agency said it was placing the EU’s AAA long-term rating on so-called CreditWatch negative. The warning came just days after S&P put a large number of the 17 euro countries on notice for a possible downgrade, including Germany and France.”

Keep in mind that S&P was one of the ratings agencies that conferred top credit ratings upon collateralized debt obligations during the housing bubble of the last decade. Those investment instruments packaged high risk loans with high quality ones, and brought about the credit crisis of 2008-2009 when over-extended homeowners defaulted on their mortgages.

That aside, if S&P and the other ratings agencies were to honestly revise their credit ratings of those countries in the direst conditions, several would have their debt rated as “junk.” The cost of financing that debt would balloon overnight, forcing those countries into default. A credit crisis would begin all over again.

Air Force Dumped Troops' Remains in Landfill


“The incinerated partial remains of at least 274 American troops were dumped in a Virginia landfill, according to government records, The Washington Post reported on Thursday.”


There’s information missing from this report. Apparently some portion of these veterans’ remains were properly buried. Why weren’t all of the remains given to next of kin for burial? And if there was no next of kin, doesn’t the US military have a procedure for burying its own?

December 7, 2011

Motorola Update on Ice Cream Sandwich

Motorola, in a long piece about when their customers can expect an Android upgrade for their phones and tablets:

“Like you, we are excited to see that Google released the source code to Android Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS)! We’d like to address the question many of you have now – when can I get my ICS? “

(Via DF.)

Shorter version: Motorola and other mobile device makers remain unprepared for the product upgrade relationship with their customers that Apple established as a standard.

  • Apple devices: buy once, receive free or low-priced upgrades to functionality over the lifetime of the device.
  • Android: buy once, dispose of in a year, just like the last dozen forgettable and forgotten cell phones you’ve owned. It’ll likely never be more than it was when you bought it.

Most mobile device companies institutionalize built-in obsolescence as a business model. They have no interest in updating an Android phone once it’s out the factory door, because doing so might incentivize customers to hang onto their devices longer.

Google’s ongoing Android development makes it difficult to preserve that practice, because customers want the upgraded experience possible with a new version. Or, more likely, several new versions, because Android is taking a long while to become as useable and elegant as iOS.

Apple’s ongoing iOS development makes it downright impossible to preserve that practice, because every iteration of that operating system brings new capabilities to old iPhones and iPads, which were useable and elegant out of the gate. Android users are left looking askance at their older device, wishing it could do more, and better.

[Update: this graphic of orphaned Android devices tells the tale. Each device model sold is more likely to be one-and-done than upgraded with more features.]

HP Is Reviving The $99 TouchPad Firesale!

Matt Burns, writing for TechCrunch:

“Starting Sunday, December 11th at 6:00 p.m. Central time, 16GB and 32GB Touchpads will be available on HP’s ebay store. A $79 accessory bundle will also be available, which includes a case, charging dock and wireless keyboard. Look for them in the laptop section. As you would expect, there are some caveats with this deal with the main disappointment being these are refurbished TouchPads rather than the brand new models sold during the first firesale.”

Just imagine all those eager faces, frozen in shocked disappointment Christmas morning, when they open that terrific last-minute gift purchase someone made. Because it’s just like an iPad!

You know why these refurbs exist, right? Round one ended in disappointment and returns for refund. HP must figure, ‘why not try round two? We’ll get rid of them eventually.’

Colonel Potter Dead

“Emmy Award-winning actor Harry Morgan — who played Colonel Potter on the series M*A*S*H — died this morning in his L.A. home … this according to the actor’s son.”

Morgan was 96.

MASH has been off the air since 1983, when it became the most-watched TV series finale. Hard to believe it's been 28 years.

Baggage Handler Fired For Helping Sick Dog Can Have Her Job Back

Chris Morran, writing for Consumerist:

“For those of you coming late to this story, the handler was loading a plane bound for Texas when she spotted the emaciated and bloody pointer waiting to be loaded. Against her supervisor’s orders, she refused to put the dog on the plane.”

Animal control authorities were called, the dog was taken to a vet for care and the bag handler, Lynn Jones, was fired. Her employer has reconsidered, no doubt because of the negative publicity telling the original story, and has offered to reinstate the bag handler.

Good for that bag handler for making a humane decision and sticking by it. Good, I guess, for the employer for reversing the decision to fire her. But what sort of horrible person is that supervisor, who insisted that Jones load a visibly sick animal into an aircraft, for a stressful trip that could have killed it?

December 6, 2011

25 Heroic Dogs

The Dog Guide:

“People have always seemed to have a soft spot for heroic dogs. Whether it’s TV classics like Lassie or heart-warming family films like Homeward Bound, the idea of dogs rescuing their human masters (or even complete strangers) captures our love and affection as few other things do. So it’s only natural to love hearing about dogs who save people in real life! Here are 25 true accounts of dogs who saved people from perilous circumstances.”

(Via Laurel Herman on Facebook.)

This is a terrific collection photographs and accounts of heroic action by dogs. Each includes a brief paragraph describing some action few humans would take.

DirecTV's TiVo Ready to Return

Richard Lawler, writing for Engadget:

“It’s been over three years since we first heard a new TiVo was coming to DirecTV, but the satellite broadcaster has finally revealed it will be available — in select markets — starting December 8th, the same day its own HR34 multiroom solution becomes available.”

We were big DirecTV-TiVo fans years ago, but with the advent of HDTV our old receivers fell behind DirecTV's own, branded DVRs. There weren't any TiVo branded options available for "DirecTiVo" users to get local HD channels via satellite. A planned HD version of the venerable DirecTiVo was delayed, then delayed again.

We finally gave up on TiVo and bought a pair of DirecTV's branded DVRs to go with our growing number of HDTV sets. We've never looked back.

The DirecTV boxes, while occasionally suffering from slow channel guide display, have performed well and offer all the options we want. The DVR software has steadily improved, offering more extra features along the way. Multi-room viewing has been available on these units for a couple of years. Remote record capability via iPhone app has been around for nearly that long.

Now, finally, DirecTV and TiVo are offering an HD TiVo unit to DirecTV subscribers. They're so late to the party, I wonder if anyone will care.

Will Indy Die in 'Indiana Jones 5'?

We can only hope so.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, writing for MSNBC:

“Spielberg insisted he was “really proud” of “Crystal Skull,” despite having told a 30th-anniversary “Raiders of the Lost Ark” screening audience that he knew he burned bridges with that film.”

Spielberg goes on in the article to say that he continues directing 'Jones' movies penned by George Lucas, telling Lucas' stories "obediently," ostensibly because that's what Lucas wants. Given Lucas' reputation for the ongoing mangling of the Star Wars legacy, maybe we shouldn't have been surprised that the last Indiana Jones film took the franchise south.

And really, what purposes other than ego and enrichment does it serve to keep beating the same ground? How many satisfying, successful sequels past the second have there been over the past decades?

December 5, 2011

The 45 Most Powerful Images of 2011

From Buzzfeed.

Prediction: you will not remain unmoved by these images.

(Via The Loop.)

The Fed's $7 Trillion Secret Loan Program

Eliot Spitzer, writing for Slate:

“The total numbers are staggering: $7.7 trillion of credit—one-half of the GDP of the entire nation. $460 billion was lent to J.P. Morgan, Bank of America, Citibank, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley alone—without anybody other than a few select officials at the Fed and the Treasury knowing. This was perhaps the single most massive allocation of capital from public to private hands in our history, and nobody was told.”

(Via DF.)

Never underestimate the willingness of a government, or an independent central bank, to do everything necessary to preserve its life. Or preserve the way of life of its nation.

This is going to boil over into a major scandal. There will be public hearings. There will be sworn testimony. Bank executives who claimed to shareholders that their institutions were solvent may be sued by those shareholders, and prosecuted by the Securities and Exchange Commission. But that’s about it.

The US Federal Reserve, our independent central bank, has a twin mandate: maintain price stability (fight inflation and deflation) and promote employment. There are few rules as to what that institution may not do to accomplish that mandate.

The Fed possesses the power to print money, unfettered by Congress. That’s generally considered to be a Good Thing, because otherwise a Congress exercising superior lawful powers could use the Fed to fund runaway spending in unlimited fashion, debasing the currency and causing hyperinflation.

So the Fed printed money and lent it at below-market rates to institutions that, should they have failed, would have caused the downfall of the US economic system, and the world’s. That they didn’t pause in that moment of crisis to condition the loans on firing this executive, or stopping that financial practice, seems beside the point of why they acted.

Near-Bankrupt US Postal Service Plans Unprecedented Cuts To First Class Mail

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe:

“We have a business model that is failing. You can’t continue to run red ink and not make changes,” Donahoe said. “We know our business, and we listen to our customers. Customers are looking for affordable and consistent mail service, and they do not want us to take tax money.”

(Via Silicon Alley Insider.)

The US Postal Service is suffering the same disease as other government-sponsored programs: elevated customer expectations with insufficient funding. They can't afford to continue this way any more than the government can afford expensive social programs without significant adjustments.

The Postal Service's customers must realize "affordable" is, in this case, the same as "bankrupting." The Service wouldn't be running in the red if they charged more than what it cost them to provide service.

UPS charges over $9 for three-day letter service, though their definition of "letter" is somewhat larger and heavier than the Postal Service's. Fedex charges slightly more than that. There's clearly a demand for a lower-priced delivery service in the US, so the Postal Service has wiggle room.

The US Postal Service should raise their postage rate to $1 for one-to-three day delivery of letter-sized packages. They should reduce the discount given bulk mailers, and provide no delivery time guarantees. Their box-sized rates are already competitive with UPS and Fedex.

December 4, 2011

Send In the Clueless

Paul Krugman:

“The Washington Post quotes an unnamed Republican adviser who compared what happened to Mr. Cain, when he suddenly found himself leading in the polls, to the proverbial tale of the dog who had better not catch that car he’s chasing. “Something great and awful happened, the dog caught the car. And of course, dogs don’t know how to drive cars. So he had no idea what to do with it.”

The same metaphor, it seems to me, might apply to the G.O.P. pursuit of the White House next year. If the dog actually catches the car — the actual job of running the U.S. government — it will have no idea what to do, because the realities of government in the 21st century bear no resemblance to the mythology all ambitious Republican politicians must pretend to believe. And what will happen then?”

Another spot-on assessment from Krugman, who appears to be laying the groundwork for four years of writing from the loyal opposition.

Krugman points out the conservative base's cognitive dissonance and how candidates pander to it. Why would anyone vote for a candidate who claims that the office and the institution he seeks to serve is the central problem facing the nation? How well can someone perform his duties if he truly detests the employer and the industry? Or, why would anyone vote for a candidate who lies about detesting that which he seeks in order to obtain it?

How to Sync Unread Tweets Between iPhone, iPad and OS X

Leanna Lofte, writing for TiPb:

“Tweet Marker is a web service that marks your last read tweet. As long as you have the service set up on at least two different Twitter clients, you can free jump between the two apps without losing place of which Tweet you read last. Just enable the feature in the apps settings, and you’re good to go!”

I’ve been using the official Twitter apps on my iPhone, iPad and MacBook Pro for a while. After reading this post at The iPhone Blog, I purchased Twitterific in the Mac App Store and snagged their freebie app for iPhone and iPad.

Enabling Twitter Marker in all three apps took nothing more than selecting “scroll to marker” in settings. It all works great!

A small purple flag shows me the last tweet I’ve seen, and the topmost tweet in view when I switch away from an app is automatically synced out to Tweet Marker. I’m shown the last tweet viewed the next time I switch to Twitterific on any device.

Twitterific for iOS is free with ads from The Deck, or $4.99 ad-free. Twitterific for Mac is $9.95 from Icon Factory’s web site, but is on sale for $4.99 in the Mac App Store.

December 2, 2011

Zakaria: Why I now think Assad will fall

Fareed Zakaria, writing for CNN’s Global Public Square:

“In the face of all of this, the courage of the Syrian people is just stunning. They keep protesting. They keep organizing. And it appears that the Syrian security forces are actually suffering significant setbacks.
But a big reason I think the Assad regime will fall is simple: It’s running out of money.”

Zakaria’s changed his mind. He sees an end to the Assad regime, and that’s only a good thing for Israel, the US and the Middle East. Few states, if any, have been more enthusiastic supporters of terrorism and lawlessness than Syria.

The past ten years have seen the end of the Iraqi regime, the Libyan, the Egyptian and now, perhaps, the Syrian. How long until Iran’s regime topples and its young population begins the next chapter in their nation’s history?

And how much longer does the House of Saud have?

Killing the Euro

Paul Krugman, in the New York Times:

“So the next time you hear someone claiming that if we don’t slash spending we’ll turn into Greece, your answer should be that if we do slash spending while the economy is still in a depression, we’ll turn into Europe. In fact, we’re well on our way.”

Professor Krugman’s column reads like a timeline of Europe’s downfall. Don’t be fooled by daily upticks in the stock market or headline announcements by central bankers, because this crisis is only beginning.

For a succinct explanation of where we are in the current economic downturn and why, give it a quick ten-minute read.

∴ Stout Made in Oak Barrels Returns to NoVA

Until a few years ago, Old Dominion Brewing made a fine beer they called Oak Barrel Stout, in two similar flavors. Always better on tap than in the bottle, thanks to the use of real oak barrels, Oak Barrel Stout as we knew it went away when Old Dominion was bought, then moved.

They still make a bottled beer by the same name, but the tap version no longer bears the same great flavor. Of all the changes since the sale of Old Dominion it was arguably the greatest loss to local beer fans. No more.

Lost Rhino Brewing, the startup craft brewer of Ashburn, Virginia, has just kegged their first Woody Stout brew. Its flavor is very familiar.

This mildly sweet, dark brew possesses vanilla and coffee flavors. The roasted malt aftertaste is near-identical to that of Oak Barrel Stout on tap, because the beer is once again rested in oak barrels.

What a welcome surprise it was to once again enjoy the flavor of my favorite stout on tap. Lost Rhino brews in small batches, and from what I saw when I filled my growlers yesterday, Woody Stout was going fast.

The brewmasters at Lost Rhino have produced nearly ten varieties of beer since brewing operations commenced last April. I think they have another winner on their hands with Woody Stout.

Kindle Fire, Not the Netbook of the Tablet Market

J.P. Morgan analyst Mark Moskowitz:

“We think that, over time, consumers may come away disappointed with the Kindle Fire’s lack of functionality and smaller screen size. In our view, the Kindle Fire is the current netbook of the media tablet market.”

[emphasis mine]

(Via All Things Digital.)

While arguably true today, does anyone doubt that Amazon will improve the Kindle Fire?

Recall that the original Kindle was oversized for the display it included, cheap-feeling and suffered from slow page turns. It carried a superfluous hardware keyboard that has only recently been eliminated.

Amazon took four years to deliver a touchscreen version of the Kindle, during which time Apple established that touch was the user interface of the future.

But also during those four years, the price of successive Kindle models declined from $400 to today’s $79 (non-touchscreen version with advertisements). Kindle’s build quality and user experience were improved.

We not only have a touchscreen version today, but a multimedia tablet version, as well.

And Amazon blazed the trail for an always connected, 3G network device without a monthly fee, making the Kindle useful outside WiFi coverage.

All of that spells innovation and iterated product improvement, on their own schedule. Sound familiar? It's a page from Apple's playbook.

Netbooks, on the other hand, started out undersized, underpowered and un-upgradeable. They were never much good for anything other than email and extremely casual, non-Flash web browsing.

They haven’t been improved over time because their raison d’être was high-volume sales, period. Low-end components in small, low-end enclosures make for low-end, disposable devices. They're more a photograph of a computer than a computer.

The Kindle Fire is not the netbook of tablets. It may not be a direct competitor to Apple’s iPad, but it’s easily the most interesting of the Android-based tablets, thanks largely to Amazon’s user interface overlay and their huge content catalog. The Kindle Fire’s best days are ahead of it.

December 1, 2011

Microsoft’s New Resilient File System (ReFS) Will Be Server Only

Tom Warren, writing for WinRumors:

“The idea is that server variants of Windows 8 will be able to utilise the new technology to improve file system resilience to hardware and software errors. The technology will not be widely used and is designed for specific use by server administrators. As a result, client versions of Windows 8 will not be able to utilise the new file system according to our sources.”

(Via Techmeme.)

That's a shame. NTFS, the current Windows file system, is an order (or two) of magnitude better than the aging FAT32. A resilient file system, one that can handle software and hardware failures without losing or corrupting data, would be a great competitive advantage over Apple's yet older HFS+.

Maybe Windows 9 will bring a fault-tolerant file system to the masses.

November 30, 2011

Intel Gives $100 Ultrabook Subsidy

The Macintosh News Network:

“Intel is giving Windows-based ultrabook makers a $100 discount to help them try to undercut Apple on price, part suppliers in Taiwan claimed late Tuesday.”

Owee. Intel is paying PC manufacturers a $100 per machine subsidy to produce price-competitive products to Apple's MacBook Air. How times have changed. It wasn't long ago that PC consumers complained about Apple machines being priced too high.

Today consumers can find well-equipped MacBook Air machines for just a little over $1000. There's really no competition for them, either, because the "ultrabook" machines subsidized by Intel aren't even in production yet.

DeAngelo Hall Named NFC Defensive Player of the Week

Mike Jones, writing for Football Insider:

“Washington Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall has earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance against the Seahawks Sunday.”

That's a huge comeback for a player who said, in an interview two weeks ago, that he wasn't worth what he was being paid and should be cut from the team.

Hall is a terrific cornerback. Any time the Redskins snag an interception, there's a good chance it was picked by him.

Congrats to DeAngelo.

Europe Is Not the United States

Martin Feldstein, writing for Global Public Square:

“European politicians who insisted on introducing the euro in 1999 ignored the warnings of economists who predicted that a single currency for all of Europe would create serious problems.”

Feldstein, who was Chairman of president Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisors, lays out several reasons why the single currency embraced by seventeen European nations over the last decade or so have led to the impending liquidity crisis. Fiscally conservative countries (those who maintain low deficits and debt, and carry a trade surplus) like Germany are now in the position of having to bail out weaker countries, like Greece and Italy, or see the Euro devalued and crumble.

The Euro is issued by the European Central Bank. What Feldstein doesn’t mention, and it’s not surprising considering his conservative credentials, is the ECB’s lack of monetary discretion. It can’t back the struggling peripheral nations with purchases of a “Eurobond,” because there is no unifying Eurobond. The individual nations must sell their own sovereign debt at market rates. The market is increasingly expressing its doubt about the weaker nation’s ability to service their debt, by requiring unaffordable interest rates.

Contrast that with the US Federal Reserve, which can and does exercise independent monetary authority by purchasing US government debt of varying terms, thereby influencing the interest rate on that debt. That action allows the Federal government to continue funding its operations at reasonable rates, unlike countries like Italy who are at the sole mercy of the worldwide bond market.

What’s more, the Fed can expand its balance sheet (“print money”) in order to extend its ownership of US debt, thereby allowing the Federal government to roll over expiring bonds with new, and equally low interest rate, issues. It can use its monetary authority to purchase toxic assets from illiquid banks, a practice which allowed such banks to clear their own balance sheets and remain solvent during the credit crisis of 2008-2009.

The unified Euro currency was a bad idea from the start, because it required EC members who adopted it to tie their fortunes to all other Euro-adopting countries without the means of tying those countries to a single fiscal (budgetary) policy. Europeans are simply not all on the same financial page.

Gogo Airline Wi-Fi Goes Global With Inmarsat Satellite

Sean Hollister, writing for The Verge:

“The company’s partnering with Inmarsat to test global Ka-band satellite coverage starting in the middle of 2013 — when the first satellite launches — at speeds up to 50Mbps. Currently, Gogo provides the likes of Delta, Southwest, American and Alaska Airlines with an air-to-ground network of 3.1Mbps EV-DO Rev. A cellular, much like Verizon and Sprint 3G”

Assuming Inmarsat doesn’t over-sell their satellite’s capacity, this service will provide greater bandwidth to most airborne passengers than they enjoy at home. It’s a terrific upgrade to already useful inflight WiFi services.

But after using inflight WiFi for the first time this year (I don’t often fly, perhaps once a year at most) I don’t know that I’d make much use of the additional bandwidth. I’m not certain I’ll use inflight WiFi on any given flight. That’s quite a change for me from when I could only dream of connectivity everywhere.

There’s something lost by bringing our always-connected lifestyle to one of the last bastions of isolation, an airborne aircraft. Before inflight WiFi appeared the world went away when the aircraft door was closed. Shut off the cell phone, the music player, and lately, put away the reading device. Only when the aircraft has shed the Earth, and jet- or prop-roar fills the cabin adding sonic isolation to the physical, do most of those items join books and magazines as entertainment. But we’re still isolated from the cares and concerns of the world below without a network connection. It’s enforced down-time.

This isn’t to say inflight WiFi isn’t beneficial for continued workflow while otherwise sidelined, or as an additional source of entertainment. 50Mbps might even allow for streamed music and movie content. And fliers can always opt not to connect. It requires a purposeful act to pay for the service, after all.

It is, though, one less time and place that encourages a little boredom, rest for the mind, and the daydreaming that comes with it.

November 29, 2011

Engadget: The Official Online News Source of CES 2012 and the CEA!

Tim Stevens, writing for Engadget on November 29:

“we’re incredibly proud to announce that we’re now the Official Online News Source not just of the 2012 International CES, but of the CEA as a whole.”

But wait! From The Verge, November 15 ...

"We couldn't be more excited to let you guys in on some news. We're pleased to announce that The Verge will be the Official Technology News Partner for CES 2012!"


Ok, Engadget gets to "officially" cover the CEA as a whole. But Official Online News Source vs. Official Technology News Partner? I hope neither of them paid anything for those endorsements.

Google Maps 6.0 Hits Android

Joseph Volpe, writing for Engadget:

“Hitting the Android Market in the U.S. and Japan today, the company’s ever-popular app gets a full version bump to 6.0, bringing with it the inclusion of retail and airport floor plans.”

Rarely does the Android platform provide something I want but can't get on my iPhone. This is one of them.

Zoom in far enough and large retail spaces become floor plans. The map app is tweaked to detect the z-axis, meaning it can tell which floor of a multi-floor structure you're on and display the corresponding plan.

Android's location service uses indoor WiFi to triangulate your position, so the generally obstructed sky view inside a mall isn't a problem.

Available now in the Android Market.

November 28, 2011

June Foray

A brief aside about tonight's showing of How The Grinch Stole Christmas!. The only voice artist other than Boris Karloff in the production plays little Cindy Lou Who, who asks the Grinch why he's taking her Christmas tree. The voice artist is June Foray.

June has been working as a voice artist since 1940. Her credits include Rocket J. Squirrel (of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame), Natasha Fatale (Boris & Natasha), Lucifer the Cat (Cinderella), Granny (Sylvester and Tweety), Witch Hazel (Bugs Bunny), Nell Fenwick (Dudley Do-Right), Fractured Fairy Tales and some of the better-known Christmas specials (Frosty the Snowman, Little Drummer Boy). Her latest credit came this year, during which she turned 94.

I remember so many of June's characters from my younger years. It's a little treat to learn she was part of the Grinch, too, which is one of my all-time favorites.

The Grinch. Yes, The Grinch. Who Stole. Christmas.

… graces the wide, wide screen of my television this holiday season evening.

Not the johnny-come-lately creation starring that nitwit, Jim Carrey.

No, this is the original, narrated by Boris freakin’ Karloff. The original Frankenstein’s monster. Directed by Chuck Jones, of Bugs Bunny fame. A true Christmas treat from the days of my youth, circa 1966.

Witness the fine animation that harkens back to the glory days of Warner Brother's cartoons. The silliness of Max, the Grinch's long-suffering companion pooch. The angelic warbling of the Whos down in Whoville. The exquisite greenness of the Grinch's hide. His magic sleigh.

On the US ABC network, now.

Glass Keyboard and Mouse

Jamie Keene, writing for The Verge:

“Oregon-based Giddings is currently fundraising on Kickstarter to produce a wireless multi-touch glass keyboard and mouse pair, which looks like something from Star Trek and promises to be coffee- and crumb-proof.”


A Look at Apple's Spot-the-Shopper Technology

Brian X. Chen, writing for The New York Times Bits blog:

“An iPhone owner can use the free Apple Store app to shop before entering the store. When she arrives, the app’s location feature alerts store workers on their iPhones, and they can find her and bring over her purchases. “

(Via DF.)

This nicely meshes with my supposition about how Apple's EasyPay system works. The core technology is Apple's location services, using their in-store WiFi to locate a customer.

I'm still guessing that location services also tell the store alarm system not to sound when the customer exits with a product in-hand.

15-inch MacBook Air Rumored for First Quarter of 2012

Aaron Lee, writing for Digitimes:

“Apple reportedly is set to launch its new MacBook Air series notebooks with panel sizes of 11.6-inch, 13.3-inch and 15-inch in the first quarter of 2012”

Label that as rumor. If true, though, it won't come as a surprise.

It'll be confirmation of what Steve Jobs said about laptops in late 2010: the MacBook Air form factor will be the future of laptop design.

It'll also help us make a good guess at the next iteration or two of the full MacBook line. Expect, perhaps, that all MacBooks will be Airs, including the currently slab-like 17-inch model. That means no optical drive across the line, extending Apple's abandonment of that component in the current MacBook Air 11- and 13-inch, and Mac mini models.

MacBook Air machines tend to run slower, less-powerful CPUs than their Pro counterparts. Will Apple find a way to achieve the same processing power in the slim, less well-ventilated Air models of the future? Enter Ivy Bridge.

Intel's next-generation CPU lineup runs at lower Thermal Design Power (TDP) than equivalent parts from the current Sandy Bridge line. Intel achieves their reduction in thermal output by shrinking the processor die size, resulting in a smaller chip that requires less electric current to operate at equivalent speed. Less current means less waste energy production, which for chips comes in the form of heat.

The end result should be thinner, lighter, more powerful MacBooks of all sizes without sub-par processing power.

And owners can always purchase and use an external, USB-powered optical drive for the few occasions one is needed.

November 24, 2011

AT&T Pulls T-Mobile Application

Vlad Savov, writing for The Verge:

“The FCC’s decision to request a formal administrative hearing into AT&T’s proposed takeover of T-Mobile USA has caused the US carrier to take drastic action: AT&T and Deutsche Telekom have just announced that they’re withdrawing their pending approval applications with the FCC.”

(Via Techmeme.)

AT&T claims they intend to refocus their deal effort rather than abandon it. Their accountants are laying the groundwork to pay for a failure, however.

AT&T agreed to a $3-billion failure clause when they entered into talks to buy Deutsche Telekom's ownership of T-Mobile. Their fourth-quarter numbers will reflect that charge.

Take a Moment

Fareed Zakaria, in an optimistic opinion piece about America for The Washington Post:

“The United States has problems. But unlike many other countries, it also has solutions. And since politicians won’t, citizens are increasingly finding ways to propose these solutions. That’s something to be thankful for — and hopeful about.”

My dad used to unabashedly call America the "greatest country in the world." It's reassuring to pause now and then and bring to mind a few of the reasons why he felt that way.

November 22, 2011

What I Learned Building The Apple Store

Ron Johnson, who built Apple’s retail stores from scratch, writing for Harvard Business Review:
“There isn’t one solution. Each retailer will need to find its own unique formula. But I can say with confidence that the retailers that win the future are the ones that start from scratch and figure out how to create fundamentally new types of value for customers.”
He makes a point of explaining why customers willingly pay full price to buy from Apple retail stores when other retailers are selling the same products at a discount. The key, he says, is re-inventing the shopping experience to make it attractive, not merely useful, to customers.
Johnson has since left Apple to take the reins at JC Penney.
(Via Silicon Alley Insider.)

November 20, 2011

Gandhi's Legacy

Listen to the silence. Let it soak in. It says, “you’ve disgraced us.”

Consider that these silent protesters saw their seated, non-violent protesting friends and colleagues pepper-sprayed, at point-blank range by a shockingly indifferent campus policeman, this same day. And yet … calm.

We’ve seen this before, in 1960s America. It took years, but the Man lost.

(via Jim Fallows, The Atlantic.)

November 17, 2011

Movie Studio Giving iTunes Redemption Codes to Unhappy Customers

Daniel Eran Dilger, writing for AppleInsider:

“UltraViolet, an initiative by Hollywood studios to distribute digital movies independently of Apple’s iTunes, has suffered such a backlash from users that Warner Bros. has started placating users with redemption codes for iTunes instead.”

Oh, the ignominy. Hollywood’s dead-on-arrival copy protection scheme so outrages paying customers that they resort to handing out freebie download coupons on their competitor’s service.

Copy protection failed for music sales, allowing a more nimble Apple to swoop in and kill every last record company effort to sell recorded music.

Guess which way copy protection is going for movies …

Perry says Obama 'grew up in a privileged way'

Nothing like redefining the past to suit one's twisted perspective.

And this guy wants to be president of the United States. Good luck with that.

Snell: In Praise of iTunes Match

Jason Snell, writing for Macworld, answers my question: Why Do I Want iTunes Match, Again?

" [I] thought [I]'d buy a year of iTunes Match and then cancel, but [I'm] having second thoughts."

The capability of syncing a subset of my music library to my iOS devices is compelling, but not a deal-maker.

Keeping all of my music in sync between two machines, one of which provides our Apple TV with a music library, is compelling, too. But again, not a deal-maker.

The combination of these benefits plus the potential of adding movies to the mix down the road makes me want to investigate iTunes Match.

Another $25 in Apple's bank account.

November 15, 2011

Why Do I Want iTunes Match, Again?

Adam Dachis, writing for Lifehacker:

“Apple’s much-delayed iTunes Match service launched today, bringing their vision of music in the cloud to iTunes and iOS users alike. But what is it, exactly, and is it worth your money? Here’s a look at how iTunes Match works and if it’s right for you.”

An even-handed piece on the what iTunes Match is about, and why customers might want to pay for it.

My question remains unanswered, however. What does iTunes Match provide for a fee that isn’t already available from the desktop iTunes application and iOS 5, free?

I can already sync all of my music, stored on my MacBook Pro and organized by the iTunes application, to my iOS devices by USB tether or WiFi. WiFi sync is particularly useful, because it automatically happens every time I plug in my device for a battery charge.

I can even set my MacBook iTunes application, and each iOS device, to automatically download songs, apps and books purchased on another device. Buy it on the iPhone, the content appears on the iPad and laptop.

Some cloud-based music services, such as Amazon’s, allow customers to stream their purchases live. iTunes Match doesn’t perform streaming. It’s a download-only service, syncing music from the cloud to my devices. So there’s no additional usability benefit to iTunes Match.

The only additional benefit for my $25-per-year fee is the high-quality copies iTunes Match creates in iCloud if it can match a given song. But who needs audiophile-quality music on a mobile device, where the listening occurs (at best) through a good (at best) pair of ear buds?

In short, what does iTunes Match provide that isn’t already handled within my home network, free?

November 14, 2011

∴ How Apple Might Avoid Letting EasyPay Become EasySteal

Apple unveiled EasyPay, an app-driven process for letting customers self-checkout at their stores last week. Using the Apple Store app the customer takes an image of a product barcode, authorizes the purchase with their Apple ID password and walks out the door. No human interface required.

So how isn’t this a license to steal? Couldn’t a customer simply pantomime using the app for effect, then walk out with a product without paying?

I heard John Gruber and Dan Benjamin musing about the possibility during last week’s The Talk Show and got to wondering how Apple could be so trusting of potential customers without losing their assets.

I think they’re doing it with the technology in their customer’s pocket, using location services. What follows is speculation. I have no inside information.

In order to prevent theft at any store, a shopkeeper needs a way to verify two things. First, that the customer has been authorized to walk out the door with a product, and second, that a product is leaving with (and only with) an authorized customer.

The first part is easy. At any retail store an employee runs a financial transaction through a point-of-sale system and hands the customer a receipt. The receipt is the customer’s authorization to leave with products.

Apple’s new way of handling transactions is through the Apple Store app, using the EasyPay process. The app retains an electronic receipt and emails a copy to the customer’s address.

It’s critical to the checkout process that an entry is added to a store database associating the customer’s iPhone ID with the one or more skus (stock-keeping units) from the products purchased. It’s also critical that those skus are embedded in an RFID tag inside the product enclosure.

The second part is novel. Blanket WiFi coverage makes possible location services without reference to GPS satellites. It’s not as accurate as GPS, but accurate and fast enough to locate a WiFi device within a local area. Apple’s stores are bathed in WiFi coverage. That's how the app knows to display an EasyPay button only when you're in an Apple store.

When a customer installs and runs the Apple Store app for the first time, the first thing he or she sees is a request to use location services. By authorizing location services for the Apple Store app, the customer allows the app to determine their location within an Apple store (and everywhere else).

Combine the authorized-by-EasyPay transaction record, the customer’s location within the store as reported by the app, and an RFID tag inside the product box. An automated system can determine which products may pass through the security portal without sounding an alarm and which cannot. The key is the customer’s phone.

Hand the paid-for product to your buddy and hear the alarm sound as he walks out the door without your iPhone in hand.

I haven’t been to an Apple store in quite a while, and so haven’t verified that the products available for EasyPay purchase carry an RFID tag to complete the security picture. I also don’t know what would happen if a customer declined letting the Apple Store app use location services. My theory crumbles without either of those pieces.

The pieces are all available to make this work, though. No trust required.

November 13, 2011

∴ It Never Fails When it Doesn't Matter

This past week was the annual Quilter's Quest, the busiest selling week of the year for our small business, Kelly Ann's Quilting.

It's a time when we simply cannot tolerate a computer failure. Our point of sale, accounting, customer and inventory databases are all automated. Although we have more than one point of sale station, an outage at one impairs the entire operation.

So of course we suffered our first computer failure in six-and-a-half years of business this morning. The only saving grace was that today is traditionally the slowest of the five Quest days.

I got a panicked call from my wife as I was finishing up outdoor work around our home. The Microsoft Windows installation on our main machine had locked up, and a reboot brought a corrupted system registry. Hard stop.

A quick restoration of the point-of-sale software database to a secondary machine got us into business for the day. On to the corrupted machine.

That machine's backup image, residing on a Drobo FS across the local network, was invisible to the emergency boot cd. The restoration software was unable to acquire an IP address from our router and wasn't talking on the network.

A reboot into the Windows recovery cd gave me a command prompt, so I logged into the partition holding our software and data. I was able to copy the corrupted system registry file to a backup, then delete the corrupted file itself. I copied a pristine registry copy into place from Microsoft's backup registry directory and rebooted the machine.

Up came Windows. I used a system utility to fall back to a previous restore point, rebooted again and we were back in business on that machine.

So, two lessons. First, make sure carefully laid backup plans are actually useable in the event a restoration is needed. And second, the Windows system registry is a ridiculous point of weakness. There's no way around it short of moving to a more robust operating system.

If our point-of-sale and accounting software were available in identical capability for Mac OS X, that machine would be doing second-string duty in a closet.

November 12, 2011

∴ My @Hyundai Sonata Returns Home

Forty-four days after I dropped off my new car for an oil and filter change and a trio of complaints, my car is back home.

I arrived at the dealer's lot a little earlier than expected this morning and found that my car was still on a lift.

I had asked whether the recently announced recall campaign, which covers all 2011 and 2012 Sonatas with 16- and 17-inch wheels and steering that pulls to one side, had been performed on my car when I spoke with the service advisor last evening. Steering pull was one of my original complaints.

A technician had simply re-aligned the car's front end to answer my original complaint. The recall had not been announced back then. Today he went through the process in full and provided an alignment report.

I caught a brief glimpse of Ali, the service manager, when I arrived. She made a quick walk to her office, looking down and away from me as she passed. I'm not certain what that was all about, but her body language was fairly obvious.

Maybe she's just a busy lady.

Just as well, I dealt with Ken, the service advisor. He was very pleasant, apologizing twice for the length and difficulty of this ordeal.

Twenty minutes later the car was ready. Nicely detailed inside and out, it looked factory-fresh. I gave it a good once-over, started it up, and slowly drove around the lot, headed for the exit. But it's never this easy.

Around the back of the building I heard a thump under one tire, then a thud-thud-thud as I continued to drive. I stopped and checked the left-rear tire, where I found a license plate screw embedded about half-way into the tread.

After a quick evaluation, a technician applied a plug to the tire and finally I was on my way.

I drove my usual commuting route, upon which I know every bump and bend in the road. It was a very quiet hour-and-a-quarter drive.

So far I haven't heard a single squeak from the sunroof, despite driving through turns where chassis flex had first brought the problem to light.

The cruise control engaged and disengaged on command, every time, on the way home. I'll be paranoid about it for another couple of months because of the intermittent nature of the original problem, but for now it appears to be working correctly.

Here's hoping there's nothing but routine maintenance ahead for this car.

If you're having problems like mine with your 2012 Sonata, my only advice is to keep at it with your dealer. My pulling front suspension complaint, the one the service advisor seemed sure I had caused by driving over a pothole, turned into a recall campaign in the midst of this ordeal. Be persistent.

Above all, be precise in how you describe your problems, and make sure the service advisor writes what you say. It wasn't until the very last day or two of this ordeal that the Hyundai field engineer heard that the sunroof squeak appeared when the chassis flexed, through a turn or over an uneven bump. That was an important part of my initial complaint that didn't get conveyed to the technician or engineer until six weeks later.

My sunroof complaint was resolved by a revised assembly process from the Alabama assembly line. Here, too, others are having the same problem. Thankfully it's easy to replicate. I wonder if a Technical Service Bulletin will be written to resolve these complaints.

Who knows how long it'll be until the cruise control problem reaches critical mass? I've heard from and read other owners complaining of the same problem in their cars, even that they received the same "can't duplicate the problem" response from their dealer. After a lot of hair-pulling, my dealer's general manager was able to replicate the problem, albeit without electronic test equipment hooked up. That's when it became their problem, too.

Let's hope someone is testing current electronic modules right now, so no-one ends up having an accident as a result of a cruise control malfunction. The cruise control issue is a safety problem, plain and simple.

November 11, 2011

∴ @Hyundai Makes the Late Deadline

And the phone just rang with notification that my car is ready for pickup. I'll head in tomorrow morning and begin the process of moving on from this ordeal.

Gotta wonder who reads these things.

∴ @Hyundai: Nope, They Didn't Call

I apparently was premature in my assumption that when I’m told ‘your car is repaired,’ that means I’m going to get it back in a timely manner. Another day, no Sonata. Forty-three in a row, now.

My car was to be test-driven one more time last evening by Ally, the service manager at Brown’s Leesburg Hyundai, before being detailed and made ready for pickup this morning.

I was expecting a call at noon-ish today. Good thing I didn’t stay glued to the phone. Dinner time has arrived.

I’m sure they’ll come up with a good excuse, again.

Is running a service department well really this difficult?

iTunes Error 0x8E00007F

Apple’s support forums are replete with user complaints about this error.

It appears when an iPhone running iOS 5 re-enters the same WiFi network as a user’s Mac or PC running the iTunes application, and the application tries to wirelessly connect to the phone. Not many complaints mention this happening with iPads.

I've had similar trouble with an iPhone 3GS, when tethered-syncing it to a Windows-based iTunes installation. A lock code I had enabled on the phone was preventing iTunes from getting access. I don’t know whether something similar is going on here.

This is the first time I’ve had any kind of connection or sync problem between an iPhone and a Mac running iTunes. I’m going to disable my lock code to see if that resolves the issue.

Onion Satire Puts Penn State Pedophile Charges in Perspective

Satire is a useful tool for stretching a point to make the point. The Onion gets it right: Penn State's problem is not about football. It's about letting an egregious violation of personal and professional responsibility go unchallenged for over a decade.

The Penn State students who rioted should give this piece a read, and then think long and hard about why they're more outraged over the demise of Joe Paterno's career and the current football season than the life-long trauma inflicted upon the victims of abuse.

If and when Jerry Sandusky is convicted, the NCAA should take one action immediately: suspend Penn State from competition for a decade. Yes, ten years, one for each year the alleged child rape was let to fester, unchallenged. The accused pedophile used that program and his authority within it to perpetrate his crimes. The program should sink with the criminal.

∴ The @Hyundai Fix is In

Another day, another chat with Steve, the Hyundai zone manager for the greater Washington, DC area. He has responsibility for a dozen dealerships including Brown’s Leesburg Hyundai in Northern Virginia, where my Sonata has resided for forty-three days.

Steve called to give me some good news last evening: the Hyundai field engineer, using additional guidance from assembly line engineers in Alabama, was successful in adjusting-out the creaking sounds coming from my panoramic sunroof. According to Steve, the field engineer was unable to reproduce the creaking sounds after re-assembling the roof components the final time.

I’m expecting a phone call from Ally, the Brown’s service manager, this morning or early afternoon, after the service department completes detailing my car. After verifying that they did indeed apply the service campaign procedure for mis-aligned front ends (a mailing went out to all owners of affected cars last week) I’ll take a drive up to Leesburg and retrieve my car.

I’ll pay close attention to the car for the next month or three, until I’m satisfied the three problems that began this ordeal haven’t returned. I’ll report that to Steve, at which point he’ll authorize an extended warranty to cover my car, bumper-to-bumper, for ten years or 100,000 miles. Hyundai is also covering three of my monthly car payments in compensation for the unpleasantness of the past forty-three days.

It looks like this ordeal is coming to a close. I’m fairly certain the sunroof creak is resolved, at least for now. I hope the replacement of my steering wheel, with the electronic modules it carries, has fully resolved the cruise control button(s) issue. The service campaign should resolve the alignment problem. And I’ll have my car back.

» «

This episode reinforces a rule I usually obey: never, ever buy a first model year of anything. Not cars, not appliances, not even hair driers. The more complex a device the more likely it is to suffer design, engineering or production faults, and the first model series is where they turn up. The second year’s run usually carries their fixes into production.

We went shopping for my car in August, expecting that the 2012 models wouldn’t be out until September or later. I was hoping to get a good deal on a remaining 2011 model. We ended up with a reasonable deal on the 2012, which brought with it the new sunroof design.

I’m not sure I understand how or when the cruise control issue came about.

The alignment problem has plagued both 2011 and 2012 Sonatas. The service campaign recall targets both model years.

The alignment and cruise control button problems are easy fixes: adjust or replace the bad parts. The sunroof was more difficult and took up most of the time my car was out of service. I'd have avoided that one by obeying the old rule.

November 9, 2011

∴ Another Day, Another @Hyundai Conversation

I spoke with Steve from Hyundai Motor America this morning. I had taken last evening to talk with my wife about the Sonata situation after receiving an offer from Steve yesterday afternoon. After forty days in the shop, @Hyundai is willing to replace my 2012 Sonata altogether because the sunroof problem isn’t fully repaired. Today’s conversation was to let him know whether I want to take him up on the offer, or continue with the repair.

I chose to stick with the repair for at least one more day. Here’s why.

There was apparently a breakdown in communication somewhere, because neither the dealer nor the field engineer were aware that the sunroof squeak happens when the chassis flexes through a turn or over uneven ground. I know I’ve said and written that several times, not the least of which during my original complaint to the service advisor. Water under the bridge at this point.

That flexing detail is important, because the engineer claims he has something additional he can do to the sunroof with that knowledge. More importantly, the engineer has been given some additional guidance from the manufacturer and assembly line engineers.

I’m told Hyundai has implemented a change in process at the Alabama assembly line for the sunroof, and that will trickle down to how he works on my car. I’m guessing that Hyundai didn’t implement the change in response to my one complaint, so I think I’m seeing evidence of a wider distribution of the sunroof problem.

If I take the offer of a replacement, the car they give me will likely be one from the dealer's lot or fresh off the truck in the coming week. Either way it will probably be from before the point on the line where they implemented the change, and I'll be set to repeat this exercise in a month or two.

As it was explained to me, a new car means a reset on the lemon law rules. If I encounter the squeaking problem with the new car I have to start all over again. My leverage to insist on a replacement or refund will be gone.

I’ll wait to hear what happens when the engineer finishes work on my car tomorrow afternoon before deciding whether I'll replace the car altogether.