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)?