30 December 2014

The new cold war.

I make no secret of my admiration of the Chinese government's approach to conquering the world. They took the best parts of capitalism and applied it to the control of communism to develop the most important economy in the world today. But make no mistake - they are not content to control the financial system. They want to control it all.

No country can every conquer the world. Even the United States, whom some would say have owned the path of humanity since the end of the second great war, cannot keep other groups from making choices that are contrary to our desires. But America has also made no secret of this asinine concept of "exceptionalism" that is code for "we are better than the rest of the world so we can do whatever the hell we want". No human is better than any other human but our current systems do not reward the advancement of all humanity.

The grand ol' USA decided a couple of decades ago that they wanted China, with their never-ending stockpile of communist labor, to build all of our toys. Those silly Chinese would be too stupid to know what they were manufacturing, so it would be no problem for them to build some of the most technologically advanced gadgetry being used. We get cheap goods and the lowly country of China would get a little money to help their poor little rice patty universe.

As it turns out, the People's Republic of China was every bit as smart as the Americans and may very well have outsmarted us at our own game. They educated their citizens and managed to collect enough money to start buying out or creating their own world leading technology firms. Lenovo, Motorola, Huawei, Xiaomi, ZTE, Baidu - the list goes on. Yes, the "free world" may still be leading but China is on pace to catch us within the next decade.

At the same time, China continues to control what their citizens can and cannot do. Much like the Great Wall before it, they have assembled the "Great Firewall" that can keep their billions focused on only the items they have approved for use. Google is on the other side of the political coin and China is doing everything they can to block their "free speech" ways along with numerous other American tech staples.

China has every right to govern how they see fit and make any choices they like. Yet they are playing a very different game then we have ever encountered previously.  While China and America are pretending to like each other, this isn't a problem, but this relationship seems certain to crumble. Sure, they might have nowhere near the level of control as our friends in North Korea, but they certainly are taking steps to get closer. By controlling what citizens consume they have an army of intellect that is slowly becoming wary of the West.

While China pushed the world to reject usage of the American dollar, cuts off American industry and continues building a military force, the United States is starting to experiment with moving manufacturing home. There is a recognition that the marriage is losing the once rosy hue and corporations are starting to reduce the dependence.

However, a dark day could be in our future if these two heavyweights ever have a serious disagreement, and China is well aware of that. The one area of tech that they have not received willingly is the free world's military capabilities. Is China content with slowly inventing (or stealing) those abilities on their own? Or would they consider a partnership with a large communist neighbor?

Russia has the military capability and China has the money. They both love controlling their citizens and are not huge fans of the West. On the surface it seems like a marriage made in heaven, but could Putin swallow a little pride to allow the guys next door to have equal (or better) billing? It seems we could be witnessing the beginnings of a new cold war.

29 December 2014

Sony and The Interview clean up.

While I would love to take credit in forcing Sony to release The Interview, I suspect the word from POTUS had a bigger impact. Despite the supposed threat from North Korean hackers of a "9/11-style attack" (whatever the hell that means) a handful of independent cinemas, Google and Microsoft all released the flick on Christmas. Last I heard, not a single American family got hit by an airplane for watching this movie on their Chromecast device.

A few meaningless thoughts to consider:
  • It is becoming increasingly clear North Korea had nothing to do with this which should be a surprise to no one. Sony has long been a honeypot for hackers and the probability that a few people in a technology barren landscape brought Sony to their knees is near zero. What is highly likely is that a disgruntled former Sony employee is behind the entire mess, especially since the whole thing started as extortion for cash.
  • The United States is likely behind North Korea being unable to connect to the internet or even wireless networks due to the hack. This sets a dangerous precedent where our nation is endorsing cyber attacks as retaliation, even in a case where the accused was never truly involved.
    • As an interesting side-note, China just recently cut off access to Google as they try to force their nation to use only Chinese-approved products. The distinction between the two acts is not as great as you might think.
  • While Sony used the excuse that no one would release their film, Google and Microsoft were more than happy to make it available to the masses. What is particularly interesting is that Sony did not release the movie on their own PlayStation streaming network.
  • The Interview took at impressive 15 million over the first four days, most of it coming from Google Play, which seems on the surface like a huge victory for streaming new films. Do not count on anyone at the Motion Picture Association to take note, however.
  • Pirates have long said that if new movies were available for streaming on day one then there would be far less piracy. Unfortunately, that statement appears false with this release and undercuts one of the arguments in favor of an earlier digital release of films.
At the end of the day, Sony is going to make their money back on a movie that probably deserved to go straight to streaming. They received a whole lot of free and sometimes even positive publicity for a hack that was likely a problem all of their own making. Not too shabby. Here's hoping that the fake North Korean hackers go after a higher quality movie next time.

19 December 2014

Sony is a whore.

To be fair, all for-profit organizations sell themselves. That's capitalism. The difference with Sony is that their crack whore methods will do so even if it means degrading themselves and the people they typically expose themselves to. All so they can earn that extra slimy buck.

You know the background: Sony was hacked, supposedly by someone in North Korea, because their organization likes to store all corporate passwords in a text file labeled "don't open me because I contain all of our passwords". As a result, said hacker managed to obtain just about every piece of confidential information that Sony has, including all personnel records, emails saying how much the CEO loves screwing over their customers and Kazuo Hirai's Snapchat's. (The hackers, of course, returned the latter.)

These brilliant computer geniuses, with expertise to read a document containing passwords, decided blackmail was the best option and emailed that if Sony releases the movie "The Interview" they would release even more confidential information and kill anyone attending the movie. Apparently this Seth Rogen comedy is insulting to those living in North Korea and this hacker was born without as sense of humor. You would think Sony would respond with a quick "Well then move, bitches. Oh wait - you can't because you live in totalitarian septic wasteland called North Korea." and include a nude selfie of Hirai's backside. But ... No.

Word has it that "The Interview" is not very funny and the American cinemas have been facing less traffic this holiday season. The Suits determined that no one would watch a movie when North Korea is threatening to hurt you (I know, I cannot believe I typed that, either), so the big movie chains said they would not show it. And since Sony was wearing their tightest fitting whore panties that day, they cancelled the release indefinitely. The small mom and pop cinemas (yes, they do still exist), smelling the American Exceptional-ism pot of gold, opted to show an old North Korea complementary flick called "Team America" but the parent company, Paramount, told them they would not allow it.

You might be mistaken into believing that the Motion Picture Association, Sony and all of the big organizations showing regurgitated Peter Jackson special effect bloopers might have done this because they were afraid of North Korea and the hackers. Perhaps we could even forgive them if they did. But no. They did it for the insurance money.

Since they already had an indication that the movie was not going to be a hit and given that ticket sales were already slumping, they decided to ride the easy train to a claim check for the cost of creating the film or the estimation by the movie house on how many tickets would be sold. Yes - all of these companies are actually making money from their decision to coat America in a French military greeting: The white flag. (Don't worry, France. That may become our new flag, soon.) It is a perfect win-win. The whore gets a paycheck and we are left to clean up her sticky mess.

"The Interview" could have been the highest grossing movie of the season purely due to American hubris. We might have loaded up the cinemas and the biggest laugh would have been the thought that North Korea had any power over us. Instead, North Korea is laughing at us. And rightly so.

Can we move Sony headquarters to North Korea, please?

11 December 2014

Interstellar holes. Yes. There are a lot more than one.

Interstellar is a visually gripping and gorgeous film. Every geek should visit the theatre to watch it. Maybe twice. However, I recommend being an hour late. See .. It is also so self-absorbed that the truly interesting stuff does not happen until nearly a standard movie length has passed by. I also might recommend bringing some noise cancelling headphones so you can miss plot holes so big that they are the largest hole in the film. Yes - there are some spoilers below, but none as big of a spoiler as the film itself.

McConaughey's character, Cooper, is leaving the corpse of Earth on an old rocket ship that appears to have been left over from a scrapped 1969 Apollo launch. When it reaches our lower atmosphere they exit the rocket on a small ship that docks with a deep space tanker orbiting our planet in anticipation of this moment. So far so good.

The first major issue (beyond the fact that this is 90 minutes of plot shrunk into a 7 day movie) is that Cooper and his crew need to manually connect their ship to the tanker because the computer is not capable of it. Okay, so technology has not advanced much, right? Except they have fully artificially aware robots that are joining them on this journey who are human enough to have a sense of humor and, weirdly, also have better acting skills than anyone else in the movie. So why do they need to manually dock with this thing? Oh, because they need it as a plot point later.

When they reach the glass sphere of worms loitering around Saturn they send their little ship with all the power they need into the light and end up in another solar system. Cool. Sure, they had to play fast and loose with a ridiculously gargantuan black holes surrounded by the perfect supernova so they would actually be able to stop and explain the time dilation, but they want this sucker to be scientifically accurate and they got there. Except they didn't.

See ... They land on a planet that has 1.4 times the gravity of Earth. On their little ship. The ship that did not have enough power to make it to Saturn all by itself. A ship that could not escape Earth velocity without a massive Apollo rocket ship behind it. And yet this little bucket of bolts somehow has the power to escape not just two planets, but one that has more gravity than Earth, and do a little loopity-loop around a black hole? Apparently Earth power is hundreds of times more powerful in this new solar system.

Speaking of this lovely new paradise: Why are we spending so much of Earth resources trying to move us to a new solar system around a volatile part of the universe (black holes have a nasty habit of dragging in new solar tenants on a daily basis) when the planets they are considering are all far less hospitable than the ones near Earth? Or, an even better question might be why did future Earthlings spend so much time developing black worm hole defying geekness that can talk back in time when they could have just told us to go live on Mars?

(And did anyone ever ponder the causation loop issue that Earth could never have found this other solar system to send ourselves to because we would have died off since there was no future Earthling to send us to this new solar system? Yes, this stuff does get confusing but that is why astrophysicists stay away from the future directly impacting the past because, well, it can't.)

Anyway ... So Cooper and company has nothing better to do but fly around the accretion disc of the dark circle thingy so that they have energy to try to get to the third planet, all while he gives up his life by dropping through the event horizon into the black hole. While we do not know much about these invisible points of nothingness, what we do know is that it is so unmeasurably hot that it turns matter into a glowing mass of plasma that is shot at near light speed into the cosmos. But, sure - his space ship from Earth can handle that, even though another similar space ship turned into confetti over a minor airlock incident. The other one must have been made in China or something.

I am going to ignore the other dozen black hole issues since we have yet to visit one and we can give them the benefit of the doubt that Einstein was wrong. So after the Cooper Family holiday in the hole, he returns to his daughter and family all those decades later (time dilation - he is still a young dude) he finds his daughter is on a comfy death bed and everyone else just pretends he does not exist. Apparently caring in any way about your own family, let alone the man who saved humanity, is a lost art in the future. Totally get it. If George Washington were to suddenly show up today we would make him move to another country, too.

Which is what Cooper decides to do. Why not? He has a hot babe waiting for him around that black hole. Writers of this script decide to ignore the time dilation issues and create a way for him to get his woman. Unfortunately, they forgot that he has been gone from Earth's solar system for over seventy years and in that time they have developed this amazing technology to allow them to create mini Earth environments in space - and yet human security systems and space ships are still easy enough that a 120 year old guy can steal one and fly it away without a single person noticing. This is the same way a Japanese Zero pilot could totally steal and fly away with a B2 Stealth Bomber. Totally.

10 December 2014

Looking forward to the "Super Sexy Bowl".

Crowning a college football national champion brings elation, sorrow and controversy. Fortunately, this is the year that all of that has been rectified. Introducing the college football playoff system where we will finally know which team is the true champion - in whining. We already have a couple teams in Texas crying foul that their tickets were torn up at the door and I am particularly excited about the third or fourth place BCS team winning so we can invite all previous Natty winners for what will surely be an anal award worthiness strip-down.

Long ago (prior to 1998) there was no formal game or clear-cut way to designate the champion and, as a result, the winner of the Associated Press and Coaches polls were regularly used by schools to claim superiority. This often meant split national championships, or from another perspective, no definitive national champion could be defined since the polls were in conflict. Even when they agreed, other schools would occasionally claim they were the best if they had a school record that matched the poll’s best. There were extremely rare years that we had the #1 and #2 team play each other which gave more validity. Yes, 1986 Nittany Lions, you were one of the few teams prior to 1998 that can claim a definitive national title, but that year was a rare exception.

The Bowl Championship Series, or BCS, was created to solve this problem, though many would argue that it created as many as it solved. The BCS would use the two popularity contest polls to determine which two teams should play for the college football crown. Unfortunately, it did not take long for the holes in this system to start to show. Seemingly every other year there would be a team invited to the championship game that, statistically, did not belong and would prove it with their performance on the field. Only three years after implementation the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who failed to even capture their own division, were invited to the big game and were blown away (shock!) by the weather patterns of Miami.

Having coaches and other human beings select the champion brings a heavy bias in the outcome. Realizing this after the Nebraska meltdown, the BCS decided to introduce a bias of their own by leaning heavily on Sagarin and other computer calculations. Over the next few years they continued to introduce different variations to try to get the formula “just right” in the futile hope that they could magically select the best two teams in the nation.

One issue that the BCS could never fully address was the ranking of teams before the school year even started. Since polls are rarely willing to admit their own stupidity, the teams that start at the top can only exit by losing countless games in a row. A team that was missed from the top 25 can only climb into the top field by never losing, and often never reach the top spot. The undefeated 2008 Utah Utes are a great example where they clearly appeared to be a national championship caliber team but never had a chance to prove it in the big game. In my book, they are as much a national champion as any other split championship year.

The sure-fire way to fix the whole mess was this playoff system. And here we are. Four teams is a nice balance between including other potential champions with the need to limit injuries and stretching out the season too far. Certainly an eight team system will be considered in the future, but there is a point of diminishing returns beyond four since whatever team was “next” in the polls will always feel slighted. So, for the first time we actually have a damn good way of handing out the crown.

Now, if you share my obnoxiousness, you might be asking about all of the previous claimed national champions. Nothing, of course. Every team can claim whatever they like from the past just as they always have. However, from the anal-retentive sports fan universe, there is a major difference between a team claiming a championship in the eighties versus a team who won in the playoff system. Of course, if one of the two teams that would not have been invited to the BCS N.C. were to win the big game then it will serve to underscore just how questionable all the previous champion assertions have been. No one wants to take their crown away, but there does seem to be a need to solidify the importance of this new system.

There is a relatively easy fix that the NFL employed with the Super Bowl. Prior to 1967, all professional football games champions were determined by the League Championship. My favorite team, the Philadelphia Eagles, happened to win three of them. The problem was that it did not include teams outside their league. When they decided to include all the teams they created a “Super Bowl” and from that point forward the only thing that mattered was the “Super Bowl” champion - an honor my favorite team has never won. (Damn it, Chip - make that happen!)

College football now has their “Super Bowl” but this beautiful baby is currently nameless. Time to change that. Might I suggest the “Glorious Game”? “Terrific Toss Up”? “Peerless Pastime”? “Super Sexy Bowl”? Whatever the name, all of America cannot wait for the exciting show. And the even more exciting controversy when it is all over.

15 November 2014

Now Apple could truly own the sapphire market.

As has been widely reported, Apple has a long history of controlling and sometimes manipulating any vendor they work with. Those are the perks of being the largest company in the world with a similarly sized ego to match. Their contract terms are often worded in such a way to corner the market on that product and leave rivals scrambling. This was the approach used with GTAT, a solar power company who also had invented a low-cost method of manufacturing sapphire screens.

Sapphie was, for at least a brief moment, the holy grail of touch screens. It could withstand impact from asteroids with barely a scratch and was forcing Corning to consider renaming "Gorilla Glass" to "Monkey Poo". Apple created contract terms that forced GTAT to only sell their product to Apple and to build up infrastructure for whatever Apple needed. At the same time, Apple could set the price and cancel the deal at any time while holding huge financial penalties over GTAT if they did not comply. Basically, if Apple wanted to crush the company they could do so easily. And they did.

Ignoring the fact that Apple just crushed a fairly innovative solar power company that was helping to make us a slightly more environmentally responsible world, they might have done so to outright own most of the sapphire screen market in their battle-to-the-death with the Samsung OLED king.

GTAT was left holding huge loans for building infrastructure for every iPhone that Apple sells. Unfortunately for their long term health, Apple set a price for the product that meant GTAT would lose money on every order. Their investment in the furnaces continued but, behind the scenes, Apple knew that this company was going to collapse. In fact, they made certain of it.

Why would Apple do such a thing? I suspect it was so Apple could purchase GTAT's infrastructure at bankruptcy prices. Not only did they keep the competition from getting this innovative product, they also set themselves in a position to own the manufacturing plants going forward. If the technology proved to not be as useful as expected, they could simply let someone else buy up the furnaces and move on. It was a perfect scenario for the geniuses on that infinite profit loop.

It will be interesting to see in the months ahead whether Apple does purchase part or all of GTAT. No question, there would be a small collection of anti-Apple zealots who would cause a commotion if they did, but the fact is that this is all part of the profit game of capitalism. Apple did nothing illegal. Just the same, if I were a tech supplier considering a contract with Apple, I would shop the competition first.

13 November 2014

Spotify is still music piracy.

The new wave of media is to never own or rent anything. Stream whatever we want from wherever we want. Sure, depending on the media type and the location, your options will vary, but the consumer pays a nominal fee and can get instant access to a nice library of material without specifically paying for that viewing. Perfection!

For movies this scenario works relatively well. The studios that paid the bucks to film those shows and they get to dictate what they get paid for your 90 minutes of pleasure. If they believe they are getting screwed they can pull their line-up from Amazon or Netflix. For new movies, they are only available at the box office and flicks just released on plastic coasters will be limited to rental options where they can more specifically collect their fortunes.

This scenario is far more problematic when it comes to music. With a service like Pandora where they are creating custom radio stations the issue is less messy because if you want to hear Shake It Off twice in a row you will need to buy it from the iTunes store. Products like Spotify, Beats and the upcoming Google entry make this far more messy because a good portion of those customers will never buy the song. From their perspective, they paid their $5 to $10 a month and that is all they will ever pay for music.

That is the greatest deal ever for the consumer pocketbook but terrible for the artists who receive next to nothing while their work is available at your audio whim. Essentially, by never actually buying the music you are, from the perspective of the artist, stealing their product. Again - not a problem if you actually buy your favorite tunes but the vast majority of the customers of these new services are rarely doing that. Many consumers would just turn to piracy if it were not for streaming. Since the musician gets paid in pocket lint from streaming royalties, there is no difference in their mind if you pirate the song or stream it.

Consumers are justified in saying "It's legal, unlike piracy. I am just buying what the recording industry is allowing, so there is nothing wrong with that." True. Much like paying for access to a BitTorrent feed, we certainly are paying for free access to any music we like. The RIAA is currently living with this deal because they get to keep nearly all of the money made. Artists are getting wise to it and those with leverage (Taylor Swift) are pulling their works from certain streaming services.

The question for consumers is whether we want to be an enabler to a system that essentially forces artists to go on tour to make any money from their creation. Just because we do not label streaming as "piracy" does not mean it is not exactly that. We are stealing the work of artists by paying the recording industry for access to the "legal" Pirate Bay. What an amazing deal.

11 November 2014

Our dreams for corporate led astrophysics is lost in space.

NASA and the Soviet space program have transformed the world. It was not enough to inspire millions of children and make us all want to reach for the stars. In order to reach new heights and explore new worlds these programs had to invent their way there and our every day lives have been the beneficiaries. Scratch resistant glass, ear thermometers, memory foam, long distance communications systems, invisible braces, smoke detectors, filtration systems and so on.

Today's mindset that government is inefficient, expensive and broken has taken over much of the American psyche and we have tossed NASA in a permanent penalty box. While we might have dreams of exploring the galaxy or reaching other solar systems, Congress has reminded us how cold it is in space by freezing their funding. The Space Shuttles, astronauts and dreams of fusion reactors are collecting dust in museums where we can pay top dollar to dream of what used to be.

Do not fret, my friends. Private space programs will save us! While government might represent all that is wrong on our small blue marble, corporations represent everything that can go right. Capitalism will ride in on a tidal wave stallion and be able to efficiently ride off with all our astrophysical dreams for a small fraction of the price.

The unfortunate thing about that vision is that rocket science is rocket science. The Space Shuttle cost a small fortune because creating a re-usable space station is so ridiculously complicated that the Soviets gave up after a single launch. Taking every step you can to assure every life is as safe as possible is extremely time consuming. In order to create new inventions to overcome the impossible you need all of the most brilliant minds available focused on that common goal. And, yes.. This stuff is expensive.

This is not to say that corporate involvement is all bad. Elon Musk is a brilliant man and Space X is certainly pushing territory that NASA has talked about but never had the funding to explore. However, he is the exception to the rule. Nearly every other program involves older astronauts using old NASA concepts to beg for money to fund an unrealistic dream. Golden Spike claims they can sell landings on the Moon to anyone willing to fit the bill, despite the fact that they have barely a scrap of evidence they could pull it off. The Mars One program believes they can put people on Mars for six billion dollars, or the smallest fraction of NASA's 600 billion plus estimate. Again - big vision but no proof of concept.

These are dreams and illusions written as mission statements on start-up financing. Richard Branson has some brilliant people working for him and very deep pockets but his dreams of space crashed before even leaving our atmosphere. Imagine what will happen during a stock market crash or, heaven forbid, when we hit our next recession? How many of these companies will survive? Mars One and Golden Spike surely will not.

Then there is the issue of what these programs are giving back to society. While today they are fumbling around to hobble in NASA's disco-era technno shoes, it seems that they are at least a decade away from truly inventing something that could transform every day life. And even if they were lucky enough to survive that long and actually innovate something semi-interesting, there is a near zero chance they will simply give that brilliance away to anyone who wants to use it.

However, the most important issue we face is that the next era of space exploration requires dedication and money bags far larger than any single corporate entity could justify. If we are to regularly visit other planets and eventually other solar systems then we will need trillions of dollars being spent on the most brilliant plans imaginable. For all the brilliance and finances that Mr. Musk brings to the table, he can never match the funding and genius possible by a government that can print their own money. And that, ultimately, is why NASA needs our support and our blank check to take our species to the next frontier.

09 November 2014

Utopia is still hiding in a Google Inbox.

In the past couple of years, Google has done a stunning impersonation of Microsoft. Not just in operating system market share but also in their lack of innovation. To be fair to Redmond, while the prodigies of Gates design a unique smart watch on top of their Azure cloud, it appeared that all of Google's brilliance got sucked into a giant glasshole in the center of Mountain View. Well. No more.

I could sing the hallelujah chorus of the new Google Drive and Docs but no praise is deserved on a product that was ripe for an overhaul. These cloud systems were, and still are, far more useful, productive and reliable than the competition but looked like the crap designs of 2007. Because they were designed in 2007. Now they are starting to actually resemble the quality that they represent. [slow clap]

Instead, it is Google Inbox that caught my imagination. While Gmail easily transformed the face of email and all but killed every other web-based competitor that existed when Gwen Stefani was a high school idol, those game changing days got stale not long after Taylor Swift dumped her sixth boyfriend oh those million men ago. Now that Outlook.com looks prettier and Yahoo Mail copied the Gmail structure, what is left is a Gmail that still functions a little better than the competition but is no longer that interesting.

Enter the Inbox. Suddenly your inbox is treated like the to-do list that it always has been and allows you to "bundle" like categories, treat incoming items as tasks, create follow-up, pin important mail and unclutter the entire mess into a clean interface. Overall I would stay these new concepts work really well and, depending on your tolerance for change, you can adjust to the interface in just a few minutes. Admittedly, it helped my handicapped brain cells that I could move my current key "labels" into "bundles" so I could start running immediately.

Still, I would not recommend it to everyone quite yet. It is still a beta product that requires continued use of Gmail if you are dealing with 50+ emails a day. Basics, like deleting an email, take additional clicks to accomplish which should never be the case on a clean system. (Would a trash icon really take that much extra space?) More damning is the lack of access to all of the settings that are available in Gmail: Signatures, accounts, filters, themes - the list goes on. Not all of that stuff is needed by everyone, but having nearly none of it will surely limit the potential audience. These are mostly functions that will not break up the tidy Inbox interface, either, so bringing them to the party is a needed step to acceptance as a Gmail (or Outlook.com) replacement.

Still. Nice first step, Google. It is good to see you trying something your competitors never considered and making us re-think what we expect from our software. Now if you could just stop imitating the hardware prices of your competition ($650 for a Nexus phone?!) you will really be flying again.

22 October 2014

Microsoft needs "Nokia" not "Lumia".

If you spent 7.2 billion buckeroos to purchase the most recognizable name in cell phones ever, what would you name the new phones you were going to create? Would you use that immediately brand name or opt for their little-known and poorly selling product moniker?

Nokia 1020
or
Microsoft Lumia 1020

To be fair, in the Seattle area the Microsoft Lumia might sell slightly better. Everywhere else in the world would lean toward the Nokia product. If for no other reason, the name is shorter.

It is obvious that Microsoft decided on "Lumia" because their own names ("Microsoft" and "Windows Phone") would be lost behind the successful Nokia brand. But - that is the whole point. That is the main reason they were worth 7.2 BILLION. From a marketing perspective, it is idiotic to dustbin a product name that sells itself in some markets for something that only has the history of losing money and sales to the competition.

A lot of smart decisions have been made at Microsoft recently. Just not this one.

19 October 2014

Refurb me, baby.

If you are looking for computer technology, I highly recommend checking for a refurbished version first. Manufacturers either sell them directly through a special refurbished web site or they sell them through eBay, sometimes through a third party. Not only will you save a significant percentage off the price but you will get a device that got thoroughly checked (again - if they really check their systems the first time) before you receive it.

While you can rest assured that your tech will be certified Ebola free, it is true that sometimes your newish equipment will have a minor blemish. Typically the officially refurbished devices, even sold by a third party, will have any plastic pieces replaced that show any use. They always full check the hardware before shipping it out, despite a shorter warranted period, so you can typically expect the product to last longer.

I tip my propeller hat to Apple (or "Apple Computer", since they started this ages ago) for having raised the whole refurb experience. When you purchase previously owned hardware from Cupertino you are essentially getting something that is brand new - not a blemish, fully warranted and in beautiful packaging. You simply cannot go wrong. The rest of the industry had to raise their game to match the quality - best they were able.

So save yourself a few bucks this holiday season and head to the land or refurb. Your family and friends will not know the different and will likely have a longer lasting device.

Here are a few links to get you started:
Apple Refurbished
Dell Refurbished
Chromebook Refurbished

15 October 2014

Google and the Nexus Deep 6.

Google was changing the face of the cellular industry long before the "uncarrier movement" came along. Whether it was the introduction of the Android G1 or their forcing concessions on Verizon regarding their 4G spectrum - they have been pushing the industry in new directions. Back in 2013, T-Mobile didn't need to convince the Google Nexus fans that moving to a no-contract world was better because we were already there. Why lease a phone for $200 and pay it off $100 a month in a two year prison sentence when you could own a Nexus 4 for $200 and pay $30 a month with no shackles? Google made the math so easy that even simple arithmetic was unnecessary.

But the days of buying a high end phone for one third the price was 2013. Fast forward to today with the announcement of the next generation of Google Nexus hardware. It's big. It's beautiful. And it's just as expensive as that big and beautiful competition. All hail the $400 Nexus 9 while ignoring the Kindle Fire 9" for $379. The Nexus 6 marches in at $650 when a (arguably) better Samsung Note 4 can be had for $50 more.

In the famous words of Beavis and Butthead, "you gotta have stuff that sucks to have stuff that's cool", and Google decided to give us super cool hardware with a standard suck price. But ignore the cost for a moment. How is Google improving the industry for all of us with these devices? New Guido-sized "me too" options in our already crowded phone and tablet landscape. Wasn't that Samsung's gig?

I never subscribed to the "do no evil" philosophy in Mountain View. Every company has their nasty side and perhaps Google's villainy is worse because they think their lack of baddies skit don't stink. But at least we could see how they were making things better in the hardware landscape by helping the people afford the best. If it were not for Google's Android landscape we would all be using 3.5" iPhone's that cannot copy and paste. Competition! Progress!

Someone will come along and fill that low cost and high quality smart phone without a contract niche that Nexus has decided to exit. Maybe Microsoft. Maybe BlackBerry. Heck, are you paying attention, Bezos? Maybe there is even an opening for your freaky Fire Phone after all.

10 October 2014

Back In 8 with old hardware.

Windows 8.1 is a very capable operating system hiding behind a touchscreen requirement. Yes, the user interface requires more corner moves than an elementary school four corners game. Yes, they did wholesale theft of the Sony PlayStation 3 menu system which is, arguably, the worst thing about Sony's device. But if you can get your brain past the stupidity then most everything else is better than 7. And, frankly, it is refreshing to know that Windows 9/10 is on the horizon.

One area that many complain about is lack of compatibility with Windows 7 drivers. Understandable given the manufacturers not so subtle approach of asking us to purchase new equipment. (Those sales do not benefit them financially in the slightest, of course.) However, you can connect even your oldest hardware with a little extra effort.

We have an old Fujisu SnapScan workhorse that the manufacturer says will grind to a stop on Windows 8. Nonsense. Download the drivers that will get it up and running on Windows 7 and run the software in Windows 7 compatibility mode. It is surprising how many pieces of software that supposedly will never work on the latest version that suddenly snap to life with this approach.

Printer drivers are more tricky, of course. We have an HP LaserJet 8550 color printer that, again, is completely incompatible with Windows 8. What they will not tell you is that HP has a Universal Printer Driver that is compatible with nearly every HP printer out there. Admittedly, it is not the prettiest driver and it sometimes requires you to go into sub-settings to get features (like color printing?!) to start up, but I have not found an HP printer manufactured in the last two decades that will not spring to life with the driver. And, it is Windows 8 compatible.

Sure. For old hardware you might have to work a little harder to get it working perfectly again, but it is usually possible to do. If you do not mind hunting down a solution to these vexing devices then the transition to 8, while we await a true upgrade. can seem almost acceptable.

09 October 2014

Too big for your breaches.

I received an email from the Reflect Digital Online Marketing Agency this morning (thanks, folks!) with a link to a lovely little image explaining the disaster of security breaches. My gut feeling is that it seems to go both too far (the joy of cyber liability policies) and not far enough. The unfortunate fact of life is that nearly every company has had a security breach, so it is not truly the end of the world. However, the problem is that most do their best to cover it up.

Every business wants to present their best side. If they are doing something or had something happen that does not look particularly flattering then they will toss a cloak of invisibility over it and pray for the best. California has some of the strongest laws forcing notification following a security breach and, as a result, some organizations will do only what the law requires for identification and action to minimize the impact and/or never really learn from the mistake.  Knowledge is bliss but to never know is perhaps even blissier.

The naughty people looking to infect your systems are communication gurus and share every piece of knowledge they can. When companies have their head in the sand the bad guys are welcome to rape and pillage the electronic ports for whatever they want. Seemingly every day we learn about another company that had a major hack, whether it is the one third of the United States taken down by Target or another third banking at Chase. If the largest bank in the capital of the free world cannot keep your data safe then it is time to step back and acknowledge the truth about where we are today: Every network has holes and will be breached. The question is whether we are going to stop hiding from the truth and finally start doing something substantial about it.

Everyone needs to stop worrying about their reputation and communicate honestly about the problem. Consumers (and the media) need to stop making breaches seem like the worst thing in the world when they are actually happening to all of us. When someone discovers a breach then dig in and let the world know how it happened so we can all learn from it and keep it from happening to anyone else. Better yet - the government needs to stop penalizing companies for having breaches and, instead, help everyone find out the source and how to stop it in the future.

It should go without saying, but I will type it anyway .. The only way to truly protect consumers is for everyone to work together and stop a problem from repeating.

13 September 2014

The shape of autumn.

Ah, the leaves are changing colors. The wind has picked up an arctic crispness. The birds are packing their toothbrush. And consumers everywhere are preparing to trade black rectangles.

Don't you love the fall?

The real world economics behind capitalism.

I wrote up a few worthless thoughts recently on the accepted disgust of internet carriers and the recent (though, likely short term) success of one mobile carrier. This might have been misinterpreted as a commercial or hate mail for this or that company, but it was really a personal exploration of our free market economy. This system was invented so competition would always give “the people” what they wanted - that we would choose the winner and loser. Though sometimes the winners have little to do with consumer desires.

One of the biggest success stories of "Capitalism" is that little Communist land across the pond. China’s mixed nuts version of picking the best parts and leaving the ugly ones in the bowl has ushered in a rapid transformation into, arguably, a better version of our darling market. Through heavy handed government involvement (“boo!”, “hiss!”), they have been able to infuse their society with whatever they need to compete while locking down anything that brushes them the wrong way. Yes, the First Amendment may be something the wipe their backside with, but their control has been financially extraordinary at giving the people exactly what they want.

It is safe to say that at least half of our political system would rather live through a nuclear winter than live with those “nasty Commies” forcing their desires down our throat. (Please ignore the fact that their citizens are far happier with their government than we are.) However, some of America’s biggest triumphs in recent years have been due to similar meddling.

The biggest star of the American auto world today is Tesla where their stock is charging faster than their high speed battery stations. Their technology might not exist, and certainly would not be clogging up Seattle freeways, were it not for the generous American greenback printing machine. Some elephants might be happy to see Elon Musk and his treehugging visions of our future locked in a server rack in Silicon Valley, but there is no question how they were able to give the long waiting list of Model S customers their dream vehicle.

New companies, like Tesla, are born out of a vision of what customers need, but older companies, like G.M. can sometimes need a bigger catalyst. Maybe Government Motors should have been left for dead on the deserted streets of Motown (they certainly dug their own grave) but we chose to give them a new life. GM is financially stronger than they have been since James Brown was climbing the charts. Sure, they have a billion recalls of vehicles assembled almost entirely prior to their gravestone chizzling project during the Great Recession, but our silly Feds made a profit on a company that now produces autos as good as anything manufactured by the competition.

As I alluded to in previous rants, the technology world has numerous stories of forces outside shopping malls delivering the ideal product. It was only a few years back when iPhone cell plans cost more than a Benjamin a month and AT&T was attempting to use their profits to suck up one of the only three true competitors. T-Mobile was a doomed company with customers fleeing their ranks due to a spotty mobile network that was ill equipped for the new rapid broadband world and AT&T was going to “save” them. Fortunately for iPhone owners everywhere, the FCC and their BlackBerry carrying neighbors in D.C. put a stop to the acquisition. T-Mobile was left to their own devices, and a funny thing happens when a company is staring at their own death: They (finally) listen to potential customers and force their competition to do the same.

Sometimes it is fear of the competitive future that lights a fire under a corporation to do the right thing. Only a decade ago, Verizon saw a world where their competition would deliver all services through a single fiber optic pipe and decided they wanted to get their first. They constructed fiber to homes in numerous pockets of the country because they expected cable companies to start doing the same thing. The lucky few who were the beneficiaries received an internet connection rivaling anything in the world. Unfortunately, because the competition did not follow suit, Verizon exited the game to focus on the highly lucrative cellular industry.

Competition alone delivers fantastic products and most of the organizations out there are doing just fine focusing on delivering the best product at the best price. However, it is also true that sometimes an old titan or a new cutting edge concept will need a little assistance to get a solid footing. The American economy is in a better place today thanks to companies like Tesla, T-Mobile and GM, even if old-fashioned competition alone was not entirely responsible for their present-day success.

01 September 2014

More celeb nude photos.

Yes, Jennifer Lawrence (or "Nitro" as the kids call her) had her nude photos stolen over the internet. I think (or should I say "hope") we are all in agreement that the people who did this are scumbags and the individuals buying, posting, exchanging and downloading them are accessories to this douchebaggery. All in agreement? Good. Moving on...

Theft of personal photos happens on these pipes every second of every day. Almost all of them are showing naughty bits of someone who prefers seen with at least a thin film of thread over the privates. So .. Why is a celeb allowing nakedness to be digitally mastered and uploaded to the porn flood?

Do not misunderstand me: The folks doing this are the worst type of scum because most of them think that celeb nudes are in the same category of the sapphic erotica they get up for. It isn't, of course. Yet we cannot escape this porous internet. The last thing anyone who cares about their privacy should do is allow themselves to be photographed without their pj's on. If a person dares to upload the unmentionables then they are, perhaps unknowingly, guaranteed to have it in public hands no matter how private that cloud they're hiding in. Yes, believe it or not, you can see boobies through clouds.

I wish Jennifer the best of luck on catching the original criminals (good luck with the millions now looking at your illegally obtained photo) and making them pay for their crime. And thank you for highlighting the great learning opportunity: If you would ever be embarrassed or might get into trouble if that precious something were to be stolen - I recommend an old fashioned steel safe.

09 August 2014

T-Mobile declares jihād.

When AT&T lost their bid to capture T-Mobile and handed over a check for 4 billion dollars, little did they know the monster they had just created.

First, they spent those free dollars to successfully upgrade their continental U.S. coverage and LTE speeds. With open bandwidth they offered $30 per month unlimited data/text pre-paid plans. Then they allowed customers to upgrade devices whenever they want. Next they abandoned contracts to allow customers to come and go whenever they want. Still not content, they offer to pay Verizon and AT&T early termination fees and trade in phones. They shocked iPad junkies with free data every month to GSM equipped laptops and tablets. People traveling overseas hate paying high prices, so they include international coverage for no additional cost. They hear customers complain about data overage costs on smart phones, so they give free unlimited 3G-equivalent speed after the LTE data is used up and start handing out free audio streaming.

Yes, Verizon and AT&T are doing their best to keep up, but the Black Knights threat of biting knee caps with tiny discounts does not hide the wounds. Unless you live in Alaska (the playground of Native Corp sponsored carriers you have probably never heard of), you are literally throwing money away by being on any other carrier. Even brilliant tech writers, who personally live in carrier contracts, like Maggie, are typing the virtues of jumping ship.

Sure, millions of people are flocking to T-Mobile, but that is not good enough for this terrorist carrier. Now they offer a family plan where you can cover four cell phones with unlimited data, talk and text for $100 per month - and just $10 for each additional line. Kaboom. I keep expecting the voice from Mortal Kombat to shout on the T-Mobile web site: "Finish them."

Even when looking at a $100 per month family bill, you are only seeing a small part of the savings. Remember those millions of people who lost their homes not realizing that low monthly payment would balloon on them? When you run out of data on Verizon or AT&T they will start charging you even more. When you go overseas, Verizon and AT&T charge a fortune for even looking at your phone. No wonder T-Mobile is the only one brave enough to abandon contracts. If we look at just two examples:

  • Verizon: 4 Moto X 16 gig devices ($1920), 4 people staying within data limit ($3840) = $5,760
  • T-Mobile: 4 Moto G 16 gig ($796), 4 people during 24 months ($2400) = $3,196
    • Save $2,564 on T-Mobile


  • Verizon: LG G3 ($2879), 4 people going over data limit ($4800), 3 tablets ($720) = $8,399
  • T-Mobile: Nexus 5's ($1399.96), 4 people going over data limit ($2400), 3 tablets ($0) = $3,800
    • Save $4,599 on T-Mobile

Add in some international traveling and with savings like this you might be able to buy Sprint, the entire corporation, at the end of a couple years. So, what's the catch?

The one thing everyone falls back on is "well, T-Mobile's coverage is spotty". It used to be, but my experience has shown that the gaps are no more severe than Verizon or AT&T and their performance is vastly superior to Sprint in the lower 48. Yes, if any carrier has bad coverage where you need it then you should look elsewhere. If you live in Alaska you have little choice but to buy AT&T, GCI or ACS. But do not base your opinion on Ralphie visiting your house in 2012 with a T-Mobile phone. Go online or visit a store and they will loan you a smart phone to test.

Regardless of coverage issues, the handwriting is on the wall for Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. Customers are moving in record numbers and unless they start offering similar no-contract plans with the ability to bring in low cost devices, T-Mobile's jihād might end with them conquering the cellular world.

07 August 2014

Yes, they can hear you now - they just don't give a shit.

Let me tell you a story of a day in happy land where internet providers were your friends. They were. Now wake up to the world where they don't care.

There is the obvious Comcast hatred, with their Hotel California attitude toward departing customers. We have the AT&T Death Star that is all too willing to show their loath of consumers is fully operational. Then we have the never-ending Sprint Suicide Watch where customer support and quality products committed Hara-Kiri years ago.

It is passe to despise whatever pipe you use to veg on Facebook. The individuals that actually defend the bill collector delivering the most important communication and media tool ever made are a rare breed. Yes, you might like the fact that you were one of the chosen few with a blazing fast connection, but actually liking the company behind it? Don't be ridiculous.

Why should anyone like them? They are like Scrooge McDuck - except greedy. Fighting the NSA costs money so there you go, Feds - you can now map every step of every person every moment of the day in the United States thanks to cell tower and GPS tracking. Buying new routers is expensive, so they purposefully slow down traffic to make Netflix, Google and the rest pay for the same thing consumers already bought. Good customer service requires people who actually care about giving people what they want, so they will ship it out to Pakistan where employees (rightfully) could care less about our first world Snapchats.

There was a day, long ago, in approximately the year 2005 AD, around lunch time, that most of the internet and mobile internet carriers were good guys. Sure, they wanted to make a buck to pay living wages to good employees providing excellent customer service, but their mission was to give consumers what they wanted - even when it meant occasionally taking a loss to their bottom line.

For example: Verizon.

Verizon is second only to Comcast on the middle-finger salute list in the tech world. But back in 2005, Verizon used to be building warp speed data pipes to consumers on their mobile side (rockin' 3G, baby, with LTE on the way!) and fiber optic cable (I got my gigabit, bitches!) to your home front door.  Yes, they made a profit, but they were also taking losses on building this infrastructure - all while protecting their customer privacy by telling the Feds where to stick their data warrants. Verizon was never the cheapest, but they were always the best.

No more. Verizon halted new FiOS installations long ago and sold them to the highest bidder. Locked down devices with pre-installed crapware all packaged in two year contracts. Throttled service to blackmail internet company bank accounts. Now happily hand over any and all customer data to any BlackBerry wielding D.C. resident without question. So, maybe Verizon is no longer the "best" at anything but at least they still have the most expensive service around.

Despite the gloom, there is a small ray of hope. As consumers cut their monopoly home providers in favor of an all-mobile universe, there is finally a degree of competition hitting the landscape. Companies like T-Mobile, who are only too willing to take a hit on profits to bring in the masses, may actually succeed in bringing quality service and products back to consumers while ending customer-cheating contracts. But how much that alters the landscape, or how long it lasts, remains to be seen.

So, we have hope. Right now, when it comes to having a happy relationship with an internet provider - at least we have that.

30 July 2014

FreedomPopped

In a perfect world we would all have warp-drive wireless internet connections that follow our devices wherever they go and costs us nothing. If the focal point of your concern is the "free" part of that scenario then FreedomPop has you covered.

Back in the geologic iPhone 4 era (aka 2011), FreedomPop opened their virtual doors to customers who want to take advantage of unused bandwidth at carriers and pay nothing or next to nothing. As Clearwire and Sprint let them steal away their buckets of craptastic technology in their corporate dog house and dejected WiMax network, the pops of freedom continued to expand their geographic footprint to lure in more and more customers. They hope that you will be stupid enough to purchase their add-on items including additional data, voicemail, phones and whatever else - or maybe you will become their golden sucker who buys a contract.

Kudos to them for delivering on their free internet connection. Yes, the device might not work at first and you may be spending a half hour on hold with someone from Pakistan to get it working, but I have tested a phone and a cellular wireless access point (WAP) with both delivering on the promise of "no charge". The devices themselves were inexpensive, too, compared to the big four cell carriers. However, you do get what you pay for.

The quality of the WAP was quite good, despite not working initially, though the battery life leaves a little to be desired. The phone, an old HTC device that never should have left the tech graveyard it crawled out of, is good for only a half hour of use before the battery dies along with a laundry list of other problems.

That said - cheap devices and free internet, so no problem, right?

Their network is somewhat limited to what is left of the WiMAX system (depending on device) and that will leave much to be desired. In Alaska it is non-existent. In California and Seattle it is spotty, at best. In Texas it was also hit and miss. If you need this sucker to work in a certain area then you will want to check with them before purchasing because they do not accept returns. Ever. For any reason.

Then there is the network speed. Download speeds are generally fine for basic web browsing or downloading emails. Upload speeds are fine for emails that do not contain attachments. If you are thinking of using this for watching videos or downloading apps - think again. The gerbils running inside their WiMAX routers can barely keep up with animated GIF images.

Where does that leave us? Despite the fact that FreedomPop is a mess compared to even the least expensive pre-paid services, I am very happy they exist. Even nausea-worthy web browsing is better than none at all, and our country needs a "free" option for anyone who cannot afford the thieves at Verizon. As a backup connection in case your primary cell network goes down, this might work. As a device for a son or daughter that only very rarely needs to text you, this freebie might do the trick. If you are very forgiving of tech that runs at 1200 baud modem speed while on the road and live on wireless networks at home and the office, then this is an amazingly inexpensive option.

Unfortunately, for the rest of us, a free FreedomPop connection is just way too expensive for what you get.

17 July 2014

Microsoft is jumping ship to leave the bloat behind.

Not long ago I typed on these pages about a Microsoft Titanic that could never make the turn to catch rapidly changing technology. Their new CEO, Satya Nadella, appears to served up a four course meal of my own words, because he is intent on switching the vessel into a lean, mean tech creating team.

A rapid pivot causes a maritime lean and some 18,000 employees will be swept overboard. I suspect they have some nice life rafts available in Redmond, though the space may be limited for teams in less friendly waters. Most of the lost workforce will result from the Nokia merger but the most promising aspect is the middle management disintegration.

The structure of an old organization is where most of the weight sits. The Redmond offices were the living embodiment of Office Space dysfunction with supervisor sandwiches served with retardo review relish throughout the firm. When an org chart calculates middle management levels in scientific notation, you know that any idea will sink long before it swims. It is only the believed brilliance birthed from the board of directors womb that have any chance to tread water, and even then it can take an eternity before it floats through the flood of team meeting decks to create a completed product.

Apple and IBM were once drowning in a similar ocean. IBM saved itself by dumping their core business and donning their dunce cap proudly. You can still hear them sobbing into the history books today. Apple avoided this fate when Steve Jobs' life boat brushed up against their sinking ship. He eliminated everything that was not directly linked to his core goals and since the only ideas in place were being concocted in his head he could micro-manage the process throughout the organization.

Satya can see some similarities. Microsoft was the leader of the geek world but now that Android and Apple have consumed their lunch. They no longer coin the course for crafts on the silicon creativity sea.

Microsoft refuses to cower in the "we were once important" corner with IBM and the first step in healing is to admit you have a problem. Microsoft has done so, stating plainly that they now control only small percentage of the consumer market. They are the underdog and, as such, Satya has focused the light on their opportunity to grow. They need to fill the cracks in the desktop market by making operating systems that individuals and corporations with a keyboard and mouse want to use. They will address the infiltration of Chrome OS by creating Windows devices that compete at the same price point. Finally, they need to create phone, tablets, wearables and new products that no one has heard before to grab a share of the expanding consumer portable market.

Yes, even Microsoft's captain now admits that they hit an iceberg. While Balmer was doing the monkey macarena the competition was gushing in. Mr. Nadella has arrived with a new ship. It is more agile with far fewer decks separating the crew but it only has room for the people he needs. Many will be left behind on the Titanic to sink. Smart move. The only question is whether the new flotilla is nimble enough. They will take their best shot at becoming a leader again. Regardless of whether they succeed or not, I tip my hat to Sadya and his crew. It is thrilling to see them riding in a new ship that gives them a legitimate shot at becoming the world leader again.

04 July 2014

It's time to be happy for our country.

A new day, a new chart saying our country is doing great while our lovely media digs through whatever it can to take a stinky dump on it. Even left-leaning news outlets cannot help putting a morbidly obese but(t) behind every story that even slightly indicates that the American economy is rocking. Well, suck it up, people. It is America's birthday and it is time to admit what has been painfully obvious for a couple of years now: America is back!

If you compare our economy to where it was before Bush left office then, yes, you might find some numbers that make the economy look less than perfect - but even that game is getting nearly impossible. While it was easy to brush this ridiculous comparison point aside in the past by admitting the numbers at the beginning of 2008 were fabricated, that is no longer necessary. The stock market, housing prices, consumer confidence, pricing index and even our trade deficit were being dramatically impacted by a Wall Street hoax of selling false derivatives back in the "good ol' days". After all, this is the very reason our economy crashed and millions lost their jobs, homes and their very way of life - so comparing our economic indicators to the bubble is as accurate as negotiating for a 2014 Ford Mustang based on the price of a dead horse.

But, we do not need to hide behind this excuse anymore. The only way to battle the Ditto Heads is to define our success with a dead horse, so I'll do it:

There are 9 numbers that indicate the health of the economy and on every single one of them the United States is doing better than nearly every other country in the world and even performing better than we were before the "Great Recession".

1. Housing Prices: Best since Q2 2008
2. Consumer Price Index: Best since Q2 2008
3. Unemployment Rate: Best since Q3 2008
4. Trade Deficit: Best since Q1 2005
5. Personal Income / Spending: At Pre-Recession Levels
6. Personal Spending: At Pre-Recession Levels
7. Gross Domestic Product: At Pre-Recessison Levels
8. Consumer Confidence: Best since Q4 2007
9. Stock Market: Best ever recorded

I can hear Rush Limbaugh screaming: "You forgot the debt!" Take an Oxycontin and relax, my man. Sure, you never talked about the debt when it was blowing up under the two Bushies, but I am happy to entertain your partisan silliness.

The national debt has no bearing on the financial health on Main Street today, as can be seen in the indicators above. Most economists acknowledge that the debt is less of a financial problem as it is an unwillingness by Congress to fix it. Our current debt is not the problem since, as a product of our GDP, it is historically reasonable. The problem is when the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid bills start to accumulate down the road. Can that problem be solved without gutting current programs? You bet. Simply changing the retirement age in our country could get us most of the way there. So - get to work you silly donkeys and elephants.

When you ignore the political noise it becomes clear that our economy is doing extraordinarily well. Is everyone making more money than they ever have? No. Would anyone complain if they were making more money? No. However, that is true of any point in the history of our country. The game the media keeps playing is hunting for someone out there that says "it does not feel better" and balancing that against the good news.

Well, screw that. Of course it does not "feel" like the country is doing well when every media outlet keeps shitting on America's parade. The talking automatons at Fox News will not admit the truth until Obama is shipped back to his mosque in Kenya. Well, today is when we start to ignore them. It is Independence Day. It is time to celebrate the amazing men and women who have brought our country back from the abyss. The United States of America has never been more economically healthy than it is today - so please join me in parking your new Ford, putting down your American made Moto X, cracking open a micro-brew and lighting some Chinese fireworks you purchased at the local Indian reservation to celebrate.

God bless America.

25 June 2014

Microsoft Office 364: Almost a usable product.

At first I was chalking up all of the issues I was running into with Microsoft's cloud strategy as simple stupidity, but perhaps that has been Microsoft's strategy all along. Crazier ideas have come out of Redmond.

I have been working with a nice gentleman at CDW because some of my clients have the need for saving and sharing documents in a cloud environment while also having a nice intranet system where they can find all of their information. Because the default perspective is to no longer install software in a server room, my focus was on Office 365 with Microsoft hosting SharePoint. All I needed was a little test site to see if they would be able to edit the intranet themselves and get an idea of what it can and cannot do.

My background for this task in recent years has been using Google Apps. Saving and sharing documents for a company in Google's platform is relatively easy and setup can take only a few minutes. Heck, with Google Sites you can create a custom web site in less time than it takes Starbucks to make you a vanilla steamer. You can default to using Word, Excel and all of the Microsoft tools, but the problem with Google Apps is that the design is not as familiar and I have concerns about anything confidential being housed there. Most critically, it is not embedded into a locally installed Microsoft Office installation, and having all documents created in a web browser is not a step most people are ready to take.

Office 365 should be the answer - but I am not certain it is. Sure, you can create and edit Office documents better than Google Docs. No, the sharing capabilities are not quite as robust as the cloud in California, but it is pretty darn close. However, Microsoft seems to be trying to make it an almost usable product.

To start with, they still cannot get SharePoint working for me in the Office 365 test environment. I have spent an hour on tech calls with Microsoft trying to get the option to show up, but they have not figured it out yet. In a demo environment. Just to see the product. Seriously?

I installed SharePoint and configured it back in 2003, but that was a version from over a decade ago. Explaining this to the sales folks at Microsoft and wondering whether I could easily create a site myself for clients they told me "no" - that they would need to be involved as a paid consultant. Huh? A product in "The Cloud" that requires $200 per hour consultants to set up properly? Inquiries about documentation on how to do configuration were met with silence.

When I asked about pricing, I found it runs $12.50 per user per year for an account equivalent to Google Apps. Each have extra features from the other, but at least they are in the same price category - until you calculate space. Google Apps is unlimited and Office 365 caps me at 10 gigs plus .5gig per user on SharePoint without paying extra. To get 1tb of data, which is a pretty common amount for what exists on a file share, you would have to pay thousands more per year. Heck, even if Google was not giving unlimited space, they only charge $120 per year for a terabyte.

Okay, no problem. Maybe companies can leave the data on their file share. The old version of SharePoint could scan SMB folders to make them searchable on the web site and this could take care of that issue without paying through the nose for drive space. Except ... SharePoint within Office 365 does not support this. Or should I call it "Office 364" since Microsoft knocked out their cloud services for 9 business hours yesterday?

The comedy here is that I could solve all of these problems by just installing everything locally on Windows Servers, just like the old days. It would cost a fraction of the cloud offering, have all of the features available and it would likely even work after I installed it. The problem, of course, is that it would be tied to the office, just like the old days, too.

I will keep hammering at Office 365. I bet we will eventually get it working, and despite what I was told, I bet I can configure it myself, too. But, for some reason, I wonder if Microsoft would prefer everyone stick to tearing off the shrink-wrap from little cardboard boxes.

02 June 2014

President Obama and the EPA will delay the ocean rising by a couple days.

Thank you, Mr. President, for your new smoke screen, er, I mean "carbon limits" to blind Americans into believing that we are actually living up to our stewardship of our environment. How proud you must be.
When you frame this legislation in the delta of PPM of CO2 and Ph of the ocean over the next century then this barely covers the additional energy use due to population density of our country. Coal plants were being replaced by natural gas already but we are just trading one form of carbon pollution for another. Yes, we could use a fire extinguisher on a forest fire and it might help, but the forest is still going to burn down.
Being in the leadership chair means not being afraid to make the right decision for the long term health of America. Get up there and say electric companies must reach zero carbon emissions by 2030 and petrol will be gradually increased over ten years (taxed) based on the cost of removing that carbon from the air. Force all fossil fuel companies to invest in technology to remove that carbon from the atmosphere and the ocean. Tell America the truth about our predicament, Mr. President.
Insane? Maybe. But, at least then we are being honest about what needs to be done. We can sit around and say "it is a step in the right direction" or "what Obama currently proposes will kill energy companies" - but, at the end of the day, actually fixing the damage that has already been put in motion will take monumental leaps forward - not a tiny step.

01 June 2014

Mike Adams may need another class or two of high school biology.


The problem with coming at science with a pre-determined conclusion is that you can always find minor facts to back you up while ignoring the major pieces that show the exact opposite. Mike Adams' heart is in the right place and, indeed, some of the pieces of information he shares are very true while completely ignoring the wealth of evidence, including overwhelming historical data, that show his conclusion is not correct. I will not bother pointing out all of the inaccuracies in his article and where his numbers are refuted by scientists (unless he reaches out to me - in which case I would be happy to), but instead focus on the bigger picture of where his conclusion missed the mark.

Yes, humanity, there is now an end date to the mostly peaceful world the first world lives in. Will humanity survive? No doubt. But the world our grand children will live in will be a far more difficult planet for homosapiens than today.

Historically speaking, the climate does not change overnight - it evolves over tens of thousands of years. Six hundred million years ago the atmosphere had far more oxygen than today because we had a planet filled primarily with plants. Over a couple of hundred million years, giant insects evolved that enjoyed the pleasures of their skins absorbing all the oxygen they could. As animals joined them to suck in that lovely gas, the eagle-sized dragonflies eventually became significantly smaller. The enviornment changes gradually and plants and animals adjust accordingly.

There are times in history when sudden changes to the environment occurred. Sometimes it was due to massive volcanoes erupting, or global temperatures plummeting, or a multi-mile meteor slamming into the planet - sometimes multiple of these simultaenously. These cause mass extinction events where large percentages of the planet species suddenly disappear. Over the course of tens of thousands of years the life rebounds to best fill the new world.

The climate we live in today has changed overnight, and it will change even more. In the course of a few hundred years, humanity will have wiped out, directly or indirectly, two thirds of the species on our planet. That is not speculation - that is the reality of today. Without humans our planetary past says we would have one species going extinct every hundred years or so. The estimates today are that hundreds (perhaps thousands) of species are disappearing every year. We are in the middle of one of the sixth largest life destroying events that Earth has experienced.

While Mr. Adams is right that plants love more carbon dioxide, that is only useful if we are allowing plants to live. Humans are tearing down rain forests and have inhabited over 50% of the entire planet. Yes - if we were to abandon North America then the plants would happily reap the rewards, but I do not see any initiative to do so. As long as humans continue to kill forests to make way for our modern lifestyle, the additional carbon dioxide is not helping our oxygen creating evolutionary siblings. In fact, we are destroying them far faster than they are growing.

It is also true that non-human species create more carbon than humans. (His numbers are off, but that is another discussion.) However, it is you and me burning fossil fuels and tearing down forests that have changed the "natural" order. It is our actions that have raised the CO2 levels to over 400ppm. Worse yet, even if we stopped all fossil fuel use today, that number would continue to rise for the next 50 years.

It is also true that there were times when there was far more carbon in the air than today, much like there was a time when there was far more oxygen in the air. Life evolved to take advantage of these differences in climate. The issue is not whether there was a time when things were different - it is that this massive change is happening at a pace that life cannot adapt to before they are wiped out.

Massive change in a short period of time that is the core issue. If CO2 were to raise to 500ppm over ten thousand years then the impact would be far less severe. In fact, it would be beneficial to some species. Unfortunately, it is happening over a couple of hundred years. This change is killing off huge numbers of species. That is a scientific fact. We know that from looking at regions of the planet where carbon levels in the ocean are already that high and tracking what it has done to marine life. We know that at least two thirds of the ocean will not survive this change.

Mark is right that eventually we will have marine and land photosynthesis life to take advantage of this adjustment to our air. Perhaps in as little as a couple thousand years. The reason treehuggers are so up in arms is the shape of humanity when we reach that date.

Ocean levels will be rising dramatically over the next two hundred years. Ocean currents will have severe changes. Weather patterns will get far more severe. Many of the species of animals we consume today will no longer exist. We will have far less land to grow crops and live on. There will be far less fresh water to drink.

What will all these changes do to the nations and lifestyle we hold so dear? No one knows. But, while the plant life in the year 4014 may be happy, humanity may have a really rough road getting there to see it.