29 March 2011

Why corporations are still not buying many Apple products.

Apple is in a position no technology company has been in previously: To control the entire technology ecosystem. With their control of flash memory resources they have built an astounding arsenal of devices that cannot be matched in price or elegance. Consumers are lining up around Apple stores to be the first to buy these devices unseen because they are confident their friends and relatives will be jealous that they got it first. Cupertino products are part fashion statement, part Star Trek gadgetry, part Jobsian magic all rolled up into a price that Americans cannot resist owning. We love them so much that Apple technology is replaced within two years, not because it needs to be, because we cannot keep ourselves from owning the latest device as soon as we can afford to. You could even argue that the demise of cable TV is a direct result of our need to save money to buy more Apple gadgets. Yet with all of this well earned success Apple continues to give the corporate workplace a middle finger salute.

Few people know this but the first question Adam asked Eve (yes, she was the biblical CIO): Why is it that we do not use Apple products here? Much like me, I suspect Eve carried an Apple computer for personal use but would not put them in their corporate pasture. I happily sport a MacBook Air, an iPad and an iPod Touch, partially as a product of making certain our remote access functions for our employees and partially because they are amazing devices. However, for every day work in the office Apple makes it impossible to seriously consider these because they refuse to address the needs of a corporate environment.

This is not necessarily a negative thing to say about Apple. Steve Jobs has proven that he can take over the market without bending over to the needs of suits. The problem for those in charge of business technology is that the suits want to carry Apple products. There are very few people who do not love to make a fashion statement and there is none finer in the technology universe than a device created with Apple magic. Still, they have not made huge in-roads for some very good reasons:

The MacBook Air is an amazing piece of hardware and my favorite computer ever made but I cannot afford to put it in our corporate environment. The first issue is OS X and the lack of native support of Active Directory and Group Policy. Computer systems in a corporate environment are managed through these core systems and while Apple could support them they refuse to do so. Still, you can (and I do) run Windows 7 on the device which is, arguably, as good as OS X so why not just do that? I will attest that I think it is the ideal laptop but the expense will run you from $1200 to $1800 which is double what a Windows 7 laptop with a manually installed SSD will cost. Smart corporations use Citrix or Terminal Services for access from a laptop which makes them glorified terminals and anything over a grand is out of the question. And, anyone who follows Apple knows that they really do not have a true corporate desktop option.

Then there is the iOS saga. An outstanding consumer operating system that has no peer, but I would argue that it has created some enemies in the corporate environment. One example is the original iOS devices used to lie to Exchange Servers saying they were storing the data encrypted locally when, in fact, it was in plain text and could easily be extracted with nothing more than an iPod cable and a computer. Were that not jarring enough Apple decided to not tell anyone and simply fix the issue with a release that left all older iOS devices unable to connect to work email, calendars and contacts. How do you think iPhone and iPod Touch users felt when their devices suddenly were unable to work with the only option to buy a new Apple device? Some are still convinced it was those big bad computer people in the basement that did it.

Any technology director worth their salt immediately banned iOS devices and the ones who are really concerned about security turned off ActiveSync when they realized a developer as large as Apple could fib and open up a gaping security hole in their corporate communications infrastructure. People wonder why Research In Motion's BlackBerry continues to sell so well in the corporate environment and in a lot of ways that Canadian company has Apple's early mistakes to thank for it.

It has been a couple years since that incident and you would think Apple would have learned their lesson, but that is only partially true. The latest 4.3 operating system with the new Safari JavaScript engine killed off access to Outlook Web Access, which just may be the only avenue available to iOS users for accessing email since the last Apple blunder may have disabled their devices from direct ActiveSync connections. Déjà vu as the trouble tickets throughout America rolled in when home employees were unable to access work on their devices. Fortunately this time Apple released a patch to fix the problem rather than forcing folks to buy a whole new device, but it is a painful reminder of why Apple products are not always a CIO's best friend.

I am a huge fan of Apple hardware and their contracts for flash memory have enabled their devices to be not only the best but the least expensive around. The MacBook Air single-handedly destroyed the Dell Adamo within weeks and the HP Envy has not had a second look since leaving Samsung to lone competitor at hundreds more than Apple's offerings. The iPad sent every manufacturer back to the drawing board and while Google's Android platform is getting close there has yet to be anyone who has truly matched the five hundred dollar marvel. Microsoft's Ballmer is still the ostrich in the corner office with his head so far up the Windows sphincter that he has yet to realize his products are universally ignored these days. That said, it is Apple's occasioanlly buggy software that continues to cause grief, or perhaps the arrogance that Apple has toward corporate policy. Either way, if Apple wants to finally eat a sizable percentage of the business world's technology needs they are going to need to check their software and arrogance before they launch it on the public.

24 March 2011

Cellular carriers are ripping you off.

Yes, it is obvious that cellular carriers are taking as much money from their customers as they possibly can, but most Americans are only marginally aware of the situation. Sure, those tiny packets of information called "text messages" actually cost nothing for the carriers to send so that is just complete profit to them. Yes, the throttling of data means that heavy users are going to either lose service or pay out the nose. Sure, some carriers (looking at you, AT&T) have major problems with dropped calls and metro areas with terrible service. No doubt the two major carriers hold all the best devices for themselves to keep local companies out of the game. Still, the major theft going on is a mystery to most.

Let us put it in a different light and see if you can catch how they are robbing us. Suppose that the only way to buy a computer with an internet connection was through your internet service provider. So, you wanted to sign up with a smaller local carrier but they do not have an agreement with Apple for the devices you want. You admit defeat and sign up with Comcast because you need a MacBook Air. Great news! Comcast sells that Macbook Air to you for only two hundred dollars! All you have to do is sign a contract for your internet service for $150 a month for two years. Everyone wins because you get a fantastic laptop at a low price and Comcast knows they have you as a customer for two years. Sure, if you leave early you will pay a two thousand dollar early termination fee, but you have no plans on moving any day soon.

If you already own a Windows laptop you want to use on Comcast they will let you carry over your device so you do not have to pay for the two hundred dollar laptop. How nice, right? Even better, you will be on a month to month at $150 a month for their service and can leave at any time without an ETF. Sweethearts.

Catch how they are robbing us?

Today to carry a MacBook Air and have a Comcast cable modem service costs $1,400 for the hardware and $40 a month. So the total bill you pay today is around $2,400 for 24 months. However, in the example above where your home internet connection is like your cellular service you are actually paying $3,800 for the two years of service - or around twice as much. But, hey, it a great deal because you only paid $200 for the MacBook Air, right?

It is understandable that someone low on cash might buy into this scenario because they cannot afford a $600 iPhone, but the vast majority of Americans know a bad deal when it is staring at them. That is why the cellular carriers, for the most part, do not allow you to see what your cell plan would cost if you bought the device outright. Yes, your phone bill might be half what it is today because they are collecting a huge premium on that "loan" they gave you for the phone.

Nearly no one knows they are being ripped off. They think the discount on the phone is just a nice freebie for being a customer for two years and are completely unaware they are paying such a high premium monthly on their phone bill for it. Corporate customers should be especially incensed because they have the money to buy devices outright for their employees and would love to have that monthly savings on their bill.

While you are seeing the lowest priced major cellular company being engulfed by one of the most expensive you should take a moment to contemplate how the cellular industry is colluding with each other to make certain we are unaware of how much money they are taking from us every single month.

16 March 2011

We need to abandon nuclear energy but only after a better option is discovered.

There is no question that we should give up on nuclear power when a better alternative comes along. Unfortunately, a better one has not appeared for the energy needs of our world and one could argue that nuclear fuel is better for the environment than the short and long term issues associated with coal and oil. As ugly as it sounds, the safety ramifications of nuclear power primarily hit the area where an accident would happen whereas the effects of coal and oil do not require an accident - they are impacting the entire planet every day we continue to use them.

The issue of radioactive waste is real but not nearly as dire as some may paint it. France has been using nuclear energy as their primary source (including selling it to other countries) for 40 years now and they have very little waste. The reason is that the cores are 95% recyclable so they re-use them again and again. Modern nuclear plant designs really have answers to all of the decades old concerns of environmental damage, whether it is human error, natural event or what to do with the bad stuff that is created in the process.

Still, the events in Japan underscore how dangerous this is, regardless of the safety systems in place. Statements that "this will never be a Chernobyl" are being laughed at by some because they could easily argue that it could be a very slow developing Chernobyl. Statements that "wow, it withstood an earthquake much larger than it was designed to but they just didn't plan for the tsunami" are equally unhelpful because this is Japan -- a major earthquake always has a tsunami in tow (they invented the word, folks) and they did plan for a tsunami in their earthquake preparation. The bottom line is that the plant did not withstand all of the elements involved in an earthquake that large and trying to separate the two events is perhaps not as helpful as it may seem. (That said, all of the people working to fix the issue in Japan are heroes in my book.)

What we have learned is that building a nuclear power plant on the Ring of Fire is dangerous and you need the best safety designs imaginable. We need to recognize that we cannot know what we do not know and plan for that. Plants older than 30 years (yes, making up a number) probably need to be retired - not because they are too old to work, but because newer technology has made their safety worthiness obsolete. We are not infallible and our road map needs to account for that.

We do need to build more nuclear power plants to replace our dependence on coal while simultaneously investing in other green technologies - but we need to learn the lessons from this event to make certain it is never repeated.

Google Maps View of Fukushima Nuclear Plant Before Accident
Is it possible to build a disaster-proof nuclear power plant?
U.S. calls radiation 'Extremely High'
Design of G.E.'s Mark 1 Nuclear Reactors Show Weaknesses

06 March 2011

The GOP appears to be declaring war on our children.

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I do not like to segregate into D versus R because the fact is that we all sit somewhere in the middle of the extremes.  There are plenty of Republicans that disagree with the war on teachers and unions that is currently taking place.  That said, Fox News is advertising the talking points of the GOP to allow the richest Americans to keep their money while stealing the future from the working class.

Our teachers are the working class living on Main Street.  Fox News has been using all of their resources to make certain the bankers and Wall Street that got us into our financial disarray were allowed to keep their bonuses and huge salaries while the tax payer rescued them to protect Main Street from a depression.  Bush and Obama's plan ultimately worked and jobs are slowly creeping back into the economy but they were forced to take a hands-off approach to the ridiculous sums of money the rich were allowed to swim in including the organizations that are alive today thanks to our taxes.

On the opposite side of the financial picture are our educators.  We used to talk about how lucky we were to have gifted teachers that work for as little.  Not anymore.  Despite what Fox News might say, this is not a debate about unions, this is a debate about letting people earning more than two hundred thousand dollars (which are not teachers) keep as much money as possible while stealing the future from those less fortunate.

In typical "Fair and Balanced" fashion they play their stories with adjustments to reality.  They will interview people to make it sound like teachers leave at two in the afternoon and only work nine months out of the year while not actually interviewing any real teachers.  (Shocker!  Many teachers spend their summer preparing for the new year, regularly work 10 hour days during the school year and spend their "free time" continuing their personal education.)  Fox continues to run stories making it sound like tax payers pay for the unions and that they require membership which could not be further from the truth.  Public Employee Unions Don't Get One Penny from Taxpayers and Can't Require Membership

No doubt, we have a financial problem in our country and the way Obama's cabinet was trying to address it was to let the Bush tax cuts on the richest Americans expire.  This was not a war against the rich, it was a war against our national debt and leaving a two and a half trillion dollar debt to our kids.  If we had let the tax cuts disappear it would have brought in over a trillion dollars in less than three years and made a nice payment on our federal credit card. Alternatively, we could have focused on adjusting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and dramatically which would have, and still can, changed our financial situation significantly.  This was also ignored, of course, because politicians are, above all else, concerned about being re-elected and cutting money from the elderly is the kiss of death.

So now some Republicans have decided we are going to balance the budget by cutting the programs that help the most impoverished Americans.  Their war is focused on stealing the pensions of teachers because people in the private sector no longer have such a retirement "luxury".  The fact is teacher annual salaries are significantly less than they could make in the private sector but they do it because they will not need to worry about retirement.  It is a trade-off that may mean a total benefits package, that includes free dental and medical, is in the 100K range.  Keep in mind these are individuals that went to college for years to achieve a Bachelors degree, teaching certificate and many also collected a Masters and some a Doctorate.  If you compare like-educated individuals in the private sector you will find teachers are significantly under paid, but they do this job because they love helping kids shape our future.  Fox News will continue to compare their salaries to people who did not attend college for 5 or more years because their case of 100K being out of whack with reality is dependent on stories that are highly inaccurate.

At the risk of stating the obvious, educators are the individuals that work with the poorest kids in our country and give them hope for a brighter future.  Teachers are shaping the future of our country every day and there is clearly an element of our society that wants to reduce their benefits to the point that the only public teachers that will remain are undereducated goons.  After all, why do they care since they will send their kids to private school?  If the anti-teacher movement succeeds this could doom our future generations and allow only the rich children to receive a proper education.

It is not enough to force the next generation to pay for our financial stupidity but now we are going to steal their quality education, too. If your family is earning less than two hundred thousand a year you better apply for new work because, if this new direction succeeds, nothing less than private school will ensure a proper education for your children.  The GOP is engaged in class warfare and the target they are painting is centered on the middle class and poor.  Our only hope is that Americans do not allow their warped vision to become reality.

05 March 2011

It is tough to tell what is true inside a reality distortion field.

And if there were not amusing enough, this article listing the countless distortions (lies?) told by Steve Jobs at the presentation of the iPad 2 is equally amusing:  Steve Jobs' reality distortion takes its toll on truth

The fact is the iPad 2 is what the iPad should have been from the start.  Oh well.  It is an amazing device regardless of the Apple propaganda machine and it will be invading our family shortly, no doubt.

04 March 2011

Reality Distortion at Fox News

Is it called "Fox News" because they make news or because they report their concocted version of the news?

All news sources have a bias.  For example, there is not much coverage of the weather conditions on Jupiter where the storms are thousands of times worse than on Earth because we like to focus on our own little orbiting rock.  Nearly all American news outlets focus only on the interests of the United States so you would be hard pressed to find an American that knows a West Indies bus was stoned by Bangladesh supporters, let alone an American that knows where Bangladesh is.  (It is a country to the East of India.)

However, Fox News takes this familiar narrative to a place never seen before.  They actually alter events to fit their personal narrative.  When a story is not going their way they will focus on a particular aspect, take quotes and cut them to make them sound the opposite of what was actually said, and one of their hallmarks is "accidentally" showing the wrong footage.  I put it in quotes because they do it so often that they either have the most inept staff on this rock or the most brilliant since they always manage to show the incorrect footage that proves their narrative.

In Wisconsin Fox is decidedly against the teachers ("unions") whom have been very peaceful, so they show footage from an unrelated protest in California where they were not:

They really despise Ron Paul because he is a Republican that pushes a Libertarian agenda and supports many of the social stances of the Democrats.  So when CPAC supported him for President overwhelmingly with shouts of joy they decided to show footage from a previous year where there were people who were not supportive.  Worse yet, they interviewed him mocking the fact that people did not like him when the opposite was true:

To make Sarah Palin's book sales look more popular they decided to use footage from her on the campaign trail rather than selling books:

To make a health care rally look far more popular they decided to pump in footage of another rally where the turn out was significantly larger:

I could sit here pointing out their distortions (the kind interpretation) all day, but you see the point.  Fox News is not just biased, they are making up the news to match their talking points.  Then, in a fashion only they could pull off, they call their work "Fair and Balanced" and regularly talk about other news sources being biased.  Without question they are but to reach the title of "Fair and balanced" you apparently have to lie.

Having said that, I am not saying you should not watch Fox News.  That Glenn Beck guy is absolutely hilarious after a couple of beers.  No, what I am saying is that if you find yourself believing anything they are saying you should visit Google News and find another perspective because often times what they are telling you may be the opposite of what is actually going on.