Thursday, April 28, 2011

More news

I just replaced the photos in my previous post, What's News?, with some new drawings.  These are more relevant, more expressive and, above all, more my-copyright-and-not-someone-else's.

If you can't be bothered to go back and look, here are the drawings...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What's News?

It's difficult to imagine anything left to be said about Charlie Sheen, Donald Trump or the Royal Wedding. These topics have dominated countless news cycles lately, blissfully distracting us from such decided downers as the federal budget, the spate of wars, uprisings and rebellions in the Middle East, and the ongoing crisis in Japan, particularly around the Fukushima (pronounced like "F*&# you, Shima") nuclear (pronounced like "Nuke you, Lar") power plant.

And yet, we are endlessly fascinated with the exploits of rich, useless celebrities (RUCs, pronounced like "Are you, Seas?"). Clearly we find some kind of vicarious pleasure in watching the privileged gallivanting and cavorting, or whatever it is that they do. Moreover, this urge is contagious. We want to be up on whatever others are talking about, whether it be dancing hamsters, girlfriends doing Wii Fit in their underwear, or videos of people seriously injuring themselves.

This is why Twitter, YouTube and Facebook are so eager to show us whatever others are looking at. It's why sites include links to Digg, Reddit and other popularity aggregators. They want to go viral, almost literally infecting the Web-browsing public.

But the more eyeballs these viral faux-information sites attract, the more pressure it puts on legitimate news organizations. As the Boston Globe reported, the PBS series Frontline is now re-tooling to deliver 24/7 news bites, instead of serious investigative journalism. The new "newspaper" is the iPad, and you'll only see the news you choose.

Luckily, we here at The Tech Curmudgeon are committed to upholding the highest journalistic standards. We'll never stoop to the tawdry or sensational. So you don't have to worry about seeing stuff like this ...

or this ...

or especially this ...

Our only criterion for reporting is:  Is it funny? (Or mildly amusing? Or at least not downright dull? Or can we possibly think of something else?)

Thank you for your continued confidence in our integrity. (Please click the Digg, Reddit, etc. links below.)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Technology Would Be Great If It Didn't Suck

As I mentioned in my very first post, I have a love/hate relationship with technology. I love the potential, but getting there is way more frustrating than it should be.

For example, I've been trying to put my iPad 2, Yeah song on YouTube, along with a bunch of images sync'ed to the music. Should be simple, right? Both Windows Live Movie Maker and Apple's iMovie make it painfully difficult to sync images with audio. Seems like such an obvious thing for digital camera-toting geeks to want to do. I'd like to be able to load the MP3 and the set of images, and then just play the music and hit a NEXT button to change images at the appropriate point. Is that so hard?


This afternoon, I lost network connectivity for an hour or so. It was like quitting heroin cold turkey! (At least, I imagine it was.) What? I can't send email halfway around the world in nanoseconds? How can I live??


I love the idea of the cloud, where all my apps and data co-exist blissfully in the universal mind, ready to appear when beckoned from any phone, tablet, computer, car dashboard, toaster oven, etc. My data is perfectly safe and secure because Google is looking after it for me, and they never have downtime or snoop at my stuff, right?

Of course, the drawback to using a browser as a computer is ... well, you're using a browser as a computer. What Chrome and Firefox and other browsers do is make sure Web pages don't display too quickly for me to read them.  Where would I be without that?


UPDATE 5/5/2011: I finally coerced iMovie '09 into letting me adjust the duration of the images, a painful process.  The video of "iPad 2, Yeah" is now on YouTube.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Thoughts Thunk While Just Sitting

There's an old witticism ... "Sometimes I like to sit and think, and other times I just sit." The following are the byproducts of the latter type of activity.

When you're flying, the pilot should announce each time zone. That way, if the plane has to make an emergency landing, at least you'll know what time it is.

I want to open the world's first completely on-line restaurant. Seating will be immediate, but the food takes forever.

Shouldn't the reward for being a frequent flyer be something other than miles that allow you to fly more? That's like rewarding military heroes with longer tours (though I guess we do do that.) Maybe frequent flyers should be awarded a Web cam, so they can stay home and use Skype next time.

Technology has really brought the world together. It used to be that my computer was too slow. Now the whole Internet is too slow.

Every time I travel by air, it's even more unpleasant than my previous trips. The airlines must employ some very creative thinkers in order to stay competitive. How do I get a job like that?

Hi-def TV is great! I used to watch the Red Sox get beaten into the ground.  Now I can watch them get beaten into each individual blade of grass.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Happy Patriot's Day

I regret to inform readers that there will be no regular post today, due to my running in the 115th Boston Marathon.

Well, not really running.  More like jogging alongside the marathoners.

Like that, but not actually that.  Watching from the sidelines would be more accurate.

Or, realistically, watching on TV.

But probably not.  More likely cursing at the marathoners from my car, stuck in traffic.

Anyway, I'll be back Wednesday.

Or, more precisely, Friday.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

iPad 2, Yeah

(To the tune of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah)

Play Audio (3:57) or watch YouTube video:

I heard there was a cool device
That needs no keyboards and no mice
And still it lets me send an email to you.
It costs about five hundred bucks,
But 16 Gig, no 3G sucks.
So drop eight hundred for your iPad 2, yeah.

iPad 2, yeah. iPad 2, yeah.
iPad 2, yeah. iPad 2, yeah.

It comes with a USB cord,
Buy a charger you can afford.
(You don't want to bring a laptop, do you?)
And if you are a gadget lover
You'll want to buy the new "smart cover"
To protect and defend your iPad 2, yeah.

iPad 2, yeah. iPad 2, yeah.
iPad 2, yeah. iPad 2, yeah.

Consider each accessory,
Adapters for your home TV,
A docking station with a keyboard too, yeah.
With all the stuff you'll want on hand
The total cost's about a grand
And worth each cent, 'cause Apple wouldn't screw you.

iPad 2, yeah. iPad 2, yeah.
iPad 2, yeah. iPad 2, yeah.

You did your best, but it wasn't much.
It's hard to browse on an iPod Touch.
The tiny on-screen keyboard overthrew you.
The cut-and-paste would make you swear
And want to pull out all your hair.
What you needed was to get an iPad 2, yeah.

iPad 2, yeah. iPad 2, yeah.
iPad 2, yeah. iPad 2, yeah.

Baby, I've been here before
With iPod Touches 1 through 4,
All blaring out the Cohen Hallelujah.
I thought I'd like a bigger screen,
But a minor fall with that machine ...
Now it's a cold and it's a broken iPad 2, yeah.

iPad 2, yeah. iPad 2, yeah.
iPad 2, yeah. iPad 2, yeah.
iPad 2, yeah. iPad 2, yeah.
iPad 2, yeah. iPad 2, yeah.

Monday, April 11, 2011

What I Want

Technology is close to solving some of the pesky problems of daily life. The big issues? No way! But a number of minor annoyances could certainly be eliminated in the next year or so. So here's what I want:

More cell phone bar code apps

SnapTell is a mobile app that uses the device's camera to read bar codes on products, and then tell you where else to buy them, on- or offline. Very cool! But I'd also like to automatically look up the product in Consumer Reports or and see if it's even worth buying.

Better caller ID

When someone calls, I can see who it is and decide whether I want to answer. But if my wife's on the phone, I can't see who she's talking to.  Fix that. Yeah, yeah ... privacy. I'll bet Facebook knows who she's talking to.

Smarter remote controls

I have to go through about 47 levels of on-screen menus to browse through the video-on-demand movies or TV shows on my system. By the time I've found something tolerable, it's too late to watch it. I know the cable companies keep these ungodly search paths out of obligation to the content providers, but someone should make a touch-screen remote where I can add buttons that will just jump right to the set of choices I want. Click .. HBO HD movies; click again ... Showtime HD movies, etc. That simple.

For extra credit, just put all the movies in one freakin' list, and let me choose.  I really don't care which channel is so graciously agreeing to take my money.

And speaking of TV how about ...

Baysian commercial blocking

The most effective email spam blockers work by learning to recognize certain types of content as spam.  Why can't we do that for TV commercials? I could click the CRAP button on the remote when a commercial starts, and the system would learn what signals are just noise, and would blank the screen and mute the sound. Then I wouldn't have to sit through the animated boogers and the animated road kill and the animated whatever else six times in every half hour.

Better software upgrading

I have two PCs and a MacBook Pro, and I'm convinced they all spend most of their time upgrading their own software. I think they've got a little keeping-up-with-the-Joneses thing going amongst themselves.  "Oh, have you seen my new Thunderbird?" How about if they only upgrade when I'm not using the computer? How about if they learn how to upgrade without having to restart the whole machine? Better yet, how about if software companies TEST their products before delivering them?

Smarter GPS

Do I even have to explain this?

What else do I want? Well, I'd like a share of anyone's implementation of any of these ideas. After all ...

Friday, April 8, 2011

Consumer Culture

From an economic point of view, we are all consumers. Our job is to buy stuff, to keep the wheels of Capitalism turning. Whether we're buying toilet paper or iPads, we're all just demographically appropriate targets.

I inherited an abiding appreciation for Consumer Reports magazine. My parents subscribed for as long as I can remember, and always kept back issues around the house. Many years' worth. I think the earliest ones had ratings of lanterns and horseshoes. They weren't as enticing as the stacks of National Geographics, but the collection of Consumer Reports certainly commanded respect. (Despite this lifelong relationship, however, we bought all our big ticket items ... cars, appliances, TVs ... entirely on impulse.  But that's another story.)

Consumer Reports is known for devising ways to test various products and get accurate, unbiased results. They build special machines that have simulated baggage handlers throwing luggage around, simulated feet wearing out shoes on a treadmill, simulated noses blowing through tissues, and so on.

And these machines give specific, measurable conclusions. "This suitcase fell apart after being stomped 47 times by our simulated gorilla." "This car rolled over at 62 mph on a turn of radius 75 yards, with a driver who had a blood alcohol level of 0.125 and an acne problem." "This toilet paper failed after ... well, it failed."  You can use these results to evaluate a product and make a buying decision.

But as the world of consumption gets increasingly digital, it becomes harder to develop tests like this.  Sure, they have simulated fingers pinching and stretching on iPad screens, and simulated couch potatoes watching high-def TVs. But in the long run, they have to rely more and more on subjective impressions.

They can compare memory and screen size and that kind of thing, but what we really want to know is: How often is it going to freeze up? How much work can I get done while my teenager is downloading TV shows and chatting on Facebook? What's the annual replacement cost when I fling it across the room because it refuses to open my files?

Or, more to the point, how soon will I need to buy the next version?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Computer Inanimation

One of my first real jobs (i.e., one that did not involve either dirty dishes or shopping carts) was with the nation's second largest computer company, headquartered in a former woolen mill beside a pond in a quaint New England town.  Legend has it that if they ever drained that pond, they'd find hundreds of circuit boards flung from the windows by irate engineers over the years.  Personally, I have my doubts, particularly since engineers are not generally known for their athletic prowess.

But the fact that this story exists at all, and that it is widely believed, demonstrates what most people know intuitively: computers are out to get us!

Of course, all inanimate objects show a certain disdain that borders on hostility.  Traditional furniture is invariably violent towards unguarded toes, while more contemporary pieces have been known to target the elbows and head.  Toothpaste, dishwashing liquid and all manner of sauces have shown their contempt for my clothing.  Do I even need to mention razors and nail clippers?

But computers are especially nefarious.  They exhibit a certain inscrutable smugness not generally found in household appliances.  In fact, these are the very devices for which the term user-friendly had to be coined, which indicates the depth of their scorn.

Yet we blithely accept this insubordination.  We routinely trust these machines with our most precious and private information, photographs, letters, financial data and Facebook games.  We accept the familiar phrase, "The computer's down," as an excuse for everything from missed appointments to bad breath.  Often computer-related excuses are used in other situations as well.

GUY: Ginny, want to go out with me Saturday night?
GIRL (possibly named Ginny): Sorry, I'm defragging my hard drive then.

Every day brings more news stories of computer failures and security breaches.  Banks, trains, airlines, restaurants, hospitals ... all are totally dependent on computers now for safety and efficiency.  We put our lives literally in their ... uh, hands.  Ok, not so literally.

I'm putting a pond in my backyard.

Friday, April 1, 2011

CAUTION: Lack of Wealth May Lead to Poverty

Forbes just published their List of the World's Billionaires.  The 100 wealthiest people have a combined worth of over 1,705 billion dollars.  Billion!  That's enough to give $250 to every man, woman and child on the planet (or buy everyone a Nintendo 3DS) and still have a few billion left over.

On the other hand, the world's 100 poorest people have a combined wealth of ... well, zero.  According to United Nations data, about 925 million people, or roughly one out of every seven, is undernourished.

Ha-ha!  Just kidding.  April Fool!