What’s the plan, Stan?

December 5, 2014

Howdy. That title is possibly misleading as I have not finished making the plan, but more on that at the end. Here are the things that I have kicking around in my head these days that I want to write about on the blog.

Mountain Sun

Mountain Sun

Brevity – as a methodology not a topic in itself. A recurring series exploring single topics in no more than 4 paragraphs
Epistemology – particularly the individually necessary Truth condition posited in the most commonly accepted account – “JTB”
Philosophy of Language – an exploration of why philosophy is done in stilted complex linguistic modalities instead of common speech
Leadership and emotional growth, or Happiness and effectiveness, or How to play and win without being a dick – it is all kinda the same thing…
Exploration of romance in my life, or more precisely, the vast lack of same, and a continuation of the look at/for some of the “why”
Assassination – why isn’t this a more commonly used tool? why do we as a species tend to have icky feelings about assassination but less icky feelings about more “standard” warfare methodologies? Some similar/related questions that seem worth exploring

Death and Life

Death and Life

I got more, but that should be enough to keep us busy for quite some time. I present this list to you, dear readers, because it really doesn’t make much difference to me which of these I write about here on the blog, or the order in which topics are addressed. I want to do another informal poll with you to discover:

1) What do you want to read about, any of these topics, or something else?
2) What kind of post frequency would you like to see? Once a week, once a month, once a day, a healthy mix of all, something else entirely? Bearing in mind that most of the topics listed will necessitate multiple posts for real exploration…
3) Do your feelings about post frequency change when a series is considered, or would you prefer one posting schedule regardless of the number of entires on a topic?

I am sure that other issues will arise that merit inclusion and there will be deviations when necessary. It knocks me out that there are real humans out there who read this blog and your interest, support, and encouragement mean a great deal to me. This is your chance to help shape what will appear here for your reading pleasure.

Right On!

Fall Hike/Gear Review Part 2

November 28, 2013

I am writing on Thanksgiving, so it is perhaps fitting to mention some of the critters i saw on this trip (<- that’s the link to Pictures!). In addition to the normal scattering of squirrels, i saw many deer. Usually i would hear them first – dashing away, or approaching at a run. Generally they were spread out in groups of three. I don’t know a ton about the developmental phases of the deer life-cycle, but i did not see any of the large antler displays that some folks are so crazy about putting on their walls. I think these were mostly young critters. Not all of the deer ran however. Infrequently, i would glance left or right and there would be a deer, less than 10 feet away, standing in the denuded forest just looking back at me. I would talk to them in mellow tones, like i do with dogs, and they would watch me pass then go about their business.

One group stood out more than any other. I just completed a steep ascent over slightly rockier, completely leaf covered terrain – meaning the ground had 95% of my focus. When i looked up, there was a deer standing on the trail maybe 6 feet ahead of me. I slowly and calmly came to a complete stop and we just stood there looking at each other. As i cautiously glanced around, i noted this deer’s two pals also within 15 feet, both off the trail but close by and observant. I was enjoying this moment, but i knew that the motions i would need to make to get to my camera would break the spell – so we waited. I took a small step forward and the deer casually left the trail and joined its pals.

No Deer - Just Woods

No Deer – Just Woods

One thing always worries me about hiking at this time of year. The hunters are out. While they know, or should know, that they cannot hunt on AT land, the trail’s right-of-way is often very narrow. I know that many “hunters” have taken to setting up with good views of the power line right-of-way and wait for the deer to pop out into the broad open channels for their shot. I worry that my presence on protected land might startle the deer and make them run. A short run in any direction will lead them out of the protected area, and often directly into the open land under the power lines. I have not figured out a solution yet. It has not made me stop hiking during hunting season either. But it is something i think about and wonder how to fix.

I passed the 20 year mark on not eating animals this fall. While i can remember eating meat as a youth, and i can remember not thinking at all about where my food came from, i cannot remember a time after i became aware that eating meat was eating other creatures that i did not think about stuff like this. As both a distance hiker and a dog lover, i can sympathize with the plight of critters like deer. It is not at all easy to find places in the lower 48 to go on really long walks without having to cross roads or go through towns. It is even harder to find places where it is “OK” to go on a really long walk with your dog also roaming free instead of tethered for the comfort of others. I am not a “turn back the clock – technology and progress sucks” kinda guy. But i can see how the course of our rise to dominance has been fairly difficult for critters like deer, wolves, and say, the buffalo.

I did not make it around to gear today, so i will close with some truths from another side of the coin. I know many hunters. Most of the hunters i actually know are very conscientious. They do not kill without thought. They are grateful for and use what they kill. I know some dudes who exclusively bow hunt and use every part of the animals they kill. Sadly, i think that these types of folks are not the majority. For every respectful hunter i know, i find miles of animal hair on the trail, obviously someone having drug a carcass. I find headless carcasses just off the trail – obvious signs of trophy hunting, and probable indicators of illegal hunting at that. On this last trip, i found a completely intact torso – spine and full ribcage. I don’t know what that was about, but there it was siting in the middle of the AT.

Memphis and a deer hide being tanned

Memphis and a deer hide being tanned

Sorry, i really am not trying to preach at you, or even trying to change your behavior. I am not judging you. I don’t think i am morally superior to you. I am only asking that on this day of thanksgiving – after all the weird mixed messages that, certainly my generation grew up with – doing the silly pageants in our youth and then, sometime, maybe in our pre-teens, maybe later, but sometime, we look around and start to recognize “hey, what about small pox, and stealing these people’s land, and the trail of tears? What the hell is this holiday supposed to be about again?” – i am only asking that you take a minute and think about your food. Think about where it comes from. Think about what kind of life the creature you are eating had before it became your dinner.

Tech Post 4 – iOS

May 6, 2013

I generally enjoy iOS and the cool things it has brought not just to mobile computing but in most cases the backwards compatibility approach to making things uniform between mobile devices and more traditional computing stations. But there are still some examples of engineering choices I can’t understand. Sadly, this trend began during Jobs tenure, but it has accelerated into more areas since his passing. Here again I am talking about iTunes. I loved the way this used to work in the 3GS days. Your phone mirrored your home system. Your music, podcasts, audiobooks, tv, and movies were all there together.

The first change that frustrated me was the removal of video content from this mobile app. Not a huge deal, but now I have to use two separate apps and app buttons to do a job that used to require only one. The more recent example has to do with podcasts. One used to be able to download more episodes of a podcast from within the same app one used to listen to podcasts. There was a little hyper link at the bottom of the screen displaying the episodes available on your device that said “get more episodes” and that is what it did. Now that link does not work. It asks you to download the NEW Podcast App! I resisted this for ages. But finally I was on the road without any other computer and had been gone long enough that I needed to update my podcast library. So I got the app. It takes over control of all podcasts on my phone, moves them to a new location and requires that I attempt to sort through them using a form of coverflow. In addition to just being frustrated that these changes were forced upon me, I listen to enough podcasts that a coverflow view is simply not an efficient way to look for the shows and episodes I want. Certainly this is a shortcoming of the podcast producers, but not every podcast has a logo, or a distinct logo. I listen to several NPR podcasts and many of them have the same generic logo. A coverflow style system does not present enough information to discern which podcast is being represented. The images are much larger than the old lines of text, so the new presentation of text accompanying the images is very small. I would see a generic icon, or standard NPR icon and the text “NPR…”. Again, not very useful for finding the show i was looking for. This system may work for some folks, it may even be a better method for some people, and I am happy that they have this method available. I am not down on the creation of new methods, but I don’t understand why introducing a new method necessitates removal of other methods. This was not an issue of solving a problem, but changing the means by which we interact with our content.

Listening to the back catalog of The Nerdist podcast, Chris Hardwick mentioned something about this issue that had not occurred to me before. Chris mentioned, and it is true, that the podcast menu selection was buried deep in a somewhat hidden menu in iOS. He enjoys the new app because it is easy to find. I can see that point and its relevance and can see Apple choosing to break out podcasts into a separate app to address those concerns. It would still be annoying to me to have to use a separate app to access podcasts instead of having these things placed in the same app mirroring how we interact with our content on our computers, but i would be ok with it. That is a change i can understand. But forcing users to abandon list views and adopt the coverflow model gets my goat. I could accept this change without much complaint if it remained an effective tool for locating specific podcasts, but for me, it simply does not work.

Hardwick’s comment presents a nice segue to my final iOS criticisms. First, why does the App called “iTunes” access the iTunes Store and not the app which mimics iTunes on a computer? Second, the menu system inside of the “Music” App. The first thing i do with any new device or upgrade is go through all the menu options. I found out how to customize the Music App menu the first day i used an iPhone. It does take a little digging, but you can customize which options are available at the bottom of the Music App screen just as you can with the 4 static icons on your home screen. I changed mine to meet my needs – “Playlists, Podcasts, Audiobooks, Albums”. This worked well until iOS6. Since iOS6 came out, this customizable menu resets itself to the factory defaults from time to time. Sometimes it happens if you close the app from the multitasking bar – sometimes not. Sometimes it resets when you restart your phone – sometimes not. Sometimes it resets for no discernible reason. This has happened for me on both the 4S and the 5. Weird and a bit frustrating.

I can understand that things might be a little more fluid in the iOS ecosystem. Mobile computing is still in the exploratory stages, testing what is possible, what makes sense, and what works well, looking for best practices. I don’t mind there being changes, but as in all other areas, i expect to be able to understand why they occur – to sense that there is a reason behind the change. And most of all, i expect the changes to enhance the experience, to improve access for all, and not to limit our choices in how we access our content. Aside from the specific gripes i have with changes in iOS, my largest complaint and fear is the continual export of less than stellar iOS changes being exported to the OS environment.

Coming Up – A few comments on changes to the OS, a look at some of Apple’s competitors, and the thrilling conclusion.

Tech Post 3 – iTunes

April 29, 2013
BOC Correspondent # 3

BOC Correspondent # 3

I will hit iTunes Match first because my beef there is fairly short and the end of my rant against the new version of iTunes segues directly into the next post on iOS.

iTunes Match proports to provide several services that aroused my interest. It could provide higher quality versions of songs you possess and in many cases fix glitchy, skippy type errors found in older degraded files. It would make all your content available on all your devices. This is a feature available through the link between the iTunes Store and the iCloud for content you had purchased via the iTunes Store. But the iTunes Match system is supposed to be a bit more elegant, easier to use, and provides that service for all your content regardless of its origin. The process of adding your mixed origin content to the cloud also provides you with a true backup of that content.

My experience with iTunes Match was basically the exact opposite of the description. None of my damaged songs got fixed, despite downloading fresh copies after completing the initial sync/match/upload. Many songs, around 75, were no longer available on my iPhone. The reasons seemed to be that Cloud Tunes could not figure out which version of these songs i actually had. This did not happen with obscure stuff. Most of the less well known bands’ music behaved with no issues. I had the problem with Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones to name a few. Cloud Tunes can’t figure it out, grays out the songs, and adds a tiny icon you can hit for “more information”. This icon leads to a really tiny dropdown window that has six instances of the song title but no other information presented in the very very minuscule resolution window. What i am supposed to do? Guess which of these six instances of the same song title correspond to my album – at random since there is no other information available to me? Click one and hope for the best? Repeat this process for the next 74 tracks? Or just get used to no longer being able to listen to songs I own that are already on my device but that I am no longer allowed to hear? I bailed.

The good news. Because i bailed early, within 5 days of ordering the service, i contacted Apple and got a full refund.

I really do not like the new iTunes (anything past 10.7). Usually I will give new tech a few days and try to get to know the new features and see what the developers were trying to do. I did not do this for this version of iTunes. It did not last more than an hour before I hit the boards to find out how to revert to the previous version. Why?

The things that I use iTunes for became harder to find (more clicks) and harder for me to see/use. I like lists. I like “list view” wherever available. The classic iTunes layout worked well for my needs. On the left I can easily click between media types (music, movies, tv shows, audiobooks, and podcasts) or perform the primary activity that brings me there – click a playlist and jam out. I do not mind that Apple changed things. I assume that they had a reason and were either responding to customer feedback or projecting a probable course users would enjoy. What does bother me is that they made it impossible to retain or revert to previous viewing methods.

An example highlights the pre and post Steve Jobs attitude in this regard. I do not care for coverflow. Is it neat? Sure. Is it a cool bit of coding? Sure. But it is not useful for me. Coverflow came out in the Jobs era. When coverflow came to iTunes I was happy for my more visually inclined friends while also being grateful to Apple that instead of limiting our choices, they accommodated multiple perspectives. If you are a word/list guy like me rather than a cover/image guy, you were not forced to use coverflow. You could continue to use the lists as you had from the beginning of iTunes.

The new version of iTunes does not provide any options for viewing your data in the old way. It is a complete redesign. This is a very un-Apple approach to design and “innovation”. Throughout the 90s when i was still a Windows user, my Apple friends would tell me about some of the great features in Apple systems. One oft touted feature was that the menus are always the same. If you want to see what options are available to tweak a program, those options are always found under “preferences” and you can always access preferences in the exact same place for every single program on the system. This highlighted a huge difference between Apple and Windows systems. Not only did it make it easier to get things done, you felt like someone who designed the software might actually use it and want you to be able to use it also. As I got serious about switching my company and client computers from Windows to Apple, and began researching not only what I might need to know, but how I could teach other long-term Windows users to use Apple computers, I came across the same advice time and again – if you can use iTunes you can use a Mac. Not only did that prove true, it was great advice and I made it step one in prepping all my tech support clients for the switch.

This redesign of iTunes, requires you to give up your previous ways of organizing and interacting with content, most of which you probably own. I have been using this system since it came out for Windows in 2003. Innovation is fine. Forcing your user base to abandon a decade of effective methodology is just plain weird and frustrating. If they were fixing a problem, maybe I could see this move. If they were providing additional functionality, I would not like the approach, but I could understand it. As far as I can tell from experience and research, neither of these things are the case.

What this feels like, what this really reminds me of – major updates and/or new releases of Windows. Nothing really works better. Some things do not work as well as they used to. But we did move everything from where you expect it be to a new place, and we gave some old operations and processes new nomenclature. I must tell you, few things in the tech world make me as crazy as Apple acting like Microsoft.

My suspicion is that the main impetus behind making these kinds of changes is the continued drive to synergize the experience between the OS and the iOS. I don’t have a problem with that idea. I do have a problem with this aspect of the implementation. I will get into this more in the next post, but for me, they are taking the worst parts of the changes in iOS iTunes and importing them to the parent OS version.

If you also have a Mac and miss the old iTunes, let me know and I will send you some instructions on how to revert to an older version.

Next Up: iOS

Tech Post 2 – iPad

April 26, 2013
BOC Correspondent #2

BOC Correspondent #2

I thought this was going to be a dream come true. I had been lusting after the iPad since it first was revealed, and not just for personal use, but as a business tool. The vision was that Vance and I would be able to get rid of laptops and have pads for the road and an iMac for him and an iMac or Mac Pro Tower for me. Initially we would probably still need to travel with our phones, but “soon” we should be able to ditch the phones and do all our work and manage all our client conversations just via the iPads.

In the Fall of 2012 it looked like we would soon be doing a lot of work travel to the Mid East, Morocco, and India. It was time to test the iPad. My over three year old MacBook Pro had some sound issues that indicated a logic board replacement and the system was getting slow overall. A pre-disaster change was propitious.

I had a lot of concerns. Would the lack of a standard file management system be a drawback? Would I be able to perform all the various tasks that my many jobs and responsibilities require? Can I manage, edit, and create new websites on the thing? Of all the concerns that were troubling me, I was secure in the knowledge that my Mac files would be safely and simply accessible via iCloud and that I would have no trouble with word processing via Apple’s Pages, with spreadsheets via Apple’s Numbers, nor with presentations via Apple’s Keynote. Since these were Apple programs designed by Apple for both the OS and mobile/iOS environments there should be no trouble with these critical tasks.

After some deliberation and hands-on time at the Apple Store with the Business Team and the selection of iPads, I chose the iPad mini. After playing with the device for a few days to simulate as many scenarios as I could, I learned two things that were quite surprising. 1) All the issues I was worried about had multiple, simple, and in many cases quite elegant, solutions. Generally the solutions were free apps, though some inexpensive apps were called for as well. But all the things I needed to accomplish that involve non-Apple software were covered. 2) The three main things I was absolutely not worried about at all, Apple failed big time in all three of these areas – Pages for word processing, Numbers for spreadsheets, and Keynote for presentations (collectively “iWork”).

iCloud did successfully provide reliable access to iWork files across multiple devices. But the iPad cannot display iWork documents the same way on the iPad as on an OSX system. Things generally look the same, but you are required to create a copy of the document in order to open and edit it. Part of Apple’s innovation at the program/app, OS, and backup system level over the past few years has been a concerted effort to remove any worries one might ever have related to versioning of documents. “Now, on our newest line of fancy devices, here is a problem from 1990. Enjoy!”

If that was the only problem, it is possible that I might have stuck it out. But it isn’t the only problem. The iOS versions of iWork do not have the full feature sets that their OSX siblings provide. This was not a huge problem for me with most basic tasks in Pages and Numbers, though I do like to send business correspondence on our digital letterhead (which is very simple) and it would not render properly on the iPad. Let that sink in. In fact, take a look.

RAI Base Letterhead

RAI Base Letterhead

Sometimes I add a little data to the footer as appropriate, but that is a really simple letterhead. Pages on the iPad cannot display this document correctly. If that was the second and last problem, it is still possible I may have stuck it out. But it isn’t the end.

Keynote. If you listened to any Mac news since at least 2006, you heard about Keynote often. You heard that it is much better than Powerpoint. It has more features than Powerpoint. It is far simpler to use than Powerpoint. In my experience, this is all true and I have enjoyed using the great and simple features in Keynote. Many of these features are not available on the iPad. The iPad does not even contain the same color pallet as the OSX version. I developed a very simple slide template in Keynote and the iOS version cannot even display the base template correctly, never mind actual data on the slide. If you get around the template flaws  for some reason, the amount of information (amount of text/number of words) that can fit on a slide in iOS is less than the amount that can fit on a slide in the OSX version. Maddening!

Truthfully, the first strike would probably have kept me off the iPad, the second would definitely have done the trick, but now with this third problem, Apple, you are really just starting to piss me off.

I ended up returning the iPad and switched to a MacBook Air with which I am very pleased. The screen is bigger. It can do more stuff. It is more powerful. It can hold more stuff. It is very light and easy to carry. It already has a keyboard and mouse attached. Most of the folks I know and see who do use iPads for business also carry and use wireless keyboards, so i think this actually puts me ahead of the curve in some respects. When I am at my home office, it plugs right into my 24” cinema display which is quite nice.

I will return to the simmering rage hinted at in this post in the concluding remarks for the series.

Next Up: iTunes

Tech Post 1- Safari

April 24, 2013
BOC correspondent #1

BOC correspondent #1

I was a Firefox guy almost from the beginning of the browser’s history in 2004. I like the concept behind open source software and I have used and enjoyed many Mozilla products. Thunderbird let me leave MS Outlook behind with increased productivity, integration, and ease of use, all with a much smaller program file size, which used to matter even more just a few short years ago. I still use Filezilla as my FTP client, and I have always done web-design and editing with SeaMonkey. I was so pleased with Firefox that it remained my primary browser even after I got my company to switch from Microsoft to Apple computers.

Sometime around version 3.5, roughly mid 2009, they began to remove or significantly change the features that made me a fan of Firefox. I explored Chrome and was disappointed that I could not replicate the features that I missed and which were no longer available from Firefox. I had explored Safari and was not thrilled with several aspects of the UI – mostly having to do with bookmarks and bookmark management. I did spend a little time with Opera, SeaMonkey, and others, but did not enjoy any as a primary browser.

Given my equal dissatisfaction with all the browsers, I decided that I might as well use the one that was already integrated into my OS and my phone. After a brief adjustment period, the program worked fine and I did enjoy the ease of multi-device integration. Safari continued to improve over the years and I stayed with it, only using other browsers to test website compatibility. I was converted and happy. I still did not like the bookmark management system and UI, but there were ways to manage bookmarks without having to use that aspect of the program too often.

And then, end of 2012-beginning of 2013, Safari started to get ridiculously slow. I am used to such a high standard of performance from my Apple products that the browser was the last culprit on my list. I was checking cables and testing my modem before it occurred to me to check out other browsers. Firefox, fine. Chrome, fine. Seamonkey, fine. I really did not want to switch and I limped along with Safari for a bit. A large part of my business involves research and the delays were starting to affect the amount of work I could accomplish in a day. After a brief check through the major competitors, I settled on Chrome, and that is what I use now and have implemented throughout my company for computers and mobile devices.

That was my only real beef with Safari – the speed drop. I am not one of those guys who has to use THE fastest browser when the differences are microns only really noticeable in lab tests, but the slowdown in Safari was reminiscent of the pre-broadband era. I could not actually go and make a sandwich waiting for a page load like in the old days, but I could write a paragraph.

There are still many features that I prefer in Safari far more than Chrome or other browsers. The synergy between the OS and iOS versions in not just content but the UI is unsurpassed to my knowledge. I am constantly baffled at the way in which Chrome handles stored password and form data and the highly inconsistent way in which that stored information is offered (or not) when faced with forms to fill out. But you can have the prettiest car in the world and if it don’t go, it don’t go.

I may check back on Safari from time to time, but given that I cannot conceive what they might have done to slow it down (or why) it is hard to understand how they might fix it. (Then again, I don’t write code, and I don’t read it terribly well either.) I would like to think that this is something Apple would notice, given that Apple employees use the products, and that they would fix it, but my confidence level that such behavior remains a part of their mission statement is quite low.

I talked with The Fromminator about Safari recently and she has not noticed the same speed issues that I have. She was running an older version of OSX which could be a factor. I have tested Safari speeds on two Macs running the most current OS and both had poor performance. My local Apple Genius Bar guys have also noticed the speed lag. Today I ran a few more comparisons between Chrome and Safari (I would love to move back to Safari) and I am still seeing a major speed differential. How about you folks? Any other Safari speed reports from the field?

Next Up –

iPads for Business

Tech Series Intro

April 22, 2013
B.O.C. correspondent Nick Renfroe

B.O.C. correspondent Nick Renfroe

* Potentially necessary disclaimer. I receive no money or other compensation from Apple or any other company for product reviews/endorsements. These are simply my views about products I use and in most cases, that I wish worked better.

This tech series comprises 6 posts and covers mostly Apple products with a little from the Google camp, some from Mozilla, and a smattering of Microsoft. I will discuss issues with Safari, iPads for Business, iTunes and iTunes Match, iOS, and at least one OSX “feature”. I am not going to deal with the issues in strict chronological order because iOS dips into the problem pond more than once and I want to keep those together.

To provide some thematic context, in addition to airing specific grievances, I believe that looked at together, one can see a change in Apple’s corporate attitude about software development and the timing of releases vs completion of the code. Does this spell the end for Apple? Maybe, but probably not “soon”. It could, if an existing or dark-horse rival pops up and executes in the way that Apple’s long standing core customer base has come to expect. Sadly for us, the end users, I do not see evidence of either a successful rival filling that need, nor do I see Apple reverting to prior business models that catered to its “old” base.

To flesh that out a bit further, it looks to me like Apple is beginning to adopt many elements of the Microsoft business model. From a purely corporate, profit/units sold basis, I get it. It is impossible to deny that side of Microsoft’s business and success. But that has not been the Apple model and in many cases is in diametric opposition to the Apple model. This exact issue used to be the biggest delineation between Microsoft and Apple.

Microsoft: Put it (whatever product) out there fast, cheap (relatively), sell lots of units, and worry about finishing and fixing the code later. This is actually a fairly standard business practice and is taught in MBA programs and business books throughout the world. It is not a bad model. However, it is generally intended for use in the beginning phases of a start-up or small business to get from the planning and early development phases to the first round of major funding after your initial release has done the final work of validating your product and your market. The principle was never intended for large, well-established firms to continually release sub-par products. I am going to stop on this here for now. We can come back to an exploration of Microsoft’s business practices in a later post.

Apple: It just works. This was their guiding principle for most of the company’s history – make stuff that works and trust that people will want to buy and use stuff that works. It took a long time for Apple to grow their niche market population, to begin poaching from other customer pools, and to capture newly emerging markets and consumers, but they did it. They proved their model. If you make quality products that just work, people will buy them, use them, and develop a kind of brand loyalty not found in many other places.

Next we will look at several specific flaws in Apple products. In the concluding post, I will spell out what I see as the new Business Model at Apple as evinced by the specific examples in this series, and what impact that model has had and could have on the company and its customer base. It is my contention that Apple can turn the corner on these trends and my hope that they will, but honestly, I don’t see it happening.

I will leave you with that cheery thought until next time.

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