Welcome to 2014

March 24th, 2014 Comments off

Time to start blogging again. This should be an interesting year with changes in my life and changes in society. The rich are getting richer and the rest of us getting poorer. Mr. Putin is doing a very good impersonation of Hitler annexing neighboring countries to protect people with national affinity for the motherland. And the ongoing internal tension in the U.S. will be reflected in the November elections.

Categories: General Observations Tags:

Frustrating By Technology

August 12th, 2013 Comments off

I am a fan of computer technology: it permits us to create, communicate, and store data in many useful ways. I work hard at keeping up my skills in using various systems and software on many platforms including Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android. But sometimes I am frustrated when things don’t work properly.

I am now teaching an on-line class in business law. The on-line classroom is hosted by an older version of Moodle. Unfortunately this software is a disaster in the user interface design and in the lack of documentation. For example, you cannot create and edit an on-line “quiz” from one screen: you have to navigate to the quiz feature from different sources to access certain features. Some options are edited from “update the quiz,” others from “edit the quiz,” and still others from “edit questions.” The details are complicated and uninteresting, but it is a mess.

I created a compatible electronic quiz using the software from the book publisher (which also has severe design flaws). This software allows using prepared questions, my custom modifications of the prepared questions, and my own questions. I created the quiz, saved it in one format, then exported it to another format compatible in Moodle, and then imported it into Moodle. (Even the import feature in Moodle violates all the standards of  UI design — when selecting the import file from the pop-up window, you click the tiny text next to the file that states “choose.” The “Open” button does nothing.)

The quiz imported and everything seems to work correctly except that Moodle would not display the entire quiz when tested in “preview” mode. After spending a considerable amount of time trouble-shooting, it was discovered that one question had missing data and this was causing the system to hang. No error message of course. The problem was fixed by deleting the corrupted questions and entering the data manually. It is unclear whether the test generating software or Moodle was at fault for the data corruption.

The point of the story is that we are often compelled to use systems which are poorly designed and which even the best-prepared user lacks the tools to trouble-shoot. It is frustrating to have to use this technology when there are no tools (or inadequate tools) provided to solve the inevitable problems. My computer skills are above-average. I can only imagine the deep frustration of users who have these experiences but lack my experience in dealing with such issues.

P.S.: After writing this entry and clicking publish, WordPress froze and it has taken about 5 minutes to get back to where I was. Is it WordPress or my crappy hosting service? No way to know. More frustration. At least my data was saved.


Categories: General Observations Tags:

Web Hosting Problems

June 22nd, 2013 Comments off

This domain was unavailable this morning due to technical problems with my hosting service Network Solutions. My business Web site, this blog, and the business e-mail service were all unavailable. I’ve had frequent problems with the e-mail hosting for both the business e-mail and my personal domain. Often the server is unavailable or fails to recognize my log-in.

I called Network Solutions this morning and waited over 15 minutes to speak with some robot in the call center. I explained the problems and she recited the canned spiel about the technicians working on the problem. I nicely explained my dissatisfaction with the service and asked her to relay my dissatisfaction to whomever is responsible for customer service. The response was to put me on hold and after another 5 minutes of listening to distorted music I gave up.

I thought Network Solutions would provide reliable service but that is not the case. Unfortunately I renewed the hosting service for 2 years just a few months ago. I will certainly look for an alternative once I use up the remaining service time.

Categories: General Observations, Site News Tags:

Windows 8 – Part 2

June 12th, 2013 Comments off

After using Windows 8 on the desktop for a while, I understand what Microsoft is trying to accomplish: include a convenient smart phone or tablet-style interface to show the commonly-used application while getting away from the desktop metaphor. That seems well and good, except the desktop metaphor works better on a large screen with a keyboard and mouse. I can see all of my commonly-used applications and a whole lot more when my screen is 24 inches instead of 4-10 inches. It is similar to Mac OS X 10.7 (“Lion”) and 10.8 (“Mountain Lion”) that includes the “Launchpad,” “Dashboard” “Notification Center” features. The difference between recent version of Mac OS X and Windows 8 is that Apple allows the user to turn off the cell phone interface and use the traditional (and much more productive) desktop interface by default. Windows 8 does not offer this option.

Microsoft has recently announced that the first major update to Windows 8 (“8.1”) will include an option to go directly to the desktop, and will offer some sort of alternative to the Start Screen for launching programs “for use with keyboard and mouse.” I’m surprised it took them this long to come around. Exactly how this will be implemented remains to be seen.

The included “Tile” applets like Mail and Calendar all run full screen. Again, this is appropriate a small screen but is ridiculous on a large screen. Why would I want to view my daily calendar full screen at 1920 x 1200? Again, all that is needed is to provide the option to run it in a window. After all, this is “Windows.”

Until Microsoft corrects the one-size-fits-all mentality, I see absolutely no reason whatsoever to prefer Windows 8 over Windows 7 for devices with medium to large screens. For tablets, it is a different story since a Windows “Pro” tablet that can run full version of programs like Word and Acrobat and thus may serve as a lightweight replacement for a larger notebook. And a Windows RT tablet may be an alternative to an iPad or Android tablet. I still prefer a lightweight notebook over a tablet for this application, but it is good to have alternatives.

Categories: General Observations Tags:

Welcome To The Police State

June 6th, 2013 Comments off

President Obama stated that it was time to end the “war on terrorists.” I agree. It’s also time to end the police state that collects data on  what everyone is the U.S. is doing, just in case (in the words of Senator Feinstein) they “might become a terrorist in the future.” Since my youth I worried that a Nazi-like regime could appear again. This NSA surveillance is beginning to look like the Gestapo.

I guess I was naive in thinking that the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would prohibit searching my personal data except  where there is probable cause.

Categories: General Observations, Legal News Tags:

Big Brother Is Watching

June 6th, 2013 Comments off

A news story today that reports a leak of a secret court order. The order requires Verizon business services to turn over to the National Security Agency information regarding all telephone calls and data usage by Verizon business customers on a daily basis. The information does not include the content of the communications, but simply the the logs of the communication such as phone numbers, time and length of connection, etc.

This single leak is probably just the tip of the iceberg. How many other orders have been made that were not leaked to the media? Is the government sifting through the logs of every phone call and every data connection made in the U.S.? This is a definite possibility. I guess the 4th Amendment has been nullified by the Patriot Act. I expected better from this administration.

Categories: Legal News Tags:

Windows 8 Test Drive

June 5th, 2013 Comments off

I’ve played around a bit with Windows 8 in stores but never really used it. My first impression was that it seemed ok for tablets and notebooks with small screens, but it was a step backwards for desktop computers and notebooks with large screens. I thought it might be useful to do a more extended evaluation. I didn’t want to spend any money on something that I probably won’t use, so I downloaded a limited time evaluation copy from Microsoft.

The first day of testing Windows 8 was an exercise in frustration. All of the feature and settings seemed to be hidden. I had to keep going back to the tiled “Start Page” and from there grope around to find the application or setting. What I could do in one or two clicks of the mouse in Windows 7 now required 4 or 5 clicks or more. Eventually I could find the Control Panel or whatever else I was looking for. But I really saw no benefit in the clumsy grafting of the mobile-device oriented tile interface to Windows 7.

The second day I started to get use to the layout. Running programs could be accessed from the upper left corner of the start page, and the list of all programs could be accessed by right-clicking the bottom of the page. I can customize the tile layout including the programs that appear, size, and position. Tile based programs allow live content on the start page: the Mail program can preview incoming mail, the Weather program shows the forecast, News can show headlines, etc. I can see where that might be useful. Conventional Windows programs will include an icon on the desktop and the desktop Task Bar, so you do not need to go back to the start page. You can also add as desktop toolbar to the task bar to directly access the Control Panel and other settings from the desktop. That greatly reduces the frustration with the simplified tile overlay.

… to be continued

Categories: General Observations Tags:

Back To The Blog

February 10th, 2013 Comments off

Time to start sharing the trivial and uninteresting details of my life again.

This weekend:

Set up iCloud to automatically share PM data between my iPhone, Windows desktop and multimedia computer and my ancient MacBook Pro. I installed Mountain Lion (10.8.2.) and after some fiddling got everything to work as it should. ICloud doesn’t really have a decent cloud document sharing feature so I set Google Drive for that.

A new dresser from Ikea today has solved my clothes storage issues.

Now time to relax with some Franz Shubert piano impromptus and sonatas.

Categories: General Observations Tags:

Apple Missteps

September 24th, 2012 Comments off

The problems with the new Apple Maps in iOS 6 were just the beginning. Now a riot at a Foxconn plant in China (where reportedly some iPhone 5 components are made) is beginning to show the results from using low wage workers. Of course Apple is not alone in moving production to China for cost-savings, but the side-effects are now more apparent.

Categories: General Observations Tags:

Apple’s New MacBook

June 18th, 2012 Comments off

A few comments on Apple’s new MacBook Pro “with retina display” computer.

First of all, the high resolution “retina” display on the new top of the line Macbook Pro is nothing new: super-high resolution displays for notebook computers have been around for a while. I suppose that this is just the reincarnation of the Steve Jobs reality distortion field: everything Apple makes is promoted as new and unique.

What is striking is the elimination of the Firewire port. Firewire has been an Apple standard for years and common for high-end video, photo and audio editing. Apple doesn’t even have the Thunderbolt to Firewire adapter available yet (“coming soon”). A real slap in the face to the existing customers.

Thunderbolt has little support outside of Apple and the accessories are rare and expensive. The consumer has to buy Thunderbolt adapters to use standard DVI monitors and Firewire drives and cameras, and to read CF cards. Most existing users will have a tangle of adapter cables to use their existing peripherals. Thunderbolt is a solution looking for a problem.

Also disturbing is the lack of an optical drive. I suppose Apple expects that the customer will buy all software and media (movies) from the Apple store. It will be rather disappointing to use that high resolution display to watch the content that is limited to compressed 720p from the Apple store, rather than the higher resolution (1080p) and lower compression of a Blu-ray disc. Of course I could use my Windows computer with a Blu-ray drive to read, remove the DRM, and then copy the results to the MacBook to watch. Probably not the solution that Apple has in mind. And how do you restore the OS if the hard drive fails? I guess you are supposed to pay the Apple Store to do it.

Apple is touting the new MacBook for content creation but it is limited to the super-expensive and low capacity flash memory drive. How much 1080p video is going to fit on that 768 GB flash drive? Of course the consumer is expected to go out and buy a new super-expensive Thunderbolt drive or a USB 3 drive for this.

Finally, we again have a non-user replaceable battery and probably a non-replaceable hard drive. And no Ethernet port – add another $30 for an adapter.

I agree that ideally I would go without optical discs and have everything on streaming Internet or fast local storage. But the reality of the current market is that optical discs are the best source of inexpensive HD movies for the consumer. For example, Netflix discs by mail is a far better value than the much more expensive, more limited selection, and lower video quality of the Apple iTunes store. This is mostly a function of how the Hollywood studios behave, but that is the reality of 2012. Even with an external BD optical drive a Mac will not play Blu-ray discs due to the DRM.

Flash storage is great and I have a flash drive for the OS and programs on my new computer. But until capacity goes up and costs go down, most users will need magnetic disk drives for data storage.

I understand Apple’s design choices, but it is not a good fit with the reality of 2012. I could make this thing work for me with a pile of  expensive adapters and external attachments, but what is the point? For far less money, I can have have (and do have) a higher performance Windows computer without these limitations. I like the Mac OS, but I have had my share of crashes and compatibility problems with my Mac and I cannot say that it is more reliable or easier to used compared to my current Windows 7 system. I became interested in the Mac to escape the proprietary lock-in of Microsoft product activation, but I see Apple doing its best to lock me into the proprietary Mac App Store and iTunes Store.

Categories: General Observations Tags: