Monday, August 28, 2006

This week in Apple

I am expecting Apple to announce Merom (Intel Core 2 Duo) - based systems within 3 weeks at maximum. Possibly as soon as tomorrow. Intel officially announced the chips today, and several manufacturers have already announced their Merom notebooks.

Why is there a windows of several weeks in my guess? Well, it's a balancing act. If Apple has enough chips on-hand to start launching systems (a week's delay or so at most), then they'll announce. They really don't like to have a dry product pipeline, so they probably won't announce anything early. Most of today's announcements quoted 2nd half of September ship times. Apple is probably still getting some preferential treatment from Intel, so we'll see. Apple launches are on Tuesdays, so if tomorrow morning the Apple Store has a "closed for renovations" page up then you know it's coming.

My guess: MacBook Pro updates either tomorrow or next Tuesday. Nothing major other than the chip upgrade and a Rev.B logic board. iMac updates follow within a week of the MacBook Pro, and maybe alongside it. The mini and MacBook stick with Core Duo (prices on the 32-bit chips have declined), but get speedbumped by Columbus Day. Sometime before Christmas Apple upgrades all Macs to 1GB minimum RAM.

A future revision to the MacBook and mini (probably not concurrent with the first speedbump) may add a separate graphics processor. I'm not certain of it, but as chip costs decline it's an obvious way to add performance without hurting margins.

Fiasco?

I'm a little torn about the current slate of battery recalls that Dell (and now Apple) have announced. Even though on the surface it looks like a QC issue for the companies themselves, I think it might be more of an opportunity - and so far Apple is doing a slightly better job of managing it.

Here's why. In the modern world, everything is made by a subcontractor - and Sony is the subcontractor that made the LiIon cells that turned out to have metal contamination (which is why they're being recalled - metal could lead to a short in the battery cell). Apple clearly stated that Sony made the batteries in question (passing the buck, but it works), and made a simple procedure for exchange. They are promising long delivery times, though, which could be a problem if they come true. When my MacBook Pro battery was recalled a month ago (not for safety, though), I had a replacement on-hand in two days. If they can come close to that on the new recall, it's probably a net win for Apple from a customer service perspective.

In Dell's case, they had their recall announced on the heels of a slew of bad news. It also took them a while to get the recall up to speed, though now they have a simpler method of determining whether a battery is affected - a basic chart of numbers and a picture guide of how to look it up on the battery pack. Dell sells many more models than Apple, so they have a much wider array of possibly affected models and don't bother looking for a Mac serial number to help determine whether a computer is affected.

Ultimately, if both companies (and any others who use Sony LiIon cells) can simply get the batteries replaced fast, it'll be no more than a minor bump on the road for them. Sony, on the other hand, really can't afford this embarassment right now (with the PS3 launch looming), and could be taking a big hit from this.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Fixing the Chase

NASCAR's Chase for the Cup is about to enter it's third year. The format is simple: the top ten in points, plus anyone within 400 points of the leader are in contention for the championship - everyone else is just racing (they reset the points with ten races to go to mathematically prevent anyone else from winning) for a paycheck. Well, in all three years we have some seeming injustices going into the Chase; it's obvious that the format needs tweaking to open it up a little, but how to keep it from being a free-for-all?

The Charlotte Observer's David Poole has been thinking about it, too, and today he wrote an interesting column about it. The basic conclusion: Stick with the top 10 after 26 races. But add anyone within 200 points of 10th place (making it likelier that folks can race their way in), and also allow anyone with 2 or more victories into the Chase. That would most likely expand the field to around 13-15 drivers most years at most, and make it less likely that a single bad day (a blown motor, or being caught up in someone else's wreck) would knock a driver out of contention. Right now, everyone from 4-11 in the standings is racing as conservatively as possible so as not to blow their chances of making the playoff - meanwhile beyond them only the drivers in 12th (Biffle) and 13th (Edwards) have even a dim chance of making it in. Under the changes Poole proposes (and I like), Kahne (11th, 90 points out) would be in right now, Biffle and Kurt Busch would be a win away from cliching a spot (each has one win), and Edwards and Biffle would both have a good chace to make it in on points (Biffle, in 12th, is 251 points out of 10th, Edwards only 10 points behind him). Only a minor tweak, for the most part.

I've only watched Cup racing for a few years, but I've noticed one thing. There are, according to the roster on Yahoo Sports, 69 drivers as of right now who have had at least one Cup start this season (there are 43 spots in each race - the top 35 cars in owner points make it in each week plus 8 cars out of the rest that can qualify on speed). 33 drivers have started every race - 4 more have started at least 20 of the 24 races to date (5 more are in double-digits - the rest are mainly scrubs, part-timers, or specialists in a particular course type). However, No driver farther back than 14th in the standings (Kurt Busch) has a win (Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, and Kasey Kahne have 4 wins each), and other than Kahne, Tony Stewart (in 8th right now) is the farthest back in the standings with multiple (2) wins. Two drivers currently in the Chase (Jeff Burton in 7th and Mark Martin in 10th) have no wins but have been consistent enough to stay near the top all season. In fact, other than Boris Said (44th in the standings, but he's only run 4 races so far, two of which are road races), no driver farther back than 21st (Elliott Sadler) even has a pole!

The point here is that the strong drivers don't go much farther back than 10 spots anyways, so changing the formula to potentially add a handful of drivers isn't likely to screw things up at all.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The test

Assume, for a moment, that you are a wrestling fan (since I am, that part is easy). For those of us who enjoy the sport, the most entertaining wrestlers in the last 20-odd years list would incude Ric Flair and Kurt Angle. They're up around the top of my list, but they'd be somewhere high up on almost any fans' lists. Now, assume you can travel through time and put together a triple-threat match (three wrestlers in the ring at once), and I got to pick the first two - and I picked Flair from around 1990 (he was about 40 then, and at his peak) and the Angle of 2001 - before his chronic injuries started to take a toll on his in-ring style.

Now, here's the test of how good a wrestler is. If you had the aforementioned triple-threat, and Wrestler X was the third man, would you:

(1) Travel to the arena to see it, no matter where?

(2) Go get a ticket if it were in your area?

(3) Order the pay-per-view eagerly?

(4) Order it reluctantly?

(5) Watch it if it were a free TV match?

(6) Watch it if you had nothing better to do?

(7) Change the channel because you can't stand the third guy?

(8) Or travel to the arena in the hopes you might be able to wing a bottle at the third guy?

To me, for instance, if Chris Benoit was in that match as the third man, I'd probably go get a ticket to see that show (2). Were it the Blackhole of Suck that is Randy Orton, it would be either (6) or (7), with an outside possibility of (8) if I'd had a bad week. Were Eddie Guererro still alive and at his best, it might be (1). Almost any wrestler's skill and charisma can be tested using this guide. I mean it.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Sports Fest?

After a very good outing at the MIT Flea yesterday (I sold an old iPod and 4 of my 6 PDAs - the only things I have left now are my Treo and a Newton 2100 that you'll have to pry from my cold dead fingers), I returned home around noon with a wallet full of cash and time to kill before Jane and David return today from a visit to her parents in New Jersey.

So did I go out and buy a bunch of new gizmos? Nope.

Did I go out to a nudie bar? Heck, no! (I'm not even interested in that scene)

Did I buy the WWE Summerslam pay-per-view, or better still, go into Boston and pick up a ticket? Nope.

What I did was read the newspaper, watch the Cup race on TV, head out to look for a decent fan for downstairs at the end of summer (no luck, though), and go to bed before 9. No Summerslam. No Sox game (all for the better - they're cooked now. No chance left at all). Just more sleep than I've had in weeks. It was nice.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

What Mac would you buy right now?

Not for nothing, but if I were in the market for a Mac, I would buy a Mac Pro without hesitation (if I ran a lot of stuff in Rosetta, I might even spring for the $800 processor upgrade), I'd buy a MacBook if I needed a low-end portable, and if I needed an entry-level desktop I'd buy any Mac mini above the bottom one (the Core Solo chip is mediocre). And I can't speak for Apple, but I think I might be inclined to wait a few weeks to buy either an iMac or a MacBook Pro... Intel's Conroe (64-bit Core2 Duo) is shipping now, and pretty much any good "Yonah"-based (the original Core Duo) computer will upgrade to Core2 Duo by around Labor Day.

Coincidentally, Yonah is in all the Intel Macs (except for Mac Pro) so far...

I have no inside info, but this is kind of a no-brainer. The Mac updates next month will offer slightly more performance (both in raw clock speed and in performance per watt), and 64-bit computing. I'd wait if I were you.

Toast

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2006 Boston Red Sox season ended today. Losing three in a row by lopsided scores will do that to you. The Sox are now 3.5 games out and have a very good chance of being swept. As I mentioned a few posts ago, it's just that they've lost too many players to stay afloat. So let's start thinking ahead to 2007 - and see who is likely to be vanishing this offseason:

Mark Loretta: Gone. He's a very talented player, providing solid defense and better-than-expected offense, but he's a free agent and the Sox have the highly regarded Dustin Pedroia coming up to fill the roster spot.

Trot Nixon: Also a free agent, he's got talent and he's a fan favorite, but he's going to be too pricey and he breaks down every year. Unless he takes a steep discount, to stay here, he's gone. Wily Mo Peña is the right fielder of the future (with possible help from Eric Hinske).

Matt Clement: He won't walk away and retire - there's too much money on the table (2 more years) for that. But he's toast. Too much of a headcase to pitch here, and damaged goods now on top of it. He'll be shipped with cash to the National League where he can pitch to Triple-A batters. The worst free agent signing of the Theo Era.

Keith Foulke: He's lost his arm, the fans can't stand him, and he's only got an option year left on his contract. I think he'll quietly go away after the season. He may come back to finish his deal if he pitches well over the next month, though.

The two Alexes (Cora and Gonzalez): One of them will leave in the offseason - probably Gonzalez. He's played well enough to earn a multi-year deal, and probably won't get it here.

Gabe Kapler: He'll be back, I think. He's a great team guy, a decent defensive player, he's fairly cheap, and he's a fan favorite. I think he's in the Tim Wakefield "as long as he wants to play here, and he's got the skills to do it, he can stay" category.

Tim Wakefield: He'll return, if only because he doesn't want to go out this way. I think he'll play two more years.

Curt Schilling: If he can get to 20 wins this season, and pitch two more quality years, he goes into the borderline Hall category. He'll keep playing, and he'll do it here. One year left on his current deal, I think.

Julian Tavarez: Gone. Don't let the door hit you in the kiester on the way out, either.

Mike Timlin: His mouth still writes checks his arm can't cash anymore. I think he's done.

David Wells: Done. Retirement time.

The biggest off-season needs? Pitching, of course (we need a starter and lots of bullpen help), and a reliable 5 hitter. There should be enough cash freed up with some of these departures to make some medium-impact signings in the free agent market. Between that and the continued maturation of the rookie pitchers, the team should contend next year as well. My major hope is that Jonathan Papelbon can move back into the starting rotation where, long-term, he belongs. Papelbon can be the anchor of the rotation for the next ten years if all goes well.

Waiting for Godot

When I'm on the road, I mainly listen to the local Air America affiliate (they run the AA schedule, except for the syndicated Stephanie Miller and Ed Schultz shows). As fits their lower position in the ratings (and radio in general), they run a lot of ads from slightly shady outfits. One of the latest techniques I've seen has been used with several different products and services (real estate, family history, etc.). During the ad, they phrase it to seem that it's a new news release, and then they say that "if your name starts with A-N (or another mid-pack letter), call today. If your name starts with O-Z, you can call tomorrow".

I know that's supposed to create a sense of urgency, but what if you're really dumb and want to buy their product - and your name is something like Wyman Zelkowitz? (I know, if he were real dumb he wouldn't be listening to AAR) Do you wait forever? Since the next morning you'll hear the same ad again, does the clock reset at that point?

Not that I'd ever buy what they sell, but my last name starts with T. Obviously, they don't want me as a customer!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Conceding one point

As much as I utterly detest GWB and the entire administration, I'm going to concede them one point on one subject. Unlike virtually the entire civilized world, Bush understands on a gut level why there is no real political solution to the current Israel-Hezbollah conflict. Unfortunately, I think he understands it because of his own millennial worldview - when you think the book of Revelations is literal, you recognize other fanatics.

The fundamental problem is this: Hezbollah (and Hamas, down on the southern frontier) don't believe Israel has a right to exist. Period. So for them, any truce, any cease-fire, is simply a temporary bump in the road towards their overall goal. Israel's main objective is to simply exist. Sure, more territory would have been nice, but secure, defensible borders is more important to them as a political reality. And that's the problem in a nutshell.

Sure, Israel has done a lot of not-nice things over the years. And will continue to do so. But people who claim legitimacy for the terrorist organizations at their frontiers, or expect truces to hold should remember - despite their sins, the Israeli government is a democratically elected government that represents a plurality of the voters in a nation-state that was created as a result of an act of the United Nations, granting it legitimacy. Hamas and Hezbollah are organizations who are devoted to using terror techniques to try and meet their perceived religious mandate to make Israel vanish.

As a result, there is no conventional solution. Eventually, either one side has to win definitively (and even though it means killing thousands upon thousands of people, I think it's likelier that Israel will eventually prevail that way), or the Arab and Islamic states that host the terror groups will someday grow a pair and destroy these groups themselves. If the shell of a Lebanese Army had pushed Hezbollah away from the border years ago then their entire nation wouldn't have been bombed back into the Stone Age over the last several weeks.

And that's the reality that, shockingly, GWB seems to understand.

(or else he has some actual smart people explaining it to him using small words)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Not good

I won't say to stick a fork in them yet, but I think the Red Sox may have lost one too many players to injury this season to win. As tough a time as the Yankees had without Sheffield and Matsui, and as inconsistent as Johnson has been, they still have had a generally solid rotation and bullpen. The Sox, on the other hand, have had 60% of their projected starting rotation on the DL (Wells, Clement, and Wakefield), and they've lost 4 of their position players for extended periods (Crisp, Peña, Nixon, and Varitek). And both Foulke and Timlin have spent time on the DL - two people who are bullpen mainstays. I think that's just too many. Jonathan Papelbon has been lights-out as a closer (despite blowing his last two saves), but he was expected to be a part of the rotation.

Remember, during spring training the Sox had so much starting pitching available that they shipped Arroyo to Cincinnati to get Wily Mo Peña in the first place. They had no idea there would be this many injuries, of course. Nobody did.

The bright side is that they've managed to develop 4 players who were not figured to be significant factors this year - all of whom are good young pitchers: Papelbon, Manny Delcarmen, Craig Hansen, and Jon Lester. That helps a lot, and there are some position players in the pipeline for next year as well.

They still have a chance - if they can stay close for the next week or two, they get some players back soon (Wakefield and Nixon are hopefully going to be back in about 2 weeks, and a couple more project to return soon), which helps. But right now they've lost 4 in a row for what I think is the first time this year (and to Tampa and KC, of all teams!). This has to get fixed first.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Announcement Summary

No big surprises from Apple today - they did, as I expected, add built-in video to the Xserve. Good move - that frees up both slots for cards (for instance, a SCSI card to run a tape drive and an FC card for your Xserve RAID). It also has 750 GB drives as an option, and either SAS or SATA attachment. And PCI Express is now the standard as well. Most importantly, there's now an option for redundant power supplies. The only disappointment to Xserve is that we can't get them until October - I believe it's due to timing issues in porting Tiger Server's tools over. The hardware is ready.

Mac Pro is pretty much all that is expected. No surprises, other than that it's a little cheaper than I figured that they'd skew. Leopard Server will be the shiznitz (more importantly, it adds a calendar server). And in the third-party arena, VMware announced their port to Intel Macs, Microsoft confirmed the death of Virtual PC (why bother porting it, when Parallels is shipping and VMware is on the way?), and playing the role of Adobe (see my prediction post) was Quark, announcing the shipment of version 6.01 as a Universal Binary (and giving them a golden opportunity to knock out InDesign).

Look for Core 2 Duo product upgrades across the rest of the Mac line over the next month. I wouldn't hold off purchases for the most part, though. If you're looking for a PowerMac G5, you can still get them for now as well.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Neville Chamberlain

My wife means well, but she's an appeaser of the worst sort (I engage in hyperbole here). Our son has developed an annoying habit of late - crawling into our bed sometime around 5AM or so most mornings and bunking down with his bear in between us. He sleeps at first - so quietly that we don't even notice his arrival most of the time.

Then he starts getting restless. He squirms. He shoves. He burrows. And we wake up and try and figure out what to do. The last few nights, Jane's had a plan that she thought would help: she told David that if he wouldn't make room in our bed, she'd go sleep in his bed. Which she then does.

And about 30 seconds later, he takes off and follows her. Which gets him what he wanted all along - mommy sleeping in his bed. It gets me something I don't mind, at that (a queen bed all to myself for an hour or so), but it's still appeasement...

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