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.

November 8, 2011

∴ @Hyundai: Startlingly Unimpressive

It's been forty days since I drove my 2012 Hyundai Sonata to Brown's Leesburg Hyundai, left them with the key and expected to have the car back by day's end. Forty days driving a loaner and making two payments on a car I have been unable to drive.

In that time the car has been damaged by a third-party body shop, the roof problem has been fixed but not fixed, the general manager has reproduced the cruise control problem but a field engineer has not, and the kicker: the misaligned front end suspension complaint that led the service advisor to question whether I had damaged the car myself has become subject to a voluntary recall by Hyundai.

It's been a solid week since I spoke with Steve Hickman, the regional zone manager for Hyundai Motor America, and came away impressed with the concern he showed about my then-one-month-long ordeal. I was supposed to hear from him again that day, by email, about extended warranties and firming up the repair or replacement of the car under Virginia's lemon law, and how I might contact him again. I've heard nothing since.

Steve mentioned, among other things, that the dealer had dropped the ball on my car. That's an understatement. Hyundai Motor has dropped the ball, producing what is now obviously a lemon automobile while simultaneously touting its popularity in their advertising. Seeing their assembly line workers talk up their product quality in Hyundai's TV advertising while I remain carless a full forty days is particularly galling.

Steve mentioned that my case had come to the attention of John Krafcik, CEO of Hyundai Motor America. Hey John, I want my car replaced. Fix the one I bought on your own time.

Anyone listening anymore?

November 7, 2011

Apple’s iOS Javascript Browser Tweak Hacked

John Brownlee, writing for Cult of Mac:

“In order to increase the speed of iOS’s browser, Apple allows javascript code from the internet to run on a much deeper level in system memory than it had previous to iOS 4.3. This speed increase effectively creates an exception in which the browser can run unapproved code in a region of the device’s memory. All Miller’s hack does is exchange that exception to apps.”

Gruber highlighted this sort of security vulnerability when he wrote about the Nitro Javascript engine in iOS 4.3:

“The real answer is about security. Perhaps the biggest reason for Nitro’s performance improvements over WebKit’s previous JavaScript engine is the use of a JIT — “Just-In-Time” compilation. Here’s Wikipedia’s page on JIT. A JIT requires the ability to mark memory pages in RAM as executable, but, iOS, as a security measure, does not allow pages in memory to be marked as executable. This is a significant and serious security policy. Most modern operating systems do allow pages in memory to be marked as executable — including Mac OS X, Windows, and (I believe) Android1. iOS 4.3 makes an exception to this policy, but the exception is specifically limited to Mobile Safari.”

[emphasis mine]

Nailed it again, John.

November 5, 2011

Dam Breached, Reservoir Drained

Via Jason Kottke:

On October 26th, a hole was blasted in the base of 125’ tall Condit Dam on the White Salmon River in Washington. In less than 2 hours, the reservoir behind the dam drained completely and the White Salmon flowed unimpeded by a dam for the first time in 100 years.

November 3, 2011

Inequality Trends In One Picture

Paul Krugman, writing for his NYT weblog:

"Just an addendum on the role of the top 1 percent versus the college-noncollege differential. Here, from the CBO report, are the changes, in percentage points, of the shares of income going to three groups."

Click through for the revealing graph.

The question being answered is whether the effect of a college education has made some Americans the beneficiary of increased wealth at the expense of the rest of the population over the past thirty or so years.

The answer is, "no." The redistribution of wealth, long a complaint of conservatives when it pushes money down the income ladder, has moved exclusively up the income ladder since Reagan took office. It essentially skips over those with a college education, who Krugman claims populate the top 20% of income earners in America, and lands squarely on the top 1%.

Welfare for the very rich? No wonder so many are occupying Wall Street.

November 2, 2011

∴ @Hyundai Gets in Touch

My phone rang this morning with a call from Steve, the regional zone manager for Hyundai North America. He told me that the CEO of Hyundai North America actually reads the Hyundai Twitter stream and took note of my Sonata's ongoing problems. I guess he takes social media seriously, which is smart, because his customers certainly do.

If I had any doubts about Hyundai's concern over my car's problems as represented by my local dealer, Brown's Leesburg Hyundai, they were addressed by Steve. Importantly (to me), he began the conversation with an apology. I got the attention I expected about a safety-critical problem, and a full accounting of what's going on with my car.

Right now there is a Hyundai field engineer driving it around the Leesburg area with a telemetry unit attached to the diagnostic connector, attempting to reproduce the cruise control problem. That problem was successfully reproduced by Chris, the general manager at Brown's, this past weekend. It's always a good sign when a company representative can see the problem first-hand.

Steve mentioned the Virginia consumer protection law ("lemon law"). It's particularly consumer friendly: a car that has been out of service for thirty days or more in a year can qualify as a lemon, and a replacement or refund ordered by the state. He asked what I had in mind.

I want my car back, repaired. I want the cruise control to operate flawlessly for the next six or seven years, until I trade it in, and I don't ever want to hear the roof creak again. If the problems crop up again I want a new car. And Steve was ok with all of that.

He also offered, and I took him up on, a complementary bumper-to-bumper 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty extension of the factory coverage.

It remains to be seen whether Hyundai's engineer is able to reproduce the cruise control problem, but a new set of control modules have been ordered, regardless. The engineer claims to be familiar with the sunroof problem and that a simple set of adjustments will eliminate the problem. I'm still doubtful on that one.

So we'll see. I'm still in the loaner, thirty-four days later, but today I have the satisfaction of knowing that the company I paid good money does, in fact, have an interest in my satisfaction.

I liked my Sonata quite a lot when I bought it. I hope to feel as good about it again, soon.

Apple Misses iTunes Match Delivery Date, but Does It Matter?

Apple promised delivery of their iCloud-based iTunes Match service by the end of October. October 31 came and went without it. So, oops.

This gives us a chance to ask, before plonking down a $24.99 yearly service fee, whether iTunes Match is worth any price. What need is it serving?

iTunes customers are in the habit of buying their music through Apple's desktop iTunes application or the iOS Music app on their iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Either way, the content is downloaded to the user for local storage.

The music is copied around to all of the customer's devices during the next sync, which, thanks to iOS 5's wireless sync capability, happens whenever a device is plugged in for a charge.

Alternatively it can be automatically directly downloaded to the other devices by iOS's auto-download feature. Content purchased on one device can automatically appear everywhere using the same iTunes account.

The music is thereafter carried everywhere without need of an Internet connection.

Tell me again why I would want to put all my music into the cloud with iTunes Match when I already have it on my laptop and all my iOS devices, because I'm not understanding it on my own.

November 1, 2011


Check out this neat new charger for your MacBook and iPad. PlugBug lets you simultaneously charge both. Looks great, too.

(via The Loop)

The Commanding Heights, Too Big to Fail and Deregulation

Don Brown, writing for Get the Flick:

"Supply-side economics has been discredited. History has proven PATCO had a point -- and American wages have declined in lock step with the decline of unions. Deregulated markets have given us stolen airline (et al.) pensions, the Savings and Loan Crisis, Enron and The Great Recession."

Don is a retired air traffic controller, a font of reason and a good writer, to boot. He puts his finger right on the core of America's political and economic problems in his weblog piece today.

In a nutshell, the problem began with and continues under the umbrella called Reaganism. Simple-minded, feel-good answers to intractable problems came our way with that American president's election, and our politics and economy have been the poorer for it ever since.

Give his piece a read. It's a quick summation of what happens when a culturally, economically and socially rich nation "trusts" corporations, banks and investment companies to do what's in everyone's best interest.

∴ @Hyundai Sees the Light (Or the Problem, At Least)

An update from the Brown's Leesburg Hyundai service department this morning brought welcome news: after a day of road testing my 2012 Sonata yesterday, the service team was able to reproduce the cruise control problem that I've complained about for over a month.

A field engineer will appear at Brown's tomorrow. I've variously heard that his arrival was scheduled for last week, yesterday, and now tomorrow, so I'm not confident in any particular appointment date. When he arrives, though, he's going to look into not only the cruise problem, but the squeaking sunroof problem, as well.

According to Ken, the service advisor who called this morning, the body shop was not able to fully eliminate the loud squeak in my original complaint. This appears to be an engineering defect in Hyundai's new-for-2012 panoramic sunroof. As lovely as it is in practice, it hasn't been worth the frustration it has caused. At this point I'd be happy with the 2011 sunroof design, which incorporated a single piece of glass over the front seats.

So I'm still out of my car, driving the loaner, a Santa Fe SUV. Though it's not my cup of tea, the Santa Fe has performed flawlessly, if somewhat uncomfortably, since I started driving it. Its truck-like suspension makes for a rough ride over bumps.

The Sonata has been at the dealer thirty-three days now, almost half the time I've owned it. Being embroiled in the midst of this I don't know what to say about that except this isn't what I paid $26k for back in August.

Also worth noting, the US government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) web site contains at least a half-dozen complaints about my other problem with the car, that the steering pulls hard to the right.

It's evident that my 2012 Sonata has significant quality issues.