Friday, December 31, 2010

Adios to another year - it didn't suck as bad as the last one

The good: My business recovered and even kinda improved. Health has been good for all three of us. I was able to get my act together and lose over 30 pounds through hard exercise and eating less. We're done with expensive home renovation projects for a while to come.

The bad: A lot of health issues in our extended families. Particularly my wife's. Between that and work, we didn't get to take a single vacation as a family this year. My wife went to her folks when her father was injured and wound up missing the annual Martha's Vineyard trip. I was busy enough to skip the Cape May trip. We did an overnight in Plymouth at the beginning of December - that was it. In other words, from a family perspective, 2010 was the Year Of Everybody But Us. I hope to fix that next year.

I have a lot of great long-term clients that we've been fortunate enough to retain. Towards the end of the year, I picked up one that was a total douchebag, but we're out of that toxic technical relationship (FYI, Mac menus are NOT the same as Windows, you tool), and what's left is good. We've even got an opportunity to expand the database/CRM business that we're taking.

In the rest of things - looks like people in hell may be about to get their sweaters on, because there just may be a CDMA iPhone about to happen. I still won't be convinced until the day it announces, but two things changed this year that have made it no longer a pipe dream: first, there is now an emerging VoRA (Voice over Rev. A EVDO) standard that would allow an iPhone to do simultaneous voice/data like they can in the current model, and second, the LTE rollout is just beginning now and will be continuing over a longer timeframe than I believed likely at first. So the existing CDMA infrastructure in the US, at least, still has another 2-3 years of life in it at least, and since 2 years is a typical cell contract that all works now.

iPad 2 is also rapidly approaching - just as other manufacturers start releasing their responses to iPad 1. In other words, I don't see anything that will cost Apple the market lead in tablets other than a whole lot of pre-announced vapor and some 7" devices that are aiming for what I believe is just a niche.

Our last voyage of the year was a trip to New Jersey to see my wife's family. We left on Christmas Day, and arrived mid-afternoon just before the big blizzard rolled in. We were snowed in at the Seaview Resort (in Galloway, NJ) for over 2 days. Same thing happened to us in 1993, when we visited for a March wedding and got stuck in the Blizzard of '93. The difference: 17 years ago there was no Internet everywhere to monitor news and weather. No HDTV to watch weather and news (along with football). And we didn't have a child with us to entertain.

So 17 years ago we responded to the storm with a lot of time in the pool and the (now removed) hot tubs, and a _lot_ more drinking. This time was OK, though.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

I kinda understand cultists' thinking

Back in August the Twelve Tribes had their ship "Peacemaker" moored in Salem. They offered free tours (indeed, it's a magnificent ship) and used the ship as an opportunity to quietly proselytize their somewhat offbeat Messianic Christianity. We visited Peacemaker on a Saturday - being a Messianic group they follow mainly Jewish customs and accordingly avoid commerce and most activities outside the home on Saturdays.

I saw happy, quiet people there, trying to live a life of example - both to inspire others and to try and recruit. And you know what? I may be a staunch atheist (actually, I'm probably more of an agnostic in that I do believe there isn't anything that could be described as "god" but on the other hand I can't possibly be sure of it and I don't really care that much whether I'm right or not) but I can see the appeal of a life like the Tribes lead. I wouldn't call them a cult (the headline is more linkbait), but a community of passionate believers who have willingly subsumed their whole lives to their ideals. I think they're somewhat misguided (to be polite) but I wouldn't try and steer them off their lonely path.

It's almost as hard to be passionate believers like they are as it is to be a non-believer entirely. Belief in a Supreme Being is easy. Humans are hard-wired for it due to their innate xenophobia - we are generally intelligent creatures who tend to form small communities that are bound together by race, language, or religious beliefs and fear/hate those who fall outside our community boundaries. Sure, Salem isn't going to declare war on Beverly or Marblehead anytime soon (partly because we all also identify as members of the larger "America" group), but there's still a healthy Them vibe you can see any time the Witches play the Panthers in football, for instance), but it's still Us and Them.

Which is why belief is the easy way out. It's easy to be born a Catholic, grow up in the traditions, remain one as an adult, marry another Catholic, have a church wedding, and bring up your kids as Catholics. By that measure, it's easy to be almost any kind of Protestant. In this country, it's even relatively easy to be a Jew or a Muslim - though most American mainstream Christians have a unhealthy streak of xenophobia about them - or part of any other relatively mainstream religious tradition.

What's hard is to believe something life-altering like the Tribes do - or to publicly believe nothing like I do. Because then you make yourself part of the Other. In a way, though, it's easier in their shoes, since they are surrounded by a community that reinforces their beliefs and function as an island within society. Their God provides their minds with a safety net that keeps their thoughts from going too far off the reservation. Most religious people, too, have that safety net that lets them transgress and then ask forgiveness, lets them justify wrongdoing, and lets them behave badly and then go to church to wipe the slate clean for another week.

Those of us without religion, though, have it tougher. We just have our consciences to keep us on the right path - no promise of an Eternal Reward for goodness or Eternal Damnation for badness. We just need to Do Right for the sake of Doing Right.

Which is far more difficult to pull off - Conscience is a much tougher taskmaster than God, because Conscience doesn't wipe the slate clean.

Yep, it may be tough at times to be a Twelve Tribes member. But the simplicity and mutual reinforcement of their life and faith makes it appealing. It's a lot tougher to just live a life free of it all. Since then, this Halloween the preachers returned to Salem, yelling at passers-by on bullhorns about the lake of fire and Americans' sin. I don't think they won any converts last month, but I can tell you this much: if they were, in fact, right about the non-believers going to hell, I'd line up for that if heaven were a place I'd have to share with them.

Makes one look forward to simple oblivion.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Why this is a lost season for the Sox

At the beginning of the year, the term "bridge year" was the buzzword. But looking at the payroll, it seemed like the usual instead. Well, the bridge mainly refers to the lack of homegrown talent coming up this year (or that was expected to make it up in a year or so - this is part of the problem). Remember, the Yankees just went through their own bridge a couple of seasons ago, and look where they wound up. Some more minor league experience and some free agency turnover and all will probably be OK again.

Anyhow, here's why they're toast:

- Way too many injuries to stay afloat. The starting lineup has missed the bulk of the season. Both catchers broke bones. Pedroia's been out over 6 weeks, Ellsbury has only played about 10 games (and just went back on the DL), Youk is lost for the season, Cameron probably should have had surgery in April because now he's lost as well, and Josh Beckett's missed almost 3 months and has been spotty since he came back.

- The Yankees and Rays are just having too many things go their way - and there's only one wildcard spot.

- Too many career minor-leaguers on the big roster.

- Jonathan Papelbon is not a dominant closer anymore. He's just not. He's still effective most of the time, but he's not consistent enough. Most closers aren't Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman. We've gotten 3 dominant seasons out of Pap as a closer, and 2 decent ones. He'll be gone as a free agent at the end of next year, so prepare to have Daniel Bard as your closer next season and Papelbon will be traded.

The reasons they still have a (faint) shot:

- They have quite a few games left against the Rays and Yankees. Win those head-to-head matchups and you make up a lot of ground quickly.

- David Ortiz got back enough of his stroke that he can demolish righthanders again. Good lefties can tie him up, which wasn't the case a few years ago. He may be worth another season or two as a DH, but not at the pay he's slotted for next year. I expect a renegotiation instead of free agency or his option year being picked up.

- Mike Lowell's done his job with class and dignity, they way he has his whole career. And he's filling in admirably for Youk.

- Adrian Beltre may be a one-year rental, but other than his habit of running into outfielders he's been a force for good.

- JD Drew is having a typical season. You barely know he's there, but he's got 16 homers to date, 22 doubles, and is playing solid defense. Also, no time on the DL though he's missed a few games.

- Pitching. Beckett and Dice-K may have been spending time on the DL (and inconsistent when they're back up), and Lackey may be pitching like a number 3 starter (though he's been mainly better the last month or so), but Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have turned into studs on the roster. Absolute studs. And there's some talent on the young arms, with Josh Bard as the closer of the future.

In other words, I think this team for this year is as good as it's going to get - but I wouldn't be shocked to see them make a run. I expect a lot of roster turnover for 2011, and we'll see what we get for that season. I think next year will see the departures of (at least) Beltre, Wakefield, Okajima, and Varitek to free agency or retirement. I think Ellsbury and Papelbon are both traded away. Thus is the fun of baseball.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Just to reiterate about iPhone 4 and reception

I have not personally had any issues using the iPhone 4 for calls. I also haven't been able to kill phone calls through the left-corner "Grip of Death".

That said, I also haven't gone nuts trying to replicate it, either. I have tried a few times, and if I hold it just so, I can make the displayed bars drop a little. However, why I'm not having problems of my own:

- I use the Apple bumper on it. Bought it the first day before there were any reports of issues. I like the look of it and it protects the phone pretty well. Could be a little tighter, though.

- I typically only hold the phone in my hand to place calls, check voicemail, and use Internet apps. For calling, I pretty much keep it in my pocket - I almost always use a headset (and in the car that's an absolute). So I'm not likely to see a grip-related issue in my daily use.

- AT&T coverage is pretty good on most of the North Shore and has been for the last couple of years. We still have a few dead spots (Manchester, Beverly Farms, the beach in Marblehead), but overall signal is pretty good here. Te antenna issue mainly kicks in when you are in a marginal signal area. That's why the Apple letter on the iPhone 4 last week (annotated brilliantly by Gruber at DF) wasn't a total weasel. They do have a point.

- There were some spots on my old iPhone 3GS that were pretty much guaranteed call-drop zones. Going by Beverly Airport southbound on Route 97 was always a dropped call. Heading down the bypass road into downtown Salem would drop calls as I neared the train station. Driving through the northern part of Rowley on Route 1. Those spots do not drop with the iPhone 4 so far, period. I don't use the phone any differently in the car now than I did before - same handsfree, same mounting bracket (the iPhone in the bumper fits a little looser than the 3GS did in the Griffin Reveal - and by the way, the Griffin Reveal for the iPhone 4 is pure crap). It just works better.

- If Apple announces some kind of repair program or recall, will I participate? Heck yeah. I have a really good phone, and I'm not really having any issues with it - but if Apple makes a change to improve it I'm all aboard.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

iPhone 4 - the review

Yes, I got one. On launch day. Fortunately, I have sufficient connections that I was able to avoid a lengthy wait, but it was still a launch day spectacular.

First of all, let me address the biggest question: Yes, there is a potential antenna issue. Here's, as far as I can determine thorough my non-scientific test methodology, the exact circumstances that will reproduce the issue for you:

- You need to be in an area with less than full-power service.
- You should be left-handed.
- Big hands are also a factor.
- The iPhone needs to be held by the bottom edges.
- You should be somewhat sweaty.
- Squeeze the iPhone with a very firm grip.
- Do not use a case or bumper on the phone.

If you do all these things, you will assuredly see a noticeable signal loss. Repeatable, too. However, break any one and your odds go way down of reproducing the issue, and if you use a case, bumper, or even a little bit of Scotch tape at the bottom gap, your odds drop to 0% of causing it. So it is real, there is a potential loss of signal, and it's incredibly easy to mitigate. I always use a case for my phone so it's a non-issue for me.

Now that that's settled, on about the phone. There are a handful of bullet points I'll make. First of all is the speed. Everything's faster on the iPhone 4 - from photo display and scrolling, to webpage rendering, to application launching and switching. Having had iOS 4 running for several weeks on my old iPhone 3Gs before this, I can say that the extra processing horsepower of the A4 plus the extra 256MB of RAM in the iPhone 4 make a significant performance difference. At the same time cellular performance is improved, particularly on network uploads (sending emails is now pretty much instant with the faster uplink) and I also have been able to hold calls through several spots that were formerly dead on the prior iPhones. Big improvement.

The next major feature is the build quality of the device. The iPhone 3 series felt solid in the hand and pretty comfortable to hold. The iPhone 4 feels like a brick - but lighter than the older one at the same time. I mean it's solid. It feels like I could drive nails with it. Remarkable.

As for the screen, it's as good as advertised. Possibly the single biggest improvement in the iPhone overall, and one of the biggest advances so far in any mobile phone I've used. To look at the "Retina Display" and compare it to the iPhone from last year is silly. To compare it to an older phone like a Treo isn't even fair. Type looks like paper. Photos look like film. It's that good.

The last major addition to the new phone is the camera. I haven't used the much-balyhooed FaceTime yet, but I've taken pictures with the new rear camera. The quality is comparable to a last-generation point&shoot camera - which sounds poor until you remember that digital cameras have been pretty darned good for a number of years now. 5MP, with a fast shutter speed and good dynamic range. I was able to take some photos at a grownups party last weekend during the evening in low light that I might not have gotten with my far smarter Canon G9. Video quality is good - roughly on par with low-end HD cameras like the Flip.

In short, the iPhone 4 on paper isn't a major change for the series, but in practice it improves in a lot of places (performance, build, and screen) and it's almost barely recognizable to people who still have an original iPhone. In 3.5 years since the original announcement they've come a real long ways. Unless you're a really big sweaty-palmed lefty with a hatred of cases the new iPhone 4 is full of Win.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

One WWDC addition

Oh yeah - Safari 5. Book it. All the goodies in the Webkit nightlies, wrapped up in a pretty bow.

More seriously, there won't be a MacOS release this year, so it's good timing for a standalone Safari release (after all, browsers are the computing experience to a lot of users). Plus Chrome is right now pretty much the canonical WebKit-based browser and has a lot of mind share. WebKit is Apple's baby, and there's no way that'll be allowed to stand. Apple is happy to see WebKit adopted by so many vendors (less chance of IE being required by websites that way and it also helps kill ActiveX), but there's a pride of origin there and Apple also wants to be the "reference implementation" of WebKit.

Hence Safari 5.

For more details, the usual rumor sites have a listing of what's expected to be included in the Safari 5 feature set.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

My WWDC prediction post

As you Apple fanbois know, WWDC is this coming week, and it's the only major public conference/event left that El Jobso performs a Stevenote at. No more Apple Expo, no more MacWorld, and all the other appearances he makes are special press events - like the iPad announcement and the OS 4.0 announcement. Real Stevenotes are rare. Apple is focusing tightly on the iPhone OS at this year's WWDC - no major MacOS stuff on tap, and no IT track, either. But, as usual, speculation runs wild. Here's my call on what we're going to see announced for new products and/or goodies:

- iPhone HD/iPhone 4: 100% certain. We know what it looks like, we know most of the technical details, and we know it has a front-facing camera. We can assume it has a variant of the iPad's CPU, and likely has a little more battery life. What we don't know is how much RAM it has and how much storage. I predict either 256MB or (more likely) 512MB, and it will have 32 and 64GB variants. Maybe a 16GB version (or they keep the 3GS and move it downmarket like they did last year with the 3G). It'll be in white and black, and is an incremental improvement with a new form factor after 2 years of the previous version.

- iPhone OS 4.0: Yep, it'll be shipping. I suspect GM is available at WWDC with the handful of surprise features that they were withholding from the betas and just playing with internally. Ship date will be approximately 2 days before the iPhone is available to minimize the hit on activation servers.

- Minor CPU announcements: I'd say about 75% likely. If there are any, it'll probably just be for the Mac Pro and/or Xserve at WWDC. Mac mini updates will be soon thereafter.

- Additional hardware announcements: 25% chance at best. I know folks keep talking about 27" Cinema Displays but that's really a minor thing and not Stevenote-worthy. I think a likelier thing would be a 30" Cinema Display that's been modernized to add an iSight, mini DisplayPort, and a MagSafe connector. But that won't be at WWDC either.

- iPhone OS 4.1: 90% chance. This is a given - they've already preannounced it as coming in the fall for both iPad and iPhone. Now they'll tell us what other bells and whistles are there besides Unity. My prediction: basic printing support and AFP server access. Outside chance of SMB server access.

- Improvements to MobileMe/cloud services in MacOS and iPhone OS: Yep, that's coming. I'm expecting that MobileMe basic (device sync and a few goodies) will be free, and serious storage will be an added cost like the whole service is now. I also think iWork.com gets rolled into it somehow.

- MacOS 10.6.4: Probably this week for release, but not an announcement. It will support a couple of the new things announced Monday.

- MacOS 10.7: 50% chance at best. I think they won't heavily discuss it but may mention it by name and show off something whizzy. But I think next years' WWDC will be all about 10.7 with iPhone bringing up the rear.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Why I don't hate AT&T like so many do

I sent this to Gruber at DF this morning, but I thought it was worthy of converting to a blog post as well. Hence the tone. But otherwise the points here are very useful, and also put into perspective just how much wireless voice and data costs nowadays (thank goodness it's cheaper!)

I own an IT company with 5 employees. Right now, just to take my own requirements, here's what I have today (not counting texting, which should be almost free everywhere but isn't):

- iPhone unlimited voice plan = $70 (they cut that price from $100 a few months back, remember?)
- iPhone data plan = $30
- Verizon data plan with a USB stick and a spare router in my bag = $60 (which I rarely use but I keep as an insurance policy in case I need to work on the road)
- iPad 200MB plan - $15

So right now I'm spending $175 on voice and data, just for what I carry in my bag. I just barely bumped into the limit on the iPad, and I only used 245MB of data on my iPhone in the heaviest month out of the last six. I only use a few hundred MB on Verizon at most per month. Under the new plans, here's what I'll do now:

- iPhone unlimited voice plan = $70
- iPhone 2GB data plan = $25
- Tethering for iPhone = $20
- iPad 250MB plan = $15

So that'll reduce my bill to $130, saving me $45 per month for starters. Plus I can ditch about a pound's worth of gear from my backpack (the Zoom mobile router, charger, and the USB stick), and I get an extra 50MB buffer for my iPad. Even if I need to go to the 2GB plan for my iPad, it's still a net savings of $35. This is so much a no-brainer that it's silly.

Now add to that my wife's iPhone which she mostly uses for email, Facebook updates, and checking weather. Putting her on the $15 data plan is an easy call - she doesn't even come close to consuming that much data outside the house. That saves me another $15 in our personal life.

And changing the plans for my iPhone-using employees? Again, a no-brainer. They haven't bought iPads yet, but I'll still save plenty of money on their accounts as well. All in all, this should save me a couple of thousand dollars per year. Would I like it if AT&T had made the "DataPro" plan 3GB instead of 2GB? Yep, it would be a little closer to what you supposedly get from Verizon and their 5GB cap, but on the other hand it's cheaper. I'm unlikely to blow past 2GB but I'm certain to not go past 3GB. Do I think tethering should be free or at most $10 additional, given how relatively rarely I'll use it? Yep.

But am I happy to have a big monolithic consumer-unfriendly phone company change their rule and plans in such a way that I'll save a lot of money every month? Hell yes I am. Not to mention that a few months ago that unlimited voice plan cost me $100 per month, not the $70 it costs me now. Altogether between just my plans and my wife's, as of next week I'll be saving $120 per month over what I was paying for the same services last fall.

And why again am I supposed to hate AT&T?

Saturday, May 08, 2010

More musings on the cloud

So I've had an iPad for a week now. In fact, I'm typing this blog post on it. I'm pretty happy with it so far. What I see now as the obvious market opportunity is basically this: since there is no direct support for server filesystems (SMB or AFP), it creates an opening for a basic editing app that connects to a cloud service, caches files locally on the iPad (within the limited filesystems space the app has), syncs with it, and can handle Office/Gdocs/OpenXML formats. And the real opportunity comes if there's a desktop component for Windows/Mac as well.

Apple's iWork could do it but it's Mac-only and doesn't take advantage of the MobileMe service well enough. Microsoft could do it with an iPad-native tool added to the forthcoming versions of Office for Windows and Mac. The wildcards are Google and the third-party storage companies. Box.net, Dropbox, or another storage provider could provide an iPad app to help them sell storage. They already have apps for the client OS side.

The real point is that whoever is first with a robust solution to the problem likely wins the war. I bet folks are hurrying to get to market...

Friday, April 30, 2010

As April grinds to a halt

I am in the process of setting up my new iPad. It was actually set up hours ago - in fact, I did it quickly while I was at a client's office this afternoon. That fast and that easy. Really.

However, it's taken me a little while to get "HD" versions of my apps (most were free, and I spent about $15 on upgrades), and to find a cloud-based Office suite for the iPad (I went with the $7.99 "Office2 HD", which has Google Docs and iDisk support). Then I had to set up the local sync parameters, which resulted in a 1024x768 version of my 13k+ photo library being generated and then synced up. It took about an hour and a half to re-res everything, even with an i7 under my Mac's hood. It's uploading to the iPad now.

The only thing I'm kind of waiting for is a iPad-centric version of Tweetie, my Twitter app of choice. I figure that'll come pretty soon now that Twitter owns the app. The iPad is, in the end, one of those game-changing devices that will ultimately redefine what a computer will do for most people. And in the end, it's just too important to my career and life for me to not jump on the wave near the beginning.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

HP buys Palm. Woulda Coulda Shoulda.

HP has come to the rescue of struggling Palm - but I think it's doomed anyways. Sure, WebOS is a fine accomplishment. In the year+ since the original WebOS device (the Pre) was announced the OS has matured nicely. And if the Pre had come out in early 2008 instead of mid 2009 Palm would probably be riding high again. Problem is, Apple and RIM had already gobbled up all the mindshare for smartphones (enough to convince Microsoft to reboot their platform entirely) and there was nothing left. Plus, when Palm introduced the Pre it was a US-only CDMA device and was only on the smallest CDMA carrier.

Since then, they've broadened the line of WebOS devices but it's too little, too late. In buying Palm, HP gets WebOS - a nice hedge against Android and Apple that lets HP come back into the mobile space and with an OS they control. And WebOS in theory should scale nicely for tablets and other cloud-based devices.

The catch is that HP has never shown any ability to market mobile devices. They have also never really had an aptitude for mass marketing outside of their printers. HP is pretty much a consumables and services company right now. They have more market share than Dell right now, but that's mainly a function of Dell's ineptitude more than HP's prowess. Someone has to be the market leader.

Fortunately, HP is big enough and profitable enough to keep a Zombie Palm running for a long time to come, enhancing WebOS enough to keep it competitive but never a major player in the market. I don't see them ever leveraging Palm into a major market share play. That ship sailed a long time ago and I think Android was the last entrant into the market.

My last Palm was a Treo 700p - which I ditched in favor of an iPhone the day the iPhone came out 3 years ago and I haven't looked back since.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

iPad month one

I've set up a few. I'll have one myself soon. Now that it's out, I see a lot more practical value than I originally did. Typing on it is actually pretty good. But here's the missing links to it right now:

- No direct printing. There are a few workarounds and 3rd-party print methods, but no Apple-sanctioned way to get print output to even a small group of supported devices. I don't think OS 4.0 will change that, either.

- The filesystem isn't shared between apps yet, and there's no true wireless server access or file sync. So the killer app would be a local (maybe as an app written in HTML5) app that has its own cache in local filespace that syncs to Google Docs and has a desktop component that does the same sync. That puts all your real storage in the cloud, with the iPad mainly caching so that it can be used offline. Internet isn't quite ubiquitous yet.

Resolve these and the iPad will be the biggest thing ever.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Just finished an ugly read

I read "The Year of the Cock", by Alan Wieder. To save you time, here's the synopsis:

- Moderately successful reality TV producer gets a case of ego, leaves long-suffering wife.

- Moves into apartment, starts screwing a diverse array of women.

- Decides his dick is too small after seeing Fred Durst naked. Goes off on obsessive dysmorphic streak and freaks out.

- Flies to NYC to win back wife. Succeeds for a while. Gets a little less neurotic and gives props to his shrink.

- After reconciliation, has a kid who he loves. Wife divorces him in the end anyways.

- Tells us how stupid he was.

Amen to that. I think I'll stay married. Then again, I was anyways.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

When I was 14

The day I turned 14, I don't remember. I'm pretty sure it involved a sparsely attended birthday party (I wasn't the most popular youth), and my hormones bubbling over.

The day I turned 24, I went out for drinks and food (but mostly drinks) with my girlfriend and a few of my friends who lived around Boston. Went to work at my crappy dead-end pseudo-sales job that I had back then (I was making about $20k working the floor at Egghead for a dedicated porn enthusiast), and went home to our rented apartment.

The day I turned 34, I went to work at a much better job (it was a Tuesday), and then I went out for a quiet dinner with my wife - the same person who was my girlfriend at the birthday ten years prior (we got engaged later that year). We had owned our house for seven years. I think I played golf that afternoon before dinner.

The day I turned 44, I got to go to back to bed for a couple of hours after being awakened by a tantrum when my son couldn't get a toy to work at 7AM. Followed by a lovely session of trimming nose hair because that's something you get in your forties. After breakfast, we watched a rented movie, and we are going to a school meeting before dinner at a Mexican restaurant where I will be made to wear a goofy sombrero at some point during the evening.

After which I shall work on a proposal, write instructions for one of my employees' use tomorrow, and do laundry.

Life goes on. 54 should be interesting, you think?

Monday, March 15, 2010

I haven't pre-ordered an iPad (and I'm not going to)

The iPad comes out in just under three weeks. Pre-orders began this past Friday morning. The wifi version will be delivered on Saturday the 3rd of April if you pre-order, and the version with 3g can also be pre-ordered though you will not get it until late April (date TBD). I have a large number of clients participating in the pre-order. Quite a few of my fellow Apple nerds are doing it as well. But not me.

I did wait in line twice for the iPhone - once for the original, once for the 3G. When the 3GS came out I had it shipped to my house instead since that was an option. I'm not planning to order this years' iPhone either, though.

Why did I wait for an iPhone in 2007? Well, back then I had a Treo 700p. It sucked. Hard. I got tired of it right around the same time the iPhone was nearing launch. Had the timing been different, I would likely have sucked it up longer. I waited for the 3G because heck - it had been kinda fun the first time (of course the massive activation Fail Apple and AT&T teamed up on with the 3G subsidy took the fun right out of it). By the time the 3GS came out the only reason I got one then was because I was looking to get an upgrade for my wife, who had a 4GB original iPhone and needed more space. So I took the 3GS and gave her my 3G.

There's nothing falling apart in my technological life that compels me to go get an iPad sight-unseen. It looks like a really neat device. It takes the iPhone metaphor up properly without giving too much away. The prices are pretty reasonable as these things go, though the 3G version is being sold at a hefty premium.

But there's nothing I do in life that screams "I have to have an iPad!"

Whenever I leave the house, I have my iPhone (which I now refer to as my "iPad nano") in my pocket. That gets me email, some music, quick webpage referrals, Yelp, Wikipedia, and some news sites along with a few games. Pretty much my essentials. There's a charger in my car, a pocket for the Bluetooth headset in my jacket, and I usually have my Mophie JuicePack Air handy to give me a full day's talk time if I need it.

For my work, I almost always have a MacBook in my bag. It's a 13" that will be replaced with an Arrandale if they ever ship 'em (let's hope this Tuesday brings laptop joy). If I'm working I have it with me.

When I go on a trip longer than overnight I also have the laptop with me. Staying in a hotel, going on vacation, or visiting family and friends I bring the laptop along. That's pretty much a necessity on anything but weekend daytrips.

And back in November I got a Kindle (the little one). It holds all my tech reference material plus an occasional book for vacation trips (and I've bought a couple of bestsellers rather than getting them as dead tree versions). I don't take it everywhere but I do have it in my bag a lot.

In other words, the iPad doesn't really fit any of my typical use patterns. If/when I get one, here's what it'll do for me:

- Keep me from bringing my laptop downstairs to sit on the sofa

- Give me something to take on overnight weekend trips

- Provide another, less battery-efficient way to read my e-books and reference material

Will I still get one? Of course I will at some point. And I'll find ways to use it that aren't covered by this list, either. But I figure that isn't a sufficiently compelling reason to buy one the first week.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A couple more reasons why I'm not a Republican

These are all mine:

In 2000, George W. Bush was awarded the Presidency by a bitterly divided Supreme Court after a razor-thin winning margin was established in Florida by a count rigged as best as possible by a virtually all-Republican state political hierarchy. Post-election analysis established clearly that had the count been allowed to proceed, by virtually all measures Gore would have won the state.

This was considered by Republicans to be a mandate in their favor.

In 2004, another virtual dead heat was decided by a late-night count in Ohio that, while not established to be fraudulent like Florida in 2000 was, had a lot of irregularities. This was also considered to be a mandate by Republicans.

In 2008, the Democratic candidate won in an electoral landslide and a popular vote margin of 7% (or 8.5 million votes). Republicans consider it a mandate in their favor. And a plurality of these same Republicans believe that the current President is constitutionally unqualified for the office. And that the election was likely stolen by a single community service organization.

In many ways I could call myself conservative (with a small "c"). Most of the time I would rather government keep the purse shut. I would prefer if pregnant women elected to have their babies (though I believe they have a right to decide not to). I believe in marriage over long-term cohabitation (though I see no reasons why same-sex couples can't marry as well). I think taxes should be moderate, and government should mainly keep out of my way and let me try and be productive to society. I'm not interested in doing drugs (but I think most of them should be legal, regulated, and taxed).

But I also believe that there is a place for government to provide benefits. A place for regulation. That the private sector sometimes fails - and in the health care arena it already has failed. I believe government can do that better. I don't like political parties that legislate morality and try to use religion as an excuse to deny reality. I'm annoyed when government tells me how to run my business. But I'm deeply offended when they presume to tell me how to run my life.

So until that changes someday, there's no way I could possibly be a Republican.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Why I'm not a Republican

This fine list was compiled by Slashdot user "Boronx".  I copied/pasted it with a couple of typo corrections.  Democrats believe occasionally weird things, but this goes way over the top of anything mainstream Democrats think:

Republicans believe:
That there were WMD, but Saddam moved them to Syria.
That there weren't WMD, but we had good evidence he did.
That even if we didn't have evidence, Saddam said he had them, and wouldn't let in inspectors.
That we've put on more debt in 1 year under Obama than 8 years with bush.
That the best thing to do in a recession is to balance the budget.
That social security is in crisis.
That Barney Frank forcing banks to loan to black people is what caused the crash of 2008.
That tax increases on the ultra rich are class warfare, but tax increases on everyone else are fair.
That gay marriage threatens marriage.
That the US has the best health care in the world.
That the most conservative, free-market based healthcare overhaul you could imagine coming from a Democrat is a dangerous socialist experiment.
That contrary to the Democratic plan, the best way to fix health care is a combination of tort reform and letting insurance comapanies pick their favorite state to regulate them.
That invading Iraq wasn't a war crime.
That torturing people isn't a war crime.
That we only tortured terrorists.
That waterboarding isn't torture.
That holding people without trial forever is ok.
That an illegal, dictatorial system of counter terrorism is better than a legal one.
That Bill Clinton was one of the most corrupt presidents.
That Sarah Palin might make a good president.
That Rush Limbaugh isn't a toxic zit on the ass of humanity.
You probably don't believe *all* of these things, but any one of them is obviously false or flatly ludicrous, and if you don't believe any of them, why would you be a Republican?

Monday, March 08, 2010

Followup on yesterday's race

Looks like NASCAR's in a box now. They said that drivers would police themselves. Well, Carl Edwards just did. Granted, the end result was a flying crash, but what if Brad's car had stayed on 4 wheels and just spun out? Then we're talking about payback and nobody's calling for Carl's head. That's the problem. If they can hit and wreck each other, you can't really talk about the way the wreck happens. For what it's worth, Carl hit him in the straightaway (not in a turn) and put him into the SAFER barrier. Bad Things happened to the #12 afterwards, but that's the randomness of physics. If I'm going to punish him for anything, it's for going the wrong way down pit lane.

My verdict? A fine for that (stupid move) and "double-secret probation" for the rest of the year for dumping Kesolowski. Not so much because I'm a huge Edwards fan but because that's the boundary that NASCAR set. And at the driver's meeting in Bristol 2 weeks from now? "Gentlemen, now you know where the line is. We don't want anybody else over it, or they're going to be staying at home for a while." That ought to tamp things down.

(Update 3/13/10: A draft of this was published on Yahoo Sports - link is here)

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Global Warming with no BS

I'm not a Certified Science Nerd.  On the other hand, I've read a lot of data, and I have a good solid understanding of basic physics.  I work in a technical profession, and I can do math.  So that's the extent of my qualifications.  So without further ado, I will now do my darndest to clarify Global Warming for the layperson.

First of all: despite some data that is incomplete, or has had fudge factors added, two things are clear.  One is that the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have been generally and gradually increasing over the last century or so (we can't be absolutely sure of measurements before then, but we can use cues in the environment like drilled ice cores and tree growth rings) and probably for somewhat longer than that.  Average global temperatures are rising at a level that approximately corresponds to the rise in carbon dioxide.

Besides that, we have other empirical evidence that the climate is getting warmer overall.  Glaciers are retreating.  Mountain ice and snowpack levels are declining.  The polar ice cap in the Arctic is clearing during large portions of the year.  This was not the case in decades past.  Other micro-events have affected climate in the short term - for instance, major volcanic eruptions like Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines have caused short-term cooling for a season or more.  But the overall trend is towards warmer temperatures.

Now as I write this, I'm seeing snow flurries outside my window.  We've had historic snow storms affect the mid-Atlantic states this year.  A few weeks ago, we had snow on the ground in 49 out of 50 states.  In other words, that means that global warming is false, right?  Wrong.

The mistake the deniers make is this: Weather and Climate are two entirely different things.  Most people don't seem smart enough to understand it.  I occasionally forget it, too.  An average increase of 1 degree Celsius isn't a lot.  But that increase means more of the Sun's energy is stuck in our atmosphere.  And that energy in turn means more water vapor (which also contributes to warming) and as a result rainstorms can be heavier, snow can be heavier, and tropical storms can grow more powerful.  They won't always do that, but there's increased potential.

The other risk with global warming is that a lot of the systems on Earth that produce the climate we know are delicate.  For instance, the current flow in our oceans depends on differences in temperature and salinity to move warm water around the globe.  Europe's generally warm climate (though they are at northern latitudes) are due to the warm water pushed to them via the Gulf Stream.  Should enough fresh water disrupt the Gulf Stream as a result of glacial and icecap melt, it is likely that the flow will be disrupted and Europe will have a relatively sudden shift to significantly colder temperatures.  This affects weather patterns on a global scale.  And it's happened before.

There are other similar risks.  A sea level rise triggered by icecap melt can easily inundate coastal cities, costing billions of dollars.  More intense storms cause heavy damage when they hit land.  Islands can pretty much vanish.  All bad things, and all have varying degrees of likelihood.

Now we're a pretty long way into this process.  The level of CO2 has been increasing more and more sharply in recent decades.  And even if we stopped completely, as a result of processes in place already we'd still have a rise before leveling off.  On the other hand, we don't know how much warming is strictly a result of our atmospheric tinkering, and how much is a result of natural processes outside our control like solar cycles.  We know we have an impact, but not exactly how much impact we have.

Is there a solution?  Not really.  I think we need to try and generate less CO2.  Use less power.  Pollute less.  Try and reduce our impact as a species.  On the other hand humans need a functioning global economy.  We can't shut it down to save the planet - there are costs that are internal and external.  I believe we can and must mitigate the damage as much as we can over time despite the fact that reducing pollution costs money, simply because the externalities are so potentially expensive if we don't.

Right-wing jackasses want to laugh at Al Gore every time it snows in DC.  Mainly because they aren't smart enough to see outside DC in the first place.  Left-wing dolts want us back in an agrarian society singing kumbaya.  Not happening, either.  What we need is to make things better, do reasonable things, and work on giving our kids a better planet.

Steps you can take that are simple:

- Reduce your home energy use.

- Replace your incandescent light bulbs with CF or LED bulbs.

- If your heating/cooling system is old, replace it with a more modern system that's more efficient.

- Reduce your driving if you can.

- Turn devices off if you don't need them.  Use timers as well.

- Buy local food products whenever you can.

- Turn lights off when you're not using them.  Turn off the TV when you go to eat dinner.

- Get rid of the extra fridge in the basement (if you have a house you probably have one)

- Insulate your house.  Use better windows.  Seal leaks.

- Be considerate of your fellow humans.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

What will Apple bestow?

Any day now I am expecting both Snow Leopard 10.6.3 to be released along with a new lineup of MacBook Pros.  Maybe not the same day, but real soon.  Hopefully this week.  I'm really hoping for a mobile i5 from Cupertino, especially since I need one and also I've got a lot of customers getting antsy.

Besides those, in the next few weeks we should get the official announcement of iPhone OS 4.0 - maybe including the announcement of iPhone 4.0 as well (the iPhone device part I'm not so sure of, but March is generally the timeframe when the OS is previewed - ever since a developer community became something they wanted).

On top of all that, don't be shocked if they wind up adding a camera to the iPad as a last-minute spec change.  It'll ship in about 4 weeks, so we'll see...

Should be quite a March in Apple-land.

Did I miss something?

I watched a pretty good hockey game this afternoon.  Other than that, there was something taking up all the NBC channels for the last two weeks but I can't really recall what it was.  Oh well.  At least NASCAR started their season this month.  Now just let Jimmie Johnson have some mechanical issues and I'll be happy.

Or maybe this is just what's left of my mind after three days of dealing with the aftermath of the huge storm that we had Thursday night.  Either way...

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

To elaborate a little further about iPad

I mentioned this on my Twitter yesterday, but I thought I should use more than 140 characters to elaborate slightly.  In the last week, most of the folks I've talked to about iPad don't quite understand it - but that's because they already travel with a phone and a laptop.  I've had a Kindle for a couple of months, so I get it a little better.

iPad isn't for the people who need to take a laptop and phone everywhere.  It's for people who either don't have a laptop now and want something to perform core functions (email, web, media) on the road, want a living room computer, or want to increase mobility without having to carry a massive bag of gear.  I go almost everywhere with my iPhone, my MacBook, and a bag full of cables, chargers, and so on.  But I need to log in to a corporate network of a client from a random location.  I need to run Apple Remote Desktop.  I need to generate quotes and log my hours.  I even need to do some of that on vacations, too, because IT support is one of those jobs that never quite ends.

In other words, for me the iPad is just a cool gadget.  It's not necessarily an essential part of my life.  But now, take the person who works in an office.  She (because the person I am using as a mental example is a she in real life) has an iMac that she uses to manage the business finances and database.  She does email, runs FileMaker and QuickBooks, and writes letters to their funders and clients.  When she goes home, she uses a MacBook Pro to log in and work remotely.

But she doesn't have to travel for work.  If she's out of the house she's not working.  She likes to get away and go sit in coffeehouses to do her personal things because she likes the environment there.  She listens to a lot of music.  Takes a lot of pictures.  Likes to randomly surf the web.  And the only thing she does for work outside the office and house is occasionally read and reply to a mail message.

That, folks, is a Grade A Prime iPad user, right there.  In fact, it was practically made with her in mind.  And there are millions of users like that.  Apple's going to have no trouble selling these things.

One other thing to think about in the design.  Until iPad, tablet computers were mainly regular computers, shoehorned into the tablet design, and running desktop operating systems.  iPad turns that on its side.  With iPad, it's not a shrunken desktop.  Think of it like this: iPad is the full-size version.  The iPhone is the scaled-down model.  iPhones are basically just iPad Nanos, with a phone added in.  They just happen to have come to market three years prior.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

iPad. The rest of the story.

So iPad is now official, and available in waves over the next 60-90 days (WiFi only in 60, WiFi + 3G in 90).  It shows the maturity of some of Apple's strategies, the development of the iPhone OS, and brings us the first fruit from the PA Semi purchase (the CPU is a custom ARM design built by PA Semi's team and manufactured for Apple's exclusive use).  My initial thoughts:

- iPad is reasonably well-priced for what it is.  The lack of a cellular subsidy for it is also good - contract-free and unlocked is the way to go.  Plus there's no real reason why VoIP can't be used on it, remember, AT&T said a while back that VoIP was OK.  We'll see if it flies now in the App Store.

- The form factor is good, albeit a little awkward.  It should fit in a coat pocket if not in your jeans pocket.  Of course, since it's Apple it's the best-designed tablet device to date.

- It won't replace a Kindle.  Amazon must be relieved.  But it will pick up some readers, and help grow the e-book market.  And for some kinds of print media it will be the best way to consume it.  No wonder magazine and textbook publishers are excited.

- It has just enough work in it to have some professional use.  I'd take one away with me on vacation instead of a laptop or netbook - weekender use is a good market.  Of course, that means an extra $30 to Apple for the iWork apps...

- As a media device, it's promising.  Depends on the battery life in real-world usage.  If you can mix apps, surfing, and processor-intensive activities and still get 8-10 hours of continuous use, it's a big winner.  Should be possible - other than the screen it's got pretty much the same grade of components as an iPhone and plenty more room for battery inside.

- There's still a few holes in it.  No camera means no videoconferencing.  That would be a killer app for the iPad, and would be a no-brainer for the 2011 model.  64GB in the top model is very nice, but 128GB would be even better.  Or even 96GB.  Media libraries are big.  Mine's got 21GB of photos, 17GB of music, 21GB of movies, 5GB of TV, and 2.5GB of podcasts.  Plus 3GB of apps (I've got Navigon installed plus a big nav chart app).  That's almost 70GB right there, and my library isn't huge.  An online storage option that ties to MobileMe would be compelling as a way of handling this, but there wasn't any anything on that front today.  Look for more to come from Apple, maybe between now and launch.  Apple likes to put other things out there between announcement and launch to help increase hype.  Wouldn't surprise me if that happened here.

- Also, there's other things we know are coming soon from Apple.  They chose not to reveal them today.  Most of the code in iWork for the iPad will manifest itself in an iWork '10 that I'd expect soon.  And for sharing the files iWork.com will likely go into production and leave beta.  Also due soon (I thought it would be today) - iPhone 4.0 software.  This is going to be announced before the iPhone 2010 model according to Apple's model.  Probably in March, right around the shipping of iPad.  The other thing I expected today but didn't see is the Intel i5-based MacBook Pro.  All the other vendors have them out now, I figured Apple would use that as a "build-the-excitement" announcement before the main event today but was mistaken.  Probably out in the next week or so since it didn't make it today.  Apple gets too much revenue from MacBook Pros to let it wait too long.

- In a nutshell, I think iPad will be a solid success, though not a game-changer yet.  They've built a tablet device that is probably the coolest one on the market today, but has plenty of room for improvement.  So once you're hooked, you'll buy a new one every year.  Exactly what they want.  Damn, those guys are good...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Why all politics is local

Here in Massachusetts, a Senate race that wouldn be in most cases a blowout for the Democrat (as usual) has turned into a nail-biter.  The result on Tuesday is completely up for grabs.  Looking at the two candidates, the Democrat (Attorney General Martha Coakley) has a solid track record of accomplishment and the Rebublican (State Senator Scott Brown) has a history as pretty much a speedbump.  Why is it so close?  Here's a few of the reasons:

National issues: The shine is off Obama as reality has begun to set in.  Though the economy has improved, it's not enough to keep him at his peak popularity.  And the messy business of governing means that a lot of his election rhetoric hasn't come to pass.  This reflects poorly on Coakley by association, and the lack of Democratic unity (as usual) means that slow progress continues.

The Teabagger Factor: Scott Brown has wingnut appeal.  He's pretty far right (hell, by Massachusetts standards he's a jackboot-wearer), and so the nuts are out for him.

The Local Factor: Here in Massachusetts, we've almost always been a one-party state except we like to elect Republican governors to pretend we've got balance.  We all hate Beacon Hill but we like our legislator.  The reality is that frustration with the Legislature's been building steadily for years, and though Coakley's a constitutional officer instead of a legislator she's seen as part of the problem.  Brown, on the other hand, is an actual state Senator - but there aren't even enough Republicans in the state Senate to affect a veto (5 out of 40).  He doesn't really show up at all.

The Arrogance Factor: Coakley won easily in the primary election, with all assuming that meant an easy win in the final.  But the primary was really just a test of early organization, and Coakley had been in the race since before Kennedy died.  She's only taken it seriously for about the last week.

The Payback Factor: One of the big X-Factors in this race.  In the 1980s and 90s, a number of high-profile cases were tried here that Coakley was a factor in - most notably the Fells Acres daycare abuse case.  As DA, she worked hard even in the face of overwhelming evidence to try and keep the Fells Acres operators behind bars.  And she still sees the decision to push to keep the Amiraults behind bars as a correct one.  I'm one of a lot of people who take that one personally.
There was an error in this gadget