technology soapbox

A lot has been going on in the technology landscape over the last few weeks and I’ve decided to get on a little soapbox and share my thoughts on them at midnight on a Tuesday night instead of going to sleep so that I can wake up in 7 hours to walk my dog after (hopefully) finding out that she has not pooped all over everything. Instead of trying to make the writing flow, I’m just gonna knock them off one after another.

Apple-Samsung patent case

As you may have read unless you were taking a break from the interwebs for the last month, Apple won a huge patent case against Samsung with regards to smartphone developments and innovations. While I’m not familiar with the nitty gritty details (nor do I have the desire to get familiar with them) I still feel the need to spew some gospel.

From a purely legal perspective (which, in honesty, is what the jurors should have been looking at anyway) I agree that Samsung was guilty of copying Apple’s “innovations”. I think the issue, though, is the fact that such patents exist, anyway. Of the several patents that were successfully defended, it seems there were ones about the shape of the device, the user interface of the operating system and other visual effects (such as the “bouncing” of a scrolling list when you hit the end). Apple zealots (I won’t use the word fanboy since that always evokes negative emotions) have been quick to deride Samsung for stealing Apple’s innovations.

I challenge that these “inventions” are worthy of a patent. Is the world’s self-professed most innovative company really suing people for copying the “bounciness” of their lists? Is that really the level of innovation that we have come to expect from technology companies? The original iPhone was not innovative because the lists were bouncy or because the device was rounded. It was innovative because it was the first truly accessible touch-enabled device. The innovation came by way of the app store (as a former BlackBerry user who was trying to download apps, the iOS store was truly a cool invention).

Filing for and receiving patents for the shape of a device and minor user interface effects and animations is pathetic, more pathetic than suing a company for violating said patents. In my humble opinion, the biggest long-term effect of this litigation and judgment is the filing of frivolous patents by technology companies instead of any actual innovation. Imagine if Alexander Graham Bell had filed a patent on the curliness of the wire connecting the various parts of a phone–that is in essence what these “design patents” amount to.

Nokia Lumia 920 and PureView “Scandal”

This is only really a scandal if you are a tech-geek like myself and follow several tech blogs every day. The “scandal”, if it can be called that, is that Nokia, in an advertisement following their Lumia 920 announcement, presented optical image stabilization (OIS) in a way that suggested that they were using the Lumia 920 for the media in the advertisement. Basically, their ad showed clips of a person on a bike shooting another person on a bike using a Lumia 920 and then cut to how the video would look with OIS on and off. People (including myself) made the incorrect assumption that the video of OIS on was shot on a Lumia 920.

It turns out some super sleuths were able to catch a couple of frames in the video where the magic of reflecting light showed that the OIS on stuff was not shot with a Lumia 920 on a bike but a full camera rig on a van. The internet temporarily exploded into chiding Nokia about incorrectly leading people on. Nokia even issued a public apology and shared actual video shot with the Lumia 920, compared with video not shot on the device.

Seriously, people? Are we now in the business of calling out advertisements for not being 100% accurate? I don’t own an iPhone 4S, but 90% of my friends do and no one has told me that Siri is perfect, or anywhere close to it. I certainly don’t expect to ride on a horse backwards when I buy Old Spice deodorant and I don’t think anyone would allow me to pay them with Orbit gum. It’s an advertisement–it’s supposed to pique interest about the product.

When I watched the original commercial, the fact that Nokia used the “OIS on” and “OIS off” textual overlays in their video made me wonder if one could actually turn the feature on and off on the Lumia 920–which suggests that they weren’t malevolently claiming that the OIS on video was shot on a Lumia 920. If that was the case, they could very easily have replaced the captions with “Lumia 920” and “<insert competitor phone here>”. Yes, there is no arguing that they were trying to “trick” consumers into thinking that the OIS on video was shot on a Lumia 920, but that’s the point of advertising…

Windows Phone 8 + Windows 8 and Microsoft marketing strategies

As much of an MSFT fan as I am, I have always held onto the belief that there are some really dumb people running Microsoft’s PR campaigns. Surely they should be able to find a firm that does the job half as decent as Apple’s marketing team. Thinking back over Apple and Microsoft advertising campaigns, the only reason I remember MSFT ones are because they were utterly SMH-worthy (that’s shaking my head, for the acronym-challenged). Apple, for example, had the the Mac vs. PC campaign, which, although it made me cringe, was memorable and to the point (and very effective in developing the Apple zealotry). Their current campaigns, while not as powerful, are still pretty effective: close-ups of beautiful looking devices with an abundance of hyperbolic adjectives in the background along with some indie music.

If I think of Microsoft’s ad campaigns over the last few years, the two that come to my mind are the “Windows 7 Launch Party” and the “WP7: A phone to save you from your phones” campaigns. Both were supremely cringeworthy and didn’t really cast the product in a positive light. What the heck was a Windows 7 launch party? I watched several of these commercials and had no idea what they were trying to portray. The WP7 campaign was an attempted assault on other phones but one that didn’t make any sense–why would I want to spend a bunch of money on a phone that I then didn’t need to use?

Anyhow, that’s all old hat. MSFT is trying a new strategy now, which also sucks, of announcing products 2-3 months before launch. They don’t have the marketing prowess to sustain that hype over such a long period. And, unfortunately, it seems like Nokia is following a similar plan. The Microsoft Surface tablets were announced a while back but in the announcement, there were no information about pricing or availability. The same thing happened with the Windows 8 announcement, the WP8 announcement and the Lumia announcement. Tomorrow, Apple introduces the iPhone. I am absolutely certain they will announce the price, shipping date and will begin preorders as soon as the event ends.

That’s it for now. Time to get a few hours of sleep!

windows xp needs a swift death

I don’t feel like composing a well-thought out entry here, so I’ll just publish a series of one-liners.

  1. If I ever suffer from high blood pressure, it can almost certainly be attributed to Windows XP.
  2. Windows XP is where productivity goes to die.
  3. It has taken me 5 hours (and counting) to install LabVIEW Beta 2 on my developer machine. It took me <30 minutes to install both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of that software to my Windows-7 laptop.
  4. I forgot about the concept of defragmentation until I had to go back to using Windows XP.

Okay, I cannot think of any more. But seriously, if anyone is still trying to justify Windows XP’s place in industry with anything other than transition costs, they can take a hike. The OS was written nearly a decade ago. Computer Science has come a long way since then. I feel sorry for people (like myself) who have to use Windows XP on a daily basis.

My Windows 7 laptop may be newer, but it is out-spec’ed in almost all categories by the XP machine. Whether it be processor speed, number of cores, RAM, HDD capacity, HDD speed, etc. It’s pretty pathetic (Windows XP, that is).

Okay, enough ranting.

enjoying the vaio

Last Thursday, I ordered a Sony VAIO Y Series laptop (VPCY118GX, to be exact) to use as my new “work” machine. Basically, I’ve got a few weeks of travel coming up in the next month, and I was not looking forward to the prospect of carrying around my large HP laptop with the potential of the fan (re-)busting up again. After searching high and low (mainly high, since I wanted a high-end PC) for about 2-3 weeks, I finally settled on the offering from Sony. This was a perfect combination of style and performance, in my opinion. It was delivered on Tuesday (just 3 business days–amazing!) and I’ve been setting it up to pace over the last few days.

My initial thoughts are that I love it! Here are the specs:

Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 1.30GHz
RAM: 4GB DDR3 800MHz
HDD: 500GB 5400rpm
Screen: 13.3″ Widescreen LED with max. res. of 1366×768
Weight: 3.90lbs

The laptop itself is not shiny, but unassumingly sleek. Complete opposite from the HP, which is a fingerprint magnet. It is extremely lightweight… I can hold it under 1 arm for more than 5 minutes without notable fatigue! And the battery life is ridiculous. It came with 2 batteries–the standard 8-cell and the extended 12-cell. The 8-cell has a max-advertised battery life of… 8 hours. The 12-cell has one of 12 hours. Ridiculous, right? If I took both of these on a full charge, I’d be able to make it all the way to India without needing to take my AC charger (of course, I wouldn’t be able to use the laptop for anything useful, and would be in a bit of a pickle once I reached).

From my personal perspective, battery performance is more than adequate. I have brought the laptop in the last 2 days and it has easily managed to stay alive the whole work day. This, despite me doing resource heavy tasks like synchronizing 11,000+ files from a remote server, being on VPN the whole day and building LabVIEW on it. In fact, I’ve run it for about 7.5 hours already, today, and it still has 29% remaining.

I’m guessing this extra battery life is coming from a lower-clocked CPU and thus expected lower performance, but this is not the case. Running Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, this easily blows my Windows XP on a Core 2 Quad out of the water. All in all, a great purchase, in my opinion!

One problem I do have, thus far, is with the keyboard. Obviously, this is smaller than any keyboard I have used (the smallest laptop I owned before this was a 14-incher) and hence I will have a few gnawing pains as I readjust my wrist-flexing angles. The keyboard is also a bit too loud for my taste, but not enough to take away from the rest of the experience!

iTunes kills the iPhone Experience

This Black Friday I made the jump to purchasing an iPhone. AT&T had a pretty awesome deal going on which allowed me to snag a refurbished version of the 3G-S 16GB for a mere $49+$18 upgrade fees+some taxes. Total price was around $70, the condition being a 2-year contract, which I’m not too worried about since I’ll probably be staying with AT&T anyways. I was already paying for a BB data plan, which is equal to the iPhone one, so no extra charges there.

The phone itself is beautiful. Of course, having used the iPod Touch for nearly a year now, I knew what I was getting myself into. I was able to activate after a few issues and copied over all my apps from my iPod Touch using iTunes. So far so good. Next, I found a tutorial on the web that essentially used iTunes to create ringtones. Splendid, right? So I created a couple. Then, I thought, “Oh, I might as well get all my music into my iTunes.” This was possible now finally that I have my Windows 7 Homegroup set up properly. So I went ahead and added the music folder to iTunes and went and did my P90X workout and showered.

Once I came back, I was ready to crank out some ringtones manually. Not. iTunes was busy “Determining Gapless Playback Information”. A feature that I really don’t care for. And one that is programmed badly enough that it ends up using all of iTunes’ resources, rendering the program unusable. Now, iTunes wasn’t a fantastic program to begin with, being slow and clunky, so imagine how the end user experience is when your mouse events are delayed by 5-10 seconds. Ridiculous. Luckily, there was an “X” right next to the message, and I clicked it and decided to hunt around in the Preferences for a way to disable it.

Midway through my search of the first Preferences tab, I noticed my mouse events slowed down again. “What?” I thought to myself. After about half a minute more I was out of the preferences dialog and to my disgust I found that iTunes had decided once again to “Determine Gapless Playback Information”. Annoyed, I clicked “X” again and sure enough, about 5 seconds later, it was back! Not only that, but it started from the first track every time! Looking around on the internet for a few fixes, I found a couple that should have worked but didn’t. I realized that now that I have bought my first “real” Apple product, I will have to enter that realm where I sacrifice a few of my rights as the owner of a device to do what Apple wants me to do. In this case, this means that I will have to let it run for the 30-60 minutes it must take to set up this feature which I don’t care about, anyway, and come back to do my ringtone-making tomorrow.

And they complain Windows 7 takes a minute to boot up…

yay networking and remote access!

Two cool features that I unlocked today, despite knowing about them for a while, were networking and remote access. I had heard of LogMeIn for a long time and even used it in one of my classes at Rice last year, but I had never realized the true potential of it. I set up a LogMeIn account for myself this morning and tested it out at work. I was very impressed by how well the technology works and though its no Windows Remote Access, I did not have to fiddle around with port settings, security settings, firewalls and the like to get it working. Thus, at lunch at work, I took the liberty to remotely install SVN on my computer and start to set up a web-based SVN system through WebDAV. I’m planning to couple this with my DynDNS account that I created a few days back and hopefully soon I will have a computer that’s hosting a variety of different servers running.

Second was home networking. I hadn’t previously had success while trying to use Windows 7’s Homegroup feature to get my home network in place. Seems like it was an issue with the way Hubert had created the Homegroup that prevented this. Just a few moments ago I created a new Homegroup following a really easy article on Neowin. It took less than 10 minutes to do and I was able to set up my own libraries and share data out of the 5 partitions I have in an organized manner. The library feature is pretty nifty, too. This time the Homegroup read/write permissions actually worked and I was able to copy a bunch of data that I had on my laptop over through the network. The speed certainly left something to be desired, but this beats the USB flash drive system any day of the week!

That’s all for now. I haven’t checked the ability to share files that aren’t in a library and this did seem to be the problem earlier. So perhaps the problem is still there, and just hidden away. Hopefully not!

windows 7 launched!

I’ve been following a lot of tech news sites of late and feel like it would be worthwhile writing my responses to them on my blog rather than lost forum posts. 🙂 This one’s in response to Five Ways Windows 7 Could Become another Vista on PCWorld.


Actually surprised to see one of few articles on PCWorld that isn’t glorifying Apple at the expense of Windows 7. It seems most people ignored the whole “devil’s advocate” section of his article just so that they could come here and show off their virtual biceps.

With regards to UAC, I was one of the few who was happy to have it from Vista itself. I always feel better knowing exactly what’s going on with my system files and who wants admin access and why. The result being that I’ve gone nearly my whole life and definitely my whole life on Windows Vista+ without getting a single virus. People keep attacking Windows for being insecure, but the fact of the matter is that you have to do at least a stupid thing or two to expose a hole that cannot be easily patched by Microsoft.

Regarding drivers, with Vista being around for a couple of years, most driver development has been geared towards that platform, and hence will be compatible with 7. With MS dropping XP support in a couple of years, it would make sense for device developers to focus on the Vista/7 target platform.

I disagree with the point about performance improvements. I think at least between Vista and Windows 7, Windows 7 has been much faster and much more stable all the time. I ran Vista and Windows 7RC off the same machine to test this, in a dual boot environment. Even with the Windows 7 install booting off an external HDD through eSATA, it was far and away mindblowingly faster than Vista. In fact, after two months of using both, I realized the majority of my time was spent on Windows 7 so I went ahead and upgraded my Vista installation to the RC. I’ve been using the RTM edition since around September and just got done installing it on my powerful new build. The boot time is literally on the rate of seconds right now, which is ridiculous. Of course, this is because its a new computer, but compared to a clean install of Vista, the difference is absolute and large.

Windows 7 is indeed expensive and I would feel the bite if I wasn’t an MSDN subscriber. It would be nice for them to make the price lower. But you’ve got to see at the same time that Microsoft cannot contend with Apple in the OS pricing model. Apple knows that for 99% of the purchases made for their OS, they will have made a hardware sale. Apart from the few Hackintosh builders out there, OSX only runs on Apple hardware. So they can afford to drive the price down really low because they’re going to be making a sale of a MacBook, iMac or Mac Mini. Compare this with Microsoft, who will make very few retail sales of the OS since the vast majority of the PC market purchases pre-built computers. Microsoft has made most of its money from OEM sales to the likes of HP, Dell, etc. and these prices are low so they won’t recover the costs of development. Retail buyers will feel the pinch. However, look at any professional software and you will realize that Windows 7 isn’t that ridiculous. If users are willing to shell out thousands of dollars for the Adobe Creative Suite and other specialized applications, the price tag of just about $130 on an OS doesn’t seem to ridiculous.

Direct upgrade from XP was never going to be possible and Microsoft was adamant about this from the beginning. Users who thought that MS were just joking around really shouldn’t have and should have prepared for a migration well beforehand. They can continue using XP, of course, but I would personally migrate while Microsoft still supports the XP platform since it’ll likely be a lot harder later.

iMac? $1601.37 reasons I will not switch anytime soon!

Anyone who knows me will know that I’m not the biggest fan of Macs. I’ve had the pleasure of using an Apple iMac quite consistently during my time working in the Marketing & Communications department at Rice University IT and thoroughly enjoyed using it for web-design and graphics development, two of my responsibilities that were made easy by iMacs. I always knew Macs were a bit pricey, but only when I actually began setting about building my own computer did I get an idea of how much.

As many of you may know, Apple released their new line of Mac computers today. They released MacBook Pros, the good old iMac and a Mac Mini or two. Among their new offerings were two iMacs built on the latest Intel quad-core chipset–the Nehalem architecture’s LGA 1156 offerings (the Core i5 and i7). These babies start at a price of, wait for it, $1999! This is daylight robbery, in my opinion, and I’ll take it upon myself to prove exactly that.

First, to gain even ground, let’s look at a spec-down of the two computers at hand. I’m going to compare the price of the components of the computer I build with an equally spec’d out iMac. Here we go:

iSohummm Edition

Processor: Core i7-860 2.8 GHz
Motherboard: ASRock P55D Pro
RAM: Corsair XMS3 2x2GB 1600 MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics Card: Gigabyte GV-R467ZL ATI Radeon HD4670 1GB
Hard Drive: 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black (7200RPM)
Optical Drive: 22x Samsung DVD+R 8x DVD+RW 16x DVD-ROM 48x CD-ROM
PSU: Corsair TX650W
Case: Antec Three Hundred Illusion
Keyboard-Mouse: Microsoft Wireless Desktop 6000 v2
PRICE AFTER TAXES AND DELIVERY: $779.05

Apple iMac 27-inch

Processor: Intel Core i7-860 2.8 GHz
Motherboard: UNKNOWN
RAM: UNKNOWN 2x2GB 1066 MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics Card: UNKNOWN ATI Radeon HD4850 512MB
Hard Drive: 1TB UNKNOWN (7200RPM)
Optical Drive: 8x DVD±R 8x DVD+RW 6x DVD-RW 8x DVD-ROM 24x CD-ROM SuperDrive
PSU: UNKNOWN (but apparently >365W)
Case: Apple 27″ IPS-enabled Monitor
Keyboard Mouse: Apple Magic Mouse + Wireless Keyboard Bundle
PRICE AFTER TAXES AND DELIVERY: $2380.42

A total difference of $2380.42 – $779.05 = $1601.37. Hence the title of this post. “But what about your display!” you scream. Well, I’m going to be using my HDTV as my primary output for a while (until a decent LCD offer comes around). That cost me ~$854 after taxes and a 3-year warranty from Fry’s. And it has S-IPS (that’s Super IPS, for those who’re wondering) technology, supposedly. And it’s about $15 inches bigger (only diagonally, though) than the iMac computer. So the question is… is the all-in-one functionality+magic mouse+a slightly better gfx card worth a whopping $800? Or is Apple taking its dedicated user community on a ride (again)?

To better answer this question, I want to highlight a few details I picked up on while customizing my cart:

  1. Upgrading from the Core i5-750 (2.66 GHz) to the Core i7-860 (2.8 GHz) costs $200 on the Apple store, before taxes. The retail price of an i5-750 on Newegg is $199 and that of the i7-860 is $289. The difference is $90. Apple is charging its customers $110 extra to make this upgrade (remember, the mobo+everything else does NOT need to change to enable this since both are on the LGA 1156 socket), over the retail cost, before taxes.
  2. Upgrading from one 2x2GB memory kit to a 2 (in essence, buying another 2x2GB memory kit) costs $200 on the Apple store, before taxes. The retail price of the most expensive 2x2GB DDR3 SDRAM kit at the 1066 MHz clock speed on Newegg costs $87.49. The price difference is a whopping $112.51 extra that Apple is making from its consumers. Unless their original mobo only has 2 memory slots (which is kinda scary to begin with) and they need to do a mobo upgrade to support the second kit (did not appear true for any of the P55 boards on Newegg).
  3. And here’s the kicker–Apple charges an upgrade price of $250 for a 2TB hard-drive from a 1TB offering. That’s $70 more than the most expensive 2TB 7200RPM SATA drive on Newegg! And that is to upgrade from a 1TB, which usually retails for around $90. So, Apple is charging consumers an extra $160 approximately, to upgrade their HDD from 1TB to 2TB than it should cost.

What does this mean? It means that Apple is not only charging a ludicrous premium on their i7 offering, but they are at the same time charging HUGE premiums on upgrades. I’m going to be in the market for another TB and another 2x2GB kit of RAM come Black Friday, and I don’t expect to spend more than a total of $150 on that (did I mention that my mobo also has onboard RAID support?). That’s more than Apple is charging than market to upgrade from a 1TB to 2TB.

It’s crazy. I’ve not been making many friends with Mac fans over the last couple of days (especially on a certain CNET article) but the fact remains that these prices are heavily, heavily inflated. The iMac, I understand, is targeted towards home and home business users, compared to the Mac Pro, which is targeted towards business users and professionals. I shudder to think how much one of those will cost, after being loaded by one of the higher end i7 chips. Probably well into the $4000’s as a base price.

I’ll admit it here and once. If that Mac was available for around $1500, I’d seriously consider getting it. The cost would be just about $700 more than what I’ve spent currently to get into a seriously hard-to-upgrade, all-in-one machine with a sexy display. The best part would be I could use bootcamp and run Windows 7 off of it. But at this price, it would make more sense for me to upgrade all my components to their max (getting a 58xx video card, getting the $999 i7 chip) and I reckon I’d still just about break even.

22X DVD+R 8X DVD+RW 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-ROM