Archive for October, 2011

The Grand Canyon

October 31st, 2011 Comments off

A New Your Times editorial appeared today discussed the history of protecting the Grand Canyon from recent claims for mining uranium in adjacent land. The dispute between the use of land for exploitation of natural resources datesback to Teddy Roosevelt, who used the Antiquities Act to protect the Grand Canyon and other scenic treasures from development, and later created the National Park system to protect places like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite.

No only is Western land under pressure from mining interests, it has been, and continues to be, under pressure for other resources such as lumber and water. Near Yosemite is the Hetch Hetchy Valley, which had natural beauty on a par with Yosemite. Despite the protests of John Muir, the city of San Francisco built a dam in Hetch Hetchy and a water delivery system to provide water for San Francisco and the system remains in use today in spite of being surrounded by protected land.

There was also a proposal in the 1960s to build “cash register” dams in the Grand Canyon to supply water and electricity for the Central Arizona Project. The legal and public relations battle between the Bureau of Reclamation (led by Floyd Dominy) and the Sierra Club (led by David Brower) resulted in a compromised that protected the Grand Canyon, but resulted in building the massive coal power plant on Navajo land in the Four Corners area of New Mexico and Arizona. The air pollution from the plant can produce haze obscuring the view of the Grand Canyon. “The Four Corners Power Plant is the largest source of nitrogen oxides in the nation,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest Region. So one evil is traded for another.

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Mac OS X Lion-What’s The Point?

October 23rd, 2011 Comments off


I’m still trying to figure out why anyone would bother upgrading to Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion.” Let’s consider some of the great features:

By default, the scrolling works backwards-scroll up and it moves down.

By default it reopens all open applications and all open documents when rebooting–so when an application crashed due to bad data and it takes down you system (which DOES happen with a Mac), you are stuck in an infinite loop of crashes and reboots.

You can make you Mac desktop look like an iPhone!

You can run applications full screen (perfect for your 14″ monitor from 25 years ago)!

You can sync your iPhone to-do list (which you could do with your old Palm Treo on Mac OS 10.5, but you now need to pay $30 to accomplish this with an iPhone running iOS 5 and Mac OS 10.7 some 4 years later).

You can view all of your data files in one big alphabetical list in “All My Files.” <sarcasm>  Very useful </sarcasm>

You don’t get a restore DVD, so when your hard drive fails (and it WILL fail) you can’t reinstall this version.

You have another way to display virtual desktops (a feature which I have yet to use since it first appeared in some Linux distribution about 7 years ago).

The ONE feature I like: you can resize windows from any side (which Windows and OS/2 have had for about 20 years).


If I had to buy I new computer today, I would have a hard time justifying spending the premium for a Mac. In today’s notebook computer market, I could get a higher spec machine running Windows 7 for about 1/2 the price of a MacBook Pro (as the original MacBook is discontinued). Yes, the Windows machine lacks the option to make the desktop look like an iPhone, but why would I want a notebook computer to function like a cell phone with a tiny screen? Steve Jobs is turning in his grave .


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October 22nd, 2011 Comments off

I’m starting to increase my time on the bicycle saddle. It’s getting harder to do as I’m busy with teaching and daylight is getting shorter. I set up my old bike in my garage on the trainer and I have that ready to go all the time as an alternative when time or conditions do not permit a ride on the road.

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Last Comment on iOS 5

October 22nd, 2011 Comments off

Now that I’ve used it for a while, I’ve noticed that battery life is improved when the iPhone is on standby. The idle current draw is greatly diminished.

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More on iOS 5

October 15th, 2011 Comments off

An article recently added to Apple’s support area indicates that syncing “Reminders” with iCal will only work if you upgrade to Mac OS X 10.7.2 (“Lion”). That is rather consumer unfriendly–I have to go to the considerable trouble of installing a new version of the operating system simply to add this syncing functionality? Somehow BlackBerry manages to have this capability with any recent version of Mac OS X. Apple is simply trying to churn its customers.

Wireless Wi-fi sync is still unreliable–sometimes it works as it is supposed to and sometimes it doesn’t. The problem seems to be with the Mac and with iTunes 10.5. ITunes will drop the iPhone from the device list most of the time when it is closed and restarted, and this breaks the Wi-fi syncing (and is contrary to the documentation). An obvious bug. Maybe I have to buy Lion to get this to work also?

Finally I fiddled with iCloud syncing and that managed to create a duplicate of every calendar entry. The documentation says to disable syncing with the Mac when using iCloud. So how do you keep them in sync? By having the Mac sync with iCloud instead of the device. And that requires: 1. Buying and installing Lion; and 2. having your music library consist of iTunes purchases only. A forced upgrade and a lock-in to the closed iTunes environment. Ugh!

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The iPhone and iOS 5

October 14th, 2011 Comments off

For some reason I decided to try the upgrade for the iPhone software on Wednesday. I should not have installed the new software on the day it was released.

I downloaded the software which is almost a gigabyte in size. Then when I ran the installer I got an error message that the Apple server could not be reached. That seemed odd as the download was already complete. I later realized that the install process requires that all data be backed up to the iCloud server rather than the local computer. That doesn’t make any sense as the upgrade cannot be performed without a computer, so why not use storage on the local computer for the backup? That would be faster and more reliable. Future upgrades can run with the iOS device as a stand-alone upgrade without a computer, so that would require an iCloud backup. But in this case Apple is forcing users to make use of iCloud which I don’t like at all.

The installer erased everything on the iPhone and installed the new OS. Then at the end of the process restoring my saved data from iCloud, I got an “error -34” message that the restore was unsuccessful. I tried again two more times and got the same result. I shut down the phone and rebooted and it seems to work fine. All my data was restored except my iTunes music library. Apparently my media library (which consists mostly of ripped CDs and DVDs, and just a few purchased items) caused the restore process to fail. The iCloud backup feature will only back up media purchased from iTunes, so maybe that was the problem. And I need to compress my music library to 128kbps to squeeze it into the skimpy storage space on the iPhone, so maybe that was the problem. I had no difficulty restoring the music and video library manually through the iTunes sync. But Apple really needs to carefully test the backup and install procedure as I’m sure many people will have the same problems I had.

As for the update itself, there is really only one thing that is of any benefit. There are some cosmetic differences but they are trivial. The iCloud backup has no benefit for me as I have plenty of backup options that are more reliable.

One new feature is using Wi-fi to sync the iPhone with your computer. It is a nice idea but they was it works makes it unreliable: you must leave iTunes running all the time on the computer or else it doesn’t work. But worse than that–the iPhone has to be shown as a “connected device” for the sync to work. The only way to do that is to connect the iPhone with the USB cable and then never close iTunes after the device is disconnected. Well, in practice that makes Wi-fi sync nearly worthless with a notebook computer. If you turn off the computer to move it then you lose the Wi-fi sync and you have to connect the device again with the cable to get it listed in iTunes. A very shabby and finicky implementation of this feature and Apple should be embarrassed to release this product this way.

The “Reminders” to-do list is ok, but it will not sync with the iCal to-do list. My old Palm devices supported sync with the computer to-do list and so does BlackBerry. Again, a shabby and clumsy implementation.

“Notifications” works ok but it has limited benefit. However, there is one cool feature which shows a short preview of new messages in a small banner  at the top of the screen.

The one feature that I really needed and wanted is to be able to read the complete title of the music track that is playing. Classical music tracks often have long titles and they are cut off without the scrolling. The original iPods (“classic”) had this feature for years, but it has been absent from the iPhone/iPod Touch until iOS 5. So this is very nice, but it is only for the track title in “now playing” and not while browsing in the library. And it still automatically reverts to the useless “cover flow” view in landscape orientation instead of showing the track titles on the wider screen. Once again, an incomplete implementation.

So overall, iOS 5 is a dud. A troublesome and unreliable install procedure. New features that don’t work right. An unreliable Internet back-up service. I like the scrolling music track titles but they could have done it better (and users have been complaining about this for a few years).

I wonder about Apple. The latest version of Mac OS X (10.7 or “Lion”) is a disappointment. The much-hyped update of iOS is also a disappointment. The latest line of computers adds the nearly useless “Thunderbolt” connection and eliminate the useful ExpressCard slot in favor of a useless (to me) SD card slot. Everything in the last few years seems designed to lock the consumer into some Apple service–from the App Store for the Mac to iTunes for media and iCloud for backup. This is not where I want to go.

Categories: General Observations Tags:

Wheel of Fortune

October 10th, 2011 Comments off

I was explaining the Carmina Burana manuscript and the ancient Greek concept of “fate” to my son at dinner, as the subject of the “Wheel of Fortune” came up. We all suffer the vicissitudes of “fate” or “fortune” (some more than others, but that is exactly the idea). For those unfamiliar with the text, a brief except from one of the poems (made famous by the musical setting by Carl Orff) is below:


O Fortune, variable as the moon, always dost thou wax and wane. Detestable life, first dost thou mistreat us, and then, whimsically, thou heedest our desires. As the sun melts the ice, so dost thou dissolve both poverty and power.

Monstrous and empty fate, thou, turning wheel, art mean, voiding good health at thy will. Veiled in obscurity, thou dost attack me also. To thy cruel pleasure I bare my back.

Thou dost withdraw my health and virtue; thou dost threaten my emotion and weakness with torture. At this hour, therefore, let us pluck the strings without delay. Let us mourn together, for fate crushes the brave.

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Steve Jobs of Apple Dies at 56

October 5th, 2011 Comments off

The link below is to the NY Times obituary for Steve Jobs. Although he lacked any specific technical expertise, he did have a vision of how technology could enhance people’s lives.

Steve Jobs of Apple Dies at 56 –

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Odds and Ends

October 1st, 2011 Comments off

I’ve been busy completing the curriculum for the new class on top of my other obligations. It takes a lot of time but it is very rewarding: we call that “intrinsic reward” in business academics.

I’ve also been spending a bit more time exercising and trying to maintain the gains I made in the past year. The new place I live has a very nice exercise room that is seldom crowded, and I’ve managed to squeeze in a 30-40 minute workout on days when I don’t have the time to bicycle. I also had my bike in for a 6 month tune-up and it is working very nicely. I replaced the tires with new ones (Specialized “Armadillo Elite”) that are more puncture-resistant and have much less of a tendency to collect debris on the rubber. It’s nice to get some road time and enjoy the cooler weather before the winter rain hits.

I’ve also played piano a bit for the past two days but that is clearly suffering over the past 10 weeks as I still don’t feel comfortable practicing in this multi-unit dwelling that I now call home. No-one has complained, but I feel like I lack the privacy that I had in the house. I have starting using the “practice pedal” that mutes the sound in order to have some privacy.

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