Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The Windows Experiment

Question #1: What would I do if my iPhone got stolen?
Answer #1: I would buy a new phone.

Question #2: What would I if my Mac got stolen?
Answer #2: I would buy a new Mac [after securing a second mortgage].

Question #3: What would I if my Windows PC was stolen?
Answer #3: I would lose sleep over all the data it carried on its hard drive, data that is now easily accessible to the thief or anyone that gets their hands on the hard drive some time along the way.

IDE Apple Hard Drive

The noticeable differences between the above answers are to do with encryption. iPhones come encrypted by default; the encryption of a Mac's drive is part of its initial setup and is done at an afterthought. But on Windows? Ay, caramba!
If you have yourself a Pro Windows licence then you can set BitLocker up and live life like you had a Mac (at least in the hard drive encryption department). Most of us end users are not thus privileged, though, and we only have a Home Windows licence. In other words, we get screwed. Or rather, the security of our data is screwed.
The exception to the rule is a [very] modern PC running Windows 10 and locked with a Microsoft account (i.e., a Hotmail/Outlook account). If your Windows PC answers some very specific and rather demanding hardware requirements, Windows will encrypt your drive and allow you to stop worrying about the day after it got stolen. [There are still some privacy concerns associated with this scenario, but these do not apply to the bulk of households.]

Alas, Microsoft's encryption scheme seems to have skipped yours truly. My relatively new gaming PC, a machine powerful enough to run the most demanding of games, is deemed incapable of encrypting its drives by our Seattle based friends. Thanks a lot, Microsoft.
I know I can use third party solutions; but why should I bother with the extra administration chores and all the issues that come with product updates when Ubuntu, OS X and even my bloody phone take care of me without me even noticing it in the first place?
Also consider the situation in which the average consumer considering her next PC purchase is. What options are available to her if she wants to determine whether drive encryption will work or not? Nada. None.
Just in case you were wondering why there is no chance in hell I will run anything sensitive on a Windows machine.

Image by Carl Berkeley, Creative Commons (CC BY-ND 2.0) licence

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Just Dropped in to See What Condition My Condition Was In

This is one of those posts where I apologise for the lack of posting.
Between professional endeavours, the time of the year (summer!), and various personal reasons I did not get the time to sit in front of the monitor and blog. I did actually write a couple of posts but never got to air them (yet), and then David Bowie died and I started writing one of those clearly too long posts I excel at (but did not have time to finish, yet).
For now, I shall leave you in the capable hands of Kenny Rogers. Take care.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Scenes from a Restaurant

Wheelchair lovers (2)

The other week we were sitting at a restaurant, looking through its windows at the hustle and bustle of a busy city centre in a galaxy far far away. In between bits I noticed this big van parking right in front of the restaurant, an A Team style one.
Out came a middle aged couple, both overweight, both visibly tired and struggling a bit with the hot weather. Don't we all. Off they went.
A few minutes later they came back, with the father now pushing a boy on a wheelchair. They stopped near the back of the van as the father opened the rear door and loaded his precious cargo. Staring at the now exposed back of that van, it became clear this car is dedicated to the transportation of this disabled child.
Both parents were labouring over their child as they strapped him to the back seat, smiling, patting and talking to him all along. A few minutes later they were done. Still smiling and still sweating, they jumped over to the front seats. The woman took the wheel and, just like that, they were gone.

I could not stop thinking about this scene and its meaning. To the three people it involved this was but a trivial, forgettable, moment. To me it felt like I was in a movie depicting a family that, while struggling with the cards it had been dealt with, is still a loving and caring family.
Steven Spielberg could not have directed the scene any better.

Image by svennevenn, Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0) licence

Monday, 4 January 2016

JB Norman and Harvey Hi Fi

Back at 10th grade, give or take a year, we studied Shai Agnon's novella, "Vehaya Ha'akov Lemishor" ("The Crooked Shall Be Made Straight").You probably never heard of Agnon, but let me assure you the guy won a Nobel for his writings.
That novella I mentioned features a hero who, essentially, ends up paying for his sins he commits earlier during the story. I do recall our teacher to matters of literature baffling us with her citings of the hero's perceived sins. The strange thing about it was her listing the hero discounting his shop's merchandise as a sin.
Why was it that, according to my then teacher, discounting was a sin? Her logic was that discounting is not a uniform act; one customer gets a discount, another doesn't. One customer gets a certain discount, another gets a bigger one. By offering discounts our hero was discriminating certain people over others.


Which brings me back to modern day Australia.
We are currently at the ebb of the Boxing Day / New Year sales, where discounting is rife. That said, one can clearly note the various ways in which different shops do their discounting.
If there is any shop out there that reminds of Agnon's sinful merchant, it is Harvey Norman. Its pricing strategy is to lure you in and get you to pay big time for things one can get for much less at their competitors; they get away with it by promising to match the competition's prices. Once you prove someone else offers the same product for less, they will act totally surprised (seriously, if they are unaware of what the competition is doing then they do not deserve to exist), create a bit of a fuss as if they're doing you the biggest personal favour ever, and sell you the product at the price they should have sold it to you in the first place. Most people don't bother; they just pay the premium price.
So yeah, I consider the Harvey Normans of this world to be sinners, just like my 10th grade literature teacher did.  And I also regard it rather tragic that other chains, like the previously attractive JB Hi Fi, are turning more and more Harvey Norman like.
Us consumers should help steer those haggling Meccas to the hell they deserve.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

In Sickness and In Health

This week’s Time Magazine focuses all about its Person of the Year choices. At 6th place (if I remember correctly) stands Travis Kalanick, Uber’s founder and CEO.
I don’t know much about Kalanick as a person, but I do know that I sure have a quarrel with his professional enterprise. Specifically, I have a quarrel with a company that enjoys the benefit of employing north of 100,000 people yet wouldn’t recognise them as employees, with everything that goes with that, such as annual leave and sick allowances. [In another post I might discuss the quarrel I have with the Uber app ravaging its users’ privacy.]
Those worker rights things, like the right to go on paid leave or the security of knowing that one is cared for even when one is sick (often due to work related activities) are important things. They are rights our not so distant ancestors paid for with blood, their blood, and now we are asked to forget all about them so that this young entrepreneur can make an extra buck as he bends the legacy industries to his will. You know, the industries that do offer their workers social rights, if only because they follow the law.
The fact Uber is waging its war against a monopoly industry that has been screwing us (and its drivers) for around a century should not matter much. Indeed, it is a tragedy to see Uber getting away with murder on account of its main rival being an industry everyone likes to hate. But again, this should not matter; workers’ rights are a much more important matter than Uber. It is something that is likely to affect you, and it is something that will almost certainly affect your children. Do not let them grow into a world depriving them of stuff that we have been taking for granted.

Uber taxi ad

As for yours truly, I very much doubt there is a future career for me with Uber. What I do know, however, is that I will almost certainly have a future career in short term contract employment. It’s not Uber, but it is still employment that deprives the employee from basic social rights such as annual leave or sick pay.
I know many people who are perfectly happy with their contracting career. Me, I cannot say I’m looking forward to this market driven necessity. Being a person, I do need to take leave. Being a human being, I do get sick from time to time. And when I do get sick, I do not wish to have to worry about money in addition to having to worry about getting healthier.
This whole Uber thinking, the thinking that manifests itself with the contracting employment, is something that can only work for the young and healthy that don’t have any children. In the rest of the cases, the vast majority of cases, such employment conditions screw lives up.
Let us not get there. Me, I’d rather put Travis Kalanick endeavours in the trash compactor of society rather than glorify it, Time style.

Image by Alper Çuğun, Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) licence 

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Old Debts

Given so much of my social life revolves around coffee, it is hard not to nitpick at some of the related rituals. Like that of paying: when going for coffee as a group, it is usually the case that one member of the group will pay for everybody. And not only because the café won’t split bills.
One person paying for everybody else will, obviously, create debts. It is therefore interesting to note the different attitudes that different people hold towards debt. Some will repay it quickly in cash; others will await their turn to repay in the currency of coffee; and others are rather casual about it all. As a member of the second camp, I find the accounting challenge is often bigger than one would think. Given the composition of the coffee pact varies, paying one’s debt is not a simple matter of taking turns. On one hand I may owe a person several cuppas, while on the other there may be multiple people owing me several rounds each while I do my best to repay an old debt.
My insistence on debt repayment in coffee currency while aspiring for optimal fairness brings along some sort of a reputation. A reputation that made me wonder: why am I so bothered by this matter? Because clearly I am more bothered than others.
Contemplating my personal answer brought me back to my childhood days. Back then I hardly ever had much money on me, probably the direct result of my parents not having much of it either. My friends didn’t seem as affected, and as a result I would often owe them money for rather lengthy durations. [At this point I will mention that I am talking about children here. What passes for a lot of money or a lengthy duration to a child is many parsecs away from what adults refer to using the same terminology.] I would repay my friends, sure, but I think it is safe to assume that over time some debts were forgotten. Hence my contemporary behaviour: I’m pedantic about my current coffee debts because I feel I have wronged my friends in the past over similar matters.

The 1 euro Coffee

Now, all of the above discussion related to petty amounts of money. Consider, if you will, what people who do not have money for the really important things in life – food, shelter – have to go through. Imagine what it can do to their relationships. Clearly, life can be far from easy.
Spare a thought for those not as lucky as you.

Image by Pierre-Olivier Carles, Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) licence

Monday, 7 December 2015

Gadget Longevity

Apple II

Over the years I have been known to criticise Apple a lot but also to be the obedient slave that buys too many of its overpriced products. Today I’d like to point out a not as often talked about aspect of Apple product ownership.
Let the numbers talk:
  • My iPhone 3GS is now more than 6 years old. I haven’t been using it as my main phone for 3 years now, but it is still serving as a music player and my main GPS for driving.
  • My MacBook Air is more than 4 year old now. Not unheard of for a laptop, I admit; what is exceptional, though, is that despite me having much stronger [Windows] hardware at my disposal, this Mac is still my go to PC for everything other than World of Tanks.
  • My first iPad is now coming close to its 4th birthday, still alive and kicking and getting daily heavy workouts by the child in our family.
  • Our Airport Express and Apple TV (third generation) have been with us for almost 4 years. Other than wifi interference issues that were solved with AC wifi deployment, we’ve been getting daily output from these.
  • My iPhone 5 is now 3 year old. On a regular day I need to charge it twice, but then again so do too many smartphones. Other than that I see no reason why it should not cruise along till my iPhone 7 joins the party, say, October 2016.
I severely doubt any other manufacturer can boast such longevity figures. Indeed, no Apple gadget ever died on me, even though – statistically speaking – they should have every right to do so.

I think the question to be asked is whether it is better to buy an expensive Apple gadget and hold it for a long while or whether to buy from the cheaper [Android] competition more often and enjoy the benefits of using the latest hardware for longer periods. The greeny in me would opt for the former.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

A Year of Smartwatching

Apple Watch Sport

The main problem affecting smartwatches is that lack of a killer app, a reason to make people say to themselves “I want a smartwatch so I can X”. Recently published research confirms the notion: most of the time, the bulk of Apple Watch users use it for telling the time + receiving notifications. Given Apple Watches start at $500 (at least in Australia), that seems like a lot of money with which to replace one’s own perfectly working watch with a short lived one from Apple just for the sake of receiving notifications!
That said, receiving notifications to the watch is a big deal, I can tell you that! It never occurred to me how important it is till PAX. I visited PAX with friends, and during the course of the day we often split up and later regroup. Throughout the day we communicated with one another over Signal messages. I never heard my phone ring nor feel it vibrate that day; but I did not miss a message and always knew exactly what my friends were up to. That was achieved with the aid of my never-miss-a-notification Pebble watch.
The beauty of it was us taking all of the above for granted. Only later did we realise we were totally dependent on our Pebbles. Or, in other words: we reached the stage where life without a smartwatch would feel like some sort of a Stone Age experience.
Now I will admit to having a love/hate relationship with my Pebble. It costs a fraction of an Apple Watch, its battery usually lasts me four days [insert standard deviation and note the Pebble Round model last “up to two days”], and it is very water proof [with the notable exception of the new Pebble Round being only splash proof]. But the Pebble is also clearly made using lowest bidder grade cheap components: over the past year, two had died on me (both had screen problems, one also had Bluetooth issues) and another is suffering from inconsistent battery performance that reeks with that “soon to make a warranty call” stench.
However: at per their current prices, one can buy a Pebble once a year, as per the duration of their manufacturer’s warranty, and still come out spending much less than one would on Apple Watches.

What could change this equation?
The appearance of a new killer app. If the current killer app for the smartwatch is notifications, I predict the next one would have something to do with health. As I said here before, I will gladly pay for an Apple Watch if it could warn me to rush to a hospital due to an imminent heart attack. It would be even better if the watch gave me that defibrillation hit that kept me running all the way to that hospital.
Apple, my glove is at your feet.

Image by LWYang, Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) licence