June 30, 2012

Game Changer: NFL Scrambles to Sell More Tickets

Kevin Vlark, writing for The Wall Street Journal:

"Team owners have passed a resolution that starting this season will allow for local broadcasts of NFL games even when as few as 85% of tickets are sold. Under the new rule, each team has more flexibility to establish its own seat-sales benchmark as long as it is 85% or higher. To discourage teams from setting easy benchmarks, teams will be forced to share more of the revenue when they exceed it."

This amounts to relaxing the TV blackout rule for NFL games. It also allows team owners more flexibility in setting their benchmarks, something that figures into our local NFL franchise.

The Washington Redskins recently removed several hundred seats from Fedex Field in order to create standing room-only party decks. I couldn't understand why they did that, given their long-term season ticket waiting list, until I read this article.

A sidebar notes that the Redskins were among the bottom five teams for average attendance as a percentage of stadium capacity, at 83.9% for the 2011 season. The team owner had apparently been buying up unused tickets in order to avoid the blackout, as the article alludes.

By removing seating capacity in favor of party decks, average attendance will increase if only because there will be as many fans attending, sitting in fewer seats. Sneaky.

You know how teams like the Redskins can reliably fill seats? They can win games. Just win.

June 29, 2012

Royal Society: Fracking Can Be Undertaken Safely

Report of the Royal Academy of Engineering:

"There has been much speculation around the safety of shale gas extraction following examples of poor practice in the US. We found that well integrity is of key importance but the most common areas of concern, such as the causation of earthquakes with any significant impact or fractures reaching and contaminating drinking water, were very low risk.

This is not to say hydraulic fracturing is completely risk-free. Strong regulation and robust monitoring systems must be put in place and best practice strictly enforced if the Government is to give the go-ahead to further exploration. In particular, we emphasise the need for further development and support of the UK's regulatory system, together with Environmental Risk Assessments for all shale gas operations and more extensive inspections and testing to ensure the integrity of every well."

(Via Ars Technica.)

This is in line with a study conducted here in the US. It's great news if true, because the US is sitting on the some of the largest reserves of natural gas on Earth. Economic recovery of natural gas could help along the transition from oil for energy production, reducing our dependance on foreign production and improving air quality from its use.

June 28, 2012

Frum: After Waterloo

A few good ideas for broad changes to the 2010 health care reform law from David Frum.

I've long wondered why the Obama administration didn't call for universal health care by labeling it an expansion of Medicare (#3 in Frum's list). Americans love Medicare. Liberal, conservative, nearly all would fight tooth and nail to preserve it. Why not use it as the basis for covering everyone?

Obama Calls Court Ruling a 'Victory' For U.S. As Romney Vows Repeal

US President Barack Obama:

"I know there will be a lot of discussion today about the politics of all this, about who won and who lost,' Obama said in remarks at the White House, in which he emphasized many of the law's benefits. 'That discussion completely misses the point. Whatever the politics, today's decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives are more secure because of this law and the Supreme Court's decision to uphold it."

A couple of notes. There won't be a repeal of this law, no matter who is elected come November. The more interesting political question is why Chief Justice Roberts sided with the liberals on this decision. Avoiding the specter of another Bush v. Gore decision, perhaps?

(And does anyone besides me recall that candidate Obama was against the notion of an individual mandate for health care coverage when he was running against then-candidate Hillary Clinton, who was in favor of it? That was one of the few major differences between their campaigns.)

Roughly half the provisions of the 2010 law will come into effect over the next few years, the rest are already in effect. Presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney claims he'll begin the process of repealing the law the day he enters office, if elected.

But if "Obamacare" is to be repealed, defunded or otherwise rendered toothless, who better, after three years of their party's intransigence, to commit that act of political suicide than a Republican president and Congressional majority? The greater portion of those most-served by this law are working poor, and minority citizens and residents of the US.

Let's see president Mitt take away those people's only source of health care, smiling for the cameras as he signs the law on broadcast TV. This year's ballots will contain the last significant number of non-white, crossover votes the GOP gets for a generation.

But a president Mitt won't act to repeal the law. A president Mitt will govern just as he did in Massachusetts: center-right, working with the opposition. His campaign aide said as much. That's how Massachusetts got universal health care in 2006.

More interesting: why'd Justice Roberts side with the Court's liberal minority in this ruling? Here's a good read on that from a crusty old conservative, Charles Krauthammer.

The conspiracist in me likes his reasoning. The rationalist in me knows Roberts joined the liberals because he saw a way to uphold the law on constitutional grounds so that everyone would benefit: those in need to health care, those who pay for it, and our society as a whole. How well we all benefit won't be well understood for decades.

June 27, 2012

Apple Trends Toward Bigfooting Indie Apps

9 to 5 Mac:

"Apple has just released a brand new free universal iOS app, Podcasts."

Following the release last year of the Reading List service for the Safari web browser, which bigfooted Marco Arment's Instapaper app for iOS, Apple published the "Podcasts" iOS app yesterday. The new app lets users find, download, stream and share notes about podcasts, largely replicating the function of Instacast, Downcast, Podcaster and others.

Recall that Microsoft was successfully sued by the US Department of Justice in 1998 for arguably similar acts. They were accused of unfair competition in the web browser market for bundling the Internet Explorer browser with their popular Windows operating system in an effort to unseat Netscape's Navigator as the most-popular browsing application. Apple isn't bundling their me-too apps, opting to offer them on the open app market through their App Store, thereby sidestepping the legal argument over unfair competition.

Apple's actions beg the question, though, Why? Does an Apple-authored read-it-later or podcasting app provide customers with a better experience than the existing and emerging third-party apps? So far the answer is no.

I've used both Instapaper and Instacast each for a few years. Instacast has largely replaced NPR during my commute. In neither case does Apple's effort exceed what those app authors accomplished.

Apple's Reading List service is arguably more easily discovered than Instapaper: a tag appearing in the Safari web browser's address bar tips the user to its availability and use.

There's no direct tie-in for the Podcasts app, yet, though it's not hard to see how a new address bar tag could be tied to a podcasts's RSS feed.

Anyone is free to compete in the software app arena, and a multitude of apps makes each author work harder for recognition and success, improving the products available to consumers. Competing against the mothership, however, tilts the playing field against the little guy if only by name recognition, dis-incenting software authors from even beginning a project that Apple my later undertake. There's no clear reason why Apple continues along this path.

June 25, 2012

Bob Cringely Hates Network Solutions

Bob Cringely:

"I began the domain transfer  last Monday but Network Solutions, in its infinite wisdom, decided to complete the transfer today, Sunday, at 2:04 PM Pacific time. That’s when they simply shut down my DNS despite the fact that I’m still paying for their service (I’m paid up until November).  According to EasyDNS, of all the domain registrars only Network Solutions and GoDaddy drop customers cold like that."

I can attest.

My domain, bazingajournal.com, was originally hosted by GoDaddy, because I selected the default arrangement when I set it up at Blogger. I moved it to Hover when it was time to renew the registration.

The setup process was simple and the user interface clean and easy to use. Unfortunately, DNS resolution to my domain ended almost immediately after GoDaddy received my transfer authorization.

Blogger's host environment, Google Apps, doesn't do DNS resolution, so Blogger weblogs rely on their registrars for name translation. Like Bob, I had neglected to copy and paste the DNS server records from GoDaddy to Hover. I was out in the cold when GoDaddy purged my domain's records.

A little Googling uncovered the Google Apps DNS records I needed, and few minutes later my domain was re-propagating across the Internet. I was back in business later that day.

There's no good reason for GoDaddy's dropping DNS records so quickly. A brief, 24-hour timeout would be adequate to get DNS records edited and propagated with the new registrar. It would cost GoDaddy nothing and earn a little goodwill, something they're sorely lacking.

A note about Hover: I sent them a brief complaint about not seeing a warning that this might happen while signing up for their service. I certainly wasn't the first client to move from GoDaddy to them. Although this wasn't specifically their fault, I felt a sentence or two among their upbeat signup instructions would have been appropriate.

Hover's response was quick and welcome: they apologized and credited me an extra year of domain registration, normally a $10 fee.

I moved my other domain to their service shortly thereafter.

Bing Maps Updated With 165TB of New High-resolution Imagery

Nate Ralph, writing for The Verge:

"Bing Maps has added a total of 165TB of new aerial images taken from satellites and aircraft, expanding the mapping app's trove of high-resolution photos to the remote corners of the globe."

I hadn't looked in on Microsoft's online map service in quite a while, but was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the product when I chanced upon it last week. Now comes word that they've added even more hi-res imagery.

It's not only a Google Maps alternative, it's better!

June 24, 2012

Word: Wil Wheaton Made A Photo

I like this guy a little more each time I read him.

Predicting the Next Mac Desktops

Dan Benjamin:

"I bet we don't see retina displays in any other Macs for some time, and when we do, they'll be in the smaller-screen models (like MacBook Airs) and not larger models, like iMacs or new Apple Displays."


My predictions, based on what we saw at WWDC two weeks ago and Apple's usual MO:

  • There will be no 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, not this year or next. "Pro" will denote the fastest processors, most storage, discrete GPU, largest display and marginally less portable form and weight. It will be Apple's "no compromises" portable machine. That means 15-inches of Retina glory in a reduced-thickness slab of aluminum. Prices will remain significantly higher than the MacBook Air line, commensurate with this model's top-flight components and capabilities.
  • End of the line for non-Retina MacBook Pros comes next June. If you prefer expandability in your Mac laptop, buy the current, refreshed models. They won't re-appear after their numbers become constrained next summer. After that, Pro means what you see in today's Retina model.
  • No large-format Retina products until next year, soonest. As Marco points out, today's MacBook laptops cannot drive them with the current incarnation of Thunderbolt: "If a 27” Retina Display is a “2X” version of the current panel, that’s a 5120x2880 panel — running that at 60 Hz requires more bandwidth (over 21 Gbps for 24-bit color) than Thunderbolt offers today (up to two 10 Gbps channels)."
  • 11- and 13-inch Retina MacBook Airs will appear next June. These will be priced lower than the MacBook Pro, hopefully no more than today's price points. Retina displays will have to come down in wholesale price-per-inch before this can happen. In any event, 11-inch and 13-inch screen sizes lend themselves to easy portability, a compromise away from the Pro line.

Late summer and fall of this year will be all about refreshed iPods and the next generation iPhone, iOS 6 and OS X Mountain Lion, and enhancements to iCloud. And maybe that TV thing.

But hey, isn't that enough?!

∴ Poll: Americans Oppose Health Law But Like Provisions

Patricia Zengerle, writing for Reuters:

"Most Americans oppose President Barack Obama's healthcare reform even though they strongly support most of its provisions, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Sunday, with the Supreme Court set to rule within days on whether the law should stand."

(Via MSNBC.com.)

This poll result reminds me of the lyrics from Johnny Cash's "The Wanderer:"

I stopped outside a church house where the citizens like to sit. they say they want the kingdom but they don't want God in it.

The results say more about the US electorate than they do about the 2010 health care reform law. They say that Americans are, in large number, politically inept, easily swayed by emotions stirred by well-placed propaganda and what passes for political argument.

The results echo people's non-thinking responses to efforts at Social Security and Medicare reform. People despise "government programs," but will fight tooth and nail to keep politician's hands off their benefits from those two single payer, government mandated programs. Those programs aren't among the third rail of politics for nothing.

It's always amazed and amused me to hear the very people who are most benefited by a government program passionately argue against its kind, or against the politics that put it in place. Under-educated, under-employed and often poor citizens are often most opposed to government intervention into their lives, but reap the greatest reward from it.

Whole states finding themselves near the bottom of the economic heap both receive the greatest share of Federal transfer payments and cry loudest about the welfare state.

The American body politic, 2012: we want the benefits of a health care safety net, but don't want to be identified with wanting it; we enjoy public financial assistance, but despise the social welfare mindset that enabled it; we jeer political incumbents, but won't vote out our own representative for fear of losing his or her well-connected leverage.

Having a health care safety net not only says that we, as a body politic, will not tolerate the indecency of medical neglect visited upon those least able to pay. It says that we, as participants in a market-based economy, recognize that public payment for basic preventive care reduces our long-term public medical outlays, and that we're wise enough to put good money to work for long-term societal benefit.

We are so very fortunate that the American worker is at the top of world productivity (though we want to break the only tool he has to fight for himself), that we still employ the finest system of higher education in the world, that we can still spark the mightiest engine of prosperity the world has ever known, because when those are no longer the case our politics will make our country a backwater of idiocy.

What we are losing in all of this red state, blue state foolishness is de Tocqueville's apocryphal "good." Men and women who fought a war against totalitarianism came home to work harder still to build an America that became the envy of the world. They didn't begrudge the next guy a leg up. Indeed, they voted for it. They were the greatest generation because they GAVE OF THEMSELVES without measure. They were, in a word, good.

We are, I fear, increasingly un-good, unwise, downright ignorant. We have forgotten the lessons of our own past, to our peril.

June 23, 2012

Seven Minutes of Terror

If you thought the Spirit and Opportunity landings were extreme … Curiosity lands August 5.

Bought Into Microsoft's Media Center? You Poor Sap

Ben Drawbaugh, writing for Engadget:

"It was one thing when our favorite HTPC app didn't get a single enhancement, but another when it didn't receive a single bug fix. Now, in the latest Release Preview of Windows 8 the folks at Redmond have gone out of their way and disabled the ability to boot directly to Windows Media Center -- a feature required for any proper HTPC build."

The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls ...

That is, if you bought into Microsoft's Media Center product rather than any other DVR technology, you're in for a rude awakening. It looks like the dedicated appliance arrangement centered on Media Center is on the way out. Count on declining support until the product is altogether canceled.

I think this is less about Microsoft losing interest in the product than their gaining a great deal of interest in pivoting the company toward mobile computing.

So cheer up. Windows RT on a Microsoft tablet is gonna be great! You can watch movies on that!

New NSA Docs Contradict 9/11 Claims

Wil Wheaton summarizes newly released NSA documents.

Moneyball 2.0

Mark Wilson, writing for Fast Company:

"The technology was originally developed to track missiles. Now, SportVU systems hang from the catwalks of 10 NBA arenas, tiny webcams that silently track each player as they shoot, pass, and run across the court, recording each and every move 25 times a second."

(via Marginal Revolution.)

You can guess where this story heads … four of the ten teams using SportVU made the NBA playoffs, including the OKC Thunder. The Thunder lost the championship series to the Miami Heat.

June 22, 2012

Fire At FAA Buildings Forces Evacuation


"A blaze at a Federal Aviation Administration facility outside Atlantic City, New Jersey, has forced the evacuation of two buildings and impacted the agencies internal e-mail and Internet systems"

Yep, I was knocked offline from my work on the FAA's ERAM system at around 3:30 this afternoon, in the middle of a database edit. I wondered what had cut my day short. PITA.

Ihnatko: Retina MacBook Is Apple’s Best, But Could Be Better

Andy Ihnatko posts his full review of the 2012 MacBook Pro with Retina Display for the Chicago Sun-Times, managing also to encapsulate why his (and my) 2011 MacBook Pro is still the wiser investment:

"My own 2011 MacBook Pro is clearly the lesser Mac. But it represents a serious investment of my money and I need to get as much longterm value out of the thing as I can. Here it is, more than a year later, and I’m so impressed by the SSD performance of the new Retina MacBook that I’m considering getting a solid state drive. No problem: I can easily swap out the hard drive myself. Or, maybe I’ll crunch the numbers and swap the 512 gig hard drive for a larger one. It’s all up to me. The 8 gigs of RAM are ample for what I use my MacBook for, but if my needs change, I can upgrade to 16 gigs pretty easily."

I can replace the battery myself when it no longer holds an adequate charge, or have it replaced by Apple for $70 less than the Retina Pro's.

The refreshed 2012 MacBook Pros (without Retina Display) carry the same expandability options as last year's models, plus faster CPUs, graphics processors, USB 3 and other improvements. They're still the wiser choice.

Tinkering and expandability aren't on every consumer's radar, but the lack of them in Apple's new flagship laptop is remarkable and lamentable. Say what you will about disappearing third-party business opportunities, the fact is that reduced options means reduced flexibility, a take-it-or-leave-it attitude rendered in silicon. We don't have to like it, and we can make Apple aware of our displeasure despite the knowledge that this is a one-way street. Witness the un-tweakable Air and iPad: this is the future of personal computing.

We can expect Apple to expand the Retina Pro line to include a 13-inch model. I believe we can also expect the current pair of non-Retina Pros to be the last of their kind and be retired next year, when the Retina models fully replace them.

Hopefully the wholesale cost of the Retina Pro's components will decline by then and Apple will hit a more palatable retail price point with them. SSD prices are already coming down.

Or maybe the right-priced model will be the Air.

June 21, 2012

Gruber: Microsoft's Pivot Into Hardware Is Self-Preservation

Gruber nails why Microsoft has turned to manufacturing their own hardware for their forthcoming tablet, the Surface:

"The intention is obviously to slow the iPad down, but the radical shift in Microsoft’s strategy is about the fight over the profits that remain after Apple’s. The math no longer works out for the Windows you-sell-the-hardware-we-sell-the-software model. It works for unit share (cf. Android), but it doesn’t for profit share. Nothing works sustainably in business without profit — profit is the oxygen companies breathe."

That last sentence is the key to business success most consumers don't know or don't care about. Without profit, business does not work. Whine all you want about markups, but without them your favorite business goes tits-up.

Microsoft's new Surface tablet looks interesting, enough so to attract attention not only from diehard Microsoft fans but the rest of the computing world. It's bet-the-company important that it succeeds.

Without the profit to be had from their own tablet, Microsoft's days as a dominant player in (what Gruber craftily coins) the ones and zeroes racket are numbered. It's hard to believe, given Microsoft's history, that we've arrived at this day. Yet that's what Apple's incredible iPad and iPhone sales numbers have been telling us since 2007.

June 20, 2012

Confirmed: The New iPhone Will Have A 19-Pin “Mini” Connector

John Biggs, writing for TechCrunch:

"Although the form factor and actual size are still unknown, TechCrunch has independently verified that Apple is working on adding a 19-pin port, replacing the current 30-pin port, to the new iPhone."

Great, just in time for my Elevation iPhone dock to arrive with a 30-pin connector. Good thing the dock's plug is replaceable.

Foxconn CEO Terry Gou: iPhone 5 Will Put Samsung’s Galaxy S III To Shame

Jordan Kahn, writing for 9 to 5 Mac:

"According to several local reports, Foxconn’s Terry Gou made some pretty bold statements at Hon Hai Precision’s annual shareholders’ meeting on Monday. While there are a few translations, all seem to claim Gou urged customers to wait for the iPhone 5, ‘saying that the new model will put Samsung’s Galaxy III to shame.’"

Foxconn manufactures iPhones and iPads, among other things, for Apple.

That the next iPhone will set the bar higher yet for other mobile phone manufacturers goes without saying. That it will shame the erector set-like Android clone market is a tautology.

Android manufacturers have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at their creations in the hope that bigger and gaudier will appeal to the frat boy crowd they're targeting. The geek crowd, an early target for and enthusiastic supporter of Google's "open" operating system doesn't make the cut anymore: see any current Android television advertising.

Seriously, if you want a terrific mobile phone, but you're allergic to Apple products, wait for Microsoft's forthcoming Windows 8 Phone before making a two-year commitment.

Or buy the iPhone, any iPhone, and be happy.

MacBook Pro 15" with Retina Display Running 3 External Displays

Other World Computing blog:

"Including the built-in Retina display, the new 2012 MacBook Pro 15″ can run four displays at their native resolution."

That's four screens total. Click through for the arrangement.

Windows NT Coming To Phones With Windows Phone 8

Peter Bright, writing for Ars Technica:

"Windows Phone 8 will instead be built on the Windows NT platform, and in so doing will inherit its much richer feature set: support for multicore processors, robust file systems, extensive device driver support, a capable multimedia framework, and more."

Remarkable.  Who would have thought that Windows NT would run on a wireless phone back in 1993?

I think I had just bought my first (analog) cell phone around that time, a Motorola MicroTac. It was compact for its time, but a bulky bit of Soviet design by today's standards.

NT was just in its alpha stage and routinely crashed my 486 desktop machine, partly because of buggy code and partly due to the anemic 4 MB of RAM I made it run in.

The Windows NT kernel will be running on a multi-core Windows 8 phone this fall, sporting a refined UI called Metro. Amazing.

I love my iPhone, but if I were just coming into the smartphone market and didn't want to buy into Apple's domain I'd skip the erector set that is the Android clone market, and wait for Microsoft's new product. It looks that good.

Layoffs Hit RIM

Zach Epstein, writing for Boy Genius Report:

"‘Our financial target is to drive at least $1 billion in savings by the end of fiscal 2013. Head count reductions are part of this initiative.’ The site notes that RIM laid off approximately 2,000 workers earlier this year as well, and this current round of job reductions could see as many as 6,000 cuts as RIM attempts to drive $1 billion in savings by the end of fiscal 2013."

RIM manufactures the Blackberry, the "it-phone" before Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007. It's been all downhill for Rim, a company in denial, ever since.

Rim will introduce their first smartphone, a direct competitor for the iPhone and the approximately six zillion Android clones, later this year. Microsoft and their partners will introduce the Windows 8 phone and tablets later this year, too, but the Windows 8 interface looks a lot more interesting and has generated quite stir lately. RIM, not so much.

RIM's main problem isn't so much a lack of product, though, but a lack of room for product. How many smartphones can the market support?

Late this year we'll likely have 1. new iPhones, 2. new Windows 8 phones, 3. more Android phones, and 4. a new RIM smartphone. I'm going to guess that come the same time in 2013, RIM will be near bankruptcy, Apple and Microsoft will be locked in an old-school battle across the entire mobile space, and the Android clone makers will be looking for their next big thing as that ecosystem declines.

Apple and Liquidmetal Extend Agreement to 2014


"Aooke and Liquidmetal, a company that builds a particularly flexible alloy (as one may guess from the name), have extended their agreement to provide Apple access to Liquidmetal’s intellectual property until 2014."

I sure would like to know what Apple intends to build with Liquidmetal technology. As usual, there's been no word from the company.

If you have an iPhone 3Gs or later, you already have a Liquidmetal component in the form of the SIM card "ejector." It looks a little like a paper clip, and is used to fish the SIM card holder/cover out of the phone.

Speculation holds that Apple will build the metal parts of their next iPhone model from Liquidmetal. If so, there's got to be a clear benefit in it over aluminum, the material in current use, because licensing the Liquidmetal intellectual property isn't free.

Perhaps we're not thinking big enough. What's stopping Apple from switching their unibody laptop chassis to LiquidMetal? Or the iMac chassis? Or even the forthcoming Mac Pro update?

June 19, 2012

Ihnatko: Microsoft’s Surface Tablet Something To Get Excited About

Andy Ihnatko (Chicago Sun-Times) on Microsoft's new tablet machine, the Surface:

"The devices also sport standard USB and HDMI ports and card slots; you can dock the senior Surface tablet to a keyboard and screen when you get to your desk and use it as a conventional desktop PC. "

That's the key feature that will sell approximately a zillion of these things. It's a tablet/laptop/desktop machine, all in one.

Clearly Microsoft is going its own way, diverging from Apple's bifurcated world of mobile on the one hand (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) and desktop/laptop on the other. Add the forthcoming Windows 8 with its Metro user interface to the mix and personal computing has a new battleground!

Still no word on price or availability, though.

June 18, 2012

Frum: Three Seeds For America's Future Economic Boom

David Frum speculates on three seeds for US economic expansion. As he mentions, it's in times of strife that future prosperity is born.

June 16, 2012

The New MacBook Pro: Unfixable, Unhackable, Untenable

Kyle Wien, writing for the Wired.com Gadget Lab:

"Every time we buy a locked down product containing a non-replaceable battery with a finite cycle count, we’re voicing our opinion on how long our things should last. But is it an informed decision? When you buy something, how often do you really step back and ask how long it should last? If we want long-lasting products that retain their value, we have to support products that do so.

redux: Every time we buy a locked down product that doesn't permit side-loading non-App Store software, we're voicing our opinion on how varied its usefulness should be. Is it an informed decision? When you buy something, how often do you really step back and ask how varied its usefulness should be?

Funny how Apple hardware purchasing decisions have begun to mirror Apple software options.

Today, we choose. If we choose the Retina display over the existing MacBook Pro, the next generation of Mac laptops will likely be less repairable still. When that happens, we won’t be able to blame Apple. We’ll have to blame ourselves."

The new Retina display MacBook Pro's high price makes the other Apple laptops an easy choice. Unless you're looking for a 15-inch Pro with memory and SSD storage identical to the new Retina display model's (in which case you'd pay $300 more for the non-Retina model), the other Apple laptop models are a happy alternative.

But what if the Retina Pro were only a few hundred dollars more than the base 15-inch Pro? If the price difference wasn't a deterring factor, would you choose the Retina display Pro, with its permanently mounted SDRAM, proprietary SSD and glued-in battery? It's an admittedly difficult choice, because that big, beautiful Retina display is nothing if not eye candy.

I'd choose the non-Retina display Pro. I've done a couple of hacks on my 13-inch Pro, making it exactly the machine I want it to be, and I'll do one more once the price of 256-GB SSDs comes down from orbit. I want that flexibility.

I'm hoping Kyle's foreshadowing doesn't become fact, that Apple doesn't go the route of non-servicibility for future MacBooks. It seems certain they will though, now that we've been headed that way with two new (or new-ish) laptop lines over the past half-decade. Neither the Air, nor the new Retina Pro permit the sort of tinkering I still enjoy in my computing toys. And that's a shame.

Zynga And CBS Are Working To Bring Draw Something To Primetime TV

Ryan Lawler, writing for TechCrunch:

"The pilot concept will reportedly pit multiple celebrities and users against each other in front of a studio audience, translating a game most people play in their spare time while commuting or before bed into a hilarious new game show. Viewers at home will also be able to play along with the folks on TV, according to Variety."

No less insultingly dumb than "Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader," the production of which lasted two-and-a-half years.

June 15, 2012

Seagates Backup Plus Hard Drives Sync and Share Files to Facebook, Flickr

David Pierce, writing for The Verge:

"The drives keep all your files safe, like any good external hard drive, and can also grab files from various social networks. Part of the setup process for the new 2.5-inch drives (available from 500GB to 4TB) includes logging in to Facebook or Flickr (the company plans to add more services soon), and Seagate's software will then automatically back up photos from the two networks, as well as provide an interface for sharing files from your device to the web."

Sure, connecting a backup device containing all your personal files to Facebook sounds like a great idea.

Krugman: Data Shows Europe, US Making Poor Economic Choices

Paul Krugman points out three factors of our current economic struggles, inflation, interest rates and the effects of austerity that Europe and, to a large degree the US, have gotten wrong. So much for the wisdom of the masses. Worth a quick read.

We're clearly heading the wrong way on fiscal policy.

Microsoft Is Doing Its Own Tablet. How Do You Like Them Apples?

Ina Fried, writing for AllThingsD:

"Tired of losing ground to the iPad, Microsoft is poised to serve up its own entry in the suddenly booming tablet market. After signaling for months that it would attack the market only through its traditional hardware partners, Microsoft has decided to enter the tablet business more directly."

I'm not sure the tablet market is "suddenly" booming. Apple has sold millions of their tablet in the past two years.

Microsoft, late to the game with a tablet-only software product, already has a leg up on Google's Android tablets with their forthcoming Windows RT operating system. Sporting the well-regarded Metro user interface and designed to run on similar ARM-based processors, products bundling this OS stand the best chance of competing with Apple's iPad.

I'm hoping Microsoft dials up the quality with whichever contract manufacturer they use for their branded tablet. They'll need a high quality, tightly integrated product to successfully compete with the iPad.

Witness the failure to chip away at the iPad's success of nearly every Android tablet until Amazon entered the market. Part of their problem was Google's lack of control over tablet hardware design and manufacture.

(Another part, though, is the reported clumsy user experience of Android. Amazon's Kindle tablet had a better post-launch sales run because that company's engineers layered their own user interface over Android's, providing a smoother, simpler experience.)

A high quality, Microsoft branded Windows RT tablet will be a strong competitor for Apple.

June 14, 2012

Wasteland: The 50-year Battle To Entomb Our Toxic Nuclear Remains

The Verge has an excellent deep dive into the US effort to find a resting place for our toxic nuclear waste. Terrific photos, too.

Encryption iPhone App Slated For Release – PGP Rides Again

Rob LeFebvre, writing for Cult of Mac:

"Phil Zimmerman, the creator of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption for email in the 1990s, has come to the forefront yet again as the spokesman for Silent Circle, a company planning to beta test an encrypted phone call and text message app for the iPhone and other smartphones. The app will be free when it’s released in July of this year, but the service itself will cost somewhere in the $20 per month range."

Worth keeping an eye on. Zimmerman famously came under US government scrutiny after releasing PGP for email. He was stopped and detained several times as he arrived or departed the country by air.

PGP was, for a time, considered a "munition" by the Customs Service and forbidden for export, as if other countries didn't possess software engineers capable of writing their own encryption software.

$20 per month is a bit high a price, but if you're in need of guaranteed private communication that price likely won't be an obstacle.

New Windows 8 Desktop UI Shown Off In Leaked Screenshots, Lacks Aero Glass

Tom Warren, writing for The Verge:

"The company revealed its move away from Aero Glass last month, but the changes weren't ready for Release Preview. Winunleaked has managed to secure a number of screenshots demonstrating the flattened desktop UI and color picker."

Click through for screenshots of the forthcoming Windows 8 desktop.

Looks like Microsoft is moving the desktop UI in the direction of their Metro interface, which will give their co-named mobile and desktop operating systems a similar look and feel. Not a bad idea for customer familiarity, though I kinda liked the Aero Glass interface from Vista and Windows 7.

June 13, 2012

Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display review (mid 2012)

A concise, informative review of Apple's new MacBook Pro with Retina Display by Tim Stevens, writing for Engadget:

"Is this the best Mac ever? You can't ignore the Air as an amazing piece of machinery, especially with the new, higher-powered Ivy Bridge processors and faster SSDs tucked inside its wedge profile. But, this new Pro is on another level of performance. With a quad-core processor and up to 16GB of RAM it's a proper beast -- a proper beast that you can throw in your messenger bag and carry around all day without spending all night complaining about an aching back."

This new machine is very fast, very beautiful, and fairly expensive. That's a departure for Apple, which has made it their business to sell top-shelf laptops for about the same price, or lower, than comparably equipped Wintel machines.

Then again, no-one else sells laptops with Retina displays, so Apple is leading a new tier of top-shelf with this new machine.

All-in-all, I'd opt for the refreshed 13-inch MacBook Air with 8-GB SDRAM and a 256-GB SSD for $1600 and call myself well-pleased, rather than part with $2200 for a 2-inch larger (but higher resolution) display on the new 15-inch MBP/Retina. Call me cheap.

iFixit tears down the new Retina MacBook Pro, calls it “least repairable laptop” yet

Jordan Kahn, writing for 9TO5Mac:

"Today they are at it again, this time with the new Retina MacBook Pro. Unfortunately, iFixit found changes to the new MacBook Pro make it ’ the least repairable laptop’ its taken apart, giving it a 1/10 repair score"

Unfortunate, but not unexpected. Part of what makes the Next Generation MacBook Pro "least repairable" is the lack of bolt-in parts, such as the battery and SDRAM. Removing those parts' mounting hardware and substituting glue, or solder, reduces the finished product's weight just a little bit. Every bit counts.

Another reason this isn't surprising: Apple has been losing business to third-party SDRAM retailers for quite a while. Savvy customers have been purchasing their MacBook Pros with the minimum 2- or 4-GB of SDRAM, buying a memory upgrade kit from Micron, Crucial or OWC and reaping the benefits of increased memory at half the price Apple charges.

Installation is a breeze and doesn't void your Apple warranty. How many folks have their original memory modules laying around, collecting dust? Lots.

No more. As the article states, buy your new Next-Gen MacBook Pro with 16 GB of SDRAM or forever hold your peace, because what you buy from Apple is what you'll be stuck with in the years ahead.

There's no telling what software might come along that performs best with a huge volume of memory. Long the domain of database servers and video editing, 16-GB of SDRAM might seem excessive for more pedestrian uses today.

For those using Parallels or VMWare Fusion to host second operating systems on their machine today, though (think Windows for running those must-have Windows apps, like Quicken), 8-GB is the key to smooth simultaneous operations. 16-GB might become a similar necessity before too long.

June 10, 2012

Saab's Remote Air Traffic Control Tower With Panoramic Views To Be Trialed In Norway

Dante D'Orazio, writing for The Verge:

"From the layman's perspective, few of the many cogs that keep planes in the sky and airports running safely could use a 21st-century upgrade more than the age-old air traffic control tower. Saab unveiled its vision of the future last year with its remote tower (or r-TWR) — a system that provides a 360-degree live video feed of an airport to offsite monitoring stations"

This is a great idea for aggregating smaller, lower-volume airports. Control operations for multiple airports can be handled from a single facility by running them from separate "tower cab" rooms for each.

It's not a good idea for high-volume airports where a technology failure can render an airport sightless.

When technology fails at FAA radar facilities in the US today, they go to what's called an ATC-zero operation. That means exactly what you'd think: no ops.

Imagine Hartsfield-Jackson (Atlanta)'s five runways being rendered useless on a sunny day due to a remote video outage. On-site controllers can at least look out the window.

June 9, 2012

Alex Tanney, Trickshot Quarterback

It's a long way from NCAA division III and trick shots to the NFL, but Alex Tanney has a fine enough touch on the ball to earn a try-out. He recently signed a contract with the Kansas City Chiefs.

(via kottke.org.)

Air Force X-37B Space Plane Mission Ending Soon

Mike Wall, writing for MSNBC:

"OTV-2's flight represents a big jump for the X-37B space plane. The vehicle has been aloft for 462 days as of June 8, more than doubling the on-orbit time of the first space-flown X-37B, known as OTV-1."

The X-37B is the experimental space plane project launched by the US Air Force. It carries new technologies into low Earth orbit for testing. Looking like a miniature space shuttle, it launches in similar fashion, spends hundreds of days on-orbit and returns as a glider to be used again.

It manages all of this without an onboard pilot. Essentially a space-based drone, it enables next-generation satellite technology tests without the expense of building and launching an unretrievable satellite.

June 8, 2012

Retina-Ready Apps Begin to Appear in Apple's Mac App Store

The Next Web:

"Approved this morning, Mac App Store tool Folderwatch — an app that monitors, syncs and mirrors important files automatically — included a small detail in its update notes, stating ‘Retina graphics’ were a new addition to the app."

One rumor confirmed. At least some of the MacBook line will possess retina-grade displays in the coming update.

Wanna bet the new line-up remains at the same price points, or lower?

Apple's tight control of their supply chain, not to mention their use of multiple parts vendors, means they can better squeeze display panel manufacturers for lower prices than other laptop sellers.

June 6, 2012

Dell Exec: The iPad Is Too ‘Shiny’ For Business

Ryan Faas, writing for Cult of Mac:

"According to Dell Australia’s managing director Joe Kreme, users only buy iPads because they’re ‘shiny’ and troubleshooting any issue with an iPad or iOS could take up to four days. As a result of these so-called facts, Kreme said that the tablet race hasn’t even started yet."

We now have insight into Dell's hardware design strategy: make them dull.

Your Facebook "Privacy Notice" Is Unenforceable Nonsense

Mat Honan, on the spread of Facebook "privacy notices":

"Your interactions with Facebook are governed by an agreement you previously made, that both parties entered into—even if you didn't read it. When you signed up with Facebook, you agreed to its terms of service. If you've been there for a while, you've even agreed to new terms as they've been updated over the years. That doesn't change because Facebook is a public company, and it doesn't change because you post some dumb crap on your timeline. It changes when Facebook offers new terms, and you accept them either by explicit agreement or your continued presence there."

The dreaded service agreement rears its ugly head. All users agree to it, for services as well as software, yet few (if any) actually read it. They agree to whatever the provider dictates.

It bears repeating that if a faceless corporation, or the government, or the guy down the street asked people for the personal details they willingly give away to Facebook, there'd be outrage.

Yet few consider what Facebook intends to do with their data

Facebook was founded in a western culture, where nearly everything we see and do involves the exchange of currency. Zuckerberg's genius was in getting users to want to provide their personal data and use Facebook, creating a willing audience of targetable users. The next step is the same, no matter the market: monatization.

Our eyeballs are worth dollars to advertisers, and our personal data makes the ads targetable. Facebook will thrive or fail on its ability to sell that to businesses.

The social aspect of Facebook is just window dressing, lipstick on a pig.

June 5, 2012

As Google Bets on Mobile Office, Microsoft Waits

Nick Wingfield, on Microsoft's hesitancy at delivering their Office suite of apps for the iPad, in The New York Times' Bits blog:

"If Microsoft couldn’t find compelling enough reasons to release its Office applications for the iPad, Google just gave it one."

Microsoft has sadly missed the boat on iPad.

At heart a software company, Microsoft has to worry about cannabilizing their desktop Office sales as well as competing against their own Windows 8 tablet apps this fall.

In the mean time, Apple has sold millions of iPads and companies like Quickoffice have sold thousands of copies of their Office-like apps for low prices.

Would their customers have bought MS Office for iPad instead? I'd think most would. Would they pay more than they did for Quickoffice? Up to a point, yes. I paid $15 for Quickoffice before they added a PowerPoint-like app, and would probably have paid upwards of $45 for a genuine, guaranteed-compatible Microsoft Office product.

This points to the generational shift from desktop software to mobile, tablet-based apps. Microsoft is hanging on to the last bits of profitability from old-school software today at the expense of a place on customer's mobile devices tomorrow. Google has just given them motivation to change.

Facebook Explores Access for Younger Kids

The Wall Street Journal:

"Facebook Inc. is developing technology that would allow children younger than 13 years old to use the social-networking site under parental supervision, a step that could help the company tap a new pool of users for revenue but also inflame privacy concerns."

Surprised? Just wait, there's more where that came from.

When your business already reaches one-seventh of Earth's population and your new investors are looking for more growth, you have a much-reduced set of available options.

Imagine the photos these kids, who will not know a time when there wasn't a near-universal sharing mechanism at their disposal, will be posting in just a few years. It's enough to make prescient Eric Schmitd's musing about getting an online identity do-over upon reaching adulthood.

The Mechanics and Meaning of That Ol' Dial-Up Modem Sound

Alexis Madrigal, writing for The Atlantic:

"Of all the noises that my children will not understand, the one that is nearest to my heart is not from a song or a television show or a jingle. It's the sound of a modem connecting with another modem across the repurposed telephone infrastructure. It was the noise of being part of the beginning of the Internet."

Alexis writes a nice remembrance of sounds gone by.

For some people the sound of a fax machine's calling tone brings back office-centric memories. For me it's the answering and handshake tones of my computer's modem that brings back years of online puttering in my bachelor apartment. There was a time when I could tell precisely what speed my modem was about to select based upon that sound.

‘Thank God’ For Apple’s Beautiful Crystal Prisons

Anonymous IT manager, quoted by Zach Epstein for Boy Genius Report:

"During the first week of trials alone, I had one guy crash his Samsung [Android-based phone -ed.] from installing a bunch of poorly made software,’ he continued. ‘Then someone else rooted his [Android-based -ed.] phone and all of his stock apps stopped transmitting data. This was just the trial; imagine what would happen if we deployed these [Android -ed.] phones to more than 200 employees across the company."
“We ended up going with the iPhone,” the executive concluded.

That's a real-world rebuttal to the EFF's criticism of Apple and the walled-garden approach they use for third-party iOS software.

June 4, 2012

Willow Glass

Ina Fried, writing for All Things Digital:

"Glass pioneer Corning today announced a new technology it says will help power a new generation of screens."

Click through for a picture that will re-define the word "glass" for you.

This stuff is cool.

Solid-state Revolution: In-depth On How SSDs Really Work

Lee Hutchinson has an excellent, and exhaustive 10,000-word feature on SSDs over at Ars Technica. Geeks will find fine detail in an accessible writing style, providing everything you ever wanted to know about this new-ish drive technology.

June 3, 2012

Manjoo: Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs Movie is Going to be a Disaster

Farhad Manjoo's criticism of the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson, for pandodaily:

"It skips questions about his management style: Why, when he returned to Apple in the 1990s, did Jobs suddenly become a much better boss than he’d been in the past? He learned to delegate better, to trust his subordinates’ instincts — how, and why? How did he develop his keynote presentation style? How did he come to rely on corporate secrecy?"

Good questions. The answers would provide insight into Jobs' later life and, in the hands of a skilled writer, make for an interesting story about one of the most successful and respected innovators of the computer age.

Farhad's contention is that the Aaron Sorkin, screenwriter for the forthcoming Jobs movie based upon Isaacson's book, will take only the juicier details of Isaacson's work for his screenplay. Storytelling is, after all, what Hollywood is all about. It would take a supremely gifted writer to make geek-worthy details of interest to the average moviegoer.

Is Sorkin that skilled? I'd bet he is, but he won't go down that road. Far more likely that he'll produce a story akin to "The Social Network" or "The West Wing," one that entertains, but gets the finer details wrong. Both of those productions were great entertainment, if not true to the facts.

As Sorkin said, his project is a minefield of disappointment. He's anticipating the criticism that Manjoo leads.

A last question I'd ask is, does it matter to the wider audience? Or will geeks again be relegated to the role of spoiler, telling our friends "it wasn't really like that" in response to their enthusiasm for the movie? Can't we just enjoy the story?

Farhad's article is a thoughtful Sunday read. He's a skilled writer himself, and he gets the details right.

June 1, 2012

Photo Haunted, Helped Vietnam's 'Napalm Girl'

You've seen the photo of this girl, made forty years ago. Here's the rest of her story.

Windows Laptop: Buy This One

Nate Ralph has a succinct write-up, with photos, of the new Lenovo ThinkPad X230 laptop over at The Verge.

In a couple of words, my answer to the question "which Windows laptop should I buy" is, this one.

ThinkPads have long been a mainstay of road warriors and desktop jockeys who need well-designed, reliable Windows laptops. This latest example ups the ante just a bit with a nifty new keyboard and the usual spec bumps.

I happily used a ThinkPad for three years. It was the machine I'd always wanted, but my employer had a Dell habit. When I finally spent my own money I bought a ThinkPad.

If you're looking for a machine whose hinges won't loosen up, making your display wobble when you move it, a machine that will remain in reliable shape throughout your use, ThinkPads are the way to go.

ThinkPads cost more than comparable Dells and Toshibas, but you always get what you pay for. The unit reviewed here runs about as much as a MacBook Pro, for comparison.

Highly recommended.

Why Antivirus Companies Like F-Secure Failed to Catch Flame and Stuxnet

Mikko Hypponen, writing about his company's failure to detect the Stuxnet worm on Wired's Threat Level blog:

"What this means is that all of us had missed detecting this malware for two years, or more. That’s a spectacular failure for our company, and for the antivirus industry in general."

It's an interesting read, touching on why every anti-malware company's software failed to warn computer users about the threat.

In a nutshell, the Stuxnet authors were able to forge cryptographic signing techniques that made the Stuxnet code appear benign. Combined with other methods Stuxnet was able to infect over 100,000 computers worldwide after escaping the Natanz nuclear processing facility in Iran.

Perhaps the authors thought the worm would never make it to the wider Internet. That's a bit of ignorance on their part. Any software author knows from experience that code obeys Murphy's Law, too.

China Official Arrested Over Claims He Spied For CIA


"The aide had been recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency and provided 'political, economic and strategic intelligence', one source said, though it was unclear what level of information he had access to, or whether overseas Chinese spies were compromised by the intelligence he handed over."

More fodder for spy tales. Who says the Cold War is over?

Confirmed: US and Israel Created Stuxnet, Lost Control of It

Nate Anderson, writing for Ars Technica:

"The code was only supposed to work within Iran's Natanz refining facility, which was air-gapped from outside networks and thus difficult to penetrate. But computers and memory cards could be carried between the public Internet and the private Natanz network, and a preliminary bit of 'beacon' code was used to map out all the network connections within the plant and report them back to the NSA."

An article in The New York Times, summarized here by Ars, puts the blame for the Stuxnet worm where it has long believed to belong: US and Israeli intelligence agencies.

We might never have known about Stuxnet had it not contained a coding flaw. Originally designed to operate only within the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz, the flaw permitted the code to flourish on the Internet after someone inadvertently carried it from Natanz to a public computer.

Your anti-virus software probably won't ever trigger on it, and if it did, Stuxnet wouldn't have much effect on your home or business computing. Stuxnet is unlikely to ruin your day unless you're operating a set of Siemens centrifuges.

Yet here's the first clear example of a government-sponsored cyber attack, a pre-emptive strike with destructive effect on its target, in the wild, bearing US fingerprints. Sound familiar?

The Bourne Legacy Film Trailer Appears

MG Siegler, writing for parislemon.:

"They’re trying to transition the Bourne franchise beyond Matt Damon, and it looks like they might pull it off (by moving on from Jason Bourne). If they can, the Bourne films could become the American equivalent of the James Bond franchise."

The trailer is here, along with February's teaser.

The Bond franchise makes for a very high bar, even if roughly half of those films were sub-par. What other film series has stretched over fifty(!) years and 23 outings? Bond is a cultural icon.

I don't believe the Bourne series will have a lasting legacy like the Bond films. Bond revolved around one character, played by a number of men but always possessing the same, essential persona. What do the Bourne films center upon, now that Bourne is no longer the central character? And whatever provides that central gravity, is it as compelling as the quintessential film spy, James Bond?

Still, the first three Bourne films were great adventures for several reasons, all of which re-appear in the new movie. The ensemble of supporting characters were well developed, the directed action was swift and crisp, the interesting plot moved along without pause and the locations were rich, varied and beautiful.

Just about the only thing missing from the new film is Matt Damon's wonderfully subdued Jason Bourne, superseded here by Jeremy Renner's Aaron Cross. Renner turned in a solid co-starring role in the recent "Mission: Impossible" film, so my hopes are high for him here.

The past three Bourne films have all been enjoyable re-watches every time they've appeared on TV. That's a good test of a movie's legacy: does it hold up through repeated watching?

The "Bourne Legacy" gives every hint at continuing the trend.