Friday, November 15, 2013

For Office, Microsoft is still King - But What About Mobile?

It has been a long hiatus for publishing articles on my blog.  If you have been surprised or disappointed, I do apologize.  A lot has been going on in my life, and I have let the blog posts go for a bit.  Until now.

For several years now, I have switched to Macintosh computers.  I have also purchased iWork (Apple's office suite), and tried to use it.  I found Open Office (and its later derivative, Libre Office) easier to use, but still left a lot to be desired in stability and compatibility.  I have to admit that my method for determining a software's ease-of-use is pretty holistic - I dive right in and figure it out, and use the built-in help, and Google when I can't find it in Help.  No tutorials, no manuals, no videos.

However, the reason I think this is the best true test for the "superiority" of a software package, is that any product should be so intuitive, that you DON'T need a manual to learn how to use it.  Perhaps documentation to learn how to use advanced features, but definitely Apple has spoiled me in this arena because I have come to expect that ALL products perform well under this criterion.

This year, we agreed that Microsoft Office was the way to go.  We now have a choice, across platform, of buying MS Office outright (for an outrageous price), or paying $100 a year for up to 5 computers (Office 365) with free upgrades.  We opted for the latter.  In some ways, I've even found Word and PowerPoint on the Mac to be more desirable than the Windows version, and in every other way just as workable.

The tickler that started me on this topic, was that as part of the sign-up for Office 365, they give me regular e-mails on tips for using Office 365.  I say regular tips, but really it's regular e-mails on "how to use gestures with Office 365" - the same tips over and over again.  I guess Microsoft is realizing just how much of a growth market tablets are, and how they totally missed the boat, and scrambling to try to recapture their dominance in computing.

So overall, it has been an interesting, wild ride in the realm of Office software since the 1980's and the advent of the Personal Computer.  The early days were dominated by WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 and Harvard Graphics.  Lotus, later acquired by IBM, became a suite that never really competed with the up-and-coming Microsoft Office.  Word for DOS was horrid, while early Word for Windows was a strong contender (thanks to Microsoft's experience in developing their products on the Mac platform in a GUI environment).  PowerPoint went from a weak slide authoring tool, to the only game in town, and Excel (also flush from their Mac success) became a side-by-side contender with Lotus 1-2-3 - until the packaging of Microsoft Office overtook their competition.

When it comes to automation (with Visual BASIC for Applications or VBA), and templates, and sheer feature set, nothing still comes close.  (I've read the only real prevalent viruses that Mac users need to be careful of are Office VBA macro viruses.)  As much as Tim Cook touts iWork, I don't see it as a strong contender for Office.  And, when it comes to a mobile device market, I don't see mobile devices as a strong authoring platform for Office documents.  Frankly, the awkwardness of mixing a keyboard and touch screen to author a document isn't quite there yet.

So Office for the Mac, an even better product than Office for Windows; and Office, in general, still rules the "office suite" realm.  But, the next frontier in computing is definitely mobile devices.  And tablets have a decided advantage for office documents over phones simply because of screen size.  Unless and until Ubuntu's idea of a unified OS [and here] is realized in mainstream mobile devices, I don't see any office product becoming mainstream on a mobile device.

Interestingly enough, Apple has made some tentative steps toward this with iOS 7.  In 7, support has been added for controllers (ala game controllers), and "AirPlay" streaming audio/video to an external monitor.  This is one step towards making your mobile device the "brains" of a mobile and desktop computing world.  However, the AirPlay video mirroring doesn't resize the graphics, so on the older devices you don't get full HD screens.  Also, unlike PC's who resize their graphics desktop to the monitor's capabilities, it is simply projecting the device's screen onto another device.  On the new Retina displays, the higher resolution is truly bringing this one step closer to reality.  I can see a bluetooth keyboard paired with an iPhone or iPad, and do AirPlay Mirroring to an Apple TV in 1080p HD, and now you have a mobile device that you can use like a notebook.  Still missing, though, is a simple fusion of touch screen and keyboard.

The awkwardness of taking your hands away from the keyboard to touch the screen is a bit worse than that of using a mouse, and has been alleviated by an integrated touchpad in laptops and notebooks.  Unfortunately in my limited vision for the future, I cannot yet imagine a better input for text than a keyboard - as voice recognition even in this day leaves a lot (a LOT) to be desired.  A "dual display" paradigm like desktops might help here in the mobile device realm.  What if the pop-up screen keyboard on Apple devices took up the device's screen, and the "app" screen were the remote, streamed display?  Kind of like the dual-screen system of a Nintendo DS.

Enter wearable devices.  Enter mobile computing in your vehicle.  Enter the smart home.  New possibilities seem just over the horizon, in their synergistic coalescence into a life-changing integration of the next "new way."  Apple's progression into the smart home has been at a slow, measured pace - it seems they won't release anything to the public unless they have mastered the synergy.  iOS in the Car, slated for 2014 release in many automotive brands, promises more of Apple's famous ecosphere extended to another area of your life.  Still, the futuristic technology visions of "Back to the Future III," "Continuum," and many Science Fiction stories are still to be realized.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Original iJokes

All of these are creations of my warped sense of humor, so the great thing is, you can simply not share and thus nip this horrible thing in the bud.  Or, if it tickles your funnybone, you only have yourself to blame for sharing!

Why did the pirate update his iPhone?  Because his matey told him he needed an iPatch.

Apple is now developing wearable devices, including one they feel will be popular with pirates.  The iPatch.

If you were stranded on a deserted island, which computer would you have and why?  An Apple, because you can eat it when you get hungry!

An iPhone, an Android, and a Blackberry are shopping at the candy store.  What do they buy?  Caramel coating, Kit Kats, and an Alka Seltzer.  I don't think plop plop, fizz fizz will help, do you?

If Smart Phone Operating Systems were a shopping store:
  • Blackberry would have a cool street sign, but when you go in, the clerks keep directing you towards the data compression aisle no matter what you ask for.  There are 2 other shoppers in the whole, large store, and a For Sale sign is on the outside of the store.
  • The Symbian store is closed, but as you look in the window, you see some pretty cool stuff collecting dust on the shelves.
  • You are confused, there are two stores that look like they are the same.  The Windows Mobile and Windows Phone.  Both are small stores, not much seems to go on there.  The shelves are pretty empty, even though you technically could order anything you want, or even make your own at home.  There are a bunch of squares and rectangles glaring back at you from the window, each flashing some live content that confuses your eyes.
  • A green robot seems to signify that this is the droid you are looking for.  In the store, it is packed with lots of stuff, but the choices are endless and it is quite messy.  In fact, there are 3 checkout lines at different points in the store, and you are not sure which one you should pay at.  Wait, there's actually a 4th checkout, but it's closed.  You could probably sneak past that one without paying.  There's no security in the store, not sure if you feel safe there.
  • Then, you see it: a gleaming, shining glass and brushed aluminum store with a snow white fruity logo.  Friendly security guards watch everyone and everything.  There are lots of choices, but it is neat and orderly.  There is no cash register, in fact, you can pay by placing your thumb on a device each clerk in a blue shirt is carrying.  Prices are reasonable, the store is well-lit, and the color scheme is all simple hues and pastels, very basic designs.  It might even be too orderly for you.  It seems you can get anything here, although everything on it has this bitten fruity logo on it (even the stuff you know came from elsewhere).

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

So you want to downgrade to iOS 6?

UPDATE: This appears to no longer be available per the post at imore. 

I am writing this post because several people have expressed reluctance to upgrade to iOS 7, or have indicated they are sorry they did so.  First of all, let me caution you on a few points:
  • Myself, it took a couple days to grow on me (I really disliked 7 when I first saw it).  But once it did, as my paradigm shifted, I "hate" iOS 6.  Maybe too strong of a word, but there's no way I'd go back.
  • If you do go back, new apps that no longer support 6 will not be downloaded on your device.  So you will quickly stop getting updates, and it will grow older even faster.  This is just the truth, I predict iOS7-capable devices (especially iPhones) will experience phenomenal sales in the next quarter, and older devices will start shrinking in market share.  I don't think iPhone 4S purchases will hold up much longer.
  • Always make backups of your device, in fact you will have to in order to perform this procedure.

So here's an overview of the steps, with detailed instructions below.
  1. Back up your device.
  2. Download iOS 6.1.4 for it.
  3. Install your device fresh with 6.1.4 (this will completely wipe it).
  4. Restore your backup to it.
This will require that:
  • You have a computer with the latest iTunes on it
  • A USB cord to plug into it
  • You must disable "Find My iPhone" (or my iPod/iPad) in the iCloud settings of the device, which will require you to enter your iCloud password

1. Back up your device

  • Connect it to a computer running the latest version of iTunes.  If you haven't already, launch iTunes.  In the pull-down menus, pick "Check for Updates" (in the iTunes menu on the Mac) to make sure you have the latest version.
  • If you have automatic synch set up, you will see the backup proceed in the grey status on the top of iTunes.  Otherwise:
    • You will see your device appear as a button on the top right - for example a button that says "iPhone" with an eject symbol.  Click the button to show your device.
    • Click the "Back Up Now" button

2. Download iOS 6.1.4 for your device

  • You have to determine what kind of device you have - for example, there are many different types of iPhone 5's produced, for different carriers.  Apple has a page to identify your model, however this post from OS X Daily gives you a direct better way to identify.  Also, one of my favorite sites,, has a lookup page where you can enter identifying information about your iDevice, and it will tell you all you need to know about it.
  • Download the correct iOS for your device here.  Remember where you place the downloaded file.

3. Install your device fresh with 6.1.4

  • On your device, go to Settings, iCloud, and turn off Find Your Phone.  You cannot proceed unless you do, and you will need to enter your iCloud password.  This is a security precaution to prevent thieves from wiping a stolen device.
  • In iTunes, with your device selected and the Backup completed, you will see a top portion that shows your device (e.g. "iPhone 4S"), and the iOS 7.0, plus to the right 2 buttons:  Check for Update, and Restore iPhone...
  • On a Mac computer, hold down the OPTION key, and click "Restore iPhone" (or whatever device you have).  On a Windows computer, hold down SHIFT key and click "Restore iPhone." You will be prompted to select your IPSW file.
  • Allow the device to restore and reboot.

4. Restore your backup

  • If you are prompted, select to restore from backup, and select the backup you just made.  Otherwise you can click the "Restore Backup..." button and select the restore point.
  • Let it reboot the device as needed.

5. Turn on features

  • Don't forget to turn Find Your Phone back on
  • You may also want to check other settings, like iCloud account, iMessages, etc.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

New SkyView Satellite app for iPhone Rocks the Rocks

I had the opportunity to test out Skyview Satellite Guide, a new app from Terminal Eleven, the makers of Skyview.  If you are familiar with the first app, it provides a first-person overlay on what you see, through your iDevice, on what planets, stars, constellations, and some satellites are out there in the sky.  I call that one, one of the best apps for an iDevice ever.

So when they offered me the chance to preview the Beta of Skyview Satellite Guide, I didn't hesitate.  And it doesn't disappoint.  This truly is one of the most beautiful apps ever.  It starts out upon loading with a zoom-in to Earth from space.  You can select what type of satellites to show, and it color-codes by orbit for low, mid, and high orbits.

Like its predecessor, you can search with the magnifying glass for a particular satellite, or tap to see what is orbiting.  This includes manmade satellites classified by use, as well as space junk.

Tapping on a satellite gives you a 3D representation of it, and more info about it, including orbital data.

However, the cooliest part of it is when you tap the arrow icon, it takes you to a first-person POV from the satellite, and you can rotate around and "look" from its standpoint in space right now.
If you are a space hobbyist, enthusiast, or just generally curious, I strongly encourage you to grab this app!  For only $1.99, it will provide endless hours of joy exploring all the stuff floating around the Earth.

Also, by tapping the "AR" button in the upper left corner, you can flip to a live camera overlay view, so you can look in a particular direction from where you are standing, and see what is floating above (or below) you. 
So, here are answers to a few questions that popped into my head:

1. Does it work offline?  Yes.  You do not need a cell signal or WiFi to use it.
2. Does it show everything, including all the military satellites?  Well, I don't know!  But it sure seems to, the database is vast.
3. Is it eye-opening?  YES.  I never knew there was SO MUCH stuff out there, that mankind has put up.

For the Terminal Eleven folks: first of all, FANTASTIC apps, they are a great contribution to Mankind.  Second, I think what I would really like to see, is some kind of integration that would help amateur astronomers out.  For example, what if we tap on a body, then tap a button that moves our telescope to point to that object in the sky?  What if we tap another button, and we can see on our phone, the view through the telescope (no more squinting at some uncomfortable angle), and control the focus and movements of the telescope from the iDevice?  Just dreaming.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Apparently I am an iSheep

The other day I posted on Facebook an innocuous question on the impending Apple announcement yesterday: what do you expect to see?  My only friends who responded were the ones who dislike Apple, apparently.  Fine, but one of them herded me in as an iSheep.  He's an Android lover.

Probably, I would venture to say, he doesn't keep up with this blog, and all of its well-reasoned posts that illustrate an eyes-open, don't-love-everything explanation of why every product Apple comes out with is simply well done, and that's why I enjoy the products, the customer service, and the overall synergy of the product ecosphere.  (Of course my thoughts are well-reasoned!)

So thanks for calling me iSheep, it made me reflect again, and question am I blindly following a company merely because that's what I did in the past?  Again, the answer I came up with after yesterday's announcement:  No.

So, in case you weren't following, Apple announced a replacement for the iPhone 5, called 5C (presumably for Color).  You have to compete, so it's a good move I think to dress up the single most popular smart phone in the history of telephony (just the facts based on unit sales, compared to any other single model of smart phone including other iPhones).

In some ways, the new high-end iPhone 5S left me disappointed.  However, in different ways from the responses of my friends!  They reiterated probably all the reasons you would go with a non-Apple phone in the first place: catch-up on features, no memory expansion, no removable battery, locked into an ecosphere.  Here's my take on it, not as an iSheep, but as an iThinker, constantly questioning "do I still want to stick with Apple, regardless of my existing media library?"

Feature Catch-Up

Am I the only one who sees the irony here?  First of all, Apple has almost never been first-to-market on a new kind of device.  Oh yeah, when they were, it flopped (remember Newton?)  Media players, smart phones, and tablets all existed before Apple introduced iPod, iPhone, and iPad.  Electronic computers for the home existed before the Apple and Apple II.  Heck, Microsoft Sync has been around for years - and I predict iOS in the car will KILL it DEAD (coming 2014).  GUI computers existed before the Mac.  So how are they innovative?  Because when they do a product, they do it 100% all the way.  It is done well as a complete product, not just hardware, but hardware and software and support synergy.  From concept, to design, to build, production, and use a well designed work of art.  As Jony Ive always says (and it makes me grit my teeth), it's the experience.

So, when the iPhone was introduced in 2007, it took Smart Phones a leap ahead, not in hardware technology, but in capabilities, in how it fit within our daily lives.  Multi-touch gestures, synergistic operation between phone, web, maps, text messages, and more.  Did they use standard connectors?  Well, they are standard now, but only on Apple products...which by the way they will ship the 700,000,000th iOS device this month.  I'd call that a de-facto standard.

I don't think Apple has ever caved in to the pressure of trying to match what their competition is doing - if they did, they would end up like Dell, HP, HTC, Blackberry, SanDisk, or any of their myriad competitors, and would never have been where they are today.  Instead, I see a thoughtful pause, a questioning of the fundamental underpinnings of the question posed to them "Why don't you put X in your product?"  They seem to have a piercing vision beyond the question to what's next.  Yes, after a groundbreaking product comes out, and the honeymoon period wears off, you wish it had more features.  But some of those wishes are coming from old habits, old ways of doing things, old ways of thinking.  Yes, computers make it easier to print - but do you still really need paper?

No Memory Expansion

Here my friends complained you can't put an SD card in the phone!  They do have a point, but again Apple is looking beyond today, and I can see it.  In 2012, Apple eliminated optical drives in their computers because the world needs to move on from CD and DVD and BluRay discs, to the reality of today - you don't need to spend money and toxic materials shipping around limited-use media, when you can just download everything from the Internet, virtually, wirelessly, and securely (oh, and with reduced production & distribution costs).  Same thing with memory on a mobile device - the future, my friends, is the cloud.  Cell Carrier policies need to catch up with this - they need to offer unlimited data, and upgrade their networks and coverage to support this.  Local municipalities and big cities need to "get with the 21st century" and have free, public WiFi everywhere.

The future of mobile storage is the cloud - and the iPhone is staunchly entrenched in that paradigm.  With iTunes Radio, the Music and Video apps now are able to play purchases directly from the cloud, and document and more storage in cloud space - what do you need on your phone?  Only the basics you might need for a trip where you are out of cell/WiFi coverage.  Increasingly planes have WiFi in flight.  Now it's up to the cell companies to up their infrastructure, and offer better unlimited data plans.

No Removable Battery

OK, yeah, this is really a big problem, because it has stopped millions from buying Apple products.  Vast wastelands of full warehouses have boxes of iPhones, iPods, and iPads collecting dust because people won't buy devices without replaceable batteries.  In fact, although the battery life on my 4S ain't great, I am always near a plug, and if I wanted I could have chosen a case with extra battery built in.  Hey, it works in my busy life, even when traveling.  And today's batteries have a long life.  They are good for many years, not like the old NiCad or NiMH laptop batteries that wouldn't hold a charge after a couple of years.

Locked Into An Ecosphere

I am locked into the Apple ecosphere in the same way the folks in New Orleans were trapped in the city during Hurricane Katrina.  Dude!  They had days of warning!  At worst, you buy a bus ticket, you walk and hitchhike, you get up off your butt and leave.  At any time I can convert my M4V and M4A and M4R files to non-Apple-supported formats.  Before I had an iPhone, I used iTunes to manage and buy music, and did a lot of that to put it on my SanDisk media player.  No biggie.

I am staying in this ecosphere, because it rocks.  I have my issues with Apple TV, but compared to other set-top-devices it rocks (in what it does).  My issues?  I wish it were open to developers, had localized content channels / apps available for download, and frankly it should be up to us customers what channels we want to put on it.  As a hardware and software platform, though, if it does the same to other devices (like Hulu and Netflix), I'd much rather watch the content on Apple TV, it's much faster and better UI.  And it works seamlessly with Mac, iPhone/iPod/iPad, etc.  (Can't wait for new OS X Mavericks - you can use Apple TV wirelessly as an external monitor.)

Innovation In Action

So, yes, Apple is not first-to-market always with new ideas (evidence: last week's introduction of Samsung's smart watch, solely on the rumor that Apple might be developing one).  But when they do come out with a product, I trust them implicitly to do it better than anyone else, more fully, and more deeply.  In many ways they have innovated before the rest of the industry, and the iPhone 5S is a perfect example: 64-bit processor in a mobile device?  I can't wait till 64-bit iPad!  Touch ID security device, and the sick hardware/software innovations in the camera - the only thing they are lacking is a snap-on zoom lens, it can compete with and probably destroy point-and-shoot cameras.  Another innovation they haven't really touted as strongly, is the ability to lock down a lost device and render it unusable (new in iOS 7).  This is true for a phone, but I frankly don't trust the technical ability of this to work on an iPod or iPad.

With the iPhone 5S, I can imagine from the hardware development standpoint what a difficult task it must have been to come out with a 64-bit mobile device (and rearchitect the OS to be 64-bit and 32-bit compatible), and further improve the camera, let alone the M7 chip.  True, we all would have liked to see a larger screen option - according to the rumor mills, that should be scheduled for next year (I find the arguments for why these are reliable rumors to be credible).  First priority? No negative impact on battery life, not willing to give up a millimeter. of ground there.  They did it.

The camera is truly groundbreaking.  Digital cameras have progressed from 512Kpixels, to a whopping 42 Megapixel.  I stopped at 6Mp, a home photographer does not need any more than that.  Apparently Apple mostly agrees - they stopped at 8, but they worked on the lenses, optical/CCD sensors, and software to produce a best-in-class camera that takes burst photos, 120fps 720 HD slow-motion video or 30fps 1080 HD standard speed video, and the crazy technology they introduced for improving your photo sharpness, lighting, and clarity.  That was their focus this time around, while I may not 100% agree with other areas they let lie, I am a big fan of the improvements.

Security, I have wanted a better way of unlocking my phone while in the car.  Motorola came out with a great idea, put a disc in your car that signals the phone it's OK to not ask for a password.  Of course Apple looked further ahead - why need a password, really?  In this day and age?  A single touch of your finger identifies who you are with built-in fingerprint scanner.  And why limit this convenience only to certain spots (home, car, etc.)?  Some may complain they don't make fingerprint ID API available to developers, but I say one thing at a time.  Get the product out, securely, then give it time to develop properly so that security is maintained as use matures.

So Apple is still ahead of the rest of the industry in the most important factors.  In fact, one area of security in which Windows, Ubuntu, and Android have still never even attempted to catch up, is what I call the single most important choice you can make if you value your privacy.  Viruses.  Come on, people!  Computers have had anti-virus software for decades, and yet mobile devices don't do anything to control malicious software proliferation?  Well, except Apple, they have a tightly regulated ecosystem that, while not 100% foolproof, at least both A) provides a single point of distribution for apps and revenue collection, and B) provides a gateway check for vulnerabilities, both of which are totally lacking in Android.

Am I an iSheep blindly following Apple?  No, I don't think so.  At least my leader tells me I'm not.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Death of Optical Media

In the first days at the dawn of the (electronic) computer age, the first removable storage medium was paper.  Punch cards, printers, etc.  Magnetic media like tape and floppy disks soon took over, and ruled the computer world from the 1970's until their demise in the early 2000's.  The limitations on damage susceptibility and capacity were greatly outweighed by their successors: flash memory and optical media (Compact Disc or CD namely).

CD's were replaced by DVD (Digital Video Disc, which despite its name is not just for video).  So it made sense that the DVD replacement, the emerging BluRay format, would logically overtake and eliminate DVD's like DVD's did to CD's.  For very little relative money, you can buy a 32- or 64-GiB SD or other format flash card, and not have to worry is it rewriteable, and wait the long latency times that optical media take.  And they are limited to 8GB (DVD), and some larger capacity BluRay, but still can't keep pace with the innovations in flash memory that the public gets access to annually.

The year 2012 saw the first time that new Mac computers were shipped without any optical drive at all.  The public adoption of BluRay happened at a time when high speed Internet (and not your daddy's 56kbps high speed Internet) is widely available, and most software is delivered via download.  Also, the Apple platform ships with the App Store as part of it, facilitating the delivery of software "OTA" (or Over The Air).  In fact one of the reasons they were able to achieve the amazing thinness of the new iMacs is because they removed the optical drive internally.

A bit of reminiscing as to how we got to today, but this was touched off by a new laptop I got for work.  It came with 2 hard drives - a solid state, and a regular in the DVD drive bay.  The DVD drive shipped in a plastic bag, with no way to hook it up other than pulling out the hard drive.  Of course in order to recover the computer from a catastrophe, you get DVD's shipped with it.  So I thought I would need a cable or something so I wouldn't have to shut down, pull out a hard drive, and boot up.

But then I got to thinking.  When did I actually use an optical drive, in the past 5 years?  The only time, is when I needed to access some files I had archived off onto the stacks of CD"s and DVD's in my office.  And that's rare.  Usually I can find what I want online with a quick Google search faster than looking up my CD index, and getting the disc out of the right place.

Let's look at the deposed Floppy Disk.  You can't buy a computer any more with one in it (well, maybe some weird off brand).  Certainly you could build your own from parts, but that's not my point.  Manufacturers have recognized that disk sales are about nil, and people don't use 1.4MB capacity anything any more - heck my cell phone has more RAM than that to operate!  Wrist watches probably have more sophistication than that.  So when Apple announced no more optical drives included last year, I was initially shocked (you mean our kid is graduating already! they were just in diapers!), but then realized how little I use optical drives.  I'll still keep the replacement DVD writer drive on top of my desk hutch!

How about you?  Do you use optical media any more?  Do you agree with Apple, that if you want one, buy it as an accessory?  Or do you think it is still necessary, and why?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Do iPhones work in outer space? How about other galaxies?

I don't know how many of you got into the Stargate franchise, especially SG-U?  The premier episode, character Eli Wallace is a gaming nerd who solves a really hard puzzle in an online game, that turns out to be a way for the Stargate Command to find someone on Earth to solve this puzzle to unlock access to an ancient starship.  So the Air Force shows up at his door, and beams him up to the Prometheus, and they embark into deep space.

Well, at the time the show was aired, I had an iPhone 3G with an OtterBox case, and lo and behold, Eli Wallace also has the same form-factor phone.  He takes it with him to the ancient ship Destiny, using it to record videos, listen to music, and so on.  Of course he can't phone home - or can he?  Apparently on the Prometheus they rigged a way to connect to the cellular network back on Earth.

Anyhow, I was totally addicted to the SG franchise, bummed when they canceled SGU just as it was getting into a new interesting conflict scenario.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Comparing Apples to Apples

Spoiler: yes, this is another question as to why we put up with the mediocrity and hidden expenses of Windows.

I've been having trouble with my aging work laptop, so it's time to swap it out for a new one so the old one can go in for repairs.  OK, great, that's to be expected in the life of a product.  However, you know you've been spoiled when the way you've always done things seems just so ridiculously difficult because you know there's a better way, right?

So, what's the process?  I get a new laptop.  That comes with the standard corporate apps installed.  What about all the apps I need for my non-standard job requirements?  I need to install them - and do you know what a pain it is to install apps on Windows?  What about transferring the data?  I have to weed it out.  Storing everything under My Documents doesn't cut it, I have multiple drives because I have large storage requirements.  Also, thanks to your legacy Windows/DOS design, many programs and even Windows still have issues with "path too long" errors, because there are too many folders, so storing stuff under Documents and Settings makes a path that gives errors with some software.  Yeah, stupid, I know.

So it occurred to me, Microsoft is not a new company, and they have been in the OS business since what, the early seventies?  Surely they have a backup solution.  I looked at the versions of Windows 7 and Windows 8, and a whole bunch of other caustic questions came to mind.  Really?  People put up with this?

OK, so you buy a cheap PC, and you saved what, $100 or $200 or maybe even $500 over buying a Mac.  But let's compare Apples to Apples, the same thing.

First, choice.  Apple has 2 choices for OS:  The OS (yes, that's it, you get it all for $19.99), or OS Server (Get the OS and buy the Server upgrade for $19.99).  So you spend $40 on everything.  Windows 7 has 3 choices for the base OS (really confusing, right?), and the prices were $119 and up (no longer shown on the web site).  Then you have another 3 or 4 choices for the Server, and by the way, they are completely different OS's, so if you install Windows 7, you can't just add the Server portion to make it a Server, you have to reinstall Windows 2008.  Really?  And the cost gets outrageous.

Second, productivity.  If you look at the info page about backing up Windows, they just don't get it!  The girl starts off with "if you are worried about your hard drive dying" - that is the single least likely way of losing your data!  Really.  99% of the time, it is a file you accidentally deleted, or it got corrupted, or you saved, then realize you want to go back to an older version, or it got stolen.  And the timing options - back up once a day?  Really!  Really?  Really!  If you have read my article about Time Machine, you realize it backs up hourly for 24 hours, and retains daily for a period of time, then monthly, automatically.  All you have to do is provide a drive to back up to - and you don't have to buy a special, more expensive version of the OS in order to back up to a network (like she says near the end of the video).  This is outrageous, if I were me, I wouldn't stand for it.  Oh, wait, I didn't.

And don't even get me started on restore.  My IT guy tells me the plan to upgrade each employee's hardware is to ship the new laptop, give us 3 weeks (yes, 3 WEEKS!) to transfer our apps and data, then ship the old one back.  WTF, on a Mac, you just spend the time it takes to copy your files (350 GB, a few hours over USB, faster over Gigabit, etc.) and you have everything restored.  Apps, settings, data, everything.  No problem transferring across OS versions either.  And no annoying error messages from an app saying your path is too long - I mean, really!

So how expensive is it really to own a PC?  You have all the hidden costs (more time and confusion picking a more expensive OS, have to buy backup software, have to buy other stuff that comes standard or free with Mac), and soft costs (less productivity features/harder to use, slower operation, works for shorter periods of time, backing up and restoring takes weeks instead of hours), and resale value.  I declare that, when all things are taken into account, Mac hardware is actually cheaper than PC hardware.  With a Mac, you are paying for it up front, with little-to-no hidden fees.  With Windows, believe me, you pay for it one way or another, either out of pocket or in aggravation.

Explain: iPhone Ad Show People Losing Their Phones On Purpose

Greetings all, as you may have noticed I haven't posted for a while.  We just had a nice long vacation in the Traverse City area, very relaxing!  Now back to all things tech, because I saw this Virgin Mobile commercial while I was vacationing (it was Shark Week, so we watched TV at night with a beautiful sunset view over the bay).

In the commercial, people suddenly realize they need a new iPhone, but they still have their old phones.  So they "oops" lose it, drop it in a blender, get it run over by a car, etc.  Now I've always known that TV advertisers think that we as a public are stupid gits, dumber than a rock.  However, I have to ask you all, please explain the logic in this one?

So you have an old iPhone, or some other phone, and say, "I need a new iPhone."  Is your first thought to destroy or lose your old phone, as if that act alone will get you out of the rest of your contract that made the phone price lower?  Or, let's say you bought the phone outright and didn't sign a contract, so now you totally destroy the resale value of the phone you have now, for what?  You can just go buy the new phone anyhow.  Then you can sell your old one, or donate it to charity, or just give it to that ungrateful teen clamoring for a better phone.

Now let's talk about the impending September 10 Apple Announcement.  Anyone following iPhones probably already knows it is about time for the next one to come out - purportedly the 5S (and an inexpensive version supposed to be called 5C).  I don't know if any iPhone maven is hot to buy a phone right now, when they can wait until October and just get the brand new one, with the new iOS.

So really, who's the idiot - us viewers, or Virgin Mobile (or their ad agency who probably pitched the story line)?


Monday, July 29, 2013

Apple Dev Sites Down

Both the Apple Developer Forums (Fora?), which is used by developers to chat and support each other, and the Developer Center (a web portal used by developers to download developer content from Apple, manage security certificates and device provisioning profiles, and more) have been down since Thursday July 19.  Many have speculated that this has delayed the delivery of iOS 7 Beta 4 build because Beta 1, 2, and 3 were 2 weeks apart each, although Apple never promised any schedule for Beta builds.

It came out that security researcher Ibrahim Balic has claimed responsibility, who says he has made Apple aware of the security holes in an attempt to help them improve security on their site.

Meanwhile, my take on it is that Apple must have a huge team of software engineers working around the clock to fix the security holes, and testing to ensure the sites work, because they are still down 5 days after the hack.  The fact that within a couple hours of getting their bug report filed by Balic, they shut down the web sites means they take the privacy and security concerns very seriously.  They know that hundreds of millions of people globally depend on their devices for many important things, and I know that they know there is also huge liability.  So I bet this was a quick executive decision to shut down the web sites, and not turn them back on until the issues have been corrected.  I can understand, but I don't have to like!

Finally, iOS 7 Beta 4 is out!  I can only imagine the kind of hell the Apple team has gone through in the past 2 weeks, but thank you for great products, great support, and your commitment to keeping the integrity and security of your systems.

Monday, July 22, 2013

iPad For Beginners???

The other day I was walking through Costco and noticed a stand of tech books, one of which was iPad For Beginners. That started me thinking, who the heck would buy such a book?  Really?

My son was 2 when he started using the iPad, and he had no issues. Heck, my mom is an early adopter but always feels she is missing how to really operate new gadgets, and even she has no trouble using an iPad. 

You can always drop by an Apple store any time for free classes, or if there aren't any going on there will most assuredly be a blue shirted employee or floating shopper who will show you some ins and outs.

So to spend money on a book that teaches you how to use an iPad is about as enlightening as listening to the flight attendant show you how to fasten your seatbelt. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Using Rollover Minutes?

Let's get the ball rolling on this - hit Like, or retweet, if you think this is a good idea.

This picture is reminiscent of my first cell phone, circa 1987.  I was selling computers, and Cellular One was a big customer of our store (ComputerLand).  Back then, as a C1 vendor, we got a *great* deal - $7.95 a month for cellular plan, plus $0.65/minute local calls, plus long distance, plus roaming.  Some calls were $1.50 a minute - $15 for a 10 minute call.  Pretty steep for a guy making about $15,000 a year.  However, when I went off the freeway in the winter on I-96 in between Lansing and Farmington Hills, and a tow truck was there in 30 minutes, I vowed never to go without a cell phone again.  26 years later I have not broken that vow.

However, I frequently had $150 a month (or more) bills - just for my phone.  Now, $135 covers my iPhone (unlimited texting and data), much more sophisticated.  However, I have a new problem.

Our family plan has 1,400 minutes a month among 4 phones (under $250 for 4 phones all said and done), and any unused minutes roll over, expiring after 12 months.  That was great at first - many years ago, I actually dipped into my rollover minutes one month.  Once.  However now, mobile to mobile calling is free in US and Canada, and our A-List 10 numbers don't count, neither do evenings and weekends.  So basically calls during the day to non-A list and non-mobile (heck, everyone is mobile nowadays).  So I have been trying for a couple of months now to diligently use my cell phone for work calls, and use up those minutes.  Cause, you know, everyone texts, e-mails, or IM's nowadays instead of calling, so the rest of the family doesn't use very many minutes.

I am now 2/3 through this month's billing cycle, with less than 50% minutes consumed using my cell for conference calls, customer calls, and more.  It is really hard to dip into those minutes.

Great, except what I would really like to do is donate those minutes, like you can airline miles, to charity.  It would be great if I could go on AT&T's web site, and donate say 10,000 rollover minutes to Make A Wish Foundation, and AT&T would convert it to a cash value.  I don't even care if I can't write it off, just would like that to be able to do some good.

Does anyone know anyone at AT&T who might be in a position to make that happen?

Monday, July 8, 2013

All programmers are kids...

From a forum, got this memorable Geek quote:

All programers are kids :P we never grew up out of our sandbox.

-- Michael Wagner, Oro Valley, AZ

Friday, June 28, 2013

URGENT! HELP! iPhone Beta Won't Boot

I've been loosely following Apple's iOS 7 Beta Livability forum.  For those of you who have no clue what I mean, iOS is Apple's operating system to run iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches.  7 is the new version we developers are testing, that will be released this fall, and it is a major, complete rework.

So, in the great tradition of "Do you haz teh codez?" (minus the LOLcatz), I have now, as of today, seen 2 posts entitled something like URGENT HELP My phone won't boot.

In the first one, someone replied that Urgent and Beta in the same post were hilarious, and I agreed.  I admit fully, I put Beta on my phone that I rely on, but I fully expected to have some issues, and if they got too hairy, I would revert back to iOS 6.  (They haven't, and I haven't - the update is way too sweet, I won't go back without kicking and screaming!)

Some other posts are funny, but you have to understand this forum.  It is an Apple discussion forum, solely for the purposes of developers to discuss using iOS 7, and developing their apps and resolving issues with them.  However, it never fails, there are posts every day either ranting that there is something broken in iOS (hello, Beta - can you say Beta 1 and 2, not even Beta Gold pre-release?).  Or the posts cry about style, how the redesign is inconsistent, or not good.  Then there are what I imagine to be pimply teenagers with rage issues, who flame features or new concepts.

First of all, Apple doesn't even peruse this forum - it responds to Bug Reports filed in its bug reporting system, not a free-form discussion of God knows what.  Second, what do these people expect us to do about it?  Pull strings with our personal connection to Jony Ive?  Wait, I've got him on iMessage - darn iOS Beta, it crashes sending messages to him!!

Hilarious, but a bunch of noise for those of us trying to resolve serious issues.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Week on the new IOS 7

For those of you who missed the WWDC MMXIII keynote address last Monday, you could watch it on your Apple TV or online.  There was a lot of exciting new stuff and results discussed.  The new OS X Mavericks looks awesome, amazing statistics that confirm ongoing success of Apple products, and to me the end was a big dream come true - iOS in automotive!  However I'm going to focus on iOS, the mobile operating system.  First, I think it's worth pointing out a few points that Tim Cook made, then I will go into an overview of the new features (from someone who has been using it for a week), and finally a summary of my impression.

Data Points

  • 95% of iOS 6-capable devices are running iOS 6.  If you look at Android, fully 1/3 of Android devices are running an Android version that is 3 years old.  Only about 5% are running on the current version.
    • This is a nightmare for developers, who have to develop to a myriad of OS versions, let alone a myriad of device hardware configurations (hardware features, screen sizes, etc.)
    • This is bad for users, because the latest security patches (even more necessary on Android than iOS), features, performance enhancements, features - all are not available to the vast majority of Android users.
  • Of iOS vs. Android users, iOS users use the Internet 1.5x more than equivalent Android users.  That means, they are both using their devices more, and getting more use and value from them.
  • Because of all this usage and stronger customer relationship with Apple, iOS devices enjoy a large margin of customer satisfaction (JD Power award 9th consecutive year).  Unprecedented, and unrivaled.

My Summary of New Features

The underlying philosophy change in iOS 7 can basically be summed up in one word: simplify.  Simplify everything to as basically elegant a design as possible.  And yet, under the hood, everything is developed with even more sophistication, features, and capabilities.  This is the true art of creative innovation, to me.  If you can devise something that is even more clever, even more complex and sophisticated - and yet, even more simple and intuitive, you have stayed in the zone.

  1. Lock Screen
    • On iPhone 4S/5, you get a 3D parallax effect when you tilt the phone, that makes it look like the wallpaper is floating behind the rest of the items on the screen.  Cool.
    • Swipe the whole screen to unlock
    • When a notification pops up, you can slide just that notification to respond exactly to that one.  If you have a passcode, you will be prompted to unlock.
    • Beware: the "Slide to unlock" animation is very subtle, so you want to either choose a backdrop that doesn't cover it up, or modify one to reserve an area to make it more visible.
  2. Home Screen
    • Same 3D parallax effect with the wallpaper
    • Note the flat, simplified icons
  3. System-Wide: Notification Center and Control Center
    • Swipe down to get Notification Center as usual, but it is enhanced with better, more usable content.  You can look at upcoming calendar, weather, stocks, etc. (customizeable), as well as All, and Missed
    • Notification handling cloud synch - if you use the same iCloud account on multiple devices, when you respond to a notification, it marks that response on all devices.
    • Swipe up from the bottom of any screen (including Lock screen) to get the Control Center, a quick access to common controls like Airplane Mode, WiFi/Bluetooth on/off, etc.  (One wish: it was customizeable).  New:  Flashlight!  (I feel sorry for all those developers with Flashlight apps.)
  4. New built-in Apps
    • Calendar rocks - you can zoom out to the year
    • Music app - now plays iTunes Radio (like Pandora), plus you can stream your music right from iCloud instead of having to have it local.
    • Better navigation across albums
    • Missing the 5-star rating function, hopefully they put that back in before release
    • Phone app is actually a really cool, "basic" look and feel. The show-through colors from your wallpaper make it seem to match your mood better.
    • Friggin sweet Weather app with animations, again pinch to zoom out and see all your locations as an overview.
    • Upgrade on Safari simply rocks.  Unlimited tabs, better tab UI, synch of tabs across devices, Keychain (think passwords) synch, etc.
    • Photo app is simply breathtaking.  Finally, you browse your pictures the way you are thinking at the moment.  By event?  By face? By year/date? By location they were taken?  And it's easy to share (especially if you have newer devices and can use AirDrop).
  5. System-wide control flow
    • Swipe to the left to remove/throw out things, pinch to zoom out scale and more, and animated transitions give you a better sense of where you are going to and from, and how to get back.
  6. New App Switcher
    • Double-tap Home button, you get thumbnails of the running apps.  Swipe up to "throw out" an app.
    • True multitasking now allows all apps to continue to run in the background, with an intelligent resource manager that keeps good battery life.  They held off on it until they could get it right, without compromising the already short battery life.
  7. Search from Any Page
    • Finally, just pull down any home page to get a search bar.  No more having to swipe many times to the right, or home button again, then swipe right.  Very nice.
  8. Block Callers
    • I can't tell you for how many years this has bugged me!  You want to block that annoying text spam company? That "friend" you unfriended, who keeps calling you?  You can block phone calls and texts from individuals.
  9. Siri
    • Wow!!  Wow!!  Let me say it again.
    • The little voice wave at the bottom and the animations, it is really cool while still minimalist.
    • However, the biggest improvements here are truly epic:
      • Access to the phone ("Make it brighter", "Turn on Bluetooth", etc.)
      • Tap to edit - you can tap her textual interpretation of what you said, and edit it.  Brilliant (my definition of genius - you say "it should have been there all along" but you never thought of it)
      • You are supposed to be able to change voices on Siri - mail, female, multiple choices, other languages.  I haven't found how to do this yet, but it sounds intriguing.  One of the things I liked about MotionX was different voices to choose from.

My Impression

I have to admit, initially I really wanted to hate the new look - all flat, all the "real-world" look-alikes (stitches, wood, brushed aluminum, push buttons, etc.) gone to be replaced by muted colors, lack of borders, and the Contacts, for example, words on a blank white page.  However, I find that very quickly it has grown on me. The partial see-through screen sections give it a familiar feel to the wallpaper I set.  The animation transitions give me an instantly comfortable sense of where I am, where I am going, and how I got here, and how to get back.  It is amazingly well thought out.

And, the 3D parallax effect?  Epic.  Those of you with an iPhone 4, you'll have iOS 7 without the 3D.  Bummer.  Those of you on older devices?  Big bummer.  Big.

Now I need to make you aware of a strange phenomenon.  I initially found a lot of bugs, and the first night it crashed on me like 20 times or more.  I reported these bugs with Apple Bug Reporter.  It says, and I fully expect, no follow-up to the myriad of bugs I am sure are getting reported by the tens of thousands of bug reports every day.  However, most of them have simply gone away.  I suspect that either the OS fixed itself, or Apple pushed out updates (in priority order) behind the scenes.  Anyhow, it has only crashed itself once in the past couple of days, and is starting to work like a Released iOS, not a Beta 1.

FYI, that unbelievably cute picture on my wallpaper - my new nephew Isaac.  It is so cool that I can tip the phone to move the icons out of the way and see his face!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Loving Windows 8

Well, it finally has happened.  I met someone who absolutely loves Windows 8.  An IT guy no less, a programmer is definitely someone who would know.

It never fails with any product, you will always find someone who likes or even loves it.  And I figured with Windows it would be the same.  This comes on the heels of me reading this article yesterday on ZDNet, Microsoft is struggling to get Windows 8 adoption up to 5% of the market, while in the same time period, Apple has seen 35% adoption by OS X Mountain Lion, and just announced Monday OS X Mavericks.  Further, network web usage analytics show that:

  • Among all desktop, laptop, mobile and tablet computing devices, about 46% are Windows OS
  • Among mobile and tablet devices only, Windows OS is a mere 1.2%, while Windows 8 is too small to be counted (a small fraction of a percent)
My own personal experience with my circle of friends and colleagues, this guy is the first one I have met that hands down loves Windows 8.  Of course, he has not used OS X, and the enhancements that he has been talking about have been both standard in OS X for longer, and better implemented (i.e. more user-friendly and more widely applicable like full computer content searching).  Even the file tagging system as demonstrated Monday for OS X Mavericks is a thorough treatment of the subject within the operating system, rather than a partial implementation only in specific software suites (ala Microsoft Office).  In Mavericks (OS X 10.9), file tags are fully exposed to the operating system for browsing, graphical manipulating, and searching, and are not specific to certain applications.

So, Jesse, I am looking forward to some interesting conversations as I learn more about what makes Windows 8 so great.  It is absolutely possible that I have missed the true "grok" of Windows 8, since I have avoided it as the "odd" Windows Release.  Stranger in a Strange Land by (Google Affiliate Ad)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Internet: Going All Net for Entertainment and Communication

Installment 1 of 3 - TV

Right now, our family is grappling with the questions and logistics of going all Internet.  That is, what if we got rid of phone and replaced it with Internet?  (That one's pretty easy because we already have digital phone service, but has nuances as you'll see.)  What if we got rid of our Cable TV service, can we watch our shows solely on the Internet?

We are looking to reduce our bills.  We are sick of the game where you pay $140 a month for all 3, and after a year it jumps up to $210 - unless you call and threaten to disconnect, in which case they are authorized to offer you this deal to keep you - for another year.  Here's what we have found, and I think you'll agree there are some eye-openers.  My mother once (yeah, once!) said, "If it sounds too good to be true, it is."


In transitioning from traditional service sources of Cable TV and Digital or Land Line phone, it is important to consider how much more traffic (and eggs) you put in one wire (basket).  Therefore, you need to think about or experiment with Internet bandwidth.  Pay attention to Upload and Download speeds - Download is important for watching shows and consuming data, but Upload is important for me because I work from home and frequently send large files.

18 Mbps is the fastest service in my area from AT&T, for about $62 per month with taxes and fees, no discount, not bundled with any other service.  They of course offer discount packages so it ends up being just over half that for the first year, but that is a lot less than the U-Verse U300 bundle for $140 discounted rate.

If we are to truly "cut the cord" with TV and Phone, then we need to ensure we have good Internet for all the services.  U-Verse gave us 2 dedicated DSL lines to our house; Comcast Xfinity had a wire shared by the street, so that when the neighbors got on and did a lot, it slowed us down.  I have been streaming movies heavily for a year, and had (2) VOIP phone lines for a long time, doing Web meetings with screen sharing, and more with no issues.  It is feasible.

Home Network

Don't forget that a lot of your experience with speed has to do with the equipment in your home.  I had an old Linksys 802.11g router, which gives on a good day about 10 Mbps.  I upgraded earlier for about $90 to a D-Link dual-band 802.11n router, which is about 250Mbps over the air - much faster.  However, it is dual band (more about that in a minute), and most importantly, the Ethernet wire port on it is Gigabit.  If you don't have Gigabit network in your house to connect everything else, it gets slow (assuming you are using wires somewhere).  I bought some 5-port Gigabit switches for about $20-$30 each, Gigabit network cards for the PC's when I had them for about $5-$10 each, and voila, Gigabit.

The dual band router gives me 2 broadcast frequencies at 2.4GHz and 5GHz, so it effectively gives me 2 WiFi SSID names.  I segregated my Set Top Boxes (Apple TV's, XBox 360) to the 5GHz band, and put computers and tablets/phones on the 2.4 (some of that was hardware related, since the iPhone and iPad don't connect to 5GHz frequencies probably to conserve battery).

So streaming videos to Apple TV from my cloud drive on the network doesn't interfere with streaming videos from the Internet to a phone or tablet - segregated networks.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Why Windows?

Tell me again - why Windows?  Today I was trying to do what I thought would be a basic, simple task.  Take a picture from the integrated camera.  Simple, right?  So, how do you do that in Windows?  Hmm, let's see.
  • Paint - no, doesn't have anything to take a picture.
  • I know, Start, then search for camera.  That shows the devices.
  • How about search for webcam?  Devices.  Nothing to let me take the pic.
  • My old friend Google produced this - a person who asks the same question.  Look at the answers he gets, I mean really, is it that hard to take a picture from the webcam in Windows?  One guy suggests a screen shot (snipping tool), doh!  One guy says "use the software that comes with your computer" - doh!  This is a Lenovo,  so let's go to Thinkpad Productivity Center.  Hmm, wireless, powering on and off radios, device configuration, help and support.  Nope.
  • Oh, I know, Skype uses the camera.  And?  No tools to take a pic, just take a damned picture!  Really, guys?
So, fumbling around, and I guess I have to find some software, download and install it, just to take a *$%&#$ picture.  How do I do it?
  1. Take a picture with my iPhone
  2. E-mail it, or file in my Dropbox folder that is synched to my PC
  3. Open from my PC

If that were the only thing, it would be frustrating.  But that is indicative of everything in Windows, just about.  There are a few intuitive things, but overall - klunky.  And people call this multimedia, advanced?  I have been struggling the same for years with how to scan from the scanner.  You need some special software, hopefully provided by the scanner manufacturer.  I first tried to use the scanner on Windows at home about 3-4 years ago, never did figure out how to get my wife's HP laptop to scan from the Canon WiFi all-in-one.  So, I got her a Macbook Pro.  Problem solved.

With the Mac, you don't have to think about it.  Any software, you want to make a PDF?  Just print, and on the standard Print dialog is Save as PDF.  You want to scan?  Just run the built-in Preview app and import from scanner, or most graphical software provides scan functionality.  You want to take a pic?  Any graphics app you can just import from the scanner, camera, etc.  And people say a Mac costs a lot?  I'd rather have a used, 5-year-old Mac than a brand new Windows PC.  How's that for someone who's used Macs for 3.5 years, and Windows for 25 years?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Calling All Geeks - Submit your entries for Error Message Hall of Fame!

 Entry #1: CATIA / SmarTeam "Dead lock" error

Yes, I have finally done it.  I have finally decided to start an Error Hall of Fame (or Shame?).  Have you ever been scratching your head trying to figure out what that incomprehensible error message means?  Ever seen one that simply makes you laugh out loud (literally, not just "lol")?

(Apollo landing computer infamous for Error 1202 that almost aborted the landing mission)

I am soliciting your input - what criteria should we capture?  Do you have any nominees for Best and Worst Error Messages?  Here is what I am thinking about for data to capture:
  • Software and version
  • Title
  • Content
  • Cause
  • Fixes (if known)
  • Helpfulness - on a scale of 0 (total obfuscation) to 10 (totally clear)
  • Narrative or commentary
Here are the Acceptance Criteria for a submission to be inducted:
  1. The error must occur in software.
  2. There must be a recorded component - spoken errors like on a phone system can be recorded as a digital sound file, screen video or screen grabs are best.
  3. You must include all information, especially the software and version.  If it is very esoteric or obscure, perhaps the software manufacturer as well.
  4. If the cause is not known, put Unknown.
  5. If fixes are not known, put Unknown.
  6. E-mail them to

Send me your suggestions - attach screen shots or recordings whenever possible.

Our first entry:
  • Software:  CATIA V5R20 and SmarTeam V5R20
  • Title:   CATIA / SmarTeam "Dead lock" error
  • Content:  SmarTeam Error(4). Dead lock.
  • Cause:  Unknown, thought to occur with frequent Connect and Disconnect from SmarTeam
  • Fixes:  End Process on CNEXT and SMARTEAM, restart apps.
  • Helpfulness:  1
  • Commentary:  Because the term "deadlock" is meaningful in computer science, I don't rate this error as a 0 Helpfulness.  It does help that we know there is a deadlock.  Somewhat.  OK, not really, but it kind of tells us something better than other entries.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

iPad vs. Leappad, who is better for the munchkins?

Over the holidays, my 3.5 year old got a Leappad for a gift. As a tech savvy guy he is already familiar with iPad and iPhone so this was no big stretch. However I have been struck by a few glaring differences.

  • Market - As you may know, iPad has already sold over 100 million devices as of October 2012; I highly doubt Leap has even come close to 10% of that. Then, as they say, along came the iPad mini.  iPad is targeted at basically everyone, while Leappad is targeted at toddlers and young kids.
  • Usability is comparable, with the Leap device dumbed down for the wee ones.Where my toddler has "issues" is in his random exploration of the interface - randomly launching apps, randomly tapping this and that.  The Leappad is tightened up so he can't change WiFi settings or something destructive like that.
  • Price is quite disparate. The iPad options start at what, $250 and up? Leappad II was about $100. Definitely much better for ages 3-8.  While the target market demands a more rugged product, there was nothing we could do for our Leappad to protect it from a 3-year-old breaking its glass.  iPad at least has the availability (for more $$ of course) to purchase rugged cases that can withstand spills and impacts.
  • Manageability - and by this I mean ability to back up, transfer apps, etc. iTunes is a premier complete package for managing your devices. Apple has a well known universe for their devices. Leap has an app you download on your computer that gives you an App Store, but here's how our experience went. The device came with coupons to download free apps. So we did, and bought a couple. Prices were a lot more than Apple apps, $15-20. Elliott broke his Leappad (it has a plastic body, and glass screen), so they replaced it under warranty. However, when we got the new one, the apps didn't transfer.  So the apps we downloaded as software were not usable on the new device.  Only the cartridges that you plug into the top were transferable.
  • Tech Support - Apple is well-known for creating raving fans.  Leap - they need to go to Apple school.  We got the replacement unit (with the unbroken glass) and couldn't transfer the apps we had bought.  Their attitude was, sorry, that's how it works, when we called them and spent hours on the phone waiting on hold, explaining, and finally complaining that we spent the money and couldn't transfer the software apps we downloaded under our account.  It's like they mate you with a device for life, never expecting you to upgrade or replace it!
  • Company - Leapfrog (NYSE: LF) has been around for almost 20 years precisely in the business of portable kid-friendly devices.  Stock is around $8/share, $574M market cap.  Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) has been specifically in this business for 4 years, and is way down to $450/share, $424B market cap.  More than 50x share price, 1000x market cap.  20 years, 4 years (for tablets that is).
  • Pudding - As in, the proof's in the.  Now that he has had the Leappad for 5 months, what have I seen?  He uses it very infrequently.  You have to find some special charger to charge it up, you can't just use a standard USB adapter.  The number, variety, and price of games means we just can't afford to constantly buy apps for it - while a bunch of free and less-than-$5 apps for iOS means we use it constantly.  Since his tastes vary, he sometimes plays with the Leappad, but primary prefers the iPad.  The Prince Has Spoken.
  • Conclusion
    • Admittedly LeapPad II is an inexpensive device.  If you are getting a device for a small child, perhaps that is a consideration.  However the quality, support, price and availability of apps, range of options and accessories, support, compatibility, support, transportability and wide-ranging use, resale value, support, long-term viability, and did I say support?  For all that, I think I'm going to recommend sticking with Apple.  Even over Android tablets, which are more competitive on the other features.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Searching Woes in Windows

Is it me?  Am I the only one?  For a long time, I used Google Desktop to index and search my PC.  It made me very productive - where was that e-mail or file or whatever with a person's name, a customer's name, and some function call in it?  Instant results, most information on my desktop indexed.  Yes, the index file was gigabytes.  Yes, when it got big, often the index got corrupted and I had to delete and reindex.  But it worked, and search results were fast.  They were integrated with Google website, so I can just do one search, and the results from my desktop or web based on what I choose.  Awesome.  Then, they discontinued it!  Why?  Because Microsoft included a new Windows Search.  But of course, like all things Microsoft, it is poorly implemented, and it sucks rotten eggs.

So, yes, you can download the last version of GD, but of course no improvements in the past few years or ever. I assume it will eventually stop working on later versions of Windows.  So what are the alternatives?  For a while, I used Exalead Desktop, who also mysteriously one day gave up the Desktop version.  Copernic didn't work at all for me, plus it is loaded with advertisements that take over your computer (so much for free).  Plus, Copernic search terms are very difficult to use, and not very flexible like Google searches.

So let's examine what exactly is wrong with the Windows Search feature:
  • Doesn't index network drives
  • It is folder-centric; that is to say, first, the search window only appears in the Windows Explorer window.  Second, when you do a search, it occurs within the folder.
  • It is app-centric; on the Start menu, the search only searches for application names and document file names, not even document contents.
  • Advanced searches with multiple and complex expressions? Fugghedaboudit. 
  • It doesn't search everything. And I also use gmail, so it doesn't search the online as well as offline in the same query. 
Typically, how do users use a search?
  • Why do you search?  Because you can't remember what folder you put it in, or what you called the file.  But you may remember when you did it, or some key words that are in it.
  • How do you search?  By some word, phrase, name, or date, or combination thereof.
  • Where do you search?  You may search your entire knowledge store (everything that is mine).  You may limit your search to a location - perhaps a drive, a folder, or even a computer on which you know it resides.  You may restrict by type of data (file type, e-mail message, text message, chat log, etc.).
Google Desktop is still the most fantastic search engine - it is Google for your desktop.  It searches across Outlook and GMail, as well as files.  However, it lacks a central repository for "all my info" across devices, across computers.  And, most importantly, it lacks the support of the developer.  I would suggest to an entrepreneur to raise capital and offer to buy Desktop from Google, and put it out as your own product.  I think there's a market, even on the Mac.  If you can integrate with Spotlight, or make a side-by-side product (pull-down in the menu bar like Spotlight, that replaces it), that would be the ultimate.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Is Microsoft Stealing Apple's Patents?

Over the years, we have watched Windows develop into what it is today.  Microsoft has added some really useful and nice features.  However, many of these features were already in the Macintosh OS X (or other operating systems) before they came out in Windows.  Of course, long-time readers of my blog know what I think of Windows.  Let's take a look:
  • Show a "dock" of applications in a bar on the bottom, with a mixture of shortcuts and running apps.  This first appeared in Windows with Vista, where you can "pin" apps to the task bar, circa 2007.  It was always a part of Mac OS X, first released around 2001.
  • Search feature on the Start menu first appeared also with Vista (2007), this allows you to type the name of the app to launch, and does a quick search on document file names as well.  Mac Spotlight first announced June 2004 and released in April 2005.  However, Spotlight is much more comprehensive than both the start menu, and the Windows search feature (really!?  12 steps to make it work kind of like the Mac!!??).  It is both rolled into one, and searches all forms of data on your system including e-mails, file contents, and more - in one, simple, global magnifying glass on your system bar.
  • Windows Store is now in Windows 8 (2012), where users can go to an app to buy more apps from both Microsoft and other developers.  Apple introduced the Mac App Store with OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard in January 2011 (almost 2 years earlier); Ubuntu Software Centre was introduced with Ubuntu back in 2008 or earlier.
  • Secure Installation - Secure software installation was introduced with Windows Vista (2007), where even though you were an administrator, you still had to accept software installation.  Problem is, the prompts are so frequent and annoying, and limited in scope only to software installations, that they are pretty much useless.  Mac has had secure system changes including installations since OS X introduction (2001), which more broadly cover securing the system from invalid changes, not just software installations.  With OS X 10.8 (Spring 2012), they now add the ability to restrict apps that are signed by Apple, for organizations who have obtained valid licenses to develop software, and passed the Apple App Store review for safety and security.
Just these few features show that Windows has been about last to adopt what the rest of the industry has already considered standard fare, while doing so in a haphazard and incomplete fashion.  But if you have followed Microsoft throughout its history, you would know it is not an innovator.  Products like SQL Server (its database engine) and Visual BASIC (and Visual Studio) were acquired through purchases of the innovating company who developed them, graphical features of Word, Excel, and others were ripped from competitors WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 at a time when WordPerfect and Lotus were not very litigious (and indeed software patents were not as prevalent as today).

Now, I would be the first to tell you that the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is completely overwhelmed and over its head when it comes to software technology.  They haven't the slightest clue of how to police the patents.  An NPR story that first aired in 2011, When Patents Attack, exposes in great depth the shortcomings of the USPTO, and particular "patent trolls" who make money off of hoarding patents and suing others.  Their research has shown that about 33% of USPTO software patents granted, actually conformed to the "uniqueness" requirement.  2/3 of the software patents issued were non unique, public knowledge, and thus not patentable.  But that is besides the point.

It seems that most people are fooled into thinking that Microsoft is a big innovator.  In fact, I might be wrong, but I can't think of a single innovation throughout their history - unless you count the innovation of digital and distribution rights, and the innovative ways in which they have sued their competition.  Or, the innovative way in which they avoided complying with the US Department of Justice suit in which they had to provide customers with an alternative to Internet Explorer.

Friday, April 12, 2013

MailBox - is it worth the wait?

I read the buzz about DropBox buying MailBox, and was wondering is it really that good?  So I downloaded the free app - only to find out they don't activate it until they add the infrastructure to support the volume.  And, there were about 580,000 people ahead of me!  The numbers were going down about 1 a second, so I thought it shouldn't take too long.  Got slower as time went on, and it was 2 weeks before I could use the app I had downloaded.  So much for instant gratification!

Was it worth the wait?  YES!  (Spoilers...)  So what's so darned great?  I mean, the mail app that comes with iOS is pretty good, and offers some great features.  But, let's face it, it really hasn't been updated since what, iOS 2 or 3?  And we are on 6, on the cusp of 7.  So what's so great about this app?

First, the limitation - if you call it that.  It only works on GMail accounts.  I have been a GMail user for I don't know, perhaps 8 years or more?  GMail is certainly the most reliable, portable, and works with a variety of services like calendar, cloud storage, and more.  So for me it was a very easy choice.

Second, the results.  After years and thousands of messages, my Inbox is clean!  I always hung onto e-mails with the intention of reading them later, or keeping them for records.  Still, it was a losing struggle - until now.  How, you might ask?

We get into the features.


  • Easy yet powerful gestures for managing messages.  These gestures mean that you don't need buttons taking up room on the screen, and also that managing the messages are both intuitive and fast.
    • With a simple swipe to the right, you archive your message.
    • With a longer swipe to the right, you delete the message.
    • Swipe left to file for later.
    • Swipe longer left to put in a folder.
  • Floating buttons appear when needed to reply or forward
  • Very fast operation
  • File for Later is very powerful - you can put e-mails off until tomorrow, next week, or specific dates.  They will be out of your Inbox until that date arrives.

  • Clean, elegant, and productive interface for managing messages.
  • Price is right.  ¥0.0
  • Recognition of content elements within message, like phone numbers, addresses, and dates to create calendar entries.
  • Integration of calendar entries with Fantastical, the best calendar app for iOS. 
  • The Compose screen is simplified, elegant, and very useful.  Streamlined and minimalist.

  • Absolutely LOVE the message reading functionality.  Because messages are grouped in threads, you are reading the thread.  When you tap an individual message, it pops up to the right (shifting the thread left and behind).  You can then swipe it off to the right to return to the thread.

Issues and Limitations

Without a doubt, they have nowhere to go but up.  Any app cannot be perfect (except perhaps Skyview), so I hope they do correct these limitations.
  • For wider appeal, support of Exchange accounts, and perhaps even POP.  Although, I don't know if that would provide message thread grouping.  Right now, I use Apple mail app for my work address, and use this one for my personal.  (Unless I can convince my company to switch from Office 365 to Google mail...)
  • No reporting of spam
    • One of the things I love with GMail is the fantastic spam filters.  However, the problem with using it on non-Google mail clients like iPhone Mail App is the few messages that make it through the spam filter, you can't flag them as spam to improve the algorithm.  This means I have to jump to the mobile mail client (web browser), which is nowhere near as good for reading and managing the messages.
  • No support of other browsers - especially Chrome for iOS.  When I hold down on a link, I want to see "Open in Chrome" if I have it installed.
  • Improved handling of multiple messages
    • Right now, you can do the same swipes on a bottom inbox count line to move all of the messages somewhere (archive, delete, later, tag folder).  However, I may not want to do the same on all, only some, and definitely it only works if there are a small number of messages in your Inbox.
    • Instead, they should move to an Edit / Checkmark / Swipe storyboard, or perhaps a multi-finger swipe and all the messages under your fingers are swiped.
  • No "reader" button for HTML messages
    • Like Safari on iOS, it would render the message with larger font, remove extra columns (like the ones with ads), and just narrow down the important text, images, and links.
  • No "print" function, especially using AirPrint.  I don't know if anyone is using Google Cloud Print, but that is really not as important as AirPrint.
  • No "Save to PDF" function, if this supported Google Drive, DropBox - that would be the ultimate.