2018-08-21

Surface Go vs iPad 2018


So I'm a long time iPad and iPhone user. I've been a fan of portable internet ever since I figured out how to read Google Reader feeds on my Blackberry 8100. Stepping up to the iPhone made for a more graphical experience, and then stepping up again to an iPad mini when it first became available made that internet use even more regular. The iPad mini was pretty much a constant companion in the house for its first four years with us.

More recently, I traded my iPad mini to my son for his iPad3 because A) the sound works on the mini (he's somehow managed to break it on the iPad3) and B) the wifi on the iPad 3 is crap (probably because there's a ton of damage on the front right over where the wifi antenna is). This has been less useful for me, but it has got me by as long as I've been sitting on top of an access point.

On the desktop side I've got a four year old i5 that can't be upgraded beyond 8GB of RAM and that's starting to become constricting, plus the fact that the computer is starting to do the won't boot-on-reboot trick that preceded the last Dell's just-won't-power-on problem (which I understand is also known as the "sleeping orange" problem, for the flashing orange light given to you by the power button when it's faulted this way). So that computer is going to need an upgrade soon.

In the meantime, technology has rushed forward since all of these machines were "current". The Surface Pro line of tablets is delivering usable tablet technology for the desktop user, while the iPad line has improved in polish, speed, and has added the Apple Pencil functionality.

Put this all together and you have a situation where I can re-think how I go about my personal computing; we can contemplate a radical change in the pieces I have and the way I work.

I was sort of hoping that I could buy a small machine that would do everything, replacing my desktop and still granting me the tablet usability that I'd come to depend on over the last few years. Between the iPad 2018 and the Surface Go I was hoping that I'd find this magic machine at a reasonable price.

Back in May I bought a iPad 2018 and a Pencil. So far it as lived up to expectations as a powerful, usable evolution of what I already had. The apps I was already using were already there, and my workflow was pretty much unchanged except where more power or storage space made such a change possible. The Pencil, on the other hand, is a bit of a gimmick, but I have found it useful in meetings -- I find that if I am falling asleep in a meeting, writing down everything that is happening helps me stay awake. (I don't think my coworkers have figured out that to be the reason why I occasionally take very detailed notes.)

However, it isn't a desktop replacement by any means.

  • The on screen keyboard is usable in a pinch but it isn't suited to solid text entry. This is the reason why I ended up getting a Pencil. I also have a couple of bluetooth keyboards, one of which has a slot to mount a tablet in, and that is quite usable when the need arises. Unfortunately… now I have to drag around a thick keyboard as well as the iPad.
  • There's no decent way to manage Blogger/Blogspot blogs. All the apps are out of date, and the web browser experience -- even in Chrome -- is terrible. Specifically, I was unable to reliably resize pictures inserted into articles, and paging around multi-screen-length articles was dodgy at best.
  • There isn't really a decent ssh/mosh terminal option.

So when I learned of the Surface Go in late July, I figured that it might be a decent option. It was reviewing really well, and lots of people seemed to really like it. So when it came out, I discovered that Costco was selling them online, so I decided to order one.

A word about the Costco version: it's actually a "third" version of the Go. Microsoft sells two versions:

  • 4GB RAM + 64GB slow flash storage; or
  • 8GB RAM + 128GB fast SSD storage

The Costco version is 4GB + the 128 fast SSD storage PLUS the black typecover, for a price just under the 8GB RAM version. You also get two full years of warranty through Costco instead of just the standard one, and there's an included "concierge" service which I didn't explore.

I tried to put away the iPad for a week and use the Go exclusively. I also used it exclusively in Windows-S mode, where only signed apps from the Microsoft Store will run on it -- I figured that would most closely match the iPad curated-application and semi-secure-sandbox experience.

In that week, I discovered:
  • You have to do everything that’s not Microsoft Native in the browser. Reddit? Edge. Tweetdeck? Edge. Google Mail? Edge. Google photos? Edge. We have the Office 365 subscription, so I did have the full-stack Office applications, and they work as expected.
  • Web applications that see a desktop browser experience are not always usable on a touch tablet. A lot of the hyperlink targets are small, and it is much easier to miss them than on the iPad.
  • Edge isn't a terrible browser, but it isn't great either.
  • The Go is slow. Apps and browser pages are slow to appear at times. A lot of the time there's no feedback for 3/4 of a second from hitting a web element to make something happen, long enough to wonder if you've just merely missed the target element again. Things that pop on the desktop obviously don't, but more importantly, things that pop on the iPad don't pop either. The vast majority of the time, the iPad lets you know that something is happening, even if it isn't happening immediately.
  • The keyboard on the TypeCover isn't terrible, but again it isn't great. My fingers are too big to comfortably  use the 4/5ths scale keys (or whatever it is). I will say that having both a backlighting system and a touchpad are improvements over the iPad solution. I did like the Logitech bluetooth keyboard I have with the Go, however that keyboard lacks a Windows-key so makes it impossible for me to use a lot of the shortcuts I use on the desktop.
  • If the ssh/mosh ecosystem in iOS is bad, it is non-existant in the Microsoft Store. Only one app even mentions mosh, and that's to say that it is only currently supported in an older version that you can't currently get from the Store.
  • You can't install Bash For Windows when you are in S mode. So there's no way to back-door your way to a decent environment.
  • Because it's a $120 option, I didn't get the Microsoft Pen to play with, although I wanted to. I was considering a 8GB model with a Pen, but that priced out higher than the Costco model did.

I don't want to make this sound like its all bad.

  • Physical construction of the Go is beautiful. For some reason I like these more squared-off devices that have a bit of thickness and heft to them. The iPad always feels like I'm about to bend it if it isn't in a case.
  • Setup was very easy, if a little slow. The setup noticed my O365 subscription and automatically installed the Office apps I was entitled to.
  • Having multiple user profiles on the tablet makes the sysadmin in me happy. Even if all I did was have a "guest" profile for other users to use, I would know that my data and apps and websites were safely tucked away from others "accidentally" seeing them.
  • Windows Hello just worked all the time for me. I don't know how robust it was, but some experimenting with the kids showed me that Hello wouldn't think they were me.
  • The battery charged incredibly quickly. I'm not sure I was getting the runtime that was advertised, but I was never stranded with a dry battery either.
  • It is simultaneously nice and a chore to be able to manage which files on your OneDrive are "really" present on your tablet. With the iPad it's a toss-up as to what's actually cached, but with OneDrive you can make sure ahead of time that what you need will be available when you are offline. At the same time, remembering to go back later to say "save space" on directory trees is a chore sometimes, one that I'm sure would result in the disk filling occasionally…

So in summary, I'd say these two devices are very different. The iPad is an attempt to move the tablet more towards business/desktop usage, while the Surface Go is an attempt to make the desktop usable in the low-cost tablet space.

However, while the iPad is a lousy desktop replacement, the fact of the matter is that the lack of speed and usable apps makes the Go both a lousy tablet and a lousy desktop. It is an attempt to bridge both worlds and ends up not doing either of them well.

I suspect for a non-tablet user the Go would work very well as a way to have portable access to the programs and files that are used on the desktop. I think that the reason why it is reviewing really well is because most of the reviewers are Microsoft Power Users and the extension of the desktop environment into the tablet space is more in line with what they are expecting. It makes the Go a good "second screen" that I think is an excellent next step towards the vision that Microsoft had with the first Surface Pro. And if there was a way to pack more power into this form factor, such as an i5 and 8GB of RAM, being able to plug my tablet into a multi-monitor dock with a proper keyboard and mice, and then just pop it off and take it away with me, would be a killer application. I'm sure it's coming, but the current Surface Pros are too big for me.

For my own use, I decided that I wasn't willing to give up the excellent tablet experience in order to gain half-assed access to desktop functionality that I only occasionally used. It means for my usage I'll still need to sit at (or more likely, remote into) my desktop periodically to do the things I can't from the iPad.

I tried very hard to use the Go for longer than I did, but it just ended up being unpleasant. I think in the end the keyboard options were not good enough, it wasn't fast enough, and there wasn't a usable way to make the desktop experience translate better to a tablet. Sure, much of that is the last four or five years that I've been an iOS user and that colors my opinion somewhat. I'll admit that. But it's a mindset that the Go will have to break for other iOS users to switch, so it is representative of a real-world hurdle facing the Go. The Go is a huge step forward in this space, but it isn't there enough for me to stick with it.

Put it all together, and I'm going to be returning this Go to Costco.

2018-07-22

There Is A Lot More Outside Out Here Than I Thought


Neelix gets a little outside time on the dog run. Not that she'll go anywhere while she's trying to take it all in.

Daddy Turned His Back For Five Minutes


This is your periodic reminder that a service dog is, first and foremost, a dog.

High Ground


Someone's taken a liking to sitting on Daddy's back.

2018-07-19

Danger Noodle



This is probably one of the rare times that the Danger Noodle has actually been dangerous.

2018-07-14

New Resident


Ceili has finally taken to sleeping in the new cat tree rather than in the feeding cage all the time.

2018-06-27

Graduation


Alex has graduated from Grade 8 and will be off to high school next year. What a long way he's come!

2018-06-24

Reflections On France

So of course I’m not happy about the collision; on the one hand, Vettel had locked up, but on the other hand Bottas came down on him. The rules generally are inconsistent — does the driver on the racing line have priority, or does the other car have to give the passing car room? — but overall the five second penalty was nothing.

Vettel’s recovery drive wasn’t so special when you realize that A) he pretty much kept his gap to the leaders from the back of the grid to him making 5th and B) all it does is emphasize the advantage that the top six have over the rest of the field. Make no mistake, that’s better than some years when the top x cars was 2 cars or 4 cars, but this series isn’t as neck-and-neck competitive as some are.

Everyone seemed to be surprised by the number of passes that happened today. Long straights with tight turns at the end of them are a recipie for passing for these cars and one can only hope that either future tracks play more into that or the formula is more suitably adjusted to permit otherwise close racing.

2018-06-22

Jurasic World: Fallen Kingdom

If what you want is dinosaurs eating people, this movie delivers. Needs more Goldblum. And full credit to whomever cut the trailer, we get to the volcano explosion sharply faster than the trailer would have you predict. After that the middle and ending are a bit saggy, but honestly no worse than the beginning is. So yes: dinosaurs eating people. Sold.

2018-06-20

The Incredibles II

A lot has happened in the last 14 years, and I think this Incredibles story fits in well with the world we find it in. Unfortunately there’s nothing particularly compelling about this particular story that requires the use of The Incredibles, and as the first movie was just so so good this movie diminishes the body of work that is The Incredibles. It is a fairly good movie on its own, but in my opinion didn’t need to be made.

2018-06-19

Ocean’s 8

”Ocean’s Eleven” except with women. Unfortunately a lot of the beats play straight front the “inspiration”. The ones that don’t, work very well and I think that there should have been less direct “inspiration” going on. In the absence of the source, very good; however I watch the original relatively frequently so to me it comes across as a bit of an earnest echo, one that maybe I didn’t need to see.

2018-06-05

Credit Where Credit Is Due

So remember my thought about time travel in TV shows from fall 2016? I bet that either Timeless or Travellers (or both!) would be cancelled before renewal time came up.

Well I tripped over that 'blog entry today, and it occurs to me that all four shows I listed there are still going.

Who knew.

2018-06-03

Solo

Took Nathan to see Solo on Saturday. Worth seeing. At times I thought the easter-egg-slash-fanboy-nods were a little too on point -- perhaps most grating example to me was found in the soundtrack of all places. In any case, characters like Han Solo don't become fully formed over one afternoon. Chewbacca's decision to run with Han rather than with his other options was a bit flimsy -- the second one especially so. The Big Reveal at the end is confusing unless you are up on the Correct Star Wars Canon No Not That Correct Canon The Other One. And their way of reconciling the "12 parsecs is a unit of distance, not time!" to Han's brag in A New Hope is not the most flimsy thing in this movie. But a heist movie in this universe is fun. Overall: would watch again; not sure it needs the inevitable sequels I'm sure it's gonna get.

2018-05-27

“Glamorous” Monaco

One thing that was tossed off in passing during the pre-race show for Monaco this year was the comment that “Monaco was losing its shine as Formula One’s crown jewel event”. To me, this is a ridiculous thing to say — for one, I’ve been watching F1 since the late ‘90s and even back then there was commentary that F1 cars had no business winding their way through that narrow cattlepath. Subsequent changes to both the track and the formula have done absolutely nothing to improve this state of affairs, and in fact at the front of the pack today all the passes were done under pit conditions — and even with that there wasn’t any change in position one to five from the beginning of the race to the end.

If Monaco is “glamorous” it is only so for the participants — for those of us watching on TV around the world, it is a boring processional race and always has been.

2018-05-26

Sign Inspector


Alex and Lynyrd inspecting our local street signage.

2018-05-24

Deadpool II

Not bad. The cameos were good. The film carried the weight of a non-origin-story quite well. The usual time-travel bullshit problems. I’m still not convinced that this movie had to be made, though.

2018-05-20

Funny Guy


This is Nathan's card to me for Father's Day. He thought it was hilarious so I got it early. However in his defense I have been sleeping on the couch a lot during the weekends recently.

2018-05-18

Westworld S1

I finished up Westworld S1 in March; it had an effect on me so I had Jenn watch it. The first three episodes in particular are a real slog -- call me repressed but I don't feel the need to see all this gratuitous sex, violence and gore that is available to directors on non-broadcast mediums. After that though it does get going well. It is a rare bird in that even once you know where things are going you can enjoy the slow reveals of what is going on. The whole thing was lovingly crafted and masterfully executed. And one of the reveals is a no-kidding "holy shit!" moment. It was a season which had an ending that made all the other season-endings seem boring by comparison.

2018-05-12

Netflix Re View -- Minions

I stand by my "solidly ok" view from last time. It was actually easier to watch for a second time than I thought it would be.

(Previously.)

2018-05-10

That was fast

I got a reply:


Neat.

2018-05-09

Dear Vote Compass People -- Decline Your Ballot

An email I sent to info@voxpoplabs.com. I was looking for a CBC email or twitter to send it to but couldn't find anything obvious. I'd already tweeted about this to @cbcottawa but that's probably not the right place.
Greetings 

I participated in the Vote Compass exercise today. I noticed that in your "how would you vote if the election was held today" and "how did you vote last time" you omitted the option of declining your ballot. 
Declining the ballot is different from a spoiled or blank ballot, in that in a spoiled ballot the voter's intention is unclear. Alternatively, a declined ballot is a way that a voter can say to all parties that they are engaged enough to come out and participate in the process, but none of the options offered are acceptable. 
In 2014, more than 22000 Ontarians declined their ballot (source: https://www.thestar.com/news/queenspark/2014/06/19/ontario_election_sees_highest_number_of_declined_ballots_since_1975.html). While not a statistically significant number, the article notes that this is a high-point of declined ballots for Ontario which was probably related to increased voter awareness of this being an option. 
One could argue in an extreme case, an elected official (or, indeed, a government) that was elected with more declined ballots than properly filed ballots would have serious questions of having a legitimate mandate from the voters. 
Beyond me having to explain to the polling official what they needed to do, my personal experience with declining the ballot went smoothly in 2014. If more widely exercised, I would want changes made to the process in that 
A) I had to verbally decline my ballot; and 
B) a written notation was made on my name in the voters list used by the polling officials, creating a permanent record that I had declined my ballot. 
Both of these requirements would seem to defeat my right to a secret ballot. 
My hope is that if enough ballots are declined, the political parties will observe that there is a constituency that is both engaged and demonstrably willing to vote, and will adjust their platforms to capture these votes. 
In conclusion, I encourage you to adjust the Vote Compass application for future provincial elections, and also note that I find that the word "ballot" looks funny after you type it out a bunch of times in an email. 
Sincerely,
David Mackintosh
Kanata-Carleton

2018-05-08

Public Speaking

Nathan speaks on Parliament Hill for Autism Awareness day to an audience of MPs, Senators, media, and the public. Very proud of him.


2018-05-06

Planes 2: Fire & Rescue

Disney's Cars was so successful at spinning out a line at toys that they thought "why not try to duplicate that with a slightly different premise so we can sell different toys?" Well sure, why not. The story is perfunctory and functional, the internal world-building only inconsistent if you make the mistake of thinking about it, and the characterizations bland and stereotypical. Frankly I knew who was going to rebuild what just as soon as something was declared as being "better than new!" So a solid whynot out of ten, but nothing unmissable.

(Note: in researching this movie for this article, I learned that it was actually Planes 2, and I'd not seen the original. Which sort of made sense since as an "origin story" it was very weak. It makes more sense as  "a flabby sequel that doesn't really have any plans for where the franchise is going" though.)

2018-05-05

Friends


It is very rare that Ceili will sit with Alex like this. It is also rare that Alex will be this gentle and patient with her. But it is nice to see.

2018-04-29

Avengers: Infinity War

Frankly I didn't like it.

There's a way to build tension, to make it seem like things are going someplace, while still leaving your characters behind the metaphorical 8-ball. And then there's kicking your characters in the teeth, over and over and over. And I don't like that. And Infinity War doesn't even do it particularly well.

This was always going to be a part one of two -- when the movies were originally announced, Avengers 4 was called Infinity War Part 2.

Multipart movies are always judged by the whole, and we have not seen the whole yet. Tune in this time next year for the (undoubtedly) thrilling conclusion.

2018-03-29

Who can figure NANOG?

OK, this just makes me angry --


I can't get my question about Bell name servers past the moderators or something, from either email address I have registered. But some idiot can't log in to AOL, and THAT gets posted.

Seriously.


2018-03-23

Pacific Rim Uprising

Spoiler-free summary: BIG ROBOT SMASH BIG ROBOT! BIG LIZARD SMASH BIG CITY! SMASH! SMASH! SMASH! WHEEAAALAAALAAAAGH!

Seriously though, those who liked the first one can probably find things to like about this one; the movie barrels along at a frenetic pace, not letting itself be too troubled with things like "plot" or "plausibility". There are worse ways to spend two hours.

2018-03-03

Technical Support

Even highly trained feline technicians are unable to make printers work properly.


2018-02-21

Thread Thing


Mommy's doing the thread thing again!

2018-02-19

Bright

So Netflix has suckered Will Smith into making a sci-fi movie for them. Bright is exclusive content that shows the modern world -- if magic, elves, orcs, et al were actually real. Smith is a cop who's been saddled with LAPD's diversity hire of the first orc to qualify as a police officer, and hijinks ensue. The movie is very much an action/adventure without having to be restrained in what it actually shows on the screen. So the gunplay is excessive, the blood spatters gratuitous, the language salty, and the dancers topless. Overall it's a reasonable movie, one I don't regret seeing; however on its own it isn't something that I'd watch again and again -- or even, frankly, again. One thing I will say for Netflix is that it's easy to stop in the middle of something and pick it up again later, a viewing rhythm that fits my current activity level pretty well.

2018-02-02

Blade Runner 2049

Visually and aurally stunning. I liked the story arc the first time through. Doesn't stand up to consideration, though I continue to watch it for the images. I don't know if it will become the "cult hit" it needs to be to generate future examples.

The problem for me is that "building replicants as a slave class" is fine on its own justification, however it doesn't explain why said slave class has to be indistinguishable -- even by experts -- from the real thing. A slave class only makes sense if you can get more work per unit cost out of it than a real person, or if additional costs are acceptable because a real person wouldn't cooperate. Giving replicants the ability to reproduce, as Tyrell did as his last gift before the blackout, makes even less sense. The whole thing just isn't reasonable to me.

2018-01-26

Star Wars 8: The Last Jedi

I think this movie is better than Episode 7. I have read interpretations that the message to Star Wars fans is: time moves on, and we don't have to be slavishly attached to your heroes in order to thrive in the future. Luke is given an honorable, loving end to his arc as a flawed hero, and the story moves on with new heroes doing new things. The movie ends up being a respectful farewell to our Princess Leia. And both of these are good. At some point you have to accept that the universe goes on, and as a film maker your choices are to reboot everything (ie: Star Trek) or crumble under the weight of your own canon (something I suspect Marvel is in very real danger of with the next Avengers movie).

The most powerful moment for me was the Rebel cruiser's jump to hyperspace. The brutality of what happens coupled with the choices in sound design work together to amplify that experience.

Overall, though Episode 7 is exhausting. The tension device of "oh noes all our heroes are doomed and evil will take the day oh wait nevermind" cycles which is constantly repeated through the movie is clearly concealing something, but I'm not movie-savvy enough to see what it is.

I do have doubts about the way the franchise is going. With Skywalker's death, Snopes' betrayal, and Ren's turn back towards the dark side, and the blatant illustration at the end that there are still force-sensitives being born -- Jedi or no Jedi -- the message seems to be the same as Battlestar Galactica's reboot's message: that all this has happened before, and all this will happen again...

and again...

and again...