Tech Fanboi-ism

I'm a little put off by the ecosystem of Apple bloggers.

Right now Microsoft is going through the release of Windows 8 and their Surface tablet-thing.  And the Apple bloggers I follow are all going around to the new Microsoft Stores to play with them.

They do have some valid criticisms, but too often their complaints boil down to:

  • It is different from the Apple product, so who would want one? or
  • It is exactly the same as the Apple product, so why not just by an Apple product?
I also enjoy the discussions on price, where they note that the Microsoft product is more expensive than the Apple product... so why not just buy the Apple product?... studiously ignoring the fact that Android devices are typically cheaper than Apple products.

This is the same ecosystem that recently went through a spasm of criticizing reviews of non-Apple products for not explicitly calling out the manufacturers for doing something in a similar way to Apple.  One went so far as to imply it was a conspiracy to deny Apple the credit it so richly deserves.  Or something.

Look, the list of Apple products I own or have owned is embarrassingly long:

  • iPod Shuffle 1st gen
  • no fewer than four iPod Nanos of various generations
  • iPod Touch
  • iPad (3rd generation)
  • iPhone 4
...so I think I can say with some authority that the Apple product experience is excellent -- if that's the way you want to work.  And if it isn't the way you want to work, an Apple product is painful.

Some people don't want to be told how to do things.  They want to explore, to make their own ways of doing things.  And I think that's fine.  But Apple products are not going to meet that need.

The point of Surface and Windows 8 is to try to bridge the Windows desktop with a tablet environment, so that there is program and interface consistency   Say what you want about the iPad, they make a very poor tablet extension of a Windows desktop environment.

Sometimes to find better things we have to try new things that may or may not look good initially (or ever).  But rejecting something on the grounds that it is different/the same/more expensive is short sighted.

You don't like it?  Fine.

Don't use it.



Driving Miss Crazy

One of the memes that floated around recently on Jalopnik was the idea that just being able to drive a manual transmission does not, in and of itself, make one a better person.

Thing is, I disagree.

In the context of driving, if I can use a manual transmission and you can't, that means I can do something you can't, which in the context of driving makes me a better driver than you (all other things being equal).

If you can't drive a manual, well I'm sorry for you.  It is possible to drive a car extremely well without knowing how to drive a manual*. No, not knowing how doesn't make you a bad person, or even a bad driver.  But the fact that someone who has a skill you don't could be considered better than you in relevant context is just life.

* == ...unless, of course, the car has a manual transmission, in which case it isn't possible to drive it well, if at all.  Duh.


Gone, Just Like That

...or wherever it is that computer recyclers send old computers to.

Over the last six months or so, the Dell Dimension 5150 that's been the family's main "business" computer has been having problems powering back on after being turned off. Described online as "the dreaded blinking orange power light", it required much fiddling to get the computer to restart. Most of the time the voodoo required has been unplugging everything (including the power cable), letting the capacitors drain, then connecting only the power and monitor cables -- and hoping. Then repeating as necessary when it didn't work.

Three weeks ago it took me a half hour under the desk to get it to start again, and Jenn said well if this is the case then it is time to replace it.

Some fiddling around on Dell.com and I came away with an entry level Inspiron 660 of some kind with a decent amount of RAM. I decided to go the cheap way because as you went up in price the main cost sink was a gaming-caliber video card and frankly we don't game on this computer and probably never will. All it has to do is have two people logged into it full time (me and Jenn) and not fall over when Nathan logs into it at the same time. We mostly just use web browsers and text editors on it. So a fancy video card? Not much point. Besides, I still have the nVidia card that I added to the 5150 to get multihead (of course the fact that I never did multihead with it is irrelevant).

I might have liked an i7 processor instead of the i5 I came away with, but I couldn't figure out how to order an i7 without having a monster video card as well.

So I took the implied savings from that and went off to Tiger Direct and ordered myself a 256GB SSD. I have a SSD in my work laptop and I don't think I'll buy a computer which boots off of rotational media ever again. This new Dell boots so fast that the Windows 7 animation doesn't have time to finish before it flips to the login screen.

Getting this all together and transfering the data from one system to another was is an ongoing pain. The Easy Transfer Wizard didn't transfer anyone's IE or Firefox bookmarks and a few other things didn't seem to get transferred either. I've got the old boot drive installed in the new system so that I can get the old data off of it. Once we're happy with that I'll replace it with the 1TB drive from the old computer, and that'll mean I'll have 2 TB of storage -- plus the SSD to boot from.

Crazy. Although it means that for the first time in a long time I have more RAM, CPU, and storage in my home system than I do in the laptop that work issued to me.

So in less than three weeks I've gone from not thinking about a replacement to being replaced. And it happens that one of the vendors we do business with is having an electronics-recycling day today. So along with the old Voyager (which died a year ago September), a Netopia R910 router that's older than God, a busted Compaq laptop, and a big box of IDE disks, I've put out the 5150.

Maybe I'm excessively sentimental, but it seems sad that something I've used so long is getting unceremoniously turfed so quickly.


Trying A Standing Desk

Grabbed some cardboard from the back room and McGyver'd myself up a basic standing desk:

No idea how long I'll last.

The advantage of doing it this way is that it will take all of about five minutes to undo when I give up.


Shocking News About Electric Cars

Slashdot is linking to an article which talks about the net environmental impact of electric cars.

The highlights:

  • The production of EVs has twice as much of an environmental impact as the production of typical gas-powered cars; and
  • In places like Europe, where a good chunk of the electricity comes from renewable sources, EVs do indeed provide a benefit to the environment. However, "In regions where fossil fuels are the main sources of power, electric cars offer no benefits and may even cause more harm."
  • You have to run electric cars longer to see net benefits -- which calculate at about 30% net reduction over typical gasoline engines at 200000km. 

This basically confirms what I've been saying for years: the source of the electricity for electric cars matters when considering the total environmental footprint. Electric cars are not a zero-emissions way of transportation -- they are fundamentally an emissions-transference vehicle, transferring the emissions from the car's tail pipe to where ever the electricity is generated.  Which is fine if you use wind -- but we don't.

There is also the consideration of efficiency -- would using natural gas to make motion in a car be more or less efficient than using natural gas to make electricity, use that to charge the car, and then make motion?  This seems like an apples-to-apples calculation that would be easy to make.

And while 30% is nothing to sniff at, could we make more efficient traditional cars more easily?

Bottom line, electric cars are mostly about moving your pollution somewhere else.